CRAFT, TRADE OR MYSTERY:
Part One - Britain from Gothic Cathedrals to the Tolpuddle Conspirators
By Dr Bob James
Revised May 2002
Freemasons, Friendly Societies and Trade Unions Index
Hosted by Takver's Initiatives
....The Odd Fellows
What we now call 'Friendly Societies' are in by far the most parlous condition of the 3 strands of benefit society as far as self-knowledge and on-going scholarship are concerned. Quite apart from claimed 'biblical' origins, all the 'real-time' histories of the largest of these, the Affiliated Orders [AO's] or 'Affiliated Friendly Societies' [AFS's], are, by-and-large, useless as far as their earliest days are concerned. They are rarely internally consistent, they are based on very little primary research, they have neglected critical questions and they, like other 'insider' histories, have more often than not been written with the intention of appearing squeaky clean, and/or superior, usually more 'modern', to their competitors.
The state of 'friendly society' scholarship can be gauged from the fact that reliable pre-1830 information is sparse and pre-1800 practically non-existent. Though clearly celebrating something new, the SF literature does not claim that 1717 was the establishment date for a new 'Order', indeed it ambiguously emphasises the opposite, it claims that it was a beginning which already had a very long history. Later, 'trade unionists' have wrangled internally over the claims of tradition versus modernity for their 'Orders'. Both have been moderately successful in their myth-making. 'Friendly societies' have been roundly denigrated by advocates of the other two 'strands' of benefit society whether they claimed to be a 'modern' invention or claimed an unbroken heritage back to Roman 'burial clubs'. In their myth-making they have failed dismally.419
'In-house' historians of the AFS's, comparatively numerous in the 19th century, did often admit to finding the question of 'their' origins very difficult. This didn't encourage much primary research, but rather a glib recitation of assertions culled from earlier, in-house 'scholars' who had justified their claim to be authorities by sounding authoritative. If they were from an SF source, so-called 'facts' were even more likely to be parroted rather than investigated.
One assertion has been that the whole era of 'friendly societies' began in 1739 when some Freemasons left Grand Lodge's aupices to form a new lodge and were called 'Odd Fellows' for doing so.420 Another has made the singing of 'odes' the reason for that 'odd' name.421 Spry's 1858 explanation for 'friendlies' also began with the 18th century clubs, established, he said, for 'literary men'
to meet periodically to eat beefsteaks, tripe, etc, and enjoy one another's company, and call their officers by high sounding titles, and style themselves Brothers.422
In such 'clubs', he asserted, rituals were formed 'to imitate the usages' of Freemasonry and club titles chosen to reflect an interest in ancient times - Orders of Romans, Britons, Druids, Ivorites, Foresters, Shepherds, Alfreds, Knights of the Golden Fleece, Noble Mechanics, the Ark, Knights of Burgundy, 'and many others of purely local character.' No primary evidence of any kind has been adduced to bolster 'borrowing' claims, and, some at least of the societies Spry named, eg, that of the 'Ancient Britons', pre-date 1717. Many of the claims made subsequently in the literature can be shown to start with Spry's History or from an anonymously-published Manual of Odd Fellowship which quoted Spry's work approvingly, and which Spry, in later versions of his History, claimed to have written.
Hardwicke, MUIOOF Past Grand Master, laid down a rhetorical trail in 1862, which served at the time to boost MUIOOF but which may strike readers of this account as familiar:
This, now the most extensive self-governed Provident Institution in the world, was established at Manchester in the year 1812. For some time previously, isolated lodges of Odd Fellows existed in various parts of the country, but they possessed no regularly organised sick and funeral fund. They were merely secret fraternities - humble imitations of Freemasonry - instituted chiefly for social and convivial purposes, although they occasionally afforded charitable assistance to members in distress. The presumed antiquity of these Provident Institutions of the operative classes, I have demonstrated...to be unsupported by evidence and opposed to known historic facts. I have been unable to obtain the slightest trace of a modern Friendly Society of this class prior to the publication of Daniel De Foe's work entitled 'An Essay on Projects' in 1696.423 [My emphases]
Scholars of 'American' odd fellowship, by which was meant the IOOF in the USA, were asserting towards the end of the 19th century the uniqueness of 'their' Order in a manner which appeared to turn back the clock. Since, MUIOOF 'although greatly improved, is chiefly a life and health insurance company'
(in) ours alone we find stirring appeals to the higher nature, and those moral and divine principles which elevate it almost to the dignity of a religion...Thus we have no common ritual, no affiliation and nothing of the same form of government.424
In truth, both arguments as 'labour' and 'masonic' historians have done, mix assertions about 'newness' in with claims about having a heritage, albeit borrowed in this case. The confused approach has been by-and-large accepted by 20th century 'objective' scholars of 'friendlies', such as Fuller425, whose otherwise very useful 1964 thesis insists on a Webbian distinction between 'pure' friendly societies and 'trade unions', dating the emergence of the former around 1751 when societies with mixed functions supposedly began to remove restrictions limiting membership to just one trade:
To the true friendly society there was a definite advantage in mixed trade membership for the society as a whole was not then so severely vulnerable to fluctuations or accidents in any one industry.426
One would love to know what her evidence for the pre-1750 situation was. Fuller finishes quite strongly, arguing that the social life in which fraternal associations formed must be seen as a whole for the societies to be understood. What a pity she didn't begin at that point.
Many of the accounts of 'friendly' history inadvertently show that the largest Affiliated Friendly Societies such as MUIOOF went through the same evolutionary process as SF, that is, tradesmen at their place of work or at their 'local', establishing 'benefit societies', one of which they label a 'Grand Lodge' and on the basis of which they begin establishing 'sub-branches'. And as with SF, none of these 'official' establishment stories is able to either confirm or deny any previous history, continuous or fractured.
