THE GALASHIELS CO-OPERATORS

and the ideas of WILLIAM KING & THOMAS CHALMERS

exhibition by Penicuik Community Development Trust in the Cowan Institute, Penicuik Town Hall, 17 January 2009

The Rochdale Pioneers are usually credited with setting up the first co-operative store. The co-operative principles they set down clearly in 1844 were to be the main inspiration for the great –and properly regulated- cooperative movement.  But a pioneering enthusiasm for co-operative trading had begun much earlier in the 1820s, both in Rochdale and in many other corners of the British Isles.

 

 

Among such places were the spinning and weaving townships of the Tweed and its tributaries, where a heady mix of chartist radicals was touched with the tory romanticism of Sir Walter Scott.  In his early history of the Rochdale Pioneers George Jacob Holyoake writes

 

“The Leeds Corn Mill Society - the Padiham Co-operative Manufacturers – the Galashiels Co-operators - present features of success worthy to be placed side by side with the Rochdale Store. Whether in being originated and conducted by purely working men - whether in the variety and development of their operations – whether in propagandist spirit - they are to be compared or placed before the Rochdale Pioneers, are matters I leave for others to determine. The public will be glad to hear more about these experiments than these pages can communicate.”

From “Self Help by the People, the History of the Rochdale Pioneers” by George Jacob Holyoake (1844-1892 Tenth Edition)

 

One of the founding Galashiels Co-operators was a radical weaver with family origins in Stow.  William Clapperton (1785-1860) was an extreme Chartist and keen politician well respected locally. He helped to found the temperance movement in Galashiels and with William Sanderson organised the first cooperative store there in 1827.  Much later, as the Father of the weaving fraternity in Selkirk and Galashiels, Clapperton presented a plaid to the visiting Hungarian patriot Kossuth in 1856.

William Clapperton radical weaver & Lajos Kossuth Hungarian patriot

 

William had been a weaver for much of his life, and became a cowfeeder in retirement. He was also a keen breeder of bees, and spent his final years at Huddersfield in Galashiels till his death on 26 February 1860.

The Border Advertiser announced his death on Friday March 2nd: "Sudden Death; - A startling instance of the uncertainty of life took place on Sunday morning in the sudden death of Mr. William Clapperton, an old, well known and respected inhabitant.  For a short time previous one of his cows, on which he set much value, had been unwell and nearly dead, and his rest had been disturbed by attending to the animal.  During Saturday night he had got little rest, and on Sunday morning he rose at 5 o'clock and was very mach overjoyed to find his animal beginning to recover.  He retired to rest after having had a cup of tea in his son's house adjoining, and about, 8 o'clock his son Alexander, happening to look into his bed noticed his features strangely altered, and on springing into the bed and raising him up his head fell back and he immediately expired.  The cause of death is believed to have been apoplexy, brought to a climax by excess of joy at the unexpected recovery of his cow.  William was one, if not the chief originator and leader of the temperance movement in this town.  He was also a keen politician and held extreme Chartist views, though he was always respected for the independent way in which he advocated his political creed.  He was the individual selected by the working classes, on the occasion of Kossuth's visit to Galashiels, to present the illustrious Hungarian with a plaid of our own manufacture, which he did in a very appropriate speech.  He followed the occupation of a spinner during the greater part of his life, but latterly had given up his attention almost exclusively to the keeping of a dairy.  He maintained also a local celebrity as a breeder and of bees, no less than does his son for the knowledge he possesses of our British cage and wild birds.  He was seventy five years of age and leaves an aged partner two years older then himself to mourn his sudden bereavement."

Supporting the Galashiels Co-operators, Hoyoake also notes, in a footnote to his “History of Co-operation:”

155. Mr. Walter Sanderson, of Galashiels, informs me (1876) that the principle was introduced into that town about the same time (1827) by William Sanderson (founder of the Building Society there) without any connection with Rochdale.  Came it from Cambuslang?  Sanderson gives no details, but he is a responsible correspondent, and his word may be taken as to the fact.

