Tales Of Kirrie Toon

Kirrie and Co-operatives


Kirrie has the hidden distinction of having started several of the earliest food co-operatives we know of in Scotland. The first documented food co-operative was started by 16 weavers in the Ayrshire village of Fenwick, the second by Govan weavers in 1777.

Next came Kirrie. Their part is not told in any of the standard histories of the Co-operative movement, but Ewan came across the following in a small type footnote to the account of Kirriemuir in the Old Statistical Account of the 1790s, written by Rev William Ogilvy. 

The town was in great distress in 1782, not so much from a scarcity of of victual, for some of the farmers never had a better crop, as from a resolution entered into by the people not to give above a certain price. Consequently the farmers carried their victual to the best market; and this place was threatened with a famine.

To prevent this in future, a society was established in 1785, called the Weavers Society. Each member, at his admission, pays a certain sum, and so much a quarter afterward; and in case of sickness, or inability to work, he is entitled to a certain allowance a-week; and in the event of his having a widow, she receives a small annuity.

The funds, which are now considerable, are employed in purchasing meal, which is sold to the members at prime cost, and to others, at a trifling profit. This society has been of great use to the parish. Another, on much the same plan, called the Society of Shoemakers, was established some months ago. 

Alan Reid says that in 1801 The Rev Alexander Peat told about more very early co-operative efforts in Kirrie following on the success of the weavers and souters’ co-ops. ‘Four other friendly societies have since been established, all of which have been of essential service to their members’.

In 1839, again very early, a new kind of Kirrie co-op was formed, under modern principles. Five of the older co-ops had faded away by 1846, leaving just two, the Old Association in the Roods, William Nicol salesman, and the New Association in Bank St, Walter Lindsay salesman.

Where dae ye shop? Which Co-op? The old time Weavers or the new Divvy lot?

Walter in Bank Street or Willie in the Roods? Which one dae ye favour?

Ewan McVicar

By 1878 only the Equitable Co-operative Society Ltd, was still in business, their main shop in Bank St, with branches in Airlie Square and Newtown, There would have been a bakehouse by then, and storage cellars.The older restricted model of membership and profit-sharing was conquered by the new dividend sharing model that led to a tremendous flowering of co-operative businesses throughout the land. 

The Kirrie Co-op had competition however. The committee report of 1867 complains, "Purchase your goods at your own store is a maxim never to be allowed to be out of sight; and yet we are afraid some of us forget it, as easily can be proved from the well-attested fact that there are not to be found in Kirriemuir parties more easily charmed than some of our members are with the melodious sound of the 'Forfar whistle'.

[Having puzzled over the mysterious Forfar whistle, we now guess that the Forfar Co-op sent out carts supplying goods in the Kirrie area, announcing their arrival with a whistle.]  

In 1886 Kirriemuir Co-op had 1028 members, sales of £24007, and a profit of £2987.

In 1909, Kirrie Co-op had 1174 members, sales of £25792, and a net profit of £2955.

21 distributive employees earned £1015, and 10 productive employees earned £572.

In 1909, Kirriemuir Coal had 356 members, sales of £1545 and a net profit of 183. Their distributive staff earned £60.

In 1955 Kirrie Equitable had 18 premises.

In 1955 there were the following premises.

1 Bank St, cellars

9 Bellie’s Brae, painters store

1 Craig’s Lane, shop

72 Glamis Road, sub post office

74-76 Glamis Road, grocery

4 Glengate, shop

13-18 High St, drapers

20 High St, shop

49 High St, shop

Hillhead Terrace, bakery

Kirktonhill / Douglas St, market garden

Railway Station – Kirriemuir Coal Company

4/6/8 Reform St, Grocery

10 Reform St, shop

14 Reform St, shop

16 & 16a Reform St, butchers and shoemakers

14 Roods, offices upstairs

Plus garages at ##