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This is a draft and is rather thin as I have found few sources. Please do contact me on if you have further information or corrections

The Ringstead Co-operative Societies

Britannia Co-operative Society Ltd. (1895 – 1897)

The decades at the end of the Nineteenth Century were a difficult time for the military shoemakers of Northamptonshire. There was a constant downward pressure on piece rates and there were disputes and the rise of the trade unions partly as a response. Unemployment was high in the years either side of the turn of the century so that the 1911 Census has “Unemployed” beside the occupation of many shoemakers in Ringstead. Only the Boer Wars and the First World War provided some respite but with the peace hard times returned for the handsewn men.

The end of the Nineteenth Century was also a great time for the development of the Co-operative Movement. Some working men, who still had the means to do so, had both the political belief and the financial incentive to band together to gain greater reward for their labour. The men and women of Ringstead were not natural trade unionists, wanting to keep their independence and not wanting to answer to either to master or union. They had been criticised by men from the factory-based areas for undercutting prices and not working to the set hours and conditions that the unions were fighting for. The homeworkers of Ringstead worked long or short as they pleased and many were helped by their families to make a living. The women particularly were a vital part of the workforce and some could manage to support a family in a way that few other female workers were able.

Times got harder for the handsewn men, however, as the factory made boots and shoes and simplified production methods produced cheaper footwear, albeit of an inferior quality. The factories came to Raunds, although often employing some outworkers. The Co-operative system would have seemed a way of retaining their independence while still sharing a greater part of the profits.

In 1894, Benjamin Jones wrote in “Co-operative Production” that in 1892 “boot and shoe manufacturing societies were started at Higham Ferrers, Desborough, Rothwell, Ringstead, Hackney and Leicester”. There is no clear evidence which society this Ringstead factory was, and it is possible that it was the Unity Co-operative Society but there is no sign of it in Kelly’s Directories until 1906 so it seems probable that this refers to the Britannia Co-operative Society.

In 1892 John Turner Stockburn, a Kettering Justice of the Peace and an important member of the local Liberal Party, purchased a large tract of land on the east side of the Denford Road. He divided this up into small building plots and put them up for sale for houses and factories. How far this was a money-making scheme and how far a genuine attempt to provide good houses for the aspiring working classes is difficult to tell. Certainly the Northampton Mercury which supported the Liberal cause painted it in this latter way.

In the 30th September 1892 edition the Mercury writer hints:

There is a good chance here, I fancy, for some enterprising shoe manufacturer to make a paying move.

 By 14th September 1894 the newspaper could report:

Ringstead is full of hard-headed, sensible working-men, for the most part Liberals, who have long been anxious for their village to take its proper position as one of the busiest centres of the shoe industry in the Northern Division, but their ambition was crippled by the lamentable want of more desirable dwellings suitable for modern requirements and the absence of any effort to provide them. But about two years ago an estate, healthily situate on the slope of a hill on the Denford-road was on the market and, on the representation of the Ringstead people, Mr. J.T. Stockburn purchased the land.

. . . I am told that there is a strong probability of a shoe manufactory being built upon the estate. If that comes about, my Ringstead friends will have cause for much rejoicing, for it means that they will have gone a long way towards realising their hopes.

On April 5th 1895 the following advertisement appeared in the Wellingborough News:

TO LET or FOR SALE at Ringstead (a Station on Northampton and Peterborough Railway), a Newly-built SHOE FACTORY, rent £25 per annum.

Apply to Mr. WALTER SAWFORD, Ringstead.

This appeared in the small ads several times but on 15th October 1895 the factory was opened in the name of the Britannia Co-operative Society Ltd as the roundel in the front wall proclaimed.

The building is of white brick with red facings and altogether is a most convenient structure. The committee of the society generously invited the members and members’ wives along with other work people to an excellent cold collation in the factory at four o’clock.