George concluded in her 1930 study of London life in the 18th century:
Friendly Societies are not a new development of the eighteenth century; apart from the friendly society functions of the early guilds, often continued in their later phase of city companies, box clubs and benefit societies are to be found in the seventeenth century, but as the eighteenth century went on they multiplied.427
She quoted a 1742 London gazeteer:
There are in this city and suburbs another sort of societies, both of men and women (which are very numerous) denominated box-clubs, for the relief and mutual support of the poorest sort of artisans during sickness or other incapacity.
The report included references to the low but steady contributions, the weekly meetings with 'orders for their better regulation', and the 'strong box or chest with divers locks':
Tho' these societies consist of the meanest and rudest of the citizens, yet by their admirable regulations and constitutions (of their own making) they are kept in best order and decorum...Those of these societies which are of long standing and have amassed a considerable sum of money for a fund, oblige every member at his admission into the club, to pay five shillings entrance money and in some ten shillings.428
It was, she said, 'one of the most deeply-rooted principles' of the benefit society that it should provide its members - and usually their wives - with a funeral:
It was also the rule in most clubs, perhaps inherited from the ancient tradition of the guilds, that the members should attend the funeral of a fellow-member or pay a fine for absence.
These 'box clubs' or 'sick clubs' have been dismissed by just about all 'modern' authors as negligble except perhaps in total numbers. Yet a writer in 1789 believed 'there was hardly a village, no matter how small, that had not a sick club,' often separate ones for males and females, but carrying out similar functions.429 One such, begun at a Derbyshire village pub in 1736 (!) had just 3 Rules, introduced as follows:
An Account of the Orders to be observed and kept by all and every one of the members of the Amicable Society of the club held at the house of Alice Frith in Hathersage, commencing the twenty ninth day of January, 1736, and in the tenth year of the Raign of our Sovereign Lord George the 2nd by the Grace of God of Great Britain, France and Ireland King, Defender of the faith, etc.
1st This Society is to be governed by one Master, two Wardens, & 6 Councell, which are to be chosen out of the whole body.
2nd And whoever shall enter into this Society shall give sixpence entrance and fourpence every club night into the Box, towards the maintaining and upholding of so good a design, and none shall be admitted into it under sixteen years of age nor above the age of forty.
3rd And to every one that shall belong unto it after they have been in it one whole year, if sickness should come on them they shall have given unto them three shillings a week so long as it shall continue on them, and if their sickness be judged to be incurable they shall have two shillings a week while they live, and at their death shall have twenty shillings for to bury them if so required, and every member or at least those that are bidden shall convey their brother's corpse to the grave, & upon neglect of not coming, notice being given them, they shall forfeit sixpence to the box without good & just reasons be given to the Master and Wardens and they approve thereof.430
With rarely more than twenty members, this club/friendly society/insurer/educator/social lubricant and adhesive shows both guild-like features and 'modern' features such as age-restrictions. However long its life, it effectively protected 'industrial' conditions by preventing a pool forming of totally-impoverished unemployed willing to work at any price. It is therefore logical to perceive these 'humble' institutions in the same light as the other societies mentioned and as part of the same long historical continuum, even if any particular 'society' had only a relatively short life.
Ludlow argued in 1872 that if the numerous 'friendly societies' known to be in existence in the 18th century had appeared suddenly such an outburst would have been noted by social commentators, and no such remarks have been found:
I feel convinced that there is no historical gap between the gild of old times and the modern friendly society; that if we knew all, we could trace the actual passage from the one to the other; and I think it by no means impossible that the records still exist...431
Ludlow was arguing that the often-quoted contemporary references to 'friendly societies', perhaps the earliest is by Defoe in 1696, were support for making compulsory432 something already in existence, not something yet to be born.433 In 1872 he computed that 'three years before the first Friendly Society Act was passed (in 1793) there must have been a good 600 societies in existence.' The Webbs claimed 'sick and funeral clubs' had spread all over England by then, but Ludlow's point is their age. He held records showing that a single, Scottish seaport, Borrowstounness, 'possesses five [benefit] societies, one 238 years old, (ie established in 1634) one 213, (established in 1659) one 134, one 115, and one 91.'434 (My emphasis)
This 1634 'club' and others of similar, even greater age have been noted by other authors, including Beveridge. He referred to 191 established before 1800 and surviving until 1905 after which date National Health Insurance began. Beveridge listed six of the oldest, including that 1634 'club', still active as he wrote in 1949, and the oldest known which claimed foundation in 1555. It cannot be accidental that these dates are from the same period when guild scholars like Unwin suggested the journeymen combinations were going underground, when SF scholars argue that non-operative 'masonic' lodges were being instituted, nor that the supposedly newly-emergent 'club' names show clear trade connections.435 The oldest, of course, also coincide with the time when, as we have seen, craft/trade combinations from even the smallest 'burghs' were being incorporated and encouraged to exercise control of 'their' brethren.
SF scholar Wonnacott has analysed documents of the 'Friendly Society of Free and Accepted Masons' established in 1737 to show a benefit society with a highly developed form of administration which some would call 'modern' and some would call 'gild-like'. It did not confine itself to stone-masons, an additional reason for re-appraising insider claims about SF. That is, SF probably began as just one example among many of 18th century societies forced by exigencies into acceptance of initiates from wherever they could be found, not just from a preferred, titular occupation.
