Co-operative Century (Sheffield)

Other names

  • 100 Years of Democratic Progress: Rochdale Pioneers 1844–1944 Centenary

Pageant type


The centenary of the Rochdale Society of Equitable Pioneers

Jump to Summary


Place: City Hall (Sheffield) (Sheffield, Yorkshire, West Riding, England)

Year: 1944

Indoors/outdoors: Indoors

Number of performances: 2


7–8 July 1944

Presumably in the evenings.

Name of pageant master and other named staff

  • Pageant Master: Peach, Lawrence Du Garde
  • Producer, Director and Stage Manager: Laurie Lingard
  • Costumes and Wigs: W.A. Homburg and Co., Leeds
  • Lighting: G. Beardslay
  • Assistant Stage Manager: Laurie Lingard
  • Choir Directed by: E.H. Taylor

Names of executive committee or equivalent


Names of script-writer(s) and other credited author(s)

  • Peach, Lawrence Du Garde

Names of composers

  • Williams, Charles

Numbers of performers


Financial information

Object of any funds raised

All proceeds to the ‘Red Cross Prisoners Fund’.

Linked occasion

Centenary of the first Co-operative store founded in Rochdale.

Audience information

  • Grandstand: Yes
  • Grandstand capacity: 3000
  • Total audience: n/a

Prices of admission and seats: highest–lowest


Associated events

Exhibition: ‘A Century of Social Progress’ at City Hall, 3–15 July from 10am–6pm, admission free.

Pageant outline

Part I

Episode I. Trouble in the American Colonies and Revolutionary Fervour

We are first introduced to the pageant with news of the troubles in the American Colonies. Questions are being raised over to what extent Magna Carta is being followed and whom the MPs in Westminster serve—many of the same questions being raised in the colonies. Talks quickly turn revolutionary, and discourse breaks out with some remaining loyal to the king but with mutual hatred of Lord North. The scene then changes to the American Revolution with George Washington addressing the crowd on issues of freedom and liberty. Suddenly, George III and a group of English ministers appear, and the two Georges argue concerning their ideas of government. The argument ends with George III declaring war. With references being made to the English Civil War, much of the crowd seems inspired by the actions of the colonialists and their quest for liberty. We then see the entrance of a recurring character named ‘little man’ who questions the rousing speaker’s ability to unite the crowd.

Episode II. The Weaver’s

The crowd, off stage, are heard jeering and discussing while the main attention is focused on a weaver’s house. The weaver, in discussion with the speaker, expresses his disapproval with all the revolutionary talk and simply wants to be an honest man working an honest job. These words, however, antagonise the speaker who says that honest men have started and been involved in revolutions before. The weaver reaffirms his belief in there being a right and wrong way of doing things. The son expresses interest in joining his father and is keen to learn his skills; but he also wants to join in and sing the rebellious songs—he is not allowed to do so as his father says that men were put on the earth for honest work, not bad deeds. The ringleader then questions the weaver on not joining in with the revolutionary discussion. The talk then turns to the factories, and the weaver seems convinced by the newly entered owner’s argument that the new factories will provide employment for the many. The ringleader then challenges the factory owner over a variety of different issues including working conditions and pay. The owner then turns to the weaver and says he will see him at work at 5pm, but the weaver refuses as he has his own loom. The owner responds by cutting off his supply of wool, and so the weaver is forced to work for him in the factory, and to take his children to the workhouse as child labour. Whilst trying to protect his children, the weaver is shot.

The scene then changes to the French Revolution and the ‘Marseillaise’ is played. A characters named Desmoulins declares the individual’s liberty and freedom much like Washington did.

Episode III. The French Revolution

There is an aristocratic party in France, and King Louis XVI walks in. Soon after, Desmoulins disturbs the party, and the ‘citizens’ shout about equality after a scuffle breaks out.

The ‘little man’ returns, saying that though the violence brought an end to the ancien régime and Louis XVI, it also brought the arrival of Napoleon Bonaparte, and we are ‘worse off than ever’. He also notes that America is still essentially the same nation as under the British, with an elite controlling most aspects of life—the only difference being that, because they fought for liberty, they are blind to how they still have little. He points out that the high price of a bed (a major gripe for political campaigners) is down to Napoleon and the French Revolution.

Episode IV. The Luddites and Robert Owen

The episode begins with talks of the high price of bread and the mass starvation that is occurring and demands that the shops must be smashed and broken up to rectify the situations. The Luddites enter, who say that the breaking of shops would not be effective, and instead they should smash the machines in the factories as they are the root of the problem. As the crowed readies to attack the factories, the magistrate and soldiers move in to disperse them. After a brief exchange of words wherein the Luddite leader refuses to give in, the magistrate then reads them the Riot Act, and a fight breaks out between the soldiers and rioters where the crowd is violently removed from the stage. The socialist Robert Owen then walks in, and the children he has been educating perform a dance. They then turn to their lessons, which all focus on poverty, freedom and equality. Owen tells the crowd that the issues are not with the machines but with the social system and that is what needs to be changed. The clergy, MPs and capitalists all agree that Owen is a dangerous man and he should be removed from society.

