Getting a Grip : the Roles of Friendly Societies in Australia and Britain Reappraised

Although of considerable political, economic and social significance throughout the Westernised world, ‘friendly societies’ have frequently been dismissed as legitimate objects of study, particularly since the rise of ‘the labour movement’ and of ‘Labour History’. The effects of this neglect will be considered. In both Britain and Australia, academic analyses of benefit-based societies have drawn on few of the available sources or intellectual frameworks and have rarely taken their religious or ritual aspects seriously. The societies have been variously but erroneously presented as primitive trade unions, embryonic insurance companies or poor men’s Masonic lodges. Recent research indicates that fraternal societies, including what we now see unproblematically as Friendly Societies, overlap with Freemasonry and Trade Unions in a range of functions and in a variety of ways. Definitional difficulties, which cannot be fully addressed in this introductory essay, abound, but the authors argue that acknowledgement of this longer and broader context will benefit scholars of working people on a number of fronts. The evolutionary paths of fraternalism in Britain and in Australia are compared and recent forays into class, gender, immigration and the administration of welfare issues, mainly by British scholars, are summarised.

Although they have been the subject of legislation in Britain only since George Rose’s Act of 1793, what we now call friendly societies have far longer roots. Their deep penetration in people’s consciousness and their broad popularity were the reasons why, as soon as white settlers began to arrive in Australia in the early nineteenth century, Orders of Odd Fellows, Rechabites and others were established. Indeed, such organisations probably arrived with the very first boatloads of convicts and militiamen.

In Britain, at least since mediaeval times, a combination of feasting and secret rites, charity and structured payments by sworn ‘insiders’ has provided assistance at times of loss of employment, illness or bereavement. In annotating a guild charter document from the year 1200 Gross wrote:
To become a gildsman … it was necessary to pay certain initiation fees … [and to take] an oath of fealty to the fraternity, swearing to observe its laws, to uphold its privileges, not to divulge its counsels, to obey its officers, and not to aid any non-gildsman under cover of the newly-acquired ‘freedom’.[1]

Already in place, here, is the structure of ‘brotherhood’, on which Freemasons, ‘friendly societies’ and ‘trade unions’ rest. The principles of discipline, conviviality and benevolence which shaped nineteenth and twentieth century fraternal associations are already in place — an oath, secret signs and knowledge, exclusive regalia marking office and achievement, members’ contributions kept in a ‘common box’, and a sense of exclusiveness based on a line drawn between ‘insiders’ and ‘outsiders’, a line drawn by the notion of privilege attaching to the ‘freedom’ of the craft.

Many studies of friendly societies have focused on them in the nineteenth century as new and particular organisations. Their function within the labour artisanate, their roles within the development of democracy and in the construction of identity, their significance for migrants, their impact on the form of health provision, their regional differences, and the extent to which they shaped and reflected gendered roles, have been explored, at least in Britain. In many of these texts their broader activities and their material culture have been marginalised or portrayed as archaic.

Members of ‘friendly societies’ recognised both the importance of the medieval roots of their notions of reciprocity and the significance of their relationship to other fraternal associations, notably Speculative Freemasonry and ‘trade unions’. The societies enabled people to help themselves and one another through, often secret, networks. Especially for those who could not easily rely on ties of blood, these societies aided the creation of friendship across classes and localities, reinforced the notion of members as a trustworthy and vigilant fictive fraternity able and willing to help their brethren, and countered suspicions of extravagance or lack of viability.

Numerical Significance

How many people joined friendly societies is difficult to gauge. Not all societies in Britain registered, even when encouraged so to do by the 1790s and subsequent legislators, and the returns from others are inaccurate. Further, the distinction between a ‘friendly society’ and a ‘trade union’ has not always been clearly expressed, in legislation, in contemporary comments by observers or in the later work of scholars.[2]

A recognition of this widespread lack of clarity leads to the conclusion that, in practice, the categories overlapped, that is, that the entities ‘friendly society’ and ‘trade union’, in practice, were not distinct and separate from one another. This difficulty in the categorisation has only recently been identified and isolated as an important issue. It is clear that a forced separation of the categories has happened and that the twentieth century neglect of ‘friendly societies’ is one consequence.

In 1879, James Inglis estimated that ’80–90% of [Australia’s] manual workers were members of friendly societies’, and said:
One characteristic feature of the social economy of our Australian cousins is the system of mutual assurance which so largely prevails in all the towns, and which, under the guise of friendly society benefit societies, supplies all the real benefits of the poor-law system at home without its cumbrous and expensive machinery.[3a]

Charles Dilke, an English visitor to Australia in 1890, believed that in Victoria alone there were 800 lodges of what he called ‘provident societies’ with 70,000 members including ‘nearly all the manufacturing hands, as well as a considerable number of small shopkeepers’.[3b] A 1909 estimate suggested that there were half a million known members, which means that roughly 46 per cent of Australians were benefiting from friendly societies out of population of 4.8 million.[4] In certain mining and industrial towns the recorded membership was close to 100 per cent of the male population.

There were between four and six million members in the 1870s in Britain and in Wales more people were members of registered friendly societies than attended church or chapel. By 1898 (a time when there were only 1.6 million in trade unions) there were around 4.2 million members of registered friendly societies and this figure had risen to between 6.3 million and 9.5 million by 1910.[5]


Fraternal Ties

Between 1800 and 1900 ‘friendly societies’ were often correlated with the basic sense of identity of a whole people. In his Observations on Friendly Societies, 1801, Eden asked why a bachelor who wanted to protect himself against illness should pay to bury his neighbour’s wife.[6] If the man wanted to save himself money then such an act was foolish. If however, he saw the neighbour as a ‘brother’ who was obliged through membership of a friendly society to be a source of his and his family’s support in the future, then the contribution to the burial can be seen as an aid to both self-interest and community-building.

