Corner Commerce

Many readers will have memories of the iconic corner shop, selling groceries and daily necessities in the midst of suburban housing.  But it was not only the mixed businesses that set up on the prominent and prized corner blocks.

In 1892 the Newcastle Morning Herald and Miners’ Advocate in a feature article on the “rapidly-rising mining suburb of New Lambton” noted “a hairdressing saloon is kept by Mr. T. Griffiths.” In 1903 Ralph Snowball photographed Thomas Griffiths’ hairdresser and tobacconist shop, situated on the corner of Lambton Road and Rugby Road. The subsequent history of the business is somewhat difficult to determine, there being at least four different Thomas Griffiths in early New Lambton, two of whom lived on Lambton Road. Aerial photographs from the NSW Historical Imagery website show that the shop building was demolished sometime between 1966 and 1974.

The other end of Lambton Road, at the intersection with Railway Street, was another location of corner commerce. William Oldham originally intended to open a hotel there, and in 1876 he applied three times for a publican’s license, without success. Advertisements indicate that by 1878 he was running a butcher shop there, and when William died in 1889 his son Joseph took over.

However, it seems Joseph Oldham was more interested in civic service than continuing the family business. When New Lambton Municipality formed in 1889, Joseph was one of the nine aldermen first elected to the Council. In March 1890 he was elected as New Lambton’s second mayor.

After being narrowly defeated in the 1891 election, Oldham advertised the sale of his butcher shop building and equipment and took on the role of Works Foreman for the council. Griffiths and Oldham are but two examples of the many suburban businesses that have come and gone over the years. When the big corporate shopping centres arrived in Newcastle (Jesmond in 1964, Kotara in 1965) the competitive pressure forced the closure of many corner shops, and few remain today.

Thomas Griffiths’ residence and shop, corner of Rugby Road and Lambton Lane, 12 February 1903. Photo by Ralph Snowball. University of Newcastle, Living Histories.
While suburban corner shops have mostly disappeared, town shopping precincts such as Regent Street in New Lambton have survived, despite the dominance of the corporate shopping centres.

The article above was first published in the May 2023 edition of The Local.

Additional Information

Thomas Griffiths, hairdresser

Identifying the location of Thomas Griffiths hairdressing salon photographed by Snowball in 1903, was a tricky process, due to scant information, and there being more than one person named Thomas Griffiths in New Lambton at the time.

Personal notices in the newspaper on 5 February 1885 and 7 February 1885 show that Thomas and Mary Griffiths had a house “opposite the public school”, and that Mary, not Thomas, was the owner of the house. This area was part of the Newcastle Pasturage Reserve, also known as the Commonage. After the government had passed legislation to allow residents of the Commonage to purchase the land they were living on, an application by Mary Griffiths to to purchase portion 1306 for £78 16s was accepted by the Land Board on 14 August 1890. On 13 September1892 there is a brief mention in a newspaper article on the progress of New Lambton that “a hairdressing saloon is kept by Mr. T. Griffiths.”

Mary’s purchase of land portion 1306 was later registered on 20 June 1901 in Vol-Fol 1365-3, with the purchaser shown as “Mary Griffiths, a married woman of New Lambton.”

Purchase of Portion 1306 by Mary Griffiths.

In October 1901, portion 1306 was subdivided into two halves, with the western half (on the corner with Lambton Lane) sold to “Thomas Griffiths of New Lambton, Hairdresser” in Vol-Fol 1377-2.

Vol-Fol 1377-2

The northern half was retained by Mary Griffiths, however the land title Vol-Fol 1377-14 on 16 October 1901 now lists her as “Mary Griffiths of New Lambton, Widow“. This suggests that her husband Thomas had died sometime prior to October 1901, and that she had a son. also named Thomas, who was the hairdresser.

Vol-Fol 1377-14

The Federal Directory of Newcastle and Districts in 1901, lists Thomas Griffiths as a barber in Lambton Road.

Ralph Snowball took a second photograph of Thomas Griffith’s residence and shop, from a different angle. 12 February 1903. University of Newcastle, Living Histories.
A 1906 Snowball photograph shows Thomas Griffiths shop and house in Rugby Rd, with the shop now having an awning extending over the footpath. University of Newcastle, Living Histories.
An aerial photograph from 1944 shows T Griffiths shop and house on the corner of Rugby Rd and Lambton Lane. NSW Historical Imagery.

I have not been able to determine how long Thomas Griffiths operated as a hairdresser at the Rugby Road site. Griffiths retained ownership of the land until 1955, when it was sold to “Glen Maloney of New Lambton, hairdresser.”

Transfer of land from Thomas Griffiths to Glen Maloney. Vol-Fol 1377-2

Although there’s no indication of where exactly in New Lambton the following photo of Glen Maloney was taken, as I hated having my hair cut as a kid I couldn’t resist including this photo.

