One of our volunteers has been looking at the songbooks which are in our collections and has written the following post. 

As it is traditional in many different groups, faith, community, or protest based... song and the pursuit of unification through music also has a strong history in the Co-operative movement.  Songs have been sung together at Congress and meetings, in societies and social groups helping to unite people by providing a sense of togetherness.

The National Co-operative Archive has a number of materials and publications produced by various societies and affiliated groups:  These include songbooks from The Women's Guild, The Educational Committee of the Co-operative Union and the Youth Movement. Although all ultimately serving the same purpose of the promotion of co-operation through song, some were tailored to appeal to specific within the movement.


The song books included a foreword stating the importance of the songs and the aim and objectives of the society that produced it. They also often included background information about the society, how and why the songs were chosen, as well as practical advice for how to use the song books.

 There is a good chance that people who sing together or play together will be inspired to work together.

The Co-operative Fellowship Song Book

Songs for Co-operative Youths. Co-operative Heritage Trust

The forewords also often included inspirational messages as well as more overtly propagandistic messaging spelling out clearly to the reader how song can be used as a tool for protest.

[…] In the choice of Songs, the Committee have been guided by two main considerations: first, the requirements of the ordinary Social Gathering; secondly, the requirements of Propogandist Committees.

The Co-operative Fellowship Song Book

Songs for the holidaymakers

The Co-operative Holidays Association (CHA) originated in 1891, when church Minister T.A Leonard took a small party from his congregation on a walking holiday to the Lake District. After several more successful excursions it was formally constituted as a society with Leonard as Secretary. It continued to expand into the 20th century opening centres across Britain, with an emphasis on planned daily walks, evening social activities such as singing as well as a philosophy of social inclusion and revitalisation.

By 1913 Leonard felt the CHA had become too middle class and wanted to attract more working class people, so the Holiday Fellowship was formed - Singing was still important for the walks to help keep the pace and help the group feel inclusive - as it didn’t matter if you couldn’t sing well, as long as you joined in!

The forward for the fellowship booklet had a more unusual tone to get this important message across!

It is believed that all hymns and songs in this book are not only worthy of inclusion but are worth singing and if one is announced that is not known don’t shut up like an oyster and begin to turn over the leaves of your book with audible rustlings; just listen to it and try to pick it up, even if mistakes are made; maybe, before long there will be a request for that very song.

Songs of Faith, Nature and Fellowship – The Cooperative Holidays Association and The Holiday Fellowship

Page from 'Summer Holidays in Wharfedale', 1925

Although the tone may seem slightly aggressive at first, it can also be seen as comical and affectionately illustrating the differing approaches and styles of each society. A comedic style is notable throughout the collection and often embraced by co-operative literature. This more informal tone can also be seen as a more open, less hierarchical approach, thus in line with the spirit of co-operation.

England, Arise! Songs for Co-operators. 

The types of songs included in the songbooks vary between societies but generally include many of the same songs such as “England, Arise” a socialist marching song written by Edward Carpenter as well as songs written specifically for co-operative societies shown in the image above. 

Although usually only lyrics are provided in the books sometimes the score is also given or more commonly the ‘tune’ the lyrics are set to is given with the title and the tune is usually a well known song making it more accessible to members. This is further reinforced by the usage of local dialect in some editions.


Songs and readings for Co-operators.

The inclusion of such literature within the co-operative movement can be seen within the wider context of protest songs and music in general. The ways in which they were used to unite and give voice to the masses are still alive and well today.

Songbooks and the importance of singing in groups can:

  • Bring Societies and workers together making them stronger
  • Can allow working classes who may not have had a voice to protest
  • Can use dialect to reinforce links to local places and people
  • Can make people feel part of a group and bring them together
The Educational Committee of the Co-operative Union have observed the growing number of Choral Classes and Glee Clubs which are formed in connection with Co-operative Societies, and the need that exists for a Co-operator’s Song Book. Just as music and song lessen the toil of the long night march, so the contents of this little book may 'strengthen the wavering line' of those who preach the Co-operative Faith, as those who reach out towards its Light.

Songs for Co-operators with Music in Both Notations – 1897