Leeds Co-op: Jubilee History 1847-97  (1)
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Before the Society Began.


THE Leeds Flour Society, like Rome, did not grow in a day, but soon after it began it grew faster than Rome did—because its founders understood that what honesty is to business so principle is to progress.  Others in Leeds may have believed as much, but none acted upon the belief that without honesty in business there can be no permanent trade, and without adherence to principle there can be no public confidence.  By this discernment the co-operators have won profit and respect.

    The reader will naturally expect to learn how this Society arose and what preceded it, for every intelligent person knows now that progress does not come by chance, but is a matter of evolution from something which went before.  The previous is the foundation of the present.

    For several years before the commencement of the Leeds Society, the condition of the people had the three characteristics of the time—scarcity of employment, low wages, long hours of labour.  The "Condition of Leeds Question," as Carlyle would have called it, was the subject of public meetings.  At the commencement of 1843 pauper relief had increased from 30 per cent to 60 per cent.  During the year the "Benevolent and Strangers' Friend Society" had considerably over 2,000 applications for relief.  The Public Soup Kitchen, supported by voluntary contributions, was opened several days a week, with few intermissions, from 1843 to 1847.  An excellent soup, as Mr. William Campbell learned from the report of his neighbours, was sold at 1d. per quart, tickets being issued often gratuitously to the extent, frequently, from 10,000 to 15,000 a week.  In one district a committee was formed to ascertain, by house to house visitation, the extent of destitution existing, and found that nearly a thousand families were in the receipt of not more than 10¾d per head per week.  In another populous district 12½ per cent of the population were receiving parish relief.

    The necessity for gratuitous sustenance was so great that the supply of soup had to be increased to 19,200 quarts, at a cost of £200 a week.  A petition was sent to Parliament for protection against the powerloom, which displaced workmen and increased the unemployment by thousands.  Parliament did not see its way to do anything, and did not want to see it.  The greatest objection to Free Trade has been its want of consideration to workmen temporally ruined by it, which has set workmen in every nation against Free Trade.  Those who made fortunes by the powerloom should have been assessed, so far as was necessary, to succour those who were displaced, until new employment was found for them.  Invention, which was hated, resented, and opposed unto death in many places, would then have been popular, and the use of inventions would have been honourably accelerated.

    The Leeds Flour Society did not spring up out of nothing.  Co-operation was in the air, but it was not bred there—it was put there.  Several Leeds men of capacity and influence had been interested in the "New Views of Society," promulgated by Robert Owen.  When Queenwood had failed, they were disconcerted—but not discouraged—and some of them met in the Unitarian Meeting House on Sunday afternoons, and endeavoured to found another industrial city, which should show the working class the way of self extrication.   It took the aspiring title of the "Redemption" Society.  The movement commenced in 1845.  Mr. William Howitt afterwards described it, in his Journal, as a "Co-operative League," but the committee unfortunately adopted the more ambitious and pretentious name of the "Redemption Society."  The Leader newspaper published subscriptions received by the Society.  The lists came to me.  We all approved of the object in view, but when we had to announce subscriptions of 1s. 2d. in Leeds, 10d. from Edinburgh, and 4d. from Glasgow, readers felt that, with contributions so slender, the redemption of the world was a long way off.  But in the earlier days of the Society the support was greater.  During 1846 the promoters took the field, or rather the streets, by making house to house visitations, obtaining members and penny per week subscriptions.  Working people had very little to give in those days.  A Mr. G. Williams gave the Society, conditionally, an estate in Wales on which to try their experiment.  Three persons went from Leeds—E. C. Denton, a joiner, who died only a few weeks ago; J. W. Gardiner, a shoemaker, still living in Leeds; and a youth named Hobson.  The first annual Redemption meeting was held in the Music Hall, Leeds (January 7th, 1847), when William Howitt took the chair, and made an excellent speech on co-operation.  The speakers were the Rev. Edmund R. Larken (a large proprietor of the Leader), Dr. F. R. Lees, Joseph Barker, Joshua Hobson, James Hole, and the chief inspirer of the movement—David Green.  About 200 persons, interested in the social enterprise, took tea together.  Lord Ashley, Douglas Jerrold, Joseph Sturge, Henry Vincent, Rev. Thomas Spencer (uncle of Herbert Spencer), wrote letters to the meeting; and Joseph Mazzini, who sent a subscription with his letter, asked to be enrolled as a member.  Hence the reader will see the Society had distinguished well-wishers.  It was stated there were 600 members belonging to it.  The subscriptions for the year exceeded £181, while the expenses had been only £17.

    The method of this Society shows the reader how co-operation was the original device of these social reformers.  The Redemption Society did a little distributive trade in groceries and provisions.  It had a shop, and its commodities were sold at its place of meeting, which was an upper room in Trinity Street, over a stable.  It was open in the evenings only, when a member of the committee attended.  The principal article sent from the Society's estate in Wales was blackberry jam.  Blackberries being plentiful about the place, labourers' children gathered them and sold them to the little Colony for a shilling a basket, and so jam came to the Redemption Society in Trinity Street, Leeds.  Thus Robert Owen's scheme of Industrial Cities (then called communities) were in the minds of the thinking artisans of Leeds.  Lloyd Jones, one of my colleagues of the Social Missionary group, had often visited Leeds, and about 1847 was living there.  Public discussions had been held there.  The Northern Star had been published in Leeds.  Many men of ability in the town knew all about co-operation.

    Several volumes of the New Moral World were printed and published by Joshua Hobson, at 5, Market Street, Leeds.  In the New Moral World for 1839, no fewer than eighteen notices are accorded to Leeds.  Robert Owen, G. A. Fleming, Lloyd Jones, Dr. Frederic Hollick (still living in New York), Robert Buchanan, James Rigby, and all the lights of the "Socialism" of that day—not dreamy but definite—not revolutionary but constructive—had spoken in Leeds.  A hall was held by these advocates, and lectures delivered weekly, and famous discussions were held at times.  Richard Carlile and Lloyd Jones met in Leeds.  From 1838 to 1841, Leeds was an emporium of social ideas.

    The principal apostles of the Redemption Society were David Green, Lloyd Jones, Dr. Lees, James Hole, John Holmes, William Campbell, William Bell, John Hunt, and E. Gaunt.  Mr. Campbell, whose recollections I follow, is not aware that there was any single member of the Redemption Society among the early originators of the Flour Society, and only three names—Green, Holmes, and Hole—can be rightly counted among the fifty-eight precursors elsewhere enumerated.  The two movements were essentially distinct and promoted by different persons.  Nevertheless, when the Redemption movement was found impracticable with the means available, its leaders, acting on Goethe's great maxim, "Do the duty nearest hand," carried their enthusiasm and larger knowledge into the ranks of the Flour Society when it was appealing for public support, and needing it.  The names of those who thus assisted will be found frequently occurring in the ensuing narrative.  Some of them became directors, some of them presidents.  Lloyd Jones and John Holmes, two of the most influential directors of the Flour Society, lost their seats through advocating forward steps, such as the addition of the grocery and provision business to the Flour Society.  They constituted the elements of progress in the Flour Association, and supplied, at their own peril, the inspiration which carried it forward into the region of larger co-operation, which has led to its great distinction and success.  James Hole delivered a series of lectures on "Social Science and the Organisation of Labour," which the Rev. Dr. Hook said was the best book he had ever read upon the subject.  Thus, when the Bonyon Mill men, of whom the reader will soon learn more, came into the field, there was already, as has been shown, a body of ready-made opinion in sympathy with their project and ready to advance it.  It may be said that the Redemption Society was the precursor of co-operation in Leeds.

Origin of the Society.


FLOUR was the beginning of the famous Society which is the immediate subject of these pages.  There is a tradition of Pitt that he once began one of his sonorous speeches in the House of Commons with the word "Sugar."  Sugar is so familiar a term that it seemed trivial, and the triviality of the term concealed its importance.  The great orator paused at the word "sugar," and the House laughed, thinking perhaps that he meant to sugar them, upon which Pitt repeated the word with indignant emphasis, at which they laughed again.  The third time he connected the word with its context in his mind, and Parliament were all attentive and laughed no more.  Let us hasten, therefore, to say that the common-place term—Flour—had to the working people of Leeds, in 1846-47, the infinite interest of a necessity of life, which was scarce, dear, and bad.  Yet in 1846 such flour as was to be had was 4s. per stone of 14 lbs.  A stone of flour is sold now in Leeds from 1s. 6d. to 1s. 7d., which denotes a better condition of subsistence for the working class.

