The Birth of the Cooperative Movement in Preston

In 1844 a group of 28 working men in the cotton mill town of Rochdale in Lancashire established the first modern Cooperative business called the Rochdale Equitable Pioneers Society. Faced with terrible working conditions and low wages they had previously struggled to afford the prices demanded many shopkeepers, many of whom were unscrupulous and sold poor quality or adulterated food.

The Rochdale Pioneers decided that by using their collective purchasing power they could access decent basic food at a lower price. At the start however only four basic items were offered for sale, flour, oatmeal, sugar and butter. It was also decided that every customer could become a member of the society and take a share of the profit through dividends. As the Rochdale society went from strength to strength other towns followed suit. Manchester and Salford had its first Cooperative store in 1858, Over Darwen in 1860 and Rishton in 1864. (PC January 25th 1868)

In Preston a number of working men in the late 1850’s attempted to establish a Cooperative store similar to the Rochdale model and among them were two men named Thomas Yare and Peter Edelston.

This first store was opened in Preston on Park Rd at the junction of Newton St, which they ran on a voluntary basis after finishing work in the evenings. Unfortunately the sheer enormity and commitment needed for this task proved too much and the store closed. (PG March 20th 1886)

In 1860 the Preston Industrial Cooperative Society led by Edelston and Yare, made another attempt to establish a successful store in the town, having occupied a shop in Lancaster Rd. The intention was to purchase the shop and adjoining premises but once again the venture was doomed to failure as the effects of the “Cotton Famine” caused great distress.

Eventually in October 1869 with Thomas Yare and Peter Edelston at the forefront, the New Hall Lane Industrial Cooperative was opened with a store at the corner of Geoffrey St and Carey St. Having raised £15 capital through weekly subscriptions among 16 working men, Thomas Yare, Peter Edelston and a number of others approached a sympathetic millowner named Mr H C Owtram and persuaded him to let them use the shop which he owned at a low rent. Mr Owtram was also persuaded to lend them £100 in order to give this enterprise a sound financial footing. The shop would open at night only and be staffed entirely by volunteers. (PG April 30th 1904)

On the opening night the shop stocked three dozen candles, one and a half pounds of tobacco, nine pounds of currants, forty onions, forty apples, a tray of buns and teacakes, twenty loaves, a sack of potatoes, six pounds of sausages, six pounds of black puddings,a slab of butter and one sheep. Despite the substantial loan given to the society, a slow beginning meant the venture struggled and a great deal of obstacles had to overcome. In desperation Thomas Yare even toured the streets ringing a loud bell to drum up support for the new Cooperative, while shouting out’ “And may god bless the poor”

With sheer determination this new Preston Cooperative succeeded and four years later in 1873, the society was able to open another store in Adelphi St. Shortly afterwards a third store was opened in North Rd with rooms above it used as offices. When the premises in Adelphi St opened 226 members of the society were recorded in Preston at the end of the first financial quarter. In the second Quarter 267 members were listed, while at the end of the third quarter a total of 369 were members of the Preston Industrial Cooperative Society

On April 11th 1874 with the membership again increasing to 466, the foundation stone was laid for the fourth Cooperative store situated in AshtonSt, Preston. Prior to this ceremony a procession of Cooperative members headed by a Union flag and the Walton-le-Dale brass band, made its way from the New Hall Lane store to Ashton St. Both Thomas Yare and Peter Edelston were present. In a series of speeches made to commemorate the event Thomas Yare reminded those present of the enormous struggles going back many years that had to be overcome to establish the principle of Cooperatives in Preston, saying,(PC April 18th 1874)

“People had previously laughed at us. They jeered and sneered at the idea but we persevered and it freed working people from the cursed system of credit”

In the decades ahead further stores opened and by 1904 over 60 Cooperative stores were situated about Preston. Thomas Yare one of the founders of the Preston Cooperative movement died in 1910 aged 83 years old.

The early lives of Thomas Yare and Peter Edelston are featured below

Thomas Yare 1828-1910

Born in Kendal in the old County of Westmoreland about 1828, Thomas Yare the son of a dyer was first set to work as a Bobbin turner at the age of six. He followed the same trade well into his twenties, by this time working for a manufacturer in the Backbarrow district of northern Lancashire as it was then. Following the mechanisation of the Bobbin industry Thomas left his employment and took to the road ‘on the tramp’. Looking for work. Failing to secure any kind of a job in Kendal, Penrith, Carlisle and even Scotland, he eventually walked to Catterall near Garstang and found work at the local mill.

Eventually Yare arrived in Preston, securing work as an engine stoker at Mr Catterall’s North Rd cotton mill. Unable to read or write he began to learn himself Arithmetic by chalking simple sums on the boiler, while receiving assistance from other better educated working men who were prepared to help him along. His reading was learned by studying the wordings on shop fronts and understanding the letters that made up these names. A Teetotaller like many of his contempories, Thomas was also a Primitive Methodist teacher and he recalled in 1904, (PC April 30th 1904)

“I was born a radical; I cannot understand how working men can be carried away with the sophistries of Toryism”

Thomas Yare passed away in Preston in May 1910 aged 83 years

Peter Edelston 1808-1886

Peter Edelston was born at Livesey near Blackburn in 1808. He lost both parents at a young age and was brought up by an older sister until the age of fifteen, whereupon he walked to Preston to learn the trade of handloom weaving. He later married and settled in Crown St, off Lancaster Rd, but with the decline of hand weaving he entered the cotton mill to be employed as a dresser.

Always interested in political reform he was one of the3,730 Preston men who voted for the successful radical candidate Henry ‘Orator’ Hunt in the election of 1830. With the rise of the Chartist movement in the 1830’s Edelston soon embraced its ideals and acted both as a subscriber and local treasurer for the ill fated National Land Plan. Even though he did not agree with the physical force element within the chartist ranks, he fervently supported the radical aims of the movement. (PG March 20th 1886 & www.chartist.net)

During the great Preston lock out of 1853/54, although not active publicly, Edelston was often approached for advice by none other than George Cowell himself, the recognised leader of the Preston mill operatives. Cowell later stated that without the help of Peter Edelston the dispute would never have remained as peaceful as it did. Later during the “Cotton Famine” of 1861-65, Edelston became an active member of the Relief Committee and would personally visit the homes of the impoverished poor in Preston.

He was later elected to the Board of Guardians for St Peters ward in 1878. A Teetotaller for many years Peter Edelston campaigned on behalf of disadvantaged people in foreign lands as well as at home. During the late 1840’s political turmoil in Europe resulted in a great number of stateless refugees. Edelston and others in Preston managed to secure a house in Saul St in the centre of town, in which a number of these refugees could be housed until they could support themselves. He also remained a committed believer in home rule for Ireland, having been greatly distressed by the terrible sufferings of the Irish people and the way it had been badly governed. Peter Edelston died at his home in Lancaster Rd, Preston in March 1886 aged 77.

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