Together we are stronger   - The Wheatsheaf Magazine

By Jane Donaldson (Archivist)

Co-operatives were a major provider of libraries in the UK before public facilities became common - and the movement produced a vast range of periodicals and newspapers.  These included the 'Wheatsheaf' which was published between 1896 and 1964.  In 1946, it was relaunched as The Co-operative Home Magazine, becoming just Home Magazine in January 1959. This was a monthly publication for members of co-operative societies. 

The Pioneers and co-operators after them prioritised education for opportunity to grow the movement as well as individuals. Using mouthpieces of the movement to develop skills and knowledge helped strong co-operative businesses but also helped to form co-operative character in the readership.

Co-operative societies have used several different symbols of co-operation with the best known being the Wheatsheaf and Beehive, often built into the fabric of buildings along with the name of the society. The Wheatsheaf is used because one ear of wheat cannot stand up against the wind and weather, but when bound together with others in a Wheatsheaf, it stands strong. The Beehive is used similarly, because bees support one another in a collective for positive outcomes for other animals and the planet. 

Cover of Wheatsheaf 1920.  Co-operative Heritage Trust

Among the editors was Percy Redfern a pacifist, member of the Independent Labour party and advocate of consumer co-ops and argued consumers had a key role to play in bringing about a new social order through voluntary collectivism. He wrote two histories of the Co-operative Wholesale Society; The Story of the CWS 1863-1913, and The New History of the CWS in 1938, both which are available in the reading room at Holyoake House.

Front cover of Wheatsheaf pages for Castleford Industrial Co-operative Society Ltd. May 1925.  Co-operative Heritage Trust

The Wheatsheaf was published by the Co-operative Wholesale Society and distributed free of charge to  members who could pick it up in store or have it delivered - this was one way to encourage people to become members and support the wider movement through fundraising campaigns.

Wheatsheaf July 1944.  Co-operative Heritage Trust

It had a central section that was national, while the outside pages were published for individual consumer co-operatives and contained local news. Initially the covers were blue, but this changed later to more colourful covers.  All were printed in Manchester.

The Wheatsheaf was in some ways, typical for the period containing short stories, household hints, articles about travel, sport, gardening and history, news of CWS premises and reports of events within the co-operative movement at home and overseas. There were also pages specifically aimed at women and children and was something to be read over a period of time as some of the articles were more in depth. The circulation for a magazine of this type was huge compared to modern magazine subscriptions and in 1918 it stood at 500,000 copies: The name changed to Home magazine from 1947 but tended to be still referred to as 'Wheatsheaf'.

Paper shortages during the First and Second World Wars meant that all publications had to be less wasteful and the following article explained steps the magazine took to comply with waste reduction and the war effort:

Wheatsheaf 1916.  Co-operative Heritage Trust

 Like all popular magazine, adverts were featured, but only of co-operatively made goods like Pelaw brand shoe polish - this one from 1952, in colour! A constant reminder that the shopper should be choosing co-op brands to get the best dividend and support the co-op manufactories.

Wheatsheaf 1952.  Co-operative Heritage Trust

There were sometime pre-typed shopping lists - mostly aimed at women, to cut out and take to the store to make sure they bought all their goods with their society and to help with budgeting for the family.

Wheatsheaf 1953.  Co-operative Heritage Trust

Regular writers for the periodical included Ethel (Carnie) Holdsworth, 1886 - 1962; who was a working-class writer, feminist, and socialist activist from Lancashire. She published as Ethel Carnie and Ethel Holdsworth and often used Lancashire dialect in her work. Her poems, fiction and journalism was was published in co-operative periodicals and the Co-operative News. She was the first working-class woman in Britain to publish a novel in her own name and and published at least ten during her lifetime. 

Wheatsheaf December 1916.  Co-operative Heritage Trust

Apart from it's co-operative angle, the magazine can offer helpful snapshots of social and political life in the early 20th century. If you wish to view any of the Wheatsheaf periodicals, then you can find information on how to request items and book a space in our reading room at Holyoake House on our website.