Friendly societies in the rural East Riding, 1830-1912

Neave, David

October 1985

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© 1985 David Neave. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced without the written permission of the copyright holder.

Local and affiliated order friendly societies which together formed the largest working-class movement in   Victorian Britain have been  largely ignored by social and labour historians. Oddfellows, Foresters, Druids,  Shepherds and Gardeners with their ritual, regalia, and secrecy imitative of Freemasonry, emerged as benefit  societies in industrial Yorkshire and Lancashire in the second and third decades of the nineteenth century. The  orders exploded into the East Riding in the wake of the passing of the New Poor Law in 1834 and its  implementation three years later but many branches suffered severe set-backs or extinction during the  economic crisis which hit agriculture in 1848-52. A substantial number of those that survived, many of them well into the twentieth century, chose independence rather than the authoritarian rule of a national headquarters.Affiliated branches far from being the preserve of the urban artisan, as has been often suggested, had an  extensive agricultural worker membership. The founders and leaders of branches, which were most commonly  located in larger open settlements with a substantial nonconformist and artisan population, were drawn from all  sections of the membership but village craftsmen predominated. The club anniversary which became the  principal feast day for many villages was initially, along with public house meetings and funeral ritual, much  criticised by Anglican clergy. They found, however, that their annual sermon and attendance at the dinner gave  them their principal point of contact with the rural working-class, a fact also realised after 1885 by politicians. The sickness and funeral benefits provided by the orders were considerable in relation to agricultural workers'  incomes in the mid-19th century but higher wages and the passing of the National Insurance Act in 1912  considerably decreased their significance to the rural community.

Department of Economic and Social History, The University of Hull
Saville, John, 1916-2009
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