The 66 pages of Rules and Regulations in clear if wordy and very organised form show the lodge positions were not 'Warden', 'Master', 'Guardian', etc, - but 'President', 'Secretary', 'Treasurer' with the assistance of 'Clerk', 'Steward' and an 'Assistant' who acted as would a Tyler or Door Guardian. There is direct lodge involvement with health professionals. Elections were quarterly, meetings weekly and contributed funds were invested or lent to members, the executive was chosen specifically to represent 12 different trades and membership could not include more than 3 members of any one trade. The Society's Objects were clearly trade-oriented:
We whose names are hereunto subscribed, do unanimously agree to erect and establish a Beneficial Society of FREE and ACCEPTED MASONS for the mutual benefit and Support of each other, as well in respect to do Our utmost to promote the Interest and Advantage of the Members in their respective Trades, as to Provide for and Support those under such Misfortunes, and Sickness, which they may be visited or afflicted with from the HANDS of ALMIGHTY GOD.436 [Emphases in original]
This is a 'benefit society' which is clearly SF, a 'friendly society' and a 'trade union' all at the one time. In its spread of trades it is also what is later called a Trades Hall Council. And the executive, at least, wore ceremonial regalia. It beggars belief to suggest this was a 'spontaneous' eruption in the 18th century, someone's 'bright idea.' It invites comparison with the 'Operative Stonemasons Friendly Society' referred to already, but that will have to wait.
Wonnacott provided no information as to how these tradesmen and small masters initially came together, but members were already 'made' SF's. Shortly after inauguration, an attempt to establish a new SF lodge as a complement to and within this 'Society' caused disputes apparently because of the different entry qualifications for each. The arguement 'resolved', the titles of the lodge officers became the more obviously 'gildry' 'Master', 'Warden', etc. 'Masons' were made and raised as appropriate and the benefit system continued. What also continued was the landlord's concern that the brethren were not drinking enough, though each appears to be consuming a gallon of porter each per meeting.437
The 'Friendly Society of Free and Accepted Masons' was not alone in not being restricted to a single trade even when the society name appears to assert just that. The Newcastle-on-Tyne Glass Makers Friendly Society, founded in 1755, had in 1800 a rule which said 'no pitman, collier, sinker or waterman to be admitted this society' and a society of clothworkers in Halifax declared itself open to all trades except stonemasons, miners and delvers. Another, established among the 'tradesmen and other persons residing in the town and neighborhood' of Heptonstall near Halifax insisted in 1812 that:
No person shall be a member of this society who is not of that ancient and honorable society of Free and Accepted Masons and a subscriber to some regular lodge in some one of the five degrees of Masonry.438 [My emphasis]
A number of benefit societies clearly restricted membership on a basis not-indicative of a craft, trade or misterie but the title alone does not mean these were not also trade-based combinations, eg, 'The Protestant Refugees from High and Low Normandy Friendly Society',439 and 'The Kidderminster Provident Society of Protestant Dissenters'. Similarly with those clearly for women, or those often classified as 'ambiguous', viz, the 'Old Free and Easy', the 'United Brothers' and the 'Friendly Union'.440 One author claims the 'Order of the Golden Fleece', for example, to have been a club founded by German workmen who introduced the stuff [woollen fabric] trade into England.
Harry Carr (above) suggested that as they lost control of the trade in 'their' area, craft guilds turned from being trade unions into 'benefit societies' by which he meant 'friendly societies.' A Scottish observer in 1821 claimed the following were 'friendly societies' deriving from the 'opening up' of 'trade clubs':
in almost every town we have the Weavers' Society, the Wrights' Society; the Shoemakers' Society, etc, although very few of them have any connection now with the trade from which they derive their name..441
Authors seeing the reverse process in play - that 'friendlies' eventually matured and became 'Trade Unions' - are on very shaky ground. They often claim as 'friendly societies' what others list as 'particular trade combinations', eg, in the 18th century, the Fraternity of Dyers, the Friendly Society of Shoemakers [Cordwainers] and the Society of Weavers, with only an arbitrary definition of one or the other category to support the claim. Remember the Webbs (above) claiming as 'trade unions' if not 'Trade Unions', a long list of 18th century, apparently trade-based societies. These remain un-researched as to actual membership, as does the wonderfully-named 'Independent United Order of Mechanics Friendly Society' established, or re-invented, in Lancashire in 1757.
In 1988, David Neave took up Hobsbawm's suggestion about studying UK 'friendly societies' at the local level, but he took 'local' to mean single societies named after a village or town, such as the 'Otley Friendly Society'.442 Using records extant in the 1980's his list included, for example, the 'Patrington Amicable Society', 'Pocklington Royal Brotherly Society' and the 'Kilham Unanimous Society'.
