Who Founded the CWS?
Following on from the Jumbo Tea Party a second meeting of the Jumbo Friends was held at Oldham. William Cooper was elected as secretary with the power to convene a third meeting at Rochdale. At this meeting on 7th October 1860 a committee was elected to act further. They were Henry Hewkin and William Marcroft of Oldham, James Dyson and Edward Hooson of Manchester, John Hilton of Middleton, William Cooper and Abraham Greenwood of Rochdale and Charles Howarth, now of Heywood, but ex Rochdale.
I admit to being a sceptic and a cynic but it does seem very co-incidental that the committee was elected at a meeting held at Rochdale. Why couldn't it have been elected at Oldham when the secretary was elected? Who exactly was entitled to vote at this meeting? It would seem likely that Rochdale candidates would have more success because of weight of numbers! Boards, cabinets and committees, be it a multi-national or the local cricket club, generally split into factions and the committee is led and controlled by one of these factions. To get your way on any such committee it is essential to know that you have a majority at any crunch or vital vote. On the assumption that Howarth as a an ex Rochdale man was a Greenwood supporter, we now have a committee which could potentially vote five to three against Greenwood. Is this the real reason why James Smithies, Samuel Stott and Thomas Cheetham, all of Rochdale, and J. C. Edwards, Greenwood's friend, were added to the committee and why the election meeting was held at Rochdale? One would have thought that George Booth would have made an admirable and valuable member on such a committee? The committee was now seven to five in Greenwood and Rochdale's favour! Doesn't it seem just a little bit suspicious that all four extra candidates should be Greenwood orientated and George Booth left out?
On 4th November the committee met again, this time back at Jumbo. (At Booth's house to add insult to injury). Cooper of Rochdale was secretary. This was where Cooper started the now famous Jumbo Minute Book which went on to cover some 20 meetings on its 84 pages. It was at this meeting that the five point charter was finalised and agreed upon. This was not some new idea by the committee because the need for the change in legislation, to give wider powers than afforded by the existing Industrial and Provident Act had already been made at the Jumbo Tea Party by Marcroft. There was a further meeting in Middleton at which Greenwood is said to have " ..... moved the resolution which directly led to the wholesale agency being established". If this was the basis of Greenwood's claim to be the founder then surely all the committee would have been "founders" rather than just one man? The movement continued with the "Railway Arch" meeting at Manchester on Christmas Day 1860, attended by 50 to 60 delegates where a smaller sub-committee composed of Greenwood, Cooper and Stott, (The Rochdale Mafia again) were empowered to correspond with Vansittart Neale (Where did Mum and Dad Neale pluck that name from?) regarding the proposed legislation which would be required. Many other meetings, some twenty in all, followed at Jumbo, Oldham and Rochdale. The required legislation was eventually passed and at a special conference at the Public Hall at Kirby Street/Canal Street in Ancoats on Good Friday the 3rd of April 1863, the proposals and dreams which were founded at, instigated by and discussed at George Booth's Jumbo Tea Party bore fruition in the form of the North of England Co-operative Wholesale Society. The rules were registered on August 11th 1863. A management committee later from 1929 to be known as "the Board" was elected on Saturday 10th October 1863 at the Union Chambers, Dickinson Street, Manchester. The President was Abraham Greenwood (No surprises there then) and under him James Smithies was Treasurer, J.C. Edwards as Secretary and a four man committee consisting of William Marcroft, John Hilton, Charles Howarth and Thomas Cheetham. Business was commenced on 14th March 1864.
In reading a combination of the many accounts there comes across an unwritten but definite impression of Middleton and Oldham against Rochdale. It is never openly stated but it is there. Rochdale had formed a wholesale department in the 1850's and urged other societies to get involved and use it. (Indeed George Booth was even a delegate to a wholesale conference there in 1856). One of the main reasons for its failure was that Rochdale was not trusted and it was thought rightly or wrongly that they kept back the best produce for their own members. It was whilst Greenwood was the President of the Pioneers that Rochdale's attempt at wholesale operation collapsed. George Booth at Middleton does seem to have had the backing of William Marcroft of Oldham in setting up his Jumbo meeting "Succulent joints dispatched overnight from Oldham", for example. This sort of direct practical assistance to Booth can only mean prior planning between the two. However the whole of the Jumbo Farm initiative seems to have been hi-jacked by Greenwood, with Booth not even getting a seat on the first committee, somewhat ironic considering that all the Jumbo meetings were held at his home.