    There was also great depression in trade then.  The outlook was as dreary as that of Noah from the Ark before the waters subsided.  The state of the working class was as monotonous as despair.  As Charles Matthews, the elder, once said, there was "nothing stirring but stagnation."  Yes, there was something unobserved stirring—it was adulteration.  Dr. Adam Clarke, in a long-remembered phrase, said, "Leeds was the Garden of the Lord."  But, alas, in those days no trading conscience grew among the plants of that garden, and millers sold flour which would give a boa constrictor indigestion and reduce him to ribs and skin.  Before the days of co-operative stores the poor man's stomach was the waste-paper basket of the State, into which everything was thrown which the well-to-do classes could not or would not eat.  The state of things described demanded action, and men of action were found, but not where they were expected, nor were they the kind of men anybody looked to as likely to originate a great change.  The insurgents were the Benyon Mill men, who issued forth with the following singular address, headed—


To the Working Classes of Leeds and its vicinity.

    We, the workpeople of Messrs. Benyon and Co.'s mill, Holbeck, in the county of York, having experienced much trouble and sorrow of late in ourselves and families, in consequence of the exorbitant price of flour, do judge it needful for us to take every precaution to preserve ourselves from the invasions of covetous and merciless men in future.  In consequence thereof we deem it needful to enter into a combination to raise a subscription to the amount of twenty shillings, to be paid by each member in weekly instalments, to be determined on at a meeting to be held in a room behind the Union Tavern, on Monday, March 1st, 1847, at seven O'clock in the evening, for the purpose of renting a mill until the funds of the Society shall enable them to erect a mill of their own, which shall be the property of the subscribers, their heirs, executors, administrators, or assigns, for ever, in order to supply them with flour, and that only.

    N.B.—The committee are wishful to raise 1,000 members for the purpose of carrying out this noble enterprise.  They therefore call upon the working classes to attend the meeting, in order to look to their own welfare and the welfare of their families.



February 25th, 1847.

    The Benyon Mill men, as they appeared in their day, are worth preserving in portraits where such exist.  The first who signed the circular address was Robert Wilson Ambler, who had an oval head of the Sir Joshua Reynolds type.  His face is expressive of shrewdness and alertness.  He was just the man to make a "stirring speech," which he did to the hundred who met at the Union Tavern.

Robert Wilson Ambler

    It will strike the reader of to-day as odd that the insurgent flax spinners should seek to set up an "Anti-Corn Mill Association," which suggests that they were against a corn mill, when all the while they were trying to set up a corn mill.  Mr. Fawcett conjectures that the term "Anti Mill" was used to designate opposition to the private millers of the day,[1] who, as the Benyon men say, brought "much sorrow and trouble to them and their families."  These workmen, taking to public affairs and inviting the co-operation of the town, were confident innovators, as will be thought to-day, to proclaim the name of their employers as though they were cognizant, or concurring in the step taken by their men.  The Bensons were of the Tory persuasion, but of the tolerant type.  In many towns a step of the kind in question led, in early days of the the social movement, to dismissal of men.  It was, however, a pleasant custom in Leeds for workmen to describe themselves by the name of their employers, as "Kitson's men," or as "Fairbairn's men" do now.

John Park.

    The portrait of John Park (page 9), the second who signed the circular, is that of a solid man of vigour with an impassable look, and features wonderfully resembling the Rev. John Angell James, my pastor for five years in Carr's Lane Chapel, Birmingham.  Before reading the name I thought it was Mr. James.  There is no "sorrow or trouble" in Park's face.

    The readers will see that these adventurous flax spinners constituted themselves as an "association" before they were associated.  They announced themselves as "We, the work-people of Messrs. Benyon and Co., Meadow Lane, Holbeck, in the county of York."  There was no mistake as to who they were, and where they were, and any person wanting to communicate with them need not go running all over England.  They were to be found in "Holbeck, in the county of York."  It would appear that they regarded Holbeck as a more important, or better known, place than Leeds.  They announced their intention to take precaution, "every precaution," they said, which was quite beyond their power, to preserve themselves "from the invasions of covetous and merciless traders," and from the "exorbitant price of flour."  They therefore determined "to enter into a combination to raise a subscription of twenty shillings from each member, to be paid in weekly instalments as might be determined upon, at a meeting to be held in a room behind the Union Tavern, on Monday, March 1st, 1847, at seven o'clock in the evening."  The business of the meeting was stated to be the "renting of a mill until the funds of the institution enabled them to build one."  They already regarded the "combination," not yet combined, as an "Institution."  If poor in means they were affluent in terms.  Then followed an outburst of legal language, declaring that the mill of their own should be the property of the subscribers, their heirs, executors, administrators, or assigns."

    The working class of Leeds fifty years ago had hardly thought of "heirs," as they were not sure of having anything to leave them except the poorhouse.  Of "executors and administrators" they had very scant knowledge, and of "assigns" few of them had the slightest idea.  They did not even foresee or know that they would have bran and straw to sell, and bound themselves "to supply flour to their members, and that only."  The law made one limit, and they made a larger one upon which battles were fought.  The "Union Tavern," the place of meeting, did not require any street being given as to where it was situated, nor did it need to be specified as being in the "County of York."  Everybody in "Leeds and its vicinity" were assumed to know where the "Union Tavern" was.

    Joseph Nowell (page 11), the last name on the Kenyon circular calling the first meeting, has an honest, hard-working look, as though he had shared the "trouble and sorrow brought into working-men's families," by dear and pernicious flour.

    On the 1st of March about 100 persons attended the meeting, which comprised persons from all parts of the town and neighbourhood.  Mr. William Eggleston was chairman.  Mr. R. W. Ambler and others made "stirring remarks" upon the price and the extent of the adulteration of flour.  It was resolved to call a public meeting, to be held in the Tabernacle Schoolroom, Meadow Lane, on the 7th of March, 1847, and bills were posted giving the town notice to that effect.  At this meeting about 1,000 persons were present in the room, and many more were refused admission "because the place was full," which shows that social innovation of some kind was well about.  The objects of the meeting were fully explained.

    The meeting understood their business, which was to provide funds for incidental expenses in forming the Society, and they agreed to subscribe a shilling each.  It was arranged that if the project succeeded the shilling should be counted into the shares taken.  Thus the originators of the great Society began upon the principle of a ready-money movement.

    The meeting ended by appointing a committee to carry forward its purposes.

The first Committee of Organisation.


AT the commencement of the new movement an unreflecting reader thinks all the merit of it belongs to the new actors who appear upon the scene.  Great merit does belong to them, because they are the first to put into action what others have merely talked about.  Yet let it not be supposed that those who only talked, even the least influential, did nothing.  They disseminated, in the humble circles where they moved, a wholesome discontent at the existence of an avoidable evil.  If a man does not know, or does not see what to do to effect a needed change, his duty is to do what he can.  Any man who has no opinion on a question on which he ought to have an opinion, is a poor creature.  If he has an opinion he can find some means of expressing it, if only to his neighbour, and if he is not on speaking terms with his neighbour he can express it to his wife, who usually has generous enthusiasm, and will soon express her opinion to somebody else.  The result is that when a few intrepid men take the field they find people everywhere who understand their object, and the bolder sort of those thus informed join the new standard.  The French regard all present at a meeting as "assisting" at it.  This is true.  Even those who make part of a crowd at the door, who cannot get in, add to the influence of the meeting, since it indicates to all observers interest in the question discussed inside.  Milton says, "They also serve who only stand and wait."  This is so, provided they stand in the right place, and are at hand to help when called upon.  Thus it came to pass that when the next public meeting was called it was crowded.

    A contagious or similar activity soon manifested itself elsewhere.  One meeting was held in Newtown.  A deputation was sent from the Meadow Lane Committee to a meeting held at Tulip Inn, Newtown, to make arrangements to meet together.  It was decided to hold a public meeting in Leeds, in the Court House (now the Post-office), [2] which took place by the friendly courtesy of the Mayor, George Goodman, Esq.  This was the first public Corn Mill meeting held in the town of Leeds.  It took place at the end of March, or early in April, 1847.  Public interest in the question had so increased that from 1,200 to 1,400 persons were present.  The Leeds Times, edited by Robert Nicol, the poet, always had sympathy for the unrecognised interest of the people, and took cognisance of the meeting, and recommended working men to join the proposed society.  Friendly reports and descriptions of the public proceedings of the Society have appeared in the Leeds Mercury, whose files we have had to refer to, for facts and dates for these pages.  At the first meeting to receive subscriptions, 433 persons paid an entrance fee of one shilling, and in two months no less than 1,023 had joined the movement.  This shows unusual enthusiasm of a practical business kind, that so many persons of small means should subscribe so readily that an unknown and doubtful manufacturing experiment should be tried.

    The names of the committee appointed to organise the new movement were the following:—

























    Two of the leaders of the Redemption Society—David Green and James Hole—were present at this meeting, and were at once incorporated in the committee, which thus acquired the elements of higher progress than Benyon men had in their minds.  It is a notable fact that not one of the seven flax spinners are on the new committee appointed to carry forward their project.  It appears to have passed out of their hands, but to them belongs the credit of originating the great working-class union, and of passing it on.  They have an historic place among the founders of the "Anti Mill" movement.

