The Rochdale Pioneers (4)
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ONE of the distinctions of Rochdale is that it gave practical form and force to the idea of a Federation of Purchasers, which ultimately took the style and title of "The North of England Co-operative Wholesale Society," otherwise known as the Great Manchester Wholesale Association.

    Of course no one foresaw the great ascendancy which one day would be attained by this Society.  It is very seldom that anyone does see the ascendancy of anything while it is upon the ground.  When it is soaring over the mountain tops, the prophets of its failures declare that they predicted its rise, and now believe they made it float.

    Of course somebody began everything, and we shall see in due course to whom the originating the wholesale ought to be mainly ascribed.  Mr. A. Greenwood's own history of attempts to promote a wholesale agency, given in his published "Plan," on which the Purchasing Federation of the north of England has been founded, relates that "an attempt in that direction was made (1850) by the Christian Socialists, conspicuous amongst whom were Edward Vansittart Neale, Professor F. D. Maurice, the Rev. Canon Kingsley, J. M. Ludlow, Thomas Hughes, Q.C., J. F. Furnival, Joseph Woodin, and Lloyd Jones.  They instituted the Central Co-operative Agency for the purpose of "counteracting the system of adulteration and fraud prevailing in trade, and for supplying to co-operative stores a quality of goods that could be relied upon, and in the highest state of purity."  The agency did not succeed, and had to be given up, entailing great loss to its promoters.  There was a remnant of the agency left, known as the firm of Woodin & Co., Sherborne Lane [now of Archer Street], London.

    The main object here is to trace the part Rochdale took in giving effect to the idea.  The records preserved in the long-buried pages of Toad Lane minute books were never very ample.  Mr. Smithies, who was the secretary of the Store in its earlier days, had the Pioneer way of no more wasting words than money.  Frugality in speech is certainly a virtue, though not usually counted in the list of meritorious economies.  Mr. Bamford remarks that "Mr. Smithies evidently never contemplated any one looking up his records for information in after years."  Writers of minutes in these days might check some tediousness by noticing to this effect Mr. Smithies' muscular brevity of style.  The first entry concerning the wholesale was made in July, 1853, to this effect:—"That Joseph Clegg look after the wholesale department."  There either was then a wholesale of some kind in existence, or one was there and then agreed upon; but only Dr. Darwin himself could trace the descent of the wholesale species from anterior records here.  Mr. Bamford conjectures that the resolution refers only to the drapery department, as there are frequent references to the drapery business suggesting it.  At a general members' meeting on September 18th of the same year, it was resolved "to accept the terms of the conference, and become the Central Depot."  This conference is one supposed to have been held at Leeds.  At a general meeting of members, held the following month, October 23rd, 1853, the first laws of the wholesale were adopted.  The terms in which they were expressed have interest now.  They were as follows:—

" 1.—The business of the Society shall be divided into two departments, the wholesale and the retail.

"2.—The wholesale department shall be for the purpose of supplying those members who desire to have their goods in large quantities.

"3.—This department shall be managed by a committee of eight persons and the three trustees of the Society, who shall meet every Wednesday evening at half-past seven o'clock; they shall have the control of the buying and selling of such goods as are agreed upon by the Board of Directors to be kept in stock by that department.  This committee shall be chosen at the quarterly meetings in April and October, four retiring alternately.

" 4.—The said department shall be charged with interest after the rate of five per cent. per annum, for such capital as may be advanced by the Board of Directors.

"5.—The profits arising from this department, after paying for the cost of management and other expenses, including interest aforesaid, shall be divided quarterly into three parts, one of which shall be reserved to meet any loss that may arise in the course of trade, until it shall equal the fixed stock required, and the remaining two-thirds shall be divided amongst the members in proportion to the amount of their purchases in the said department [leaving out the workers]." [55]

(Signed)                            JOHN COCKCROFT,

    Of course these rules had to be registered, and it is not until the first Board meeting in 1855 that any reference is made to them, which is done in these words:—"Resolved,—That we now go on under the new laws."  A quarterly meeting in February following confirmed this resolution.  The next clear reference to the wholesale of that day was in a minute of a quarterly meeting held April 2nd, 1855, appointing the following persons as a wholesale committee:—Thomas Hallows, Ed. Farrand, J. K. Clegg, Jonathan Crabtree, Jno. Aspden, James Meanock, Charles Clegg, and Ed. Holt.  At the Board meeting held April 5th, 1855, the following minute was passed:—"That the Board meet the wholesale committee next Wednesday night, at half-past seven."  The fluctuating fortunes of the earlier wholesale experiments were many.  In the minutes of the Board meeting held November 8th, 1855, it was resolved, "That a special meeting be called to take into consideration the propriety of altering the law relating to the wholesale department."  On December 17th, of the same year, the committee resolved:—"That it is the opinion of the Board that the 15th, 16th, and 17th laws, relating to the whole sale department, ought to be repealed."  At the ensuing quarterly meeting (January 7th, 1856), at which Mr. Abraham Greenwood was elected president, the seventh resolution is "That the wholesale department be continued;" and a committee of seven were appointed "to inquire into the grievances complained of in the present system of carrying on the wholesale department."  The following persons constituted the committee:—Samuel Stott, John Morton, John Mitchell, Edward Farrand, John Nuttall, James Tweedale, and A. Howard.  On March 3rd, 1856, the following were appointed delegates to attend a Wholesale Conference:—Abraham Hill, David Hill, Samuel Fielding, and William Ellis.  No mention is made of the place where the conference was held, but the scheme of a new wholesale society appears to have been discussed there, for at the quarterly meeting held April 7th, 1856, the members passed the following resolution:—"That our delegates support the proposition of each member taking out four shares of £5 each for one representative, at the Wholesale Conference to be held on April 12th."  At an adjourned meeting the report of the committee appointed to inquire into certain grievances was accepted with thanks.  At a general meeting held May 5th, 1856, the following persons were appointed on the wholesale committee:—Thomas Lord, Edward Lord, William Huddlestone, and Jonathan Woolfenden.  At the next Board meeting a committee appears to have been appointed to draw up rules for a wholesale society, but the names are not given.  At the next quarterly meeting these rules appear to have been considered, as there is a resolution expunging the word "suggest" from rule 25.  The following resolution was also passed:—"That our Society invest £1,500 in the North of England Wholesale Society."  Mr. Jonathan Crabtree was appointed the representative.  The earlier years in which the wholesale project was maturing will be of more interest hereafter than now.

    On July 7th, 1856, there is a resolution of the quarterly meeting, empowering the delegates to the Wholesale Conference "to support the laws drawn up by the committee for a wholesale society, at the next delegate meeting to be held on July 12th, 1856."  On September 4th, 1856, the Board gave Mr. Cooper authority "to collect the expenses incurred by the wholesale depot from the various stores."  On December 7th, 1857, the following persons were appointed a committee "to inquire into the wholesale department":—William Diggle, Samuel Fielding, Matthew Ormerod, David Hill, and Edmund Hill.  The report of this committee was presented to the quarterly meeting on January 4th, 1858, and it was decided that the report "be legibly written out and posted in some conspicuous place, to be read by the members, and reconsidered at next monthly meeting."  The next resolution passed at the same meeting is, "That the laws relating to the wholesale department be suspended for an indefinite period."  The Board, at its meeting three days afterwards, decided "That the resolution of the quarterly meeting respecting the wholesale department be carried out forthwith."  One of the minutes at the adjourned quarterly meeting, held March 1st, 1858, is, "That the report of the committee appointed to inquire into the wholesale department be not received."

    At the conclusion of the ordinary business of the quarterly meeting, held April 5th, 1858, the meeting was made special "for the purpose of rescinding the laws relating to the wholesale department, numbered 13, 14, 15, 16, and 17."  The meeting does not appear to have done what it was called to do, however, for the decision it came to was "That the wholesale department be not altered."  The interpretation of this, Mr Crabtree thinks, is that we will not kill the Rochdale wholesale department, but let it die quietly.  No further reference is made to it till March 7th, 1859, when a general meeting passed the following resolution:— "That the question of re-opening the wholesale department be postponed to an indefinite period."  This is the last reference the minutes contain to the wholesale in connection with the Equitable Pioneers' Society.  In 1863, during the formation period of the North of England Society, delegates appear to have been regularly appointed at Rochdale to attend the meetings, and considerable interest was manifested.

    These were the Aztec days of the wholesale idea.  The giant we now know was not yet born.  Failure of the idea which cost so much to carry forward, came in London, as the reader will see below.  Fluctuation beset it in Rochdale.  At length a new wholesale arose, whose statue was as that of Og, King of Bashan, nine cubits and a span (Was not that his measure?).

