THE takeover of Bristol-based Somerfield’s stores by the Manchester-based Co-operative Group in 2008 made it the largest deal of its kind by a supermarket chain then since Morrisons took over Safeway in 2004.

The first Co-operative society was started in London, in 1821, by Robert Owen (1771-1858). Then, in 1844, the first distribution store was opened up in Rochdale.

In the following years, other similar stores and shops opened up with the principle purpose of selling goods at reduced prices, while another system by other shops was to charge ordinary prices and divide their profits among their purchasers, then giving their customers a “dividend”, thus catering for the poor people of the time.

More shops opened as the businesses flourished and, soon, the wholesale side of the Co-operative was producing soap, woollen goods, boots and shoes.

The idea of the Co-operative’s business spread to other countries, including France, Germany, Denmark and Sweden.

The “divi”, as it was nicknamed, was shared out with the aid of a customer’s member card, which had a number on it.

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When the customer bought any goods at a Co-op store, they were given a ticket with their number on it and the total of money spent. This total was the basis for the “divi”.

In 1873, the Portsea Island Mutual Co-operative Society was formed, and the Basingstoke area was included in its territory in 1968, at a time when the town was being developed under the overspill plan of that period.

Prior to that date, there were shops under the banner of Basingstoke Co-operative Society Ltd in New Street, Oakridge Road, Soper’s Grove, Kings Road, Elmwood Way and Essex Road.

In 1926, New Street, in Basingstoke, saw the first acquisition of a shop as a Co-op business. Then, by 1951, most of the little shops on the west side of the road had been taken over, with a chemist, footwear and grocery sections.

In 1958, these little shops were demolished and a large modern Co-operative store was built and opened in November 1961.

Meanwhile, the old Plaza Cinema, at the top of Sarum Hill, was taken over as a Co-op furnishing store.

The New Street store, which stretched from Winchester Street to what was then the main post office, held all the different sections that the little shops had, but it lasted only 25 years for, in 1985, it was demolished and an office block built on the site.

The Co-operative business was transferred to the Vista store in the new town centre, but even this closed down some years later.

The Kings Road shop in Basingstoke was built in the mid-1950s and has survived the many changes that the town has undergone. It has even taken over the newsagent next door.

The town centre, however, lost the Co-op entirely.

The news that the Co-operative has taken over Somerfield would please Robert Owen, the founder of the society, if he was still alive.

Born at Newtown, Montgomeryshire, in May 1771, he became a manager at a firm in Manchester at the age of 23.

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While on a visit to Glasgow, he fell in love with the daughter of the proprietor of the New Lanark Mills.

He persuaded his Manchester business partners to buy the mills and, on his marriage in 1800, he settled down there as manager and part owner.

The business employed 2,000 people, some of whom were children from the poor houses and orphanages of Glasgow.

Owen realised how poverty-stricken the area was, so he improved the employment conditions, built new houses and other facilities, including Britain’s first infant schools, and placed a ban on the sale of alcohol.

He was later praised by the authorities for his ideas and work, and even the Emperor of Russia visited him to see how good Owen’s scheme was.

His socialist ideals brought about the Co-operative Society, but he lost much respect from being hostile to all forms of religion.

He died in November 1858, aged 87.

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