    This committee of arrangement, like the one which issued the first address, met at Mrs. Walker's Coffee House, Duncan Street, and devoted all the time they could command to setting a corn mill in motion.

    The Redemption men now among them, knew that a co-operative store was simpler, easier, and more manageable.  The Rochdale store was only three years old, and not much to refer to then.  Very likely, or probably, the suggestion was not made, or not urged.  Mr. Green and Mr. Hole had been put upon the committee to aid in carrying out the mill idea, and they did.

    The local need was honest flour.  There was zeal for that.  It was right to take advantage of ready-made enthusiasm for a useful, if difficult object, rather than attempt something else easier, but for which zeal had to be created.

    People were moved by indignation in commencing with a flour mill.  Probably few understood the different kinds of knowledge necessary for such an undertaking—knowledge of which spinners, weavers, mechanics, and shoe makers were entirely ignorant.  Or if any understood the difficulties of the enterprise they were not dismayed, and insisted on a corn mill.

    Dr. Charles Mackay, the poet, in the days before he became a copperhead, [3] called upon "men of thought and men of action to clear the way."  The Leeds Pioneers were of this description, for seldom if ever has a new movement been conducted with more celerity than marked the progress of the Leeds Society.  By July they obtained the certificate of their rules from the Registrar.  They succeeded in obtaining the Britannia Corn Mill, in Saville Street, Wellington Street, which belonged to Mr. Fieldhouse, an appropriate name for a corn miller.  This mill they worked for fifteen months.

    The first corn was ground in September, and the first flour made from this corn was reserved for the tea party, held in the Music Hall, Albion Street, October 28th, 1847.  Thus, within seven months from the first subscription being paid to the Benyon Mill men, a corn mill was taken, corn ground, bread made and eaten at a public tea party.  Clearly the pioneers of Leeds meant business, and their successors have meant it ever since.  At this time it was found necessary to close the books against the admission of more members, the mill not being able to supply flour to more persons than had already joined the Society.  By the end of December, that is, nine months after commencing their association of millers, they had bought nearly 1,800 quarters of wheat, at an average of fifty-nine shillings a quarter.  In addition they bought barley, beans, Indian corn, and other cereals.  A Special Committee prepared rules for the administration of the affairs of the Society—rules so remarkable and unparalleled that they deserve distinct consideration.

The Wonderful Rules.


THE Duncan Street Committee were prudent men.  They drew up a code of rules, and employed Mr. William Middleton, solicitor, to render them in accordance with the Friendly Societies Act.  They were afterwards submitted to the Attorney-General, Sir John Jervis, for his opinion.  It is difficult to conceive why this should be done, seeing there was Mr. Tidd Pratt, Registrar of Friendly Societies, whose legal judgment would be exercised upon them, and whose signature would give them authority.  All the while the committee did not trust Sir John Jervis, but appointed a "special number of persons to watch him" lest he should pervert the spirit of the rules, which he was very likely to do.  The rules were duly certified by John Tidd Pratt, on the 8th of July, 1847, and surprising rules they were.  One was "That no member shall receive more flour than is necessary for his own family."  Who was to ascertain how much was "necessary"?  It would employ a committee of doctors, all their time, to determine this.  Most families eat too much meat, and take too little bread; some families are given to vegetarianism, and take bread in excess; some families are teetotal, and they eat more bread than beer drinkers.  Mr. Cobden found out this when he held a Peace Conference on the continent.  The second time the hotel-keepers charged a much higher price for dinner than formerly, on the ground that most of the delegates were temperance people, who not only drank no ale or wine, which mainly made the profit, but ate much more in consequence, which increased the loss.  An inquisition would be necessary into the habits of every family under the rule cited.  It is one of many examples that no persons ever think of inflicting such restrictions upon working men as they inflict upon themselves, before the day of education comes.

    Another marvellous rule was as follows:—"Any member who shall sell or make goods for sale, of the flour or meal received from this Society, shall, on conviction of either of the above offences, be fined ten shillings for the first time, and be excluded on a repetition thereof."  No act to regulate the sale and use of poisons has more stringent conditions than this rule for the sale and use of flour.

    The object of the Society was to make flour, and the prosperity of the business depended upon the amount it could sell.  Here was a rule expressly framed to prevent it doing business, and if any poor member had a clever, intelligent wife who knew how to cook and increase the resources of her family by making digestible tarts or pork pies—very scarce in Leeds in those days, and scarce in other towns still, of a digestible kind—it was an offence under the rules of these working men to be punished by fine and expulsion.  The framers of these rules had a very narrow outlook, and the Attorney-General could not have done worse for them than they did for themselves.

    A further rule had democratic sense in it, and is entitled to respect.  It sets forth—"That any member refusing to fill the office of president, vice-president, secretary, treasurer, director, or auditor, or resigning such office without sufficient cause, shall be fined two shillings and sixpence."

    This rule recognised the equality of the right and the duty of every member of the Society to take part in its administration, and necessitates education as part of its policy, as without it, members cannot be qualified to fill the offices to which they may be called.  Being ignorant, they would retard or ruin it.

    The members of the new Society had no idea the day would come when it would be a point of distinction to be elected to serve it.  Mr. Hole and Mr. Green had been conversant with rule-making for many societies in previous years, but in this case their judgment must have been overruled, and it must have been in deference to the opinion of the great majority that they concurred in sending these singular rules to the Registrar.  It was under these rules that the first directors were appointed.

The First Directors.


THEY who begin a movement make it, and on this principle the first directors are entitled to a place in this history.

    The main rule for the government of the Society and election of officers was as follows:—"That this Society shall be managed by a president, vice-president, secretary, treasurer, and twenty directors, who shall be elected in the following manner, viz.: Six members shall be nominated by the directors, from whom the president shall be chosen.  Six others in like manner, from whom to choose a vice-president.  After the first election the vice-president shall at all times succeed the president.  The directors shall also nominate six additional members, from whom three shall be chosen; one of the latter to go out of office every succeeding six months, when three others shall be nominated as above, and one selected by (in every case) the members present at the half-yearly meeting.  Twenty members shall also be chosen as directors, ten of whom shall retire half-yearly, and ten others elected in their stead."  The rule has only historic interest now as showing the early device for electing directors.

    Organisation was soon afloat, and the following persons, in various capacities, were elected the first board of management [4]:


THOMAS NUNNERY, ESQ., Surgeon, Leeds.
MATTHEW HALL, ESQ., Surgeon, Wortley.
Councillor GEORGE ROBSON, Leeds.
Councillor WILLIAM BROOK, Leeds.

Directors, &c.

Mr. JOHN SMITH, President.
JOHN TAYLOR, Vice-President.


























   »   THOMAS ATKINSON, Leeds.
   »   WILLIAM BIRKHEAD, Kirkstall.

    The rules were only certified on the 8th of July, and on the 31st the first meeting of directors took place, when they advertised for a corn mill, a step not without peril, for they gave the millers public notice to be on their guard, as an enemy was in the field.  In London even, when we required to build a hall about the same time, we found that not a squares inch of ground on which to plant a walking-stick could be bought.  No one would sell or let, when our purpose was known, which had been imprudently published.  Yet our purpose was to establish an institution for what is now known as social and co-operative advocacy.  Of course, the millers of Leeds took the alarm, and every obstacle their ingenuity or their interest could put in the way of the directors, they set in motion.  Nevertheless, as we have seen, the directors overcame every obstacle.  They obtained a mill and ground corn in it.

    The Society, at first, was co-operative only in a very elementary sense.  It was a cheap selling store.  It had no arrangement for making profit, and of course had no idea of distributing it—whereas distribution of profit has been the strong incentive of growth in co-operative societies.  The first flour-mill rule bound the directors "to sell as near prime cost as possible," which left no margin for profit.  They were directed in the first rule "to buy corn as good as possible."  But Rule 12 said that "there shall be such sorts of flour made at the Society's mill as the majority of the members shall decide."  "Such sorts" included seconds.  The terms would allow cheap kinds—or adulterating kinds, if the majority of the members should so decide.  It is to the credit of the directors that they never attempted nor permitted any evasion of the pledge of purity.  It is also to the credit of the members that they never proposed any departure from their profession of good faith towards the public.

    The reader will see how many were the contests subsequent directors engaged in, to keep the Society true to purity in flour.  As persons joined the Society knowing nothing and caring less for principle, but impetuous for cheapness at any cost of truth in trade, the directors were ever in battle array for the honour of the Society.  Those who would lower the Society to the level of an ordinary shop, would have succeeded had it not been for the honourable steadfastness of the directors from time to time.  Some directors, it will be found who strenuously urged a certain course should be taken for the progress of the Society, were dismissed for doing it; but the members obtained enlightenment by it, and pursued the very course they had dismissed their directors for recommending to them.

