England Examples of Friendly Societies and Their Records (National Institute)

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The original content for this article was contributed by The National Institute for Genealogical Studies in June 2012. It is an excerpt from their course English: Taxes, Lists, Business, Electoral and Insurance Records  by Dr. Penelope Christensen. The Institute offers over 200 comprehensive genealogy courses for a fee ($).

Development of Life and Accident Assurance (cont.)[edit | edit source]

Some of the many Friendly Societies are:

  • Ancient Britons
    The Most Honourable and Loyal Society of Ancient Britons was established in 1714 and operated theWelsh Charity School in Gray’s Inn Road, Finsbury and later in Ashford, Middlesex (Cole 1992).
  • Antediluvian Order of Buffaloes
    The Royal Antediluvian Order of Buffaloes (Buffs) was formed by stage-hands and theatre staff in London in 1822 and has a museum in Harrogate. For more information see their website.
  • Druids
    The Ancient Order of Druids was founded 1781, and is a completely different organization than the Celtic-inspired one that meets at Stonehenge at the summer and winter solstices. It has evolved into various forms, including the United Ancient Order of Druids which financially assists members who are unable to work because of sickness or incapacity. Stet Knight has further information.
  • Foresters
    The Ancient Order of Foresters was founded in 1834, but based on the Royal Foresters dating from around 1745, which assisted its members through the forests of life. By 1834 there were 358 branches or courts throughout Britain, and by 1868 membership was almost 350,000, and by 1900 almost a million. These were ordinary working people such as labourers, weavers, shoemakers, carpenters, factory workers or railwaymen. It is still an active society and its history and publications can be found at: Forsters Friendly Society

Audrey Fisk has rescued and collated the archives of the Foresters Friendly Society, which are housed at the main office at AOF Heritage Trust, College Place, Southampton SO15 2FE. These include:

  • Registers from 1793.
  • Membership books and directories.
  • Full details of expulsions (Sommers’ article Indexers and Their Indexes. The Ancient Order of Foresters. Family Tree Magazine Vol. 13 #2, page 11-12. gives examples).
  • Applications for relief (example in Sommers).
  • Indexes to much of this material.
  • Inexpensive publications such as By the Members, For the Members and Grandfather Was in the Ancient Order of Foresters.
  • County record offices also hold Foresters’ records.

A. Ron Jones comments on Candidates’ Declarations from the mid-19th century for the court Pride of Bentley of the Ancient Order of Foresters Friendly Society. His illustrations give name, occupation, parish of residence, certificate of health from a doctor and certified date of birth of each applicant.

Chart: Candidate’s Declaration Ancient Order of Foresters
[A. Ron Jones]

Ancient Order.jpg

  • Friendly Benefit Society (Bethnal Green)
    This was a Huguenot society founded in 1687 (as the Society of Parisians) in the east end of London. The membership was limited to 61 people who are listed annually in order of membership with fees paid, and the meetings were held at the Norfolk Arms public house. The extant records on FHL films 1537750-1 include:
  • Annual members lists 1797-1883.
  • Admissions Book 1819-1864.
  • Various minute books 1802-1912.
  • Account books and ledgers 1832-1911.

Some items are shown here.

Chart: Friendly Benefit Society Records FHL Film 1537750
Landlord’s bond

Know all Men by these presents that I, George Needham of the Norfolk Arms of Williams Street in the Parish of Saint Matthew, Bethnal Green in the County of Middlesex do give Security in the sum of Fifty Pounds to the Senior Stockholder for the time being for the Box and its contents of the Benefit Society held at my House Meeting on the first Monday Evening in every Month Known by the Name of the Friendly Society Instituted in the Year 1687.
Witness my Hand this 2 day of December 1830.

George Needham

Election of members

1857 6 April Proposed by Mr Geo Ferry, Wm Goddard by trade a cabinet maker, 34 Turk St.,
Bethnal Green, aged 20 years.

