Colin Grainger

Memories of East Ham Co-op – over 60 years of magic for young and old

It was a store that had a magical excitement back in the day – for both adults and children.

The Co-op in East Ham evokes memories of all that was best in shopping. It was the jewel in the crown for High Street North – and the Barking Road! The reason? It was so huge it spread across both roads, to St John’s Road, East Ham, with only the Denmark Arms almost hidden inside it!

It was seen by generations as our Hamleys, Selfridges or even Harrods!

  • The store in the 70s

The London Co-operative Society (LCS), who ran the store, was formed in 1920 by the amalgamation of the Stratford Co-operative Society and the Edmonton Co-operative Society, two of the largest societies in London.

The LCS played a large part in the national co-operative movement and was also a shareholding member of the  Co-operative Wholesale Society, generally known as the CWS, and became a federal wholesaling organisation for co-operative societies in England and Wales.

By 1952, the LCS and its associated co-operative organisations, the major being the London Co-operative Chemists Limited, had over 550 establishments of sales and services, from large department stores to small grocery shops. These consisted of grocers, butchers, fruit and veg and flower sellers, coal depots, furniture sellers, drapers, tailors, shoe shops, chemists, laundries, estate agencies, insurance and funeral services and even guesthouses.

According to LCS records, the design of the East Ham building was by CWS chief London Architect Leonard Ekins, who created a classical tall corner tower looking down on the High Street. It was seen as “almost a challenge to the Edwardian East Ham Town Hall” on the other side of the junction with the Barking Road – a magnificent structure still there today. The store was clad in terracotta and cast stone, produced by Shaws of Darwen. The huge plate glass windows attracted the shopping millions over the years,

It opened in 1928 and lasted until 1989, when finally it was seen as having had its day. The final curtain came as many other Co-ops were being closed countrywide.

  • The store in its early days


There’s almost nothing left of it now on site, save for the car-park behind the Denmark – though plans have been lodged to create something new there. More of that later.

Dave Bassett worked for Co-op Estate agents, an off-shoot and his agency was just a few doors along on the Barking Road side of the store. Along from the store on the High Street North side were Co-op funeral services. He said : “Just about everything in life and death was covered by the Co-op!”

“There were 12 branches of estate agents and it was a huge brand,” said Dave.

  • The store in the 1930s

Dave eventually took over the place in a business called Keen & Bassett estate agents and then later it also became an agency for the Nationwide Building Society , which was formed when the Co-op estate agents decided to re-brand with a new name. Dave had an old Co-op safe cemented into the foundations – which is still there today!

  • Pat and Dave’s business

Dave’s wife Pat worked with him for many years- and they are still well known in East Ham – and still have reunion lunches for the customers many years after the business closed, a rare thing indeed.

An opening brochure produced for the Co-op featured a picture of 200 staff on the roof garden. The store sold everything from kitchens to carpets, men, women and childrens’ clothing, hardware, and kitchen ware, records, electrician goods and much more, click here to see. Additionally, it’s also critical to have systems in place to remove heat, particles, gases, smoke, and odors from both commercial and, to a lesser extent, domestic kitchens. We refer to these as kitchen extraction systems. You can also see it at for more details.

Basically all you in a John Lewis now – but more!

Said Pat: “It was the jewel in the crown for East Ham, You could walk right through from both entrances from Barking Road into the High Street and vice versa and rarely didn’t spend anything. It was captivating.”

Many people remember the brilliant roof garden and the café and restaurant inside that kept you there shopping and enjoying a day out. The record department had sounds from all over the world, though Steve Harris remembers : “It was quite easy to steal from, especially as there were two exits to different streets!”

  • Sad sight and time’s up…the store clocktower nearly at the end of its life.

Brenda Thornberry said: “It was a traditional department store back in the 50s, selling lades and gents clothing, furniture and household and electrical goods, They also specialised in perfumes and haberdashery. I often went to the hairdressing salon and we always went to see Father Christmas on the first day of the school holiday.”

The memories of users are uncanny. Harry Johnson said: “There were black and white tiles and the counters were made of wood. I remember as a young lad in the 50s, I would wait while my mum stood in the queue as a woman in a white apron disappeared to get what she had ordered. They would write the prices down and ask her what her share number was! Escalators were installed in 1961, the grocery department was there until the escalators came along.”

