|Co-operative Wholesale Society billhead 1930s|
Toad Lane, Rochdale is widely regarded as the home of the modern worldwide co-operative movement. This is not because it was the first consumer co-operative venture but because its Pioneers (founders) laid down a model of values and principles in their Rules that set out how, and why, to run a co-operative society.This is a suitably careful wording, because, while Toad Lane is widely celebrated as the first Co-op shop, this can be disputed. In fact, the likely truth is that retail co-operation was an idea 'whose time had come'. In 2010 Co-operative News reported that a shop in Ripponden, Yorkshire could lay claim to being the first, in 1832, twelve years before the Toad Lane shop.
Retail co-ops were an early example of consumer power, where people banded together to purchase goods in bulk to get the best prices. Although this is mainly associated with the working classes, there were middle class co-ops too; the Army & Navy Stores, now part of the House of Fraser group, began when a group of army and navy officers realised that it was cheaper to buy wines and spirits by the case. The now-defunct Civil Service Stores started in the same way, except that the commodity in question was tea!
The co-ops developed into regular retail shops, where the shareholders were the customers. Many people will have fond memories of shopping at the Co-op (or the 'Co-perative') as we called it in Scotland, and giving the cashier their 'divi' number, which would be marked up in a book, and the dividend would be distributed at intervals, according to how much you had spent. And you thought trading stamps, and now supermarket loyalty cards, were new ideas...?
Living Museum of the North at Beamish, County Durham. It's one of my favourite museums, and I can't recommend it highly enough. Visit if you can - if you're interested enough to read this blog all the way to the end, you'll love it. But wear comfortable shoes, there's a lot of walking.
|Co-op draper's shop, Beamish|