Welcome to the Rochdale Pioneers Museum online tour. We hope that you find the following information useful if you decide to visit us in the future. The front of the Rochdale Pioneers Museum has become an iconic symbol of not only Rochdale, but of the co-operative movement as a whole. It is an image that appears in many different countries, on a variety of memorabilia and is depicted in a number of historical books. It represents the humble beginnings of the co-operative movement. Our journey begins here, at number 31 Toad Lane. Enter through the green door below the ‘STORE’ sign…
As you enter the front room, notice the area to the immediate left. This is the area where the Rochdale Pioneers had their counter. When the Pioneers first opened up their original co-operative shop, they spent as little money on furniture as possible. James Daly, a Pioneer whose job was a joiner fixed up the room as best he could; using recycled materials and lime wash for the walls. The pioneers’ first shop keeper, Sam Ashworth would have stood behind that very same counter, on the 21 December 1844. The Pioneers sold sugar, butter, oatmeal and flour on that very first opening night. We have done our best to preserve this room as it’s original state.
The desk in the corner of the room would have been the seat of William Cooper, the society’s first cashier. After customers were served by Sam at the food counter, they would walk over to William so that they could pay. Both William and Sam were some of the youngest of the pioneers and volunteered to work at the shop without pay for three months. They both went on to become not only prominent members of the Rochdale Society of Equitable Pioneers, but of the co-operative movement as a whole – helping to set up the Co-operative Wholesale Society in Manchester.
Also in the front room there is a selection of Victorian clothes for all the family to dress up in. Mini Pioneers will also like the replica wheelbarrows and sacks of produce, included to represent the Pioneers legendary journey to Manchester to buy stock for the store.
As you move into the museum, you will notice our permanent exhibition space. Starting at the reception desk, you can make your way around our information panels and co-operative artefacts. Here you can learn all about the beginnings of the movement, from the earliest efforts of co-operatives, important co-operative figureheads, the Rochdale Pioneers and their legacy.
You may notice our shop as you move around the main exhibition. Our shop sells a wide variety of co-operative souvenirs, film and memorabilia. If you are unable to visit our museum in person but wish to buy something, you may do so here.
The museum has three floors: the ground floor, the first floor and the second floor. The access tower is a recent addition to the building that allows more light into the space and includes a lift making the museum fully accessible to people of all ages and abilities.
As you move onto the first floor you will see doors similar to the ones you left on the ground floor. This is our temporary exhibtion space. Here we house our rotating exhibitions and our large display cabinets.
The first floor contains a variety of interactive entertainment activities for children and adults alike. We would appreciate it if you are also able to leave us a message, either on our video booth or our viewpoint machine. You can also find accessible toilets and baby changing on this floor.
Our first floor display cases are one of the museums most impressive units.
They stand 15 feet tall and contain some of our heavier artefacts, such as bikes, radios, magic lanterns, shields and plaques.
The second floor is known as the Learning Loft and is often used for meetings, lectures, workshops and education. When the Rochdale Pioneers gained full control of the building, they changed the first floor into their reading room. The Pioneers considered education to be a very important aspect of their lives. They wanted to teach those who were not able to get a classical education elsewhere by providing a library and a place to meet.
When the Learning Loft is not being used for these purposes, it functions as a co-operative cinema where visitors can relax and enjoy vintage co-op films. It also houses a range of interactive elements including a touchscreen ‘divi’ game and a computer on which you can search the Museum and Archive Collection. The final element of the Learning Loft is a replica co-op shop complete with mini shopping trolleys and baskets – it is loved by families!
Did you know: Many people do not realise that the Museum had three floors (just like now) prior to the 1970s. The second floor was removed during restoration work in the 1970s as it was unsafe. The building itself was originally a woollen warehouse and was never supposed to have been around for the 250 years it has so far. With modern technology, architects and builders have been able to reinstate the second floor to use as an education space – just like the pioneers intended for the building.
Thank you for taking the time to read this online tour of the Rochdale Pioneers Museum. We aspire to bring the values and ethics of the Rochdale Pioneers original co-operative principles to all our visitors and we hope that you manage to take the time to visit us at the museum in the future. We welcome visitors of all ages and abilities and can provide guided tours and workshops for groups and schools. To book a tour or workshop, please click here or drop in between the hours of 10:00 am – 5:00 pm, Tuesday to Saturday and ask one of our members of staff for further details. We hope to see you soon!