An historic symbol that signifies the origin of retail co-operatives around the world has returned to Rochdale after almost 20 years.
The original Toad Lane cast iron street sign that was in place when the Rochdale Pioneers founded the first co-operative store, which led to the foundation of the co-operative principles, in 1844 has been officially handed back by a former Rochdale councillor.
At a special ceremony at the Touchstones heritage centre in the town, which marked the anniversary of the opening of the Pioneers’ store 167 years ago, saw David Williams, once Chair of the Rochdale Co-operative Party, present the sign to the Mayor, Councillor Alan Godson, and Council Leader, Councillor Colin Lambert.
The sign was left anonymously at Mr Williams’ party headquarters in 1992 and, busy campaigning for that year’s election, he resolved to sort the matter out later.
Mr Williams, now a councillor in Oxford, said: “I never did sort it out and for 20 years it languished in my garage. Three months ago, while back in the area to visit my parents, I drove past the Toad Lane Museum which was covered in scaffolding ready for 2012 and thought it was time to return the sign.
“It is the icon of icons to the Co-operative Movement and of great historic significance.”
The sign will now be going on display at the Toad Lane Museum when it reopens next year following an extensive refurbishment.
Councillor Lambert said: “With the 2012 International Year of Co-operatives almost upon us and Rochdale having recently been named as World Capital of Co-operatives, there could be no better time for the sign to come home.
“We have lots of exciting projects lined up to raise the profile of the borough and this is the perfect way to start. We are very grateful to Mr Williams for keeping the sign safe all these years and for coming back to return it in person.”