Glen Maloney, barber in New Lambton. Newcastle Morning Herald and Miners’ Advocate, 20 May 1950.
NSW Historical Aerial Imagery shows that the hairdressing shop building on the corner was gone by 1974,

Thomas Griffiths, Miner

Also living on Lambton Road, was another Thomas Griffiths, who was a miner. On 14 August 1890, Griffiths’ application for portion 1300 on the Newcastle Pasturage Reserve was accepted, and the purchase later registered on land title Vol-Fol 2141-172., when the land ownership was transferred to his wife Mary after his death on 7 March 1910.

Mr. Thomas Griffiths, an old and respected resident of New Lambton, died very suddenly yesterday … He followed the occupation of a miner, and worked in the old Borehole mine in its early stages and afterwards at the Lambton Colliery when first opening out. He continued at this mine until it temporarily suspended operations, some few years ago, after which he retired from active work.

Newcastle Morning herald and Miners’ Advocate, 8 March 1910.
Portion 1300 of the Newcastle Pasturage Reserve. Historical Lands Records Viewer.

A miner’s cottage stood upon this block of land for many years until it was destroyed by fire on 30 March 2023.

Miner’s cottage at 305 Lambton Road. Google StreetView.
305 Lambton Road, 1 April 2023.

Thomas George Griffiths, mine manager

Yet another Thomas Griffiths associated with New Lambton, was Thomas George Griffiths, who managed various small collieries in the area.

Oldham’s Butcher Shop

The first mention of William Oldham as a butcher in New Lambton is on 14 September 1878, in a public notice advising that Oldham was taking sole control of the butchering business formerly conducted in partnership with Michael Fenwick. The exact location of the business is not stated in the notice, nor in subsequent advertisements.

Advertisement for W Oldham, butcher, New Lambton. Newcastle Morning Herald and Miners’ Advocate, 1 December 1880.

The first time the location of Oldham’s butcher shop is revealed, is in an advertisement on 5 June 1886 where the premises are described as being “near New Lambton Bridge.” An 1887 article on tramway stops makes it clear that the bridge referred to was the Lambton Colliery bridge.

If the traffic manager would appoint a stopping place on the New Lambton side of the railway bridge near Mr. Oldham’s butcher’s shop, he would confer a boon on the large number of people living around.

Newcastle Morning Herald and Miners’ Advocate, 12 November 1887.
A 1906 real estate map shows the Oldham property near the Lambton colliery railway bridge over the tramway. University of Newcastle, Special Collections.

On 19 August 1890, the application by Joseph W. Oldham to purchase portion 1890 of the Newcastle Pasturage Reserve was granted by the Land Board, and the ownership subsequently registered on land title Vol-Fol 1061-30.

Portion 1290 of the Newcastle Pasturage Reserve purchased by Joseph W Oldham in 1890.
Advertisement for sale of Oldham’s butcher shop. Newcastle Morning Herald and Miners’ Advocate, 28 February 1891.

Joseph Oldham died on 15 January 1929, with his obituary outlining a very varied career …

Born at Lambton in 1861, Mr. Oldham had a varied career. At one period he was a master butcher at New Lambton, but sold out, and was appointed works foreman of New Lambton Council. In addition, he was an alderman and was the second Mayor to occupy the chair of New Lambton Council. He occupied the position of works foreman for five years, and then became the licensee of the Commercial Hotel. The South African diamond mines next claimed Mr. Oldham’s attention, and he was away from Australia for nearly two years. Returning, he was engaged at the West Wallsend and Lambton collieries as a miner and check inspector. Mr. Oldham next accepted the position of town clerk of Lambton. He remained there seven years, and 18 years ago was appointed town clerk at Stockton. He occupied this position for 11 years, and resigned to again enter into business on his own account. Real estate claimed his attention, and he also assisted his sons with their butchery business.Mr. Oldham is survived by his wife, four sons (Messrs. Joseph, Leslie, Eric and Hiram Oldham), and six daughters (Mesdames J. Collinson, J. Webster, E. M. Hughes, H. Hutton, C. L. Sutton and Miss Jean Oldham). One son was killed at the war.

The Newcastle Sun, 16 January 1929.

Shopping Centres

The first modern shopping centre to open in Australia, was a Chermside in the suburbs of Brisbane, in May 1957. In Newcastle the first shopping centre was opened by Woolworths at Jesmond in 1964. Named the Jesmond Regional Shopping Centre, the 12 acre site on Bluegum Road Jesmond had 25 shops including a Big W store.

Jesmond Regional Shopping Centre. Woolworths advertisement in The Canberra Times, 9 November 1965.
Aerial photograph of Jesmond Regional Shopping Centre in 1966. NSW Historical Imagery.

In October 1965 Woolworths opened “Kotara Fair” shopping centre on a 17 acre site, with a supermarket, Big W, and 27 smaller shops for lease.

Aerial photograph of Kotara Fair Shopping Centre in 1966. NSW Historical Imagery.