    A foremost advocate of social justice in our time, Mr. Ruskin, has expressed a policy which may be taken as describing that which the directors have pursued more or less to this day: "The simplest and clearest definition of economy, whether public or private, means the wise management of labour, and it means this mainly in three senses—first, in applying your labour rationally; secondly, in preserving its produce carefully; lastly, distributing its produce seasonably."

    Mr. Ruskin's scheme of economical policy is for the State, in which profits are neither made nor needed, as where all produce is "seasonably distributed" all life is profit.  Since we are not in that Utopia yet, men have to unite in societies to control and share the profit made by purchase or by labour.  In these directions the voices of the directors have oft been heard.  How this has been done will be seen very clearly in the Chronicles of the Society from year to year.  Great difficulties have been encountered, great exercise of patience has been exacted, but the march of the Society has ever been onward.  The motto of the Leeds Society, like that of the City of Birmingham, always has been, and is, "Forward."

    It has been held as remarkable that many of the most eminent Jewish doctors were humble tradesmen, and it is not less notable in its way that the men who have proved successful directors of the Society, came from the ordinary industrial ranks in the town.  Notwithstanding, as high a quality of prevision, organisation, administration and judgment, has been manifested by them as any directorships have ever shown.

The Fifty-Fight pioneers of Leeds.


THE following are the names of the Fifty-eight Pioneers of Leeds, all of whom held office, or performed some duty of importance in the interest of the Society, in the year 1847:—
















2 LAMB, W.






3 MARCH, ESQ., J. O.
















3 SAGAR, ESQ., E. T. F.


2 WALKER, G. (R).

3 SMITH, J. W.











3 WARD, B.




3 WRAY, W.



    The foregoing persons were members of the first two committees and first board of directors, who originated and organised the Great Leeds Society.  It was not until thirty-three years after its commencement that the names of these founders were collected together.  Fifty years have elapsed before they were classified and characterised as they are in these pages.  When the Rochdale Society began, the town had only a population of 27,000.  Leeds, when its co-operative society began, had a population of 164,000, six times larger than Rochdale, and its pioneers are double those of Rochdale, plus two.  Rochdale had 28, Leeds 58.  The seven names marked (1) were the seven Benyon Mill men who issued the first manifesto.  The 25 names marked (2) were members of the second committee.  The 21 names marked (3) were members of the first board of directors.  Those names in the list having the letter (R) after their name in parenthesis, also were members of the "Provisional Committee," responsible for the rules, and whose names are published in the Rules of 1847, which were invented and drawn in that year.  They were printed and published by Samuel Moxon, Queen's Court, Briggate, July, 1847. [5]  The names to which are attached the letters (MR) were the four flour members who signed the enrolled copy of the rules.  The name of J. Parker occurs only in the minutes of March, 1847, as appointed to make a bargain with the owners of the mill.

    Most of the names occur again and again, in after years, as presidents, secretaries, directors, and active members of the Society.  Robert Ambler, one of the Benyon men, is among them, as will be seen as this narrative proceeds.  David Green, whose name the reader has seen, was a well-known disciple of Robert Owen, and, as we have said, founder of the Redemption Society, which had subscribers in most parts of Great Britain.  It was the last attempt to advocate and establish an industrial self-supporting community on principles of equity, after the manner of Robert Owen.

    James Hole won distinction in letters.  He was the first translator of Strass Leben Jesu, and afterwards secretary of the Chambers of Commerce.  His last work was "Railways and the State," a volume of remarkable fiscal research and ability.  His name will occur again in this story.

    Sq. Farrar is the same name, though another person, as Squire Farrar, of Bradford, who was always in the front of every liberal movement until his death at the age of 93.  Sq. Farrar is a name of good omen.

Historical Chronicle year by year.



THIS was the Founders' year, to which five chapters have been already devoted.  The date is repeated here to complete the consecutive account of fifty years.  Ten years before this date the writer had been about the country speaking and counselling co-operative efforts in one form or another—some for the establishment of self-supporting communities, some for store trading—and was therefore familiar with the agitation current in Leeds in those days.  It was a year before the revolutionary year of 1848 that the Leeds flour movement began.  Looking back to that time now, it seems strange that Leeds working men deferred so long to take their own affairs into their own hands, and still more strange that they should come to excel all other co-operative societies in extent.

    The plan of distribution of the flour made was different from any other corn mill.  It was to appoint shopkeepers to be their flour sellers.  Numerous applications for agencies were received, and the selection was made with regard to distances from each other so that they might not overlap, and each agent have a fair field for increasing his sales.  The agents had to pay all money, taken for flour, into the bank.  By the end of 1847 the agents had paid in, to the Society's account, no less a sum than £4,986.  The total payments made by the Society to the end of 1847 were £6,086, leaving a balance in the bank in favour of the Society of £937, minus one penny.  This was not a bad turnover for working men to make in the first seven months in their attempt to manage a new business, with the object of improving their condition.  In addition, they had the important advantage of having wholesome flour, free from plaster of Paris, [6] a favourite adulteration with some flour dealers, as the reader will learn.

    The conditions to which the flour agents had to conform will be found in the transactions of 1858, when unforeseen troubles brought them into discussion.

    Originally, the Flour Mill Society was a mere commercial association, with a majority of members who knew little of co-operation, or of the amity and social toleration it teaches and implies.  It always takes time to acquire co-operative ideas.  These ideas had to be learned, and the learners were not all at once easy to deal with.  From the first year until now, how vast a change in spirit, in character, and business outlook!  The reader will see this as the story proceeds year by year.  The evolution of principle and organisation is, to many, interesting and instructive reading.



THIS year opened with enterprise.  In February two important resolutions were passed.  First, that a corn mill be either built or bought as soon as possible.  Second, that a levy of £1 be made upon each member to raise funds to either build or purchase a corn mill and fit it up for immediate use.  This levy was to be paid in eight monthly instalments of 2s. 6d.

    This denoted practical enthusiasm.  The members resolved not only to have opinions about their own affairs, but to sustain them by substantial subscriptions.  For £1 must have seemed a large sum to many of them, and eventually proved to be too much.  It amounted to sixpence a week, to be kept up for forty weeks.  Whether the directors had in their minds the forty years the Children of Israel spent in the wilderness does not appear, but the flour mill men got through their wilderness and entered their Promised Land.

    The first report of the Mill Society from March 4th to July 28th was issued this year.  In March, Mr. J. Smith, the president, Mr. R. Penrose, treasurer, and Mr. J. Parker were appointed to make a bargain with Mr. Blackburn, solicitor to the firm of Fenton, Murray, and Jackson, owners of the mill.  Before it was bought counsel's opinion was prudently taken upon the question whether the Society could hold freehold property.  The opinion was that it could only be held by trustees, there being no law then, as there is now, enabling societies to hold property in their corporate capacity.

    From January to June the Society paid nearly £11,000 for wheat and £518 to the new mill account, from which it may be inferred the mill was bought.  Other payments of more than £1,000 were made, making total payments for the half year £11,930.  From July to December there was paid for wheat £10,492.  To the new mill account there was paid £960 and other payments amounting to £763, making a total of payments of £12,216.  Thus the power of paying increased, and there was punctuality and promptitude in doing it.  Accounts were made up half-yearly, and the amount of business summarised half-yearly.

    The report bore the names of W. Birkhead, T. Murgatroyd, and W. Eggleston, as auditors.  This was the first signed report.  It was found that the profit made during the half year ending June 30th, 1848, had been £70.

    The flour agents increased their payments into the bank to £11,632.  Thus the Society early learned the art of going from success to success.

    At this time an occurrence happened which gave the Society an impetus, and proved not only its necessity but the wisdom of starting it.  There was bad flour and dear flour sold in the town, but nobody knew it was dangerous flour.

    One Dr. James Chorley had the honourable courage to call the attention of the authorities to the pernicious nature of the flour sold in his neighbourhood, [7] which was shown to be adulterated with plaster of Paris to the extent of fourteen ounces in 20 stones of flour.  When the flour seller's premises were searched two casks and two bags of plaster of Paris were found.  The adulterating flour seller bought his flour at 38s. per sack of twenty stones.  The selling price, retail, was 2s. per stone, and he sold it at 1s. 10d., realising 36s. 8d. per sack.  Thus he sold his flour at less than he paid for it pure.  He made his profit by adulteration.  This discovery brought a great accession of members to the Mill Company, as there were no other dealers whom they could trust.  Thus the Leeds co-operators learned what cheap selling meant.  There was fraud in it somewhere and somehow, unknown to the victims of the cheap-selling tradesmen.  Many co-operators are ignorant of this fact in these days.

