Letters of Edward Vansittart Neale

Scope and Content

The collection comprises of letters from Neale to members of various co-operative societies.

Administrative / Biographical History

Edward Vansittart Neale was born in Bath on 2nd April 1810. His relatives included William Wilberforce, politician and leading abolitionist of the Slave Trade and Nicholas Vansittart, Chancellor of the Exchequer during the administration of Robert Jenkinson, 2nd Earl of Liverpool. Oliver Cromwell was also amongst his distant ancestors. Neale was raised an Evangelical Christian, and was educated at home by his father, the Rev. Edward Neale who was the rector of Taplow, Buckinghamshire. Evangelical Christianity was thus a great influence on Neale’s early life. However, in 1828, Neale entered Oriel College Oxford, where he was tutored by J. H. Newman, who later became Cardinal. Under Newman’s tuition, he gradually abandoned his evangelical beliefs, and with them, a career in the church. Instead he took up his studies at Lincoln’s Inn and became a Chancery Barrister, being called to the Bar in May 1837. In June of that year Neale married Frances Sarah Farrer, with whom he had two daughters, Edith and Constance and a son, Henry, also an active co-operator.

Neale’s law career was only moderately successful, as his interests lay elsewhere. He sought an alternative to evangelical Christianity and became interested in the works of German philosophers and French socialists. In 1850 Neale joined the Christian Socialists, and later became appointed to the Council of Promoters of that organisation. Christian Socialists believe that Christianity and socialism are interconnected and attempt to apply the social principles of Christianity to everyday life. Neale invested heavily in several co-operative ventures during this time, all of which failed resulting in him losing in excess of £40,000. However, in 1851 he founded the Central Co-operative Agency, a wholesale depot that was a forerunner of the Co operative Wholesale Society. In 1852 he founded the Co-operative League, which was composed largely of followers of Robert Owen. It was intended as a forum for co-operative ideas, and held regular public meetings, at one of which Owen himself gave an address. A publication, Transactions of the Co-operative League was produced in three parts in 1852.

Neale also took an active interest in the laws and rules guiding co-operative societies. In 1852 he aided in the passage of the Industrial and Provident Societies Act. The Act permitted the establishment of societies with the aim of raising a fund for any purpose, by voluntary subscriptions by members. The 1862 revision of the Act was also Neale’s handiwork, the passage of which led to the establishment of the Co-operative Wholesale Society and the Co-operative Congress. Neale was keen to bring uniformity and organisation to the Co-operative Movement, drawing up many editions of model rules for individual societies. In 1873 he became General Secretary of the Co-operative Union, a post he held until the year before his death.

In the years after 1873, Neale led a group that included George Jacob Holyoake, Thomas Hughes and Edward Owen Greening that wished to turn the movement away from its exclusive concern with retail co-operation. He also helped to establish many independent enterprises including the Agricultural and Horticultural Association and the Hebden Bridge Fustian Manufacturing Society. In 1875 he created the Mississippi Valley Trading Company to facilitate exchange of products. This venture failed but popularised British co-operative ideas in America, particularly the Rochdale model.

In 1885 Neale inherited the family estate of Bisham Abbey, Berkshire, however he remained in Manchester for the rest of his working life. He retired in 1891 and died a year later on 16th Sept 1892 and is buried in All Saints'Church, Bisham. He was survived by his wife and children.

The above information was taken from,Dictionary of Labour Biography Volume 1 Ed. Joyce M. Bellamy and John Saville (Macmillan, 1972) pp. 252-55


Arrangement is by provenance

Access Information

Open materials, can be viewed by prior arrangement:Monday to Friday, 10am to 5pm. Contact the Archivist at:  National Co-operative Archive Co-operative College Holyoake House Hanover Street Manchester M60 0AS Telephone 0161 246 2925 Email archive@co-op.ac.uk Website http://www.archive.co-op.ac.uk

Other Finding Aids


Archivist's Note

Catalogue compiled by Sophie Stewart, Project Archivist, October 2007.

Conditions Governing Use

Covered by copyright laws, a copyright declaration therefore needs to be completed.

