Andrew Bibby


 

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All Our Own Work

The co-operative pioneers of Hebden Bridge and their mill

 

 

Published June 2015

What the Rochdale Pioneers were to consumer co-operation, the pioneers at the Nutclough fustian mill in Hebden Bridge were to producer co-operation – or so early leaders of the British co-operative movement often maintained.

Driven by a desire to create their own employment under their own control, the fustian weavers, cutters and machinists in this small Pennine town developed a successful business which employed over 300 women and men at its peak and ran for almost fifty years, every year a profitable one.

But creating, almost for the first time, a new way of working wasn’t always easy. There were debates on how to share the rewards of the business, and on how much power those who provided the capital should be given. There was discussion on appropriate management and governance structures. There were dilemmas to face: should the mill produce quality products or poorer goods that sold better?

Hebden Bridge’s fustian co-operative contributed leaders to the national co-operative movement and to the emerging movement for workers’ education. Its central figure Joseph Greenwood was involved in the creation of the International Co-operative Alliance.  Women associated with the co-operative set up in Hebden Bridge the first branch of the Women’s Co-operative Guild in the country.

This engrossing account of a worker-run business is the first significant study of early producer co-operatives in Britain for over a century. The lessons learned in Hebden Bridge are still relevant today for all who seek to find new ways of working and alternative forms of business.

"As co-operatives and mutuals return to the top of the economic, political and social agenda world-wide, the Hebden Bridge Pioneers need remembering alongside  their Rochdale contemporaries. This is a wonderful, timely celebration of their achievements, and  their contribution to modern debates within the wider co-operative movement. Bibby's book is essential reading." - Prof Stephen Yeo

"This is not just a readable and fascinating history but also a well-timed account of dilemmas that new co-operatives still have to face, especially those in the worker co-op sector and in the various hybrid co-operatives that have emerged in recent years" - Spokesman

"A history so worth the telling... Bibby is to be congratulated on providing a carefully researched, organised and contextualised history" - NW Labour History Journal

 "This is a wide-ranging work of scholarship, based on extensive research in both archives and printed sources which are fully listed at the back in a comprehensive bibliography. There are also 22 black and white illustrations and a detailed index. The book was written out of the author’s interest in contemporary endeavours in co-partnership and worker co-operation in an effort to teach such people their own forgotten history, but it is of far wider significance as a community study of a remarkable Pennine mill town and its contribution to the history of co-operation and other movements to enhance the economic, social and intellectual position of working people." - Family and Community History

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