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Between 1800 and 1820 Robert Owen put his co-operative ideas into practice, setting up a community around his cotton mill at New Lanark. Workers received higher wages for shorter hours, while Owen provided housing and education and still made profits.
Taking up Owen’s ideas, William King founded the monthly periodical The Co-operator in 1827, urging the formation of small local co-ops to tackle poverty.
The Rochdale Pioneers did just that – pooling their savings they began leasing a property on Toad Lane in 1844. After many difficulties, they expanded. New branches opened and other societies formed and by 1900 1439 co-operative societies were operating, with around 2 million members.
In 1863 the The North of England Wholesale Society was established and this soon became the Co-operative Wholesale Society.
Over the last century there have been many mergers, including that of the largest retail society and the Co-operative Wholesale Society who merged in 2000 to form the Co-operative group.
The Working Class Movement Library has an extensive collection of books on Robert Owen and histories of a wide range of Co-operative societies, as well as copies of William King’s The Cooperator, published in the 1820’s. The slideshow below gives a flavour of the collection available, but for more head up the road to the Library to read at your leisure.
Click on the slideshow to see examples of the Co-operative collections at the Working class Movement Library