{Note other sources indicate that Britannia started in 1891 or 1892 so it may have been formed then, as stated by Benjamin Jones, and decided to move into the new factory some three years later]

There were the usual speeches and the contracting builder, Mr. H. Lovell of Raunds thanked the Society for placing confidence in his abilities. This seems to imply that the Britannia Society ordered the building of the factory but this does not square with the advertisements placed by Walter Sawford. In the later, 1901 Census, Walter Sawford’s occupation is shown as “manager – boot and shoe”. Was this in the successor to the Britannia or in a third factory in the village? At the moment it is still unclear.

After the opening there were the usual series of songs and recitations, that were a part of most events at the time, followed by dancing into the small hours.

We do get some idea of who the people behind the Co-operative were because, before the festivities, there was a toast which was answered by Mr. J.E. Abbott, Secretary, Mr. R Child[s] and Mr H. Adams, president. Because of the lack of other evidence we cannot be sure who the latter two men are. There are two possible R Childs and the only Mr H. Adams I have found was only in his mid twenties at the time and perhaps too young to be president. It could be that it was a Henry Watts Adams from Kettering who would have been a comparatively wealthy figurehead. Unfortunately we must leave it there. There is a little more certainty about J.E. Abbott because there seems to be only one candidate so we will briefly look at him.

Jabez Ebenezer Abbott was baptised on 26th August 1852 in Ringstead Parish Church. He was the son of George and Elizabeth (or Betsy). His father had been born in Ringstead and was a shoemaker but Elizabeth was from Southoe in Huntingdonshire. On 28th December 1867, aged just 38, George was buried and by 1871, at eighteen, Jabez was the breadwinner, still living with his widowed mother. Lodging with them was William Abbott, a young agricultural labourer and William Watts, Elizabeth’s seventy-eight year old father.

Jabez married Ann Maria Bull, from Thrapston in 1871 and soon had a child, George, named after his grandfather. It seems that soon after the birth the family moved to Brooksby in Leicestershire for Eliza was born there in about 1875. They soon returned for Mabel was born in Ringstead just two years later. Brooksby is known as a deserted village and it mainly consisted of the Hall, which still stands today. Did Jabez try working as a servant or estate worker?

By 1881 the family are back in Ringstead living in the Sivers [spelling varies] Building in Carlow Street. By 1891 Jabez is still a shoemaker living with Ann Maria, who is some eight years his senior and their five daughters. The eldest two are “boot upper closers”.

It must have been at about this time that Jabez, together with some other handsewn men decided to get together to form the Britannia Co-operative. We do not know how they managed to get together the expertise and finance to organise and set up the new business. The opening would have been a heady time for all of them with the brand new factory. Unfortunately it was not the right time for such an enterprise, especially for men with few resources to fall back on in hard times.

The Boer War at the end of the century, and later, the First World War, did provide some temporary respite for the military boot makers, but they came too late for the Britannia men.

On 30th December 1896 there was a meeting of the creditors of the Society followed on the 17th February 1897, by an application to the Northampton County Court for the voluntary winding-up of the Society under the supervision of the court. By April the building, machinery and stock were being auctioned by J.J. Coulbeck at the Bull Hotel, Irthlingborough. Although it is not completely clear, it appears that the Society had purchased the freehold of the factory, and perhaps this imposed a financial burden that it could not sustain.

The auction details do give us a good idea of what the factory had inside it:

Three Floors with a large storeroom in the roof, is exceedingly well built, and has a frontage to Thrapston-road of 147 feet and to Gladstone-road of 89 feet and covers an area of 918 square yards or thereabouts.

The advertisement also lists the leather and other materials used in the making of the boots and shoes and we see a little into the complexity of the craft:

75 pairs Paul’s grain hides, 50 best Army grain hides, 20 heavy English, 14 cwt. [hundredweight] H.S. and M.S. shoulders, 10 cwt. Kip aides, waxed kips. Lining bellies, six bundles welt pieces; calf, kip and basil offal;; Army split sides &c.

