This is the first of a series of blogs on the smaller co-ops which no longer exist in our regions. We will choose them at random and our first is one from the Greater Manchester area. 

The Eccles Provident Industrial Co-operative Society

Eccles is now a part of Greater Manchester and City of Salford. The name’s origin is disputed but Anglo - Saxon eccle or eggle usually indicates the presence of an early Christian community.

People today might be familiar with the ‘Eccles Cake’ - a flaky pastry filled with raisins and topped with sugar. These were first sold commercially by James Birch on the corner of Vicarage Road - and it was here that MP William Husskisson famously became the first casualty of the railways after being hit by a locomotive on the inaugural day of the Liverpool to Manchester Railway on 15th September 1830. The area was important for industry (particularly textiles) as close to the Irwell River, new railway and later the Manchester Ship Canal, although like many other Lancashire communities it had previously been a rural place with a small population. 

When writing a history of the Co-op in Eccles; the members of it’s board described it as a ‘mere village’ when they opened the ‘Provident Industrial Co-operative Society’ in 1857 and wrote that the place had become ‘entirely departed from customs which formerly prevailed’.

At this time of change there had been 15 independent textile mills and foundries as well as engineering firms in addition to coal mines which lay on the outer boundaries, supporting around 4,200 residents. 

The first meeting was held at the Old Temperance Hall on Barton Lane on Monday 9th of February and was described as being ‘inspired by schemes for social betterment as expounded by these strenuous workers in the cause of the wage- earning classes.’ 

Most of the first 13 members were cotton or silk handloom weavers whose real wages had shrunk with the increasing mechanisation of the factories and the disruption of the Crimean War. They were; Thomas Roberts, Thomas Starkie, John Rowbotham, John Walker, John Mort, William Bradshaw, Thomas Valentine, Thomas Worsley and Robert Consterdine. These men had written to the Rochdale Pioneers for advice and read out a copy of the rules at the first meeting before proceeding.

The society began with £31.11s 6d in the front room of a terraced house on Timothy Street in slum housing (now demolished) and by their first quarter of trading had made £229.16s and 4d. One of the main objectives in opening premises there had been to try to alleviate poverty through cheaper food and better accommodation. The society bought cottages for members to rent and opened a central premises in 1865  as well as several branches from Liverpool Road in Patricroft to one as far away as Flixton. 

Eccles success meant it was a prime candidate to join the newly federated Wholesale Society when it formed in 1863 and their President Thomas Pearson was elected to the CWS board. He also worked for the London and North Western Railway Company in Water Street, Manchester but some of his colleagues felt he was not well enough known as a businessman. Described by his friends as gentle, but with a ‘firm mind with excellent judgement’ - Pearson did know the railway business and had an advocate in a well connected co-operator called William Bates who apparently was ‘gifted wi’ t’ gab’ to speak for him.

Amongst the records of the early 1860’s, the balance sheets and the rate of dividend there are everyday tales of staff coming and going, committees for events to decide things like entertainment for the elderly at Queen Victoria’s Jubilee or holiday clubs for workers to visit the seaside. All this was happening against the backdrop of the American Civil War and the devastating impact on the British cotton trade which followed. This Cotton ‘famine’ saw thousands of textile workers in Lancashire facing unemployment - and the co-op were part of the Eccles Relief society and soup kitchen. They decided to help anyone who asked, whether or not they were society members and without means testing. The committee felt that this action in crisis alone had helped to swell their membership when the economy had recovered in the 1870’s. 

Eccles Co-op joined together with the Prestwich Society (close to Salford) in 1974 and this later became part of the bigger co-op United Norwest before being merged into today’s Co-operative Group.

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