The Co-operative Society in the County

Bob McArthur & Sonia Baker

After the war, the Co-op played a large part in many peoples’ lives, right through to the 1960s. East Lothian had its own Co-operative Society, with a main base at Tranent and a smaller one at Haddington. It operated a large market gardening and dairy enterprise (230 acres over five farms) from Adniston farm, near Tranent. It also ran its own undertaking business, which eventually was taken over by the Scottish Co-operative Wholesale Society. In June 1999, it was announced that the remaining Co-op shop in Haddington and the Homemaker Store, Tranent were to close. However, the same week, the Lothian, Borders & Angus Co-operative Society announced a £2 million extension to their Tranent Superstore.

In addition, there were two other Societies within the area, at Prestonpans and Musselburgh, each with a similar spread of outlets to that of Tranent. The Prestonpans Co-operative Society (Reg 1869) was absorbed by the Scottish Midland Co-operative Society (ScotMid) in 1994. The Musselburgh & Fisherrow Co-operative Society (Reg 1862) was joined by the Dalkeith branch in 1915. On its centenary in 1962, Musselburgh & Fisherrow had an annual turnover of £1 million.

Below, ex-employee Bob McArthur summarises the extent of the retail business across the county.

The East Lothian Co-op: 1950-early 1990s

The East Lothian Co-op was founded in 1940 by the amalgamation of West Barns (Dunbar), Tranent and Haddington Co-operative Societies. Like Co-ops all over Britain, it played a pivotal role in the life of the county.

With its headquarters in Tranent (the earliest of all the county’s Co-ops, Reg. 1865), the East Lothian Co-operative Society had outlets all over the county.

In Tranent itself there were:

Six grocery shops, two butcher’s shops, and one of each of the following: greengrocer; bread shop; hairdresser and tobacconist; tearoom; drapery; shoe shop; hardware; pharmacy; bake house; shoe repair factory; sausage factory (a former pre-war slaughterhouse); and one creamery and milk depot.

There was a garage for housing and maintaining a fleet of grocery and fleshing vans which regularly delivered goods to outlying parishes. Electrically operated milk floats were housed and had their batteries re-charged in the old stable block.

Haddington had a range of all sorts of shops, all owned by the Co-op; at one point in the 1980s, the Co-op shops stretched the length of Lodge Street. There were an office and a restaurant contained upstairs in a block; on ground level were a baker’s shop, greengrocer and hardware, and in an adjacent block, drapery and grocery stores. East Lothian Council Social Work and Housing Departments later occupied these premises.

In Court Street, were a shoe shop and a butcher’s shop, while in the High Street there was a fashionable ladies’ wear salon, and a small furniture department; this was later transferred to Lodge Street and enlarged. In St Ann’s Place, Haddington was a grocery branch, and later, another in Davidson Terrace (now a block of flats): the latter was known as the ‘Roodlands’ branch and had dry goods, self-service grocery, fruit and veg, and a baker’s shop, as well as a butchers. There was also a Co-op garage, vans, and a bake house.

Over the years until the 1960s, in Tranent and Haddington certain departments and properties were re-built or re-located. Branch shops of both the Tranent and the Haddington Co-ops were spread around the county: run out of the Tranent base were shops in Cockenzie, Port Seton, Longniddry, Gullane, Ormiston, Pencaitland, Elphinstone, Macmerry and Pathhead (in Midlothian). Out of Haddington were ran East Linton, and Gifford. Those branches underlined were ‘village shops’ combining grocery and bakery. Apart from the larger bakehouses in Tranent and Haddington, there also were smaller bakehouses in Cockenzie and Gullane.

In the late 1940s the East Lothian Co-op opened grocery, fleshing and dry goods departments in North Berwick. Duns and District Society in Berwickshire, being insolvent, was taken over by East Lothian in 1946. The Duns Society had dry goods store, grocery, fleshing and bakery outlets; these were expanded and a large fleet of vans covered most of Berwickshire.

Economic circumstances caused closures in the 1980-1990s, affecting dry goods shops, small village shops, and eventually garages and mobile shops.

The Society combined with Borders Co-operative Society in 1992 to form the Lothian & borders Co -op. All that was left by 2000 were the following. In Tranent: a grocery supermarket and petrol station; in Haddington: nothing; in Port Seton: a supermarket and pharmacy; in Dunbar: two supermarkets (one on the High Street, and one in the former Tesco building); in North Berwick: a grocery shop in housing area; in Duns (Borders): grocery and fleshing outlets; in Ormiston: grocery and pharmacy; in East Linton: village shop; in Gifford: village shop.

The Lothian & Borders Co-op did enlarge and modernise their supermarkets in Tranent, Port Seton, Dunbar and Duns, as well as improving village shops in Longniddry, Gullane, East Linton and Gifford. After Post Office re-organisation and the closure of Gifford Post Office (c1992), this was re-located in part of the Co-operative shop.