Custodial History

The collection was given to the Co-operative Union Library in the 1970s, which is now part of the National Co-operative Archive.


None expected

Related Material

There are a number of pamphlets and lectures produced by Neale that are held at the National Co-operative Archive:

  • Report of a Meeting for the Establishment of the Central Co-operative Agency 1851).
  • Labour and Capital, A Lecture delivered by request of the society for promoting working-men’s associations (London: Edward Lumley, Holborn and J J Bezer, Fleet Street, 1852).
  • Letters on Associated Homes, between Colonel Henry Clinton and Edward Vansittart Neale (London: Holyoake & Co c. 1860).
  • The Principle of Unity; The Life of Co-operation (Manchester: North of England Co-operative Printing Society Limited, 1875).
  • Direct Trade Between Great Britain and the Mississippi Valley being a series of addresses and papers on that subject Hon. Thomas D. Worrall, E V Neale and others. (Manchester: North of England Co-operative Printing Society, 1875).
  • True Refinement: Being a Paper Read at a Meeting of The Rochdale Working Men’s Club (Manchester: Central Co-operative Board/Co-operative Printing Society 1876).
  • Associated Homes: A Lecture (London: Macmillan & Co, Manchester: Central Co-operative Board 1880).
  • Co-operative Faith and Practice - An address by Thomas Hughes and E. Vansittart Neale (Manchester: Co-operative Union Limited c. 1882).
  • Association and Education; What they may do for the people. An Address delivered at the Third Anniversary of the Beccles Co-operative Society (Copy) (Manchester: Central Co-operative Board 1882).
  • The Economic Aspect of Co-operation, A Paper (Manchester: Co-operative Union Limited,1883).
  • Economy and Trade Department, special question. What is the Social Condition of the Working Classes in 1884 as compared with 1857 when the First Meeting of the National Association for the Promotion of Social Science was held in Birmingham; and it what way can the Working Class best utilise their Savings? (A Paper read at the Birmingham Congress of the National Association for the Promotion of Social Science, September 1884).
  • The Central Board: Its Use, Work and Cost (Manchester: Central Co-operative Board 1885).
  • The Economics of Co-operation being Papers Read at Conferences at Wigan, Shipley and Runcorn (Manchester: Co-operative Printing Society Limited 1885).
  • Manchester Statistical Society, Social Aspects of Co-operation (London: John Heywood 1887).
  • The Principles of Rating applied to Co-operative Societies (Copy) (Manchester: Co-operative Union, undated).
  • The Distinction Between Joint-Stockism and Co-operation (Manchester: Co-operative Printing Society, undated).
  • What is Co-operation? (Manchester: Co-operative Union, undated).

The following are pamphlets on Neale written by others:

  • Edward Vansittart Neale and The Christian Socialists by W H R (London: Offices of Labour Association).
  • Notes to the People , Ernest Jones (London: J Pavey 1851)
  • Edward Vansittart Neale, His Co-operative Life and Work by H W Lee (Manchester: Co-operative Union 1908)
  • J M Ludlow and E V Neale: The Influence of the Christian Socialists on the Co-operative Movement Yuichiro Nakagawa (Bulletin of Institute of Social Science Vol 9 No 3 1986)
  • The Central Co-operative Agency and E V Neale’s Economic Theory, Yuichiro Nakagawa (Review of Economics and Political Science 1986)
  • Items EVN/1/1/1-4 include a letter dated 15th August 1979 from R Pike, Secretary of Congleton Co-operative Society to The Librarian of the Co-operative Union stating that these letters from Neale were found amongst the Society's papers and that they are forwarding them to the Co-operative Union. There is also a note from the Co-operative Union thanking the Society for their donation, dated 6 September 1979.
  • Item EVN/1/3/1 includes a letter dated 27th June 1978 to Mr N Sturgess from L C Fox, Assistant Chief Education Officer of the Co-operative Union, advising that Mr Sturgess send the letter to the Co-operative Union archives.

Materials held elsewhere:

  • Warwickshire County Record Office, UK – assignment of letters patent
  • West Yorkshire Archive Service, Kirklees, UK – Neale’s letters to George Thomson