Labour History Review

Revisiting the Rochdale Pioneers

Labour History Review (2015), 80, (3), 215–248.

Abstract

The ‘Rochdale Pioneers’ are generally regarded as the originators of modern co-operation through their combination of ethical trading with the dividend on purchases. There are other contenders for this label, but the Toad Lane premises of the ‘Pioneers’ has become a centre for global co-operative pilgrimage, and the Pioneers have acquired their own foundation myths. This article revisits the origins of the Rochdale Pioneers, offering a critical assessment of the competing stories about their social, political, and religious composition, and making use of primary sources housed at the co-operative College in Manchester, together with the dedicated researches of amateur historians. It aims to provide the best possible approximation to the social composition, geographical antecedents, religious and ethical values, and political outlook of the earliest members of the Society, setting the ‘Rochdale Pioneers’ firmly in the context of their town and its economy, and of broader developments within the Lancashire textile manufacturing districts.

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Author details

Walton, John K.