On 14 March 1761, 16 weavers and apprentice weavers came together to sign a charter in which they agreed to work together to set purchase prices for yarns, selling prices for cloth and to deal fairly and honestly in their work – the earliest co-operative for which we have full records. They also set up a fund that they lent back to members to purchase high cost items, and from which they gave charitable donations to the poor in the village. Some have seen this as a proto-credit union.
Later that decade, in 1769, they agreed to take funds from their “box” to purchase “victuals” which they sold from a central point in the village, the profits going back into their joint funds. This has been seen as a very early Co-op store.
The Weavers were not only interested in using their joint venture to improve their incomes, however. In the true spirit of co-operation, they set up a library in the village, which encouraged a young shoemaker, John Fulton, to study the stars and planets. The outcome of that study can be seen today at Glasgow’s Kelvingrove Museum, where his Orrery is still on display. They also joined together with the Freemasons and the Friendly Society to fund the building of a schoolhouse in 1812.
They were active in other ways. They helped set up an Emigration Society in 1839 (23rd April) and, on the 5th April 1846, as members of the Secession Church they brought the famous American ex-slave and anti-slavery campaigner, Frederick Douglass, to the village to speak about his experiences.
Sadly handloom weaving could not resist the advance of the factories and, in 1873, with only three members left, they wound up the Society. However, their memory lives on, both in the descendants of the Weavers now all over the globe, and also in our great world-wide Co-operative Movement with almost a billion co-operators affiliated to the International Co-operative Alliance. The story of those sixteen men of Fenwick will live on as long as we have co- operators.