He also listed 'Union' Societies which, by his reckoning, operated from the mid-18th to the mid-19th century. Most interestingly, these appear in other records, as early 19th century reform vehicles. That is, Neave has the 'Howden Union Society' (he noted its existence in 1764 and again much later), and the 'Worksop Union Society' (his reference 1849), while he seems unaware that between these two dates, eg, at the 1819 Peterloo rally, there were a number with this 'Union' name, including the 'Rochdale Union Society', whose banners showed lodge/fraternal emblems. The possibility that this naming similarity ('Union') indicated a federation or network has apparently not been followed up.443
Having avoided specifically named 'trade societies', Neave's material nevertheless included a number composed of members of one trade, eg, fishermen, while for the rest he says only that 'the bulk of the membership of the urban societies were craftsmen and tradesmen'. He records cases of better-off persons joining some of the village societies as 'patrons', eg, attorneys, clergymen, surgeons and so on.444
Most potentially-interesting of all may be the societies whose peculiar names and anecdote-driven 'memoirs' have eroded the capacity of many historians to focus on their content.445 As newspaper notices of their coming events did, many 18th and 19th century 'clubs' used code or some other means to disguise venue, participants and/or purpose. The 'Antigallic Hicks' was made up of Master Peruke [wig] Makers and was in fact a trade-based 'friendly society.' The 'Ancient Society of Codgers' was devoted to
the promotion of the liberty of the subject and the freedom of the press; the maintenance of loyalty to the laws, the rights and claims of humanity, and the practice of public and private virtue.446
A 'Friendly Society of Cockneys', in addition to being a benefit society for its members and following the guild pattern with regard to annual sermon, meeting and dinner, raised money to educate, clothe and apprentice poor children. Influential antiquarians some of whom were Freemasons, such as William Stukely, are credited with founding groups to host their studies, eg, the Society of Roman Knights in 1722.447 Boswell,448 Hogarth,449 and other well-known persons attended a number of societies with funny or ambiguous names deliberately disguising serious intentions, secretive practices and benevolent activities. Uglow concluded her account of one, the 'Beefsteak Society':
It was a site of education, a means of mutual protection like the old trade guilds, another, better, club (and it) took over the St Luke's Day feasts celebrating the artist's patron.450
Uglow avoids asserting the club ritual was 'Masonic' or modelled on the newly-publicised Grand Lodge practices. Other authors have not been so perceptive. After-hours meeting places in 18th century London have even been reported as 'pseudo-masonic' clubs, as though someone at the time could have said such-and-such-a-one was the 'correct' SF, and the others mere copies.451 When SF was in low repute and irregular 'makings' were common, a tavern advertised on one occasion 'Masons made here for 2/6d'.452 Such 'brothers' would certainly have been 'irregular' by Grand Lodge's definitions, but by whose definition were they even within coo-ee of being 'Masonic.' Presumably, only because the word was being used as shorthand for any initiation ceremony suffered by new arrivals into a 'club' which might be as silly or as rowdy as the particiapnats cared to make it.
Beside the more-or-less 'official' 'Friendly Society of Free and Accepted Masons' (above) there were 'regular' SF organisations that could reasonably be seen as equivalent to, if in competition with, Premier Grand Lodge. 'Free Union Masons' - an Order started by SF men for women - a 'Social Order of Freemasons' and a 'Society of Honorary Freemasons' are known to have existed. The five 'Grand Lodges' of English SF known to have operated in the 18th century were 'official' if not 'regular'.453
But there were others again whose relationship to SF, if it can be clarified, may well provide answers to some of our most pressing questions. After 'the '45', ie the rising in favour of 'Bonny Prince Charley', an active network of Jacobite societies and 'lodges' were said to be flourishing in London, Liverpool, Preston, Norwich, Bristol, Manchester, and in Wales, where the reference is to the 'renowned Sea Serjeants' and the 'legendary Cycle of the White Rose.' The same author has claimed in a typically uncontextualised throwaway remark that '(even) the Newcastle colliers proclaimed their mass allegiance to King Charles III in 1750.'454 The 'Sea Serjeants of Carmathenshire and Pembrokeshire' allegedly had as headquarters 'the Carmarthen Masonic Lodge at the Red Lion' public house, while Jacobite Societies supposedly nestled behind titles such as the 'Beaufort Hunt CLub', the 'Crosby Bowling Society', 'Jemmy's Men' and the 'Oyster & Parched Pea Club.' An end-of-century journalist, Reid claimed 'a revolutionary freethinking underworld' centred largely on London's debating clubs had become, in McCalman's paraphrase, 'the principal institutional form' for Jacobinism:
Reid distinguished two types: relatively genteel, formal debating groups which met in independent premises to disseminate rationalist-republican ideas; and more numerous alehouse convivial clubs, atttended by artisans and a scattering of marginal middle-class intellectuals, which voiced a melange of ribald blasphemy, millenarianism and political treason, and plotted insurrection in secret.455
McCalman is far too quick to imply stratagems by the participants rather than allow them genuine beliefs but he does note that fraternal ritual was important in the 'rough male republic' of the 'alehouse club':
Nicknaming, toasting, chanting, singing and linking hands helped to differentiate them from rival radical groups and to maintain morale in difficult times.456
Out of this thicket of disconnected 'research' appear the Odd Fellows.
The Odd Fellows457
Attempting to ground the original 'odd fellow' impulse is extremely difficult. The early reaches of the alleged 'record' of this collection of over 30 separate 'Orders', including what became the largest AFS in the world, 'Manchester Unity' [MUIOOF], contain huge gaps, there are very few undisputed 'facts' and, as one can imagine in such a situation, the quality of historical research, up to the very recent past, has often been poor indeed.458 Later 'scholars' have often adopted the unscholarly approach of repeating what the first authors into the field have stated rather than checking, let alone interpreting it. As with SF and 'trade unions', the most basic questions still require answers: what are we actually talking about when we use the term 'odd fellow'? when, where and why did these particular combinations form? and what, if anything, can be retrieved from past attempts to chronicle them?
At least in Commonwealth countries, too much weight has been accorded to MUIOOF as though it alone explained and described 'benefit societies.' Strictly speaking, it isn't even an Order in its own right but one branch only of the 'Independent Order of Odd Fellows', itself a breakaway from an earlier Order, probably what is now called the 'Grand United Order of Odd Fellows.' Most of MU's in-house authors have glossed this early history and adopted a smug, triumphalist tone which has impeded understanding and serious research. In the USA, the strongest strand of that colony's OF history, actually called the 'Independent Order of Odd Fellows', has been represented as the only Odd Fellow history, to the exclusion of even MUIOOF history. This competitive ploy has led many non-lodge authors into admitting defeat and referring simply to 'the Oddfellows', or, what's worse, to lumping all 'friendlies' together as 'Masonic.'
