The Co-op, London Road, Croydon

By - Friday 11th January, 2013

Long-term Croydon resident Terry Coleman shares his memories of the London Road Co-op in the 1940s and 1950s.

The present Lidl store on the London Road was once a Co-op store. Although this is a rebuild dating from the 1990s, it would have been quite close to the site of the original Co-op which I remember going to during the the 1940s–1950s.

The Co-op was quite an impressive place for Master Terence Coleman at the age of  6 or 7  when his mum used to take him to the store — grand when compared with the local shops where we used to buy our day-to-day staples. It had presence, Art Deco maybe, but solid.

There was a manager with silver-grey hair who was immaculately dressed in pinstripes, waistcoat, and watch-chain; he walked around the store talking to customers and generally keeping an eye on things. I was very impressed on one occasion when he bent down and shook my hand, then winked at my mum. Looking back it was like Grace Bros in Are You Being Served?, complete with Captain Peacock.

You could buy practically anything in the store: groceries, hardware, clothing, furniture, haberdashery of course. That was just the ground floor. Upstairs was a dentist, opticians, insurance broker, and all the administration of the store. There were lifts between the floors, the old lattice door type.

The Co-op had a peculiar system for cash handling at point of sale. There was a vacuum tube arrangement with metal cylinders that transported the cash to a central office and returned any change and receipt to the salesperson to hand to the customer.

There was a dividend system, similar to the loyalty schemes today but I think you had to be a member of the Co-operative Society to partake. That was no problem for us because my Nan was a great believer in the Co-operative movement and indeed a great fan of Clement Attlee. When I became a bit older, Mum used to send me down to the Co-op on errands, with instructions from Nan: ‘don’t forget the divi number’. That was a six digit code that you gave when you bought the goods, and you ultimately got some credit back (no swipe cards then).

The Co-op had a credit scheme that worked via cheques which you obtained from an agent and could then spend in the store. The debt was paid off in small remittances until it was cleared; the agent would call at the house every week to collect. I recall that when I started work at the age of 16, I first went to work in my school blazer with the badge cut out. I took out a cheque for £5, bought myself some working clothes, shoes, etc., and paid the Co-op man off at 5 shillings (25p) a week. My wage then was about £2.50 a week.

I have lived in Croydon all my life and can recall so many changes to the retail profile of our town over the years. There has always been a good mix of small, medium and large shops. I hope that it will continue to flourish and that the support needed to regenerate  London Road particularly, will swiftly be provided.

Terry Coleman

Terry Coleman

Retired bloke having a lot of fun doing what he wants after 51 years doing what the bosses wanted. Croydon born & bred. Politics-Blairite, Faith-Agnostic, Interests-Music (mostly Ellington), Reading, Pilates, Gym.

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  • Kake

    As a small addition to this, the Museum of Croydon website has a couple of photos relating to the London Road Co-op: here’s the page. Click on “Explain” to see a photo of people crowding around the entrance on its opening day (from the writing on the frontage, this must be its re-opening as the South Suburban Co-op — before that it was the Croydon Co-op).

  • Terry Coleman

    Yes, that is certainly the Co -op that I remember although I can’t be sure about the South Suburban bit. Thanks for that and what a good web site for Croydon Museum too.

  • Philip George Harfleet

    Remember it well, the dear old Co-op store, not far from Hathaway Road where we lived in the 1940s. The Frith photo you include shows the spire of the old West Croydon Methodist church, my old Sunday school. This fine old church has been demolished – like many other nice buildings in Croydon. You could walk down a pathway from London Road through the church grounds and end up in a road near Handcroft , or it may even have been that road.
    If one walked past the Co-op, towards West Croydon rail station, you came to another good grocer store: Home and Colonial. Again, this was an immaculate shop where one could buy a delicious slice of ham, carved by hand using one of those round slicing machines. What superb memories!

    • Terry Coleman

      My Dad worked at one of the Croydon Home & Colonial shops in the 1930s, he was an errand boy with tradesman bike and used to deliver to the big houses. He first met my Mum when she worked in service as a parlour maid, they became keen cyclists during their courtship.

      • George Harfleet

        Lovely comment Terry.

  • Marie Hillman

    You have remembered very well Terry!! I worked there for a year, from 1969 -1970 & i loved it, but its so difficult to obtain any photos ( exept for one on opening day & all you see is a mass of umbrellas!!) Yes, it was s.s.c.s…. south suburban co-op society. I can still remember my mums old co op number 252327!! I worked in the baby dept, ladies wear, wool/haberdashery. Do remember when Hughie Green re-opened the refurbished store? I remember the co-op with such affection.

  • Terry Coleman

    Thank you for your kind words Marie, it’s great to hear from someone who worked at the Co-op. The South Suburban Co-operative Society, but it was always the good old Co-op for us. A dependable, value for money, good customer service type of business. You knew where you were with the Co-op. Affectionate memories indeed.