Webpage created: September 24, 2017.
Webpage updated: September 24, 2017
This imposing structure, designed by Mr H J Snell, architect, of Plymouth, was known as the Central Premises of the Plymouth Mutual Co-operative and Industrial Society. It stood on the corner of Frankfort Street, to the left in the photograph, and Courtenay Street, to the right.
Originally numbers 15, 16, 17 and 18 Frankfort Street, the Central Premises were extended in 1899 to take in numbers 13 and 14 as well. The 1899 extension is the lighter shaded block on the extreme left of the photograph.
Mr A R Debnam tendered £17,617 for the construction of block 1 and this was accepted in 1889.
Number 14 Frankfort Street was acquired in 1890 for the price of £2,250 and number 15 Frankfort Street was purchased in 1891 for £2,680.
A description of the premises in the Building News dated February 5th 1892 stated that it would have a frontage to Frankfort Street of 126 feet and similar to Courtenay Street of 146 feet. The building was to be faced with deep red bricks with Portland stone dressings. The plinth and pilasters of the ground floor were to rise to a height of 7 feet above the pavement and would be constructed of polished red Peterhead granite. The jambs of the two principal doorways in Frankfort Street were likewise of polished red Peterhead granite but the doorway to the Co-op Hall ion Courtenay Street was entirely constructed of polished red granite. The clock tower would rise to a height of 150 feet and the clock would be equipped with Westminster chimes.
There would nine separate shops on the ground floor, each rising to a height of 17 feet. The first floor would consist of a large general office, 50 feet by 34 feet by 14 feet in height, several large showrooms for furniture, drapery, etc., and a manager's office. On the second floor will be a large hall, 80 feet by 41 feet by 35 feet in height, with an arched ceiling springing from the top of the external window arches. That Hall would be capable of holding 15,000 people for general meetings of the Society. Also on this floor would be work rooms, committee rooms, a library, a reading room, and recreation rooms. The remaining floors were for store and work rooms and accommodation for a caretaker.
The principal entrance to the Hall would be from Courtenay Street via a 6 feet wide Portland stone staircase with the means of exit via a similar staircase leading to Frankfort Street.
The first block was officially opened on Wednesday February 21st 1894. At 1.30pm, headed by the Plymouth Town Band, a huge procession of the Society's vehicles and members started off from Friary Station and paraded through the Town to Bedford Street and into Frankfort Street. The Devonport Town Band brought up the rear. Two opening ceremonies were then performed, one by the Society's president, Mr W G Millman, at the main entrance in Frankfort Street and the other by the Society's general manager, Mr J H Young, at the entrance in Courtenay Street, both using silver keys to do the honours. Unfortunately the architect, Mr Henry J Snell, was unable to be present and a Mr T Sidey acted on his behalf in presenting the key to Mr Millman. Mr Trevan, the clerk of works, was present.
At the time of the opening the building was described as having seven shops on the ground floor, 42 rooms, and the hall measurements were given as 80 x 41 x 38 feet high. The building was 83 feet in height to the roof and the clock tower was 128 feet to the vane. The total floor space was given as 23,800 feet.
After the ceremonies there was a mad dash to get to the hall, where a meeting was held and where the Co-op orchestra, under Mr. J Lowman, entertained during the interval. Those who could not get into the meeting toured the building. The day ended with tea served in the St Andrew's Hall, where four sittings were required to feed and water 2,500 people. Those who had to wait were entertained by the Co-op Orchestra in the Guildhall.
In 1897 work began on constructing an extension alongside the original premises. This was officially opened on Wednesday September 27th 1899. The plans were once again prepared by Mr H J Snell and the work was undertaken by the Society's own Works Department under the watchful eyes of Mr J T Trevan, Works Manager. The cost of the extension alone amounted to £12,000, exclusive of the cost of the site, and the whole range of buildings, old and new, was said to have cost about £42,000 inclusive of the purchase of the land. The extension was built of Fareham brick with Portland stone dressings.
On the ground floor were two large and lofty shops occupied by the Drapery and Furnishing Departments. Over these, on the first floor, were showrooms for millinery, mantles, furnishing and ironmongery. A commodious library and reading-room and a lecture hall took up the second floor. Rooms for committee meetings and class-rooms were on the third floor while the fourth was stock rooms and a dining room for the staff. Down in the basement were store rooms for the Grocery and Butchery Departments.
As usual the Society made the most publicity out of the day, with another procession of 84 Co-op vehicles and two wagonettes of officers from Grenville Road, St Jude's, to Frankfort Street, headed by the Plymouth Town Band. At the rear was the Devonport Town Band. The door of the drapery shops was opened with a silver key by Mr W H Huxham and Mr T Gidley performed a similar ceremony at the door of the furnishing's store. When the party reached the second floor the door to the lecture hall and library was ceremonially opened by Mr J Stephens, chairman of the Educational Committee. Afterwards the procession reformed and continued to parade around the Town.
Tea was later provided in the main Co-op hall in Courtenay Street, with yet more speeches. In the evening there was a meeting (even more speeches) and a concert, in which 'Mr J W Wingate delighted the audience with a couple of violin solos, played with masterly skill, and songs were sung in capital style by Miss Blanch Hoskin, Miss Florence Ellery, and Mr Alfred Brown' accompanied by Mrs C Barter and Mr F W Harris.
A restaurant, accessed from Courtenay Street, was opened within the Central Premises on Saturday April 17th 1909.
During the first night of the Plymouth Blitz, Friday March 21st/Saturday 22nd 1941 the Plymouth Co-operative Society's imposing Central Premises was completely destroyed. Only the former furniture emporium survived. Some temporary shops were opened in Courtenay Street on Tuesday August 5th 1947. One of them was used as a grocery branch and at the end of 1948 this was converted to become Plymouth's first ever self-service store. It opened on Monday January 3rd 1949. Customers were provided with a basket in which to place their purchases but they could use their own bags provided they were empty when they entered the store. Carrier bags had to be bought at the check-out. Rationed goods had to be obtained from a separate counter.
The former furniture
emporium building was the only part of the Central Premises to survive the