Your Questions Answered

Your Questions Answered

Here we try to answer some of the questions we are asked most frequently. If you have any questions not answered here, please contact the Museum by email or complete our enquiry form.

How old is the building?

The first lease on the building is dated in 1731, so we must assume that it was built in the early 1700s.

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Was it always a shop?

No. It was originally a warehouse.

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Who were the Rochdale Pioneers?

Twenty eight working men who decided to form their own co-operative society to provide a fair trading service for its members and also provide educational and social amenities.

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Why did they form a co-operative Society?

In 1844, times were hard in Rochdale and the poorer people had to be careful not to spend more money than was necessary, but private shopkeepers often charged excessive prices and adulterated their goods – in other words, they mixed sand with oatmeal and plaster of Paris with flour. Sometimes, they gave false weights and measures.

The Pioneers thought that a shop actually owned by its customers was the best means of consumer protection and it would also be beneficial in that profits would go back to the customer-members in the form of a dividend instead of going into the pockets of private shopkeepers. Members of the society would be able to buy pure, wholesome food that was weighed and measured fairly and the profits or surplus would be divided fairly between them based on the amount that they spent at the shop.

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How was the capital raised to launch the Rochdale Equitable Pioneers Society?

A number of collectors were appointed and they visited the homes of the members each week to collect subscriptions. Each member at first paid 2d a week, but eventually they decided to pay 3d so that funds would accumulate more quickly.

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How much was raised before business commenced?

£28.

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How was the money spent?

First, they had to find premises in which to sell groceries. The Pioneers were turned down by several landlords, but eventually they agreed to rent the ground floor of 31 Toad Lane for £10 per year.

The Pioneers then had to make alterations to turn the premises into a shop. They removed a pair of large double doors that were the original entrance to the warehouse and replaced them with a shop door and two bay windows – the shop windows. They also purchased scales and made rudimentary shop furniture.

The counter was simply planks of wood set across two barrels and there was a bench where customers could sit while they waited to be served.

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How much did they spend on commodities and what were they?

After paying for the alterations and shop fittings, the remaining funds were spent on groceries:

Commodities Cost
Butter (25 lbs) £2 1s 1d
Sugar (56 lbs) £1 14s 0d
Flour (6 cwt ) £11 0s 6d
Oatmeal (1 sack) £1 7s 0d
Tallow candles (24) 9s 4d

Unfortunately, they never sold the first quantity of tallow candles. The local gas company, suspicious of the new fangled form of trading, refused to supply gas to the shop so the Pioneers had to burn their candles to illuminate the shop.

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Who were the staff?

Two of the original 28 Pioneers – Samuel Ashworth, who acted as salesman, and William Cooper, who was the cashier. They both suggested that if there was no surplus (profit) on the first quarter’s sales, they would not accept any payment for their services.

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When did the shop open for business?

On the evening of December 21 1844, the shutters were taken down by James Smithies, another of the original Pioneers, and business commenced.

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When was the shop open for business?

Only one or two evenings per week at first. Trading was in the evening because the members and their wives could not shop during the day as they had to spend long hours working in the mills and factories.

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Was the business a success?

Trade developed quickly and soon the Pioneers were able to purchase and sell a wider range of commodities, including tea and tobacco. At the end of the first quarter’s trading, March 31 1845, they had made a profit and paid a dividend of 3d for every pound that members had spent in the store.

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Did Mr Ashworth and Mr Cooper get paid?

Yes. The Board decided to pay them 3d for every hour’s service they had given.

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Was this the very first co-operative society and shop in the UK?

No. The Pioneers never claimed to be the first co-operative society. There were co-operative societies before the Pioneers but many of them failed for various reasons.

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Why is the Rochdale Equitable Pioneers Society so famous?

The Rochdale Equitable Pioneers Society is widely regarded as being the first successful co-operative society. The Rochdale Principles of Co-operation evolved from the Pioneers’ decisions, methods and practices. As these principles went on to form the basis for many co-operative societies in the UK and around the world, it can be said that the formation of the Rochdale Equitable Pioneers Society marked the beginning of the modern co-operative movement.

The Rochdale Equitable Pioneers Society became the model for other co-operative societies – even some which were established before 1844.

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What about the educational activities of the Pioneers?

When the Pioneers’ business was established, they were able to rent the upper floors of the building. The first floor was converted into a library with about 1500 books, and a newsroom. It was also used for lectures and classes and it is probable that the Pioneers taught many of the members to read and write.

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When did the first woman join the Rochdale Pioneers Society?

In March 1846, when the Society had been trading for 16 months, Eliza Brierley joined the Society. In the 1840s, women did not normally own their own property. If they were not married, their money belonged to their father, if they were married, it belonged to their husband. The Rochdale Pioneers rules of 1844 said that there was no difference between male and female members, which was unusual for organisations at that time. The Rochdale Pioneers Society took part in the campaigning to parliament that led to the Married Women’s Property Acts in the 1870s.

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