STORY OF A PEACEFUL REVOLUTION.
The Rochdale Pioneers and their Work.
story of the starting of the Rochdale Pioneers is the heritage of every
co-operator, and has been viviﬁed into a romance of national import by
the pen of Mr. G. J. Holyoake, from whose History of the Rochdale Pioneers the following descriptive passages are gathered.
|At the close of the year 1843, on one of those damp, dark,
dense, dismal, disagreeable days, which no Frenchman can be got to
admire, such days as occur towards November, when the daylight is all
used up, and the sun has given up all attempts at shining, either in
disgust or despair — a few poor weavers out of employ, and nearly out
of food, and quite out of heart with the social state, met together to
discover what they could do to better their industrial condition.
Manufacturers had capital, and shopkeepers the advantage of stock; how
could they succeed without either? Should they avail themselves of the
poor law? that were dependence; of emigration? that seemed like
transportation for the crime of having been born poor. What should they
do? They would commence the battle of life on their own account. They
would, as far as they were concerned, supersede tradesmen, mill owners,
and capitalists: without experience, or knowledge, or funds, they would
turn merchants and manufacturers. The subscription list was handed
round — the Stock Exchange would not think much of the result. A dozen
of these liliputian capitalists put down a weekly subscription of
twopence each — a sum which these Rochdale Rothschilds did not know how
“poor weavers” were engaged in the ﬂannel weaving industry, and in 1843
there was considerable discontent among the workers and a desire to
improve wages. Agitations amongst the men; futile negotiations with the
employers; strikes, lockouts, and subsequent acute distress followed in
quick succession. On any but the sturdiest hearts despair and dull
acquiescence in ill-balanced social conditions might well have fallen.
The men of Rochdale were, however, of the sturdy kind, and in the
twenty-eight weavers who formed the nucleus of the Pioneer Society was
found common sense as well as grit. The meetings of these men were
frequent, and, says Mr. Holyoake—
|In the end it came about that the Flannel Weavers Committee
took the advice of the advocates of co-operation. James Daly, Charles
Howarth, James Smithies, John Hill, and John Bent appear to be the names
of those who in this way assisted the Committee . . . . At length the
formidable sum of £28 was accumulated, and, with this capital, the new
world that was to be was commenced.|
ground-ﬂoor warehouse in the now famous Toad Lane, Rochdale, was the
place chosen in which to open the ﬁrst store. One more quotation from
Mr. Holyoake’s graphic story will sufﬁce to bring these homely
enthusiasts vividly to life before our mental vision.
|On one desperate evening — it was the longest evening of the
year — the 21st of December, 1844, the “Equitable Pioneers” commenced
business. It had got wind among the tradesmen of the town that these
competitors were in the ﬁeld, and many a curious eye was that day
turned up Toad Lane, looking for the appearance of the enemy; but like
other enemies of more historic renown, they were rather shy of
appearing. A few of the co-operators had clandestinely assembled to
witness their own denouement; and there they stood in that dismal
lower room of the warehouse, like the conspirators under Guy Fawkes in
the Parliamentary cellars, debating on whom should devolve the temerity
of taking down the shutters, and displaying their humble preparations.
One did not like to do it, and another did not like to be seen in the
shop when it was done: however, having gone so far there was no choice
but to go further, and at length one bold fellow, utterly reckless of
consequences, rushed at the shutters, and in a few minutes — Toad Lane
was in a titter. Lancashire has its gamins as well as Paris. The
“doffers” are the gamins of Rochdale. The “doffers” are lads of from
to ﬁfteen, who take off full bobbins from the spindles, and put on
empty ones. On the night when our Store was opened, the “doffers” came
out strong in Toad Lane — peeping with ridiculous impertinence round
the corner, ventilating their opinion at the top of their voices, or
standing before the door inspecting, with pertinacious insolence, the
scanty arrangements of butter and oatmeal: at length they exclaimed in
a chorus “Aye, the owd weaver’s shop is opened at last.”|
PIONEERS’ PLAN OF ASSOCIATION.
The ﬁrst “laws” set down by the Pioneers as a statement of their “objects” and plans were as follows:—
|The objects of this 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
one pound each, to bring into operation the following plans and
The establishment of a Store for the sale of provisions, clothing, &c.
building, purchasing, or erecting 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.
as soon as practicable, this 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.