Jill Keane said: “Visiting Father Christmas here in the 50’s was wonderful. One year it was up on the top floor and there was a Shetland Pony pulling Cinderella’s Coach which I rode in. I got a dancing Prince Charming and Cinderella. Such good presents. Other years you rode in a goods lift done out with a window with a moving scene taking you on an adventure.”

I remember as a child going to see Santa was being scared witless! There may still be a souvenir picture somewhere – we all got our picture taken with Father Christmas.

  • Yes, it’s your author many years ago (about 58 years ago tbh

Maureen worked in the ladies wear department back in the1960s. She got 12s 6d for her 8am to 6pm shift on a Saturday and loved her time there. Jean Bailey worked as a Saturday girl in the 60s. “I loved my time there, it was good grounding for later life

The building had to be demolished, but amazingly some of its unusual relics live on – in Central Park, East Ham. Four urns have survived. They were originally placed near the top of the store’s tower and it is amazing they were preserved in the demolition in the 1990s.


  • The pots at their location in Central Park, East Ham

The material looks like terracotta. There are even two plaques in the specialist garden area of the park telling their story. The urns were constructed a year after the store opened. Looking at them while taking their pictures I wondered how on earth they ever got to the top of the roof – and how they got them down, given the size and weight. They are a massive feature of the park’s secluded garden area.

In its heyday the Co-op It it had an amazing roof garden with a pond . Those who ran the store  also proved they were adaptable and used East Ham Manor House and Brunel Manor for office and warehousing a short distance away.

Dianne Parmor said : “I remember the store well! There was a visit from a very young and handsome Jimmy Tarbuck when he re-opened it after a refurbishment”.”

The magic could be seen as you witnessed money being sent to the cash office through a vacuum tube across the store ceiling. The Co-op in Stratford and Boardman’s also used a system like this but the East Ham Co-op’s was magical.

People can still remember their Co-Op dividend number to these days and carefuly collected the divided stamps to be used to get goods at Christmas time in particular. My auntie and nan could remember their ‘divi’ number for years after it closed. Even now it sticks in the memory.

The Co-op was booming in the 50s, 60s, 70s and early 80s, a massive feature of local life. But as the end of the 1980s loomed, the store was looking dated and the Co-op decided to cut its losses and close.

Plans were lodged to build flats, shops and stores and a gym on the site but were rejected by Newham Council, who took over the premises.

To prevent graffiti and vandalism a mural was commissioned – to cover the boards that surrounded the building. It featured landmarks from all over Newham and was commissioned by Newham Council, costing in the region of £90,000.

* The store as most of us remember it

Then came the error that sealed its fate. The White Post river ran underneath the store – it reaches under shops, some homes and goes in Central Park, and still floods parts of the park to this day..

Dave explained: “There was a water pumped in the basement, where the electrical items used to be sold. That pump was never supposed to be turned off.

“But somehow it got turned off, and in a short space of time, the basement was flooded.”

The building foundations were damaged and it was decided to demolish it.

Newham Council then decided to create the car park which was known to locals as the Co-op car park…until just a few weeks ago.

Fast forward to 2016 and the council itself has lodged a plan, using its own property development company Red Door to build a project very similar to what they vetoed all those years ago! The council approved its own application in 2017, but last year the Mayor of London asked for amendments to the plan before it went ahead.

  • The Denmark Arms today

On March 13 this year the car park was closed and fenced off -and Red Door told me the project is now “back on track” and going ahead. It will take two years to complete.

The Co-op was THE big store for East Ham for many many years. A sadder picture taken towards the end of its life is of the broken clock in the tower taken shortly before the doors closed for the final time. Now the site on which it once stood rise from the ashes to form a very new kind of development for the borough’s future.


  • Pictures: Colin Grainger, Newham Local Studies Archives, Patricia and Dave Bassett
  • A version of this article also features in the latest edition of EastEdge magazine. 
  • See for details of stockists.