There followed a long list of tools and machinery:

One open press (by Salmon and Co.). eight sets of Army knives; insole, sole, waist, and clump ditto; six stiffening ditto; three lift ditto; two shank ditto and H.S. Army sole knives and weighing machine up to 5 cwt. (By Day and Millward); hand barrow (new); one splitting machine, one eyeletting ditto, one skiving ditto and one rivetting ditto (by Salmon and Co.); one punching machine and three sets of plates and one eyeletting ditto (by Phipps and Son); three American cutting boards, three portable stoves, (piping and stands), grindstone in iron frame, eight deal counters, 24 large punching hampers and work baskets, seven hanging lamps with opa {CHECK} tops &c. &c.

What we see are the tools of a typical Victorian craft with many, very job specific, hand tools and small hand machines. We are most used to seeing this specialised diversity in the Victorian kitchens of stately homes.

The great experiment of the Ringstead men to take control of their own working lives in a brand new factory lasted little more than a year. What happened next to the people who put their money into the Society and to the new factory?

Jabez in 1901 was still a shoemaker and his five unmarried daughters are all boot closers. On July 26th 1909 aged fifty-seven, Jabez was buried in the cemetery where his gravestone still stands. Ann Maria, his widow, lived on to be eighty-six years old, and she is buried beside her husband.


Ringstead Unity Co-operative Society Ltd.

There was another Co-operative Boot and Shoe factory in Ringstead which lasted much longer than the Britannia but there seems even less evidence of it production and passing. I have not found when it started and the first evidence that I have found of it is in the 1906 edition of Kelly’s Directory of Bedfordshire, Huntingdonshire and Northamptonshire where it is listed as:

Ringstead United Co-operative Society Ltd.

In the 1909 and 1910 Directories this is amended to:

Ringstead Unity Co-operative Society Ltd.

We know that the factory was in Ringstead High Street. On the 26th April 1909, in a Hansard report of a House of Commons debate a list of contractors for Army boots and shoes included, for ankle boots, eight from Raunds and also the Unity Co-operative Society from Ringstead. Out of a total of sixteen for ankle boots only one, from Bristol, came from outside Northamptonshire. There were no other contractors from Ringstead although outworkers would almost certainly have collected and taken back outwork to the Unity and also to Raunds’ factories.

The 1910 Directory lists a Francis Harry Chapman as the manager for the Unity Co-operative Society. Francis was born at the end of 1871 but baptised in Ringstead on June 11th 1872, the son of Charles Henry and Dinah Amelia Chapman. Surprisingly, when Charles, who was a carpenter and joiner, moved with the family to Northampton, Francis did not go with them. Instead he remained with his uncle and aunt in Ringstead. Daniel Clarke Warren was married to Eunice Knight who was the sister of Francis’s mother. We learn from the 1911 Census that Daniel and Eunice had no children of their own born alive and it may be that this is why they seem to have brought up Francis as their own.

He married local girl, Ida Ellen Cobley, in 1894 and the 1901 Census finds the couple living near the Black Horse in Ringstead High Street with their children Alex Cecil aged five and Grace who is just five months old. By 1911 Francis and Ida now have three sons and a daughter and in the Occupation column is written:

Manager Unity Co-operative Society Ltd. Contractors to H. M. Government for Boots and Shoes

Their eldest son, Alex, at fifteen years old is already a clicker, one of the most skilled crafts in the shoemaking process.

Soon the First World War came and provided work for the factory. We also see that shoemaking was a vital part of the war effort and the Unity Co-operative, along with other factories went to tribunals to ask to retain men who otherwise would be conscripted into the army. At the Local Tribunal for exemption from military service in 1918 there was an application for five men from the Unity Co-operative. We know that Unity boots were used by soldiers at the front. Peter E. Hodgkinson tells us of the exhumation and attempted identification of bodies after the War and gives one description of one grave:

Exhumed a grave found in a wood between St Marguerite and Missy. This grave contained an unknown British soldier wearing boots made by UNITY CO-OP SOCY LTD RINGSTEAD 1913. The remains were found in a swamp and had to be recovered from a foot of water. Nothing by which the remains could be identified could be found.

