History of the Society
The Great Exhibitions
The Wine Society owes its existence to the Great Exhibitions of the mid-19th century.
For the last of these, in 1874, various countries sent large quantities of wine in cask to be stored in the cellars of the Royal Albert Hall where, to quote from an early history: 'it entirely escaped notice from the visitors'. Portuguese growers, who had taken great efforts to present their wines, appealed for help.
At the behest of the British Government of the day, Major-General Henry Scott, one of the architects of the Albert Hall, along with R. Brudenell Carter, a distinguished ophthalmic surgeon (who subsequently sat on the Committee for 44 years and who wrote the early history referred to above) and George Scrivenor, a senior official of the Board of Customs, held a series of lunches to publicise the wines.
Many of their guests expressed an interest in purchasing wine, and General Scott proposed the setting up of 'a co-operative company' to buy good quality wines on a regular basis to sell to members.
Authenticity and quality
Thus it was that The International Exhibition Co-operative Wine Society Limited came into being.
The founding members' aim, as now, was to buy wines direct from growers to ensure their authenticity and quality and to offer them to members at fair prices.
The Society grew gradually – whilst The Society welcomes new members, the aim is not to grow in size purely for its own sake – and by 1965 it was operating out of three separate cellars in London: one under the Palladium, one at Joiner Street under London Bridge and one at Rotherhithe (which flooded at high tide).
In 1965, thanks to the foresight of the then chairman Edmund Penning-Rowsell, The Society moved to more suitable premises in Stevenage, where all The Society's operations have since been concentrated.
The move to Stevenage
Over time, the freehold of the Stevenage site was acquired, adjacent land purchased, a fleet of own delivery vans built up, new temperature-controlled warehouses built and major investments made in technology.
After more than 140 years The Society continues to be owned solely by its members (one share each) and trades only with them.
The focus, as defined in 1874, continues to be to make available to members the highest possible quality of wines and services at the best possible prices.