    The effort made by the Equitable Pioneers' Society in 1852, by initiating a wholesale department (as has already been related), originated for supplying goods to its members in large quantities, and also with a view to supplying the co-operative stores of Lancashire and Yorkshire, whose small capital did not enable them to purchase in the best market, nor command the services of what is indispensable to any store—a good buyer, who knew the markets, and what, how, and where to buy.  The Pioneers' Society invited other stores to co-operate in carrying out practically the idea of a wholesale establishment, offering at the same time to find the necessary amount of capital for conducting the wholesale business.  A few stores did join, but they never gave that hearty support necessary to make the scheme thoroughly successful.  Notwithstanding this counteracting influence, the wholesale department, from the beginning, paid interest, not only on capital, but dividends, to the members trading in this department.  However, after a time the demon of all working-class movements hitherto—jealousy—crept in here.  The stores dealing with the wholesale department of the Pioneers' Society thought it had some advantage over them; while on the other side, a large number of the members of the Pioneers' Society imagined they were giving privileges to the other stores which a due regard to their immediate interests did not warrant them in be stowing.  Mr. Greenwood's opinion is that the Central Co-operative Agency and the Equitable Pioneers' Wholesale Department must inevitably have failed, from their efforts being too soon in the order of co-operative development.

    The above is as brilliant a bit of genuine trade jealousy as the reader will meet with in ten years' reading.  If a society purchasing from the Pioneers got an advantage thereby, what did it matter that the Pioneers got an advantage also?  If they did not they ought, as it would be a security that the arrangement could be maintained.  Discontent may be founded on facts, and well founded thereon; but jealousy, vigorous and virulent, is best sustained on entire ignorance, and generally begins by imagining its facts—a good plan, too, because then you get them to your mind.  Thus it came to pass that the Pioneers' wholesale scheme, like that of the London Central Agency, disappeared.  Mr. Greenwood, with clear discernment, saw that both the London and Rochdale wholesale projects must fail, being too early in the field.  When the London Central began there were not sufficient stores in England to support it, nor when the Rochdalians renewed the attempt in 1852.  Therefore Mr. Greenwood waited ten years, until 1863, when there were 300 co-operative stores in the United Kingdom, when he demonstrated the possibility of successfully commencing the great North of England Wholesale Society.

    The argument by which Mr. Greenwood commended the new plan of 1864 was of the same texture as the addition table, usually considered a trustworthy material.  There were in 1861 in the adjacent counties of Lancashire, Yorkshire, and Cheshire, 120 stores, and an aggregate of 40,000 members; 26 of the largest of these stores did business to the amount of £800,000.  It was, therefore, calculated that if the weekly expenditure of 40,000 members averaged 10s. weekly (and it was known to exceed that), it would represent £20,000 weekly, or more than one million a year.  There was plainly, then, an ample field for a wholesale agency to act in.

    A calculation was made by Mr. Greenwood of the quantity of commodities of the grocery kind required to supply the 40,000 members of co-operative stores then associated in the northern districts.  The calculations were made on the data of goods actually sold in one quarter at the Rochdale Pioneer Society, in 1863, when it had 3,500 members.  This was it:—

Kinds of

One Week's

Weekly Money

Yearly Money

  Pounds (lbs.) £ £





























Syrup, &c.




















    There are mentioned in the tables several articles any one of which would of itself be sufficient to make an agency profitable.  The agency would, at the beginning, supply those articles only upon which there was a sure profit.  It will be seen from the statistics given that the state of the movement permitted, and, in fact, warranted, a further step being taken in wholesale progress.

    That was Mr. Greenwood's argument.  Within the knowledge of the new race of constructive co-operators, the wholesale house has been twice put up, and had come down again, because it had not sufficient solid ground to stand upon.  So far as it was in my power to encourage those attempting to establish the co-operative wholesale, I did it by advising them ever to plead that they were simply re-establishing it.  The best way of inclining the timid and unenterprising to attempt a new thing is by showing them that it has been done before, or how nearly it has been done already.

"Men must be taught as though you taught them not,
 And things proposed as new as things forgot."

No doubt, in this way, we actually encouraged people to suppose that nothing original or distinctive was being accomplished.  Since it required careful financial demonstration and much perseverance to prove and enforce it, it was practically quite a new adventure.

    The Rochdale Pioneers' Society had then nine grocery branches, all supplied and managed from the Central Store in Toad Lane.  The transactions between the branches and the Central Store are very simply managed.  The head shopman at each branch makes out a list of all the things wanted on a form provided for the purpose, and forwards it to the Central Store.  The manager upon receiving it gives directions to the railway or canal company, where the Store goods are lying, to send the parcels of articles required to each branch named on the delivery order.  The Central Store in Rochdale stood in precisely the same relation to its branches as the proposed agency would do to the federated societies.

    Mr. Greenwood pointed to this accomplished fact, and it was finally resolved to attempt for the third time the formation of a new wholesale agency.  A company was formed under the title of the "North of England Co-operative Wholesale Industrial and Provident Society Limited."  The Wholesale has now become like the historic and untraceable Nile—the Lord of Stores, as Mr. Stanley calls the great river the Lord of Floods.  By the assistance of explorers, Mr. S. Bamford, Mr. James Crabtree, and Mr. A. Howard, as adventurous in their way as any who have preceded Mr. Stanley, we have been able to trace the sources of the great commercial water which irrigates all the stores it touches, as the Nile itself irrigates the shores it laps.

    There were in the Rochdale Society, in 1864, when the Manchester Wholesale took a tangible shape, many who had steadfastly opposed the development of the wholesale department.  These belonged largely to the new members, who did not look with favour upon the establishment of a Wholesale Society at all, and, although not strong enough to prevent the Rochdale Society from taking up shares, were successful in hindering the development of a business connection such as the movement naturally expected from Rochdale.  The influence of Rochdale in the wholesale appears in this, that it looked to Rochdale for officers.  Mr. Samuel Ashworth, the manager of the Rochdale Store, was solicited to take charge of the Wholesale Society's business in Manchester.  The wholesale department in connection with the Rochdale Society had ceased operations at that time.  He was unwilling to go unless the committee of the Rochdale Society would undertake to reinstate him in his position provided the experiment did not succeed. [56]  This guarantee not being consented to, he did not go.  Some months later he had another opportunity of going to Manchester, which he accepted. [57]

    We need not discuss here the Jumbo Farm theory [58] of the origin of the wholesale at certain meetings held there.  That the subject was considered there, as at other places, there is no doubt.  Mr. Marcroft, himself connected with the wholesale, supposes that it was devised at meetings held at that peculiar farm.  But the road of our narrative lies through official facts.  At the first meeting of the North of England Wholesale Society, held in Union Chambers, Manchester, December 10th, 1863, Mr. Thomas Cheetham was appointed Chairman, and Mr. Abram Greenwood, President; James Smithies, Treasurer; John C. Edwards, Secretary.  Messrs. John Shelton, William Marcroft, Charles Howarth, and Thomas Cheetham were the Committee.  Here are a cluster mostly of familiar and historic names in constructive co-operation.  Four years later a resolution was come to that the prospectus of the Wholesale Agency should be publicly advertised.  The following extract from the Society's minutes shows when and in what terms it was resolved upon:—

    Copy of first minutes of adjourned committee meeting, March 2nd, 1867:—

"Present: A. Greenwood, James Crabtree, John Hilton, James Smithies, Edward Hooson, Edward Thomason.

"Resolved: lst—That the prospectus be published as an advertisement in the Co-operator until further notice."

    The concluding part of this advertisement, which first appeared March 15th, 1867, contained the following words:—

    "[Mr. Abraham Greenwood, of Rochdale, must be regarded as the principal originator of the Co-operative Wholesale Society, of which he has ever since been the President.]  In the Co-operator for March, 1863 (vol. 3), Mr. Greenwood propounded his plan for a wholesale agency, which, with some modifications, formed the basis of the present admirable organisation."

    The first part, which is put here in brackets, was drawn by Mr. Smithies and Mr. Edwards, two of the most competent persons who could have written it, for their knowledge of its truth is undoubtable, and their concurrence in the statement is conclusive.  The part following the brackets was written by Mr. Henry Pitman, as there were copies of the Co-operator mentioned on hand, which it was thought desirable should be further circulated.  This conclusive and unchallenged testimony, repeated year after year, renders future doubt or denial absurd.  When the notice was discontinued, it was done on the authority of the following minute:—

Copy of first minute of committee meeting, held October 16th, 1869:—

    "Present: Messrs. Greenwood, Baxter, Fox, Hooson, Crabtree, Thomason, Sutcliffe, Swindels, and Marcroft.

    "Resolved: lst—That no co-operative or other agency be added to our advertisements in the Co-operator."

    No objection was raised at this meeting, or had been at any meeting, as to the fact of the authorship of the wholesale.  Neither Mr. Marcroft nor any other person raised a question as to its truth.  It was discontinued, Mr. Crabtree explains, not because its truth was ever questioned, but because it was deemed no longer necessary.  It was suggested that there was no further need for it to appear, "as it would now have served all that was intended."

    No historic fact could well be more conclusively established, more continuously advertised by common consent, than this has been, that Mr. Greenwood was the "principal originator" of the wholesale.

