Rochdale Pioneers Museum

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The Town of Rochdale Greater Manchester proudly boasts that it is the birthplace of the "Co-operative shop" and so it is. We first visited this humble little Museum 20 odd year ago. Back then it was just one old room in this terrace house near the Town Centre. In the whitewashed and bare brick room was a couple of old barrels with a bare wooden plank acting as a counter On this rested a huge imitation mound of butter, an antique weighing machine, and some candles. Strewn on the stone flagged floor a few sacks marked "Flour" and "Oatmeal", a small desk manned by a clerk acted as "The Checkout!" and that was the first Co-operative in the world! Founded by 28 workers who had saved a few pence each week to build up a start capital of just £28. It was all they could afford after renting the premises. The shop opened its doors on the 21st of December 1844 at 8pm. It was an immediate success! The 1840s were known as “The Hungry Forties”. Workers barely earned enough to eat, the mills were mechanized and there were many job losses. To add to their misery, unscrupulous local traders were past masters in the art of “Rip off Britain”. Milk was diluted with water, chalk added to flour, even gravel added to oatmeal and unbelievably crushed tree leaves added to tea! The Traders were furious with this new DIY type of shop of course and refused to supply it. Undeterred the members went direct to Manchester for their supplies. Even the Gas Company sided with the traders and refused to supply gas lighting to the new shop. The members bought candles and carried on regardless. Grateful workers flocked to the shop freed, at last from the villainous traders. The rest is history and the idea of a Co-operative swept the world including South America and the Far East. Japan was so enthusiastic about the concept they actually built a replica of this Rochdale Museum in Kobe, Japan! (Albeit a much larger one!). We recently visited this Rochdale Museum once again after hearing that it been awarded a huge Lottery funding to modernize it and were astonished at the scale of this new “Makeover!” Thankfully the original entrance has not been touched. The stone flagged floor, barrels, sacks and candles are still there but beyond this bare 1840s front room is an ultra modern museum with clear informative display cabinets and objects of interest carefully displayed, computers with yet more information and a friendly Guide who in this case was a Mr Ray Jones. Ray entertained us with many stories about the Museum and was so delighted when I mentioned I was writing a review for “Silver Travel Adviser” that he introduced us to the Museum Manager a charming Miss Jenny Mabbott. Jenny pointed out that she was always looking out for new ways of promoting her Museum and hoped our Review would steer a few more future visitors in her direction! Back to the Museum! A modern lift or stairs takes you to the second floor and what a revelation! There is even a small cinema with several rows of seating and boasting a large screen (incidentally a film crew came here to film and the museum has also featured on BBC Blue Peter). More display cabinets, one featuring an old Co-op delivery bicycle, complete with a large basket which I remember well. I am old enough to remember my older brother back in the 1940s delivering goods for our local Yorkshire Co-op in mid-winter, blue with cold!(us kids wore shorts then summer or winter!) Children are very well catered for here with their very own Co-op shop where they can fill miniature shopping trolleys with toy tins of food. Tables with drawing materials and crayons are also available so this is a friendly family orientated Museum ideal for a wet weekday visit (unfortunately not on Sundays or Mondays!) The elderly will be more than happy with the smart lift and state of the art luxury toilets! All in all this is a very pleasant way to spend a little time learning about our past and being thankful that we live in the present and as an added bonus all of it is free! (Contributions however, in order to maintain this Museum I am sure are welcome) Ps You may or may not want to tell your children to look out for “The Baum Rabbit” in the Churchyard across the Road. This Rabbit is said to haunt this Churchyard! Pps.By the way the lane the Museum stands in was once the longest in Rochdale. Now (with the town’s road infrastructure) it’s the shortest!


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