Personal Papers

The National Co-operative Archive holds a range of personal papers, from the early socialists and co-operators to modern political figures. The papers chart the growth of the co-operative movement from its earliest inception through to the modern movement of the past fifty years.

AVA- Papers of Albert Victor Alexander

A V Alexander (1885-1965) was a British Labour Co-operative politician. He was three time First Lord of the Admiralty, including during the Second World War.

The collection consists of items relating to A.V. Alexander, predominantly focussing on his relationship with the co-operative movement. The items include newspaper cuttings, photographs, cartoons, congress and commemorative memorabilia, Rambling Club syllabus, a letter and copy of a journal article.

DHC – David Hutton

David Hutton was a Board member of the former London Co-operative Society and the Co-operative Retail Services. This collection covers his fifty year association with the co-operative movement.

DGP- Papers of Dorothy Greaves (Museum Warden at the Rochdale Pioneers Museum)

Dorothy Greaves was a Warden at the Rochdale Pioneers Museum for a period during the 1980s and later from 1994 until her health failed, and spent much of her spare time over the years researching the 28 ” Men of Rochdale. ”

The collection consists of Dorothy’s research papers. Many of the papers consist of Dorothy’s notes and copies of original documents acquired in her research into the Rochdale Pioneers and their relatives. There is also correspondence relating to her research. The collection also consists of papers relating to other areas of the co-operative movement.

EOG – Edward Owen Greening

Apprenticed to wire working at 13 years of age, Greening soon became involved in reform movements. His first public speech came three years later when he addressed the Anti-Slavery Society Manchester. He was active in the Union and Emancipation Society and the suffrage movement. He stood for parliament at Halifax in the election of 1868 as a working class candidate.

His involvement with the co-operative movement dates from the mid 1850s onwards. He knew many of the Owenites (followers of Robert Owen) including William Pare, Lloyd Jones, ET Craig and GJ Holyoake. Greening was involved in the events leading to the convening of the first modern Co-operative Congress in 1869 and the formation of the Co-operative Union. He played a prominent part in the formation of the International Co-operative Alliance. His other interests included productive co-operative societies and agricultural and horticultural co-operatives. He was editor of The Agricultural Economist and the One and All Gardening Annual. He also encouraged co-operative societies to support sport, art and hobbies – he initiated the Crystal Palace Festival and organised co-operative concert parties.

EVN – Edward Vansittart Neale

Edward Vansittart Neale was born in Bath on 2 April 1810. Neale’s law career was only moderately successful, as his interests lay elsewhere. He sought an alternative to evangelical Christianity and became interested in the works of German philosophers and French socialists. In 1850 Neale joined the Christian Socialists, and later became appointed to the Council of Promoters of that organisation. Christian Socialists believe that Christianity and socialism are interconnected and attempt to apply the social principles of Christianity to everyday life. Neale invested heavily in several co-operative ventures during this time, all of which failed resulting in him losing in excess of £40,000. However, in 1851 he founded the Central Co-operative Agency, a wholesale depot that was a forerunner of the Co-operative Wholesale Society. In 1852 he founded the Co-operative League, which was composed largely of followers of Robert Owen. It was intended as a forum for co-operative ideas, and held regular public meetings, at one of which Owen himself gave an address. A publication, Transactions of the Co-operative League was produced in three parts in 1852.

Neale also took an active interest in the laws and rules guiding co-operative societies. In 1852 he aided in the passage of the Industrial and Provident Societies Act. The Act permitted the establishment of societies with the aim of raising a fund for any purpose, by voluntary subscriptions by members.

GBC – Gladys Bunn

Gladys Bunn served many roles in the co-operative movement throughout the twentieth century. These included clerk with the South Suburban Co-operative Society, a member of the Co-operative Southern Regional Board and the International Co-operative Alliance. The papers of Gladys Bunn reflect her lifelong association with the co-operative movement.

GEP- George and Ethel Piper (Earlestown and St Helens Co-operative Societies)

George and Ethel Piper were members of the Earlestown Industrial Co-operative Society which in 1956 transferred engagements to St Helens Co-operative Society. Ethel Piper was a member of the Co-operative Women’s Guild. George Piper was also an employee of the society.

The collection consists of social event programmes, records of the Women’s Guild, Employees’ Supernnuation Fund documents, insurance papers, grocery order books, hire-purchase share books, pocket diary, leather wallet, rule books, share books and correspondence.

