A guest post from Lucas Pilgham as he continues his ‘Drift’ through Woolwich
The Royal Arsenal Musketeers
The Situationists dreamed of leaving the 20th Century but it seems to me Society staggered into the 21st like an asthmatic schoolboy gasping for breath on a cross-country run
We now inhabit a strange contradictory existence where it is almost impossible to imagine anything being different to how it is now. Big business, profit, free market and rampant consumerism is the only game in town, the only system that matches human nature
However only 3 minutes walk from McDonalds in Powis Street there is a building that is a celebration of an alternative. Maybe we have to look at a relic from the past to see a glimpse of a possible future
125 – 153 Powis Street is a an ornate red brick building that was once home to the Royal Arsenal Co-operative Society (RACS)
RACS was founded on the 7th November 1868. Strangely 106 years and one week before the first McDonalds opened in Britain and heralded our current predicament. Above the main entrance is a strikingly detailed statue of Alexander McCleod, the son of Skye Crofters and a founding member of RACS
He looks like a man with a purpose, formal frock coat, scroll in hand a pile books stacked up beside him. Their collective motto set out below ‘Each for all and all for each’ along with the record of his lifelong service until his death in 1902.
RACS had 20 members when it started by 1902 it had 20,000. The group was progressive , opening opticians, farms and pharmacies to improve the life of its members. It even had an education department that opened a public library in 1879, which I guess is why the books are represented.
The building seems hidden in plain view but once you notice it and begin to understand its significance it takes on a new and vibrant life of its own.
Then as part of the research for this article I came across Alexander’s McCleods obituary, which seemed uncannily relevant.
“The Royal Arsenal Co-operative Society standing like a pillar of cloud or fire of old, to show London the road to a better social system, is the monument that commemorates his life’s work.”
Perhaps there is still a little more he can teach us