Comparing the UK and US 'official' OF histories has yeilded some progress, as has bringing the literature of the 3 strands of benefit society history together. There are, for example, a number of curiously overlapping dates and sequences of dates, especially in the 18th century and early 19th century, in the official histories. I'm not suggesting borrowing from one strand to another is likely or even possible at these times, rather that placing one account over another, as it were, at these dates demonstrates the feasibility of the close habitation arguement, even that the separate 'official histories' are discussing the same groups and the same events but by different names, certainly from different perspectives. 'Overlapping' of friendly societies with SF and with trade societies appears a very likely explanation when we focus on the OFs but not of the sort asserted by the Webbs.
An inventory of the earliest claimed OF 'facts' would read as follows (my comments interpolated):
Sheffield 'Odd Fellows' (actually Sheffield MUIOOF) claim (1999):
that a 'Grand Lodge of the Ancient Order of Odd Fellows', was established in Sheffield under a Dispensation granted by the City of London in the 17th century.
There is no known supporting evidence for this claim.
In 1696 Daniel Defoe supposedly mentioned a 'Society of Odd Fellows'.
I have yet to see this verified.
The London SF Grand Lodge in Feb, 1724, changed its Rules to:
prevent brethren being members of any other societies/clubs. This supposedly forced 'Odd Fellows' to form their own 'club' by 1736.
There is no supporting evidence for the second part of this claim.459 Gould has the 1724 SF resolution, and with it further evidence showing it lapsed for want of support, but was revived in 1742.
Moffrey (1910), among many others has claimed that the OF's were 'founded in imitation of Freemasonry'.
There is no evidence for this claim, which I address further below.
Spry suggested the 'Order of Gregorians' was the source for the odd fellows.
There is no known evidence for this claim.
Stillings asserts the 'Ancient Order of Bucks' was the source.
There is no supporting evidence for this.
Neither an alleged 1745 reference in the Gentleman's Magazine about an 'Odd Fellow's Lodge' in London where a 'comfortable & recreative evening' could be had, nor even the alleged secondary reference in the 1842 Bentley's Magazine, can now be found. It seems to have come from an 1846 book by a Glaswegian, Burns, a participant at the time of his writing in a crucial struggle for the heart of 'MU'. His scholarship appears no better founded than those who have recycled his 'facts'.
Also in 1745, the London 'Grand Lodge of Odd Fellows' supposedly split into a 'Patriotic Order', supporting William of Orange, based in London & southern England, and an 'Ancient Order' strong in the north of England & Scotland, supporting the Stuarts.
No primary evidence has been cited or is known by me for any of this claim. Mentions of 'ancient odd fellows' occur in various writings in 19th and 20th literature, but always unreferenced and unexplained.
Smith & Roberts, following others,460 have asserted that the 'Odd Fellows' were suppressed after seceding from the 'Ancient Order of Bucks'.
No date nor any useful references have been given for the claim.
In 1748, the 'Odd Fellows' supposedly excluded from their 'club' the last of 'working men' members, in favour of professional men and 'the better off'.
No evidence is known for this claim.
Minutes of a 'Loyal Aristarchus Lodge' of 'Odd Fellows' for 12/3/1748, and the 'Rules of Loyal Aristarchus Lodge, No 9, Order of Oddfellows' have been cited but their present whereabouts is unknown.
A 1745 split of a society's membership along Protestant-Jacobite and north-south geographic lines is possible, as is the notion that the losers of the struggle would be suppressed and any lingering supporters expelled after the dust cleared. The alternative SF, the 'Antient's', predominantly Irish and working class, being established shortly after seems too much of a coincidence, as does the Jacobite 'network' also referred to above, while an Odd Fellow's Club wherein could be had a 'comfortable and recreative evening' appears totally out of place in such a context.
I have seen no attempt to explain who, what or why 'Aristarchus'. The word doesn't appear in any reference book I have, nor does it appear in any list of 18th century clubs and societies. Nor have I seen any attempt to explain of what it was 'Lodge Aristarchus' was the ninth.
That some 'lodges' were not genuine SF, from the London Grand Lodge's point of view, was perhaps first claimed in Dermott's (1750's) injunction to those who desired to become 'Freemasons' to shun 'Mason-clubs', that is to say 'lodges' formed without authority
for you may rest fully assured that such clubs are generally composed of excluded members, or persons clandestinely made by them, and consequently incapable of giving proper instruction to their pupils...Several of these Clubs or Societies have, in imitation of the Freemasons, called their Club by the name of Lodges and their presidents by the title of Grand Master or Most Noble Grand.461
The 'Most Noble Grand' here is very curious, as it is not a 'modern' SF title, but 'Noble Grand' is used by OF's. SF authors assert it derives from the Bucks. Dermott is not necessarily any more objective than anyone else, here presupposing that the SF was the first with the terms 'lodge' and 'Grand Master'. He seems to have been very early in the queue of authors assuming that any society using the same or similar words to those SF used must be copying SF. Spry, a key 19th century example, thought it obvious because of common symbolism and the use of an oath and a degree structure. Such claims reflect the ignorance engendered by the lack of research. It should not be necessary to point out that SF was, and is, in exactly the same position as those other societies - after nearly 300 years it cannot yet explain from where it 'borrowed' its rites, symbols, etc, or when it did so.
At the same time, an argument could be mounted on the basis of just the information given in the last few paragraphs that what became the various Orders of Odd Fellows began with a group of discontented, perhaps rebellious working class Irish, one-time SF members, or perhaps rejected would-be members. And that such a group of London artisans established a network of lodges only to find their organisation rent by conflict over the '45 Rebellion and subsequent government repression. Thus the establishment of 'the Antients' and the Grand Lodge of England within SF is probably very relevant.