    In those years there were no definite laws against adulteration as there are now, no public analysts to whom suspicious commodities might be sent to ascertain their genuineness, nor had working people the knowledge or the means of getting up the necessary evidence for convictions, nor were there magistrates much disposed to listen to them if they appeared before them.  Dr. Chorley, the medical practitioner whom we have mentioned, found a large number of his patients seriously ill who had bought flour at one or other of two shops managed by a flour dealer and his wife.  The inquiring doctor had himself analysed the flour bought by his patients, and found it to be most pernicious.  One poor old lady was so ill for eleven days that her life was despaired of.  The knavish flour-seller was named Vickers.  Conviction took place.  Mr. Edward Baines (afterwards Sir Edward), as presiding magistrate, spoke in strong terms of the serious offence of which they had been guilty.  On three separate charges he inflicted the penalty of £20 each, and the miller's wife in one charge, making £80 of fines in all, which, not being paid, the flour dealer was imprisoned for three months, and his wife for one.

    About the same time the coffee trick came to light.  Not only was coffee adulterated, but the chicory, which mainly adulterated it, was itself adulterated, and a cheap-selling coffee dealer's shop in North Street was entered by the police—through "information" they had received.  Treacle, bran, Venetian red, and mustard were mixed together and baked: and this was vended as chicory.  But for lack of evidence no conviction took place.

    These facts pointed to the necessity for a co-operative store, to protect the members from fraud and danger in other commodities as well as flour; but as yet the members were unable to see so far.



THE levy made upon the members of £1, in addition to the £1 share each member was required to subscribe, proved to be beyond the means of many of the members, who said that the forty shillings were too much for working men to raise, even by instalments, and in October the directors called a meeting to consider the best means of raising more capital.  A resolution was passed rescinding the one which raised the shares from £1 to £2.  The result was, that more members entered than made up the difference of the money returned to those who had paid more than £1, and in a few months all the money was repaid to members who were entitled to receive any.

    This year there was an accident to the main shaft of the corn mill engine, which caused the mill to stand for some time.  This was a serious misfortune to the Society, as the directors had great difficulty in getting corn ground elsewhere.  The millers had their opportunity and refused any aid to their new adversaries, whom they had not forgiven for setting up an "Anti-corn mill."  At last, one more generous than the others agreed to help the Society out of its difficulty—at the same time he charged a shilling a quarter more than the Society could grind it for, but as it was considerably lower than any one else would grind for the Society, his terms were accepted and his help appreciated.  Members were cheered by learning that the profit made the first half year ending June, 1849, was £135.  Notwithstanding, in view of the need which might come for further machinery, or possible loss, the directors took the precaution of asking their bankers, William Williams, Brown and Co., Commercial Street, whether they would make them an advance should occasion for it arise.  The bankers, who had discernment as well as friendliness, expressed confidence in the Society and offered an advance of £1,500, but it never was required.

    The fourth half-yearly meeting of what was then entitled the "Leeds District Flour Mill Society," was held July 25th, in the Court House, of which they had the use by the courtesy of the Mayor.

    This year an Annual Report was published of four leaves duodecimo, previous reports being on much larger paper.  It was presented at the Court House.  In the report ending December, it was stated that the Leeds Flour Society was the largest in the kingdom.  Thus early it attained a supremacy which it has never lost.

    The directors who retired this year left memorable words of counsel to their successors, which ought to be printed in words of gold, and hung in every store in the land and in every co-operative office and workshop.  Their words were:"At whatever cost, instruct the buyer to buy the best of wheat [or material] the market affords, and to bear in mind that the working classes of this district should have the best and purest bread [or other commodities] possible to be manufactured.  The quality should be first, the price only the second object." [8]  The words in brackets are additions made by the writer to show that the spirit of the injunction is universal in co-operation.

    This remarkable passage shows how clear and sound was the early co-operative spirit.  The reader will do well to look back to the names of this Board of Directors to see who they were that spoke so wisely.  Since that day there have been too many members of co-operative stores who have cared mainly for cheapness and profit, forgetful that honesty in business, in quality as well as in quantity, and assured purity of food, or assured excellence in any commodity, are the first conditions of co-operative trade and co-operative integrity.



THIS year the contentiousness, common in the commencement of co-operation, asserted itself in Leeds.  Indeed, in those years a wandering speaker in the town thought Leeds social reformers excelled in the capacity of disagreeing with themselves.  The members not only criticised the vicissitudes of business but criticised each other—not for his improvement but for his confusion.  More or less, this is done everywhere among those under the influence of what we used to call "the old world spirit;" which regarded everybody as personally responsible for his peculiarities, which he was supposed to have wilfully chosen and wilfully retained.  It was one of the main objects of early co-operative lectures to found a new art of association, and those who founded co-operation under Robert Owen, had enduring enthusiasm which no difficulty dismayed—no disaster chilled.

    The principal business item recorded of this year is the honest one that £500 more was paid towards the new mill account.  A larger-sized report was printed, giving for the first time the board of management and twenty names of directors, Edwin Gaunt being secretary.



THIS year a directors' report appeared—argumentative, explanatory, and instructive.  In the four years of the existence of the Society to this date (1851), the price of corn had fluctuated from 1s. to 1s. 7d. a stone, which must have given trouble to directors and perturbed the minds of members, who would suspect overcharges.  Nevertheless, the Society made profit and increased its members to 2,997.  Like prudent men, the directors insured their property for £2,000, notwithstanding that the premium reduced the dividend.  Security is always a good investment.

    Amid the many members allured by prospect of profit, but who had never caught the co-operative spirit, some began to express the opinion that there was "something wrong."  Those who did not understand accounts were persuaded the balance sheets were wrong.  In a democratic society, such as all co-operative societies are, explicitness of administration is indispensable—not only should those in control be honest, but they should be at the trouble to show they are so, and reasonable facilities should be open to every member for satisfying himself that his affairs are well conducted.  For democratic confidence it is necessary that the business should be openly, not secretly conducted, as it is in a private concern.  But at the same time this democratic advantage imposes upon members corresponding good faith, good patience, and good temper.  They should entertain no suspicion until they have inquired, observed, and assured themselves that there is good ground for it.  It is a fault of the first magnitude to make imputations against the honesty of any man, unless he who makes it is assured of its truth.  What is not or cannot be proved should be regarded as non-existent.  Before any open expression of adverse opinion is ventured upon, inquiry should be made of the committee or of the department responsible for what is suspected to be wrong.  Had such considerations been in the minds of members, the Leeds Society would have had smooth water to sail in, and have reached the port of prosperity long before it did.  One thing members are very apt to forget is that shopmen, and all employed in a democratic society, are placed at a disadvantage compared with servants in a private firm.  There they have only one, or perhaps two or three masters.  In a Society like Leeds now, they have 37,000 masters.  In some societies every member, because he is a joint master, virtually acts as one, and often speaks to those employed in a masterful way.  Whereas complaints should be made, as far as possible, to the committee, and one of them should make representations and give directions.  On the other hand, the duty of every officer, in any capacity, is to be civil to every member, and the duty of every member to be civil to him.  Patience, forbearance, discrimination, and helpfulness are co-operative qualities.  The best construction that can be put upon conduct are the virtues that make co-operative intercourse so pleasant to members, and those employed by them.  It is these experiences which make the history of the Leeds Society so instructive to others.  All the lights and shadows of co-operative association are reflected here.  It in no way disquiets the living to learn that predecessors now dead, erred through lack of experience.

    It is often said that the most "charitable" construction should be put on the acts of others.  It is not "charity" but justice which is wanted in judging.  Charity is condescension. Where there is justice in judgment, charity is rarely needed.

    When members get dissatisfied and believe the accounts are deceptive, the business of the society begins to fall off.  At this stage (1851) the Leeds Society had the advantage that it always has had—the advantage of having directors who conducted business in an honest, straightforward manner, and no disruption took place.  But there were, nevertheless, some members whom apparently nothing could satisfy.  There are irreconcilables in social life as well as in political life, and the executive wisely resolved that all accounts should be again thoroughly investigated by an outside, independent, responsible accountant of known capacity, who should also audit their books.  Such a person was Mr. T. Plint, who was engaged, at a cost of £40, to examine and audit all the accounts of the Society from the commencement in 1847 to the end of 1851.  Mr. Plint's instructions were "not only to strictly examine the current balance sheet, but every previous balance sheet."  The members elected a special committee to see the work done and report thereon.  Mr. Plint very properly took an entirely independent way of his own.  In due course he reported—

"1. All the calculations or castings out, whether of sales or purchases, have been checked.

"2. All additions whatever have also been examined in all the books.

"3. All the postings have been checked.

"4. All payments entered in the cash book have been compared with the vouchers.

"5. The bank account has been compared with the cash book, and also with the ledger receipts, credited to the various shopkeepers or customers of the Society, and I find the books correct and exhibiting great care and painstaking, as well as skill in their management.  They also show indubitable proof of a careful audit.  I have also examined the half-yearly cash and stock accounts, and they correctly represent the state of the Society's affairs at the respective periods.  As the balance sheet drawn up by me from an independent analysis of the accounts for the entire four years harmonises with the half-yearly balance, it therefore virtually proves the accuracy of all the preceding ones."

    This report was most conclusive, and had the effect of creating great confidence in the members, who asked the directors to have it printed and circulated throughout the Society.