RELIGION AND POLITICS.
On fundamental questions of religion and politics the Pioneers established the following practice:—
|lst. — Not to inquire into the political or religious
opinions of those who apply for membership with ours or any of the
various co-operative societies in our town;|
2nd. — That the
consideration of the various political and religious differences of the
members who compose our Societies should prevent us from allowing into
our councils or practices anything which might be construed into an
advantage to any single one of each sect or opinion. 
In the almanac of the Rochdale Pioneers published in 1860 is the following statement:—
|The present co-operative movement does not intend to meddle
with the various religious or political differences which now exist in
society, but by a common bond, namely, that of self-interest, to join
together the means, the energies, and talents of all for the common
beneﬁt of each. |
more than the acceptance of these main objects and rules of conduct,
the points of organisation most conducive to the permanent success of
the Pioneers, were those touching the regulation and conduct of
business transactions which the society laid down for itself,
principally as follows:—
(1) That capital should be of their own providing and bear a fixed rate of interest.(2) That only the purest provisions procurable should be supplied to members.(3) That full weight and measure should be given.(4) That market prices should be charged, and no credit given nor asked.(5) That “proﬁts” should be divided pro rata upon the amount of purchases made by each member.(6) That the principle of “one member, one vote” should obtain in government and the equality of the sexes in membership.(7) That the management should be in the hands of officers and committee elected periodically.(8) That a deﬁnite percentage of proﬁts should be allotted to education. 
(9) That frequent statements and balance sheets should be presented to the members.
order to apportion the profits due to each member, a metal token or
check was given, denoting the amount of each purchase made at the
stores. These were returned periodically and the total amount of each
member’s purchases ascertained, and the “proﬁts” divided at so much per
pound of such purchases: thus, the member who spent £20 per annum would
be entitled to twice the amount of dividend due to the member who spent
ORIGIN OF “DIVIDEND.”It
may be noticed, however, that the practice of dividing “proﬁts” upon
purchases did not originate with the Rochdale Pioneers; several other
societies, notably Springburn Society, and several societies in the
west of Scotland, claim to have followed this practice in the thirties,
and one Scottish society about 1822. But “it is to them (the Rochdale
Pioneers) we owe the inauguration of the present system upon a basis
which has proved to be so sound.” 
the end of December, 1902, the trading position attained by the
Rochdale Equitable Pioneers’ Society, as expressed in the following
round ﬁgures, makes a record of surprising success.
|Number of Members . . . . . . . . . . . . . .||12,239|
|Amount of Share Capital . . . . . . . . . .||£262,882|
|Reserve Fund . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . ||£7,981|
|Year’s Trade . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . ||£277,242|
|Amount of Dividends to Members . .||£31,768|
|To Education . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .||£827|
|Amount of Production (Tobacco and Baking) . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .||£40,524|
|Work-people Employed in Production ||123|
|Work-people Employed in Distribution||200|
|Salaries and Wages Paid . . . . . . . . . . . ||£12,043|
Of the value of their early principles the whole movement is witness.
plan of association adopted by the Rochdale Equitable Pioneers, by
reason of its equity, its adaptability to co-operative transactions,
and its almost immediate success, has become the distinguishing feature
in the development of consumers’ co-operation since 1844. A society
following this plan is said to be established under the “Rochdale
System,” and is accounted a genuine unit in the British co-operative
movement only in so far as its rules and practices approximate to its
Since this history was written (in 1857) successive Factory Acts have
raised the age of admission of children into factories for full time
work from ten years to fourteen years, and by the Act of 1901 the age
of half-timers is raised to twelve years.
2. History of the Rochdale Pioneers. Holyoake. Page 161.
had arranged their rules so that they could devote one-tenth of their
proﬁts to educational purposes. But when sent to the Registrar (for
registry under the Friendly Societies Act) he refused to certify them.
The contest with him lasted many months. The rules were altered again
and again. The Society tried to edge in the question of education in
several different ways: but he always struck it out, — History of
Rochdale Pioneers, page 73.
5. Co-operative Production. B. Jones. Page 2.