The Co-operative and Castle Warehouse:
During the late 1960s the Border co-operative movement decided on a series of mergers between various neighbouring towns. This sparked the formation of the Border Regional Co-operative Society but also lead to a programme of downsizing and cutbacks. "The co-op owned almost everything in Peebles at one time, as they did in many Scottish towns" says Ian Litster.
"They had a butcher and bakery that ceased to be around until the 1960s and they also had a clothes shop and a toy shop. Some of these existed up until the 1980s. I remember that the clothing branch was on the site of where Coco Blacks exists now. I equally remember the town's famous co-op milkman. His name was Doe Mitchell and was renowned by his whistling wherever he went."
The origins of a fully organised co-operative movement in Scotland lie only 27 miles away in New Lanark. Robert Owen was the champion of workers right to education whilst striving to improve his employees living and working conditions. The Co-op was extremely relevant to many towns along the Tweed whom employed thousands of workers in the textile industry.So perhaps it is not surprising that the co-op had such a big influence on town society in the Border area of Scotland.
In the days before running water was pumped in to every home, the townsfolk of Peebles would probably have to walk or ride on horseback in order to get their water. “Before water was pumped in to the own there would be two or three wells where you would gather your water" says Ian.
In the garden of Lindores Bed and Breakfast in the (cont - top right)
Old Town lay one such well. "In this front garden was one of the biggest, it lay just opposite where the market cross was originally located."
A stones throw from the old well, on the corner of Young Street, lay Johnny Fraser’s Bakery. "They had great pies and morning rolls but it was best not going in during the early hours after a dance, or you would see Andrew standing there smoking a fag. The fag ash would usually fall in your pie which was quite off-putting - but you still ate it." laughs Ian. Sadly the bakery building was demolished around the early 1970s. "It was derelict for a long time until Princess Anne opened it as a block of housing association flats in the 1990s" says Ian.
One of Peebles oldest independent businesses is The Castle Warehouse. It was established on 3rd April 1896 and began primarily as a draper, dressmaker and millinery retailer. The business now boasts another branch in nearby Penicuik and stocks a much wider range of goods since its inception around 125 years ago.
The company declares an ethos of offering a range of quality products at affordable prices. Ian Litster remembers the shops history well.
"The site of the old co-op in the old town was originally Renwicks the Grocers. It was then Castle Warehouse's shop for carpets and linoleum which was really popular in the 1950s and 1960s. The shop has been run by the Finlayson family now for almost 125 years and I worked for 36 years in their menswear department. They used to have a huge amount of people who had accounts with the shop so that people could pay back amounts on a monthly basis. They were called green club cards" remembers Ian fondly.
At the corner of Biggiesknowe Junction stood a rather striking church. The site is now occupied by sheltered housing accommodation. “The church was supposedly demolished due to dry rot” states a rather doubtful Ian Litster. Much of this particular area was occupied by further co-op retail outlets as Ian explains further in his audio version available here. audio recording below: