21st December 1844. The Co-op.

In the halcyon days of the Co-operative Movement in Britain, there was a readily identifiable working class, and whilst the better-off still enjoyed home deliveries from the butcher and baker boy, there was always the ‘C0-op’ on the corner.

Today in 1844 the Rochdale Society of Equitable Pioneers opened their first store in Toad Lane, Rochdale.

Stock included butter, sugar, flour, candles and oatmeal, and a policy of correct weight and measures, unadulterated food and full weight, catered for local impoverished  textile workers.

The Rochdale Rules included a distribution of profits relating to purchases, as a dividend or ‘divi’.(1)

Toad Lane, Rochdale.

Toad Lane, Rochdale.

In 1873 the Cooperative Wholesale Society (CWS)  entered manufacturing and importation, even owning ships and tea estates. Scotland had its own organization.

The Co-op was early in self-service, in a screened-off section of their Romford store in June 1942, to be followed fully in the London Co-op at Manor Park in 1948.

The Author’s mother in the 1940s, a member of the Co-op Guild, was a keen Co-op shopper for groceries, most streets had a corner shop, meat, coal (count the bags!).

Then insurance, a man called weekly, bread and milk, deliveries by horse and cart. All shoes, drapery, clothes purchases ensured an enhanced ‘Divi’ from our individualized cheque number 21535.


By 1914 the Co-op had 5500 branches in different societies, but its wholesale branch had always incurred the animosity of other manufacturers so that they were forced to make and market their own products, ranging from coal, bread to beds and soap.

Eventually the C0-0p being largely a product of the north was to be uncompetative when heavy manufacturing declined in the 1970.s, with related lost of earnings and sense of community, which was the raison d’etre of the movement.

There were too many individual societies, shops were in the wrong places, as new supermarkets arrived. Societies amalgamated and the corner shop closed to become modern convenience stores known as Co-op Food.

The group lost full control over the Co-op Bank and the owners of the £1.5b debt had to bail it out. There was the scandal of incompetence.

Co-op today has 4500 shops, 90,000 employees, 8 million members and is big in funerals, pharmacies, food, electricals , travel, and is the largest Mutual owned by its members and customers.

Its management structure is Byzantine with Area Committees electing Regional Boards who elect most of the Group Boards. (15 out of 21).

Of the remaining 6 Boards, 5 elections comes from local Societies, for example Midland Counties, along with one independent director.

(1) In 1862 the Industrial Provident Society Act gave Cooperatives, Corporation status for the first time.

Ref: oldshopstuff.com/cws/pelaw.

Ref: wikipedia,org/co-operative_group/Pic Image of candle/Beamish Museum.

Ref: bbc.co.uk/news/business.17.4.2014/Image of Shop.








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About colindunkerley

My name is Colin Dunkerley who having spent two years in the Royal Army Pay Corps ploughed many a barren industrial furrow until drawn to the 'chalk-face' as a teacher, now retired. I have spent the last 15 years researching all aspects of life in Britain since Roman times.

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