Newspaper articles

Thomas Griffiths

Article Date Event DateNotes
5 Feb 1885"NOTICE TO BUTCHERS, STOREKEEPERS, AND OTHERS. I WILL not be responsible for any debts contracted by my wife Mary Griffiths, on and after this date. THOMAS GRIFFITHS, Opposite Public School, New Lambton."
7 Feb 1885"CAUTION. THE public are hereby cautioned not to PURCHASE the HOUSE opposite the Public School, New Lambton, which was advertised for sale by Thomas Griffiths, as the house belongs to me. MARY GRIFFITHS."
13 Feb 1892"A hairdressing saloon is kept by Mr. T. Griffiths. "
28 Jan 1893"Thomas Griffiths, hairdresser, New Lambton", defendant in a case of alleged assault.
17 Jul 1900"LOST, a Silver-plated Lamp Socket bebetween Young-rd. extension and Broadmeadow. Reward on leaving the same with Thomas Griffiths, Hairdresser, New Lambton."
12 Jul 1901"A meeting of the friends Mrs. Parson, of Lambton-road, whose husband died a few weeks ago leaving her and 11 children in destitute circumstances, was held at Mr. Thos. Griffiths' hairdresser, last night."
8 Mar 1910
7 Mar 1910
Death of Thomas Griffiths, miner, of Lambton Road, New Lambton.
2 Apr 1965Woolworths report on operations in 1964 ..."During the year , 63 new stores were opened in Australia, many of which were relocation of existing stores.. The most notable development was the establishment of the 25-unit Jesmond Regional Shopping Centre."
14 Jul 1965"Woolworths Ltd would open a £2 million shopping centre at Kotara, Newcastle, in October, Mr Theo Kelly, chairman and managing director of the company, said today. It would be known as Kotara Fair and would be the firm's second drive-in shopping centre in the Newcastle district. "The Kotara Fair will provide one-stop shopping for a wide circle of suburbs, being readily accessible from all parts of Newcastle," Mr Kelly said. The shopping block covers 17 acres and has 170,000 square feet of trading space, comprising an air-conditioned 67,000 sq ft "Big W" department store, a 28,000 sq ft Woolworths supermarket and 27 smaller shops, available for leasing."

Oldham’s Butcher Shop

Article Date Event DateNotes
5 Jul 1876"PUBLIC-HOUSES. Mr. Oldham has also made some alterations to his house, and intends trying the Bench again."
12 Jul 1876"William Oldham applied, for the third time, for a license for a house situated on the Commonage Reserve, near the Lambton Colliery." Application withdrawn after objections made.
16 Aug 1876"Mr. W. Oldham, who three times applied for a publican's license, and each time was refused, chiefly through the opposition of Mr. Croudace, has now, I understand, applied for a colonial wine license. Mr. Croudace, determined not to be beaten, has commenced to erect a fence round Oldham's house, so that if he gets the wine no one shall go near to drink it. They seem determined to fight it out."
14 Sep 1878William Oldham takes sole control of the butchering business that Michael Fenwick was formerly a partner in.
1 Dec 1880Advertisement for W Oldham, butcher, New Lambton.
5 Jun 1886"EDWARDS & TIGHE have received instructions from Mr. Oldham, to sell by auction, at his premises, near New Lambton Bridge …50 pigs, 2 double seated buggies …"
12 Nov 1887"If the traffic manager would appoint a stopping place on the New Lambton side of the railway bridge near Mr. Oldham's butcher's shop, he would confer a boon on the large number of people living around."
4 Jun 1889
12 Apr 1889
Death of William Oldham, of New Lambton.
28 Feb 1891"CLEARING-OUT SALE. Butchers' Plant, shop to be removed, &c., at New Lambton. To Butchers, Dealers, and Others. GEO. T. EDWARDS has been instructed by Mr. Oldham to sell by auction at his shop, near the bridge, Lambton … the W.B. Building now used as shop, … Sausage Machine and Filler; Scales and Weights, Shop Bars and Hooks."
21 Mar 1891"FOR SALE, privately, four Saddle and Harness HORSES, Sausage Machine, and Filler. J. W. OLDHAM, New Lambton."
16 Jan 1929
15 Jan 1929
Death of Joseph Oldham.

George Bell, Grocer

This month’s photograph of George Bell and Sons grocery store in Elder St Lambton was taken exactly 125 years ago in May 1896. It is not only a reminder of how our visual landscape has changed, but also how our way of life has changed, as seen in the two themes of Tea and Transport.

A riddle published a century ago asks: Why is a grocer a heavy person? Because his business always makes him weigh tea (weighty). Although not side-splittingly funny, it’s a reminder that while we now purchase tea in mass produced robotically dispensed plastic wrapped packages, grocers like Bell bought commodities such as flour, sugar and tea in bulk then sold it to their customers by weighing out the requested quantity for each individual purchase.

