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Pathfinder Pack on Friendly Societies - the Oddfellows (a SHELF Project Pathfinder Pack)

Pathfinder Pack has Narrative
 

Introduction

This resource explores the rise and decline of Oddfellowship in the Lothians and Fife. There were once many Oddfellow lodges in many towns and villages, owing allegiance to several different orders, or national organisations. Men, women and children joined the Oddfellows for the security and benefits they offered in an age before the Welfare State. Some lodges even survive today, such was the strength of the social and fraternal side of the lodges or clubs. The records illustrate many aspects of the Oddfellows. Try searching for the subject of your choice.

Friendly Societies - the Oddfellows (a SHELF Project Pathfinder Pack)

Oddfellows claim to be among the oldest fraternal and benevolent societies. Evidence for fraternal societies calling themselves 'Oddfellows' is claimed in England from the middle of the 18th century. Their histories adopt universally much earlier origins, linking themselves by means of supposed offshoots of medieval trades guilds to the Roman occupation of Britain and from Roman mutual support clubs to the Israelites in Babylon! Other traditions and 'facts' have become part of Oddfellow lore; they are mostly unsubstantiated by evidence.

National Independent Order of Oddfellows Loyal Esk Valley Lodge, No.1164
National Independent Order of Oddfellows Loyal Esk Valley Lodge, No.1164

Such extended histories are a common feature of affiliated orders. But the Oddfellows were among the first of the many friendly societies to begin to bring independent lodges into affiliation, to create networks of lodges answering to a Grand Lodge. Long histories then had an important rationale, the desire to show 'permanence'. This was because a long established mutual club might be a more attractive proposition than an organisation with no track record. Another reason was that the origin myth fostered an emotional link between a grand lodge, hundreds of local lodges and the thousands (later millions) of individual members - each generation could view themselves as the current embodiment of a great tradition.

Lodge Loyal Hope, No. 75, jewel with ripped purple ribbon made by George Tutill
Lodge Loyal Hope, No. 75, jewel with ripped purple ribbon made by George Tutill

Both reasons acted to sustain membership in a sector that throughout the 19th century increased in both complexity, as new affiliated orders were created, and numbers, as more people were able to afford subscriptions. In reality, the main reason the Oddfellows flourished was because their benefits and the financial stability of the organisation were more attractive than many of their rivals. For example, travel warrants allowed free accommodation overnight in the premises of distant lodges, which was a boon to those searching for work. Through good fortune (at first) their actuarial calculations were better than comparable societies. This meant there was a kind of positive feedback that encouraged expansion. More members joined, contributions amassed, and the society became ever more solvent and secure.

Much of the growth was led by the Independent Order of Oddfellows (Manchester Unity) Friendly Society, the first lodge opening in Edinburgh in 1840 - The City of Edinburgh Lodge. The Unity was founded in 1810 (although recorded minutes do not begin until 1814). The headquarters of the organisation was Manchester; the main base of the Bolton Unity was that town and the Kingston Unity began there.

Rulebook, Lodge Loyal Burgh of Cowdenbeath, No. 7209
Rulebook, Lodge Loyal Burgh of Cowdenbeath, No. 7209

More lodges of the Manchester Unity opened in East Lothian and Edinburgh in the 1840s, when Lodge Loyal Tyneside in Haddington, Lodge Loyal Hope in Dunbar and Heart of Midlothian in Edinburgh are all recorded. By 1875 the Oddfellows had acquired premises in Forrest Road, Edinburgh, for a meeting hall and offices. The order spread throughout the Lothians and Fife but it was not without competition as arguments and disagreements (as well as copy-cat creations) led to a proliferation of Oddfellow organisations.

William Pringle's apron, Loyal Tyneside Lodge of Oddfellows
William Pringle's apron, Loyal Tyneside Lodge of Oddfellows

The history of the Oddfellows in many towns and villages is complicated by several factors. Lodges sometimes transferred between orders, seeking the best possible deal for their members. In some places a short-lived lodge affiliated to one order was succeeded by another owing allegiance to a completely different one. Surviving documents usually make clear the affiliation of a lodge, as do pieces of regalia - the jewels, sashes, aprons and other artefacts that the members wore in meetings and on public occasions. Differences in detail on coats of arms and other symbols provide helpful information.

Some of the competing orders are listed next. The oldest was the Scottish Order of Oddfellows. The Order began in 1883 when the Edinburgh District of the Independent Order of Oddfellows, Manchester Unity broke away. By 1890 there were 3 lodges in the city including City of Edinburgh No 1 (founded 14 April 1840), Dun-Edin No 2, and St Bernard's No 3; juvenile branches were attached to several under the lodge name Edina. Before 1914 the Scottish Order opened a female-only lodge. Also from 1890 they shared Oddfellows Hall with the re-established Manchester Unity. That order then had three new city lodges - Sir Ralph Abercromby No 3456, Excelsior No 6108, and Persevere No 7684. The Scottish Order of Oddfellows lodges combined together in 1912 to form the Scottish United Oddfellows Approved Society for the administration of national health business and they continued to do this until 1948. Their original insurance business was carried on as before until the 1980s when they finally had to close due to lack of new members.

Sash of the Scottish Order of Oddfellows
Sash of the Scottish Order of Oddfellows

The National Independent Order of Oddfellows grew in strength as statutory benefits became established. It had the strongest numerical following in the Lothians in the early part of the 20th century, with 13 lodges in Edinburgh and District by 1900. Nine were still functioning in 1960. In East Lothian, Lodge Loyal Pride of East Lothian, No 1057, subsumed all other local Oddfellow lodges on its formation after 1911. Most of these, such as Loyal Tyneside in Haddington, Loyal Tantallon at North Berwick and Loyal Hope at Dunbar had been affiliated to the Manchester Unity. Loyal Pride was originally based in Dunbar and survived into the late 1950s, at which time the Secretary was travelling regularly from Dunbar to Tranent simply to get his books checked. He recalled (2002) that 'the membership was getting old' and the Lodge combined with one at Newtongrange, Midlothian; all subsequent business was transacted there. Unlike many Oddfellows' lodges the Pride of East Lothian took little interest in regalia and other esoteric matters. The Order survived into the 21st century, headquartered in Manchester.

Rules of Loyal Pride of East Lothian Lodge
Rules of Loyal Pride of East Lothian Lodge

The Caledonian Order of United Oddfellows had one lodge in the Edinburgh area, the Persevere, No 43, meeting at Hope Street, Leith Walk in 1910. This lodge shared a name, but not number, with a Manchester Unity lodge. A Dalrymple Lodge is also known, but its base is unknown. The order disappeared during the first world war and its fate is unknown. At least four other orders affiliated lodges in the south of Scotland. They were the Ancient and Noble Order of United Oddfellows, the Independent Order of Oddfellows Bolton Unity Friendly Society, the Grand United Order of Oddfellows Friendly Society and the Independent Order of Oddfellows Kingston Unity Friendly Society.

Advertisement for the Banks of Eden Lodge Ancient and Noble Order of United Oddfellows
Advertisement for the Banks of Eden Lodge Ancient and Noble Order of United Oddfellows
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