Co-operator Newsletter: March 2019 issue

rochdale pioneers members 1844Thirteen of the 28 original members of the Rochdale Society of Equitable Pioneers (1844)


A group of ordinary folks, compelled by their idealism that co-operation is the way to better social order, exerted an influence so deep that up to today, 175 years later, their impact is still felt today.

So, who were the Rochdale Pioneers?


Rochdale was a market town outside Manchester, England, famous for its flannels. For centuries, the people in Rochdale had depended on the textile industry for a living, spinning and weaving wool and cotton. With mechanisation taking over many of the tasks of traditional weavers and spinners, the people of Rochdale fell into poverty.

Original Rochdale Coop Store Toad Lane
The original Rochdale Co-operative Store at Toad Lane.

The weavers and tradesmen decided to start a co-operative store to help the town people but it lasted only two years before it collapsed having given too much credit. The failed attempt, however, did not deter a group of workers who were largely made up of flannel weavers; and included a clogger, a tailor and a cabinet maker. They were motivated by the desire to collectively reduce the cost of living by opening a store that would buy in bulk, by-pass the middleman, and sell basic necessities cheaply to its members.

These 28 founding members, popularly known as the Rochdale Pioneers, set up the Rochdale Society of Equitable Pioneers in 1844. They raised £28 and rented the ground floor of an old warehouse at 31 Toad Lane for three years at £10 a year.  The first co-operative store was opened on 21 December that year. Initially, there were only four items for sale: flour, oatmeal, sugar and butter. Membership grew steadily such that by 1880, the original 28 pioneers had been multipied 379 times and capital reached well over £300,000.

Between 1844 and 1854, the rules of practice were distilled into the following seven principles, known now as the Rochdale Principles which might be summarised as follows:

  1. Open membership
  2. Democratic control (one man, one vote)
  3. Distribution of surplus in proportion to trade
  4. Payment of limited interest on capital
  5. Political and religious neutrality
  6. Cash trading
  7. Promotion of education

The co-operative became a prototype for societies in Great Britain; and its set of principles became the foundation on which co-ops around the world stand on to this day.

Source: The Singapore Co-operative Story: 1925 – 2015 published by the Singapore National Co-operative Federation, 2015

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