From about 1880 tea began to be distributed and sold in small packets of set weight. There were two reasons for the change. The weighing and packing of each purchase took considerable time, incurring great expense to every grocer doing even an ordinary trade. Pre-packaged tea also benefited the customer, preventing grocers making a bit of sly profit by wrapping the tea in extra heavy paper before weighing, or by adulterating it with other substances.

Not that George Bell would have practised such deceits. He was held in high respect, as evidenced by the hundreds who attended his funeral in November 1887. A few weeks earlier while travelling in a horse and buggy near Sandgate Cemetery, the horse was startled and then bolted, capsizing the buggy. George suffered serious head injuries from which he never recovered and he died aged just 58.

It is tempting to imagine travel by horse and cart as a serene and idyllic experience. In truth it was dangerous, and newspapers regularly reported on serious injuries and fatalities related to horse drawn transport. Although tragically, serious accidents still occur now on our roads today, travelling today is considerably safer than in the times of George Bell.

Bell’s grocery store in May 1896. The shop was erected 1875 and the residence on the left in 1882. Photograph by Ralph Snowball. University of Newcastle, Living Histories.
A new brick building for Bell’s grocery business was constructed in 1907 by George’s son, John Reavely Bell. The building is still in use today by Elder Street Practice.

The article above was first published in the May 2021 edition of The Local.

Additional Information

Packet Tea

Some of the information in my article relating to the sale of tea, came from a University of Sydney Bachelor of Arts (Honours) dissertation by Jessica Knight from 2011, entitled “A Poisonous Cup? Afternoon Tea in Australian Society, 1870-1914.”

In particular, the paragraph commencing at the bottom of page 16 was insightful.

The introduction of pre-packaged teas, as opposed to bulk tea which was usually packaged in large tea chests, marked a shift in both sales and consumption of tea. For example, the Asiatic Tea Company opened in 26 May 1881 in Pitt Street to sell their packet teas. The justification they provided for packet tea was that “tea being so universally used in Australia, the consumption consequently is very great, the weighing and packing of which takes considerable time meaning additional expense to every grocer doing even an ordinary trade, while in country towns where experienced grocers’ assistants are difficult to be obtained, the weighing and packing of tea became a source of annoyance to the storekeeper – hence the great advantage to them in the use and general sale of packet teas”. The Company’s success was so great that they soon needed to move to larger premises, and they grew to include supplying packet tea to storekeepers across the city of Sydney and in wider New South Wales. Mirroring the increasing commodification of tea in Britain, these tea shops indicated the success of tea commercial enterprise within Australia, and thus provide tangible support to the interconnectedness of the Empire.

page 16 of Jessica Knight’s dissertation.

The extent of the problem of inferior tea being sold by the illicit mixing in of other substances can be gleaned by searching Trove for the phrase “tea adulteration”. The Argus of 9 April 1881 reported that …

The various methods of adulteration of tea may be defined as the addition of leaves other than those of tea except those used for scenting exhausted tea leaves and damaged tea; an undue proportion of stalks or vegetable matter foreign to tea of any kind whatever; foreign mineral matter especially sand, quartz, soapstone, China clay, magnetic oxide of iron. Lastly the substances used for artificially colouring or painting the teas as ferrocyanide of iron, or Prussian blue indigo, turmeric &c.

An example of adulteration can be seen in this 15 February 1898 report, where a grocer was charged for selling tea “of very inferior quality” that had been adulterated with plumbago (a garden shrub). The grocer blamed the merchants he had bought the tea from.

Elder Street store

Vol-Fol 99-214 shows that “George Bell of Lambton, Miner” purchased Lot 8 of Section E of Lambton township in 1870.

Lot 8 Section E of Lambton. Vol-Fol 99-214.

Ownership of the land remained in the Bell family until 1965.

  • 1889 – George Edward Bell
  • 1899 – Ann Bell (widow of George Edward Bell)
  • 1904 – George Reavely Bell
  • 1909 – Elizabeth Bell (Widow of George Reavely Bell)
  • 1952 – Sydney Raymond Bell
  • 1965 – Doris Lila Janssen and Myra May Edwards

Although from the exterior it appears that the George Bell’s residence (to the left of the store) no longer remains, there is in fact a few rooms at the rear of the building that were retained, one of which is used as a lunch room by the Elder Street Practice. This room has an ornate fireplace, timber floor, wood panelled skirting boards, and pressed metal ceiling.

Cash only for George Bell from April 1877. Newcastle Morning Herald and Miners’ Advocate, 31 March 1877.

Hunter Street stores

Newcastle Morning Herald and Miners’ Advocate, 7 July 1894.

The Western Arcade was located at 684 Hunter St, It was originally erected in 1888 as the The Elite Skating Rink. The site later became the Palais Royale, and was eventually demolished to make way for KFC.

City Arcade and Western Markets, Hunter Street, Newcastle West, 8 February 1892 (2 years before Bell and Sons opened a store here). University of Newcastle, Living Histories.