It is precisely this intermeshing of self-help and mutual aid which lends weight to the notion that the idea’s origins are in mediaeval communities, if not earlier. In the 1880s, Austrian academic Baernreither, visiting Britain, related ‘fraternalism’ to social identity:
England is at present the theatre of a gigantic development of associated life, which give to her labour, her education, her social intercourse, nay to the entire development of her culture, a pronounced direction, a decisive stamp.[7] He then asserted the organic nature of the fraternal context in which ‘friendly societies’, however defined, overlapped in function and membership with other fraternal bodies:
[If I was to] consider the early history of English working men’s associations it would be indispensable to treat of Friendly Societies and Trade Unions simultaneously, since their origin and their growth are governed by the same economic and social conditions, and both classes of institutions are only different sides of the same historical process.[8]

Contemporaries of Baernreither similarly saw an organic whole, not differentiated units. Beatrice and Sidney Webb said in 1897 that it was difficult ‘to detect any important difference between the Trade Union branch and the court or lodge of the friendly society’ and that they ‘all seem clubs managing their own affairs. Every night sees the same interminable procession of men, women and children bringing the contribution money’.[9] It was only in their History of Trade Unionism, first published in 1890, that the Webbs pursued a hard distinction between the two ‘strands’ of fraternalism. Simon Cordery’s more recent assessment focusing on Britain, demonstrates that ‘mutualism fuelled the growth of the labour movement to an extent that is still to be fully appreciated and documented’.[10]

Australian research has shown that the first organisation set up by groups of miners was a benefit or a provident and accident society which combined concerns about working safety with a concern for wages and working hours. Stoodley, whose interest was in Queensland gold miners, has concluded: ‘Mining unionism did not grow out of digger organisation at all, but had an entirely independent origin, usually following the development of co-operative insurance societies’.[11]

The concept of fraternity pervades nineteenth century societies of Australia and Great Britain in ways infrequently recognised. This is in part because of the false dichotomies created by the narrow, competitive categorisations.


Most twentieth century texts have differentiated between ‘trade unions’, Freemasonry and ‘friendly societies’. In 1961 Peter Gosden provided an academic overview of the last-mentioned in Britain up to 1875. His account, while a break-through in some respects, marginalised female societies to a single page, unduly emphasised one ‘Order’, the Manchester Unity Independent Order of Odd Fellows, and neglected unregistered societies.[12] Over 40 years later, Cordery’s consideration of the national picture covers a longer period, 1750–1914. In distinguishing five earlier phases of ‘friendly society’ scholars he concluded: ‘There has been no advance on Gosden’s assumptions that friendly societies showed how “those without political party sought to protect themselves in an increasingly industrialised society”‘.

He too employed the records of the ‘Manchester Unity’ and one other large society but also drew on a broader range of sources than his predecessor and elaborated on the world of countervailing pressures and the doubled-edged nature of legislative ‘advances’ which the societies had fought to achieve: ‘State regulation did separate sociability and insurance by legislating specifically on the latter, thereby marginalising the social aims of friendly societies’. Cordery makes much of the societies’ concerns about respectability, again as an inevitable result of the nineteenth century’s political realities:
Respectability represented the social means of maintaining the voluntary relationship between the friendly societies and the state. Respectability was idiom and tactic, a shared language with class-specific inflections, and a means of deflecting intrusion.[13]

His further view that the societies emulated the Freemasons remains unproven while his emphasis of the society’s striving for ‘respectability’ appears less applicable in Australia.[14]

In Australia, neglect of ‘friendly societies’ by academic and professional historians has been profound. A recent paper by James lists all known, relevant published articles and monographs on one page, and, of these, only two titles come near to appraising the generality of the country’s ‘friendly societies’.[15] Green and Cromwell argue for the provision of social services by way of mutual aid organisations, rather than by a centralised and bureaucratic, welfare state while Blainey’s commissioned study of just the Independent Order of Oddfellows, the US-derived offshoot from the British original, is thus limited in scope.[16] Both draw heavily on minutes and other ‘official’ literature and have little to say on issues such as gender, class and race or cultural artefacts.

There are three unpublished theses of which only one attempts an overview. None of the authors has pursued these societies further. Marian Aveling assessed the political activities of the Australian Natives Association (ANA) 1871–1901, the date of Australia’s attainment of nationhood in which the ANA played a pivotal role, while Nobbs’ thesis was concerned with the actuarial and life assurance impacts of the Affiliated Societies in roughly the same period. Both of these concentrated on Victoria, as did the third, by Renfree.[17] The roles of the ‘friendly societies’ in the twentieth century for both countries still await an overview, as do accounts of many regional areas.

Region and Class

In addition to these national overviews, some of which have a bias towards the larger societies, there have been hagiographic accounts written by members of the principal societies and, in Britain, more scholarly accounts of individual societies.[18] Others have a regional bias. In Australia, James’ ground-breaking work has centred on New South Wales.

Central to Margaret Fuller’s account of the societies of the west of England was an inventory of the brass pole heads used in parades. David Neave focused on the Affiliated, or largest, amalgamated ‘Orders’, in one part of the north east of England and paid relatively little attention to the wider context, including national legislation affecting the societies. There have also been local accounts of societies in other areas.[19]

A variety of historians of British friendly societies have contextualised them within debates about class and social networks. They were ‘invented by mid-Victorian social reformers to restore community bonds’ is how Robert Putnam put it.[20] It has often been asserted that memberships of many societies were urban, industrial, male, avowedly respectable and particularly strongly represented in Lancashire.[21] John Foster, Eric Hobsbawm, Geoffrey Crossick and Robbie Gray have viewed friendly societies through the prism of class relations, seeing them only as part of the labour artisanate. Bentley Gilbert concurred, in that he argued that ‘friendly society membership was the badge of the skilled worker’.[22] Edward Thompson located the friendly societies within working-class culture,[23] while Paul Johnson has erroneously asserted that those who aspired to being middle-class, such as clerks, ‘avoided benefit clubs’.[24]

These theses tend to marginalise patronage within societies. Although many friendly societies in Britain had patrons, their influence was probably greatest within those societies which tended to cater for poorer men and women. At the local level vicars or landowners could reduce their own local taxes by encouraging the poor to contribute to their own sickness provision. Furthermore, they could ensure that ‘their’ societies had strict rules regarding morality and expenditure on regalia and feasting.

Many companies made significant contributions directly to preferred societies. Railway companies and mine owners countered the developing trade unionism and the independence of friendly societies by providing insurance for their workers with their own accident and provident societies. Industrial disputes in 1831–32 had led owners to see the disadvantages of miners organising their own savings. They established systems in which they provided one-sixth of the fund’s money in exchange for control.[25] The North Staffordshire Coal and Ironstone Workers Permanent Relief Society was open only to colliers, with membership being compulsory in some companies. Honorary members included the colliery proprietors who also constituted 40 per cent of the management committee which determined there was no provision for illness, only death. Miners excluded from certain friendly societies realised that tame societies run by Honorary Members, even if they were employers, at least provided them with a sense of security in a dangerous trade.

Such cross-class links have often been dismissed or marginalised. Eric Hobsbawm characterised friendly societies as one of ‘the basic journeymen institutions’ seeing their rituals as ‘misplaced ingenuity’.[26] According to the Rules of the Friendly Society of Operative Stone Masons of England, Ireland and Wales (London 1891) employers could be members and indeed the society may have operated as a labour exchange and means of resolving deadlocks. To focus on friendly societies as associations of like-minded wage earners (often with sectional or geographical common interests) playing only a transitional role between the trade guilds and the trade unions as an integral part of urbanisation and industrialisation, marginalises both the discourse of reciprocity within which the societies developed, and the continuing importance of the concept.