GJH – G J Holyoake

George Jacob Holyoake (1817-1906) was the son of an engineer and was apprenticed as a tinsmith. In 1831 he joined the Birmingham Reform League, beginning an active participation in political and social movements. Attendance at meetings addressed by Robert Owen in 1837 was soon followed by Holyoake’s own lectures on socialism and co-operation. He was the last man in Britain to be imprisoned for blasphemy.

Holyoake became a writer and journal editor, bookseller and publisher. He was prominent in the campaigns for removal of tax on newspapers and for electoral reform.

The Archive’s correspondence collection covers his lifelong active association with the co-operative movement and his association with all the leading figures in it.

JJD- John James Dent

John James Dent (1856-1936) was involved in the promotion of the Co-operative Building Society as an auditor from 1884 until 1920 when he was elected to the post of Director and in this position he was instrumental in founding several co-operatives in Southern England. He helped to set up a co-operative in Chelsea and was one of the founders of the Tenant Co-operators Ltd and the Southern Co-operative Education Committee. His contributions to the Women’s Co-operative Guild and Women’s Trade Union League were also noted by his contemporaries at a time when they were just beginning to take their first steps. He also attended fifty of the annual co-operative congresses during his career.

The collection consists of photographs, ranging from portraits of co-operators to prints of early co-operative stores, his personal notebook for the years 1876 -1878, correspondence and a collection of letters and newspaper clippings relating to Dent’s appointment as Labour Correspondent.

JRC- Papers of Joseph Reeves (Education Secretary of Royal Arsenal Co-operative Society 1918-1938)

Joseph Reeves (1888-1969) was Education Secretary of the Royal Arsenal Co-operative Society (RACS) from 1918-1938. He also served on the society’s Political Purposes Committee from 1946-1953. Reeves spoke and wrote on many issues regarding co-operation, and also on other social issues.

The collection relates to his time as Education Secretary of Royal Arsenal Co-operative Society, his role as Labour MP of Greenwich, his speeches, world travel and work for the cremation society.

MPC – Marjorie Porter Collection

Marjorie Porter (1907-2009) came to the Co-operative Movement late in life, although she had been related through marriage to the great co-operative educator Joseph Reeves.

Marjorie was involved with Co-operative Community Councils. These CCCs were monthly meetings of members with a speaker. Marjorie became secretary of Lambeth Co-operative Community Council and turned it into an exceptional group. She ensured that the speakers were educational on co-operative and community matters. She ensured that the group had a voice to co-operative management and was connected to its co-op committee.

Her greatest frustration was the Co-op’s failure to engage the Caribbean community. She tackled this by inviting a former officer of the Jamaican co-operative movement to speak at the group. She then helped set up the Co-operative Friends of Jamaica group which helps to increase awareness of Jamaican co-operation and supports Jamaican businesses.

The collection comprises of records relating to Majorie’s involvement with the co-operative movement, including records relating to Lambeth Co-operative Community Council and Co-operative Friends of Jamaica.

PAL- Papers of Lord Rusholme, Robert Alexander Palmer

Robert Alexander Palmer (1890-1977)  joined the Co-operative Union in 1909 and by 1920 he was the cashier and financial advisor. In 1929, he became the Union’s General Secretary, a post that he held until 1947.  In 1930, he became a member of the executive committee of the International Co-operative Alliance and was appointed Vice-President of that organisation in 1934. He was the Acting President of the ICA during the Second World War and was the President from 1946 to 1948. In 1944, he was appointed as chairman of the Centenary Congress of the British co-operative movement, although this was cancelled due to the war and he instead presided over the 1945 Congress. In 1945, he was raised to the peerage as 1st Baron Rusholme, of Rusholme in the City of Manchester, becoming the first Co-operative peer.

The collection consists of photographs taken at official occasions, correspondence, reports and speeches from his involvement with the co-operative movement, and material relating to a number of royal events to which he was invited. The collection also includes some of his father’s correspondence, mainly with Robert Blatchford between 1923 and 1941.

RIG- James Rigby

James Rigby, 1797-1862, was a faithful attendant of Robert Owen at the time of his death, and was a most devoted advocate of his views. He died aged 65 at Salford on March 6th, and contemporary records referred to him “having never tasted animal food”. He became known in co-operative circles after having been a Manchester delegate at the Huddersfield Congress in 1833.

The collection consists of 617 letters mainly written to Rigby over the period 1848-1858. The largest series of letters are those from Robert Owen and William Pare.

