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, Living Histories @ UON,
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, Living Histories @ UON
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.

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