Papers of Joseph Reeves (Education Secretary of Royal Arsenal Co-operative Society 1918-1938)

  • This material is held at
  • Reference
      GB 1499 JRC
  • Dates of Creation
  • Name of Creator
  • Language of Material
      English Dutch Finnish Czech French German
  • Physical Description
      7 boxes

Scope and Content

The collection consists of assorted papers of Joseph Reeves. The records relate to his time as Education Secretary of Royal Arsenal Co-operative Society, his role as Labour MP of Greenwich, his speeches, world travel and work for the cremation society. There are also papers and notes on his personal life and work collected by Alan Burton for research purposes.

Administrative / Biographical History

Joseph (Joe) Reeves was born on 28 January 1888 in Camberwell, London. His childhood was impoverished and he left school at 13 with a Labour Certificate. Reeves worked as an apprentice ticket, glass and sign writer for 5 years before starting his own sign writing business in his early twenties. He was a conscientious objector during World War I. Reeves had a troubled relationship with his first wife Lily, with whom he had two daughters Iris and Josephine. He eventually obtained a divorce from Lily on the grounds of her mental health problems and married Gladys in 1940. They had a daughter, Rosemary, in 1945.

Reeves was Education Secretary of the Royal Arsenal Co-operative Society (RACS) from 1918-1938. He believed that 'the dynamic of education must be altered from individual assertiveness to service on behalf of the community'. While Reeves was secretary the Education Committee expanded its activities and provided equipment and premises for classes as well as holding drama groups and orchestras. The Committee also provided scholarships for weekend schools and conferences. Reeves also believed in co-operating with other adult education bodies to provide classes. The RACS also offered technical education for its employees in subjects such as book-keeping.

The RACS Education Department also pioneered and encouraged travel after the First World War and in 1919 Reeves called on the Co-operative Union to set up an organisation for co-operative travel overseas, which lead to the formation of the Workers' Travel Association (WTA) in 1922. Reeves was very interested in the Soviet Union and visited Russia four times between 1927 and 1961.

As part of the educational activities of the RACS Reeves recognised the development and potential of film as an educational tool. In 1931 the society purchased two films from Germany and the USSR that were shown as propaganda during meetings. By 1938 more films and equipment had been purchased and over fifty film exhibitions were held, with the society also making its own films. Reeves's interest in film led to his appointment as secretary of the Worker's Film Association (WFA) in 1938. The WFA was was jointly sponsered by the Labour Party and Trades Union Congress to encourage the use of films by the Labour movement. Reeves also founded and encouraged Kibbo Kift Tribes, which became known as the Woodcraft Folk, part of the youth branch of the co-operative movement.

As well as his work for the Education section of RACS, Reeves also served on the society's Political Purposes Committee from 1946-1953.

Reeves was interested in Socialism and the Labour movement from an early age and went on to found the North Camberwell Labour Party. In 1945 he was elected as a member of parliament for the Greenwich Constituency, a position he held until 1955.

Reeves was well travelled due to his involvement with the World Parliament Association, which allowed him to visit many European cities. He was also a member of Parliamentary delegations to the West Indies and Finland. Reeves was made an Alderman in 1927.

Reeves also made a contribution to the growing acceptance of cremation as an alternative to burial. He served as chairman of the Cremation Society and was a director of the London Cremation Company. He was also a president of the International Cremation Federation, another position that allowed him to travel widely. Without Reeves's involvement in this movement the 1952 Cremation Act, which regulated the practice, would never been introduced to Parliament.

Reeves also spoke and wrote on many issues regarding co-operation, and also on other social issues. Joseph Reeves died on 8 March 1969 aged 81.

Access Information

All open materials can be viewed by prior arrangement, Monday- Friday, 10am-5pm. Contact the Archivist at: National Co-operative Archive, Co-operative College, Holyoake House, Hanover Street, Manchester, M60 0AS. Email:,

Acquisition Information

Deposited by Alan Burton, who obtained the material from the Reeves family.

Other Finding Aids

A box list was produced when the collection was first deposited.

Archivist's Note

Description compiled by Hannah Riggott, MARM student, Liverpool University, January 2013


None expected.