top of page

Co-operative Heritage

The Co-operative Party’s roots go back to 1844, when the ‘Rochdale Pioneers’ founded the first modern co-operative, based on principles still in use today.

That first store grew into a movement with millions of members.

During World War I, co-ops faced discrimination from a government dominated by private business. In 1917, the movement set up the Co-operative Party to represent and defend itself, and to promote our values in the wider economy and society.


Since 1927, the Party has had an electoral agreement with Labour Party. This enables us to stand joint candidates in elections, recognising our shared values and maximising our impact.

Heritage Archive

Modern shop history

September 20, 2017

The first known modern consumer cooperative was a retail store founded by 28 people in Rochdale, England in 1844. Originally selling butter, sugar, flour, oatmeal, and tallow candles, the business expanded rapidly as the co-op succeeded in elevating food standards — rejecting then-common tactics such as watering down milk.

William Thompson

September 11, 2017

Thompson would devote his life to the creation of an alternative society which, for him, involved the promotion of cooperatives. He became an independent and influential theoretician within the movement developing across Europe in the 1820s - the Utopian Socialists.




September 10, 2017

Born in Sheffield, Yorkshire, she became a schoolteacher and eventually headmistress. In 1896, she married Frank Cottrell at Ecclesall Bierlow, Yorkshire. They set up home in Birmingham and had three sons.

Co-op Party connection:

Labour and Co-op activist and politician in Birmingham and at a national level.


  • Secretary of the local Women’s Guild

  • First women to be elected to the board of the Ten Acres and Stirchley Co-operative in 1909

  • First woman to represent the Midlands on the Co-operative Union’s Central Board in 1917, where she is credited with getting wartime rations of milk increased for infants and nursing and expectant mothers while serving on the Milk Advisory Board in 1918.

  • The first woman elected to Birmingham City Council, in February 1917, for Selly Oak ward.Her election pre-dated the launch of the Co-op Party by some months, but from 1920 she stood as a Labour/Co-op candidate.

  • Stood for re-election in 1920, but was defeated by the Conservative candidate. She returned to the council in December 1921 in a by-election and served until 1923.

  • First woman elected to the board of the Co-operative Wholesale Society, in 1922. She was to be the only woman director for 37 years.

AV ALEXANDER (1885 – 1965)

September 18, 2017

The son of a blacksmith in Weston-super-Mare,  AV Alexander left school as a teenager, working as a council clerk and serving in the First World War.


Joined Weston Co-op in 1908, and was voted onto the board two years later. He was one of the first Co-op MPs, and the first to serve in Cabinet.


  • Parliamentary secretary of the Co-operative Union, 1920-46 leading lobbying which halted moves to impose corporation tax on co-ops and seeing consumer interests represented on agricultural boards.

  • Elected in 1922 as one of four Co-operative MPs, for Hillsborough.

  • In 1931, he became First Lord of the Admiralty, working for working class interests in the Cabinet. He returned the role during World War II. One of the few working-class members of Churchill’s cabinet, he  worked for the welfare of troops, and was the first British minister ashore after D Day.

  • Leader of the Opposition in the Lords. He continued to lobby for the co-op movement from the Lords for the rest of his life.

Sarah Reddish, campaigned for widows pensions, child benefit and the vote.

September 14, 2017

Sarah Reddish (1850–1928) was a British trade unionist and suffragette, who was active in the cooperative movement. A supporter of women running for local elections as a springboard to gaining national voting rights, she ran for office on the Bolton School Board and was successful on her second attempt in 1899. She also ran for office as a Poor Law Guardian, and was successful, but was defeated in her attempt to become a member of the borough council

William Lovett Co-operator, Chartist Leader, campaigned for equality and spent time in prison for it

September 13, 2017

A proponent of the idea that political rights could be garnered through political pressure and non-violent agitation, Lovett retired from more overt forms of political activity after a year of imprisonment on the political charge of seditious libel in 1839–1840. He subsequently devoted himself to the National Association for Promoting the Political and Social Improvement of the People, seeking to improve the lives of the poor workers and their children by means of a Chartist educational programme put into practice.

ALF MORRIS (1928 – 2012)

January 01, 2020

Born to a family struggling with poverty in Ancoats, Manchester, Morris went on to study at Oxford and Manchester Universities before becoming a teacher in Manchester.

Co-op Party connection:

MP for Manchester Wythenshawe from 1964-97

  • In 1970 he became the first minister for the disabled anywhere in the world. His advocacy on the issue stemmed from the experiences of his father, who lost an eye and a leg and was gassed in the First World War. After his father died, his mother was not entitled to a War Widow’s pension – a matter that Morris would set right 40 years later as minister.

  • Successfully introduced the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act in 1970, which was the first in the world to recognise and give rights to people with disabilities.

  • Later in life, Morris served as President of the 1995 Co-operative Congress, being made a peer in 1997.

Please reload

bottom of page