Co-operative Retail Services (Northern Region)

Scope and Content

Consists primarily of committee minute books, financial reports and balance sheets, member nomination books, records of the societies' Education Departments, press cuttings, photographs and some correspondence files. Also some miscellaneous items.

Administrative / Biographical History

The Co-operative Retail Services or CRS (Northern Region) along with the London and South East, Midland and South West regional branches began life in 1934 under the original title of the Co-operative Wholesale Society (CWS) Retail Society. It had two main purposes: firstly, either to assist struggling local retail societies or to take over those societies which had no future as independent units and no opportunity to amalgamate with a stronger neighbour, and, secondly, to further the development of co-operative trading in areas in which co-operative societies were not yet represented. Its formation was greeted with hostility by many members, who believed that the retail and wholesale operations of the Co-operative Movement as a whole should remain discrete and that joining the CWS Retail Society would entail the sacrificing of the Movement's central principle of democratic control by members. However, the Cardiff society was the first branch to transfer in 1936, marking the start of a slow but steady growth. The name was changed to the Co-operative Retail Services (CRS) in 1957. Its main business centres upon its extensive food retailing, non-food retailing (namely, the provision of household goods through its chain of department stores) and its provision of other services, eg travel shops, funeral services, financial and insurance services.

As the CRS grew, trading conditions became freer and the expansion of existing business and entry into new fields became possible. Not only failing or struggling societies applied to join; in addition, numerous societies which were successful in trade and membership, but which lacked capital to take advantage of the burgeoning post-war consumer market, sought to join the CRS as a springboard for future expansion. The CRS, however, remained unpopular and continued to attract considerable suspicion. A report of the Co-operative Registrar in 1988 questioned the status of the CRS as a bona fide co-operative society, with the result that the CWS and the CRS split from each other. During the 1990s, the CWS (which had more or less become a retailer by default) in fact overtook the CRS as the Co-operative's biggest retailer. The CRS, though large, began to run into operational difficulties. Finding it necessary itself to merge, and needing to do so with a similarly large society, it merged with the CWS in 2000, establishing for the first time a properly hybrid Co-operative and inaugurating a significant culture shift in the organisation. The CWS changed its name to the Co-operative Group (CWS) Ltd in 2001.


  • Redfern, Percy, The New History of the CWS (London: J.M.Dent & Sons Ltd, 1938)
  • Richardson, William, The CWS in War and Peace 1938-1976 (Manchester: CWS Ltd, 1977)


The records are divided into 3 areas: those records created by the CRS itself (CRS/1), those records which it inherited from the numerous societies which later merged to become part of it (CRS/2) and records collected from members as part of a CRS project in 1991 entitled Unlock those Treasures (CRS/3). CRS/2 is arranged alphabetically into series by name of society and thereafter into sub-series which reflect either the form of the records (eg Minute Books) or, on occasion, the activities to which they relate (eg Education Department).

Access Information

The collection is open to any accredited reader, subject to the requirements of the Data Protection Act 2018.

Some files in this collection are subject to Data Protection legislation as they contain sensitive information and material under 30 years old is closed to access. It is advised that you contact the Archivist before visiting.

Other Finding Aids

There exists a brief item list which accompanied the material when it was deposited.

Archivist's Note

Description compiled January- June 2009 with additional items added April- August 2012 by Adam Shaw, Archivist, National Co-operative Archive. Fond level description compiled by Rachel Foss Jan 2006.

Conditions Governing Use

Copies may be supplied for research purposes, subject to the completion of a declaration form. Please consult the Archivist regarding copyright issues.

Appraisal Information

The records of the Co-operative Women's Guilds have been catalogued seperately- reference number YCWG.

Custodial History

When local co-operative retail societies merged into the Co-operative Retail Services (CRS), their records were transferred and held at its Head Office at Sandbrook Park, Rochdale. This building was vacated when the CRS and the Co-operative Wholesale Society (CWS) merged in 2001. The material was deposited with the Co-operative College archive in May 2001. Additional smaller deposits of records have been added to this collection since 2001.

NCRS/2/16/2 and NCRS/2/18/5/3/3- collected from Sandbrook Park April 2013.


No further accruals are expected