By contrast no friendly or similar society had a patron in Australia because the members of what became the societies were the pioneers, breaking the ground, digging the first holes and felling the first trees. Later came the clergy while the ‘gentry’, large land owners, when they prospered and stayed in the country, evolved out of those groups of original settlers. In what became the larger townships and villages, the societies were set up by the members themselves, their ranks including various levels of tradesmen and aspiring businessmen. Usually bringing their clearance certificates and travelling passwords from ‘home’ they fought strongly for pre-eminence in civil and political affairs of ‘their’ fraternity, and for personal advancement using the undoubted social cachet of their society. There were a few exceptional cases such as the Female Friendly Society founded in 1826 and run as a charity by a Governor’s wife and the most socially ambitious Orders, such as the Manchester Unity Odd Fellows, which sought and obtained the patronage of the Governor in the sense of being able to quote his name in literature, but he had no involvement in the Order’s affairs.


The Australian gold rushes of the 1840s and 1850s sent men scurrying after opportunities in ‘the bush’ other than sheep herding and farm labouring. The railways followed as did a great burst of other infrastructure construction. The flow of population took fraternalism with it as naturally as its ‘brotheren’ and ‘sisteren’ took the clothes in which they stood. City-based societies suffered losses in memberships and funds to the point of extinction in many cases but regenerated soon after the rushes slowed. Societies offering benefits were especially popular among miners, whether that was gold, tin or mica, stone or coal. A map showing the spread of lodges is a map of the search for work by miners and others. That same map shows how townships and villages grew around holes in the ground and how rail and road networks snaked out to join up the dots.

The significance of both internal and international migration to the development of associational culture has been recognised by Britain’s historians. Clark has stressed its importance in the eighteenth century while Martin Gorsky has emphasised early nineteenth century migration. If there was such a person as an average friendly society member, Gorsky asserted, he was probably ‘a migrant who had been absorbed successfully into an urban labour market but had to purchase insurance as a substitute for the customary prerequisites and poor relief which had supplemented the rural wage’.[27]

Morton’s work on the English countryside indicates the prevalence in the 1920s and 1930s, of what was known in one place as ‘the wayfarers’ dole’ and in another as ‘going on the toeby’.[28] Interpretations such as these would probably strike scholars of mediaeval society as truisms, since fraternal benevolence has always had a lot to do with the travelling ‘brother’ seeking work or the pilgrim seeking the next holy place. Thus, a major driver of fraternal association has always been the movement of the labour force to locations of work opportunity, internally within Britain and externally to the colonies. Leeson’s 1980 study of ‘travelling brothers’ explored the evolution of the ‘tramping’ or ‘travelling system’ from its mediaeval origins to the ‘trade unions’ of the nineteenth and later centuries. His argument necessarily encompasses what we now distinguish as ‘friendly societies’ equally as well, and helps to explain a number of their central features.[29]

In Britain there were societies for Highlanders new to the lowlands of Scotland while studies of Jewish, Irish and German friendly societies in Britain have indicated a societies’ importance to the creation and maintenance of particular identities for those often far from home.[30] In Canada the Sons of England had 2,500 members by 1929.[31] For those who may have felt threatened by migrants there were societies such as the William the Fourth Society of Deptford, London, which excluded all Irish people, and the Philanthropic Order of True Ivorites the main objective of which was ‘to preserve the Welsh language in its purity’.[32] Similarly, in Australia, friendly societies were an important aspect of security and identity for the displaced. The first Australian Odd Fellows Order, the IOOF, began its principal ode with the lines:
My lot is cast in a stranger land,
On a far-off shore alone I stand;
And I seek in vain, in the stranger’s eye,
For the glance of kindred sympathy.[33]

Certain language groups, the Germans, Welsh and Chinese among them, set up their own ‘lodges’ and conducted rites in their own language for a time, when a number are known to have joined larger English-speaking societies. Renfree, writing in 1983, saw this movement as a sign that friendly societies provided a single form of legitimation for all levels of society, all language, religion and ethnic groups: ‘If Castlemaine’s Welshmen, Scots, Irish and Germans tended towards clannishness, they did not extend the tendency into the area of benefit-providing fraternities’.[34]

Other migrants looked to a fraternal body to express identity in another way. The ANA adopted not the trappings of the aboriginal people but iconography and a set of principles based on Australia as ‘home’.

Australian scholars are beginning to recognise the relationship of immigration patterns to social mores and attitudes in particular parts of the country. The impact of rowdy, rebellious Irish newcomers has often been assumed to be the basic element in the Australian’s insistence on a ‘a fair go’ and a disrespect for authority. More recently, the influence of English settlers, in particular, poor English farm labourers in different parts of Australia, has been highlighted. Such issues could explain much about why certain societies were strong in some areas but not in others and why certain aspects of their roles were emphasised over others. Australia’s labour movement often asserts its collective debt to the nomadic shearers and rural roustabouts, indeed the unofficial national anthem, ‘Waltzing Matilda’ is about one such figure. However, its scholars have yet to see the connections between the often negatively treated ‘tramp’ with his ‘shiralee’ and the lodge movement with its passwords, secret grips and mutual responsibilities.

Friendly societies in both countries were a vehicle for both nationalism and fraternalism. In the twentieth century there was greater centralisation within orders and a loss of autonomy by lodges within both countries. However, this consolidation was not only along fraternal lines but also national ones. The Independent Order of Rechabites Friendly Society, one of the largest in Britain, grew in part because of the relative independence of its ‘tents’ (that is lodges). Yet, British flags were waved on its processions in Britain while a banner paraded in Wallsend, Australia, in 1902 proclaimed Advance Australia.


Gender has played a significant role in the development of the societies. The artefacts and pronouncements of the Orders reflected the broader society’s approach to female initiatives and female-only organisation. Women were often excluded from friendly societies but, when they became active in temperance campaigns, temperance benefit societies (which of course met away from pubs) were among the first ‘Orders’ to have women in key positions. Other Orders found change very difficult and it was only when male membership numbers were in noticeable decline that women were encouraged to join, even to begin their own ‘lodges’ and Orders.[35] Male solidarity was certainly a key ingredient within many British and Australian societies as it was in other fraternal organisations. However, just as there were female reform societies early in the nineteenth century if not before, ‘modern’ female friendly societies did exist.[36] Many followed the same path as the male-only societies in their internal structures and in their administrative changes over time. Most ‘independent’ lodges rejoined or merged back into the male-dominated structures, where a number of women rose through the ranks to become, for example, ‘Chief Ranger’ or ‘Grand Master’.

