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Subjects covered by our collections range from fashion to factories via free-thought. The Archive holds historic materials but also has a history all of its own.
The Co-operative Union (now Co-operatives UK) was formed in 1869, its educational activities formalised in 1882 with the appointment of an education committee. In 1906 the Union decided to build a headquarters on Hanover Street, Manchester. The co-operative leader, secularist and social reformer, George Jacob Holyoake, who had done much to spread knowledge of the co-operative movement throughout the world thorough his writings had recently died. The headquarters became a memorial to him, being named Holyoake House (the Archive is based here today).
An important aspect of Holyoake House was to provide a library for education about co-operation. Holyoake had already deposited the Robert Owen papers with the Co-operative Union and his papers pertaining to co-operation were deposited by his daughter, Emilie Holyoake Marsh (other parts of his papers were deposited by her at Bishopsgate Institute).
In 1919 the Co-operative College was formed and was based within Holyoake House. The College was and is the formal educational wing of the co-operative movement and a researcher into issues affecting co-operation, such as fair trade. The College's library was an integral part of the organisation, being used by students and tutors alike.
Growth led to the College purchasing its own premises at Stanford Hall, Leicestershire where they stayed until 2001 when they relocated back to Holyoake House.
The two central libraries of the co-operative movement were therefore split geographically. In the subsequent years both libraries developed archives through acquisitions and donations. The Co-operative College collections specialised in education and business for example, the original records of societies in the Midlands were deposited by Midlands Co-operative Society. The Co-operative Union specialised in the letter collections and those of the Co-operative Press. At the same time both libraries developed their holdings of printed collections for example, collecting journals and materials about Robert Owen, George Jacob Holyoake and the Co-operative Party and Guilds.
In 2000 the decision was taken to merge the archival collections, along with related and important printed collections, together to form a centralised National Co-operative Archive. The Archive did not and does not seek to hold every single record relating to co-operation but it did and does seek to hold records of national organisations, a sample of co-operative society records and records of personalities and thinkers important to the development of co-operation. Following the merger further business records and personal papers have been deposited with the Archive.
The Archive is currently in an exciting stage of its development, archival standard storage space has been fitting, colloborations are taking place and most importantly it is getting easier for researchers to find out about us and what we have.
Address: Gillian Lonergan,
The Co-operative College
Holyoake House, Hanover Street, Manchester M60 0AS
Telephone: 0161 246 2937