    All who had personal knowledge of the development of co-operation during the past thirty years were quite aware that the credit of originating the wholesale, and the working and organisation, belonged to Abraham Greenwood more than to anyone else.  The conclusive and well-written letter of Mr. Edwards, in the Co-operative News of July 17th, 1875, is quite sufficient testimony to set that matter at rest.  Only those—to use Mr. Edwards' expression—who had a strong weakness for believing, in spite of evidence to the contrary, could entertain a reasonable doubt thereupon.  Next to Abraham Greenwood I should place James Smithies.  Smithies, like most of the early co-operators, was a modest man; but though modest he was not weak, and he could always be depended upon to indicate justly what share each of his colleagues had borne in their common work.  He had himself devised plans for federating purchasers.  He had collected copies of the plans of others.  He was for years secretary of committees for giving effect to the idea.  In a movement in which an important development is carried out mainly by the sagacity and persistent efforts of one person, it is in the interest of all that credit should be given where it has been earned.  When Mr. Abram Greenwood first drew up the scheme of it, and put into coherent form the fragmentary conceptions of others, he set forth, for the first time, an intelligent scheme of working principles.  He had, to use his phrase, "to stand the fire of the criticism, doubt, and distrust of the plan, of which no one else was willing to undertake the responsibility or defence of.  Since it became successful, sponsors for it and originators of it have sprung up from Jumbo Farm to Cronkey Shaw, and generally elsewhere.

    Mr. Howard has an ingenious theory that the nature of the residences of the co-operators can be determined from the books of the stores, which record the amount of their savings.  Those members who have the highest balances are found to be persons who live upon the hills which abound in the town.  If a member has a low balance, he is found to live in the low lands.  If his balance is high, so is the altitude of the place where he resides.  If a member has no balance, it ought to follow that he lives underground.  I am told the figures in some societies do favour this theory, and that high balances and elevated dwellings do go together.  If this be true, it is probably owing to the greater clearness of the climate on the hill, better enabling members to see their way to save.  I remember now that Mr. Greenwood always lived in some elevated part of the town, which, no doubt, enabled him to take comprehensive views of the wholesale before the cogitators of Jumbo Farm (which, if I remember rightly, is a low-lying place) got sight of it.

    The sense in which it appears to me Mr. Greenwood is to be regarded as the main founder of the wholesale is that of his having been the advocate of it, and known to be distinctively the advocate of it, during more years than any other person laying claim to its origination.  He kept it in mind himself from the time (1850) when the project was first formally discussed in Rochdale and London, and during all subsequent years of its trial, which preceded its final establishment in 1864.  He not only kept the idea in his own mind, but kept it in the minds of others, when otherwise it would have lain in abeyance.  His calculations mainly proved it to be a feasible undertaking.  His statement of the possible mode of working it was the first which seemed complete and practicable.  James Smithies, William Cooper, Lloyd Jones, George Booth, W. Marcroft, Mr. Ashworth, Charles Howarth, Thomas Cheetham, Mr. Edwards, Mr. Stott, William Nuttall, and of later years, James Crabtree, A. Howard, J. T. W. Mitchell, and others, should all in fairness be included; whose sagacity and energy have contributed to its origination and development.  All the leading thinkers of the Rochdale Store were undoubtedly concerned in furthering the great project by plans, suggestions, and advocacy.

    If I could collect a list of all the names of persons who have promoted the prosperity of the wholesale, I should insert them.  Mr. Field, of Mossley, was on the committee three or four years, and was deemed a good member.  Mr. John Hilton also served four or five ,years.  Mr. Marcroft, as we have seen, was upon it.  Mr. Charles Howarth, who was also upon the committee, ceased after a time to be so, because he was a dealer in soda, which was some times purchased by the agency.  Mr. Edwards shared in the heat and burden of the service of the wholesale four or five years.  Several names occur incidentally in committees which have been quoted, which the co-operative reader will recognise as those of distinguished promoters of the wholesale.  Mr. Mitchell, of Rochdale, and Mr. James Crabtree, of Heckmondwike (who has both faith and pride in co-operative principle), have both been chairmen of the wholesale.



THE Almanacs of the Pioneers' Store—quite worthy of being preserved and bound for reference—give a curious picture of its progress, vicissitudes, and the manner of the Pioneer mind from time to time.  The 1854 Almanac gives a complete statement of the "objects and rules" of the Society, as they stood in force exactly in the tenth year of its existence.  They are expressed with clearness and conciseness. All clearness is not concise, and some conciseness is not clear; but these Almanac expositions possess both, as the reader has seen on p. 11.

    By the rules of the Society a person proposed and his character and qualifications duly discussed, and not accepted, had his entrance shilling returned. The good-natured Society debated his merits and demerits gratuitously. One would imagine that a person whose virtues were not generally admitted, or not very obvious, would gladly pay a shilling for having them inquired into by this willing association, so that he might know how he stood among his class. Each member has to take five one-pound shares. How many stores have languished for years, flabby in pocket and lean in limb; because its shabby-minded members starved it by hardly subscribing one pound each. Many societies are pale in the face for want of the nourishment of capital which a wise five-pound rule would have brought it. [59]  These are the Rochdale rules:—

    "2. Any person desirous of becoming a member of this Society shall be proposed and seconded by two members, and if approved of at the next general meeting by a majority then present, shall be admitted to membership.  A person proposed and not making his appearance within two months shall forfeit his proposition money, and shall not be admitted to membership unless again proposed.  Each person, on the night of his admission, shall appear personally in the meeting-room, and state his willingness to take out five shares of one pound each, and conform to the laws of the Society, and pay a deposit of not less than one shilling.

    "3. That each member shall have five shares in the capital of the Society, and not more than fifty shares.

    "4. That the capital be raised in shares of one pound each.

    "5. That each member pay not less than threepence per week, or three shillings and threepence quarterly, until he have five shares in the capital of the Society.  Any member neglecting to pay as above, except through sickness, distress, or want of employment, shall be fined threepence.

    "6. That two pounds of each member's investment be permanent or fixed capital.

    "7. That three pounds may be withdrawn at the discretion of the Board.

    "8. That members may withdraw any sum due to them above five pounds according to the following scale of notice:—One pound five shillings on application to the Board; one pound five shillings to two pounds ten shillings, two weeks.  And larger sums on giving longer notice; from forty to forty-five pounds being to be had or twelve months' notice.

    "16. That meetings on the first Monday in January, April, July, and October be the quarterly meetings of the Society, at which meetings the officers shall make their quarterly report, in which shall be specified the amount of funds and value of stock possessed by the Society.

    "23. [60] The officers of this Society shall not in any case, nor any pretence, either sell or purchase any article except for ready money.  Any officer acting contrary to this law shall be fined 10s., and be disqualified from performing the duties of such office.

    "32. That the profits realised by the Society be divided thus:—Interest at the rate of 5 per cent. per annum shall be paid on all shares paid up previous to the quarter commencing.  The remainder shall be divided amongst the members in proportion to the amount of their purchases at the Store during the quarter."

    The last is the rule which introduced into England and into all store practices the new policy of dividing profits on purchases.

 The 1854 Almanac also contained the economical announcement, of which the like had never appeared in Great Britain (and would be difficult to find elsewhere in 1877), namely, that the news-room, a bounteously filled room in those days, abounding in dailies, weeklies, and quarterlies, was open from nine in the morning until nine at night, at a charge of twopence per month.  As this room was, and still is, open on Sundays as well as week days, this gave an average of 2,520 hours' reading for twopence; or 600 hours, with fire and light, for one halfpenny.  Co-operative information is the cheapest the working class over found, if regard be had to convenience of hour and day; and the quality of it is higher, because two-sided, than gentlemen can usually command.  More wanting in intellectual boldness than workmen, gentlemen's news-rooms and libraries are subjected to clerical censorship, who, with the best intentions, impose the impotence of half-knowledge upon the members who do not think it "good taste" to object to it or demand "forbidden books."  In all Scotland there is not a single public library or news-room, in city, or club, or college, where periodicals and books on both sides of theology and politics can be seen.  Nor would co-operators be in the freer and manlier state they are, did not their own money buy their books, and build their news-rooms and libraries, and their own members administer their affairs themselves.  Owing nothing to anyone, they fear nobody, nor suffer intellectual control by any.

    The honourable feature of the Pioneers is that they did not go back, they went forward.  The Almanac, the yearly manifesto of the Society, said:—"The objects of this Society are the social and intellectual advancement of its members.  It provides its members with groceries, butchers' meat, drapery goods, clothing, shoes, clogs.  They have competent workmen on the premises to do the work of the members and execute all repairs.  The profits are divided quarterly: 1st, interest, five per cent. per annum on all paid-up shares; 2nd, 2½ per cent. off net profits for educational purposes; remaining profits divided amongst the members in proportion to money expended.  For the intellectual improvement of the members a library has been formed, consisting (1877) of more than 3,000 volumes.  The library is free to all the members."