    Mr. Plint rendered a further service.  He explained what improvement might be made in the books of a corn mill, by which some corn mills to this day might profit.  Mr. Plint rendered still greater service.  He included in his report advice to the Society, both as to practice and policy.  Mr. Plint was a model auditor.  I have seen, in an important society, an auditor who added to his report his opinion of improvements required for the security of its operations, and for better conformity to its principles, put down by rude and peremptory disapproval; it being considered no business of an auditor to give any such opinion, but to confine himself to the accuracy of the accounts put before him.  Whereas it is the business of an honest auditor not to be merely content with the account given to him, but to inquire for others which may be necessary for him to understand the solvency of the society.  An audit which does not imply or include that knowledge, is false and fraudulent in its effect—as the Bankruptcy Court reveals to us every week.  The professional auditor has a large range of knowledge and experience, and can see where a society is going wrong, of which the most honest-minded directors may not be aware.  One passage from Mr. Plint's report is memorable for its wisdom and its guidance.  He says:—"I am aware that the immediate and great object of the Society is to furnish a good article to its members, on cheaper terms than is done by individual action, and the ordinary processes of exchange.  Whether those ends are secured or not may be tested by the simple process of comparison, as respects the article produced and its price; and on the supposition that these tests show favourably for the Society, it might be held enough to show by the accounts that the Society was adding to its capital yearly, without going into minute analysis.  This, however, would be a dangerous procedure—dangerous because liable greatly to mislead.  A co-operative society can only be safe whilst keeping pace in its general management and in the processes of manufacture with the competitive trader, and the fact that a society does so keep pace is only demonstrable by a careful comparison of cost of production and of mercantile profits.  The chances of perpetuity are nil to a society which is so far behind the individual trader that it cannot keep its capital intact, and at the same time to supply its members with commodities at less price than the private dealer.  The least favourable condition on which such a society can do this is that of equal economy of production, and equal skill in general management; if, indeed, to encounter the contingencies and vicissitudes of business affairs, the economy and skill ought not to be greater, rather than simply equal.  It is evident, too, that before calculating the nett annual increment of capital, due allowance must be made for wear and tear of fixed capital, and provision made by a reserve fund to meet those extraordinary expenses which may arise from accident, the substitution of improved machines or motive power; and those other contingencies to which nearly all the manufacturing arts are liable.  I need not point out the absolute necessity, in order to the success of the society, not merely of satisfying the members at large, that its affairs are conducted with integrity, but also of demonstrating that, as a business concern and tested by admitted business principles, it rests on a safe and stable foundation."  Not many societies find an auditor so wise and bold as Mr. Plint.



THERE was better bookkeeping in the Leeds Society than has fallen to the lot of most societies in their earlier years.  Though Mr. Plint arrived at his results by a different method from that on which the Society's books were kept, the conclusions he arrived at were precisely the same.  It was certainly notable, seeing that the values to be estimated were so difficult as those of actual property and profits.  Mr. Plint's audit was made in December, six months after the directors made their report to the members.

The directors had reported that the worth of the Society on

July 1st, 1851, was …  …  …  …  …  …

£4,278 13 3½

Mr. Plint found it to be …  …  …  …

£4,278 13 3½

The directors show that there was due


     to subscriptions …  …  …  …  …  …

£3,401 6 9


Mr. Plint shows that there was due

£3,401 6 9

The directors show a profit of …  …  …

£877 6 6½

Mr. Plint shows a profit of …  …  …  …

£877 6 6½

    The committee justly say that, considering Mr. Plint arrived at his results by an entirety separate and different analysis, the exact coincidence of both sets of figures was remarkable.  In the transactions of a new business, though its returns amounted to £90,000, there had not been a defalcation of sixpence.  Some members had objected to the trade expenses.  To them it was pointed out that some were peculiar to a co-operative society at its commencement—for instance, a greater number of officers, and expenses of public meetings.  The number of officers diminish in time, but are indispensable at the beginning, as their vigilance promotes confidence as well as creates the habits of order.  Publicity is a source of increase of members, the expense of which is nothing as compared with ordinary business advertising.

    The names of the committee who thus vindicated the veracity of the bookkeeping and integrity of the Society were—Luke Pool, Thomas Atkinson, David Vaup, R. M. Carter, and E. Gaunt, secretary.

    The Society had taken the wise resolution of insuring purity of the flour they sold, and no admixture deteriorated it.  The flour was pure and unadulterated.  The average cost of the grain purchased to grind into flour was higher than the average cost of grain in the whole country.  It required great faith in principle, great courage to do this, and the directors had the courage.  The common principle of commercial business is to buy in the cheapest market and sell in the dearest.  The directors followed the better rule of buying in the best market and supplying the poorest member with the best quality of food, which working people in Leeds had never had before.  This unseen benefit did not tell upon unintelligent members.  Their eyes were fixed upon mere cheapness.  Their own health and that of their families were not thought of by them.  In many houses disease and death from impure food were notorious facts in the town, before the People's Mill was established.  From these calamities the homes of members were exempted, but the ignorant among new members gave little heed to this.  That is why an educational fund, which did not exist then, was wanted.  As Canon Kingsley said, "Cheapness is nastiness."  But a man requires some intelligence to recognise nastiness, and dislike it.  Besides, as the committee had found out, this very purity of food was against them.  Its appearance was disliked.  There was an uninstructed preference for white flour.  The members had no experience and no knowledge of the appearance of pure flour.  The women did not like the colour of it.  They did not know that the competitive miller did not scruple to produce whiteness by the adulteration of alum.  But the intelligence of Leeds was not lower than that of other towns.  For in those days the middle class, as a rule, knew neither the colour nor the taste of pure food.  Their taste had never been educated, as the taste of co-operators is now.  A friend of mine, Mr. George Huggett, secretary of the Westminster Reform Association, opened a coffee shop in Lambeth, that workmen might have genuine coffee in the early morning on going to their workshops.  But, when they tasted it, they were indignant.  They did not like the appearance of it, they did not like the colour of it, they did not like the aroma of it.  They had never seen pure coffee nor tasted it.  They did not know that what they drank was adulterated with vile ingredients.  My friend had to close his shop; burnt beans, glucose, and mustard to give it a little pungency, were preferred by his customers.

    It took two years to educate the taste of many of the Leeds members before they became reconciled to genuineness.  It has taken longer elsewhere.

    In one respect the earlier directors had put their successors at a disadvantage from the beginning.  They had pledged them to sell not only genuine flour, but at a cheaper price, whereas the sound principle of co-operative business is to sell at the average market price of the day, and not at the lowest.  To aim at selling things cheaper is to get upon the inclined plane of competition, and those upon it commonly slide down into the gutter of commercial smartness, from which co-operation promised to save the public.  By selling at the market price the consumer pays no more than he has to pay elsewhere, and he has the advantage of pure articles and just measure, with the additional advantage of knowing that all the profits of honest trading will come into his pockets at the end of each half year in the shape of dividend.  Cheap selling reduces the dividend and does not encourage provident and saving habits.  The little gain in cheapness, week by week, is a small benefit to the family who still live from hand to mouth, while the saving at the end of the half year, or the end of the year, is a substantial addition to the wealth of the household, and, if left in the store for investment, is the beginning of small fortunes.  Under the policy of cheapness the store enters into competition with the tradesman, and is a continual irritation to him; whereas stores which keep to the average price benefit the shopkeeper, who can obtain better prices for his commodities since no customer can say "he can get things cheaper at the co-operative store."  Then the shopkeeper feels he has no competitor in the stores so far as prices are concerned.  In this way co-operative stores have made the fortunes of many grocers who never yet made the fortune of any co-operative store.

    Some corn mill members were early dissatisfied with the profits made by the mill.  Had there been only average market price selling, the profit to the members would have been clear, palpable, and surprising.  They had gained in money indirectly, and did not know it.  They had gained by the price at which the Society sold flour to them:


        £   s  d

114 weeks at 1d. per stone less

1,958 18 0

  38    …   … 2d.    …   …  …

1,305 18 8

    5    …   … 3d.    …   …  …

 257 15 0

     2   …   … 4d.    …   …  …

       137 9 3


£3,660 0 11

    This was the unseen, unknown, uncounted profit they had really gained, which, with the £877 members had already received, made the real profit of the Society £4,537, more than £3,000 of which had been concealed or kept out of sight.  Thus was mainly produced the discontent among them.  The Society, by sacrificing their own interests to cheap selling, had conferred a benefit upon the town by the reduction they had caused of 2d. a stone in the price of flour.  For this the town had no gratitude, and on account of it never furnished to the Society a single friend; at least, it mitigated no hostility—it never awakened any popular interest or respect for this great service rendered to it.

    The only defence of cheap selling was that it attracted, at first, members.  But the reputation of combined profits of nearly £5,000 coming into the hands of members would have brought them more adherents, and of a better quality than they had, judging from the chronic cries of discontent heard in season and out of season.

