Ed Mayo's Blog

On the shoulders of co-operative women – the story of Ada Salter


The co-operative sector stands on the shoulders not of giants but of working people who together achieved giant-sized success. Co-operation is something not just of its day but that cascades down the generations.

One of the co-operative women I have met, or rather whose statue I have visited, is Ada Salter.

The first female Mayor in London, Ada Salter was a Quaker, a pacifist and a socialist. With her husband, Alfred, a pioneering doctor, she transformed residents’ lives and hopes in and around the South London quarter of Bermondsey, focusing on improving the social and environmental conditions in which people lived. Health outcomes improved, but before they did, her own daughter was one to have died, age ten, of Scarlet Fever. By the 1930s, 7,000 trees in the area had been planted thanks to her work.

In 1913, thanks to the Ada Salters, the Labour Co-operative Bakery was created. This started with a staff of 9 baking 5,000 loaves a week. By 1924, there were 100 staff baking 94,000 loaves a week – of good daily bread, and in the co-operative tradition, unadulterated. They paid above the union rate, with hours and conditions among the best of any.  

Beauty and peace was at the heart of her vision, as they can be ours today.