After the 11th October committee election one would have expected the co-operative movement to be in a state of euphoria or triumph but this was far from true, "but some curious things happens, things which unfortunately, human nature is apt to perform. An Anti-Wholesale feeling asserted itself". It would seem that the cracks were beginning to show. William Marcroft resigned his seat on the management committee and the whole of the Oldham Co-operative Society refused to join the CWS. Managers generally were not very enthusiastic about the CWS as they took the view that if it prospered they could be out of a job. After a meeting in Manchester on the 2lstNovember, the new Management Committee called "a special meeting at the old Jumbo meeting place which in 1861 had become simply a branch of the Middleton Co-operative Society" Further evidence that this was George Booth's house and not Jagger's). "At this meeting on Saturday December 5th 1863 with Abraham Greenwood in the chair, the business was to decide one matter only. "That the place of business of this Society be in the City of Manchester". What on earth was going on here? What was the hidden agenda here? There has to be one, surely there can't be anyone who seriously believes that the whole of the Management Committee travelled to George Booth's house in the midst of a crisis and simply made that statement and then all went home. There was absolutely no need for this statement and even if there was it could just as easily have been done by post as opposed to convening a special meeting.
Most of the literature concerning the co-operative movement refers to the CWS and Rochdale with great deference. Everything was "sweetness and light" or so they would have us believe. Today this is called "News Management". Historians such as George Jacob Holyoake would not today be regarded as historians but as "Spin Doctors". For instance Holyoake was a friend of Greenwood. 1856, Greenwood becomes President of the Rochdale Pioneers, 1857, Holyoake publishes "The History of the Rochdale Pioneers", 1863 and Holyoake visits the Middleton Society on the occasion of a grand concert for the benefit of the newsroom and library. No words of encouragement from him though. He publishes, "The entrance was so dark and dismal as to be ill calculated to inspire a thirst for knowledge". He was "unable to commend this backstairs entry to the favourable notice of men of light and leading in the co-operative world". (Doubtlessly the entrance to Rochdale's Reading room had a red carpet, disco lighting and a sun roof) This visit was immediately after the formation of the North of England Co-operative Society but before the election of the Management Committee which would run it. If the manager of this establishment was perhaps intending to stand for election to the CWS committee, this statement by Holyoake would seriously damage any chances of success. The General Manager of the Middleton Society at that time was George Booth. Perhaps just another co-incidence, perhaps immaculate timing! However years later who should it be who suddenly appears declaring Greenwood to be the "founder" of the CWS, non other than Holyoake. The perfect choice really, far better that such declaration should come from a respected historian, not a member of the CWS and of course a totally "unbiased and impartial" opinion.
Holyoake's claim in "The Co-operator" in 1875" supported by J. C. Edwards, that Greenwood founded the CWS seems to be based on the fact that Greenwood was asked, and produced a plan for the, CWS. "The New History of the CWS" has this to say on the subject; "The plan itself was experimental and we should be clear about its place in CWS history. It was for an agency only. The author shank from the idea at this stage of 'the centralisation of some £50,000 sterling' in a trading establishment with all its 'liabilities and contingencies'. He wanted the advantages of a depot 'without any of its risks'. On this ground a participator in the controversy of 1875 over the origin of the CWS was able to say that the agency outlined by Greenwood 'collapsed' in practice, for until the CWS in its first years was converted into a full wholesale house trading and taking all the risks of trade, it possessed 'not the remotest chance of success'.
To me the success or failure of his plan is totally irrelevant to the issue of "founder". This plan was only requested at the sixth meeting in the series, not at the beginning and the whole process was well under way by then. It seems a very contrived attempt for recognition as founder and there is almost an air of desperation about it. Why was it so important to Greenwood? It could just be a need for immortality or vanity but I don't think so. If that was the case he could have pushed it through when he was the President and had the control. This is where I think the answer lies. Greenwood had resigned as President in 1870. If he had been retiring "an opportunity to spend more time with the family" as the politians say, the resignation would be explained. However he became the Chief Cashier so he wasn't retiring. This looks a bit of a comedown, a loss of status and prompts some intriguing questions. Was Abraham Greenwood losing his grip on power? Did he jump or was he pushed? Was his real motivation to be acknowledged as the "founder" a way of re-gaining status and esteem?
I have yet to find if, where and when Abraham Greenwood was officially given the title of founder. Certainly many books and tracts of the early 1900's refer to him as such. Why then was there the need for Mr Mercer to start pleading Greenwood's case again in 1936? Does anyone know if or when this title became official and who decided and on what grounds? Mr Mercer in his book "Towards a Co-operative Commonwealth" omits Jumbo altogether but ignoring the meeting at Jumbo doesn't make it go away. Hall and Watkins in "Co-operation" relegate Jumbo to a minor place but they are pushing the claims of the Christian-Socialists who secured the Industrial and Provident Societies Act in 1852 as the founders of the CWS. However this Act has nothing to do with the foundation of the CWS as it applied to the retail societies. In fact it was this Act which hindered one society dealing with any other society and caused so many problems in the early days of the CWS, that the new legislation was needed. There is no direct link between the foundation of the CWS and the Christian Socialists of 1852. Other pretenders to the throne claim that the foundation came from the letters to "The Co-operator" calling for a wholesale society. However the first of these letters didn't appear until six weeks after the Jumbo meeting.