The Victorian era saw attitudes in this area hardening as in a number of others. Male dominance and men’s role as ‘bread winner’ were formalised but were never absolute. By joining a society men could express their emotional ties to their families (who would benefit in the event of their incapacity or death) and to their ‘brothers’. They could practise thrift, in effect, while avoiding the company of women. Their parades can be said to exemplify their pride in a particular form of masculinity, their banners, echoing military standards, while staves or rods were carried by many friendly societies in procession. Brass emblems at the top of the staves were common in British West Country societies; Keevil Friendly Society had an emblem described as ‘a javelin’. The painted staves varied in length between four and eight feet. The condition and colour of these ‘club sticks’ were the subject of rules and regarded with considerable care and pride. Other societies continued to use tin battle axes and other ritual weapons.

Banners and certificates often feature females as widows, wives at home and allegorical ‘muse’ figures such as Charity. The charter of the Merthyr lodge of the Ancient Order of Britons, aimed ‘to provide for sickness’ but only after indicating that it sought to
raise our nation to note in the world by teaching men to act as men, husbands as husbands, fathers as fathers and to make all those who unite with us better members of society.[37] Similar words were used in a toast at a dinner organised by the same society in south London in 1874, the speaker hoping that ‘the Order would continue to extend its influence of making men provident and happy, better husbands and better fathers’.[38] The declaration of the Friendly Society of Ironfounders was also clear: ‘We are men and will be treated as such’.[39]


Friendly societies provided training grounds for democracy in that tasks were shared amongst members allowing a wide involvement, and in many societies officers were elected and decisions made by votes. Advancement within lodge, up the ladder of degrees, depended initially on how well a member carried out ‘his’ designated responsibilities or how well ‘she’ spoke in discussions. Societies often lauded those who progressed through the ranks to the higher offices. In practice, the valuation of certain skills over others has meant that the highest office is rarely within everyone’s grasp and that the slope of the hierarchy has steepened quite considerably as time has gone on. The incidence of individual lodges and whole ‘Orders’ being dominated by the wealthier and more articulate is not uncommon in both Britain and Australia. This tendency was exacerbated when Orders embraced the Victorian-era concern for respectability.

The broad industrial and commercial ethos emphasised public speaking and organisation of ideas in words far more than a capacity to carry out ritual correctly or even to keep good accounts. Thus, there has been a certain confluence of success in lodge and in society. Gosden noted that in Britain the executive Independent Order of Odd Fellows, Manchester Unity was of a higher social class than many of the members. The same phenomenon can be seen at lodge level in many parts of Britain where employers and patrons held key posts.[40] Nevertheless, John Garrard called British friendly societies the ‘most democratically impressive’ of working-class voluntary organisations.[41] One of the arguments for the extension of the British franchise in 1867 was that working men had demonstrated their acceptability through their associational activities.[42] At the time the literature of the Ancient Order of Foresters Friendly Society recommended that members be sober and industrious in order to ‘purchase your own electoral rights’.[43]

Nobbs, using mainly Victorian material, has asserted that one of the internal weaknesses with which Australian societies had to deal was that any half-way competent individual would sooner or later rise out of and beyond the lodge world. But the records show that many recognised the value of friendly societies as a community-wide asset and stayed involved even when it was clear from their other interests they were astute business men and/or highly intelligent decision-makers.

As the managerial revolution continued through the nineteenth and twentieth centuries and the more successful Orders centralised administration in a ‘Head Office’ the decisive gap between the membership and the ‘Committee of Management’ widened to the point that it is possible to see that two distinct worlds were involved. This situation was not unique to the friendly societies of course but, among other things, it meant that ‘Head Office’ pronouncements did not necessarily represent the situation at ground level or the beliefs held by the majority of the membership. It also meant that horizontal or ‘mutual’ collegiate-style decision-making became less and less possible. The internal division became especially significant at the turn of the nineteenth century when the British and the Australian governments, separately from one another, determined to enter the societies’ ‘natural’ field of operation, life and health insurance.

Health, Insurance and the State

In mid-nineteenth century Australia many country ‘lodges’ were not much more than mining camps with benefits being the only available protection against the impacts of accidents or death. When possible, injured workmates were physically carried to a doctor or dispensary, before thoughts and a sufficient population turned to the possibility of building a cottage hospital, advertising for a lodge doctor, employing a nurse, or constructing a makeshift ‘ambulance’. Although friendly society coverage for women, the low-paid and groups categorised as ‘bad risks’ was virtually non-existent through the nineteenth century and always intermittent before World War II, Green argues: ‘In both Britain and Australia, the friendly societies were the most important providers of social welfare during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries’.[44]

There have been a number of studies of the health policies of friendly societies, notably by Green, Johnson and Marland.[45] Riley’s work indicates that societies encouraged doctors to bid against one another for contracts and that some doctors put their interests before those of their employer, the societies.[46] Sokolovsky has also pointed out that the physicians were paid little and this only on a per capita basis.

As life-expectancy has increased, friendly societies have encountered greater financial difficulties and given the close relationship between friendly societies and state welfare provision there has long been considerable regulation.[47] The preamble to George Rose’s 1793 Act for the Encouragement and Relief of Friendly Societies made clear that friendly societies had dual purposes, ‘promoting the Happiness of Individuals and at the same Time diminishing the publick Burdens’. The 1819, British legislation on friendly societies was influenced by parliamentary committee discussions on the Poor Law.[48] The House of Commons passed 19 acts relating to them between 1793 and 1875, and there were five parliamentary committees and a Royal Commission, 1871–74, which investigated their activities in great detail. Nineteenth century British legislation after 1843 was passed almost word for word in the southern colonies. However, it was in the twentieth century that central state controls over accounting procedures, political concern with unemployment and the use of friendly societies to administer state insurance provision, played important roles in the decline of local autonomy and mutuality. In was then that the roles of friendly societies in both countries narrowed to a focus on health and social welfare.

In Britain this was largely because in 1911 the government introduced compulsory social insurance for 12.4 million workers. Administration of the Act was divided between two different branches, approved societies (which were established by trade unions, insurance companies and friendly societies) and local insurance committees, members of which included medical, local government and friendly society representatives. William Beveridge, whose own scheme replaced this in 1948, condemned the legislation for undermining voluntary activity. Bentley Gilbert later argued that as a result ‘the democratically run and altogether admirable friendly societies … began to lose their old fraternal character’ while Stephen Yeo has presented the legislation as the subordination of creative, public, associational voluntary life to capitalist or bureaucratic models. Green saw the legislation as evidence of voluntarism ‘halted by the march of socialism’.[49] There had been competition between the insurance companies and the friendly societies for at least three decades prior to 1911. Doctors had also long been unhappy with the friendly societies and the legislation did not end those struggles. For those societies which were ‘approved’ under the British National Health Insurance legislation of 1911 there were benefits in terms of a rise in membership, a strong voice within the new Ministry of Health and access to Parliament through influential parliamentary agents and sponsored MPs. However, participant control and fraternal reciprocity were reduced and women were not recruited in large numbers.[50] Furthermore, there were few economies of scale within the movement so costs remained relatively high and ritual ceased to be an attraction and became a hindrance. Societies were prohibited from extending or making their services more attractive as government has not wanted to increase its contribution while the commercial rivals, the industrial insurance companies grew in size. In addition, the friendly societies alienated some elements within the Labour Party and when it came to power in 1945 its welfare legislation did little to aid them.