ROC – Robert Owen

Robert Owen (1771–1858) was known as the ‘Father of Co-operation’ and of British socialism. He was born in Newtown, in Wales and worked in London and Manchester before becoming the manager of the mills of the New Lanark Twist Company in 1800. While in New Lanark he developed his theory of character formation, his ideas on the education of children and the improvement of working conditions – such as the reduction of working hours and the introduction of sick pay. Owen believed strongly in the importance of education for the formation of the character.

In 1825, along with his son, Robert Dale Owen, Owen travelled to America to set up a new community, New Harmony in the state of Indiana, that he hoped would be as successful as New Lanark. However, the community did not flourish and Owen returned to England in 1829. After his return, he became interested in aspects of co-operation and labour exchanges. To this day Owen remains an extremely influential figure within the co-operative movement worldwide. Right up to the end of his life, Owen continued to write and lecture on social issues.

Owen was a prolific writer – in addition to the letters, the Archive holds books, pamphlets and journals by and about him.

THL – Thomas Hughes

Thomas Hughes was born at Uffington, Berkshire on 20th October 1822. He is best known for his novel Tom Brown’s School Days. Hughes was the second of the eight children born to John and Margaret Hughes. His father was an essayist and storyteller, and figures as the squire in Tom Brown’s School Days. He was educated at Rugby School (from February 1834) and then Oriel College, Oxford University (1842-1845). At the time of Hughes’s schooling Rugby was under Dr Thomas Arnold, a highly influential schoolmaster who Hughes idealised as the perfect teacher in his Tom Brown novels. Hughes excelled at sports, especially cricket, rather than in scholarship and his school career culminated in a cricket match at Lord’s Cricket Ground. After completing his Bachelor of Arts at Oxford, Hughes was called to the Bar in 1848, became Queen’s Counsel in 1869 and a bencher in 1870. As a solicitor he worked for Equity and Law Life Assurance Society, Lincoln’s Inn Fields, London in the 1860s. He was appointed to a county court judgeship in the Chester district in July 1882. Hughes was a man of deep social conscience and was horrified by the vice, squalor and poverty he found in London while training as a barrister. Anxious to play a part in improving conditions for the poor, he joined the Christian Socialists in around 1848.

Hughes was greatly interested in the education and betterment of workingmen; he was a key member of the Christian Socialists education movement and helped to set up a night school to bring education to the illiterate workers. In addition to his interest in socialism and reform, Hughes was an advocate of co-operation and was actively involved in the early movement, for example, he was President of the Co-operative Congress, London of 1869. He was also on the Board for several societies, including the Congress Board, the Central Co-operative Board (precursor to the Co-operative Union, now called Co-operatives UK) and was involved in establishing a Dress Making Co-operative. He was an advocate of producer co-operation and took part in debates on producer versus consumer co-operation through the 1870s and 1880s.

TWM – Papers of TW Mercer

Mercer’s first co-operative position did not come until his early twenties when he joined    the    Reigate Industrial Society as a grocer. He later became branch manager in Reigate and then took up the same position in nearby Epsom.

During the First World War Mercer was recruited by the Plymouth Society and appointed to the post of Education Secretary. It is here that Mercer’s involvement in party politics began and he became the political agent for a Labour candidate standing in the general election of 1918.

Mercer’s interest in education continued and after his posting in Plymouth he moved north to join the staff of the recently established Co-operative College.

Mercer then went on to stand as a candidate himself in 1922 representing the Moss Side Division of Manchester. In the same year Mercer was made editor of the Co-operative Review and continued to make writing the focus of his career until his retirement in 1945. In 1927 Mercer became the Southern correspondent of the Co-operative News and also edited other Co-operative publications such as the Millgate, the Co-operative Official and the Guildman at various junctures. In addition to his writings for the aforementioned publications Mercer also produced a number of pamphlets and books using both his real name and the pseudonyms of Lawrence Graham and John Sheridan. Mercer was an extremely prolific writer but perhaps his most admired and best- known book remains the Co-operative Commonwealth published in 1936. Another notable work by Mercer is Co-operations Prophet: The Life and Letters of Dr William King of Brighton.

The collection consists of T W Mercer’s files of notes and papers relating to his research into the early co-operative movement. These include papers relating to Robert Owen and the early co-operative movement, William King, John Ludlow, E V Neale, William Pare and Mercer’s correspondence.

VBC – Vic Butler

Vic Butler was a leading figure in the London Co-operative Society, and was active on the Society’s Political Committee. At the age of 27, he was elected a Labour Party councillor and became active in the co-operative movement. He moved to London in 1946, where he took up a post as the London Co-operative Society’s Political Committee Organiser for the Northern and Western Areas. The LCS Political Committee was an amalgamation of the Edmonton Society’s Co-operative Representation Council and the Stratford Society’s Council. It was initially called the London Co-operative Representation Council, but changed its name to the LCS Political Committee. Butler retained his post on the LCS Political Committee until 1970.

