Charles Fay, pioneer of co-operation at home and abroad

A co-operative pioneer who was a strong advocate of worker and women’s rights is the subject of a biography.

A co-operative pioneer who was a strong advocate of worker and women’s rights is the subject of a biography.

The international lifestyle of British economic historian Charles Ryle Fay (1884-1961), who spread the word of co-operation around the world, is written by Cambridge-based historian Hugh Gault.

Entitled The Quirky Dr Fay: A Remarkable Life — the book discovers a hidden chapter of co-operative history.

Mr Gault explains how he started writing the book three years ago, but he first came across Fay some years before when reading his biography of William Huskisson, the Liverpool MP.

“There are many ways in which remarkable can be used to describe his life,” said Hugh Gault, adding that Fay was “well ahead of time”.

Charles Ryle Fay started his academic career in 1902 when entering Cambridge University to read Economics. “Like Beatrice Webb, he judged co-operation a third way between the individual enterprise of capitalism and the state ownership implied by socialism,” said Mr Gault.

Charles Ryle Fay’s interest in co-operation was cemented in 1908 when he published Cooperation at home and abroad, which provided comparisons of co-operative movements across various nations, including Denmark and Germany. As part of the research he met with Horace Plunkett in 1906, who was the founder of the Plunkett Foundation, which still supports village co-operatives today.

Fay’s commitment to co-operative values and principles gained a new dimension once he moved to Canada. In 1920 he became Professor of Economics at Toronto University. Co-operation being fundamental to the way in which Canadians approach things; Fay became an even greater advocate of co-operatives.

He was involved in promoting worker's and women’s rights and expressed his support for full admission of women to Cambridge University. Later, in 1933, during his lecture to the Fawcett Society, he spoke about women as wage earners.

In 1934 Charles Ryle Fay became Chairman of the Plunkett Foundation and maintained this position for 12 years. He had been a trustee before then. Fay made a major contribution to the Foundation’s financial recovery. “Had he not been the Chairman, perhaps the Foundation might not have existed today. Indeed, some of the trustees might have closed it on Horace Plunkett’s death,” said Mr Gault.

Referring to the legacy of Charles Ryle Fay, Mike Perry, Head of Communications at Plunkett Foundation said: “Charles Fay was a trusted friend of Sir Horace Plunkett and went on to chair his foundation, then called the Horace Plunkett Foundation, for 12 years. He was someone who was clear that Plunkett should, ‘Think things out and try things out’, an approach we still aim for today. 

“Wider than the Plunkett Foundation Fay was a great co-operator who worked in England, Ireland, Canada and India primarily.  He was someone who took the lessons from co-operatives and applied them to the wider economic thinking of the day. Hugh Gault’s book captures the remarkable life of a remarkable man,” concluded Mr Perry.

In his research, Hugh Gault used a number of historical sources, including National Archives in Kew, Plunkett Foundation, Christ’s and King’s Colleges and the Marshall Library of Economics in Cambridge.

• The book costs £11.99 and can be ordered through bookshops, libraries and online, ISBN 978-0-9562041-5-8 or by emailing [email protected]

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