Senior citizens of Calicut would recall that the tea dust they bought some half a century ago used to come in large plywood chests and was dispensed by the retailer in pounds or its fractions. These tea chests had on its sides a string of letters stencilled in black, indicating the plantation from which the merchandise came, the date of packing and the wholesale price and the company that supplied it, in bold -E&SJCWS
Buyers would, of course, recognise the first two letters, for E&S was a reputed company in Calicut and provided employment to thousands in their plantations, tea factories and other businesses. Like many other colonial institutions, E&S has also vanished from Malabar scene without leaving a trace.
How did this unlikely name become a household name in Malabar and much of South India? It takes us back to the history of co-operation. It is recognised that the first co-operative was launched by 28 flannel weavers who came together in 1844 in Rochdale, Greater Manchester. Soon the Co-operative Wholesale Society (CWS) movement took shape and the English CWS was formed in 1863-64. Starting with the business of wholesale merchanting, these CWSs expanded to cover every item of business from production to retailing. It also dabbled in banking and insurance. At one time, the English CWS owned 174 factories in different parts of England and Wales. Similarly, the Scottish CWS owned 56 factories and employed 13000 workers. In the pre-world war years these two CWSs came together to form the English and Scottish Joint Co-operative Wholesale Society (E&SJCWS).
The Society did a commendable job during the years of the First World War in holding the price in Britain by ensuring adequate supply of consumer goods. Perhaps as recognition of this good work, it was permitted to acquire more than 32000 acres of tea plantation in South India and Ceylon in 1920. Thus came into existence the largest player in tea production and trade in the east which at one time had controlled almost one sixth of the tea import into Britain and was competing with private players like Brooke Bond and Lipton.
The Co-operative had its own printing press at Longsight, Manchester which brought out many items advertising its tea. The pictures above are the covers of playing cards promoting its tea, produced by the Manchester Press.
We could not trace any remnant of the E&S Company in Calicut. We are, however, sure that many readers would have their own reminiscences of the Company which was once part of many Malabar families. It is reported that most of its tea estates in Kerala and Tamil Nadu were taken over by the Parry Agro Industries Ltd.