Butler was treasurer of the London Co-operative Member’s Organisation (LCMO) for several years. The LCMO began as an organisation that represented co-operators of labour opinions. It was knows as the Members’ Democratic Organisation until the formation of the London Co-operative Society when it became known as the LCMO

In 1952 he became Middlesex County Councillor and retained his seat until the council was dissolved in 1965. In 1964 he became a councillor of the newly created London borough of Haringey, of which he was twice Mayor, in 1965 and 1976. He married Joyce (nee Wells) who was a Labour/Cooperative MP for Wood Green and who was also active in the wider co-operative movement. Butler was her agent in the constituency until 1979. Butler himself had ambitions to become an MP for Rutland and Stamford, but these were never realised.

WBE- Papers of William Bernard Evison, (Royal Arsenal, Brighton, Luton Industrial and Enfield Highway Co-operative Societies)

William Bernard Evison (1909-1996) worked for co-operative societies at Royal Arsenal, Brighton, Luton and Enfield Highway. He worked in a number of roles including researcher in the Sales Investigation Department, Trade Development Supervisor, Assistant General Manager and General Manager.

The collection consists of correspondence, work related papers and reports, research material, pamphlets, newspaper cuttings and articles and photographs.

WFP- Papers of William Fisher (Barrow and Dalton co-operative societies)

William Fisher worked at Ulverston Co-operative Society, Barrow Co-operative Society and the Cumbrian Co-operative Society between the late 1940s up until 1993 when he retired. During his time working for these societies, Fisher attended the Co-operative College and also spent time completing a correspondence course as he made his way through shop management and then departmental management.

The collection consists of records created and collected by William Fisher during his career with the co-operative movement. Including records of Barrow Co-operative Society, Dalton-in-Furness Co-operative Society, Co-operative Union correspondence course papers and a photograph.

WHB – W H Brown

William Henry Brown was born in 1868 in East London, the son of an active co-operator. He attended pupil teacher’s centres at Toynbee Hall and Oxford House University Settlements. By the age of fourteen, he was a pupil teacher with a class of forty boys at an East London School.

Brown (often known simply as WHB) came into close contact with many of the contemporary leaders of the co-operative movement, including Thomas Hughes and Edward Vansittart Neale. He made his first public speech in 1888, through the instigation of another pioneer Lloyd Jones, at the meeting of the old Tower Hamlets Society. In the same year, he joined the staff of the South Hampshire Evening Star, but by 1889 he had returned to London as the assistant editor of the British Trade Journal.

He was a devotee of the co-operative movement. Working along side Edward Owen Greening in plans for joining co-operators of all nations into a close union, these materialised as the International Co-operative Alliance (ICA). He became associated with the Co-operative News, the weekly newspaper of the co-operative movement, in 1895 and from 1898 to 1916 he worked as their London correspondent.

Brown also held posts within co-operative Societies. From 1895-1916, he was the secretary of the education committee of the Stratford Co-operative Society. He was also a member of the central board of the Co-operative Union, where he played a leading role in the reformation of the Cambridge Co-operative Society in 1899. In 1916, he joined the Co-operative Wholesale Society (CWS) publicity department in Manchester, known as the Co-operative Press Agency. Brown then edited the journal The Producer until his retirement in 1934.

After his retirement in 1934, he still continued to be involved with the co-operative movement. He was a contributor to many co-operative journals and society history publications from his retirement until his death in 1950. For example, Brown wrote profiles entitled the ‘Gallery of Officials’ of prominent co-operators every month under the pseudonym Timothy Autolycus for the Co-operative Official and this name is used in some of his letters.

WWC- Papers of William P. Watkins (Director of the International Co-operative Alliance 1951-1963)

Will Watkins’ (1893-1995) lifetime association with the co-operative movement involved him working at the International Co-operative Alliance, Reynolds News, and for the British Government as advisor on Co-operation to the military Government of Germany.  He wrote a number of documents on the co-operative movement.

The collection consists of a number of typed and handwritten drafts of his published book “The International Co-operative Movement – Its Growth, Structure and Future Possibilities (1967)“; personal correspondence, brochures, maps, informative letters and general information regarding the Manchester Conference (1979); a number of different documents and artefacts which relate to a personal diary or collection of memoirs from Watkins’ extensive career within the Co-operative.