National Recording Project


Detail from: Memorial to 158 Squadron by Peter W. Naylor, 2009

Alexander McLeod


Type Sculpture , Statue

     Full length statue of Alexander McLeod standing in niche on front of the Royal Arsenal Co-operative Society building. He is wearing a frock-coat and waistcoat, with a handkerchief in his top pocket, and is very realistic in appearance with long flowing side whiskers. He is standing in front of a pile of books stacked on the ground, right foot forward, a scroll in his left hand, his right arm bent at the elbow with the palm upwards. The statue stands on a rounded plinth projecting from the façade. This has a grey granite face bearing the inscription, and an ochre coloured terracotta base and rim. The niche is incorporated in a yellow tile panel which rises the full height of the building, with a clock in a cupola on the top. Above the statue at second storey height, within the tiled panel, is a raised circle with lettering round it and the RACS motto in the centre. Inside are two curved sprays following the line of the circle and a Tudor rose at the base, a thistle and shamrock. The building is long, three storeys high, red brick with yellow terracotta dressings. It has elaborate relief decoration round the windows. The panel is in the centre and incorporates the doorway, and in addition to the niche at first floor height it has fluted pilasters, a frieze, pediment and raised lettering. The niche has double pilasters on either side supporting a mock pediment. The façade of the building on the ground floor has been altered and modernised but the panel has been preserved in its entirety. Capitals with a grotesque mask with open mouth in it. Pilasters repeated round bay windows. On the opposite side of the street is 136-152 Powis Street built in 1938 by S.W. Ackeroyd, the company architect, a modernistic building.(1) On 134, next door, is also a plaque with the motto 'Each for all and all for each' in a wreath.(1)
     The statue was commissioned by members of the Royal Arsenal Co-operative Society as a mark of appreciation of McLeod's services to the Society and Co-operative movement. This was the thirtieth anniversary year of its foundation. At the quarterly meeting on 25 May 1898 a committee was formed to consider what form the tribute to McLeod should take. In September the committee reported their recommendation that a statue of him be commissioned and placed in a niche over the main entrance of the headquarters building, known as the Central Stores, in Powis Street. An almshouse was also proposed which would be named after him. These two recommendations would have cost the Society about £500 with additional money being raised by voluntary subscriptions. They were put to the Society's members who rejected the almshouse proposal but accepted the statue. Three months later they also agreed to the formation of a McLeod Memorial Reference Library to be located at the Central Stores at a cost of approximately £250 although this [was slow to get off the ground - did it ever?]. Alfred Drury was chosen as the sculptor. The statue was unveiled by Alderman George Bishop who was at the time Secretary to the Woolwich Equitable Building Society and 'a member and good friend of the Society for many years'.(2) He paid tribute to McLeod, and also his wife who had supported him in the work until her death. 'Many of the most important things in connection with the Society had been initiated by Mr McLeod, and in these "though dead, yet he speaketh"'.(2) The author of the history of the Royal Arsenal Co-operative Society written for its jubilee, commented on the likeness of the statue: 'It revealed a likeness so striking that one felt for a moment that "Old Mac", as he was affectionately called, was back again with us. The tears welled in one's eyes and the lump came into one's throat as one gazed at the marvellous likeness, which depicted so well the steadfastness and goodness of the man'.(2) In 1868 a group of skilled workers from the Woolwich Arsenal set up the Royal Arsenal Supply Association, led by William Rose and Alexander McLeod. Initially they sold tea, butter and sugar from Rose's house in Woolwich, then in 1872 they leased premises at 147 Powis Street as a shop and changed the name to the Royal Arsenal Co-operative Society (RACS). It became known locally as 'The Stores'. The new building, which also became their head office, was built in 1903 by the RACS architect Frank Bethell, and is in red brick with terracotta ornamentation. Behind it a large area housed their growing operations including a bakery and a dairy. Co-operative groups had been set up amongst working communities from the time of the Industrial Revolution to combat high food prices and adulterated food, but it was a society in Rochdale in 1844 that set the pattern for the later Co-operative movement. They brought in many successful measures including the Co-op dividend whereby a share of the profits was distributed back to members who had made purchases during the year. Alexander McLeod became the Secretary/Manager of the Royal Arsenal Society in 1882. It grew rapidly, opening shops throughout the area and expanding the premises in Powis Street. In 1889 the Society was the twenty first largest out of the 1,500 plus then in existence, and had around 7,000 members. It later grew to be the second largest society in the country.(3) The building closed in the 1980s/90s and there is no RACS presence in Woolwich now. Various Council services have taken it over. The building was listed in 1989.
     Alexander Mcleod (1832-1902) one of the founders of Royal Arsenal Co-operative Society (RACS), set up by Arsenal workers in 1868. First full-time secretary from 1882 until his death. He was the son of Skye crofters and served an apprenticeship of five years as a mechanical engineer on the Firth of Forth. He then worked for Scottish railway companies. At the age of 27 he visited a friend at the Great Eastern railway works at Stratford and secured work at the Arsenal at Woolwich where he stayed until 1878. In 1882 he was appointed dual Secretary and Manager of the Royal Arsenal Co-operative Society which had been set up by a group of workers from the Arsenal in 1868, and he remained so until his death. McLeod was held in high regard both locally and throughout the Co-operative Movement, described in fact as 'a Prince among secretaries' by George Jacob Holyoake, another revered figure in the Movement. Died 17 May 1902. In his obituary in 'Comradeship', the RACS magazine, of June 1902, Holyoake said of him: 'The Royal Arsenal Co-operative Society, standing like a pillar of cloud or of fire of old, to show to London the road to a better social system, is the monument that commemorates his life work'.(4)


On projecting plinth below statue, grey granite face with incised letters painted in gold: ALEXANDER MCLEOD / BORN SEPT 29 1832 / DIED MAY 17 1902 / TREASURER 1868-1869 / SECRETARY 1869-1882 / SECTY ~ MANAGER 1882-1902 [The words born, died and Treasurer are in italic lettering] At second floor height round the edge of raised ceramic circle, raised lettering: ROYAL ARSENAL CO-OPERATIVE SOCIETY LIMITED. Across the centre of the circle: EACH / FOR ALL / AND ALL / FOR / EACH At top on decorative panel? below two arched windows: CENTRAL STORES / ESTABLISHED 1868 / REBUILT 1903 Inside the doorway are two plaques dated 24 September 1902. The right hand one commemorates the establishment of the Society on 7 November 1868 under the name of the Royal Arsenal Supply Association, and the left hand one commemorates the rebuilding of the Central Stores.

Related works : 'The very fine bust of Mr McLeod by Alfred Drury ARA, which is now in the General Committee Room, was exhibited in the Academy of 1901, purchased by Colonel E. Hughes, and presented to the Society'.(2) p.99.

Contributor details

Contributor Role
Drury, Alfred Briscoe Sculptor
Bethell, F. Architect

Element details

Part of work Material Dimensions
Statue Coade?/terracotta? 230cm high approx

PMSA recording information

Reference Region
General condition Good
Surface condition
  • Accretions
  • Bird guano
Structural condition
  • Broken, missing parts
Road 125-161 Powis Street
Precise location On Royal Arsenal Co-operative Society building facing south west
A-Z ref 79 4L
OS ref TQ433790
Date of design None
Year of unveiling c.1903
Unveiling details None
Commissioned by Royal Arsenal Co-operative Society (RACS)
Duty of care None
Listing status II
At risk? No known risk

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