Grace's Guide To British Industrial History

Registered UK Charity (No. 115342)

Grace's Guide is the leading source of historical information on industry and manufacturing in Britain. This web publication contains 163,457 pages of information and 245,911 images on early companies, their products and the people who designed and built them.

Grace's Guide is the leading source of historical information on industry and manufacturing in Britain. This web publication contains 147,919 pages of information and 233,587 images on early companies, their products and the people who designed and built them.

Co-operative Wholesale Society (CWS)

From Graces Guide
1919. Manchester.
1923. Garage of Newcastle-upon-Tyne.
1926. Manchester.
July 1931.
April 1936.


June 1936.
May 1949.
1949. LHS page.
1949. RHS page.
1951. LHS.
1951. RHS.
June 1953.
April 1955.
Dudley CWS Electric 'Popular' Vacuum Cleaner Cat No 6012 Serial No H3268.
Dudley CWS Electric 'Popular' Vacuum Cleaner Cat No 6012 Serial No H3268.

C.W.S of Balloon Street, Manchester. Telephone: Manchester, Blackfriars 1212. Cables: "Wholesale, Manchester". Branches at Newcastle-upon-Tyne, London, Bristol and Cardiff. (1947)


The Co-operative Group, the trading name of Co-operative Group (CWS) Ltd, is a United Kingdom consumers' co-operative, the world's largest consumer-owned business. Co-operative Group (CWS) Limited was formerly called the Co-operative Wholesale Society Limited.

1844 The Co-operative movement started with the Rochdale Pioneers. The original shop is preserved as the Rochdale Pioneers Museum.

1862 the New Providential Securities Act was passed, which made such national cooperative organizations legal.

1863 Twenty years after the Rochdale Pioneers opened their co-operative, the North of England Co-operative Society was launched by 300 individual co-ops across Yorkshire and Lancashire.

1864 The North of England Co-operative Wholesale Society was created to buy and manufacture goods for all the co-operatives.

The Co-operative Group formed gradually over 140 years, from the merger of many independent retail societies, and their wholesale societies and federations.

1868 Formation of the Scottish Co-operative Wholesale Society (SCWS).

By 1872, after the North of England was dropped from the title, the society became known as the Co-operative Wholesale Society (CWS), based in Manchester.

Retail societies had trouble transferring funds to Wholesale to pay for goods received. A "deposit and loan department" was set up in late 1872 to provide account services to its members.

1874 John Thomas Whitehead Mitchell became chairman.

After 1875, the CWS and SCWS cooperated in the purchase and shipment of foodstuffs from overseas.

1876 The law was changed about transfer of funds and the CWS Banking Department came into existence.

Late 1880s: the annual turnover of the CWS exceeded £6 million, its warehouse at Manchester was a small town, and it was administering nearly £1 million of funds in shares, loan capital, and reserve.

By the late 1890s the CWS employed 8407 people, working in the distributive departments and in the bank as well as in the productive works and services.

By the end of the 1930s, co-op factories were making wagons, barrels, furniture, bottles and jars, shoes, leather goods, caps, hats, shirts hosiery, ties and other garments, cattle feed for co-op cows, seeds for co-op farms, radios, rope and twine, cigarettes, candies, drugs, beef and poultry from co-op slaughterhouses, cutlery, biscuits and bread, jams and jellies, margarine and butter, and tea. The CWS milled the wool and cotton fabric that went into the clothing it manufactured. The CWS also ran a steamship line, and a print shop that produced a daily newspaper and labels for CWS merchandise. It operated a coal mine as well as an engineering department that designed and built the CWS’s facilities. Life insurance and banking services were provided to members as well.

WWII The CWS played its part: workers for the CWS sewed uniforms and made boots for soldiers. Co-op farms produced food that was canned in co-op canneries. Cooperative furniture factories turned to building gliders for the invasion of France. The factories manufactured parts for the De Havilland Mosquito [1]

1947 British Industries Fair Advert for: Domestic Textiles; Ladies', Maids' and Children's Wear; Men's Wear. Manufacturers of Ladies' Coats, Costumes, Gowns, Furs, Corsetry, Lingerie, Umbrellas, Handbags, Hosiery, Underwear, Men's, Youths', Boys' Ready to Wear Clothing, Shirts, Pyjamas, Hats, Raincoats, Dressing Gowns, Woollen Cotton Piece Goods, Handkerchiefs, Spinners. (Textiles Section - Earls Court, Ground Floor, Stands No. 284 and 285) and Manufacturers of Leather; All classes of Footwear and Slippers; Ladies' Handbags, Dressing Cases and Fancy Leather Goods; Travelling Requisites; also Brooms, Household, Paint, Toilet, and Tooth Brushes. Cutlery and Garden Tools. (Olympia, Ground Floor, Stands No. A.1299 and D.1660 and Earls Court, 1st Floor, Stands No. 149 and 466a) [2]

1969 Pulled out of the paint market and ran down its Derby factory; International Paint was contracted to supply paint for CWS[3]

1970 CWS bought into J. W. French and Co (owned by J. Lyons and Co), merging the milling and baking activities of the 2 companies[4]

Through the 20th century, smaller societies merged with CWS, such as the Scottish Co-operative Wholesale Society (SCWS) (1973), and the South Suburban Co-operative Society (1984).

An excellent account of the business history of the Co-operative Group was published in 2013[5]


See CWS Bell

Cycles and Motorcycles

Domestic Appliances

Food and Drink

Glass Containers

Iron Works

Radio and Television

  • 1953 Manufacturer of TV sets. of Manchester. [7]

Soap and other domestic products

See CWS Irlam Soap and Candle Works
See Co-operative Wholesale Society, Enfield


See Co-operative Insurance Society

See Also


Sources of Information

  1. Mosquito by C. Martin Sharp and Michael J. F. Bowyer. Published by Crecy Books in 1995. ISBN 0-947554-41-6
  2. 1947 British Industries Fair Advert 244; and p69
  3. The Times, Nov 17, 1969
  4. The Times, Oct 15, 1971
  5. 'Building Co-operation: A Business History of The Co-operative Group, 1863-2013' by John F. Wilson, Anthony Webster, Rachael Vorberg-Rugh, Oxford University Press, 2013
  6. Competition Commission [1] Glass works
  7. Choosing your Television Set. Published by Freelance in 1953.
  • Wikipedia [2]
  • Trademarked. A History of Well-Known Brands - from Aertex to Wright's Coal Tar by David Newton. Pub: Sutton Publishing 2008 ISBN 978-0-7509-4590-5
  • Biography of John Thomas Whitehead Mitchell, ODNB
  • [3] A short history