    Mark, the objects are "the social and intellectual improvement of members," as well as their secular betterance.  "Social and intellectual" improvement was a wholesale phrase put there or kept there by Mr. Abram Howard.

    Their library soon grew to 3,000 volumes.  The newspapers and periodicals increased in number; and they have discovered how to make reading cheaper than 2,000 hours of it for twopence.  Reading is now "free," and the library thrown into that.  The Almanac of 1861 announces that globes, maps, microscopes, and telescopes are now added, so that the co-operator can look into things small and great, far and near.  The gentlemen of Rochdale had no such institution for their use.

    It is that golden rule for the division of profits which includes 2½ per cent. off net gains for educational purposes, which has exalted the Rochdale Society above all others, made its wise example so valuable, brought it so many friends, so much fame, and kept it from being overrun by fools or uninformed members, who else would long ere this have destroyed it, on the ground that intelligence does not pay.  Not having any themselves, and not knowing what it means, they naturally take this view.  They think dividends sufficient without knowledge, not knowing that without knowledge there would be no dividends, either in co-operative stores or elsewhere.

    When the cotton famine began to gnash its lean jaws in 1862, the forecasting and confident co-operators came out—in that penurious year above all others—with their golden Almanac.  Mr. Smithies and Mr. Cooper both sent me copies with pride.  It was printed in gold on a blue ground.  It mentioned a "Wholesale warehouse at 8 Toad Lane, and, for the first time, gave a central compartment to the educational department."  It recounted that the library had grown to 5,000 volumes, that a reference library of most valuable works had been added, that the news-room contained fourteen daily papers, thirty-two weeklies, and monthlies and quarterlies of all kinds, representing all opinions in politics and religion.  The co-operators wisely set themselves against being made into half-minded men.  They would not imitate those timid creatures who are afraid to know the other side of the question, and go squinting at truth all their days, never looking it square in the face, so that when they meet it right plain in their way they do not know it.  Opera glasses, atlases, and stereoscopes are now provided for the use of members, and for a small fee they can take them away, as well as microscopes and telescopes.  The slave war was then waging, and if a slave owner's agent came their way, as many of them did, the co-operators had telescopes to discern his approach, and microscopic instruments ready to examine him when he arrived.

    Things generally had a vagabond appearance in Lancashire.  The outlook for an operative was bad, and destined to be worse.  The golden Almanac said so, and gave this excellent advice to co-operators:—

"1. Let your earnings be spent only on strict necessaries.  Cut off everything else.

"2. Withdraw sparingly of your accumulated savings.

"3. Make the best use of the time thrown on your hands for your intellectual improvement, means for which are provided in our library and news-rooms.

"4. Add to the honour of our movement, by waiting patiently for the better time which will one day come"

    And they did wait.  No venal or other agitators ever won co-operators to join in any clamour that the Government should intervene on behalf of the south, in order to bring cotton to Lancashire and Yorkshire.  A week's clamour would have turned the scale against the slave.  It made the nation proud of English working men to see the stout and generous silence they kept.  The advice I have quoted was addressed "to the co-operators of Rochdale and the nation."  It is the only time they acted on their well-earned authority to speak in this manner to the outside world.

    A Sick and Burial Society was commenced before 1860.  Provision for relief during sickness and also for decent interment at the death of any of its members are the cares of the co-operators.  None but members of the Rochdale Equitable Pioneers, or their families, can enter this Society; but a member may withdraw from the Pioneers' Society without losing his or her membership in this.  Contributions, of course, vary according to age; and the tables are based upon authorised calculations.  The Pioneers have always had among them a creditable taste for temperance, and had the Society's meetings held at the board-room to prevent pay nights turning into tippling nights at a beerhouse, which soon brings members on the "box" of the sick club.  The founders of the Society were too shrewd to think that anything would be saved by insuring saturated subscribers.  Dry members pay best.  The Almanac of 1862 stated that "meeting at public-houses was neither suitable nor consistent with the objects of a sick and burial society—an appetite for drink and company bring on disease and premature death."  The Pioneers meant their arrangements to be "suitable and consistent with a society whose interest rather is the prevention of sickness and burials.  Tippling is alone suitable and consistent with a society whose objects are promoting sickness and burial.  Temperance in drink is sensible; it is fuddling which is foolishness."

    A House Society is another feature of Pioneer organisation.  Improvement in England grows fast out of grievance.  Reason seldom or never creates it.  If, indeed, pure intellect discovers a new course, it generally remains barren until some irritation drives men into it.  The Land and House Society began this way.  One of its founders relates that a certain gentleman who was a shopkeeper, was also an owner of cottages, some of which were occupied by members of "co-operative societies," who were in the habit of receiving store profits.  He, in an unwise hour, declared that "they should not have all the dividends to themselves; he would have a part of them by advancing their rents 3d. per week."  If it be weak to wait for an outrage before you do a sensible thing, it is undoubtedly a proof of some spirit to take steps to make the repetition of the outrage, when it does occur, impossible in the future.  This is what the Pioneers soon did.  They formed a society, and began to buy land and put up houses for themselves.  Their rules give power to build, buy, and sell houses, workshops, mills, factories, or to purchase, lease, or rent land upon which to erect such property.  Their proposed capital was £25,000, in shares of £1.  Thirty-six cottages were put up before 1867, covering the whole of the land they then held.  Their erections were an improvement on the generality of cottages then built.  Subsequently they have built a co-operative town.

    The Irish Times of 1868 remarked in a leader by the editor,—"We have before us an Almanac for 1868, published for the use and information of its members by the Rochdale Equitable Pioneers' Society, Limited.  It is a sheet Almanac, illustrated with a view of 'The new Central Store,' a cut-stone building 70 feet high, and bearing some resemblance to the stately edifice belonging to the Hibernian Bank, in College Green.  This building cost the Rochdale Pioneers £17,000.  Some idea of the wonderful effects of the co-operative system, duly and honourably carried out, may be formed from some facts stated by the Directors, who are all working men, in an address published in the Almanac."

    After recounting what the business and profits of the Society then were, the editor adds:—

    "The capital is so large and so rapidly increases that the Directors are now spending £10,000 as a beginning in the erection of a good class of cottage houses for artisans, and they have purchased a small estate within the borough of Rochdale, which is to be laid out for building immediately.  The quality and construction of the houses are greatly superior to any erected for the working class in Rochdale before the Pioneer time," excepting, perhaps, a pleasant, wide-windowed and healthy range erected by Mr. Bright for his workpeople.

    The early co-operators in Rochdale took with regard to their buildings what used to be called "the bare-bone utilitarian view," like that which Abram Combe took at Orbiston.  They were content that their store should be of the plainest kind, indeed, they had an early resolution on their minutes, "not to spend a farthing on finery."  This was a wise resolution then, because they had not the farthing by them.  Besides, the instinct of art hardly existed among the working class in those days.  They thought refinement of taste belonged alone to the rich; they did not know that the rich were often vulgar, and that refinement was a property of the mind, and that the poor might have it as well as the wealthy.  They did not know that plainness, grimness, and ugliness were more expensive than modest comeliness and modest taste.  Their central stores and their branch stores are well and substantially built now; but had it occurred to their architects, they might have made them brighter, and still more graceful, at less expense.  It would be a benefit to society if a few architects were publicly hanged in half-a-dozen places, as Voltaire said of Admiral Byng, "for the encouragement of others."

    The observations by the Irish editor quoted, are all founded upon one Almanac, that of 1868.  Much that has been written upon Rochdale has been suggested in like manner by a stray copy of this annual calendar of the year falling under the notice of persons who became interested by its unexpected contents.  The Almanac has been the annual manifesto of the Store.  It has been the sole historical publication of the Store.

    In Part I. of this history, the part published twenty years ago, at p. 58, it is represented that the loan asked of Mr. Coningham, then M. P. for Brighton, fell through because their securities were naturally required to be submitted to the examination of Mr. Coningham's solicitor, and the "Board refused to have anything to do with a lawyer."  No doubt this distrust of lawyers existed.  But this was not the exact reason why the solicited loan came to an end.  It is not of moment now; but I am unwilling to leave on record unrevised any statement which subsequent information has shown me to be incorrect.  Mr. Coningham has sent to me the following letter which he received at the time, and which puts the fact accurately:—

13, George Street, Rochdale,
                   14th October, 1851.

    Sir,—I am directed by the members of the "Rochdale District Corn Mill Society" to return their thanks for your offer and anxious desire to meet their wishes relative to the loan of £500.