The fact remains that all roads in the progress of the CWS lead back to the Jumbo tea party. It was there the CWS began, unpalatable as this fact may be to many of the claimants to the title of "founder". William Marcroft and Edward Ingham have both publicly testified that the business of the Jumbo tea party was "to take steps towards a wholesale society". William Nuttall officially named Jumbo as the CWS starting point at the Co-operative Congress in 1869 and was not challenged. Redfern, in the official Jubilee book 'The History of the CWS" traces all the meetings directly from the Jumbo tea party and uses the picture of Jumbo Farm as the frontispiece of the book. The Jubilee edition of "The Co-operative News" published on the 13th September 1913 in a front page article under the headline "The Birth of the CWS" and a sub-headline "The beginning" tells the story of Jumbo and includes the indisputable lines "The manager of the farm was George Booth, he was the host and it is to him belongs the honour of having introduced the subject of a wholesale society". The minute book is called "the Jumbo Minute Book" and was considered so important to the history of the CWS that they bought it from the daughter of William Cooper in 1911 and it still exists today. The evidence of the Jumbo tea party as the foundation of the CWS is absolutely overwhelming: There has never been a controversy over the founder of the CWS, merely a collection of pretenders who have either ignored or bent the facts to suit their own ends.
To be a founder of anything, you have to be in there right at the start of things and the inconvenient fact for all the would be pretenders is, that if you weren't at that first Jumbo meeting then you're out of the picture as far as being a founder is concerned. I have wondered why Greenwood's case to be the founder put by Holyoake was based on Greenwood's plan. At the Jumbo meeting we heard the views of Booth introducing the subject of a wholesale society and the opinions of Cooper and Marcroft. What did Greenwood have to say on the subject? Sometimes what is not said is far more important than what is said. This would seem to be the case here. I have reached a startling conclusion which is going to be controversial and blows wide open Greenwood's case. I find it hard to believe I am the only person to work it out and that no historian has picked up on the point before, or if they have they don't seem to have been willing to publicly state it. It is time somebody stuck their head above the parapet. Abraham Greenwood, the alleged founder of the CWS wasn't at the first meeting ! He can't have founded the CWS because he wasn't even there. I openly challenge any supporter of the Toad Lane Mafia to prove that he was! It is totally inconceivable that Abraham Greenwood would have attended the Jumbo Farm meeting, listened to others talking on such important issues and not made his views known by addressing the gathering. Furthermore if he had spoken at Jumbo then it is bordering on the impossible that the views and ideas of Booth, Cooper and Marcroft would be recorded for posterity and the opinions of Greenwood, President of the Rochdale Pioneers be totally ignored, especially as his friend Holyoake was present at the meeting. In the presidential controversy of 1875 why hasn't Holyoake strengthened Greenwood's pitch for the throne by any reference to what Greenwood said at that first meeting? Why has no historian since ever mentioned Greenwood's contribution the concensus of opinion at the meeting? If Greenwood had spoken we would know about it. Judging by Holyoake's later comments on the Middleton Reading Room, if Greenwood hadn't had enough butter on his sandwiches we would know about it! Rochdale in the views of many historians was the centre of the co-operative universe. Yet Greenwood is not mentioned even as a witness to the Jumbo tea party nor does a single one of the witnesses whose accounts are recorded refer to him being present. He wasn't there was he?
This causes somewhat of a dilemma for the CWS. There are only two choices. Either the Jumbo Farm tea party as supported by all the evidence, witnesses, historians and the Jumbo minute book is the foundation of the CWS and George Booth, the man who organised it, given the credit he rightfully deserves and is finally acknowledged as founder, or Abraham Greenwood founded the CWS and the Jumbo minute book might as well be put through the office shredder!
Greenwood was a leader. Most certainly he deserves all credit for his work as original member and then president of the Rochdale Pioneers and then for the CWS. He became the Chairman of the movement and the first President of the CWS. He was a powerful man in the movement but such success in any field of endeavour does not come without diligent dedication and hard work. He did not though found the CWS. He hi-jacked the organisation after the third meeting and he undoubtedly helped to guide it through to a successful conclusion, but he didn't found it and his claims devalue and detract from his true contribution.