Welcome to Part Two of the Co-operative Society blogs!
As discussed in Part One of the blog, in 1927 the Cwmbach Society merged with the previously amalgamated Aberdare and Trecynon societies, to create the Aberdare and District Co-operative Society.
This became a common occurrence over time, and by the end of the 1920s, all individual societies in the valley had merged to be part of the Aberdare and District Society. The Society grew, through these amalgamations with it’s neighbours, to become the largest society in South Wales and the ‘spiritual centre of co-operation in Wales.’
The Aberdare and District Co-operative soon grew a monopoly over the community’s everyday needs. These societies had substantial enterprises, run by local people for local people, and contributed considerably to the local economy. In 1934 a bakery opened.
By the 1950s, everything was provided by Co-op, from groceries to hairdressing, and even funerals. These services only continued to grow, including an abattoir, watch repairing and radio production.
In 1951, it recorded a network of over 20 branches throughout the valleys, bringing over 16,000 members. In 1953, the Aberdare Co-op held 45% of the retail trade for the valley! The successes continued and the society grew, and by 1960 the Aberdare Society had more than 180,000 members. By 1985, the turnover for the businesses exceeded £8 million.
The Society seemed to work in everyone’s favour. For example, without banks to keep savings safe, people invested their money into their local co-operative society, and this money helped to finance the business.
ACVMS 2011.23 (left) and ACVMS 1998.314 (right); Image of co-op workers producing prescriptions and glass slide advertising ‘prescriptions dispersed’ by Aberdare and District Co-operative Society
Not only did the Aberdare Co-op provide for the local economy, it also created great sense of community and social cohesion.
This was inspired by the Rochdale Pioneers, who encouraged the inclusion of education throughout all co-operative societies. The aim was the spread the message and spirit of co-operation through an educational lens. The Wheatsheaf newsletter, first issued by the Aberdare Workmen’s Industrial Co-operative Society in 1898, provided a regular record of the co-operative’s principles, objectives and merits.
By 1927, the Aberdare Co-op took over the production of The Wheatsheaf. This kept their members informed about products and services, educated on the history of co-operative societies and was also a good use of product advertisement.
In an issue produced in September 1927 the newsletter outlines the aims of the co-operative. Some included: ideal and practical movement, raising the standard of life, practicing the art of government and individualistic and social education.
The newsletter also encourages its members to spread the word of the impact of their work. The tagline of the newsletter reads in bold ‘when you have read the ‘Wheatsheaf’, don’t destroy it; pass it on to a friend or neighbour, especially a non-co-operator. Let them see what we are doing.’
Furthermore, the newsletter boasts the great social impact of co-operative societies, explaining:
‘Co-operation had taught the art of self-government and the acceptance of responsibilities. co-operation made for good citizenship, yet it asked nothing from the state but the freedom to develop.’
Decline in business
This success, however, was not invincible. There were multiple factors which impacted the longevity of the Aberdare and District society.
The miners strike of 1984/5 caused a change in the co-operatives spending habits. By helping the miners’ cause, the Aberdare society’s surplus began to decline, causing great detriment to their profits. Similarly, from the 1950s there were great changes in society and people’s expectations, partly due to technological developments.
By this time, small, independent societies found it increasingly difficult to compete with bigger market chains. By the 1960s, more people began shopping in out-of-town superstores which caused a decline in local business.
Although the Aberdare and District Co-operative experienced success into the 1980s, these long- and short-term changes were too significant to allow operational longevity.
In 1988, the Aberdare and District Society gave up its independent status and became part of the national chain of the Co-operative Retail Services Limited (CRS). The CRS reduced the number of local autonomous societies and concentrated on forming large regional societies.
In the same year (1988), the Rhondda Co-operative society joined the CRS. Sadly, this indicated an ending of the movement of independent co-operative retail societies in Wales, which had been successful for more than a decade.
Blog post written by Museum Assistant, Rhian Hall
This blog has been possible thanks to funding from National Lottery Heritage Fund
Did you see PART ONE of the blog? Find out how the Co-operative Societies came to be in Wales – FOLLOW THIS LINK!
- A Burge, The Co-Operative Economy in Wales, BBC https://www.bbc.co.uk/wales/history/sites/themes/society/industry-cooperative-economy.shtml#
- Swansea University Archives, Aberdare and District Co-operative Society https://archiveshub.jisc.ac.uk/search/archives/fe0b9c6d-5f6b-3e06-b87d-64cac2ebbb43?terms=%22Aberdare%20and%20District%20Co-operative%20Society%22
- The Rhondda Cynon Taf Library Service and Digital Archive, https://archive.rctcbc.gov.uk/home?WINID=1612170501205
- The Wheatsheaf newsletter, September 1927 (part of CVMT collection)
- Coalfield Web Materials, Co-op Community, http://www.agor.org.uk/cwm/themes/co-op/community.asp
- A Burge, ‘From Cwmbach to Tower’: 150 Years of Collective Entrepreneurship in the Cynon Valley, 1860-2010, Llafur, 2012 which profiles the role of Aneurin Davies
- A Burge, ‘Not Many of Us Know Our Own Strength: Exploring Early Co-operation in South Wales, Morgannwag, Vol LV, 2011
- A Burge ‘The Visual Culture of the Co-operative Movement in South Wales’, Glynn Vivian Friends Newsletter, April 2015 includes the banners you have in the Museum
- A Burge ‘Hidden In Full View’ The Co-operative Movement, the 1945-51 Labour Government and Questions for Welsh Labour History, Llafur 2016 highlights the role of Jack Bailey a major national figure who was originally from Miskin, Mountain Ash, as well as Aneurin Davie
- A Burge, 2014 William Hazell’s Gleaming Vision, Y Lolfa, (purchase here)