Do you remember your divi number? And what other memories do you have of the Sunderland Equitable Industrial Society

The store in High Street West in the 1960s.
The store in High Street West in the 1960s.
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Who can still recite their divi number?

Who remembers the days of ‘the store’ and struggling up the Green Street stairs.

The Ryhope & Silksworth store office staff.

The Ryhope & Silksworth store office staff.

Philip Curtis of the Sunderland Antiquarian Society can and he shares his memories.

There is still a generation of Wearsiders who can recite their dividend (divi) number.

It came from a business that was always known locally as ‘the Co-op’ or ‘the store’.

The Sunderland Equitable Industrial Society, which no longer exists in the city, began as grocers on March 17, 1860, in High Street West, employing a staff of three – one of whom was a delivery boy.

In 1862, the Society moved to Matlock Street and introduced hosiery, footwear and ‘the thousand and one wee fancy things which make ladies and children so attractive’

Philip Curtis

Members were given a refund on their purchases in a dividend which could be collected from the store.

In 1862, the society moved to Matlock Street and introduced hosiery, footwear and ‘the thousand and one wee fancy things which make ladies and children so attractive’.

By 1880 the divi was 1/9¼d in the £ from annual sales of £54,298. In 1887, spacious new premises were opened in Green Street, and three years later the sales had reached £137,000 with the dividend increased to 2/2¼d.

At the turn of the century, the society began building houses for members to rent and buy. The mortgage was provided by the business for a number of properties built in the Roker area.

But competition from the neighbouring Ryhope & Silksworth Co-op began to have an effect. The divi from that Co-op was three times that of Sunderland, 4/- compared to 1/4d.

However, the expansion of the society continued and, by 1920, in addition to the central premises in Green Street, there were 21 branches in Sunderland and one in South Hylton covering food, retail and a non-food departments.

It was also involved in building, hosiery, dressmaking and millinery.

In 1922 a new branch was opened in Stockton Road, bringing the total to 22. Wallpaper and paints as well as coal distribution were introduced shortly afterwards.

During the 1930s, although improvement continued, the Depression affected the society and sales began to fall.

In 1935, these were actually lower than they had been in 1895! The society came through that period with only one branch having to close and, by 1940, it had opened a dairy and the divi rate had at last become comparable to that of the Ryhope & Silksworth Co-op.

However, by 1950 the overall financial situation deteriorated to the extent that the Co-operative Wholesale Society (CWS) assumed control with a local advisory committee remaining in place.

Recovery was gradual. By 1960, sales were £1.5m with the divi being 1/1d in the £.

During this period, funeral furnishing and a chemist department opened, but the Stockton Road grocery store closed.

At this time a site, which had been bought in High Street West, was developed and the main trading departments were transferred there from Green Street.

Sales continued to fall and in 1965 totalled only £1.2m with a dividend of 2d in the £.

In an attempt to address this, an aggressive sales policy was introduced with many foodstuffs being sold below cost item to attract customers.

These were only possible on the basis of having no delivery, no credit and the non-payment of divi on purchases. Price reductions on non-food items were also introduced.

The decline continued and, by 1967, nine branches had closed. The impact upon its neighbour, Ryhope & Silksworth, led in November of that year to the merging of both societies.

The combined stores faced aggressive competition and in July 1970 the society was transferred to the North Eastern Co-op.

Even this could not arrest the decline and eventually the store closed its doors in High Street West for the final time.

Many readers will have fond memories, but how many recall their old divi number (ours was 3307), or struggling up the stairs in the Green Street offices to receive it.