Letters of Edward Vansittart Neale

Archive Collection

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

Conditions Governing Access

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:

The following are pamphlets on Neale written by others:

Materials held elsewhere:

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