Whether such a situation would make it more or less likely that artisan/rebels disregarding 'the Antients' and establishing 'the Odd Fellows' would 'borrow' SF rites, strategically or not, is moot. It seems to me that any borrowing at all is unlikely, but that, if it occurred, it would be of what SF had given up of pre-1717 custom, not what SF 'created.' We will see that SF rites themselves were far from stable or uniform across the UK until well into the 19th century, making even the idea of borrowing very problematic.
Very little is known about either the 'Order of Bucks' or the 'Order of Gregorians' or why any name change, to 'Odd Fellow' would have been appropriate or necessary. Both 'Orders' have been regarded by SF's as their 18th century competitors, neither are known to have been associated with a trade. A third 'Order' the 'Gormogons', of similar date and described by SF's as an 'obscure anti-Masonic and probably Jacobite club', also gets a mention, again without sufficient explanation.462
Many pieces of relevant information are still in transit to their place in the larger puzzle. As exemplar straws in the broad fraternal wind, Durr, in a Brighton (UK) exhibition in 1989, spotlighted and dated the following items: a medallion from the 'Society of Bucks', 1770c, snuff boxes from the 'Order of Bucks', 1760c, a mug from the 'Society of Bucks', 1760c, a summons from the 'Society of Bucks Euphrates Lodge', 1778, a certificate from the 'Royal Hanoverian Lodge of the Society of Bucks', 1812, and a certificate from the 'Order of Bucks, Ancient Lodge of Assyria', which he dated at 1826. The same exhibition claimed an 'Oddfellows' snuff box, 1810c, medallions from 'Oddfellows', 1760 and 1802, and an 'Oddfellows' apron, dated 1790c, all of which provides much food for thought and serious research.
Many or all of the contemporary references may turn out to have been accurately and honestly made, but it is not possible to be sanguine about them at present. A sorting out will depend partly upon an understanding of the reasons behind the name 'odd fellows'. My current sense is that the title should be seen in the context of, and perhaps as reaction to 'the Fellows' of the Royal Society and their 'club'. In more general terms, it seems to me that only a much closer understanding of 18th century 'club' history will provide answers to many of the questions being asked in this review.463
In brief, while the SF claims about 'the Bucks' and the others are suggestive, no primary evidence has come to light substantiating any 'borrowing' suggestions, let alone any involving odd fellows and/or these other 'clubs.' Other claims about OF origins and 'trade unions', which we will now need to consider, cannot easily be assimilated into this story.
The Liklihood of Borrowings by Trade Combinations from SF
When the general tenor of the 'borrowing from SF' claims for trade-based societies is considered the weakness of the case becomes obvious:
The working of a fixed ritual obviously suggests an analogy - the possibility of a derivation....But the adoption of such terms as 'Lodge' and 'Grand Lodge', a separation into 'degrees', the use of a secret cypher, the wearing of aprons, the inclusion of the 'All Seeing Eye' as a symbol, all seem to point conclusively to an intentional copying of features prominent in Freemasonry.464
1: This sort of generalised claim cannot be sustained against even a moderately well-informed awareness.
The second half of the 18th century has been seen as the time of the greatest proliferation of secret societies in Europe. It is mainland Europe which the particular authors usually have in mind, and the societies to which they attach the label are not usually seen in lists of artisinal 'benefit societies'. Groups like the Illuminati, the Strict Observance and the 'Order of the Gold and Rosicrucian', which proved to have elements intent on subverting authorities, have been commonly associated with SF, sometimes by individual members, more often by their hysterical targets. But to the degree they partook of 'the lodge idea' they must be included here, if only briefly.
Claims made by a Jesuit priest, Barruel, in the 1790's about SF's involvement, along with the Illuminati, in the French revolutionary conspiracies and 'the Terror' have been repeatedly recycled without necessarily being understood.465 During ferment around the possibilities of Vatican support, Robespierre did champion a civic religion on a Rousseauesque model he called the 'Cult of Reason, of the Supreme Being and Theophilanthropy'. Intended to attract religious-minded revolutionaries who were not fanatics about detail, it vanished with its founder, but it was located theologically where Freemasonry was, by one interpretation, attempting to centre itself - on the idea of a 'supreme being' which was flexible and non-specific.466 The substance of Barruel's claims, which did not mention this cult, I leave until I can consider their application to Ireland and Britain.
The Order of the Illuminati (or Enlightened Ones) was an avowed secret society among bourgeois and gentry circles dedicated to fighting against religious and secular tyranny and for the reformation of society on democratic lines. In 1784-85 Bavarian authorities specifically banned both it and Freemasonry. Hamill and Gilbert claim that it is this association that continues to feed the papacy's hostility to Freemasonry, first articulated in 1738. It requires only that SF be seen as secretive and liberal to explain the other attacks by government on it in its first decades, 1735 (Holland), 1737 and 1744 (France), 1744 (Geneva) and 1745 (Berne).467
The Strict Observance, though Catholic, has been said to have deliberately mimiced SF, which seems unlikely on a number of grounds, including the enormous turmoil over much smaller doctrinal questions than the huge issues also separating Rome from London. However, outsiders at the time, let alone those at a greater distance like the Webbs, could know little about the internal reality of such an Order, or those of SF, so what does the label 'masonic borrowing' actually indicate?
In the large majority of cases, as already suggested, it indicates only that the combination being alluded to, had or appeared to have what were regarded as basic 'lodge' essentials, namely, an oath of secrecy for members and indications of ritual, however sparse, to distinguish 'brothers' from outsiders. These 'essentials' would appear to be the sine qua non of benefit societies from the guilds to the 19th century, at least.
2: Specific claims about transmission of rites and oaths via the weavers and the odd fellows into Owen's 'trade unions' require for their support specific evidence, for example, that at a certain identifiable time the basic or 'Craft SF', ie the 3-Degrees only, was highly regarded by the erstwhile borrowers and seen by them as having the best model. The insistence on prior SF membership by the 1812 Rules of a tradesmen's society (above) is the sort of lead in need of urgent follow-up but in the absence of such follow-up....