From 1910 onwards, legislation in Australia has encroached on a number of areas previously the domain of ‘friendly societies’. The effect of the legislation on the societies has been little studied.

Many Australian friendly societies had long been opposed to state intervention. In 1876 the Royal Commission on the Friendly Societies, meeting in Victoria, decided against a state insurance scheme because it would be seen as a form of relief which would be ‘absolutely fatal’ to its success in Australia. In 1896 the Grand Secretary of the Independent Order of Oddfellows was perhaps echoing its US parent when it found state pensions ‘repulsive’ as ‘anything in the form of government state aid would involve government supervision’. In both Britain and Australia the friendly societies were not united amongst themselves and had no one central body. In New South Wales, they were even unable to agree about the composition of an advisory body to government, eventually leaving selection of its members, and even whether it would proceed, to Cabinet ministers.

There are similarities between the attitudes of doctors in both Britain and Australia towards the societies, particularly over clinical judgments. The distrust was expressed by one doctor who told the 1883 New South Wales Royal Commission that friendly societies were ‘anxious not to get healthy lives, but increased members’.[51] The situation in New South Wales provides an exemplar.[52] First organised as a trade union in South Australia in 1879, the British Medical Association (BMA) fought most assiduously from the 1890s for the elimination of competition amongst themselves over society contracts. In addition they moved towards providing medical insurance demanding a fee-for-service approach so that they could charge for operations and child birth, rather than flat rate contracts and greater control over who was allowed to join and additional. Negotiations went on for three decades, the much-better organised and more determined BMA picking off individual Orders, sometimes individual lodges and individual doctors, until the last national ‘hold out’ against the doctors’ drive for monopoly control of medical services, the Victorian Branch of the Independent Order of Odd Fellows, Manchester Unity, signed an agreement in 1921.

In both Britain and Australia the finances of many lodges, and a number of the Orders suffered in terms of membership and finances because of the costs of wars. During Victoria’s reign the army engaged in over 70 wars. However, World War I, which led to the death of a vast number of young men in both countries, had a particularly detrimental effect on the friendly societies.

Wars have been the most difficult of crises, natural or unnatural for contribution-based societies to overcome. More so than mining disasters, or large-scale unemployment, wars interrupt the flow of contributions without breaking membership eligibility. In the twentieth century friendly societies have been expected to keep brothers and sisters ‘good on the books’ while they were fighting for their country, the need to be seen to be ‘doing the right thing’ and a fear of major losses of numbers, forcing the Orders to pay the missing contributions out of their reserves. Wars also result in a need for considerable payouts in death and injury benefits, and the paying-out more than the getting-in continues for quite a while after the conflict has ended. Further, because of their commitments, Orders have found themselves becoming involved in the provision of retirement villages and costly provision for the injured.

Much of the administration work — collecting payments, remitting to a central office, making out payments, keeping the lodge books and providing returns for the Registrar — was being carried out by volunteer lodge secretaries and treasurers who, getting old were not being replaced in the twentieth century with vigorous, sufficiently-well educated younger men. In Gilbert’s words:
This old type of friendly society man — the backbone of the movement for whom the lodge was the centre of life, for whom the chief attraction was the fellowship of sober, prosperous, respectable working men like himself, who would say with pride that not once in his career had he been ‘on the funds’ — was becoming rare. And with his disappearance the friendly society movement, whatever the membership figures showed, began to decay.[53] After the conclusion of World War II, in both countries the vicious circle of ill health among aging members and a lack of dynamism set in for many societies and many folded in the 1950s. There were also significant changes to welfare legislation in Britain.

Roots and Branches

Many studies of friendly societies, such as the analyses of a single society, the regional studies or the assessments of the ways in which societies reshaped masculinity and respectability and contributed to the widening of participation in democratic structures, do not appreciate in full enough measure the roots that the societies have claimed within the distant past. The Free Gardeners identified with the Garden of Eden, while the Independent Order of Rechabites drew on a Biblical story for their name. The Ancient Order of Foresters employed images derived from early Christianity and Robin Hood, while the Druids, the Britons and others drew from a more local prehistory, albeit one with nationalist overtones. The Independent Order of Odd Fellows, Manchester Unity claims on its website to have been established before Jesus was born.[54] The societies’ regalia also often reflected interest in a romanticised past. The Nottingham Imperial Oddfellows’ regalia included full-length medieval costumes. These fraternal narratives, which stressed longevity and security, may have helped to reassure those contemplating membership, for joining a friendly society could be a risky business, but it was this apparently olde-worlde context, in addition to the secrecy, which made government regulation more likely and more likely focused on finances. In Britain there was inadequate protection against embezzlement and the Registrar of Friendly Societies estimated that, between 1793 and 1867, 36 per cent of societies collapsed.[55] When societies ran out of funds or had their money stolen, members found legal redress difficult and older members had particular problems as they could not easily join another society. Many societies barred new members aged over 40. There was also the risk to the individual of leaving the society earlier than expected and being unable to recoup any subscriptions paid. In the 1890s one in eight of the British members of the Independent Order of Odd Fellows, Manchester Unity lapsed within a five-year period. Another estimate indicated that half of all members lapsed.[56]

In addition, making these links to a mystic past enabled the societies to make large claims for themselves over and above financial stability. The Independent Order of Odd Fellows, Manchester Unity argued that ‘hundreds have joined our order, knowing as has been eloquently observed, that the MUOF [Manchester Unity Odd Fellows] has higher and holier ends than mere pecuniary recompense’.[57] The organisation overtly linked even conviviality to a higher purpose, harking back hundreds of years when feasts and refreshments marked Saint’s Days and a society’s founding:
The lodge is always considered as sacred ground: and no sooner do those who in any other place might come together as enemies, enter into its precincts, then their bad feelings seem to vanish … the sectarian feeling which is apt to prevail amongst religious enthusiasts and heart burnings of violent political partisans are for a time obliterated and forgotten by those who meet in the temples of Oddfellowship. There must then be some great and good moral principle amongst us by the aid of which we accomplish all this: there must be some powerful and virtuous influence connected with the Order.[58]

The narratives of an Arcadian past emphasised reciprocity over merchandise, communities and obligations as opposed to relationships constrained by the cash-nexus. By the nineteenth century the growth of the market economy and the communications infrastructure and the more rapid movement of people and goods undermined people’s sense of connection to one another. Social relations in the craft workshop were changing, the fraternal bonds between masters and men disappearing and the ideals of fraternity more difficult to realise in that location. Friendly societies’ social fraternity outside the workplace, their creation of togetherness through ritual, offered both a critique of capitalist development and accommodation to it. The moral community, which had vanished from the workplace, was reconstructed in the lodge.

