The co-operative movement in England had its origins in the writings of Robert Owen from the 1820s. The practical expression of his ideas came in 1844 with the foundation of the Rochdale Equitable Pioneers Society, which was fully established by the 1850s. This society opened stores and workshops and was based on the principle of working people linked together in a system of manufacturing, distributing, selling and buying goods in a way that was co-operative and would, therefore, protect their interests.
The first consumers' co-operatives in Hull were mills, established during a period of high flour prices in the 1790s. Groups of local subscribers and benefactors funded the mills as a means of producing high quality flour at almost cost price. The Hull Anti-Mill Industrial Society was established in 1795 and the Hull Subscription Mill opened in 1800 (to cater for those who could not afford the Anti-Mill subscription). Both continued into the late 19th century. In 1857 the first general co-operative store opened in Dock Street in Hull, owned by the Hull Co-operative Provident Company Ltd. The company operated a dividend system, and established a Reading Room and a few branch stores, but trade was slow to develop and commercial pressures forced the company into liquidation in 1882.
The first co-operative shops of the Kingston upon Hull Co-operative Society opened for business in 1890, at 201 Hessle Road and 11 Wilton Terrace, Holderness Road. Behind this re-launch of the co-operative venture in Hull were the local Trades Council, trade unions and friendly societies. In the mid 1890s the Society opened a Boot Department and a Coal Department, an Educational Department was set up to organise lectures and events, and a Co-operators Cycle Club and a Field Naturalists Club were formed. The years 1901-1920 were a period of expansion and in 1908 the Society not only took over the floundering Bridlington Co-operative Society, but also opened 'a large central emporium' in Jameson Street. A co-operative dairy was established in 1915 and other wartime developments included a slaughterhouse and pork butchery, a fruit warehouse and banana ripening depot, and two farms. A merger with Beverley and District Co-operative Society was completed in 1929 and two years later a Cooperative Institute for educational and social events opened in Kingston Square. Further mergers took place in 1956 with Pocklington and District Co-operative Society and in 1963 with Market Weighton and District Co-operative Society. To reflect this there was a change of name to the Hull and East Riding Cooperative Society. The Society's new flagship store in King Edward Street opened in 1965 and became known locally as the Skyline Department Store. In 1981 the Society ceased to operate as an independent concern and voted to become part of Co-operative Retail Services.