The decades at the end of the Nineteenth Century were a difficult time for the military shoemakers of Northamptonshire. There was a constant downward pressure on piece rates and there were disputes and the rise of the trade unions partly as a response. Unemployment was high in the years either side of the turn of the century so that the 1911 Census has ‘Unemployed’ beside the occupation of many shoemakers in Ringstead. Only the Boer Wars and the First World War provided some respite but, with the peace, hard times returned for the handsewn men.
If you talk about ‘The Co-op’ most older people will think of a local shop. It still retains some of its original purpose of giving working people a chance to buy unadulterated foodstuffs at a proper price but perhaps some of the fervour of those early days has gone. Like democracy and Local Government ordinary people saw it as a way of taking control of their own lives.
The Co-operative movement probably started in Scotland in the eighteenth century but it was the Rochdale Pioneers who were the first successful example of working people getting together to set up a jointly-owned shop . From the start it was also a political movement and we can see this from a meeting of the Kettering District Cooperative Association at Desborough in October 1884: ‘Mr. Scotton, who was enthusiastically received, gave an instructive speech on how working men, by taking affairs into their own hands, might provide for themselves, and the good co-operation has done for the whole of the working classes throughout the whole country.’ The Desborough Co-operative Stores had started in 1864 so it is perhaps surprising that Ringstead did not form its own Co-operative Stores, which included a bakery, until 1894.
Many older people will remember the Co-op shop and the bakery where they took their Sunday dinners to be cooked. In 1983, the Ringstead Distributive Society merged with the Raunds Co-operative Society and the Ringstead shop finally closed its doors. There is now a Londis shop on the site.
Distribution for the Cooperative Society, as with all other trades in the Victorian era, was by horse and cart and, for local delivery rounds, by handcart. Companies such as Alldays & Onions, who also manufactured bicycles, were major suppliers of handcarts, described in their catalogue as ‘hand parcel carriers.’ While bicycles and tricycles were increasingly used for local deliveries from the 1890s onwards, light goods such as bread were still carried by traditional handcarts until the 1920s, particularly in poorer areas of the country. In the picture above, the handcart in front of the Ringstead Co-operative Society shop is identical to the one featured here.
1910s/1920s Bakers’ Cart: Ringstead Co-operative Society
This bakers’ handcart is in excellent original condition throughout, retaining its original paintwork and lettering for RINGSTEAD DISTRIBUTIVE CO-OPERATIVE SOCIETY.
1905 RAUNDS GREAT STRIKE: THE MARCH TO LONDON
The Northampton area has always been famous for bookmaking. After the Boer War, the Government obviously didn’t need to purchase so many boots and the immediate fall in demand meant that army boot making centres, particularly Raunds, Ringstead, Rushden, Higham Ferrers and Irthlingborough began undercutting each other to try to retain military contracts.
When contractors undercut each other, the immediate effect was to reduce employees wages and this was already happening by 1903. By 1905 the situation in Raunds was very desperate. The worst payers seem to have been the Co-operative Societies and, in particular, the St Crispin’s Productive Society in Raunds.
The Union decided on behalf of their men and women in the boot factories that they should claim the proper and fair statement prices from the manufacturers as from a fixed date which they decided would be 1st March 1905. Union members were assured of 15 shillings per week benefit and 5 shillings per week from Union funds if they went on strike, which was more than most were then getting from their employment.
About a dozen companies refused to agree to the Union demands and in consequence some 400 workers came out on strike. Mr James Gribble, the Union Organiser, asked local women to declare that they would stand firm behind their men folk. As the month went on, the strike which had been started peacefully, began to disintegrate as blacklegs continued to cross the picket lines to collect their homework. On 22nd March an extra 30 Policemen were drafted into Raunds, but these weren’t enough to prevent houses being attacked and soon there wasn’t a window in Raunds intact in any of the non-Unionist households.
Several men were arrested by the Police and were subsequently brought before the Thrapston Magistrates Court.
With the strike seemingly not having any effect, a number of strikers gradually drifted back to work and by April it looked like the Union had been defeated. But at this stage James Gribble, the Union Organiser who had been placed in Raunds to manage the strike, came up with the idea of a march by the strikers to London to lay their grievances directly before the Government and if that failed, to petition King Edward VII direct when he returned from Paris. Over 300 strikers volunteered for the march but Mr Gribble (who had previously been a regular in the British Armed Forces) chose 115 strikers who were likely to march the best.
Ringstead Cooperative Society: info with thanks to – http://ringstead.squarespace.com/ringstead-people/2013/8/14/bk2-the-ringstead-co-operative-societies.html
1905 Raunds Strike & March: info thanks to – http://www.rushdenheritage.co.uk/Villages/Raunds/RaundsMarch1905.html