“There are few more romantic chapters in the story of the Co-operative Movement than that which deals with the Kettering Clothing Co-operative Society.”
So says a souvenir booklet penned in 1925 to commemorate 32 years of the organisation and its extraordinary growth.
The society began trading on January 1, 1894, in a Kettering clothing factory “with a corrugated iron roof through which wind and rain made their way, and which had no heat but that generated by the hard work and enthusiasm of the workers themselves”.
The society was born out of the town’s Industrial Co-operative Society’s failure to successfully establish a clothing wing. In 1894 it had just a dozen workers and a float of about £500.
A year later a four-storey factory was opened on the corner of Dryden Street and Field Street and by 1925 the society had factories in Kettering, Corby and Burton Latimer, which employed some 1,320 people.
It made adults and children’s clothing, with ladieswear getting its own factory on the corner of Field Street and Cobden Street in Kettering in 1913/14 and a “Branch Factory for Youths being built in Corby in 1920”.
Despite working 48 hours a week, employees found time to enjoy the society’s thriving social calendar.
It had an orchestral band, swimming club, nursing division, an annual flower show and for the younger members of the workforce weekend schools and a junior operatic society. Being a co-operative all of the employees benefited from the profits and shared the pain equally if trading was bad. The society prided itself that “no worker has ever been discharged owing to bad trade”.
The company offered sick pay and two weeks annual holiday pay along with a pension fund, declared one of the soundest in existence.
Each adult employee also had a vote at the general meeting to decide who should be on the committee to run the society.