In 1897, the firm erected their own premises on in Hunter Street West.

Newcastle Morning Herald and Miners’ Advocate, 17 December 1897.

This new store was located at 545 Hunter Street, and the building remains today.

Note the bell sculpture at the top of the building façade, alluded to in their advertisement.

Bell sculpture on Hunter Street store.

In a similar fashion, their Elder St Lambton store in 1896 had a picture of a bell painted on the side wall.

Bell picture on Lambton store.

An advertisement for Bell’s store from 1902, shows how ingredients such as sugar, tea and flour were sold by the pound. Note also that the address of “261 Hunter-Street West” is the old number, before Hunter street was re-numbered

Death of George Bell

SERIOUS ACCIDENT.–We regret to learn that a serious accident occurred yesterday to Mr. George Bell, storekeeper, Lambton. It appears that Mr. Bell, with two of his sons, was driving in a sociable. When in the neighbourhood of Sandgate Cemetery the king-bolt of the vehicle gave way, and the shaft fell, frightening the horse, which immediately bolted. The vehicle was capsized, and the occupants were thrown out with much force, the result being that Mr. Bell was severely injured about the head, while one of his sons was much injured about the face. Assistance was lent by some passers by, and Dr. Nash, of Wallsend, having been sent for, applied the usual remedies in order to bring Mr. Bell to consciousness. It was, however, about an hour and a half before the patient rallied. A cart was obtained from Hexham, and he was conveyed from the scene of the accident. Concussion of the brain is feared, and Mr. Bell lies in a critical condition.

Newcastle Morning Herald and Miners’ Advocate, 31 October 1887

The LATE Mr. GEORGE BELL.–The deep regret felt for the death of the above gentleman, and the general respect in which he was held, was very evident yesterday, Monday, seeing the large number that came to pay their last tribute of respect by attending the funeral. The Lambton residents were present in hundreds, and others from Newcastle, Wallsend, Waratah, and other places, a good many being business people, and amongst whom were representatives of some of the leading business houses in Newcastle. Altogether the funeral cortege was one of the largest that left Lambton, and made up as it was of hundreds of foot passengers, numerous buggies, ‘buses, and other vehicles, and horsemen, the length covered was little short of a mile. Prior to leaving the deceased’s late residence, the Rev. Mr. Walters, of the Primitive Methodist, conducted a short service, the remains were then placed in the hearse, following which came the sons of deceased, then a mourning coach with other relatives and intimate friends, and then the long procession. The members of the now defunct Lambton band, with some of the Volunteer Band, to show their respect, mustered fourteen players, and marched in precedence of the hearse, playing the solemn strains of the ” Dead March in Saul.” The funeral went through Waratah to the North Waratah Cemetery, where the Rev. J. P. Ollis conducted the impressive service of the Church of England, and thus the last act to one who in life was respected for his uprightness of character, and deeply lamented and truly honoured in death.

Newcastle Morning Herald and Miners’ Advocate, 22 November 1887.

Newspaper articles

Article Date Event DateNotes
12 Sep 1870First mention of George Bell in the newspaper - signatory in a petition for the formation of Lambton Municipality.
18 Jul 1871
15 Jul 1871
At a public meeting, George Bell is nominated for the first Lambton council election. His name does not appear on official list of nominees on 29 Jul 1871 - either his nomination proved to be invalid, or he withdrew.
9 Dec 1875In Elder-street, a couple of commodious two-storied buildings, that have been in course of erection for some time, are now completed. The shops are owned by Messrs. Bell and Wilson, the former of which has now opened as a grocer.
17 Jul 1879
13 Jul 1879
"As Mr. and Mrs George Bell and Mr. E. Reavely were driving down Turton Road, they had a narrow escape from serious injury. When near Thompson's Hotel the winkers became loose, and the horse at once bolted, keeping straight on until near Merchant's Hotel, where the vehicle capsized, throwing the whole of the occupants out on the street. They, however, strange to say, escaped with out much injury beside a severe shaking."
19 Apr 1882"Mr. George Bell, one of the most enterprising of our local business men, is having a new residence erected adjoining his stores in Elder-street. The building, is of a substantial character, and judging from the plan will be one of imposing appearance when completed."
31 Oct 1887
30 Oct 1887
Serious horse and buggy accident in which George Bell suffers critical injuries.
26 Nov 1887
19 Nov 1887
"Death. BELL. — At Lambton, on the 19th instant, Mr. Mr. George Bell, storekeeper, aged 58 years, leaving a widow, three sons, and two daughters to mourn their loss."
22 Nov 1887
21 Nov 1887
Funeral of George Bell.
2 Dec 1887Estate of George Bell to go to his eldest son, George Edward Bell.
16 Nov 1888Yet another horse related accident associated with the Bell family - a young man making deliveries to the store is run over by a cart.
7 Jul 1894G. Bell & Sons have opened a branch store in the Western Arcade, Hunter Street West, Newcastle.
17 Dec 1897"G. BELL & SONS (ESTABLISHED 1870) beg to intimate that they have THIS DAY OPENED IN THEIR NEW PREMISES, IN HUNTER-STREET WEST, Next the West End Post Office. LOOK FOR THE SIGN OF 'THE BELL' OVER G. Bell and Sons."
17 Dec 1897"MESSRS. G. BELL & SONS. This old established firm of grocers, drapers, and general provision dealers has been among the leading houses in the trade since 1870. Three years ago they opened a branch of their Lambton business at the Western markets. Recently to meet their increasing trade a more central site was purchased, next to the Post Office, Hunter street West, upon which they have just erected imposing business premises."
7 Mar 1928In 1928 the grocery business in Elder Street was being run by Elizabeth Bell, but not in a very hygienic manner, with the Health Inspector even finding spiders and cobwebs in the cheese safe!