Part II

Episode V. The Beginnings of the Co-operative

We are taken to Rochdale, and weavers are discussing setting up a co-operative after their last endeavour has failed. Howarth then comes up with a new idea that profits should be shared according to the amount of money spent/invested in the co-operative.

Another Corn Law protest approaches the town, and a speech is made by its leader, but the Chartists then arrive. There is obvious tension over the disagreements regarding the major social issues of the time.

‘Little man’ reappears and comments that they cannot agree on how best to resolve their issues. The speaker states that it is better for man to fight his friend than not to fight at all because it shows that he wants to fight for something he believes in.

Episode VI. The Co-operative Is Set Up

In a meeting of townspeople, the members agree on a committee and where and from whom they should rent the site of their new shop. Members raise a total of £28 capital and rent, and a rousing ‘England arise!’ is sung. They agree that their name should be the ‘Rochdale Pioneers’. The speaker emerges and asks whether these men have succeeded where the kings and ministers have failed, and a suggestion is made that the men’s way of peacefully trying to change the status quo is better than a violent way.

Episode VII. The Opening of the Shop

The scene opens with Dr and Mrs Dunlop, the owners of the shop that the Pioneers wish to rent, talking about the ongoing social issues; they are generally scornful about the working classes, saying they are asking for too much. They are then disturbed by the Pioneers, who offer a business proposal to Dr Dunlop. After some hesitation, because of the Pioneers’ previously precarious economic situation and their socialist beliefs, the Dunlops agree to rent them the lot on the understanding that advance payment of rent will be made, and that all the work of the shop must be carried out by the Pioneers. A Pioneer then enters with a pile of stock gathered from Manchester. Some members of the society are worried that the shopkeepers will not be happy with the endeavour and may use their power over the townspeople to stop it. Such fears come true when one shopkeeper threatens the wife of one of the Pioneers with the collection of her mother’s outstanding credit. He proceeds to threaten the rest of the town, but they refuse to give in to the shopkeeper’s demands. Another song, ‘Shop at the Co-op’, is played.

Episode VIII. Looking Back at the Success of the Pioneers

The scene recalls the early Pioneers. The last remaining Pioneers take a photograph together, one that is required as a prop and widely circulated amongst co-operatives. The scene is then revealed as being set 21 years after the founding of the Rochdale Pioneers, and the speaker reveals the great success of the co-operatives today. With 72.5 million members worldwide, the early Pioneers are lauded as true heroes of the cause, and it is stated that their methods are intrinsic to further social progress.

Key historical figures mentioned

  • Desmoulins, Lucie Simplice Camille Benoit (1760-1794) French journalist and politician
  • Washington, George (1732–1799) revolutionary army officer and president of the United States of America
  • George III (1738–1820) king of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, and king of Hanover
  • Bonaparte, Napoleon (1769-1821) French military and political leader
  • Owen, Robert (1771–1858) socialist and philanthropist
  • Bright, John (1811–1889) politician
  • David Brooks (1802/3–1882) Rochdale pioneer
  • James Daly (1811/12–1849) Rochdale pioneer
  • James Smithies (1819–1869) Rochdale pioneer
  • William Mallalieu (c.1796–1863) Rochdale pioneer
  • Miles Ashworth (1792–1868) Rochdale pioneer
  • Charles Howarth (1814–1868) Rochdale pioneer
  • Samuel Ashworth (1825–1871) Rochdale pioneer
  • John Holt (1777/8–1852) Rochdale pioneer
  • Cooper, William (1822–1868) promoter of the co-operative movement
  • William Taylor (1813/14–1854) Rochdale pioneer
  • Holyoake, George Jacob (1817–1906) freethinker and co-operator
  • James Tweedale (1818–1886) Rochdale pioneer

Musical production

Music apparently recorded by the Queen’s Hall orchestra under Charles Williams.
Choir: Members of the Victoria Hall Choral Association and the Sheffield and Ecclesall Co-operative Choral Association, trained and directed by Mr E. Taylor.

Newspaper coverage of pageant

The Producer-Consumer
The Co-operative Review

Book of words

Peach, Lawrence du Garde. Co-operative Century: A Pageant of the People. Manchester, 1944.

This was the text used for all performances of Co-operative pageants.

Other primary published materials

  • 1944 Co-operative Centenary Year. Programme. Sheffield, 1944.

References in secondary literature

  • Burton, Alan. The British Consumer Co-operative Movement and Film, 1890s–1960s. Manchester, 2005. At 35.
  • Flanagan, Desmond. 1869–1969: A Centenary Story of the Co-operative Union of Great Britain and Ireland. London, 1969. At 92.
  • Wallis, Mick. ‘Pageantry and the Popular Front: Ideological Production in the Thirties’. New Theatre Quarterly 10, no. 38 (1994): 132–156.