    But if a larger survey be taken, including the price at which the members would have had to pay, had not the Society reduced the average price in the town, it will be seen how largely members had benefited.

    From October, 1847, to July, 1851 (196 weeks), the Society sold flour from one penny to fourpence per stone below the market price.  This had the effect of lowering the price through the whole borough.  When the flour mill began, flour was 2s. 4d. per stone, which the Society sold at 2s. 1d. per stone, being 3d. per stone below the market price.  The next week the millers lowered to 2s. 2d. per stone, and the week after—although corn rose 1s. per quarter—the millers kept to the lowered price.  The Society had sold during the period named 818,261 stones of flour.  Reckoning 2d. per stone saved which the members would have had to pay had not the Society been in existence, the account stands thus


   £   s    d

818,261 stones, at 2d …  …  …  …  …

6,818 16 10

Add the sum at which the flour had


       been undersold  …  …  …  …  …

3,660 0 11

Add the profit paid to the members,


       notwithstanding …  …  …  …  …

   877 6 6½


£11,356 4 3

A large gain upon a capital of £2,700.   Of this enterprise the whole borough reaped the advantage of twopence per stone upon all the consumption since the mill began.

    The more important point is that the members of the corn mill had gained more than they knew.  More than £11,000 had been put into their pockets.

    To men who had been in the inner circle of social inspiration, the advocacy of what was designated "remunerative prices" was natural and proved effective.  The Society departed from the rule of cost price selling, and sold on terms which left a margin for profit, which enabled members to save and the Society to grow.

    In the days of the Redemption Society, assiduous efforts were made, meetings held, and addresses given all over Leeds, not without seed being sown of progressive quality.  Thus "remunerative" rates of sale were supported by many of this school.  Co-operative ideas were mixed with flour notions without adulterating them.  A "self-raising" quality was imparted to the Society, always thought well of in the oven.

    With the remunerating prices was adopted the plan of paying 5 per cent upon capital invested, after the manner of Rochdale.  The creation of a depreciation fund was a new feature.  Then the remainder of the money available was divided among the members according to their purchases, so that, as in stores, the more the money spent in the Society the more the member gained.

    A further good effect of the existence of the Leeds Society was that adulteration of flour in the borough had ceased, while prosecutions had to be undertaken and heavy fines had to be inflicted in other towns adjacent.

    This year £500 was paid towards the purchase of the new mill, which raised the amount paid to £1,400.  The balance sheet of this year was signed by the curious names of David Dunderdale and Josh. Titterington.  An address was presented containing some admirable observations, and some otherwise.  For instance, it is mentioned that some of the members "grumbled."  No doubt they did.  But to tell them so officially tended to convert discontent into dislike.  Such terms stigmatise questioners and suggesters, and discourage expression of opinion.  An objector may be notoriously malevolent and mean mischief, but it is not worth while recognising it.  The best rebuke is to state his case and give the answer to it.  That creates no irritation and makes no enemy.  Mr. Gaunt's address to members had vigorous argumentative remarks.  He argued not only with enthusiasm but with true co-operative perspicacity.

    For a period the books were closed and no more members taken until the mill and all the property of the Society were valued, so that each member's share could be ascertained.  When this was done, it was found that there was a sum of 13s. 4d. accruing to each member.  With some contingent fund money the profit amounted to £1 per member, in addition to the weekly benefits they had received as purchasers.  It was at once resolved to pay it in kind, and three stones of flour were voted to every member as "bonus."

    It is related that an old man came to ask credit for a stone of flour, as his son had got work and he could pay for it out of his next wages.  When he was told that three stones of flour had been voted to him as profit, his face so beamed with gladness that those present thought it a reward for all their labour and perseverance to see it.  On being told he could have it when he liked, he said, "I will go and get a bigger bag and be safe of it, for I do not know that our house ever had three stones of flour in it before."  The old man did not know what bonus meant, but he understood having three stones of flour without having anything to pay for it.

    It was co-operation which first brought such gifts to the working man's door, which he owed not to charity, but to his own good sense in joining one of these societies; and he owes some gratitude to those who generously give time and labour to create for him this facility.



NOTICE of the earlier years of a society are longer than some others will be, but the earlier times of a new and adventurous association are the most instructive.  Then the conflicts between principle and expediency show the pluck and honesty of those who combat on the side of advancement.

    The Society had now begun to act on the wholesome rule of selling at "remunerative" prices, and was cheered by making money and contentment also.  Remunerative prices gave profit, and profit represented the savings of members, which, when carried to their credit, gave them new satisfaction as well as a new advantage.

    It is to the lasting credit of the directors of this day that their corn buyer gave, with their consent, from 1s. 6d. to 2s. 6d. per quarter above the average price paid by other millers, and no adulteration was attempted or permitted.  It shows that a majority of the members were of a superior class who sanctioned this maintenance of principle "at any price," and believed that in the end honesty would pay—and it did.

    For the first five years the Society sold to its members only, being precluded by law from selling to others.  The persons acquainted with milling know there accrues a surplus produce of value, and in the Leeds case, such as members did not require.  This surplus material encumbered the rooms of the mill.  At length the law was changed.  In the Society's records mention is made of Mr. James Hole and Mr. Lloyd Jones, aided by legal friends in London, to whom the Act giving the power of selling to others was due.  These friends were mostly known then as Christian Socialists: Mr. Vansittart Neale, the Rev. Charles (afterwards Canon) Kingsley, Mr. Thomas Hughes (afterwards Judge Hughes), Mr. John Malcolm Ludlow (afterwards Registrar of Friendly Societies), Lord Goderich (afterwards Marquis of Ripon), Mr. Bright, and others.  Mr. Slaney was the author of the Friendly Societies Act, which made the extension of co-operative business legal.  The new Act of 1852, giving the right to sell to the outside public, opened a wider field for co-operative trade.

    The mill's sales were nearly £1,200 a week.  More capital was wanted, otherwise they must buy grain every week, whatever the market price might be.

    One member said to Mr. Gaunt, "You told us that twenty shillings per share was enough to work the mill."

    "Yes," said Mr. Gaunt, "but not to buy it."

    Another member said, "Cannot you buy on credit?"

    "Yes," Mr. Gaunt answered, "but we cannot buy to advantage.  If we buy on credit we must pay credit prices, and then farewell to cheap flour, and farewell to bonuses."

    At that date the Society owed £900 for the last award of profit, and a further accumulation of profits in 1853 of 10s. per member, which the directors had retained, and it was with profit money they were working.  This year new directors had to be elected.  Not half a Board as formerly.  In electing a whole Board it was necessary there should be experienced men upon it; and at the risk of being misunderstood, it was to the credit of the retiring directors that they took the risk of recommending the election of John Ardill, cardmaker, Burley; David Green, stationer, Leeds; William West, tailor, Leeds; John Holmes, draper, Leeds; William Eggleston, merchant, Leeds, [9] as directors; and R. M. Carter as president, and Samuel Sands as vice-president.

    Within this year the business had made a profit of nearly twenty shillings per share, still adhering to the principle of good, sound, unadulterated flour.  The members increased, and the Society was again unable to supply its agents with sufficient flour.  Applications for agencies came in which could not be accepted.  It became necessary to buy another mill.  It would never do to be content with 3,000 members in a population of 190,000.

    This year Mr. Darnton Lupton, J.P., with John Hope Shaw (the Mayor) and three other gentlemen (one an alderman, and two magistrates), had consented to act as arbitrators.  The corn mill had really become an institution.  The reports this year bear a notice for the first time, "No person will be admitted to any of the meetings without showing his or her ticket."  This was the first official intimation of the eligibility of women to membership, though married women were then, and for many years after, incapable of holding property.

    The subscription of a full member was raised from £1 to 30s., to increase working capital.  The result of the valuation of the mill and property was an ascertained profit of £1,318, equal to 13s. 4d. per share.  This profit had been accumulating during the whole of the Society's existence.  During the second half of 1853 the business, despite all difficulties, increased. The total money received for sales during the half year was £25,476, and the clear profit on the half year's transaction exceeded £1,439.  Mr. Gaunt said,

    "When they first talked of selling 1,000 bags of flour per month they were called 'visionaries,' and believed to be so; but the rate of sales had reached 2,000 per month.  The mill could not meet the demand.  When they talked of making £300 yearly as profit they were called 'Utopians,' a term which was thought to indicate a high degree of wildness; but they had made a net profit of more than £2,670—a profit of nearly 20s. per share.  The balance of the purchase money owing for the mill was all paid off.  Thus the People's Mill became free and independent, and was regarded as an established fact in Leeds."

    This established fact "was far from having a romantic appearance.  The "People's Mill" was as prosaic-looking as mills were made in those days.  As the reader will see,  who looks at the engraving, there is nothing lively about it but the chimney, which, giving forth smoke, indicates animation within.  However, the People's Mill "was the first mill the people ever had in Leeds, it has been the forerunner of great things, and will always have interest in the eyes of the social antiquary.