The frequent reference on banners to the Good Samaritan can be seen as responses to and developing in parallel with, the representation of people as commodities which was associated with industrialisation. The parable, part of Jesus’ response to being asked how eternal life might be attained, concerns a travelling and relatively well-resourced outsider who helps an injured man who has been ignored by the representatives of established aid agencies. At some risk to himself the Samaritan gives him alcohol and makes a payment towards his healthcare. He promotes a cycle of exchange when he asks another man, an innkeeper, to provide for the injured man and be repaid later. There is surveillance of the sick as he promises to return and check on the results of the care. The popularity of the parable as an image on banners indicates the significance attributed to a tradition of reciprocity.

The notion of reciprocity would have been a familiar notion to friendly society members and to those they hoped to attract. It was the norm in many workplaces, villages and families in so far as English agricultural labourers were familiar with the idea of common land as a safety net for the poorest members of the community and with the notion that survival required the reduction of uncertainty through reciprocity and the socialisation of risks.[59] Much of the legislation with which members would have been familiar can be seen in terms of reciprocity. Prior to 1834 ratepayers could call on the rates in times of need for help with pensions or funeral expenses, and Poor Law overseers were able to pay friendly society arrears in order to stop people being eligible for relief.[60] Thus, it is not surprising that many workers’ combination at the centre of tensions between ‘labour’ and ‘capital’ in the first half of the nineteenth century were either explicitly ‘friendly societies’ or were variations on the mutual benefit model. In the Australian colonies, workers in the riskiest industry, mining, formed benefit and friendly societies first, onto which they then attached resolutions asserting minimum wages and hours of work. In the perhaps best known but often misquoted example, the agricultural labourers transported to Van Diemens Land in 1834 for swearing an illegal oath were initiating members into the Tolpuddle Agricultural Labourers Friendly Society.

Our conceptualisation, by placing friendly societies within this longer and broader historical context, foregrounds the parallels and bonds with other fraternal bodies. The British-based Friendly Society of Operative Stonemasons, established in 1832, was a trade union which provided benefits, as many did, and had a seven degree internal hierarchy; the Australian Operative Stonemasons Society, central to the first Eight Hour Day campaign in Sydney in 1858, happily called its members ‘masons’ and met in ‘lodges’ established by a ‘Grand Lodge’. Other ‘trade-oriented’ unions in Australia, notably the Sydney Coal Lumpers, the United General Laborers Association and the United Laborers Protective Society had Tylers (a guardian of entry), initiation rites, regalia benefits and banners replete with symbols they shared with the friendly societies. The names of the Australian Odd Fellows Union (a breakaway from the Grand United Order of Odd Fellows), and the earlier Australian [Trade] Union Benefit Society also indicate that black and white distinctions lie more in the eyes of subsequent observers than those who formed or ran these associations.

Friendly societies were part of a widespread, highly ceremonial, lodge-based fraternal movement, hierarchical in structure and focused on members’ duties and obligations. Oaths and secrecy marked initiates (and those with additional qualifications in the Order) off from those outside, and linked brothers together. Brothers shared with those they trusted, kept secrets from outsiders so that initiation ceremonies could be more traumatic and important ideas reinforced through drama. While fraternity was not male-only, an important part of its rites involved male bonding, ‘a movement that has made it possible for you to be a man’.[61] Members constructed a sense of a fictive brotherhood as trustworthy, though secretive, and able and willing to help their brethren across classes and localities. Besides ‘friendly societies’, this notion of fraternity played a significant part in, Speculative Freemasonry, trade unionism and the Australian Labor Party and left an important mark on the wider societies of both Britain and Australia.


* This paper has been peer-reviewed by two anonymous referees for Labour History.

1. Quoted in Wim Swaan, The Gothic Cathedral, Elek, London, 1969, p. 80.

2. Malcolm Chase, Early Trade Unionism, Fraternity Skill and the Politics of Labour, Ashgate, Aldershot, 2000, pp. 2–3, 107; Simon Cordery, ‘Friendly Societies and the British Labour Movement Before 1914’, Journal of the Association of Historians in North Carolina, no. 3, 1995, p. 39.

3a. J. Inglis, Our Australian Cousins, Macmillan, London, 1879, p. 178.

3b. Charles Dilke, Problems of Greater Britain, Vol. 2, Macmillan, London, 1890, p. 319.

4. David Green, ‘Medical Care through Mutual Aid: the Friendly Societies of Great Britain’, in D.T. Beito, P. Gordon and A. Tabarrok (eds), The Voluntary City: Choice, Community and Civil Society, University of Michigan Press, Ann Arbor, 2002, p. 205.

5. P.H.J.H. Gosden, The Friendly Societies in England, 1815–1875, Manchester University Press, Manchester, 1961 cites the estimate of four million members made in 1872 by the secretary to the Royal Commission on Friendly and Benefit Societies. W. Arnstein, Britain Yesterday and Today, 8th ed., D.C. Heath, Lexington MA, 1998, argues for six million in 1874. B. Gilbert, The Evolution of National Insurance in Great Britain, Michael Joseph, London, 1966, plumps for 4.25 million members in the early twentieth century; N. McCord, ‘The Poor Law and Philanthropy’, in D. Fraser (ed.), The New Poor Law in the Nineteenth Century, St. Martin’s, New York, 1976, suggests that there were 5.5 million in 1900; Paul Johnson, Saving and Spending: the Working-Class Economy in Britain, 1870–1939, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1985, maintains that there were 6.3 million in 1910. David Green, Working Class Patients and the Medical Establishment: Self-Help in Britain from the Mid-Nineteenth Century to 1948, Gower/Maurice Temple Smith, Aldershot, 1985, p. 31 proposes 9.5 million at that point. Other figures from J.C. Riley, Sick not Dead: the Health of British Working Men During the Mortality Decline, Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore, 1997, pp. 16–17.

6. Frederick M. Eden, Observations on Friendly Societies for the Maintenance of the Industrious Classes during Sickness, Infirmity, Old Age and Other Exigencies, J. White and J. Wright, London, 1801.

