By Clare from our Collections team:

A few years ago I was invited by representatives of Rochdale Borough Council to recommend a ‘Co-op delivery vehicle’ for the purpose of a roadside display on the crossroads of the A58, to the rear of the Rochdale Pioneers Museum building. This was to be used as a ‘Welcome to our town’ feature planter for floral displays. The vehicle would also help to highlight something Rochdale had become famous for since 1844. Over the years the museum building lost its prominent place in the town centre due to the development of a bypass road for increased domestic traffic and new buildings from the 1960’s. The vehicle was a great way to remind the passing traffic that something of a cultural gem was just around the corner!

The vehicle chosen was not in fact an original delivery vehicle. The 1970’s Morris Minor van has been lovingly restored with a new purpose of being a ‘pin up’ advert for the 1970’s blue and white clover leaf design Co-op logo which returned to use in 2016 as the one chosen by members to best identify the biggest British co-operative on the high street.

The van is a prime example of how consumers identify and reminisce about the purpose and community their local co-operatives provided. Digging deep into our Archive collections, we found some fine examples of vehicle usage throughout co-operative history. From horse and cart, bicycle, to motorised and railway delivery, the co-operative movement developed ways and means to ‘move’ with the times. The importance of efficient mechanical transport, especially after WW1, meant that co-ops in the UK were reliant on nearly 100,000 mechanically propelled goods vehicles by the 1930’s for the purpose of delivery and responding to consumer demand.

 The reasons for this swift development of motor traffic, whether passengers or goods, are obvious. They are found in the contrast presented by the phrases ‘’door to door’’ and ‘’to and from the station’’. *  

Co-ops were trying to find ways to reduce waste and handling goods more than twice during transportation, improving logistics and forging partnerships with other companies and co-operative production overseas.. Unification became a way to end ‘cut throat’ competition on road and rail in order to save time, money and adhere to co-operative values and principles. The movement realised the rational advantages of this and was already diagnosing that waste reduction was necessary and ‘Competition without restraint’ was the way forward. 

*Britain Reborn - Transport 1933

Development of logistics fleets enabled the CWS (Co-operative Wholesale Society) and smaller co-operative societies to develop new offers and opportunities for customers. Delivery and mobile shop vans became increasingly popular, bringing the ‘door to door’ guarantee quite literally to the door! We found some lovely examples of vehicles in the archive, the Manchester and Salford branch ‘hatched’ mobile store is a particularly well remembered favourite.

Although our collections include images and descriptions of the ways goods were moved, we would like to acquire a real vehicle in the future to support the ways users engage with the way people lived and shopped in the past.

Are there any memories you would like to share with us about how you did your shopping? Comment on our blog or through our social media channels.