History

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History of the Oddfellows

Oddfellows is one of the largest friendly societies in the UK having celebrated its 200 anniversary in 2010. Evolving from the medieval Trade Guilds, Oddfellows began in London in the late 17th century with more and more groups setting up around the country, generally meeting in pubs and church halls and now many Branches own their own meeting place or Oddfellows hall.In 1810 the Manchester Unity of Oddfellows was formed by a number of local social groups joining together. Every year, thousands of people join Oddfellows, not just for the range of financial and practical benefits available, but increasingly for the network of social events that membership offers and the opportunity for making friends.

How did Oddfellows begin?

In 1810 the Manchester Unity of Oddfellows became officially recognised by the Government. However, Oddfellows social groups in England can be traced all the way back to 1066, making it one of the oldest friendly societies currently operating in the UK.

What is a friendly society?

Emerging from the ‘medieval Trade Guilds’, ordinary people worked together to help each other out in times of need. In its early days of operation, there was no welfare state, NHS, personal insurance or even trade unions, so by joining friendly societies members could protect themselves and their families against illness, injury or death.

Where did the name the ‘Oddfellows’ come from?

Originally, every apprentice could expect to become a Master in due course with the expectation of running their own business in time, but with the growth in trade some master craftsmen wanted to pass their businesses onto their children. They also wanted to protect their market share by preventing too many rival businesses being set up by Fellows. Thus began the first industrial disputes.

The Masters excluded the lower orders from the Guild by introducing expensive uniforms and regalia, or livery, which members had to buy and wear in order to attend Guild meetings. Because the wage-earning Fellows could not afford such regalia, they found themselves excluded from meetings which became the exclusive preserve of the Masters who went on to pass Rules (or ‘Ordinances’), giving themselves greater powers and further excluding the wage-earning Fellows.

To combat this nefarious practice, the Fellows started to set up their own Rival Guilds, commonly called Yeoman Guilds, as distinct from the ‘Livery Guilds’ of the Masters. This led inevitably to the first organised industrial actions and attempts to suppress the Yeoman (Fellows) Guilds.

In time, the Yeoman Guilds became viewed as respectable, law abiding organisations. In smaller towns and villages Fellows from all trades in a town banded together to form one Guild. The Guildsmen could be called ‘Odd Fellows’ because they were fellow tradesmen from an odd assortment of trades.

How did the Oddfellows operate in the early days?

The earliest surviving rules of an Oddfellows Lodge date from 1730 and refer to the Loyal Aristarcus Lodge in London. It met in the Oakley Arms in Southwark, the Globe Tavern in Hatton Garden or the Boar’s Head in Smithfield. There are many pubs in Britain today which are named ‘The Oddfellows’ or ‘Oddfellows Arms’. Invariably these are past meeting places of lodges.

At that time, attendance at an Oddfellows meeting was compulsory, although not nowadays though, you’ll be glad to know!

The meetings included a number of toasts (at least three a night) and the Lodge was instructed to keep each members’ cups replenished during the evening. No wonder then that many Oddfellows meetings resulted in much revelry and, often as not, the calling of the Watch to restore order.

How and why was ‘Manchester Unity’ formed in 1810?

In 1810, members of the Oddfellows in Manchester area became dissatisfied with the way the United Order was being run by the ‘Original Oddfellows’ and broke away to form an independent Order with the title ‘Manchester Unity’.

With their improved organisation and rules, they encouraged many other Lodges across the country to leave the old Grand United Order and join the Independent Order under the ‘Manchester Compliance’. It was the Manchester Unity which was to become the Oddfellows of today.

Oddfellows subsequently introduced a number of novel benefits for members. These included the Travel Warrant, which allowed members seeking work to stay overnight in an Oddfellows Hall, anywhere in the country, free of charge.