    A new trouble arose from the outside.  The directors were not behind in improved machinery, and had adopted a method of grinding corn by means of a cold blast of air being admitted to the stones during grinding.  Many corn millers throughout the country also adopted the process, as it kept the corn cool while being ground.  Mr. Bovill, the patentee of the method, sued the millers for infringement of his patent.  A Millers' Association was formed to oppose him, and a large amount of money was spent in law.  Mr. Bovill established his claim, and the directors of the Leeds mill agreed to take out a license to use an "exhaust," as the cold blast was termed.  As compensation for already having used his patent they agreed to pay 4d. per quarter for the corn already ground by its use— namely, 92,280 quarters.  The total amount paid by instalments was, with interest, £1,557.  They further agreed to pay one-sixth of the net profits half-yearly as a royalty, which enabled them to use the patent and all or any of the improvements the patentee might make in it.  At this time the balance sheets were sold at one halfpenny each.  It was thought too expensive in those days to give them away.

    In the early reports of the Society, Co-Operation, with a large O, had Co prefixed to it.

    This year the great contest occurred at the addition of two new words to the title of the Society, which hitherto had been "The Leeds District Flour Mill Society."  This was changed for "The Leeds Co-operative Flour and Provision Society."  This change of name indicated an intention on the part of the progressive members of the Society to venture into a wider field of co-operative trading than merely selling flour.  There was little known then of the success of general co-operation.  Rochdale's career had not then become an inspiration—the unknown results of a new experiment which inspire the bold and daring, terrify the timorous and unenterprising.  A fierce division of opinion arose between the go-forward and the stand-still men.  The stationary party who were for a standstill policy did not stand still in their opposition.  They were vociferous at the business meetings.  They would not obey the voice of the chairman when he called them to order.  Now, the first rule of democratic government is, that authority appointed by common consent, must be finally respected.  A member who does not observe this rule shows at once his own want of self-respect, and forfeits all claim to the respect of others, since he neither respects himself nor obeys those appointed to conduct public business.  Such persons are unfit for democratic self-government.  Their proper destiny and their desert is to be kicked by despots.  There was a useful rule to the effect that any member refusing to obey the chair when called upon to do so should be fined 1s.  One member had to be fined twice before the motion to add the word "Provision" to the name of the Society was carried.  The voting of the Society was by ballot, which ensured an honest result.

    Those who wanted to advance were told that if they desired to carry out complete co-operation they had better go outside the Society to do it.  They might set up a new society.  It was the progressive party who had made the movement.  There would have been no flour mill but for them and their insight and enthusiasm for principle.  Now, the use of the organisation which they had made was to be denied them, and they were to be driven elsewhere, and do the work all over again.  This language was not peculiar to Leeds; we have heard it in London at a much later date.

    So turbulent and uproarious were some of the dissentients that it was no uncommon thing to see two or three policemen assisting the doorkeepers and waiting in readiness for any emergency that might occur.  This indicates considerable vivacity as well as contentiousness.  It was difficult to hold the stand still men.



ALL the persons who behaved so violently were not opposed to progress.  Many of them did not understand it.  Those who did were the strenuous opponents.  There were agents of the Society and others in a small way of business who foresaw, or were told by larger dealers, that storekeeping might interfere with shopkeeping.  Dealers astuter than they, encouraged them to pull the chestnuts out of the fire.  Co-operative adversaries of most influence are to be found in the rear.  Those in front are commonly doing the work of somebody behind.  For a time a lull took place in the fight against "provisions," but there was no armistice.

    At the next meeting in the Court House, Mr. Sands was in the chair.  The principal question discussed was the extension or alteration of the present mill, or the purchasing of another mill, as the managers were unable to keep production equal to increasing demands.  A special committee was appointed to consider this question.

    Mr. Gaunt, with the ability characteristic of him, argued the question, which again came up, as to whether the Society should become a "Provision" as well as a "Flour Society."  As the reader has seen, the name "The Leeds District Flour Mill Society" was changed to "The Leeds Co-operative Flour and Provision Society."  This, as the adversaries rightly surmised, was not intended to be a dead-letter alteration.  It was meant to be acted upon if the members could be so persuaded.  But the real war had not yet come.

    Another kind of war elsewhere produced—as war always does—disturbance beyond its own field of operation.

    The Crimean War had caused great fluctuation in the price of flour, which caused anxiety to the directors, and perturbation among the members.  But Mr. Emmerson, the manager, had made excellent purchases and had been unremitting in his efforts for the benefit of the Society.  A special vote of thanks was given him, which he well deserved.

    The profits for the year 1854 were £1,440.  The worth of the Society was now £7,900, with a balance in hand of £1,313.

    Few things better show the depth and tenacity of the old co-operative inspiration than the following incident.  Those told to go outside the Society and form another, if they wished to bring into being what they called "true co-operation," began to act on the instruction.  The first meeting to form a new co-operative society for the sale of groceries and provisions was attended by James Hole, David Green, Lloyd Jones, W. West, E. Gaunt, W. Emmerson, E. Gledhill, and H. Wardman.  The new Society was to commence as soon as 1,000 members were obtained.  Their prospectus said "the profits would not be dribbled away in bonuses."  Not a happy phrase, for even "dribbles" of money may temporally fertilise the household, as small showers do the earth.  Nevertheless, provident accumulation is better than dribbling.  Dribbling brightens the field, but it is thrifty accumulation that makes the crop.  The whole profit made in the proposed new Society was to form an accumulated fund for the further development of co-operative principles, and the employment of working men by means of their own capital.  This was the plan on which many of the co-operative stores were originally conducted.  A good deal of the capital supplied was lent them without interest.  The profits were intended to be used as a common fund for the self-employment of members in co-operative workshops, and finally in the collective organisation of an industrial city, self-supported, self-sustained, self-directed, for the benefit of the whole.  This is the only scheme of co-operative life in which competition is reduced to a minimum and barter becomes a choice instead of a necessity.  This was the idea in Robert Owen's days.  All modern co-operation is part of this larger conception.  The chief leaders who inspired and organised the flour mill had this idea in their hearts.  It was the advocacy of this conception which inspired the Rochdale co-operators.  It all appeared in their first profession of aims.  The Redemption Society had the same object.  The Thousand for Marsala Garibaldi could collect, but the thousand names required before the new Society of Lloyd Jones, David Green, and others could be floated, were never obtained.  One thousand were a large number of men to find, animated by an exalted idea, which required sacrifice of the immediate gains for future benefits. The industrial city is an affair of large capital, conducted by men with the genius of Godin.  The only form of co-operation possible to average men of small means is by store and workshop, where immediate benefit comes to all or accumulates at their control.  Nevertheless, the Lloyd Jones scheme is of historic value.  It throws a flood of light on early co-operation and its methods of procedure.



THIS was a tame year of few incidents, but they were notable enough to make the next year crowded with affairs.

    Mr. Lloyd Jones was elected a director, Mr. Speed became president, and was much regarded for the dignity and uprightness with which he maintained the interest of the Society.  A society was formed in the town of Leeds to check adulteration generally, and the Mill directors wisely supported their endeavours.  This was the first attempt of joining an outside movement and showing their respect for and interest in the community.  The town trade was afflicted with almost universal adulteration.  The People's Mill offered a protection in the matter of flour, but as it had no co-operative store it could not help them to purity in anything else.  But it showed good feeling in taking part in a movement intended for the benefit of their neighbours.  At length the Government took up the question and appointed a committee of inquiry.  Mr. Lloyd Jones proposed that the Society should send two representatives to London to give evidence on the Government committee.  Mr. Jones saw much further than his colleagues.  There might have been a few pounds' expense incurred about it, but £100 of gain might have or would have come by the publicity which would result, besides the proof it would have given to the people of Leeds that the Society's sympathy with honest trade was not barren.  The directors had not the wisdom to accede to Mr. Lloyd Jones's proposal, but the Government put an end to their indecision by summoning Mr. Emmerson, the manager of the Leeds mill, and the manager of the Rochdale Corn Mill, which was then attaining an important position.  Their manager also testified that flour was adulterated with peas, barley, plaster of Paris, alum, ground bones, and several other injurious ingredients, as we shall see.  The beautiful thing was that some millers loudly protested that it was impossible to make good flour when corn was not good without some of these deleterious substances.  So when corn was bad their theory was that it must be made worse, and then it was good.  By the Government summoning the Leeds manager the Society lost the credit of volunteering to send him.  Mr. Lloyd Jones or Lord Goderich could have told how it came about that the Committee of Inquiry sent out a mandate for Mr. Emmerson's appearance.  It was the following year when the Committee reported, and the reader will see then how interesting the proceedings were.

    The rules, which had been previously amended, were again amended.  Indeed, the rules were continually being amended.  Every year the Society was outgrowing the limitations of its earlier days.

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