By Harold Heys, Local historian

NOT many girls will start work these days and stay with the same company for well over 40 years. It was different in the old days.

Nellie Parkinson managed it and enjoyed every minute working for Darwen Co-op which she joined in the first weeks of the last war.

After she retired, in 1985, she recalled the words a senior manager told her. “I bet you could write a book!”

She didn’t manage a book but she wrote a lengthy memoire about life at the Co-op and a copy has found its way to Darwen Heritage Centre.

Lancashire Telegraph:

Local historian Anne Hull has long had an interest in the Darwen Industrial Co-operative Society, to give it its full title, perhaps because her father Arthur Walmsley was general manager for many years.

“I’ve read Nellie’s history several times and her love of the place shines through,” says Anne.

“It was one big happy family and the customers became our friends,” Nellie recalled.

It all began to change in the late 60s with the arrival of the first supermarket, a small Tesco in Bridge Street.

“Mr Walmsley persuaded the Co-op board to move with the times, opening a ‘cash and carry’ on Market Street. But by 1970 Blackburn Co-op had taken us over and he retired.”

The vast School Street store and close on 30 other local shops dotted around town sold everything. But within a few years most of these had closed down.

“Supermarkets meant that customers stopped being our friends; they were just the next in the queue at the checkouts,” Nellie wrote.

Lancashire Telegraph:

By the mid-80s the School Street operation had closed and the boarded-up shell was in the process of being demolished when a fire gutted it in the summer of 1989.

The building had been opened in 1866 to a great fanfare and was the largest retail store in town until its demise.

Nellie spent the war years at the Sudell Road branch. of the Co-op.

“After the war, boys we knew as teenagers were coming back as men, but sadly, some familiar faces and workmates were missing,” she recalled.

Things slowly picked up from the austerity of food rationing, clothing coupons, furniture on dockets, and queues.

Money was tight for years. The quarterly Co-op “divi” payments helped.

By then she was working in the confectioners. She married in 1950 and she lent her wedding cake ornament to many a young couple who could only afford the cheapest cake.

“The baker used to make a plain cake with white icing and I put on my decoration and added a nice ribbon. They all thought it was wonderful,” she wrote.

The Co-op Halls were especially busy in the 50s and 60s with dinners and dances and, of course, the Beatles played there.

As Nellie wrote: “Everyone had memories of the old Co-op locked away in their hearts.”