Lifestyle & opinion

‘The best investment my great grandfather ever made’: The fascinating story of share 100

‘When Major General Robin Grist was sorting out a mass of family papers following his retirement, he wasn’t expecting to discover a document that would reveal a surprising link to his great grandfather and a shared love of wine. Among the artefacts, Robin found a piece of paper declaring: ‘I hold No. 100. One share in the Co-operative Wine Society, London worth about, I think, fourteen pounds. Geo A Grist’. George Alexander Grist was Robin’s great grandfather and this note was folded around the share itself.

Ledger entry for share 100 in The Wine Society

Having been a member of The Wine Society himself since 1993 – when his wife bought him membership as a gift – Robin was thrilled to find such an iconic share number sitting undisturbed in the family papers for generations and began trying to uncover the story of this intriguing character.

Because the first 300 shares issued by The Society were given to the original and founding members of The Society we know that George must have had a profession or friendship that linked him to the great and the good of Victorian society, but unfortunately that’s where our records fall short. We’re not sure what George Alexander’s connection to the original members was or how he got his hands on a share but Robin thinks that ‘he most certainly would have been using his share for the rest of his life whenever he could afford to’.

So what do we know about the holder of share number 100? George Alexander was the youngest of six brothers from a family of woollen mill owners in the Stroud Valley in Gloucestershire. When his eldest brother resolved to buy all the brothers out, George, who was 30, decided to buy a woollen mill in Renfrewshire where he moved to live which coincided with when he acquired Share 100. ‘By all accounts he was a ‘good Victorian’ says Robin ‘but he was hopeless with money! As an example, all of the Porters at Stroud station would line up and put their hands out for a tip from him because he was generous to a fault.’ He soon ran out of money to run the mill and after three years returned to the Stroud Valley where he got a job in one of the mills. However, thanks to his over-generous nature, he soon found himself broke and needing to sell the family furniture to pay off the debts.

What happens to the share after this is very sketchy. Robin is confident that both his grandfather, who became a successful sheep farmer first in Queensland and later in Patagonia, and father who was a soldier, had no idea that the share existed, making the discovery 102 years after his great grandfather’s death all the more miraculous. ‘It’s such an iconic share number which does make it rather special – I mean, what luck to get share 100!’. Once he discovered from The Wine Society archives that the share had never been cashed in, Robin asked to revoke his current share and transfer it to Share 100 so that he and his son could continue a legacy started by his great grandfather over 145 years ago. Robin uses it regularly to this day, ‘possibly more than his great grandfather did’.

Hugo Fountain

The Society's Brand Marketing Coordinator

Hugo Fountain

Hugo joined The Wine Society Member Services team in 2013 and has since completed his WSET Diploma and made a move into marketing. His joint passions are for cooking, whisky and fine wine (though not always at the same time).

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