Co-operative Wholesale Society

From its beginnings in 1863, the Co-operative Wholesale Society (CWS) became one of the largest co-operative organisations in the UK, changing its name in to The Co-operative Group in 2001. The CWS began in small premises in Manchester and grew to occupy a large part of the city centre, which housed its offices, warehouses and salerooms. It produced the famous CWS Brand goods for co-operative societies throughout the UK. These included food, furniture, clothing and household products. The society established trade links with countries including India, Sri Lanka and South America. The CWS also looked after its employees by introducing the 8-hour day in its factories and publicising its stance against sweated industries, as well as introducing convalescent homes for sick employees. The Co-operative Group today is the largest co-operative society in the UK.

GFW – Goliath Footwear

Goliath Footwear was founded in 1880 by the Co-operative Wholesale Society (CWS) under the name of the Heckmondwike Boot and Shoe Works. The factory was based in Heckmondwike in West Yorkshire and was the second Co-operative Wholesale Society shoe factory to be founded. The Heckmondwike Boot and Shoe Works was designed to manufacture hard wearing work boots. Goliath famously made lightweight football boots for Sir Stanley Matthews, who played football for Blackpool, Stoke City and England. In 2003 the Co-operative Wholesale Society sold Goliath Footwear.

The collection, covering 1880-1989, comprises employee registers, pensions and death benefit scheme registers, staff wages ledgers, price books, accounts, newspaper cuttings and photographs.

JVG – Artwork of James V Glover

James Vincent Glover was a layout artist at the headquarters of the Co-operative Wholesale Society in Balloon Street, Manchester in the 1950s. His artwork includes draft adverts for packaging and pages from magazines and newspapers, along with leaflets and flyers advertising various products.

The collection comprises artwork for draft adverts for various co-operative societies and other organisations. These include the Co-operative Wholesale Society, Thomas Robinson & Son Ltd, Rotherham Co-operative Society Ltd, Shepshed Co-operative Provident & Industrial Society Ltd, Travco, B S Andrews Ltd Clothiers and the Monotype Corporation.

CFC - Furniture Catalogues

The Co-operative Wholesale Society began cabinet making in 1893. The Birmingham factories, which opened in the 1920s, were equipped with large, well-fitted workshops. They produced for the supply of regional furnishing needs. The Cabinet Factory, Hay Mills and the Bedstead Factory, Belmont Row were also used for the production of pianos. The CWS encouraged piano buying, with good pianos at moderate prices. The work was transferred to Belmont Row from the Cabinet Factory and then returned after the reorganisation of the factories in 1932.

T J Henson opened the Enfield Cabinet Factory on 27 March 1930. It was a large factory, fitted with the newest machinery for mass production. A number of the machines had been specifically made to CWS specifications.

The collection consists of furniture catalogues of the CWS factories (1938-1961).

CBW - Crumpsall Biscuit Works

Crumpsall Biscuit Works opened in Lower Crumpsall, Manchester, in around 1873. The factory created numerous products and had four departments: the biscuit factory; the cake factory; the sweets and toffee department; and the drugs and sundries section.
The works at Crumpsall boasted of being “the only 8 hour day biscuit works in England” and had numerous facilities for its employees including a cricket club; football club; tennis courts; a bowling green; a recreation ground; a dining room for over 600 people with discounted refreshments and free warming of packed dinners; a library; and board and card games. The works put on numerous social events through the year, including sports days and dances and whist drives nearly every week during the winter.

The collection consists of catalogues and pamphlets which give information about the biscuit works and its products.

TAW - Treforest Aerated Water Factory (CWS)

In mid 1939 Treforest Aerated Water Factory became the fourth CWS aerated water factory to be set up. The other three were at Middleton, Nottingham and Brislington. It was based at Treforest Estate, Glamorganshire, South Wales and produced non-alcoholic refreshments. This factory closed down in the late 1980s.

The collection consists of staff wage ledgers for the factory covering 1939-1961.


This collection comprises black and white photographs relating to the Co-operative Wholesale Society, including prints of employees at work, buildings and social events. Most of these prints are dated c1938. There are also some photographs of original pictures and prints from the 1800s.

CWR- Wax rubbings of CWS Crumpsall Biscuit Works windows

Crumpsall Biscuit Works opened in North Manchester in 1873 and was the first factory of the Co-operative Wholesale Society. The factory closed in 1985. This collection consists of wax rubbings of four large, elaborate windows at the Co-operative Wholesale Society’s Crumpsall biscuit works. The rubbings show the art nouveau elaboration around single words. The rubbings have diagrams of where the design was located in the window.

Society Histories

The Archive holds many CWS histories. Some of these are for the opening of individual premises such as factories or the London Branch, others are to commemorate significant jubilees and anniversaries. These histories also give an insight into methods of production and the types of products the CWS produced.

DEF- Promotional material for CWS Defiant products

Co-operative’s first started selling radios in the 1920s. Many independent traders complained to manufacturers of the dividend that the co-operatives gave on radio sales and therefore forced manufacturers to cease trading with co-operatives. Following the boycott by radio manufacturers the CWS was encouraged to produce its own brand radios. By 1933 the CWS had come up with a design given the brand name Defiant.

The collection consists of product catalogues, photographs and the Defiant Sales and Service Bulletin.

The Producer

The Producer, which ran from 1916-1966, was a magazine for employees of co-operative societies. Its focus was on co-operative trade and products, with news from co-operative societies in the UK as well as internationally. News items include those about employees, as well as features on window dressing and product display. The Producer is useful for news stories of co-operative societies, as well as the international co-operative movement and overseas trade. It also has articles on prominent individuals within the movement.

The Wheatsheaf

Published between 1896 and 1964, The Wheatsheaf was a monthly publication for members of co-operative societies. It was published by the Co-operative Wholesale Society and had a central section that was national, while the outside pages were published for individual consumer co-operatives and contained local news. It contained short stories, household hints and reports of events within the co-operative movement. There were also pages specifically aimed at women and children.

CWS Annuals

The CWS Annuals, published from the 1880s to 1960, gave information on the work of the Co-operative Wholesale Society and the Scottish Co-operative Wholesale Society. They contain trade figures and statistics as well as information on various factories and reports on the work of co-operative trade internationally. These Annuals are useful for research into trade figures, production and statistics of the CWS and SCWS and the early volumes include line drawings of the factories and other premises. They also included essays on trade and society outside the co-operative movement, by some of the foremost thinkers of the day.