The Unity Co-operative did have men who either decided to go or were forced to go to the front. One of these was Evelyn Wood who was born in Raunds in 1886 but was employed at the factory. He was married with four children but enlisted with the 12th Battalion East Surrey Regiment. Tragically he was killed 3 September 1918 just months before the end of the War and was buried at Wytschaete in Belgium and his name is on the Ringstead War Memorial.

In the early hours of one Tuesday morning in the 1920s M Mayes, a widow noticed from her bedroom window that the Unity Factory was on fire. She opened the window and cried “Fire”. Henry Giddings, living nearby, hear her and went out into the High Street and discovered that the whole top floor of the factory was alight. Parker, the local police constable, arrived soon after by which time the fire had reached the ground floor. Bernard Kemp, the manager of the Unity came and hurried off to Thrapston Police Station and asked Inspector Baxter to call out the fire brigade. Unfortunately the Thrapston Brigade had no horses available so Kemp returned to Ringstead, followed by Baxter on his bicycle. In the meantime the Raunds Brigade had been called but they had no fire engine available and when Thrapston was telephoned they would not come as Ringstead was outside their district.

The newspaper report states that even if a fire engine had arrived there was no water supply available. One can imagine the locals standing at a safe distance and just watching the factory burn itself out. It seems that there had been some very warm weather which made life on the top floor, which was the office and clicking department, extremely hot to work in. It was surmised that the leather stocks had “spontaneously combusted” causing the fire. The factory was gutted, as the photograph below shows and it was estimated that £20,000 worth of damage had been caused although this was covered by insurance.

The factory was rebuilt but it seems that soon after this the Unity Co-operative Society finished trading.

What happened to the two factories after the demise of the Co-operatives? Kelly’s Directory of the Leather Trades for 1922 only lists Thomas Childs as a Boot and Shoe Maker but it does list two companies as “Boot and Shoe Heel Makers – Leather”. They are:

Collins & Co.

Fox A. E. & Co. Ltd.

The two factories were not the only ones in Ringstead for there was a t least one more at the bottom of the Denford Road which became a corn store. There is much more to be found out about the two Co-operative enterprises which came into being just before the small factories of the Raunds and Ringstead area began to be threatened by depression in the military boot and shoe industry and the larger factories of Northampton and Leicester. Now, none remain working and the buildings are making way for houses.


Ringstead Distributive Co-operative Society

[ At present there is some repetition with the piece on the bakers]

If you talk about “The Co-op” most older people will think of a local shop. It still retains some of its original purpose of giving working people a chance to buy unadulterated foodstuffs at a proper price but perhaps some of the fervour of those early days has gone. Like democracy and Local Government ordinary people saw it as a way of taking control of their own lives. We now look to the law of contract.

The Co-operative movement probably started in Scotland in the eighteenth century but it was the Rochdale Pioneers who were the first successful example of working people getting together to set up a jointly owned shop . From the start it was also a political movement and we can see this from a meeting of the Kettering District Cooperative Association at Desborough in October 1884:

Mr. Scotton, who was enthusiastically received, gave an instructive speech on how working men, by taking affairs into their own hands, might provide for themselves, and the good co-operation has done for the whole of the working classes throughout the whole country. 

The Desborough Co-operative Stores had started in 1864 so it is perhaps surprising that Ringstead did not form its own Co-operative Stores, which included a bakery, until 1894.

In fact there is some confusion over the start date for the Ringstead Co-operative Society for the Sessional Papers of the House of Commons for 1902 state that it was established in 1884. On the 29th July 1902, however, the Society held its 32nd quarterly meeting which seems to indicate that it started in the summer of 1894 which other evidence seems to confirm was the correct date. We do know that it was originally in rented premises with a bakery in an adjacent separate building.

The Northampton Mercury reported on Friday 28th July 1899 that there had been a Wellingborough and District Co-operative Society Conference which had been held at the Ringstead “National School” on the previous Saturday. Some sixty delegates had been present, from Wellingborough, Kettering, Desborough, Market Harborough, Raunds, Irthlingborough, Wollaston, Burton Latimer, Thrapston, Rushden and Higham Ferrers [and presumably Ringstead]. Mr. A Whittering of Ringstead was unanimously voted chairman of the conference and he reported that:

. . . they were a very young society but he felt that they were trying their best to make it a success. . . they had bought ground in the most prominent place in Ringstead with a view to building new premises in the near future.

