Co-operative Society

Rochdale, Lancashire,

The Co-operative Movement had its origins in Great Britain early in the 19th century. It was inspired by social-economic reformers such as Robert Owen. Early cooperative attempts were not successful, however, because they frequently also involved experiments in communal living--idealistic communities set apart from society. 

Societies that were composed of independent owner-producers had a more lasting success. The first and best known was the Rochdale Society of Equitable Pioneers. It developed and set forth the principles that distinguish cooperatives from ordinary business corporations.

A group of weavers in Rochdale, near Manchester, decided to set up their own grocery store so they could share the profits. They formed the Rochdale Society, and each member contributed an equal amount of money from savings. In 1844 they opened their store on Toad Lane, stocked with small supplies of butter, sugar, flour, oatmeal, and candles. The principles under which the store was operated have served as a guide for Co-operatives ever since. The more significant Rochdale principles are:

(1) Each member has only one vote, regardless of how many shares they hold.
(2) Anyone may join regardless of his race or religion.
(3) Goods and services are sold at market prices. After business expenses have been paid, the profits are returned to the members in proportion to their purchases, not their share holdings.
(4) The interest on capital invested in shares is limited.
(5) Shops sell only for cash to avoid credit risks.

Most Co-operatives carry on education programs for their members. At Rochdale a fine library with a newsroom was acquired, classes were held, and lectures given. The society was the principal educational body in the town for many years and was something of a pioneer in adult education.

At Rochdale activities were not confined to the development of the society alone. In the first 25 years it assisted or took part in other Co-operative enterprises: a Co-operative flour mill, a sick and burial society, a building society, and a cotton manufacturing society. It also played a leading role in establishing the Co-operative Wholesale Society and the Co-operative Insurance Company.

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