    You will find by the enclosed letter we received from your solicitor, Edward Tyler, Esq., however willing we may be we cannot give the property of the Society in security.  This the members regret, for it precludes them from getting that help which they at this time greatly require.  But yet the members would esteem it a great favour if you, on the good faith of the Society, advance to it £200, to be repaid by quarterly instalments of £50, which would repay the loan in 12 months.—Respectfully yours,

W. Coningham, Esq.                                                       A

    When Abraham Lincoln became President of America, his familiar-tongued countrymen dropped out the "ha," and reduced him to the more manageable name of "Abram."  Since Mr. Greenwood has oft been president of the various wholesale and other co-operative projects, he also has been called "Abram," and it has been the above letter, bearing Mr. Coningham's endorsement (I send the original to the printer), written twenty-six years ago, that enables me to furnish historical proof that Mr. Greenwood's rightful name is the good old resonant, Hebraic, patriarchal, three-syllabled name of Abraham, the most honoured name in Lancashire neat to "Mesopotamia."

    In the first part of this history, mention was made of the Christian Socialists, the professors, lawyers, clergymen, and other members of that party.  It is a duty to acknowledge now how much the movement has been indebted to the generous zeal and devotion which, during the twenty succeeding years, they have continued to promote, which in various places, in this narrative and elsewhere, has been ungrudgingly acknowledged.

    On Mr. Ashworth's appointment at the Wholesale, Manchester, Mr. Brierley, of the Brickfield Equitable Society, became manager.  He began his duties when the progress of the Society was in full course.  The local policy was changed.  New notions of making dividend by seeking cheaper markets, with risk of worse quality, were permitted.

    The rules were altered to the effect that interest on invested capital of five per cent. should only be paid in certain fixed proportion to the amount of the member's quarterly purchases of provisions or goods at the Store.  Thus, if a member had invested £60 in the capital of the Store, and his purchases amounted to only £1 a week during the quarter, he only received interest on £8 of his capital invested, and the other £47 paid him nothing.  One reason for this singular rule was a distrust or jealousy of capitalists.  It is a curious feature in the working class that at one time their great grievance is that they have no capital (which is always a grievance to any persons in that state), and, next, they use all their ingenuity to devise rules for getting rid of capital, which we wanted for establishing co-operative workshops.  They grow afraid of their friend.  The rules herein questioned had the merit of answering the purpose intended.  The members who could not eat up to the required amount, and could not otherwise augment their purchases sufficiently, began to draw out their capital which yielded no return.  The result was that, in 1869-70, £100,000 were withdrawn, and £30,000 more was under notice.  It will surprise the un-co-operative reader to find that the members of the Store had so large an amount of money.  In due time good sense got uppermost, as it often has done in Rochdale.  The members had the disturbing rule rescinded. [61]  From June, 1870, business and prosperity returned to its usual standard of growth; the capital has more than doubled again.  Mr. Joseph Booth, of the Hyde Store, son of Mr. George Booth, of Middleton, has succeeded as manager.  Mr. Brierley set up a rival society in the town, of which he is manager.  But the Rochdale Society continues to prosper in its own enduring way.

    About the years 1859 and 1860, Mr John Bright took, as he had often done before, considerable interest in the progress of the Pioneers' Society. He knew several of the workpeople of his firm with whom, as old servants, he was on friendly and conversational terms; and sometimes the affairs of the Store were the topic of his remarks. He said some of his friends in the Metropolis and other parts of the country expressed doubts as to the financial soundness of the Society, and based their doubts upon the fact that the accounts were only audited by members. He hi himself had no misgiving concerning them; but he thought it might give confidence to other persons who were both willing and able to speak well of the movement, but who desired to be certain that the statements made were verified
by some acknowledged public auditor. This was talked about among the leading members, and ultimately, on the appointment of the auditors in January, 1861, the matter was mentioned, and the appointment of a public accountant was moved and carried, mainly through the influence of the reported remarks of Mr. Bright.

    Mr. Frank Hunter, of Bacup, was appointed.  The books were not entered up in a systematic manner, and Mr. Hunter had to bring out the whole of the strength of his office.  The great number of the entries in the share accounts were more than he was prepared to find, and the number of the entries in the share accounts were such as he had had no former experience of.  He wanted to take all the books away, but could not be permitted.  When Mr. Hunter's report was produced it showed a sum of £200 unaccounted for.  Mr. Cooper said it could not be correct, but the error could only be discovered by a fresh audit.  Mr. Ashworth and the President went to see Mr. Hunter to ask him to show them how he had arrived at the result.  He could give no particulars.  He had corrected a number of members' share books without keeping account of the corrections, nor could he give any clue to the mystery.  After much trouble and research it was discovered that Mr. Hunter had made a mistake by inserting on the credit side of the trade account an item of £70 odd as sales, which ought to have been entered on the debit side of purchases.  It is not difficult to understand that if an auditor puts down £70 as received which the cashier had actually paid, that would make an error against him of £140.  But all the cash was there.  Mr. Hunter acknowledged in a letter his mistake, and the Society was satisfied.  Since that time the Society has been satisfied with the audits made by those appointed; besides, auditors have subsequently been better paid. [62]

    It will be clear to the reader that Mr. Bright did great service to the Society by the discerning practical suggestion which he made.  At that time doubts were often expressed as to whether co-operators, being working men, understood enough of book-keeping to render a sound financial statement of their affairs.  This short story, the financial verification of the Rochdale Society, is a necessary part of its history.

    The following table shows at a glance the progress which the Society has made from 1844 onwards:—



Funds (£)

Business (£)

Profits incl.
interest (£)















































































































































































































































    The progress of the Store shown in columns was first done on my suggestion, and Mr. T. S. Mill put in his "Principles of Political Economy" this table down to 1860.



THE Society soon came to possess fourteen or more Branch Stores and nearly as many news-rooms.  But how came these Branches into being?  Did they come by spontaneous generation or evolution, or development of species process, silently and naturally; or were they the offspring of discussion, with agitation for accoucheur?  The following facts will enable the reader to judge:—

    It was in the year 1856, when the receipts at the two Central Stores had amounted to £1,000 per week, that the members began to talk of having shops opened in other parts of the town, more convenient to their residences.

    Many of the members lived at great distances, and the labour of carrying their weekly purchases from the stores in Toad Lane had been freely undertaken while there was no economy in having more than one shop.  But now the shop was crowded every night, and the day was scarcely long enough for the shopmen to make the necessary preparations for the night's work.

    Discussions arose on which part of the town the first Branch should be opened; it was soon decided.  A numerously signed memorial from the members on the Castleton side of the town was presented to the quarterly meeting, held in June, 1856.  The prayer of the memorialists was granted, themselves being at the meeting in great strength to promote it and support it by their votes.  Indeed, this has been the case in the opening of nearly all the Branches, and is a notable feature in the democratic character of our institution.

    A shop in Oldham Road was procured, and was opened No. 1 Branch for the sale of grocery goods on the 7th day of October of the same year.  The business at this new Branch soon outgrew the premises which the committee had rented, and it was soon seen that further steps would have to be taken in the same direction.

    There was on the Castleton side of the town a society which had been formed in the earlier years of the Pioneers' Society.  It was called "The Castleton Co-operative Society."  It was doing but a small business.  I believe it was in the year 1855 it was irregularly assessed by the Income Tax Commissioners on a profit of £45, and compelled to pay at that time.

    The greater popularity of the larger society threatened to swallow up this small society, and now when the Branch movement had begun, an agitation was set on foot for amalgamation.  The result was that the business and premises of the Castleton Society were taken up by the Pioneers, and the Store was opened on March 7th, 1857, as the No. 2 School Lane Branch.  It still retains the name, although a new store has been built in another street a considerable distance away.

    The new idea of Branches gained ground so fast that two more were opened within the next few weeks, No. 3, in Whitworth Road within ten minutes' walk of the Toad Lane Stores, and the first on the same side of the town; and No. 4, Pinfold Branch, being in another part of the township of Castleton.

    The latter Branch was opened on the 2nd June, 1857, but no further steps were taken in this direction till the beginning of the year 1859.  Although great relief had been given to the Central Stores by the opening of the four Branches, yet the increase of members and business continued at such a rate that further relief was now found to be necessary.

    The Castleton side of the town was well served.  Only one Branch had been established on the same side as the Central was situated, and it was now argued that they might extend in the Spotland direction.  After some opposition, and great difficulty in finding a suitable shop, the Spotland Bridge Branch, No. 5, commenced business on the 17th February, 1859.

    The agitation for another Branch at Bamford was immediately commenced.  This was, indeed, an agitation, inasmuch as it involved a new principle—that of the Pioneers opening shops in the neighbourhood of other societies.

    At a small village, situate but a short distance from Bamford, there was one of those small societies formed very early in the new history of the movement, and must have been in existence a considerable number of years at the time when the memorial for a Branch at Bamford was being signed.  The memorial was signed by a great many of the members of the Hooley Bridge Society, and a great many more opposed it.  It was seen at once that if the Pioneers opened a shop here it would be the death-blow to their small Society.  The principle of self-government was set against the principle of economy on the side of the memorialists.  While on the side of their opponents in the town it was urged that it would not be fair to charge the Society's funds with the cost of carrying the goods to such an outlying Branch, when members who lived at great distances in other directions had to carry their own, but more especially would it be wrong to open such a Branch so near a neighbouring society at which the memorialists could not only make their purchases, but where they could take a more active share in the management than was possible for them to do in the Rochdale Society.