Gittins and Eastham Store

Broadmeadow Co-Operative Society

The 19th century saw the birth of a new mode of grocery retailing – the Cooperative Society movement. Begun in the UK and brought to Australia by immigrants, the core idea was for consumers to own, control and benefit from their local store. Membership was open to all through the purchase of shares, controlled through democratically elected officers and regular meetings, and profits returned to members as dividends.

In April 1887 the Broadmeadow Co-operative Society formed with 17 initial members, and rented a four-room house in Lambton Rd to operate a store. At the second quarterly meeting in November 1887, the society reported the business to be “in a flourishing and prosperous condition.” In 1889 the society purchased their own premises (the small wooden building in Snowball’s photo) in Brunker Road adjacent to the Premier Hotel. Membership had increased to over 170, and a bakery department was soon added.

However, in the 1890s a prolonged economic depression put the society under financial strain. With many miners out of work, trade fell dramatically. The working capital of the society slowly eroded with over-optimistic dividend payments in the face of declining profits, and members withdrawing from the cooperative. By April 1897 the financial position was untenable, and the society closed. Only the largest cooperative societies, with many members and multiple stores, survived the downturn.

In May 1897 the Broadmeadow store was taken over by Robert Gittins and George Eastham, who soon erected a large brick building adjacent to the original building. Gittins and Eastham had emigrated from the UK to Australia around 1887, and after a brief stint working as pit mates at the Bullock Island colliery, opened grocery stores in Wickham and Carrington. They traded at Broadmeadow for 10 years until selling to Thomas Hughes, who then ran the store for the next quarter century.

Independent, locally owned stores such as this were the norm until the 1960s, when the big supermarket chains rapidly rose to a dominance in grocery retailing they maintain to this day.

Gittins and Eastham Store, Broadmeadow, September 1897. Photo by Ralph Snowball, University of Newcastle, Living Histories,
The store was located at 3 Brunker Rd Broadmeadow, where the Premier Hotel carpark is today.

The article above was first published in the March 2021 edition of The Local.

Additional Information

The Broadmeadow Co-operative Society

The Broadmeadow Co-operative Society got off to a good start. After six months of operation, at their second quarterly meeting pm 31 October 1887, the secretary Mr W Roe presented a report and balance-sheet …

… which showed the society to be in a flourishing and prosperous condition, both with regard to members and financially. The shareholders number 69; paid-up shares, 104; unpaid-up shares, 22. The weekly takings at the store average over £50 per week. There is also a large number of non-members who purchase their goods at the store. The balance-sheet also showed that a large sum had been spent during the quarter in procuring a horse and cart and other necessaries required in the business; but despite this expense the society was enabled to declare a dividend of ten per cent. The report and balance-sheet were unanimously adopted, and the shareholders were very jubilant over the progressiveness of the society.

Location of Broadmeadow Co-operative Society Store. 10 Lambton Rd (April 1887 to April 1889) and 3 Brunker Rd (May 1889 to April 1897).

At the district Co-operative Conference held at Burwood on Saturday 13 July 1889, Mr R Gray, manager of the Pioneer Society at Burwood delivered a speech on “The rise and progress of cooperation in this district.” In the speech Mr Gray described the essence of the Co-operative movement as being …

“… that the profits of an undertaking do not go into the pocket of an employer, be that employer an individual, or several individuals united in partnership; but that they should be shared by the largest possible number of those who engage in the undertaking, either as consumers or workers. In our distributive co-operative societies the net profits on sales, after paying working expenses, interest on capital etc, go to the consumer.”

Mr Gray gave detailed statistics on each of the district societies, including the Broadmeadow Co-operative Society, which …

“… started business on April 17th, 1887, with 17 members, and a share capital of £14, and a loan of £50, making in all £94. They have paid away in dividends to members on their purchases alone, since they commenced, £1037 6s. Their share capital at the end of this quarter is £685 11s 10d, and the number of members on their books is 173. These facts speak for themselves. Then there is the fact of their having purchased the premises which they now occupy, their fixed stock account amounting to £200.”

