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Four years ago amateur historian Gary Webb ( a 63 year old ex Postman) became involved in a research project based at the former Socialist Institute now the Unity Hall Nelson, relating to the Suffragist Selina Cooper.(WINDOW IMAGE). Via a Heritage Lottery Fund grant, this undertook the task of highlighting the work Selina did in fighting for Women’s Suffrage and workers’ rights.


Back then Labour History Lancashire reported on the project and its relevance to working class history in Lancashire and beyond. Since then Gary has attempted to widen the scope of the initial project aim to include collecting archive from this area of NE Lancashire primarily relating to such areas as local involvement in the Independent Labour Party ,the Clarion Movement, the Cooperative Movement, Mills and Weaving , the Spanish Civil War and local volunteers and it is a work in progress.

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The latest acquisition to the Institutes Archive/Library /Reading Room is a restoration project of a Colne, Lancashire Cooperative Store Stain Glass window rescued from a dusty garage in Laneshawbridge in rural Lancashire. Historians will no doubt concur that researching one slice of history invariably leads to the necessity for further work....in this case trying to find where the window came from originally. Apparently in Colne alone there were nine Coop Stores and numerous other Coop sites  for such things as Painting and Decorating, a Bakery , a Coal department, Pork Butchering, Joinery, Dairy and Abattoir’s. Neighbouring NE Lancashire town Nelson had 32 shops and 18 farms!  How many then of these Coop buildings existed throughout Lancashire and given that the original stores have long since disappeared, how many of the original buildings have survived the test of time?


The question is often asked ‘ What’s the point of collecting and protecting archive material ? Digital copies or images are fine as far as they go but to have actual physical archive that you can touch is another and where better to assemble such a collection than in a building of such historical importance as the Nelson Socialist Institute where people such as Keir Hardie , Ramsey McDonald , Sylvia Pankhurst, CLR James, Fenner Brockway and of course our own Selina Cooper et al all spoke. Such Archive should be accessible locally wherever possible and not stored in the vaults of County Record Offices .Enquiries to the Institute can be made via nelsonsocialistinstitute@gmail.com.

Recent weeks have seen visits from such groups as the ‘Pendle Radicals’ celebrating working class Lancashire Writer ,Feminist and Social Activist, Ethel Carnie Holdsworth on International Women’s Day  In a 1938 Charabanc  An Educational visit from year 11 pupils and their Teachers from Colne Primet Academy and also from the Independent Labour Party with members coming from as far afield as London , Durham , Sheffield ,Leeds and all corners of Lancashire to visit the Institute and we were honoured to use the Selina Cooper Hall upstairs to host their AGM .


A passion for the heritage of the once smoky, grimy stone towns of NE Lancashire, is an historical trait that’s doubtless hard to shake off.



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With greats thanks to: 

GARY WEBB July 2022

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