    The memorialists, however, succeeded, and at the April Quarterly Meeting, in 1859, it was decided to open a shop at Bamford.  The announcement of the voting was received with an outburst of applause from the supporters of the memorial.

    No one seems to have thought of the danger of this example of overlapping which has wrought much mischief since.  A Store is better than a Branch since the Store develops local energy and business education.  A federation of Stores around a wholesale centre is better than Branches.

    I have dwelt longer on the circumstances attending the opening of the No. 6 Bamford Branch (which took place on May 26th, 1859), because it settled the principle that the Society might safely carry its Branches to such places beyond the boundaries of the town where the members residing in the neighbourhood could guarantee a certain weekly business, such as would give fair employment to a shopman.

    The sixteen Society's Branches were opened as follows:—

Oldham Road

No. 1 in


School Lane Branch



Whitworth Road






Spotland Bridge Branch



Bamford Branch



Wardleworth Brow








1864 (?)
















Gravel Hole






    At ten out of the sixteen there are commodious shops, which the Society has built from its own funds, and two more where the premises are its own by purchase.  At the remaining four the business is conducted in rented shops.  There are news-rooms at twelve of them, and preparation is being made at another. [63]  Four or five of the branches do a business under £2,000 per quarter, but the rest vary from that sum to £5,500 per quarter.

    The Branch system has been of great service to the members, and there is no doubt but it has been a principal means of the rapid and ultimately secure development of the Society's progress.

    The Central Store from which the Branches radiate is a very interesting building.  There is a meeting-room at the top, covering the whole area of the building. It is capable of seating at least 1,400 persons, and has often held meetings of 2,000 and upwards.  This meeting-room affords a commanding view of the town which is seen from 15 lofty windows.  The library contains 12,000 volumes.

    The building was commenced in the beginning of 1866, and opened in September, 1867.  The whole cost including site was £13,360; all or the greater part of the cost has long since been defrayed.  The premises at ten of the Branches belonging to the Society were erected at a cost of upwards of £14,000, including fixtures.  Close to the river, and in a central part of the town, are the Society's manufacturing departments, newly arranged and rebuilt, comprising tobacco manufacturing; bread, biscuit, and cake baking; the business of pork butchering, currant cleaning, coffee roasting, coffee and pepper grinding; and in the same yard are the stables and slaughter houses; the whole being so arranged that the produce of each department can be delivered at the shops when wanted with the precision of a machine.

    The business of the Society was £311,754, and the members numbered 9,722 at the end of 1877; profits, £51,648.  The Society constitutes an important part of the town, which numbers 65,000 inhabitants.

Central Store, Toad Lane, in 1844 (left) and in 1868.

    It was a festive day when the Central Stores were opened.  I invited Colonel R. J. Hinton, of Washington, to be present, who had drilled and taken part in training coloured regiments in the Slave War for freedom, in America.  He was witness of the proceedings, and spoke in the theatre. [64]  The Central Store stands at the junction of St. Mary's Gate and Toad Lane, presenting a copious frontage to both roads, and raising its head higher than any building in the town.  Standing on the site of the old theatre and the Temperance Hall, all know the place, and if they did not they can see it.  It has been proposed to erect an observatory upon it, and furnish it with powerful telescopes.  The immense range of view from the top will make it the finest observatory in Lancashire.  Speeches were delivered at the Theatre Royal, the Mayor, Mr. J. Robinson, presiding.  Mr. John Bright, M.P., sent a cordial letter, being unable to be in Rochdale that day.  Earl Russel, Lord Stanley, Mr. Goldwin Smith, Mr. T. B. Potter, M.P. for the borough, Mr. Jacob Bright, and others, sent words of acknowledgment or congratulation.  Mr. Thomas Hughes, M.P., Mr. Walter Morrison, M.P., Mr. E. V. Neale, Mr. E. O. Greening, the Rev. W. N. Molesworth, the Rev. J. Freeston, and the present writer, were among the speakers.  Twenty-three years before the co-operators had commenced their humble and doubtful career in Toad Lane, and that day, September 28th, 1867, they obtained acknowledged ascendency in the town.  They had become the greatest trading body in it; their Central Store tower, like Saul, head and shoulders above every other establishment about it.

    The Rev. Mr. Molesworth said he regarded that celebration as of European importance.  Throughout the Continent co-operation had spread rapidly since they had adopted the principles of the Rochdale Pioneers.  All true believers in co-operation turn their eyes to Rochdale as the Mecca and Medina of the system.

    Mr. Morrison, M.P., said that nothing could be done by the Pioneers in a corner.  It was, therefore, important that they should maintain their reputation.  If other societies saw that Rochdale departed from its first faith, they would plead their eminent example for departing also.

    At this meeting Mr. John Brierley, the Secretary, read an elaborate report.  It ended with this passage:—"In 1855 a Manufacturing Society was established in this town chiefly by the members of the Store.  Its principle was to apportion the profits made—in part to capital and in part to labour.  This Society made great success in its earlier years, but the capitalist shareholder began to think the worker had too much profit, so the bounty to labour was abolished. (Loud cries of "shame." [65])  But we hope ere long to see it re-adopted (hear, hear, and cheers), and the principles of co-operation fully developed, believing that it is fraught with incalculable blessings to the people."

    Mr. Hughes accepted this as a promise that efforts would be made to restore the character of the Manufacturing Society.

    Mr. William Cooper spoke, and in alluding to Mr. Neale described him as "their own lawyer," for whose services they were all grateful.

    Mr. Councillor Smithies said that the Pioneers, who were registered under the Friendly Societies Act of 1845, had applied for an amendment of the law which would enable them to devote a tenth of their net profits to educational purposes; but, notwithstanding the services of Mr. Hughes and Mr. Neale, the proposed rule was vetoed by Mr. Tidd Pratt, the registrar.

    The co-operators had never been hosts before on so large a scale, and had never before been able to invite such distinguished guests as those to whom they sent invitations.  The chief guests had the choice of two dinners.  One was provided for them at the Central Stores, and another by the Mayor, with whom, as the intention of his worship was to show courtesy to the Pioneers by making their visitors his guests, they dined.  After the speech, multitudes of people went to the soiree at the Stores, and the ball at the Public Hall.



THERE is no doubt that the persistence of leading Rochdale Co-operators in maturing the "Wholesale" entitles their Store to be regarded as the practical founder of it. They furnished those who conceived the idea in its working form, put it in motion, and kept it in motion.

    Long before, Rochdale had the merit to demonstrate the value of the principle of dividing profits upon purchases instead of upon shares.  Mr. Alexander Campbell, of Glasgow, was an advocate of this principle.  It was first stated by Mr. Campbell in 1822, and afterwards put by him in the rules of the Cambuslang Society of 1829.  The principle was in the rules of the Melthan Mills Society of 1827, as Mr. Nuttall has shown: yet it would never have been in Rochdale save for Mr. Howarth.  He re-discovered it, and was certainly the first to appreciate its importance, and to urge its adoption there.  Double discovery is very common in literature, mechanics, and commerce.  Poets and authors often hit upon ideas which have occurred to others before they were born, and of whose writings they had no knowledge.  Bell, in Scotland, and Fulton, in America, both discovered the steamship at the same time.  No doubt Mr. Howarth himself originated the very idea in Rochdale which Mr. Campbell had long before thought of.  But they made nothing of it in Scotland.  Indeed, they did not know they had it among them, until Rochdale successes with it made it of the nature of a famous discovery.  Many discoveries of great pith and moment are made over and over again, and die over and over again.  At last the old idea, being re-born, falls into the hands of knowing nurses, who bring the doubtful "bairn" up until it grows strong, tall, and rich.  It is wonderful then what a number of parents the young man finds he had!  This plan of sharing profits with the consumer, without whom no profits could be made, ensured a following for a store.  It gave the customer an interest in the concern.  Other societies soon adopted the same rule, but none made so much of it as Rochdale has done.  The use other stores of that day put it to would never have given it distinction.  Indeed, the division of profit idea would never have made the noise it has, but for the Rochdale way of carrying it out.  It has been the ever-growing amounts of profit that attracted the pecuniary eye of the country to it there.  The early co-operators there, having a world-amending scheme in view, foresaw that money would be required for that purpose, and this led them to adopt a plan of saving all they gained.  After paying capitalists five per cent. it was open to the co-operators to sell their goods without further profit, which would have given to each purchaser his articles at almost cost prices.  The consumer would thus have had, in another form, his full share of advantage by buying at the Store.  The other plan open to them to adopt was to charge the current prices for all goods sold, and save for the customer the difference of profit accruing.  This plan they adopted; though it was theoretical and somewhat Utopian, and not likely to be so popular with members generally, who like cheap articles, who prefer to know what they save, and to have it at once.  Uneducated people do not believe in saving; they have no confidence in it; they do not believe in an unknown, untried committee saving money for them; they want it the moment it is available.  With them a penny in hand is worth twenty in the bush.

