Rochdale Society of Equitable Pioneers

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The Rochdale Society of Equitable Pioneers, founded in 1844, was an early consumer co-operative, and one of the first to pay a patronage dividend, forming the basis for the modern co-operative movement.[1] Although other co-operatives preceded them,[2] the Rochdale Pioneers' co-operative became the prototype for societies in Great Britain. The Rochdale Pioneers are most famous for designing the Rochdale Principles, a set of principles of co-operation that provide the foundation for the principles on which co-ops around the world operate to this day. The model the Rochdale Pioneers used is a focus of study within co-operative economics.


Photo of thirteen of the surviving Rochdale Pioneers, photographed in 1865.
Thirteen of the surviving Rochdale Pioneers, photographed in 1865.

The Rochdale Society of Equitable Pioneers was a group of 28 that was formed in 1844.[3] This figure of 28 came about because it was believed that £28 was raised to begin the store, and that each member contributed a £1. Examination of the actual Minutes of the Pioneer Society prove that this is incorrect. Many members contributed much less than £1 to start and at no time did the records register 28 members. The Pioneer Minute books indicate that there were more likely 46-50 members of the Society prior to the store opening.[4][self-published source] Despite these facts being available, many historians (and the Rochdale Pioneer Museum) still refer to the number of 28. Around half were weavers in Rochdale, Lancashire, England. As the mechanisation of the Industrial Revolution was forcing more and more skilled workers into poverty, these tradesmen decided to band together to open their own store selling food items they could not otherwise afford. With lessons from prior failed attempts at co-operation in mind, they designed the now famous Rochdale Principles, and over a period of four months they struggled to pool £1 per person for a total of 28 pounds of capital. Again this is not substantiated by the Minute books. On 21 December 1844, they opened their store with a very meagre selection of butter, sugar, flour, oatmeal and a few candles. Within three months, they expanded their selection to include tea and tobacco, and they were soon known for providing high quality, unadulterated goods. By the end of their first year trading, the Pioneers had 80 members and £182 of capital.[5]

By 1900, the British co-operative movement had grown to 1,439 co-operatives covering virtually every area of the UK.[6]

The archive for the co-operative movement in Rochdale is held by Local Studies, Rochdale Boroughwide Cultural Trust.[7] Rochdale Pioneers traded independently until 1991, with name changes inspired by mergers with neighbouring co-operatives, as Pioneers from 1976, and Norwest Pioneers from 1982, based in Wythenshawe, Manchester by 1991. In 1991, then Norwest Co-operative Society transferred its engagements to United Co-operatives, that was run from Rochdale when it in turn transferred to the Manchester-based national hybrid society, The Co-operative Group, in 2007.[8][9][10][11][12]


At the outset, the Pioneers had a clear set of what we now would call objectives – in 1844 they called them 'Objects'.

The objects of the Society were stated in "Law the First" of their rules and were:

  • The objects and plans of the Society are to form arrangements for the pecuniary benefit, and improvement of the social and domestic condition of its members, by raising a sufficient amount of capital in shares of £1 each, to bring into operation the following plans and arrangements:
  • The establishment of a store for the sale of provisions, clothing, etc.
  • The building, purchasing or erecting of a number of houses, in which those members desiring to assist each other in improving their domestic and social condition may reside.
  • To commence the manufacture of such articles as the Society may determine upon, for the employment of such members as may be without employment or who may be suffering in consequence of repeated reductions in their wages.
  • As a further benefit and security to the members of this Society, the Society shall purchase or rent an estate or estates of land, which shall be cultivated by the members who may be out of employment or whose labour may be badly remunerated.
  • That as soon as practicable the Society shall proceed to arrange the powers of production, distribution, education and government, or in other words, to establish a self-supporting home colony of united interests, or assist other societies in establishing such colonies.
  • That for the promotion of sobriety, a temperance hotel be opened in one of the Society’s houses as soon as convenient.

Many aspects of these objects can be seen directly in the modern-day co-operative movement.[13]


The original Toad Lane Store

The Pioneers rented their first store at 31 Toad Lane and moved out in 1867 but the co-operative movement later purchased it, and opened it as a museum in 1931.[14][15] The museum resurrected the legal name Rochdale Equitable Pioneers Society in 1989, the name having been abandoned by the original co-operative in 1976 on merger with the Oldham Co-operative.[15][16]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Walton, John K. "Co-operative movement" The Oxford Companion to British History. Ed. John Cannon. Oxford University Press, 1997. Oxford Reference Online. Retrieved via county library service on 25 June 2008.
  2. ^ Sidney & Beatrice Webb, The Consumers' Co-operative Movement, 1930, p. 5
  3. ^ Fairbairn, Brett. "The Meaning of Rochdale" (PDF).
  4. ^ Davidson, Carol, The Original Rochdale Pioneers (2016) ISBN 978-1-326-70522-0
  5. ^ "Rochdale Pioneers Centenary Stamp". Stamp and Coin Mart. Warners Group Publications. February 2018. p. 31.
  6. ^ "UK Co-op Milestones". Co-op Online. The Co-operative Group. Archived from the original on 11 June 2008. Retrieved 13 August 2008.
  7. ^ Link4Life | Local Studies | Provider of arts, sport and heritage development work in the Rochdale area Archived 21 November 2008 at the Wayback Machine
  8. ^ "Share book search: Rochdale Pioneers". Co-operatives UK. Retrieved 25 June 2008.[permanent dead link]
  9. ^ "Records of the Manchester and Salford Equitable Co-operative Society: Administrative history". The National Archives. Retrieved 25 June 2008. In 1970 the Manchester and Salford Society merged with the Stockport and Pennine Societies to form the Norwest Regional Society. In 1982 the Norwest merged with the Pioneers Society to form the Norwest Pioneers Co-operative Society.
  10. ^ "Share Book Search: Rochdale Pioneers". Co-operatives UK. Retrieved 24 June 2008.[permanent dead link]
  11. ^ "Norwest Co-operative Society Limited, number 73R". FSA Mutuals Public Register. Retrieved 25 June 2008.
  12. ^ "United Co-operatives Limited, number 11253R". FSA Mutuals Public Register. Retrieved 25 June 2008.
  13. ^ A. W. Filson, G. D. H. Cole (25 December 2015). British Working Class Movements: Select Documents, 1789–1875. Springer. pp. 428–429. ISBN 978-1-349-86219-1.
  14. ^ Rochdale Pioneers Museum
  15. ^ a b David Thompson (July–August 1994). "Cooperative Principles Then and Now". Co-operative Grocer, National Cooperative Grocers Association, Minneapolis. Archived from the original on 10 October 2007. Retrieved 25 June 2008.
  16. ^ "Rochdale Equitable Pioneers Society Limited, number 26798R". FSA Mutuals Public Register. Retrieved 25 June 2008.

Further reading[edit]

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Coordinates: 53°37′07″N 2°09′34″W / 53.6187°N 2.1594°W / 53.6187; -2.1594