In 1851 Edward Vansittart Neale founded the Central Co-operative Agency, a wholesale depot that was a forerunner of the Co-operative Wholesale Society. 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. The 1862 revision of the Act led to the establishment of the Co-operative Wholesale Society. In 1873 he became General Secretary of the Co-operative Union.
In September 1870 a small group of workmen in the fustian industry set up The Hebden Bridge Fustian Society. They had each contributed a few pence each week until they had enough to buy a piece of cloth. They then worked evenings to cut the cloth and sold it when it was finished. The proceeds from this bought another piece of cloth and the whole process was repeated. This went on for some time as the men tried to start their own co-operative. When the boss of one of the workmen found out about this he fired the man. The rest of the group then rented a little room and employed this man to work full time.
By 1873 they had 24 workers and with a loan from the co-operative wholesale society they bought and moved into larger premises at the Nutclough Estate. 1n 1880 they had grown to 260 workers.
In 1881 the Co-operative Productive Federation was established in Hebden Bridge. Due to delays however the registration was not until 1882. The objectives for the federation were; unity among it's society members, securing capital for their use and the opening up of markets to sell their goods. The original members were Edward Vansittart Neale, George Newell, Joseph Greenwood, John Hartley, Ellis Armitage, Edward Owen Greening and Edwin Waceliter.
In 1884 The Rochdale Society of Equitable Pioneers formed what is usually considered the first successful co-operative enterprise. They created the Rochdale Principles which provide the foundation on which co-operatives around the world operate to this day. More information about the Rochdale Pioneers can be found at the following website:
In 1885 the Hebden Bridge Fustian Manufacturing Co-operative Society Ltd was established.
The federation struggled at first, but by 1894 they had 20 societies as members. In the same year Thomas Blanford became the secretary and through him the federation bloomed. Among Blanford's modifications was the raising of Federation loan capital to assist newly developing societies, the organising of exhibitions for the societies, and from 1897 onwards a yearbook was published.
In 1899 Thomas Blanford died and was replaced by Robert Halstead who was a former worker for the Hebden Bridge Fustian Manufacturing Society. He ran the federation until 1921. In 1903, he founded the Workers Educational Association with Albert Mansbridge and was also one of the Calder Valley poets.
The English Fustian Manufacturing Co. was formally established in 1900 to unite all the firms in Todmorden and a majority of those in Hebden Bridge, representing altogether 80 per cent, of the trade of the two districts.
Nutclough Mill - now home to a modern business - earned a national reputation as the most famous producer co-operative in the country
Other societies include:
Calderdale Co-operative Clog Sundries Manufacturing Society Ltd 1891
Halifax Cabinet Manufacturers Ltd 1899
Halifax Co-operative Society Ltd 1947, 1958
Halifax Flour Society Ltd 1889
Halifax Industrial Society Ltd 1864,
Sowerby Bridge United District Flour Society Ltd 1899
In 1906 Hebden Bridge saw the start of the longest strike in the cotton industry, which coincided with the arrival of the suffragette Mrs Emeline Pankhurst and the start of Thornber chicks. For more of this fascinating story please follow this link.
However, during the 1960s, it was defrauded and went bankrupt. The old co-op building became a hotel and was later converted into flats. The Co-op returned in the 1980s with a supermarket on Market Street on the site of an old mill.
Compiled by Nycola Simpson 2008