    In one of his lectures on capital and labour, Mr. Holmes, of Leeds, relates a before-told but still instructive story:—"During one of the Irish famines, Mr. Forster (the father of the then M.P. for Bradford) went out there, as the agent of the Society of Friends, to give special relief, and found the people at one place famished down to chewing seaweed.  He asked them if there was no fish in the sea; they replied 'Yes,' but said 'they could not get them, as they had neither boats nor nets.'  Mr. Forster provided them with boats and nets, upon which they eagerly inquired, 'Who's to pay us our day's wages?'  Mr. Forster told them 'the fish they got would pay them their wages,' but they declined to go out on these problematical conditions, and it was not until Mr. Forster guaranteed them their wages that they set off.  The consequence was that a good trade was carried on, and Mr. Forster soon found that the boats and nets were cleared—all paid for—and that plenty of money might be made.  He offered the men the boats and nets free of expense; but they would not take them in their own hands, and nothing would satisfy them but 'their day's wages!"'

    The ignorant trust in nothing.  Near gain oftentimes the amount seems to them a cheat.  The pecuniary eye of the mind is like the natural eye of the body—sometimes short-sighted, and cannot carry far enough to see profit even a little way off.  An economic telescope is wanted to lengthen the sight.  Co-operation proved to be the very telescope which did the thing for thousands.  I know co-operators now who can see a profit a mile off; but, singularly, this long range of eye does not apply to a principle.  The principle sometimes lies much nearer, and they never see at.  I suppose they overlook it.

    The poor are a fastidious and demonstrative class—they require to see the results of their conduct day by day and hour by hour.  Yet, the old plan of selling goods cheaper than ordinary tradesmen—turning all profits into reduction of price—was not one that promised permanence.  When errors in purchasing, or spoilt stock, caused the price at the Store to rise, the supporters of the Store fell.  Even when the Store was successful as to maintaining lowness of price, the amount of advantage was often infinitesimal on some articles, and when the advantage could scarcely be seen, its influence waned.  The old plan of taking all profits made, and paying them in the shape of dividends to the shareholders, had yet greater disadvantages.  These dividends were drawn out and spent.  When high, enthusiasm was high.  When the dividends came down, popular support sunk to zero, and sometimes below, and then the Store broke up.

    However, the rule of forced saving and deferred spending was calculated to delay the progress of the Society—to repel members—to breed discontent.  It required enthusiasts to carry it out, and that rare combination of enthusiasts, zealots with patience, who could wait long years for results—in fact, to wait for their own success, which could not arrive until they had educated their neighbours, and brought up the town about them to their level.  Luckily, the early Rochdale co-operators were enthusiasts, men who had the courage to dream dreams in flannel jackets, and with a very poor outlook in the streets—there being reductions of wages very near them, and the poorhouse not "looming" in the remote distance—but near and palpable; and yet they adopted the plan which forced members to save.  Thus was born in Lancashire the idea of accumulating profits.  Mr. William Chambers, in his paper on co-operation, says, with true insight, "Without the principle of accumulating profits, co-operation remains a very insignificant affair."  The long years of store experience which preceded the commencement of the Rochdale Store of 1844, were the "insignificant " days of co-operation.  There was no alluring accumulations then.  Rochdale proved that an average population can be educated in foresight and thrift—quite a new fact in human working-class nature then.  Happily, the Pioneers may come to be outstripped in material successes and in numbers; but they can never be surpassed in the credit which belongs to faith when believers are few, and to courage when all others despaired.

    If the Rochdale plan of dividing profits on purchases was a Scotch discovery, it was unknown to the Messrs. Chambers.  Clearly it had never attracted any attention in Scotch hands, else we had never seen, from such an observant economist as William Chambers, the following singular comment:—

    "The Rochdale plan of paying not only dividends on capital, but a share of profits along with wages, is, on the first view of it, new and revolutionary.  It seems to overturn all our ordinary ideas as to the relationship between those who find the money and those who give the hands in trading operations."

    When Lord Westbury brought in his County Courts Bill for the abolition of the power of imprisonment for debt, he explained, in a note to Mr. Pitman, then editor of the Co-operator, "that he should be glad to see the Bill supported by the petitions of co-operative societies, feeling as he did that the taking away of such power would, by loosening the facility of obtaining credit, conduce to render more general habits of providence—habits which the system of co-operation had shown to exist among some of the members of the working class."  Mr. John Whittaker, pleasantly known as "A Lancashire lad," endeavoured to elicit the opinions of leading co-operators upon the Lord Chancellor's Bill, and put the reason for it in these conclusive words:—

    "As the Lord Chancellor's new Bill strikes directly at this credit system, it deserves the support of all who are interested in social improvement, and especially of those who are concerned about the success of co-operative associations.  So soon as it becomes difficult for working men to obtain credit, they will learn the value of societies which will enable them to keep for their own use the profits which they would otherwise have to pay to the ordinary retail dealer."

    This was in 1864.  Mr. William Cooper endeavoured in vain to induce the Rochdale Society to petition in favour of the Bill.  The reason for this needs explaining, which can best be done in Mr. Cooper's own words:—

    "I believe the system of credit does the working man a great deal more harm than good; for when a man 'goes behind,' as we say, or gets in debt, his hope and his spirit somewhat desert him, and he is liable to get more and more tied to his crediting shopkeeper.  I have heard it said that some shopkeepers like to have their customers a little in debt, as then they know they are not able to go elsewhere for goods.  If the Lord Chancellor's Bill becomes law, the tradesmen would still have one side of the bargain—that is, they could please themselves who they credited; and perhaps they would be more cautious about leading people into debt.  But if the co-operative societies were to agitate for the passing of the Bill, the shopkeepers would be apt to attribute their interference to a desire on the part of co-operators to injure their interests.  At least such a construction would be put on their motives in this town, as the Tories want a pretext to raise the hostility of the shopkeepers against the stores, so that in the excitement they may use the shopkeepers as instruments to unseat our representative, Richard Cobden."

    But it must be owned that this solicitude concerning the action and interest of shopkeepers was sacrificing the larger interests of the working class and the stores.  Lord Westbury's Bill would have saved tens of thousands from debt and have given an impetus to ready-money purchasing at stores.

    The Working Men's Industrial Associations of Italy, which were originated by Mazzini, and of which he was president, were animated by a strong spirit of citizenship.  With them public life and social life went together.  It was in the belief that co-operation was not divorced from citizenship in Rochdale that at a meeting held there in December, 1861, I made a communication, on the authority of the president of the chief societies in Italy, with a view to establishing a personal intercourse between them and the trade societies of England.  The Italian societies act upon the principle some time before urged upon the trade societies of England by Mr. Bright, and seek the unity of their country as the first condition of their industrial independence.  At the conclusion of the communication Mr. Abraham Greenwood moved the following resolution, which was carried unanimously, Mr. Isaac Hoyle presiding: —"This meeting learns with pleasure that Italian workmen are following the advice long ago given to the workmen of England by Sir Robert Peel, and 'are taking their own affairs into their own hands."'  In England at that time the trade societies had it under their consideration to use their organisation for securing their political enfranchisement; for it is impossible that any men can protect the interests of their order, or their labour, who have no political existence themselves.  The Rochdale meeting, therefore, was glad to see that the workmen of Italy included the unity of their country as a supreme and essential object with them.

    The announcements in the Rochdale Almanacs of the number and magnitude of the news-rooms and libraries are noble notices.  Just as when the English colonise any country they carry representative institutions with them, so whenever the Rochdale Society opens a new branch they open a new news-room, and it is "always" open.  Every member is wiser in mind for it, and no poorer in pocket.  Knowledge is economy as well as foresight and good sense.

    Mr. John Ormerod wrote to me in 1864 an account of the origin of the Co-operative Loan Fund of Rochdale.  In 1862, some gentlemen in Wiltshire, fearing that the cotton famine would seriously affect the stability of co-operative stores in Lancashire, generously proposed to render assistance which might help to avert this evil.  "Considering," says Mr. Ormerod, "that Rochdale had been (so to speak) the cradle of co-operation, these gentlemen made offer of help in Rochdale, lest co-operation in general should suffer through a shock received there."  To this end they sent a sum of £500 through Mr. Sotheron Estcourt, M.P., to the Rev. W. N. Molesworth, the Vicar of Spotland, for the use of the co-operators, free of interest, on the condition that it was lent free of interest to co-operative families suffering from the cotton famine.  Six trustees were appointed—two from the Pioneer Society, two from the Corn Mill, and two from the Manufacturing Society.  The trustees undertook to do their best to collect the money when prosperity returned, and to hand it over to the Rev. Mr. Molesworth.  The money was lent in sums from £1 to £5 to persons depositing their "law books," containing a record of their deposits in the Store.  By this means, a member having a few pounds in the Store could borrow money to that amount without withdrawing his capital from the Store.  By continuing to deal with the Store, the profit upon his purchases and interest upon his capital invested, continued to accumulate, enabling him eventually to pay back the loan.  Only £361 required to be lent up to the end of 1864.  During the first half-year of 1863 £13 were repaid.  In the second half-year £37 were repaid.  In the third quarter of 1864 £26 were repaid, and the fourth quarter of 1864 £32.  Ultimately, it was all repaid, and £100 of interest was accumulated.  The gentlemen who lent the money, at the same time, gave it to the co-operators, should it be refunded, provided they put it to some useful purpose, which met the approval of the donors.  It was permitted to be devoted to the instruction of members under the title of a Special Education Fund.  Mr. Ormerod related that the expenses of distributing the fund up to the end of 1864 scarcely exceeded £2.  But though they advertised the existence of the fund, and explained the advantages it offered to those members who needed help, it went out so slowly that some began to think that co-operators were too independent to borrow, or that they were really better off than their fellow-workers who had never been co-operators.

