A History of Rochdale

As you drive along the A664, Edinburgh Way, on the outskirts of Rochdale, Lancashire, you pass under a blue railway bridge. The sign on the bridge welcomes you to Rochdale "birthplace of co-operation".

The town is famous around the world as the home of the co-operative movement, and it would be reasonable to assume that this is a town founded on harmony. The truth is that this co-operation did not come easily. In fact, it was only achieved after a tumultuous one hundred years of sometimes chaotic action during which the world order was forever changed.

The so-called "Rochdale Pioneers" opened their famous Co-operative shop on Toad Lane in 1844.

To observers in the 21st century, it might be easy to assume that this represented a stage in the development of the retail industry. In fact, it was an important step in the social and political change that was taking place throughout Europe, and in which the people of Rochdale can justifiably claim to be leaders.

In the period between 1750 and the opening of the shop on Toad Lane, three major forces were instrumental in bringing about change in Rochdale and across the country. These forces were the Industrial Revolution, the church, and the campaign for universal sufferage, the right, it must be added, for every male to vote in parliamentary elections.

As Shakespeare wrote in Julius Caeser, "There is a tide in the affairs of men which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune" and for Lancashire that flood was the Industrial Revolution and for some it was a time of great fortune. Rochdale was forever changed by this tide, but that isn't where its history began.