A collection of over 160 rule books from co-operative societies across Britain and Ireland has been digitised and is now available online via the archives catalogue.
The books, which date from 1877 (the Rochdale Equitable Pioneers’ Society Ltd) to 1921, were collected by Beatrice Webb as part of her enquiries into the co-operative movement. These studies had begun in the 1880s, and by 1891 she had already published her book, “The co-operative movement in Great Britain”. Co-operation continued to be a source of interest and enquiry for Beatrice and Sidney Webb for the rest of their lives, for example for their book, “The consumers’ co-operative movement”, which was published in 1921.
The books are usually in the same format, and contain information such as:
- The objects of the society
- Rules of admission of members
- Members’ rights and responsibilities
- Shares and capital
- Government and administration (its officers, committees and meetings)
Apart from the rule books there are a few other documents which have managed to get into the collection. For example:
- a price list from 1894:
- a pamphlet of agricultural experiments carried out by the Donaghpatrick Co-operative Agricultural Society in 1898 (COLL MISC 0359/40). Experiments on the society’s farm, included potato spraying, tobacco planting and the efficacy of various manures.
- a duties book for the City of Bradford Co-operative Society Ltd (COLL MISC 0359/18): “Duties of the buyers, managers and sub-committees with instructions as to stocktaking, checks and other matters for the year ending May 1921″, including names of office-holders, Committee members and others.
- a pamphlet of rules adopted by the International Co-operative Congress at Glasgow, August 1913 (COLL MISC 0359/54).
Unfortunately, the original books are in a poor preservation condition so they are withdrawn from researchers to prevent further deterioration. However, to allow access to the collection, the books were microfilmed several years ago and this has now been digitised. The books are available as pdf files and are available to anyone to use for research purposes.