ELHAS Meeting Report February 2008

Twenty five members and guests attended the February ELHAS meeting to hear a talk by Shaun Cohen on the origins of the Leeds Cooperative Movement.

Shaun, who works as a civil servant is a self taught historian whose interest in history was sparked at the age of six by reading a Ladybird book about the Stone Age. Since then he has developed his interest but only began serious research in 1992 when he started researching the history of Osmondthorpe where he was then living. He is particularly interested in political history and is currently researching the period 1790 to 1830.

Shaun began his talk by describing the political situation in the early 1820's, when people were first beginning to think about social reform. The original idea for cooperatives was for people to band together in order to set up 'Communes' or community groups living and working together for the common good. In 1845, a society was set up in Rochdale which is now regarded as the birthplace of the Cooperative movement. Two years later, in 1847, the Leeds Redemption Society was born. This was to be run according to the original ethos of Cooperative movements. Members purchased or rented a farm in South Wales and became involved in farming and shoemaking. They sent some of their produce, including blackcurrant jam to be sold from a stall next to Trinity Church in Leeds. In 1854 seven workers from Benyon's Mill got together to form the Anti Flour Mill Association. They were protesting against the practice of adding other substances to flour in order to increase profits. Their idea was to grind their own corn and sell the unadulterated product to their members at a fair price. Eventually the range of products produced was expanded and it became difficult to sell only to active cooperative members. The idea of the dividend was introduced in order to sell to all members of the public, but still allow a share in the profits. Hence, the Coop as we know it today was born. The talk was enthusiastically received especially by one guest who had worked for the Coop for 28 years and was delighted to be able to chat about his experiences afterwards with Shaun.