The numerous exposes and satires published on SF from before 1717 and throughout the 18th century, and other evidence including that of the Antients, do not support the idea that the English artisinal classes were mightily impressed with what gentry in SF were doing to operative traditions. At a time when workers were trying to hang on to what they understood to be custom, SF was increasingly seen as a plaything of alien forces. The 1820's publication of SF ritual by reformer Richard Carlyle may be thought to have provided a 'text book' into which Owenite artisans could dip at leisure. Unfortunately, it appeared just before the repeal of the Combination Acts made conspiratorial trade organisation less necessary and only a few years before the Morgan Affair in the US made such 'dipping' most unappealing.
This event, involving the disappearance of a knock-about stonemason and a journalist both apparently black-balled from SF and their attempts to expose SF practices in north-eastern USA, obtained its emotional weight not from an idea of revolutionary politics being carried on behind an SF facade, but from the strange idea that secrecy equals power and secrecy exposed equals disgrace and impotence.468
3: There has been no credible reason advanced for artisans to adopt SF procedures.
SF in the UK was not easily given exemption from proscriptive legislation at the end of the 18th century when trade combinations and 'friendly societies' were both being targeted by a fearful establishment. LH's claims that 'trade unions' were disguising themselves, not as 'Freemasons' but as 'friendly societies', is especially droll.
SF's do not welcome and SF scholarship has down-played its 'benefit society' past, especially the tramping networks and functional secrecy, the very elements likely to be attractive to a subversive artisinal combination. We have seen that some writers have assumed that artisans had no other source for 'dressing up' than the 'tinsel and trappings' of SF. If they were going to dress themselves up in any borrowed 'paraphenalia', why would artisans borrow from an only-just-legal organisation for secret purposes, and then call themselves by a name that was no more warmly regarded by the authorities than the one they were trying to disguise?
4: Artisans had no need to borrow from SF.
The accumulating evidence argues that trades, including stonemasonry held their own rites, regalia, and 'orders for better regulation' into at least the 19th century, however damaged or imperfect, and had no need to borrow from either SF or operative masonry. Durr, an SF, has drawn together some known 18th century and later 'rituals of association', including:
four London lodges of bookbinders came together in the 1780's to establish their 'trade union' with a 'Ceremony of Making',469
metal workers in 1766 formed the United Order of Mechanics, which a member described as a 'secret order', and
the 'Ceremony of Making' of the Society of Horsemen, 'a remarkably successful form of trade unionism' among Scottish farm servants in the 19th century;470
The Bookbinders' 'making', used when four of their lodges - the 'Society of Friends', 'The Brothers', the 'City Brothers' and 'The White Stocking Lodge'- amalgamated to form 'the trade union for London Bookbinders', used lodge officer titles not found in SF. It began:
The Friend proposed being below stairs, the proposer shall conduct him to the door, giving notice with three distinct knocks, answered by the Friendly Sire within, with the Friends upstanding and uncovered [ie, hats off] the PS [Principal Sire?] shall then call out, 'Conduct the Friend in.'
The Secretary being at the door, wearing a purple sash, with a flaming gilt heart attached thereto, and robe, the person proposed repeating the following words:
'True generous friendship no cold medium knows, But with one love, and one love, and one resentment glows.'471
Equally indicative of a continuing, similar but non-SF, tradition across all trades is an ordnance of the 1768 Fraternity of Tailors stipulating:
that whatever entring freeman of the Craft, or any other freeman thereof, shall anyways reveal or divulge to the Magistrate or any Burgess of Guild, directly or indirectly, any of the Craft's secrets, especially anent their procedue when entring [ie, 'making'] freemen of the traid, anent the composition or other expenses, shall never carry public charge amongst the said traid as deacon, maister, or box master, until they give all satisfaction anent the said misdemeanour.472
This language is straight out of the mediaeval 'Charges'. The intercession of SF as explanation is not required.
5: The logistical requirements involved in 'Webberian' borrowings before 1834, which I note, have not been investigated, would appear insurmountable.
No suggestion has been made by Webbs or their acolytes that many artisans were also Speculative Freemasons throughout the century or so prior to 1834 which might have made an osmotic kind of borrowing feasible. For specifically SF procedures to have been borrowed, there would have to have been either a tyrannical foisting on to all 'unionists' of practices chosen arbitrarily by some person or group; or a mass adoption over the whole country of the same details at much the same, comparatively brief time. Either is mind-boggling in its absurdity.
I have suggested that the Webbs showed no signs of knowing the first thing about SF. I'm sure they were not knowledgable about the state of even Craft SF ritual in the UK during the decades prior to to 1834. Carr (above) recounted the usefulness of 18th century exposes to the education of SF brothers in a situation where until well into the 19th century there was little or no standardisation of ritual or of the associated lectures, prayers, etc:
During the 40 years or so, from 1769 onwards, the English ritual was largely moulded...by...English moralists and expounders...Broadly it is fair to say that the basic pattern of our work today follows the ritual and procedures that were approved at the Union ...Despite wide variations of practice that must have existed all over England, this recognition of the importance of the Installation ceremony did not lead to any immediate attempt to standardise it. It was not until 1827 that the Grand Master authorised a special committee of Brethren to adopt and demonstrate a 'standard' version, and the ceremony in general practice nowadays is that which was approved in 1827...473
Unification of the two major 'British' Grand Lodges, the 'Moderns' and 'the Ancients', was only achieved in theory in 1813, conformity in practice, again of just the basic 3-Degree Craft, was far more difficult:
There had no doubt been attempts at various times before the Union to secure uniformity of working but it seems unlikely that they were particularly successful...In 1810 the premier Grand Lodge...adopted alterations designed to reverse changes made some seventy years before...
