Rochdale Pioneers - 170 years since the birth of the co-operative movement

Date published: 21 December 2014

Rochdale is known as the birthplace of the modern co-operative movement, as it was here 170 years ago, on the 21 December 1844, that the Rochdale Equitable Pioneers Society opened their store selling pure food at fair prices and honest weights and measures. This came at a time of chronic unemployment, poverty, hunger and social inequality, and it was met with prejudice and opposition.

The Rochdale Equitable Pioneers Society was a group of 28, but who exactly the 28 Pioneers were is subject of much debate as the Pioneers never actually wrote down an official list of the 28. Some were known co-operative enthusiasts and had been involved in earlier co-operative ventures in the town, whilst others were Chartists and idealists. They were all working men. More than half were involved in the textile trade – ten of them were flannel weavers whilst others were cloggers, shoemakers, joiners or cabinet makers.

The Rochdale Pioneers Museum has compiled a list from examining the recurrence of individuals names in sources such as the minute book and purchase book.

The Rochdale Principles of Co-operation, which the Pioneers developed, formed the foundation of the principles still in use by the modern co-operative movement which now numbers around 1.4 million independent enterprises with nearly 1 billion members worldwide. They are embodied in the Statement on the Co-operative Identity published by the International Co-operative Alliance.

The original shop at 31 Toad Lane was used for trading until 1867. It was re-opened in 1931 as the Rochdale Pioneers Museum and was extensively restored and refurbished in the 1970s. The front ground floor room replicates the simplicity of the original Co-operative store of 1844. The Museum was closed for two years between 2010 and 2012 for a major development project to improve access, add an education and meeting space and renew the exhibitions. The Museum re-opened on 29 October 2012.

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.

Read lots more about the Pioneers at the Rochdale Pioneers Museum website:

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