It was at the Royd Edge Mill, owned by Joseph Hirst, Esq., J.P., fancy woollen manufacturer, mentioned in the previous chapter, where the initiative meeting was held. Mr. Hirst was a man who took a deep interest in the welfare of his workpeople. He was a generous employer. He fostered and assisted any movement on the part of the men which made for their betterment and tended to uplift them mentally, morally, or financially. It came to his notice that it was the desire of the men in his employ that a Co-operative Society should be formed. He was at once interested in their desires, and called a few of his foremen together. Having discussed the matter with them he gave them instructions to call a meeting of the whole of the workmen.
These instructions were carried out and a meeting was held. Mr. Charles Brook Hirst, father of Mr. Jonas Brook Hirst, who is a notable and highly respected citizen in the village at the present time, was voted to the chair. Matters relating to the formation and carrying on of a Co-operative Society were discussed freely and from every point of view, and a resolution was proposed, seconded, and carried with great enthusiasm that a Co-operative Society be formed and established in the village of Meltham. Forty names of persons desirous of joining the Society were handed in at that meeting. The success attending the meeting augured well for the future welfare of the Society.
The following officials were appointed to carry out the constructive work required preparatory to commencing business:— President, Mr. John Crosland Hirst; Secretary, Mr. Joseph Hirst (Mr. Thomas Dearnley acting as Secretary for first quarter only); Treasurer, Mr. William Haigh; Committee, Messrs. Charles Brook Hirst, Abm. Woodhead, Thomas Dearnley, George Wood, George Pogson, and John Allen Wood. Mr. J. C. Hirst (President) was, father to Mr. William Hirst, who is at the present time Secretary to the Colne Vale Corn Millers’ Society, Slaithwaite.
The construction of rules, acquiring of share and loan capital, selecting of premises suitable for carrying on the business, supervising alterations, and attending to all the requirements of a Society in its initial stages were carried out by these men with great zeal and determination. A good response was made to the appeal for share and loan capital. One gentleman, Mr. Joseph Hartley, who took a deep interest in the venture, proffered the loan of £200, this loan being negotiated on a promissory note, of which the following is an exact copy:—
Suitable premises for business operations were met with at the bottom of the village, at the place occupied at the present time by Mr. J. H. Preston, painter and paper-hanger, and formerly the old-established firm of Messrs. Joseph Preston & Sons. Numerous alterations were required to make them adequate for carrying on a grocery business. When these were completed, Mr. Townend, who had been appointed as first Manager, was deputed, along with Mr. George Wood (Committee-man), to go to Manchester to purchase all the necessary internal fittings.
In the month of July, 1861, all was in readiness for the transaction of business, and on the 27th day the Meltham Industrial Co-operative Society Limited, trading in the name of Messrs. William Haigh & Co., opened their premises to the members and the general public. There was no display, no demonstration. Like the old Pioneers, when opening their shop in Toad Lane, Rochdale, the opening ceremony was simply a taking down of the shutters.
An innovation of this kind was not likely to be passed over without, at least, if not open hostility, criticism and comment, and also prophecy as to the Society’s future fate, many of its supporters having their misgivings, and its enemies prophesying its failure at no distant date.
These prophecies, however, proved false, and to-day, through the strenuous efforts of men true to their principles, we see a flourishing and prosperous Society, financially strong, and a credit to the Co-operative movement.