 

Walter Sanderson was employed as the Inspector of the Poor for  Galashiels.  In 1869 his daughter Janet married Galashiels schoolmaster Charles Lapworth (1842-1920) an enthusiastic amateur geologist who revolutionised the interpretation of the Southern Uplands and who became Professor of Geology at Birmingham University, President of the Geological Society and a Fellow of the Royal Society.  Other members of Galashiels Sanderson families became notable tweed makers in the town, wool traders in Britain, Australia and New Zealand, and a well-known silk fabric manufacturer in London.

Charles Lapworth (1842-1920)

 

A co-operative store had also been started in Brighton with the support of the influential Ipswich-born medical practitioner William King (1786-1865).  At Cambridge King had studied social philosophy, national government and mathematics, which latter he afterwards regarded as "the key to all knowledge."  In 1812 he took his Master's degree and became a Fellow of Peterhouse College. Soon after moved to London, where he "walked" St. Bartholomew's Hospital and studied medicine.   He supported himself by acting as a time private tutor to the children of  a  well-known banker.  One of King's pupils was the future Baron Overstone who was largely responsible for the Bank Charter Act of 1844 by which the constitution of the Bank of England was determined.

 

King qualified as M.D. (Cantab) in 1819 and a Fellow of the Royal College of Physicians in the following year. He stayed at St. Bartholomew's Hospital until 1821, when he married Miss Mary Hooker, daughter of Dr. Hooker, vicar of Rottingdean, near Brighton, who had a well-known school.  Dr. King settled at Brighton, to be near his wife's relatives, and began to take a prominent part in local affairs.   Early in 1823 he set up one of the first schools in England for infants.  Soon after, he became acquainted with Elizabeth Fry, whose activities were drawing widespread attention not only towards prison reform, but to the condition of the people generally.

Elizabeth Fry (1780-1845)

Elizabeth Fry was often in Brighton to address members of the Society of Friends.  While staying in 1824, she had been distressed by the multitude of applicants for relief in the town.  Dr. Thomas Chalmers, the Scottish churchman and economist, cousin of the Cowans of Penicuik, had convinced her that such applicants could be best  helped by provident societies, through which they could be encouraged to make small deposits.  A  provident society of this type had already been  formed in Brighton, where "there was no lack of benevolent feeling." Elizabeth Fry thought the society needed to be supplemented by a District Visiting Society, and after delays, and much discouragement, the Brighton District Society was established.  Its objects were:  the encouragement of industry and frugality among the poor by home visits; the relief of real distress, whether arising from sickness or other causes ; and the prevention of mendacity and imposture.  Mrs. Fry's chief helper in forming this society was Dr. King, who was already known as the poor man's doctor.  She said she could not have succeeded without his organizing ability.

Thomas Chalmers (1780-1847) - later led the Disruption of the Church of Scotland

 

Dr. King took a prominent part in the work of the society, and in one year it "induced the poor to lay by amongst them about £1,000.' Larger schemes for social improvement soon attracted Dr. King's attention.   Early in 1823 efforts were made in various parts of  the country to establish mechanics* institutions, the  first in England promoted by Dr. George Birkbeck being formed in London in November of that year, and similar societies were formed in many towns. In 1825  it was decided to form the Brighton Mechanics' Institution with the establishment of a suitable library, the delivery of lectures, and the formation of a museum.

 

Dr. King was chief promoter of the Institution, one of its vice-presidents, and a trustee.  Within a few weeks a house in Brighton’s West Street was taken for a reading-room with a library of 400 volumes, a large lecture room, and  several class rooms, and the committee boasted that “we resemble a little university”.  The institution made an excellent beginning. Two hundred subscriptions were collected, and nearly three hundred members enrolled in a very short time. During its first winter session lectures were given on many subjects including some by Dr. King,  But extravagant expectations were quickly disappointed. Enthusiasm flagged, and at the end of 1828 the first Mechanics' Institution in Brighton died from lack of members.

