Valley co-operative pioneers are remembered at ceremony

Heden Royd Mayor Jonathan Timbers and guests  at the grave of Jesse Gray
Heden Royd Mayor Jonathan Timbers and guests at the grave of Jesse Gray

Two leading 19th century cooperative pioneers were honoured on UN International Co-operatives Day, in a ceremony held in Hebden Bridge.

The Mayor of Hebden Royd, Coun Jonathan Timbers, laid flowers on the graves of Jesse Gray, general secretary of the Co-operative Union from 1891 to 1911, and of Joseph Greenwood, one of the leading advocates of productive cooperation who established the successful Hebden Bridge Fustian Manufacturing co-operative in 1870 and led it until his retirement in 1909.

Both men are buried in Hebden Bridge’s Sandy Gate burial ground. “The co-operative movement contributed funds at the time for a handsome memorial for Jesse Gray, but Joseph Greenwood’s gravestone has fallen onto its side and was only identified with some difficulty earlier this year,” said Andrew Bibby, who organised the event in conjunction with local workers’ co-operative Valley Organics.

Andrew Bibby recalled that in the late 19th century Hebden Bridge was as well-known for productive cooperation as Rochdale was for retailing.

“A steady stream of eminent visitors, from Britain and from overseas, made their way to the fustian co-operative’s Nutclough Mill, to examine this venture in what was called worker self-employment,” he told participants at the event.

He also recalled how the first branch of the Women’s Co-operative Guild had been established in the town, in 1883.

In laying flowers on the two men’s graves, Coun Timbers stressed the relevance of the experiences of the early co-operative movement to present-day concerns for justice and fairness in the workplace.

The ceremony on July 5 was followed by a public meeting in the nearby Birchcliffe Centre, where speakers included Ruth Holtom of the Co-operative College, who described the growth of cooperative schools, Ben Oubridge of Valley Organics, and Chris Greaves of The Bakehouse bakery cooperative and the Fox and Goose cooperative pub.

The meeting agreed to establish a new Calderdale Co-operative Association linking cooperatives in the area, appropriately copying an initiative first taken by Joseph Greenwood and others in the area in 1871.