Two leading 19th century co-operative pioneers were honoured on International Co-operative Day, in a ceremony held in Hebden Bridge.
The town’s mayor Cllr Jonathan Timbers laid flowers on the graves of Jesse Gray, general secretary of the Co-operative Union from 1891 to 1911, and of Joseph Greenwood, one of the leading advocates of productive co-operation who established the Hebden Bridge Fustian Manufacturing cooperative in 1870 and led it until his retirement in 1909. Both men are buried in Hebden Bridge’s Sandy Gate burial ground.
“The co-operative movement contributed funds at the time for a handsome memorial for Jesse Gray, but Joseph Greenwood’s gravestone has fallen onto its side and was only identified with some difficulty earlier this year,” said co-operative jounrnalist Andrew Bibby, who organised the event in conjunction with local workers co-operative Valley Organics. Mr Bibby recalled that in the late 19th century Hebden Bridge was as well-known for productive co-operation as Rochdale was for retailing.
“A steady stream of eminent visitors, from Britain and from overseas, made their way to the fustian co-operative’s Nutclough Mill, to examine this venture in what was called worker self-employment,” he told participants at the event. He also recalled how the first branch of the Women’s Co-operative Guild had been established in the town, in 1883.
In laying flowers on the two men’s graves, Cllr Jonathan Timbers stressed the relevance of the experiences of the early co-operative movement to present-day concerns for justice and fairness in the workplace.
The ceremony was followed by a public meeting held in the nearby Birchcliffe Centre, where speakers included Ruth Holtom of the Co-operative College, who described the growth of co-operative schools; Ben Oubridge of Valley Organics; and Chris Greaves of The Bakehouse co-operative and the Fox and Goose co-operative pub.
The meeting agreed to establish a new Calderdale Co-operative Association linking co-operatives in the area, which replicates an initiative first taken by Joseph Greenwood and others in the area in 1871.