Burton and Wallace refer to the Co-operative pageants in general rather than specifically the Sheffield one.

Archival holdings connected to pageant

  • Sheffield Local Studies Library: Copy of programme. MP 3866 S.

Sources used in preparation of pageant



The Co-operative Centenary Pageant 1944, or Co-operative Century, was created to commemorate the hundred-year anniversary of the inception of the Rochdale Society of Equitable Pioneers. It was written by Lawrence Du Garde Peach, a playwright and author of national repute and a Sheffield native, known especially as a pioneer of radio drama. He was also enthusiastic about community amateur dramatics, having started a company of thespians in Great Hucklow in 1927; he thus claimed that Co-operative Century was ‘a Pageant of the People, presented by the people, for the people’. It was performed in one hundred different places by 150 Co-operative societies and was thus a major element of the movement’s centenary celebrations.

Peach had previously organised the Sheffield Centenary Pageant in 1943 and the Sheffield Pageant, Tomorrow: A Pageant of Youth (December 1944). He went on to organise the 1948 Sheffield Pageant of Production. The Sheffield Co-operative Society began in 1865 at 127 Devonshire Street, followed by the Ecclesall Co-operative Society in 1874. The two merged to become ‘The Sheffield and Ecclesall Co-operative Society’ in 1907, and by 1925 the city was running 29 grocery branches, 16 butchers, 6 boot and drapery premises and 8 boot repairing factories.2 A.V. Alexander, who introduced the Pageant, had been the MP for Hillsborough since 1922 and was currently serving as First Lord of the Admiralty.3 Alexander was in fact one of nine MPs at the time who were members of both the Labour Party and the Co-operative Party (the latter which increased its parliamentary represented to 23 at the 1945 General Election). The two parties had worked together since 1927, their alliance serving to bring co-operative ideas about economics and society into the fold of the mainstream Labour movement.4 Co-operative relations with the Labour Party were occasionally fraught: for instance, many Co-operative societies were wary of widespread nationalisation and state-ownership, preferring their model of collective worker control, and the far larger Parliamentary Labour Party often ignored the Co-operative Party. Nonetheless, in 1937 Atlee had remarked that ‘the strength of the Labour Movement will be enhanced by a frank recognition of the different functions of its various organisations, and by a ready spirit of mutual understanding.’5 While there are currently (June 2016) 24 Labour and Co-operative MPs, 8 (out of 25) London Assembly Members and 9 Welsh Assembly Members, co-operativism remains a limited voice in national politics.6 Nonetheless, the Co-operative Group continues to fund its party (and indirectly the Labour Party) to the tune of £625000 in 2014.7

While Co-operative shops are still prominent in Sheffield, which in 2006 had 35 grocery shops, six travel agents, four petrol stations and seven funeral parlours, increased competition and financial mismanagement, coupled with the Financial Crisis, caused the city’s iconic Castle House department store to close in January 2008.8 The Grade II listed building, which was listed in March 2009 to prevent it from demolition, remains empty today as a testament to the glories and failures of the local Co-operative movement. While many pageants, such as Co-operative Century, chose to look back at their history as a means of emphasising the present and to project a bright future, a pageant did not guarantee the teleological progression of a movement.

See also the entry for the Co-Operative Century Pageant held in Plymouth and Manchester.


  1. ^ Outline and Synopsis done by Tom Davis.
  2. ^ Steven Thompson, ‘A History of Co-operatives in Sheffield’, accessed 4 May 2016,
  3. ^ David Howell, ‘Alexander, Albert Victor, Earl Alexander of Hillsborough (1885–1965), Politician and Co-operator’, in Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, accessed 4 May 2016,
  4. ^ Thomas F. Carbery, Consumers in Politics, a History and General Review of the Co-operative Party (Manchester, 1968).
  5. ^ Clement Atlee, The Labour Party in Perspective (London, 1937), 71, quoted in Nicole Robertson, ‘“A Union of Forces Marching in the Same Direction”: The Relationship between the Co-operative and Labour Parties, 1918–1939’, in The Foundations of the British Labour Party: Identities, Cultures and Perspectives, 1900–39, ed. Matthew Worley (Farnham, 2009), 229–230.
  6. ^ The Co-operative Party, accessed 4 May 2016,
  7. ^ ‘Co-op Group to Continue Funding Political Parties’, BBC News, 16 May 2015, accessed 4 May 2016,
  8. ^ ‘City Centre Co-op Closure Shock’, Sheffield Star, 11 January 2008, accessed 4 May 2016,

How to cite this entry

Angela Bartie, Linda Fleming, Mark Freeman, Tom Hulme, Alex Hutton, Paul Readman, ‘Co-operative Century (Sheffield)’, The Redress of the Past,