Co-operative Societies of South Wales

Scope and Content

The material housed at Swansea University mainly consists of the records of co-operative societies located in South Wales, in particular the mining districts. The collection consists of minute books, correspondence, photographs (including reproductions of early photographs), leaflets, newspaper cuttings, reports and balance sheets, title deeds and other legal papers, various membership, staff and society papers, ephemera and some publications.

Administrative / Biographical History

The modern co-operative movement evolved from the activities of the Rochdale Pioneers in 1844. The basic idea was that each co-operative would run a shop which sold local produce and that each member of the co-operative had shares in the shop. The manufacturing of goods to sell would also provide employment for the co-operative's members. Co-operatives were not just economic in nature; there was also a social dimension. They could help members improve their own conditions and create a sense of community. Co-operative societies were owned and regulated by their members.

The Co-operative Wholesale Society Limited united all the individual co-operatives in a federation for the wholesale buying and manufacturing of goods. The North of England Co-operative Wholesale Society Limited was created in 1864 and the Scottish Co-operative Wholesale Society Limited in 1868. In 1872 the 'North of England' was dropped from the title of the organisation and the Co-operative Wholesale Society represented the whole of England, Wales, and Northern Ireland with its base in Manchester. It merged with the Scottish Co-operative Wholesale Society in 1973. The co-operatives became involved in a wide range of activities from printing and publishing to agriculture and piano manufacture. By the 1950's there were approximately 10 million 'co-operators' in the United Kingdom.

The Co-operative Union Limited is a federation of co-operative bodies including the Co-operative Wholesale Society and other co-operative bodies in the British Isles. It functions as a governing and advisory body, defining co-operative practice and spreading information throughout the co-operative world. It was established in 1869.

In 1934 the CWS Retail Co-operative Society Limited was set up with the purpose of establishing co-operatives in areas previously without them and for taking over societies which were experiencing difficulties due to adverse economic circumstances. In 1957 it was renamed Co-operative Retail Services Limited.

In 1883 the Women's Co-operative Guild was created. At first it was called the Women's League for the Spread of Co-operation. The Women's Co-operative Guild was set up to spread information on the purpose of co-operatives and their value to the community and the nation as a whole; it also promoted women and improved their standing in society.


The collection is arranged as Co-operative Society minutes; research files; and publications.

Access Information

Accessible to all researchers by appointment. Please note that some collections contain sensitive information and access may be restricted.

Acquisition Information

The Co-operative Group

Other Finding Aids

A catalogue is available at Swansea University Archives.

Archivist's Note

Catalogued by KJ Legg, 2008.

Conditions Governing Use

Usual copyright regulations apply.

Custodial History

The collection was brought together by members of staff of the Co-operative Group, and its preceding bodies, from various sources, including Co-operative Societies and individuals, during the 1980s when several societies were celebrating anniversaries.