The premises purchased by the society was on the Newcastle Pasturage Reserve (Commonage). The location can therefore be identified from the Land Court Sittings in July 1890, when people of the Commonage were finally able to apply for legal title to the land they were residing on. From the sitting of the court on 28 July 1890

“Portion 2102; applicants, the Broadmeadow Cooperative Society, Limited. The district surveyor reported that the land was valued at £103 4s, and he submitted that the applicants should prove ownership of the improvements. James Raine stated that he was president of the Broadmeadow Co-operative Society, Limited, and he appeared in support of an application made by John A. Davidson, the then secretary of the society, for portion 2102. The society owned the improvements on the portion, which consisted of a shop and outbuildings. The land had been purchased from Charles Heath, who had been in occupation prior to 1888, and the purchase was completed on the 25th May of that year. Witness claimed that the society had a perfect right under the Act to make application for the portion, as they had been in continued occupation since purchasing. Heath had not, to witness’s knowledge, made application for the land. After a short discussion, the board stated that they would adjourn the further consideration of the appraisement until they were dealing with other portions in the same vicinity. In the meantime, they would recommend that the application be accepted.”

Subsequently on 4 September 1890, the Land Court formally accepted the application of …

“Broadmeadow Co-operative Society, Limited, lot 2102, £163 4s”

The Co-operative’s store is just visible on the right hand side of Snowballs 1892 photograph of the Premier Hotel surrounded by floodwaters.

Premier Hotel, Broadmeadow, NSW, 18 March 1892. Ralph Snowball, University of Newcastle, Living Histories.
Broadmeadow Cooperative Store, 1892.

The rise of the Supermarkets

The Australian food history timeline website indicates that Farr’s of Newcastle may have been the first Australian supermarket. In 1957 the Chermside Drive-in Shopping Centre opened in Brisbane, including a supermarket that was soon afterwards bought by Woolworths. Coles then opened their first Australian supermarket in North Balwyn in Victoria in 1960.

By the early 1970s the big supermarket chains (Woolworths, Coles, Supa Value, Foodland, Franklins, FAL) had 50% share of the grocery retail market, and by 2020, the two major chains (Woolworths/Coles) had a 67% market share.

Newspaper articles

Article Date Event DateNotes
4 Apr 1887
4 Apr 1887
"A public meeting will be held at the junction of Adamstown and Broadmeadow Roads on MONDAY, 4th inst., at 7 p.m. All in favour of establishing a Co-operative Society are requested to attend."
6 Apr 1887"The meeting advertised to be held on the Commonage for the establishment of a co-operative society was, on account of the wet weather, adjourned to Mr. Raine's residence, where a very successful meeting was held. About 21 persons enrolled themselves as members, and gave the newly-formed society the name of the Broadmeadow Co-operative Society. "
9 Apr 1887
8 Apr 1887
Meeting of the newly-formed Broadmeadow Co-operative Society … "A letter was read from a Mrs. Dickford, offering a four-roomed house, with outhouse and stable, facing the Lambton-road … it was agreed to take the building from Wednesday next, which would allow ample time to commence business by next pay."
2 Nov 1887
31 Oct 1887
Second quarterly meeting of the Broadmeadow Co-operative Society reported "the society to be in a flourishing and prosperous condition."
12 Nov 1887William Roe, secretary of the Broadmeadow Co-operative Society authorised to sell postage stamps.
8 May 1889
4 May 1889
Broadmeadow Co-operative Society annual meeting. The co-operative now had 174 members and was in a good financial position, attributed to the fact that "the society has now premises of its own, which is a great saving in rent."
17 Jul 1889An essay on "The rise and progress of cooperation in this district" read by Mr. R. Gray, manager of the Pioneer Society, Burwood, at the Co-operative Conference. It has some good insights into the history and goals of the Co-operative movement, as well as detailed statistics on the current state of the Co-operative movement in Newcastle.
29 Jul 1890Commonage Allotments land court sitting, where the application by the Broadmeadow Co-operative Society for portion 2102 was considered. The application was adjourned, but with an intimation that it would be approved.
6 Sep 1890
4 Sep 1890
Sitting of the Land Court formally accepts the application of the Broadmeadow Co-operative Society for lot 2102.
14 Jan 1892At the quarterly general meeting … "The report showed the number of members on the books to be 217" and "special attention was drawn to the bakery department, which is now in full working order."
28 Oct 1893Tensions at the Quarterly meeting of the Broadmeadow Co-operative Society regarding: withdrawal of members, lack of support from members, paying of dividends, bakery accounts.
31 Jan 1896
29 Jan 1896
Correspondence to Hamilton Council: "From Mr. A. Sharp, manager of the Broadmeadow Co-operative Store, complaining of the bad state of the road in front of the store, and asking council to effect the necessary repairs. It was resolved that the request be complied with."
20 Apr 1897"A special meeting of the Broadmeadow Co-operative Society will be held this evening for the purpose of considering the financial position of the society."
6 May 1897"The Assigned Estate Broadmeadow Co-operative Society. WE have This Day DISPOSED of the BOOK DEBTS of this Estate to Messrs. Gettins (sic) and Eastham, Grocers, Broadmeadow, whose receipt will be a sufficient discharge."
9 Aug 1897"Messrs. Gittens and Eastham, who have secured the property and business of the now defunct Broadmeadow Co-operative Society, have made good progress since they opened a branch store at Broadmeadow. The experience of the firm has been such that they have near completion a large brick building that is to be used for a store. The building adjoins the old store on the Brunker-road frontage, and is a splendid site from a business standpoint. Mr John Francis is managing the business on behalf of the firm."
25 Oct 1897"By the opening of the large branch store by Messrs Gittans (sic) and Eastham on the site of the old Co-operative Store the thoroughfare has been given a brighter aspect and the surroundings more enticing."
5 Nov 1907"PUBLIC NOTICE, TOM HUGHES WISHES to announce to the General Public of Broadmeadow and Surrounding Districts that he has Purchased the Business lately carried on by GITTENS & EASTHAM, at Broadmeadow."
29 Apr 1919
29 Apr 1919
"Mr. Robert Gittins, of Hannell-street, Wickham, the principal partner in the firm of Messrs. Gittins and Eastham, died at an early hour this morning at Waratah Hospital. Mr. Gittins was 65 years of age, and a well known and highly respected resident of Wickham for upwards of 30 years. His son is Alderman Reece Gittins, of the Wickham Council."
29 Apr 1919"PUBLIC NOTICES. GITTINS & EASTHAM. THE BUSINESS PREMISES of the above Firm at Wickham, Carrington, and Steel-street, Newcastle will be CLOSED ALL DAY TO-MORROW (WEDNESDAY), on account of the death of Mr. Robert Gittins"
30 Apr 1919Obituary of Robert Gittins.
5 Oct 1931Obituary of George Eastham.
23 Jan 1937Obituary of Thomas Hughes.

