The birthplace of co-operation

Last week I took the kids to Touchstones museum in Rochdale, where amongst the exhibits on crossing the Pennines by foot/horse/canal/train/car, sending children to work in the mines, and famous Rochdalians (Gracie Fields, John Bright, err.. and some others), I saw these maps, taken from a Co-operative Wholesale Society booklet. Rochdale is, after all, the birthplace of the international Co-operative movement (although not according to some).

Apologies for picture quality, by the way. I was hoping I could buy these as postcards in the museum shop, but they weren’t there. Phonecam images will have to do.

Co-op Manchester

The first map shows Manchester, which, as we all know, is the centre of the universe, or it seems to be here at least. That great symbol of Mancunian stubbornness, the Manchester Ship Canal is shown, and I like how the label is written on the warehouses along the south bank of the canal, rather than trying to squeeze it onto the water. You can also see a steam train leaving the city, probably to symbolise the oldest passenger railway in the world.

I wasn’t sure whether the goods and services pictured around the edge of the map are particular to the towns they are connected to, or just a way to add a bit of interest to the design, but it turns out that Crumpsall is famous for its biscuits, people travel from miles around to see the famous Patricroft rope and twine, and Longsight appears to be the centre of CWS’s printing operation. I don’t think textiles and cotton weaving are restricted to Radcliffe though, they were prevalent throughout the whole area – Manchester wasn’t called Cottonopolis for nothing.

Co-op Liverpool

The next map shows the port of Liverpool and The Wirral, though the latter is notable only for a lighthouse and a tunnel leading to the big city (nowadays, it’s all golf courses and Premier League footballers). The sea has been painstakingly filled with a nice wave pattern – distinguishing it from the freshwater rivers and canals. There is not much else of interest shown here, apart from the Liver Building, some warehouses and goods, and the mouth of the ship canal. Perhaps, given the Co-op’s Lancastrian roots, and the long-running antipathy between Manchester and Liverpool, this area was deemed less important.

Co-op London

London: I remember when it was all fields around here. I couldn’t find a date on any of these pictures, but the cars in the Birkenhead tunnel look mid-20th century – late enough, certainly, for London to be more than a small cluster of buildings around St. Paul’s. Enfield, Lea Bridge, and Acton are marked as separate towns, though they are well within the Greater London conurbation nowadays. I consider everything within the M25 as “London” (though my parents, in Epsom, don’t get to vote for the mayor, so this isn’t strictly true), and these three places are all about half way out. Silvertown, a short distance down the Thames, is home to the Tate & Lyle sugar works, the City of London airport, and the Thames barrier. It is also well within the M25, so definitely counts.

Also shown are the CWS Reading print shop, boots from Bedford, chocolate from Luton, and non-Co-op-related tourist destinations Oxford (represented by Christ Church college, the Radcliffe Camera library, and A.N. Other dreaming spire), Windsor (whence came the less German-sounding name of our royal family) and the Chiltern Hills.

Co-op Newcastle

Finally, on to Newcastle, or, to be more precise, Pelaw, as most of the Co-op’s business seems to take place there. Also in the region: coal mining, North Shields fish market, cranemaking, and estates at Hetton & Holburn (not a vineyard as it looks like in the picture, but a farm estate). Local landmarks include the Tyne Bridge, and Hadrian’s Wall, which is shown passing through the city to its starting point at Wallsend.

I couldn’t tell how old these images were – they seem to belong in the heart of the industrial revolution, with all the steam trains, smoking chimneys, and warehouses, although the newfangled automobiles suggest they are more modern. Maybe they are supposed to be somewhat timeless, covering the entire history of an international organisation on the move.

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