  1. Kevin Bultitude
    June 12, 2018

    I worked for Newham Parks Dept, when the co-op was demolished. I arranged to have the urns transferred to Central Park. My Nan used the roof garden for tea prior to the war. Can let you have more information.

    • Colin
      August 30, 2018

      Thanks Kevin, that’s great to know. How did you get the urns down from the roof? Many people have asked me that since the piece was published. And did you take any pictures at the time from the roof or during the move?


      • Kevin Bultitude
        October 4, 2018

        The urns were removed by the demolition company and placed in Central Park. Very helpful but very sad!

        I believe pictures were taken but not by me. Maybe the council reference library or Newham Recorder.

  2. Hi Kevin
    June 27, 2018

    Many thanks for that Kevin. The article has now appeared in a magazine so I can’t add anything to it, but your comments are on here for people to see when they call up the story. Thanks very much

  3. Rita Randall nee Culver.
    August 30, 2018

    I used to go to the Co-op regularly with my Aunt Violet! I lived in Market St and the High st wasn’t far away! We would do our shopping and afterwards we would either go to Mudie’s the pie & mash shop which was next to the Co-op or for a special treat we would go to the very nice Co-op restaurant! We would go up in the lift and then find a table and enjoy our meal! Oh such Happy Days!

    • Steve groves
      August 30, 2022

      Hi Rita, If you lived in market Street did you ever remember the butchers shop 3 door down from Wellington St.?? That was my Dad’s shop and I think closed around 1951. I went to ST Michaels RC school round the corner. I have been in Australia since 1972 so would not recognise anything now.
      Best wishes.

  4. Colin
    August 30, 2018

    Thanks Rita. Much appreciated

  5. Barry Bryant
    April 11, 2019

    I lived in St John’s Road for the first 18 years of my life (1945-63) and I remember the Co-Op well. I got to know the two window cleaners quit well and would often spend up to half and hour chatting to the one at the bottom of the very tall ladder that they used.They never wore any harness or safety gear and it amazed me how they would scoot up the ladder to a very high height. Wouldn’t be allowed nowadays of course.
    I believe the Cop-Op was built on the site of the old St Johns church, as next door to the Co-Op in St Johns Road was St John’s Church Hall, and opposite was a big, detached house called The Vicarage. At Christmas time the church hall would be used as an overflow sorting office for the Post Office and St John’s Road would be full of coaches with mail bags on the seats ready for sorting. The Cop-Op must have been a major employer in the area, and two of our neighbours worked there all their working life. I also remember Christmas at the Co-Op with its lavish decorations and the famous pony on the top floor pulling the coach to see Father Christmas. It was the classic department store of is day, and rivalled Bearmans at Leytonstone and Boardmans at Stratford. The Denmark Artms was one of the famous pubs of East Ham – had youb realised that most bus stops in those days were situated outside pubs – The Green Gate, Abbey Arms, Boleyn etc.
    In 1983 my parents got posh and we moved to Barking, which in those days was in Essex, and that made all the difference to your address ! Happy days, long since gone!

  6. Mick
    August 8, 2019

    I left London altogether in the early seventies and haven’t visited East Ham high street since. Ironically all the old shops are the only memory I have of East Ham. It’s sad to hear about the demise of the Co-op. I too remember going to Santa’s grotto as a kid. I can remember the moving walls on each side of the ‘carriage’ giving you the sensation of traveling to see santa. Me and my mum was always going in there for something. Good memories.

  7. Fiona Potter
    November 28, 2019

    Re: Keen and Bassett….
    Colin, thank you for this excellent article. I worked with both Dave Bassett and Ted Keen when it was still the LCS Estate Agency. My husband Don and I bought our first house in Holland Rd, East Ham through them and lived there for many happy years. I loved the great variety of people that passed through the doors of the Estate Agency, including some of the Newham Band of which Dave Bassett was an active member. One funny thing that sticks in my mind from my time working there was the number of times people that thought they might get Co-op Stamps or Dividend if they bought through us! Great people and great days.

  8. Sue Williams
    January 26, 2020

    I worked there it was the best job ever, I worked on the record department for about 9 years.
    I remember sitting on the roof terrace having my lunch, Mr Boston was the store manager at the time Steven Curtis was his deputy.
    When Jimmy Tarbuck paid a visit I was one of the girls pouring drinks and serving buffet food to him.
    In 1970 it was the 50 year celebration and they had a competition for “Golden Girls” I had a wonderful year visiting lots of co-ops and posh hotels promoting, was even in Southend Carnival haha.

