Object of the Month – October 2013

October 2013 - CWS Federation Self Raising Flour plate

CWS Federation Self Raising Flour plateAs this year’s food adulteration scandal progressed, one of its key ingredients (aside from horse) was the length of the supply chain.  It was clear that the gap between the shops and the producer was significant.  The tainted meat had passed through so many hands it was simply impossible to establish from where it had originated.

Nor was food adulteration anything new.  Throughout the 18th and 19th centuries there were horror stories of ‘additives’ to bulk out food, chalk in flour, chicory in coffee, and even horse in potted meat.  The formation of co-operatives such as that in Rochdale in 1844 and others around the country was in part a measure to counteract adulterated food.  Member owned co-operatives were promising consumers that as an organisation they could testify to having sourced the product from the original producer, if they had not produced it themselves.

This brings us on to the People’s History Museum object of the month.  It is a side plate that advertises, even celebrates, the Co-operative Wholesale Society (CWS) Federation Self Raising Flour.  From this plate we can learn much about the life of the flour, and the ethos of the organisation that produced it.

On the left of the plate we can see that the flour was milled at Sun Mills.  This was one of several CWS flourmills, and was located on Trafford Wharf on the Manchester Ship Canal.  With this waterside location, wheat could be taken directly to the mill by boats up the Ship Canal.  Flour was then transferred across the city to Balloon Street where CWS had offices and warehouses.  Here it was packed, a fact stated on the plate.

In the middle of the plate is a ship.  The CWS family extended beyond producing food; they transported it too.  The first ship that entered the Manchester Ship Canal and docked at the Port of Manchester belonged to CWS, the SS Pioneer.

Given then that Federation Flour was produced, transported and sold by CWS, if people trusted the organisation, they could, by extension trust the flour.  Because CWS took sole responsibility for this production they were able to ‘guarantee’ the quality and purity of the product.

CWS, like the Labour party, promised to look after people from ‘cradle to grave’.  What was clear from this plate was they were also able to deliver from field to loaf.

The plate is on display in our latest changing exhibition The People’s Business – 150 Years of The Co-operative on show from Saturday 12 October 2013 to Sunday 11 May 2014.