A new level of survey stupid

I’m not a fan of surveys. As a rule I ignore invitations to participate in a survey, particularly from commercial entities. I have two main objections.

  1. The asymmetry of work vs reward. If I complete a survey, I’m doing the work, but the business is getting the reward. I lose my time, they gain details to help them make more money.
  2. Most surveys ask stupid questions.

Like this one, after I recently purchased a Ryobi power tool and registered the product on their website to get an extended warranty period …


Stupid survey

Really? On the basis of my experience of using their website, they want to know if I’d recommend their product? The two have the most tenuous of connections. It’s like me asking you …

“Thinking of your recent experience of reading this blog post, how likely are you to recommend me to perform brain surgery on your family and friends?”

UnlikelyVery likely

P.S. I was very satisfied with the power tool. Totally unimpressed by the follow up customer survey.

Bile Beans Bull****

My September article for “The Local” is now out, this month on Lawson Crichton, manager of the Lambton Cooperative Society Store.

One interesting side discovery from researching this article came from Ralph Snowball’s 1898 photo of the Cooperative Store, where I noticed that one of the advertisements on the front wall of the store was for a product called “Bile Beans For Biliousness”.

Bile Beans was a completely fraudulent product created by Charles Edward Fulford and Ernest Albert Gilbert, and first sold in Australia in 1897. The product was a relatively harmless concoction of plant and vegetable matter, but was heavily marketed with pseudo-scientific attestations as a cure for all kinds of maladies, including constipation, indigestion, rheumatism, influenza, and anaemia.

By the 1930s the product was being marketed as a weight loss pill for women with advertisements proclaiming that …

“Slenderness can be yours without dieting or fatiguing exercise if you just take Bile Beans. Just a couple nightly and you’ll slim while you sleep.”

Thankfully the marketing of ineffective weight loss solutions using pseudo-scientific claims of efficacy, gushing about the natural origins of the ingredients, and targeting women with insecurities about their body image – that could never happen in our modern day and age, could it?

Survey madness again

Can Kathmandu do mad? Yes they Kan-mad-du.

For years retailers have been engaging in the annoying  practice of asking customers to fill in a meaningless surveys to rate their performance. They are meaningless because the respondents are not a genuine random sample, the questions asked are often ambiguous and sometimes downright leading in the responses they are trying to elicit, and because the results of the survey probably just end up in some inscrutable graph in a PowerPoint presentation of a middle manager in the quarterly sales meeting.

On Friday I experienced a new extremity of survey madness when I made a purchase at Kathmandu. When I went to pay for the purchase with a credit card, the staff member asked me to key in ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ to answer the question on the screen which was something like “Did you find us upbeat and friendly today?” Yeah, so asking customers to answer that while the staff member watches on is going to elicit reliable data. Not.

The December quarter saw a 37.4% improvement in upbeatedness!