    I have so many fabulous memories of my time there too many to write about.

  9. Paul Knight
    March 18, 2020

    My mother Eileen Knight was manageress in the ladies underwear dept. She died in 2016 we were amazed when my brother received a letter for a lady who started as a Saturday girl with her, she told us that my mother was the shop steward, we were astounded as we had no idea.

  10. Debra Williams
    January 8, 2021

    i worked in the haberdashery dept when i first left school 1977. I loved that job it was a great place to work. I made good friends . every week on payday i spent my wages in other departments there was so much there. loved the subsidised canteen where we all got together in our breaks. Friday evenings quick nip next door in the Denmark with everyone. It was as much a social group as a place of work.
    had to leave when my father was taken ill so i could help run his business but i always regretted it. I run a facebook group now with 6000 people and one of the regular topics is East Ham co op especially father christmas.

  11. JS Newby
    April 7, 2021

    We completely certain about that late 80s closure date? … Only lived just along Barking Road from ’87 onwards and could swear it was definitely shut down then, if the building was still standing derelict.

  12. John Brown.
    October 2, 2021

    My mother worked in the Haberdashery in the fifties, and sometimes I would set out after school to meet her as she came out of the shop, walking to the cinema and then getting a bus along the High Street.

  13. Terry Butler
    October 26, 2021

    Thank you so much for this information. I grew up in East Ham, my family had a florist shop in Wakefield St. I really do remember the coop being the centre of everything, mum did our food shopping there, we often went there for lots of departments, I loved the record store on the high st side, plus I remember the Father Christmas ride and meeting each Christmas, so magical in the 1970’s
    One story I always remember was when I was being not such a nice child, I used to switch the escalators off via. Small button I found – the manager used to chase us out of the store, which we found hilarious, but I am sure very frustrating for him.
    My family moved to Essex in the early 80’s and so fortunately I did not see the demise of the coop. In 2019 myself and my mum went to for trip down memory lane and visited East Ham, it was a wonderful day, but much that we loved and remembered had gone, could not even find a pie & mash shop for lunch, so had to go to Poplar.
    Loved my child hood in East Ham, great memories.

  14. Chris Nicholls
    March 20, 2022

    It’s great to find photos , I can just remember some of the sights , smells and sounds .Born in Newham Hosp and lived at 231 Lonsdale ave until 1986.
    Went to Brampton and Central Park schools .
    Fond memories . I was in the Newham recorder aged 6 months as a lorry full of unsecured London bricks came round the corner too quick in 1981 and knocked me out of my pram.looked like a cone head
    A fireman called Danny flyn from East Ham fire station. Helped my mum and me out according to her . I can remember him vividly sitting in the armchair of our house when he visited .
    I remember the shop further down Lonsdale ave before Brampton .
    There was a lad called Christopher Turpin who I knew at Brampton primary .
    I remember the Safeway and the indoor market that stank to high heaven of meat /fish.

  15. Teresa
    April 21, 2022

    Does anyone remember where British Home Stores was located in East Ham High street? I have been searching for some time and have not been able to find any record or photo’s so would love to know if anyone can give me any information. My mum worked there as a young woman in the late 1940’s and loved it and was very proud of it.
    Many thanks

    • Doug Taylor
      October 29, 2022

      British Home Stores was on the corner of Wakefield Street (now Pilgrims Way) and High Street North next to what was The Gaumont Cinema. It and the cinema are now home to Primark. My mother seemed to work in shops for most of her life and over the years worked in British Home Stores, Marks and Spencer, Caters before ending up helping on a part time basis in Wared and Stevens which was a DIY shop on the corner of Gladstone Avenue. Great memories of High Street North when it had shops like those mentioned above plus Woolworths, C&A, the Co-op of course and many others as well as the much loved Shopping Hall.

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This article was written on 12 Jun 2018, and is filed under Co-op store East Ham, East Ham, EastEdge Mag, Heritage, History.

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