Papers of William P. Watkins B.A. (Director of the International Co-operative Alliance 1951-1963)

Scope and Content

This collection of documents relates to William P. Watkins and his lifelong service to the Co-operative movement. Contained within is: a number of typed and handwritten drafts of his published book The International Co-operative Movement – Its Growth, Structure and Future Possibilities (1967);personal correspondence in the form of typed letters from Finland, Sweden and Germany; brochures, maps, informative letters and general information regarding the Manchester Conference (1979); a number of different documents and artefacts which relate to a personal diary or collection of memoirs from Watkins’ extensive career within the Co-operative.

Administrative / Biographical History

William P. Watkins was born in Plymouth, England in 1893 to a civil servant prominent within local and national Co-operative circles. His lifelong service to the advancement of the Co-operative movement is rivalled only by a few.

Originally training as a school master W. Watkins, like many during this era, had to put his career aspirations on hold due to the outbreak of World War 1. On the completion of his military service, William Watkins was awarded scholarship by the British Co-operative Union to study relations between consumer and agricultural Co-operatives. He continued his education in Ireland and in 1920 he would go onto put to use his early school master training by becoming a tutor at the Co-operative College.

In 1929, William P. Watkins joined the staff of the International Co-operative Alliance, which is where he would make his mark by completing a number of documents relating to Co-operative subjects including being a co-author of a Co-operation textbook. 1939, with Europe on the brink of yet another war that would impact the world, would see Mr Watkins join Reynolds News, the Co-op Sunday newspaper.

It wasn’t until after the Second World War in 1946 that Mr Watkins would be appointed by the British Government to become advisor on Co-operation to the military Government of Germany. Here he was able to assist in rehabilitation of the Consumers’ Co-operative Movement. This post was formally ended in the 1950 with the formation of the Federal German Republic. Mr Watkins would go onto complete another year in Germany at the request of the German Co-operative Federation – which contributed to him receiving of the Grand Cross of the Order of Merit in recognition of his services in 1959.

In 1951, Mr Watkins was appointed Director of the International Co-operative Alliance. Here he would stay and give excellent service until his eventual retirement in 1963. Since his retirement, he would go onto extensively speak and write about his experiences and vision for the Co-operative movement at home and abroad. This includes his book titled, The International Co-operative Movement – its Growth, Structure and Future Possibilities (1967). Initially, the book was scheduled for release in German by the Deutsche Genossenschaftsbank, Frankfurt-on-Main in 1969. A Swedish translation was later published by AB Raben and Sjogren, Stockholm in 1972. He passed away in 1995

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, Holyoake House, Hanover Street, Manchester, M60 0AS. Email:,

Acquisition Information

Transferred to the National Co-operative Archive from the Co-operative Union Library in 2000.

Archivist's Note

Description compiled by Luke Morris, Volunteer, May 2014.