    The interest arising from the Special Educational Fund enables instructional classes to be assisted for the advantage of the families of members.  Some years lectures have been given to the members by persons likely to add to their instruction.  When they were specially engaged the expenses were paid out of the proceeds of this fund.  Recent Almanacs of the Store now contain this announcement:—"Science, Art, and French Classes.—These classes were inaugurated by the Educational Committee in 1873, and have since continued to be carried on successfully.  The following subjects are now taught by able teachers, viz.,:—Mathematics, geometrical and mechanical drawing, theoretical mechanics, physiology, botany, magnetism and electricity, inorganic chemistry, freehand and model drawing, geometry and perspective, acoustics, light and heat, and the French language.  All sons and daughters of members should avail themselves of these classes."

    Seeing the generous interest in the fortunes of the Pioneers shown by Mr. Sotheron Estcourt, Estcourt Square, or Terrace, or Street, would be a pleasant name to give to one of the lines of buildings (when a new name is wanted) on the Pioneers' estate.  It concerns us all who care for the honour and progress of co-operation to bear in grateful regard the memory of everyone who has signally aided it in the past, when it was unfriended and struggling.

    The following table shows the number of students in each division since the commencement of the classes:—


In Science

in Science

In Art

in Art

In the Technology

Examined in


















































































































    The decrease in the number of students during the past few years is accounted for by the starting of other classes, and especially by the art and technological work which the Technical School Committee have undertaken since 1887 and 1888.  But the Pioneers at the Whitworth Road Store have by far the best chemical laboratory in the town, and they alone offer prizes in all their classes.  The income for the prizes is derived from the Sotheron-Estcourt Fund (of which mention has been made) which realises about £26 per year.  With this money prizes of 10s. and 5s. are given to the most successful students in each stage of each subject.

    It ought to be put on record that for fifteen or sixteen years they provided the larger part of the science and art teaching in Rochdale; and this at but trifling expense to themselves, for the Government grant has practically sufficed to meet the cost of tuition.

    The following return, issued by Mr. Barnish, the librarian, shows the number of volumes in the library, and the extent to which they were used in 1890-91:—


No. of Vols.

No. Issued.

 Theology, Morals, Metaphysics



Arts and Sciences



History and Biography



Natural History



Social and Political Philosophy, &c



Poetry, Fine Arts, and the Drama



Geography, Voyages, and Travels



Works of Fiction, Tales, &c



Miscellaneous Literature









No. of Vols.

Central Library, Toad Lane


Castleton Branch


Buersil Branch


Bamford Branch


Oldham Road Branch


Pinfold Branch


Whitworth Road Branch


Shawclough Branch


Spotland Bridge Branch


School Lane Branch


Wardleworth Brow Branch


Sudden Brow Branch


Milkstone Branch


Norden Branch


Newbold Branch


Gravel Hole Branch


Slattocks Branch


Greenbooth Branch


Branch Lending Library, Greenbooth


The Branch Lending Libraries contain


    In addition there are 374 "select books and local pamphlets."  These libraries are a noble achievement for a society of working men.

    While there have been a few grumblers, almost from the first, the bulk of the members gave no sign of dissatisfaction at part of the profits being used for educational purposes.



The office of president has been filled each year as follows:—

1844 Miles Ashworth                 1869 J. R. Shepherd

1845 Charles Howarth               1870 J. R: Shepherd

1846 James Smithies                   1871. J. R. Shepherd

1847 John Kershaw                     1872 J. R. Shepherd

1848 James Tweedale                 1873 J. R. Shepherd

1849 John Cockcroft                   1874 J. R. Shepherd

1850 John Cockcroft                   1875 Abraham Howard

1851 John Kershaw                    1876 Abraham Howard

1852 J. J. Hill                                 1877 Abraham Howard

1853 John Cockcroft                   1878 Benjamin Horbury

1854 John Cockcroft                   1879 Benjamin Horbury

1855 John Cockcroft                   1880 Benjamin Horbury

1856 Abraham Greenwood      1881 Benjamin Horbury

1857 John Cockcroft                   1882 Benjamin Horbury

1858 John Cockcroft                   1883 Benjamin Horbury

1859 John Cockcroft                   1884 James Whitworth

1860 John Cockcroft                   1885 James Whitworth

1861 Abraham Howard            1886 Thomas Cheetham

1862 Thomas Cheetham           1887 Thomas Cheetham

1863 Samuel Newton                 1888 Thomas Cheetham

1864 Robert Briggs                      1889 Thomas Cheetham

1865 Robert Briggs                      1890 Thomas Cheetham

1866 Robert Briggs                      1891 Thomas Cheetham

1867 John Ormerod                     1892 Thomas Cheetham

1868 John Ormerod

The following are the fourteen principal features of the "Rochdale System":—

1. The Pioneers set the example of beginning a Store with funds of their own providing mainly.

2. Supplying the purest provisions they could get.

3. Giving full weight and measure.

4. Charging market prices, and not underselling or competing with shopkeepers.

5. Taking no credit, nor giving any; thus discouraging debt among working-people.

6. Giving the profits made to members in proportion to their purchases; acknowledging that they who make the profit should share it.

7. Inducing members to leave their profits in the Profit Bank of the Store to accumulate, thus teaching them thrift.

8. Fixing interest at 5 per cent. that Labour and Trade (which alone make capital fruitful) may have a fair chance of gain.

9. Dividing in the workshop the profits among those who have earned them, in proportion to their wages.

10. Devoting 22 per cent. of all profits to education, to promote the improvement and efficiency of the members.

11. According to all members the democratic right of voting (one person one vote) upon all appointments and propositions, and according to women the like right to vote and to receive their saving whether they were single or married, and this long before the 'Married Woman's Property Act' existed.

12. The intention of extending co-operative commerce and manufacture by the establishment of an Industrial City, in which crime and competition should cease.

13. In originating the Wholesale Buying Society, they created means of fulfilling their own professions, of supplying provisions of ascertained genuineness, which otherwise would have been impossible to them.

14. The conception of the Store as an Institution as the germ of a new social life, which should by well directed self-help ensure morality and competence to all the industrious. [66]


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55.      This plan bears resemblance to that Mr. L. Jones drew up, which probably the devisors bad before them, as Mr. Smithies had once copied it out.  Mr. Jones' plan divided profits into four parts, devoting one to the establishment of working men's association in connection with co-operative.  The Rochdale plan drops this out and in other respects introduces local features and simplifications.

56.      The following minute gives the official form of the circumstance:—"On November 7th, 1863, a deputation was appointed to invite Mr. Samuel Ashworth to become buyer for the wholesale, at a salary of £200 a year to commence with."  At the next meeting, November 21st, it was reported that Mr. Ashworth had declined the offer, and that the Rochdale Board of Directors had increased his salary £30 per year in order to retain his services.

57.      Mr. A. Howard's statement.

58.      A theory started by Mr. Marcroft, who considers that the idea of the wholesale and most other things originated in discussions at Jumbo Farm.

59.      The amount of capital which each member ought to supply in order that the Store may do well for him is £3.  Members who do not furnish this amount each do not understand their own interest and expect to reap where they do not sow.

60.      The Almanac omits 17, 18, 19, 20, and others, quoting those of main interest to the outside reader.

61.      This curious rule is worth preserving.  Each member shall receive out of the surplus receipts of the Society, after providing for the expenses thereof, in each year, such interest not exceeding five per cent. per annum upon the capital standing to his account in the books of the Society, as is declared at the quarterly meetings of the Society, providing, his purchases are according to the following scale, namely; If a member purchase

£1 per quarter, shall only be allowed interest up to £8
























































62.      The facts of this chapter were furnished by Mr. Abram Howard.

63.      There are now 19 news-rooms and 35,493 books in the libraries (1892).

64.      In a volume, the "Radical Leaders of England" (Putnam and Sons), this gentleman has given recollections of this visit.

65.      Report in
Rochdale Observer.

66.       Quoted from the " Co-operative Movement To-day," published by Methuen & Co.



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