Cooperative history, photographically speaking

I mentioned previously that I’d sent in a photo or two for the photography exhibition of cooperative buildings being organised by the Rochdale Pioneers museum.  The exhibition is now up, and I dropped in earlier today to Toad Lane in Rochdale for the cheese-straws-and-cocktail-sausages-and-chat launch event.

As you’d expect, there’s an eclectic mixture of photos which have come in, ranging from images of the golden years of the Victorian cooperative period to the (perhaps somewhat tarnished) present day.  It’s good to be reminded about the way in which members’ pride for their cooperative societies in the early years was reflected in the fine architecture they commissioned.  In those days the coop was often much the most impressive secular building in many towns and villages, at least in the north of England heartlands. So there’s an inevitable sense of sadness to see some of these buildings photographed in their twenty-first century guise, boarded up and derelict.

The photos at Rochdale reflect not only the Victorian architecture but also the often very exciting art deco architecture chosen by cooperatives in the 1930s.  I’m pleased to see a photograph of  Huddersfield’s once-mighty coop department store, put up in the mid 1930s and now sadly awaiting the return of better times, in the exhibition for example.

The Pioneers museum at Rochdale remains an important place of pilgrimage for many cooperatively minded visitors from overseas.  Sometimes it gets rather less attention from British visitors.


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