7. J.M. Baernreither, English Associations of Working Men, Gale Research Co., London, 1966, p. 11.

8.Ibid., p.156

9. Sidney and Beatrice Webb, Industrial Democracy, Vol. 2, Longman Green, London, 1897, p. 89.

10. Simon Cordery, ‘Mutualism Friendly Societies and the Genesis of Railway Trade Unions’, Labour History Review, vol. 67, December 2002, p. 274.

11.Northern Miner, 1 December 1886; Gympie Times, 18 and 28 November 1886, all in J. Stoodley, ‘The Development of Gold-Mining Unionism in Queensland in the Late Nineteenth Century’ in D. Crook (ed.), Questioning the Past: a Selection of Papers in History and Government: Essays in Honour of Gordon Greenwood, University of Queensland Press, Brisbane, 1972, fn. 2, p. 225.

12. Gosden, The Friendly Societies; P.H.J.H. Gosden, Self-Help: Voluntary Associations in the Nineteenth Century, Batsford, London, 1973.

13. Simon Cordery, British Friendly Societies, 1750–1914, Palgrave, Basingstoke, 2003, p. 99.

14.Ibid., p. 182. For a fuller critique see Bob James, A Social History of Fraternal Associations in NSW from 1788, Newcastle, forthcoming 2005.

15. Bob James, Squandering Social Capital: Trade Unions, Freemasons and Friendly Societies in Australia, self-published, Newcastle, 2003.

16. D. Green and L. Cromwell, Mutual Aid or Welfare State: Australia’s Friendly Societies, Allen & Unwin, North Sydney, 1984; G. Blainey, Odd Fellows: a History of IOOF Australia, Allen & Unwin, North Sydney, 1991.

17. M. Aveling, The Australian Natives Association 1871–1900, PhD thesis, Monash University, 1970; R. Nobbs, Ventures in Providence: the Development of Friendly Societies and Life Assurance in 19th Century Australia, PhD thesis, Macquarie University, 1978; N. Renfree, Migrants and Cultural Transference: English Friendly Societies in a Victorian Goldfield Town, PhD thesis, La Trobe University, 1983, p. iii.

18. For example see Malcolm Bee, ‘Providence with Patronage: the Royal Berkshire Friendly Society 1872–1972’, Southern History, no. 16, 1994; Sue Andrews, ‘The Barton-in-Fabis Female Friendly Society’, East Midland Historian, no. 3, 1993; M. Fisher and D. Viner, ‘”Go thou and do likewise”: the Ebington Friendly Society (1856–1920) and its Banners’, Folk Life, no. 37, 1998–99; Malcolm Bee, ‘A Friendly Society Case Study: the Compton Pilgrims Benefit Society’, Southern History, no. 11, 1989; Christine Hallas, In Sickness and in Health: Askrigg Equitable, Benevolent, and Friendly Society 1809–2000, William Sessions, York, 2000; Edwin H. Dare, ‘A Social Initiative in Loughton, Essex: the Loughton Mutual Labor-Aid Society, 1891–1899’, Local Historian, vol. 4, no. 24, 1994.

19. See for example, Julie O’Neill, ‘The Spirit of Independence’: Friendly Societies in Nottinghamshire 1724–1913, PhD thesis, Nottingham Polytechnic, 1992; Julie O’Neill, ‘Friendly Societies in Lincolnshire’, in Stewart Bennett and Nicholas Bennett, An Historical Atlas of Lincolnshire, University of Hull Press, Hull, 1993; J.J. Turner, ‘The Frontier Revisited: Thrift and Fellowship in the New Industrial Town, c 1830–1914’, in A.J. Pollard. Middlesborough, Town and Community 1830–1950, Alan Sutton, Stroud, 1996; P.T. Weller, Self Help and Provident Friendly Societies in Coventry in the Nineteenth Century, MPhil thesis, Warwick University, 1990.

20. Robert Putnam, ‘Let’s play together’, Observer, 25 March 2001.

21. Cordery, British Friendly Societies, p. 183, fn. 11 and his introduction, p. 3.

22. E.J. Hobsbawm, Labouring Men: Studies in the History of Labour, Weidenfeld and Nicolson, London, 1968, pp. 174–198; G. Crossick, An Artisan Elite in Victorian Society, Kentish London 1840–1880, Croom Helm, London, 1978; R.Q. Gray, The Labour Aristocracy in Victorian Edinburgh, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1976; B. Gilbert, The Evolution of National Insurance in Great Britain, Michael Joseph, London, 1966, pp.166–167.

23. E.P. Thompson, The Making of the English Working Class, Penguin, Harmondswoth, 1963, pp. 460–461.

24. Johnson, Saving and Spending, p. 62.

25. Robert Colls, The Pitmen of the Northern Coalfield: Work, Culture and Protest, 1790–1850, Manchester University Press, Manchester, 1987, pp. 132, 256.

26. E.J. Hobsbawm, ‘Artisan or Labour Aristocrat?’, Economic History Review, vol. 3, no. 37, 1984, p. 361; E.J. Hobsbawm, Primitive Rebels, Manchester University Press, Manchester, 1959, pp. 152–154.

27. Martin Gorsky, ‘The Growth and Distribution of English Friendly Societies in the Early Nineteenth Century’, Economic History Review, vol. 3, no. 51, 1998, p. 503.

28. H.V. Morton, Our Fellow Men, Methuen, London, 1936, p. 158; H.V. Morton, In Search of England, Methuen, London, 1927, pp. 20–22.

29. R. Leeson, Travelling Brothers, Paladin, London, 1980.

30. Paul O’Leary, Immigration and Integration: the Irish in Wales, 1798–1922, University of Wales Press, Cardiff, 2000, pp. 187, 189; R. Kalman, ‘The Jewish Friendly Societies of London, 1793–1993’, Jewish Historical Studies: Transactions of the Jewish Historical Society of England, no. 33, 1995, pp. 141–161; R. Liedke, ‘Self-Help in Manchester Jewry’, Manchester Regional History Review, no. 6, 1992, pp. 62–71; Dot Jones, ‘Did Friendly Societies Matter? A Study of Friendly Society Membership in Glamorgan, 1794–1910’, Welsh History Review, vol. 3, no. 12, 1985, pp. 324–349; G. Williams, ‘Friendly Societies in Glamorgan, 1793–1832’, Bulletin of Celtic Studies, no. 18, 1959, pp. 274–283.

31. A.R. McCormack, ‘Networks among British Immigrants and Accommodation to Canadian Society: Winnipeg, 1900–1914’, Histoire Sociale-Social History, vol. 17, no. 34, 1984, p. 371.

32. Charles W.J. Withers, ‘Class, Culture and Migrant Identity: Gaelic Highlanders in Urban Scotland’, in G. Kearns and C.W.J. Withers, Urbanising Britain: Essays on Class and Community in the Nineteenth Century, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1991; Dot Jones, ‘Self-Help in Nineteenth Century Wales: the Rise and Fall of the Female Friendly Society’ Llafur, vol. 4, no. 1, 1984, pp.14–26.