The Co-ops saw themselves as part of a new attitude to the community and many ran events for children and its members. Ringstead had a Co-operative Choir which sang at such events as the annual tea and soiree of the Society in February 1901

The Mercury reported on Friday 1st August 1902 on the 32nd quarterly meeting mentioned above:

The balance-sheet presented showed the quarter’s trade done was £482. 15s. 4½d. being a decrease of £16. 11s. 9d. on an exceptional corresponding quarter last year. The profit on the quarter’s trade was £41. 4s. 8d. recommended to be disposed of in the following manner: - Depreciation £1.; fixed stock £3 19s. 10½d.; and a dividend of 2s. in the £ to members and 1s. to non-members. . . The secretary (Mr. L. Ruff) was re-appointed as was also the treasurer (Mr. F. Chapman); auditor Mr. John Roberts; committee Mr. Harry Giddens and Mr. W. James. A long discussion then took place regarding the decrease which arose chiefly in the baking department. Ultimately it was left with the committee to take what steps they may think necessary to remedy the same.

The 1902 Sessional Papers, noted above, stated that the Society had 127 members in 1901 and its balance sheet was summarised as:

Sales of goods £2,122 Productive expenses £88 Distributive expenses £118

The first manager of the Co-op was probably Robert Woodruff who had been born in about 1842 in Riseley in Bedfordshire. By 1871 he was a baker, living with his widowed mother in High Street, Raunds. He married Elizabeth Ann Green in 1877 but she died just two years later and in 1881 he is still a baker, staying with his mother-in-law, Ann Green who was a sixty-eight year old widow living in Rotton Row, Raunds.

He married again to Sarah Pentelow (nee Brown), the widow of a wealthy Raunds farmer, John Pentelow, who had had 300 acres and employed ten men and two boys. The 1891 Census finds the couple in High Street, Raunds. Robert is 49 and Sarah is 48 years old and, living with them are Sarah’s four children, aged 9 to 15 from her first marriage.

One would have thought that Robert was well set up with a bakehouse and presumably married to a rich widow. If this was the case, something changed for by 1901 the couple, with Helen, their eldest daughter, 25 and unmarried, are living at 25 High Street, Ringstead and he is the Co-op manager. Just over a year later Robert died and by 1911 Sarah is living with her 59 year old unmarried brother, a farmer in Walgrave. Also living there are her unmarried sister and widowed brother, all in their sixties.

As an aside, Robert was probably the ‘Mr. Woodroffe’ that Mr David Ramsay, M.B. M.R.C.S., the doctor from Raunds was attending on December 7th 1901. After visiting Robert the doctor called on another patient and while there was consulted by someone with an abscess in his foot. The doctor operated but in the process the knife slipped and the point went in the, ‘principal joint of the forefinger, causing a slight but deep wound’. At the time he did little about it but when he returned home he bled and disinfected the wound, but it was too late. He was almost immediately in pain and despite the attentions of various local doctors and constant nursing he died on Monday 6th January 1902. We tend to forget how the discovery of antibiotics has changed our attitude to many infections.

The 1901 Census also shows nineteen-year-old Lillian Mary Abbott living just around the corner at 2 Chapel Road who is a “shop assistant at the Co-op stores.

Soon after the death of Robert Woodruff the plans for the new shop, mentioned by Mr Whittering in 1899 began to come to fruition. The 29th May 1903 edition of the Northampton Mercury reported that plans for the new store had been drawn up under the supervision of the committee and had been approved by a general meeting of the members. The tenders were considered and the lowest one, from Freeman and Siddons for £250 was unanimously accepted. The move was necessitated by the owners of the original shop premises wanting them back. The report also states that the store had been there some ten years and that the bakery, which was a separate “tenement” was to remain on its present site.

