The St. Cuthbert’s Co-operative Association opened its first shop in Ponton Street in Edinburgh in 1859 as a Consumers’ co-operative. This society was part of the movement started by the Rochdale Pioneers in 1844, and followed the Rochdale Principles with the aim of providing decent food at affordable prices in a shop controlled by its customers as a co-operative. It took its name from Saint Cuthbert of Lindisfarne.
As early as 1913 St. Cuthbert’s had bought the Cliftonhall Estate which was almost 970 acres in area. In 1918 four more farms were bought on the Newtonhall Estate and in 1919, 780 acres were purchased at Bonnington. By 1949 the Association owned over three thousand acres of land.
St Cuthbert’s Co-op, the largest department store in Bread Street, Edinburgh, was built in three stages to designs by three architects: John McLachlan (d.1893) in 1892; Thomas Purves Marwick (1854-1927) in 1898 and 1914 and Thomas Waller Marwick (c.1901-71) in 1936. The 1930s section features a glass ‘curtain wall’, the first of its kind in Scotland, in contrast to the stone facades of its late 19th-/early 20th-century neighbours. The store closed in the early 1990s and buildings were converted for use as the Point Hotel and Conference Centre in 1999.
St Cuthberts expanded to become one of the largest societies in the British co-operative movement, employing some 3,000 at its peak, before amalgamating with the Dalziel Society of Motherwell in 1981 and being renamed Scotmid. Its dairy used horse-drawn delivery floats until 1985, and between 1944 and 1950 employed the future actor Sean Connery as a milkman.