1858 5 July Proposed by Mr Edw. Ferry, Tho Stillwell by trade a weaver, No. 24 Mape St.,
Bethnal Green, aged 23 years.
1858 5 July Proposed by Mr John Beckham, James Palmer by trade cooper, No 4 Cross St.,
Mape St., Bethnal Green, aged 25 years.
1858 5 July Proposed by Mr Tho Combs Seconded by Mr John Hill that all members arrived
at the age of 65 years that he be exempt the call for Steward. Carried.
1858 2 Aug Proposed by Mr Tho King Forder Sam Ferry 14 Philpot St. Commercial Road
East by trade a printer, aged 21 years.
1858 2 Aug Proposed by Mr Wm Stevens Wm Stevens by profession an agent Hackney Road,
aged 22 years.
1859 7 March Proposed by Mr Keymer Henry Treadway by trade fancy trimming manufacturer, No 10 North Side Bethnal Green, aged 19 years.
1860 6 Feb Proposed by Mr Jan Handchure James Wallier by trade a pawnbroker No 18 Hertford Place Hagerston, aged 24 years.

  • Frothblowers
    Ye Anciente Order of Frothblowers was a unique and casual method of fund raising by working men by means of social drinking—beer and charity all at once! The system was promoted by brewers and upon payment of your AOFB sub[scription] with a coupon from a newspaper you received a pair of cufflinks. It was a very British take-off of the more serious Friendly Societies; the more people you signed up the higher you were promoted up the ranks—maybe reaching the giddy heights of Howling Gale or even Grand Typhoon (Armstrong 1991, Thornton). However, they did do splendid benevolent work, establishing a children’s heart hospital and assisting the Girl Guides, which they still do.
  • Gardeners
    The National United Order of Free Gardeners was established in 1820.
  • Morganites
    The Morganite Fraternity was re-formed in 1910 at Cymystwyth, a lead-mining village in Cardiganshire, Wales.
  • Oddfellows
    The Independent Order of Oddfellows commenced in 1813 and from 1851 had women’s groups called Rebekah Lodges. A quite detailed history of Oddfellows and other friendly societies can be found at their site. The Oddfellows are one of the two largest friendly societies.
  • Rechabites
    The temperance society called the Independent Order of Rechabites was founded in 1835 and based on the teachings of Rechab of the Old Testament. He was from a nomadic tribe hence the Rechabites’ branches were called tents. A basic contribution of 2 shillings a year from those under 35 provided a death benefit of £5. Additional contributions of one penny a week earned sickness benefits of 2/6d per week. The Rechabites had a membership (including women) of over 137,000 in 1900 and also provided social activities for youth and adults. They recruited from the working class, but not the really poor who found difficulty in achieving the regularity, punctuality and cleanliness insisted upon and whose lifestyle often contradicted the movement’s teetotal principles (Horn 1999). During the 20th century they have evolved into the Rechabite Friendly Society which offers Life, Endowment and Mortgage Protection Assurance. Knight (So Who Are the Rechabites and Druids? Hampshire Family Historian Vol. 24 #4, page 264-266 ) has further information.
  • Shepherds
    Prime Minister William Gladstone was a member of the Loyal Order of Ancient Shepherds which was founded in 1826.
  • Temperance Societies
    Other Friendly Temperance Societies were the Sons of Phoenix, the Sons of Temperance, and the Order of Good Templars for both men and women founded (in England) in 1868 about which Lloyd-Smith (Accounts of Abstention. Glimpsing the Lives of Our Teetotal Ancestors. Genealogists’ Magazine Vol. 28 #1, page 22-25) has written a fascinating article.


Information in this Wiki page is excerpted from the online course English: Taxes, Lists, Business, Electoral and Insurance Records offered by The National Institute for Genealogical Studies. To learn more about this course or other courses available from the Institute, see our website. We can be contacted at wiki@genealogicalstudies.com

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