After the approval of the plans, the building soon began and on Friday 11th December of the same year the Mercury could report:

On Monday the smart little new shop for grocery and drapery was formally opened by Mr. Panther of Kettering. Afterwards a free tea to members’ children was provided and later on a tea to members at a small charge. Tea over, Mr. Panther gave an address on the aims and objects of Co-operation.

There were amusements for the children and the usual programme of entertainments and “Dancing was afterwards indulged in”.

With the separation of the bakery from the shop there was the appointment of a baker. In the Mercury on the 19th August 1904 there appeared the following advertisement:

WANTED, BAKER, House, Bread and Flour, Firing and Lights found. Trade - 3½ Sacks, fro Smalls. Commence September 4th. – Applications stating age and wage required with testimonials to be in August 22nd, marked “Baker,” Distributive Co-operative Society, Ringstead, Thrapston. 

Ringstead High Street in 1920s

Post Office now moved to its present (2013) site and Co-op with bread cart outside. The milk cart is moving away. Is the woman with the buckets delivering milk or carrying water from the pump?

With the kind permission of Vivienne Marshall

We find in the 1911 Census, living in Chapel Road, a Reginald Walter Vickers, aged thirty-one years and born in Blisworth. With him is his wife, Ada and their two sons, Reginald, aged six who was born in Braybrook and Harold aged three, born in Ringstead. It seems likely that Reginald Vickers was the man selected from the 1904 advertisement for he has written in the 1911 Census that he is a “baker and confectioner working for the Co-operative Society.

The manager of the Co-operative shop was, by 1911, thirty-year-old Harry William Joyce from Huntingdon. His wife, some two years younger, was born in Tonbridge Wells. Living with them, in Spencer Street, is their two-year-old son, Bernard George, born in Ringstead so we know that the couple had been living in the village for a few years.

Many older people will remember the Co-op shop and the bakery where they took their Sunday dinners to be cooked. In 1983 the Ringstead Distributive Society merged with the Raunds Co-operative Society and on ????? the Ringstead shop finally closed its doors and in 2013 there is now a Londis shop on the site



My thanks to Janice Morris for finding some of the information, for this Co-operative section.

Ringstead Censuses ( and

Ringstead Parish Registers (NRO and

Northampton Mercury ( ).

Co-operative Production. Benjamin Jones (1894) .,html .


This may not seem a natural finish to my stories of Ringstead People but my father started work as a boy in the Raunds Co-operative shop in about 1920 and it was searching for his Ringstead ancestors that started me off on this rescuing of some of the people of Ringstead. I was born in 1945 above a Coop shop in Weedon Bec, in the west of Northamptonshire. For me at least it seems a fitting conclusion.


Reader Comments (1)

Regarding the Ringstead Unity Co-operative Society Ltd, my great grandfather, Arthur Ruff and some of the older 'boys,' were leading lights in setting it up.
He moved [ initially] to Woodford from Keysoe Row, reason unknown (married in Feb.1865) with his wife Sarah (nee George) where the eldest two children, Elizabeth (1866) and Arthur (1868) were born. They moved to Ringstead in around 1869 and moved into a house which was later to become Dodson & Horrel's offices. Certainly they were settled by1870 as the next child, Emily was born !
There would appear to have been a thriving 'cottage industry' by all accounts in the making of army boots, but it was Arthur and a few others who came up with the idea of combining all the expertise under one roof.
My grandfather (Harvey William) was one of ten: most of the ' boys went into the boot & shoe industry, the girls, as was usual in those days, mainly into service.
Although the 'girls' - in the main - moved away (other than Marian who married an Essom from Woodford and settled in Thrapston), the boys seem to have remained fairly ' local,' Other than his eldest son, Arthur who moved down to Hythe ( reason unknown ) where he (surprise, surprise) set up a shoe sales & repairers shop.
If I can be of any further assistance please contact me.
Further note. I am related to the Ringstead Bull family and was taught at Raunds primary school by one such. M.J.W

October 1, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterMr. M. J. Wheeldon

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