The history of the organised C19 working class in Dumfries is little known, its most famous moment being, perhaps, its participation in the mid-C19 Chartist movement, which sought the vote for working men. And it was a group of Chartists who, in 1847, helped establish the town’s first co-operative store, the Dumfries & Maxwelltown Co-operative Provision Society, in a bid to challenge the cartels of local meal merchants and bakers.
In this (256-page hardback) study of the early Dumfries co-operative movement – using extant minutes, newspaper reports and other original sources – Ian Gasse provides detailed accounts of the town’s various co-operative initiatives from the middle of the C19 to the outbreak of the 1st World War. By then, a much restructured Dumfries & Maxwelltown Co-operative Society had six branches in the two towns, two more in nearby Castle Douglas, a Co-operative Women’s Guild, and annual sales equivalent to nearly £7 million a year at 2021 values.
The Society had thus, after some long-running battles with private traders and shopkeepers, become a central element in the Dumfries retail economy, and a vital source for working-class households of foodstuffs, clothing and other goods – all at affordable prices. It was also provider of an increasing number of jobs, as well as of regular dividend payments for its thousands of members and customers, and it offered various distinctive cultural activities for local townspeople – both members and non-members. By 1914 the Society – and the co-operative ethos – were firmly established and a much valued part of the social, economic and cultural fabric of the town.