|The Robert Owen Museum. Photo by "Indigo Goat" Some rights reserved|
Owen and the Co-op
Robert Owen remains relevant in the 21st Century and http://www.robertowen2008.coop/ is dedicated to the continuing impact of Robert Owen's ideas today. However one particular link has been of immense importance to maintaining the memory of Owen in Newtown and elsewhere and that is the Co-operative Society.
Robert Owen's vision was of a co-operative world and it has been mistakenly assumed that the early shops were not central to his ideas. His friend, William Lovett in his autobiography, indicates that this simplifies the truth:
"On returning from America he looked somewhat coolly at these 'trading associations' .... But when a great number amongst them were disposed to entertain many of his views, he took them more into favour, and ultimately took an active part amongst them."
Toad Lane, Rochdale was founded by Owenites and their aims were far more substantial than setting up co-op shops. The rules of the Rochdale Pioneers could have been drafted by Owen himself and included the ambition "...to arrange the powers of production, distribution, education and government... to establish a self-supporting home colony of united interests."
The respect and affection for Robert Owen from these Owenites and co-operators lasted long after his death. In 1858 Robert Owen's body was interred near his parents in the parish church. G H Holyoake and other co-operators, concerned that this modest grave was an inadequate memorial to the great man, arranged for a beautiful memorial to be erected. In 1902 it was opened on behalf of the Co-operative Society, by Holyoake and his funeral oration on the Co-op Archive website is a generous and loving account of Owen's life and work. See robert_Owen_Memorial_at_Newtown.pdf
The building now occupied by the Museum has this plaque outside:
"THIS PART OF THE BUILDING WAS ERECTED BY THE CO-OPERATIVE UNION ACTING ON BEHALF OF THE CO-OPERATORS OF THE UNITED KINGDOM TO THE MEMORY OF ROBERT OWEN, FOUNDER OF CO-OPERATION."
The ground floor was formerly occupied by the lending library until the museum moved here in 1983 - a very appropriate home.
Many people from the Newtown area, and farther afield, have helped to keep the museum open, but the Co-op has continued to contribute the largest yearly grant towards our running costs, including paying for this website. And we still have regular visits from co-operative members who come here to pay their respects to their founder.