33. Anon. in Odes, [IOOF], Sydney, nd. p. 26

34. Renfree, Migrants and Cultural Transference, p. 120.

35. See ‘The Decay of the Societies’, in Report of the Registrar of the Friendly Societies for Period ending 31st December 1902, NSW Legislative Assembly, 1904, p. 4.

36. See for example Anna Clark, The Struggle for the Breeches: Gender and the Making of the British Working Class, University of California Press, Berkeley, 1995, pp. 35–39; Dot Jones, ‘Self-Help in Nineteenth Century Wales’, pp. 25–26; Evelyn Lord, ‘”Weighed in the balance and found wanting”: Female Friendly Societies, Self Help and Economic Virtue in the East Midlands in the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries’, Midland History, no. 22, 1997, pp. 100–112; Audrey Fisk (ed.), Female Foresters: a Century of Landmarks, Ancient Order of Foresters, Southampton, 1992; Julie O’Neill, In the Club: Female Friendly Societies in Nottinghamshire, 1792–1913, Trent Valley History Group, Nottingham, 2001; Ivy Evans, ‘Bishop’s Castle and Lydbury North Female Friendly Society’, South West Shropshire Historical and Archaeological Society Journal, no. 1, 1989, pp. 19–28.

37. Dowlais and Merthyr Unity of the Ancient Order of Britons, 1860 Lodge Charter. Copy in the Museum of Welsh Life, Cardiff, cited in S.L. Evans, A Study of the Socio-Economic Changes in Merthyr Tydfil that Contributed to the Development and Perpetuation of the Friendly Societies, MA thesis, University of Wales, 1994, p. 45.

38.Kentish Mercury, 21 February 1874, cited in Crossick, An Artisan Elite, p. 193.

39. Keith McClelland, ‘Masculinity and the “representative artisan” in Britain, 1850–80’, in Michael Roper, and John Tosh (eds), Manful Assertions: Masculinities in Britain since 1800, Routledge, London, 1991, p. 82.

40. See for example, Noel Israel, ‘The Philanthropic Order of True Ivorites’, Glamorgan Family History Society Journal, vol. 11, 1986, pp. 22–23.

41. John Garrard, Democratisation in Britain, Palgrave, Basingstoke, 2001, pp. 6, 184.

42. On friendly societies and the correlation between associational density and political participation see Martin Gorsky, ‘Mutual Aid and Civil Society: Friendly Societies in Nineteenth-Century Bristol’, Urban History, vol. 25, no. 3, 1998, p. 316.

43.Foresters’ Miscellany, March 1850.

44. Green, ‘Medical Care’, p. 204.

45. Green, Working Class; Johnson, Saving and Spending; Hilary Marland, Medicine and Society in Wakefield and Huddersfield 1780–1870, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1987.

46. Riley, Sick not Dead.

47. J. Sokolovsky, ‘The Making of National Health Insurance in Britain and Canada: Institutional Analysis and its Limits’, Journal of Historical Sociology, vol. 11, no. 2, 1998, pp. 247–280. For an assessment of the limitations of voluntary sector welfare prior to 1870, see Martin Gorsky, Patterns of Philanthropy: Charity and Society in Nineteenth-Century Bristol, Boydell and Brewer, Rochester New York, 1999.

48. J. Haslam, On the Prescribing of Accounting and Accounting Publicity by the State in Early to Mid-Nineteenth Century Britain: Accounting History as Critique, PhD thesis, Essex University, 1991, pp. 141–142.

49. Gilbert, The Evolution, p. 257; S. Yeo, ‘Working-Class Association, Private Capital, Welfare and the State in Late-Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries’ in N. Parry, M. Rustin, and C. Satyamurti, Social Work, Welfare and the State, Edward Arnold, London, 1979, p. 69; D. Green, Reinventing Civil Society: the Rediscovery of Welfare Without Politics, IEA Health and Welfare Unit, London, 1993, pp. 3–4.

50. On the rationale and initial impact of the legislation see Sir H.N. Bunbury (ed.), Lloyd George’s Ambulance Wagon: Being the Memoirs of William J. Braithwaite, 1911–1912, Methuen, London, 1957; Tim Alborn, ‘Senses of Belonging: the Politics of Working-Class Insurance in Britain, 1880–1914’, Journal of Modern History, no. 73, 2001, pp. 561–602; Pat Thane, ‘The Working Class and State “Welfare” in Britain, 1880–1914’, Historical Journal, vol. 27, no. 4, 1984, pp. 877–900.

51. Quoted in Green ‘Medical Care’, p. 214.

52. This adapted from James, A Social History.

53. Gilbert, The Evolution, p. 169.

54. The Oddfellows website (accessed 23 March 2005) says ‘The roots of the Oddfellows go back way beyond those of other organisations. Since the eighteenth century there has been a recorded legend of the Oddfellows which infers that the Oddfellows can trace its origins back to the exile of the Israelites from Babylon in 587BC.’

55. Humphrey Southall and Eilidh Garrett, ‘Morbidity and Mortality among Early Nineteenth Century Engineering Workers’, Social History of Medicine, vol. 4, no. 2, 1991, p. 240.

56. Alfred W. Watson, An Account of an Investigation of the Sickness and Mortality Experience of the IOOFMU During the Five Years, 1893–1897, Independent Order of Odd Fellows, Manchester Unity, Manchester (IOOFMU), 1903, p. 11. Evidence by the actuary to the IOOFMU, Reuben Watson, Royal Commission on the Aged Poor, vol. 3, p. 622, cited in J. MacNicol, The Politics of Retirement in Britain, 1878–1948, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1998, p. 116.

57.Oddfellows Magazine, April 1844.

58.Oddfellows: Preface to the Rules, IOOFMU, Manchester, 1855.

59. On the longevity of a rural culture of survival through mutual aid see John Berger, Pig Earth, Writers and Readers Pub. Co-operative, London, 1979, pp. 195–213.

60. For examples of the granting of such rate payments see Mary Barker-Read, The Treatment of the Aged Poor in Five Selected West Kent Parishes from Settlement to Speenhamland, 1662–1797, PhD thesis, Open University, 1988, p. 60; Shirley B. Black, Local Government, Law and Order in a Pre-Reform Kentish Parish: Farningham, 1790–1834, PhD thesis, University of Kent, 1991, p. 60. On the payment of arrears up to and after 1834 see R.P. Hastings, Essays in North Riding History, 1780–1850, North Yorkshire County Council, North Yorkshire, 1981, pp. 117–118.

61. Cited in James, A Social History, p. 183.


By: Dan Weinbren and Bob James