 

From the Institution’s West Street address the Brighton Co-operative Benevolent Fund Association was founded in 1827. The leading spirits in the new association were men who attended classes taught by Dr. King, and they immediately began a Co-operative Trading Association as an adjunct to the parent  body.  In a few weeks the society was transacting "a respectable  trade," and in about a year its sales amounted to £38 weekly. Many  hurried to join the association, believing a co-operative community would be formed of its members in a year or two.  Among them were agricultural labourers, house-carpenters, bricklayers, painters, cabinetmakers, turners, printers, gardeners, dressmakers, bakers, tailors, tinmen, coppersmiths, shoemakers, bookbinders, and grocers.

The members’ hopes were shared by Dr. King, who respected their ambitions, and praised their efforts.  Recognising that ignorance was the chief obstacle, on May 1st, 1828, he began to issue The Co-operator, a four-page monthly magazine that sold all over the country for a penny.  In it he tried to put across principles of co-operation in practical terms. He showed how people could improve their conditions by working together ; how even the poorest could amass capital by co-operative shopkeeping ; and foretold  how voluntary co-operation, practised in simple, everyday, social actions like buying and consuming, would lead to ownership and associated industry, and eventually carry the workers forward to a new society, in which there would be "a perpetual progress" of mankind "towards an endless perfection of character and happiness." .

 

William King (1786-1865) and his journal The Co-operator

 

Describing the shop as the centre of co-operative enterprise, The Co-operator noted that provident funds should   invest their subscriptions, not in the funds of Savings' Banks, but in Trade: purchasing those articles which were daily wanted and consumed by the members; they bought for ready money, and sold for ready money — they  therefore ran no risk either way.  Whatever the profit be, whether much or little, the Society receives it.  As often as the capital is  turned round, so the profit returns.  This profit is has been a profound secret to the working classes; it is so no  longer -they know it and they keep it for themselves. Had the sums of money been invested at interest in the usual way they would have yielded them a profit  of about five pounds. By being invested in trade, they have yielded them a profit of about thirty.

 

“This is the first step in a Working Union, and it is the most difficult one. Working men have no idea of employing money in trade; they think it is a distinct occupation, which belongs to others : they almost fancy that they could not exist a day without a shop to go to, to buy food; though they produce the food, and carry it to the shop, yet they fancy they could not eat it without it went through the shopman's hands — so it is with every other article of production. Workmen have no idea that a certain number joining together with a small capital to begin with, could produce and consume among themselves, independent of the rest of the world.  The Union then will begin with a shop; to manage this shop  they must have an agent ; this agent must be a member — he will be chosen by the Society — he will keep regular accounts, as is done in all business. Three other members will be appointed as trustees, to receive the weekly subscriptions, to superintend the agent, and to audit his accounts; this will be done weekly, that all may know the state of the Society ; and the trustees being changed occasionally, all will become acquainted with the mode of transacting  business. “

 

“At first, as the capital of the Society will be small, the shop will not be able to supply the members with all the articles of  consumption they may want.  As the capital increases this will be done more perfectly. But as the wants of the members are limited, there will be a time when capital will exceed what the shop requires.   This will happen in less than one year after the Society is formed, even though the weekly subscriptions should be as low as threepence. When this period arrives, the Society will ask themselves this question — What shall we do with our surplus capital? The answer will be — employ one of your own members to manufacture shoes, or clothes, &c. &c. for the rest ; pay him the usual wages, and give the profits to the common capital. In this way they will proceed, as the capital increases, to employ one member after another, either to manufacture articles consumed by the members, or by the public. Beginning to manufacture for the members, the sale is sure. When the capital is able to produce more goods than the members can consume, they must manufacture those articles which are in demand by the public at large.

The Co-operator was widely and eagerly read.   In carrying the principles of co-operation into practical advice, Dr King advised how to conduct business and manage affairs in a businesslike way, emphasising the importance of good management, cash trading, accurate book-keeping, publicity, and democratic administration, and showing the responsibility of each to promote the welfare of all. Realising how the funds of co-operative societies might be jeopardised without legal protection, he urged Henry Brougham, M.P., then the foremost champion of popular rights, to consider promoting supportive legislation.

 

But some clergy and ministers of all denominations had begun to preach against co-operation, and Dr. King was openly accused of infidelity and sedition.  The Rev. W. L. Pope, of Tunbridge Wells asserted that his motives were wicked, his principles horrid, and that he himself was an infidel.  Other critics were almost equally abusive.   Attacks of this kind, though ridiculous, harmed Dr King’s work as a physician with a growing family to support.   In a sense, Dr King’s advocacy of co-operation had already served its purpose, the people were aware of the power they could command.  His publication of The Co-operator ceased in 1830.   At its height, it had a circulation of 12,000 and a multiple readership.  But it had cost him much, and given a share of disappointments.   William Bryan, first secretary of the Co-operative Benevolent Association, had left Brighton suddenly for some unexplained reason, and was next heard of in New York, while a number of its members had departed with their share of the capital and built themselves a fishing-boat.   The Brighton Society had failed.  Nevertheless 1300 societies around Britain had been inspired by Dr King, laying a foundation of co-operation for the next generation.

 

A philanthropist in the true meaning of that much-abused word, Dr. King had aspired to be "the poor man's doctor;" his consulting room was always open to the poor ; and his services as a physician were given  most willingly to those who could offer him no  remuneration.  Yet, since no one saw more clearly than he that charity creates a multitude of sins,  his chief desire was to help the poor to  help each other to overcome "pauperism, misery, and  crime" by forming co-operative associations.  In the words of The Co-operator in 1830: Many petty attempts have been made, by benevolent persons, to relieve the wants of the lower classes, and to promote their comfort: but no one ever imagined, before the present day, that workmen were themselves capable of looking so far as to adopt a system of mutual labour, support, and instruction, in order to  provide for themselves upon a permanent plan. The spirit which prompted this, is a new spirit; as much as the steam engine is a new mechanical power. Like other new powers and machines, it will require many experiments to bring it to practical perfection;  but when one experiment has succeeded, imitation will become easy,  and mankind will reap the benefit of it for ever !”

 

Text on Dr King sourced & adapted from Dr. WILLIAM KING AND THE CO-OPERATOR 1828-1830 ed T. W. MERCER  Manchester, The Co-operative Union 1922.

 

FOOTNOTE

In the “History of Co-operation:” Holyoke wryly observes:

In 1842, Mr. John Gray, of Faldonside, Galashiels, published "An Efficient Remedy for the Distress of Nations."  Mr. Owen having set a fashion of devising "an entirely new system of society," Mr. Gray put forth one.  Society profits in a silent, sulky way, by suggestions made to it: yet it dislikes any one who proposes to overhaul it.  Mr. Gray had a great plan of a Standard Bank and Mint.  The Duke of Wellington made known this year, in one of his wonderful notes, that "he declined to receive the visits of deputations from associations, or of individual gentlemen, in order to confer with them on public affairs; but if any gentleman thinks proper to give him, in writing, information or instruction, on any subject, he will peruse the same with attention."  The modest, painstaking duke had not Mr. Gray before his eyes when he said this.  That gentleman would have taken the duke at his word, and soon have brought him to a standstill.  The pleasantest part of Mr. Gray's "Efficient Remedy" is where he tells the reader that he had published a previous work which had not sold, so that in issuing another he could only be actuated by a desire to advance the interests of mankind, and this was true.  He was a well-meaning, disinterested, and uninteresting writer.  His books never sold, nor could they be given away; and there was for long a stock at two places in London where they could be had for the asking, and those who applied were looked upon with favour.

exhibition prepared by Roger Kelly for Penicuik Community Development Trust

 

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