When the Union of the two former Grand Lodges took place in 1813 the task of settling the Ritual forms for use in the Lodges under the new United Grand Lodge was given to another Lodge specially formed for the purpose.474
And so on, well after the time that artisans including odd fellows are acknowledged by all concerned to have been using ritual. Another in-sider has written about the 'unsatisfactory material' with which scholars, trying to determine exactly what the 'Antient' and/or the 'Modern' ritual was, must work:
(It) must be borne in mind that that in those days it was quite impossible for there to have been one uniform ritual for either body. Lack of any real contact or communication between lodges throughout the length and breadth of the land must have resulted in a considerable number of variations...
(It) is possible only to list the charges made by the Antients [against the Moderns] and suggest to what extent they appear to be justified:
i) Preparing candidates incorrectly. (This relates to such things as whether 'the right knee was made bare and the left slipshod' and whether a 'sharp instrument was presented when the candidate entered the lodge', whether 'his left breast was only made bare when he was about to take his obligation' and when the hoodwink or blindfold was removed.)
ii) Abbreviating the ceremonies.
iii) Omitting the lectures (ie the catechisms or Q & A intended to instruct the candidate in the essentials of a degree.)
iv) Omitting to read the Ancient Charges to Initiates. (Batham's comment here is that 'many of (the Charges) were outdated and certainly inapplicable to non-operative masons'.)
v) Omitting prayers.
vi) Transposing the means of recognition (ie the signs and grips) of the First and Second Degrees.
vii) Using an incorrect word for a Master Mason.
viii) Including the passgrips and passwords in the actual ceremonies instead of as a preliminary to them.
ix) De-christianising the ritual. (Batham's comment - 'Originally the ceremonies were definitely Christian and indeed, Roman Catholic in phrasing.')
x) Ignoring the Saint's Days, especially those of St John the Baptist (24 June) and St John the Evangelist (27 December).
xi) Arranging the lodge incorrectly.
xii) Not having Deacons.
xiii) Neglecting the esoteric ceremonies of Installing the Master.
Batham has agreed with another noted SF scholar that:
..many of the finest portions of the ceremonies we practice today have been preserved for us by the tenacity of the Antients and their stubborn resistance to innovation...475
All of which might mean that borrowings after 1813 by artisans were more likely and easier than before. What it says to me is that the Antients' 'tenacity', from the middle of the 18th century, was only feasible if 'Antient Freemasonry', ie the rites of association of operative stonemasons, were still reasonably healthy at that time. And if the rites of one craft were still known and practiced, why not the rites of others? That the Antient lodges were made up of a more obviously artisinal strata, and predominantly of Irish extraction strengthens the point.
6: While we have seen that there was, and is, no single 'Freemasonry', it seems fair to say that on the known evidence there is no similarity between the detail of Craft SF ritual and what is known of 19th century Odd Fellow ritual. Where references occur in benefit societies other than SF to occupations they are appropriate to the society, they do not rehearse the building of temples. There is certainly nothing like that expounded by Klein, above. The fact that absolutely nothing is known of explicitly weaver ritual only extends the problem faced by advocates of 'Webberian' borrowing theories.
7: Lastly, the borrowing 'claims' can be suitably explained.
New or Old Ritual
Claims made that it was the 'Patriotic Oddfellows' which transmitted ritual to Owen's 1833 Grand National Consolidated Trades Union (GNCTU), are difficult to take even at face value. This 'Order' does not appear to have had a presence after 1800, if it had any before that date, and if we look at what is known of 'Odd Fellow' rites up to 1834, we again find variations on a common theme, variations strong enough to suggest a much more diffuse process of transmission over a very long period.
The 'Patriotic Oddfellows' initiation has been reported as follows:
Each brother present was masked. The presiding officer wore a long white beard and wig, an apron of white leather bound in scarlet, with emblems of mortality painted thereon, and on a pedestal before him were similar real ones. Two other offices wore respectively yellow and blue cloaks; while the treasurer, secretary and almoner in white surplices, stood behind the altar of obligation. Others had aprons bound with purple, edged with gold lace.476
For this initiation the candidate was completely naked, thus could only be a man, and when 'made' was clothed with a 'plain, unadorned lambskin apron.' This last is the only point at which known SF ritual clearly 'overlaps' with the detail of this account. Even purple regalia edged with gold, probably to give a regal tone to officers of higher status, and found in a number of 19th and 20th century societies, is not something which could have been borrowed from Craft SF because it doesn't use that particular stratagem.
Note that although naked the initiate's sworn oath is in line with the rest of the proceedings' formality and wordiness and that it emphasises the society's law-abiding principles. It reads:
I...being in possession of my faculties, declare that I am free born and of mature age. I follow no calling that oppresses my fellow-man. I will never act as a bailiff, a bailiff's follower, or be a tipstaff or marshallman. I will act with Justice to all men. I will be loyal to the King and Constitution. I will obey all the laws passed by the high courts of parliament. I will pay due respect to all persons set in authority by the legally constituted rulers in this kingdom. I will prefer a Patriotic Oddfellow to all others in my dealings, unless I find reasons that justify me in acting otherwise. I will respect the virginity of his unmarried family and the chastity of the unmarried. I will never make known to anyone the constitution or workings of this lodge, nor write, print, or in any other way make known, either the whole or any other part thereof. All these covenants I promise and swear to obey, or suffer the penalty of having my arms and legs severed from my body, or be branded with infamy such as my unworthy conduct would deserve.
Only the general form, the words relating to making secrets known and the penalties for doing so come close to coinciding with those from an SF ritual.477
The 'animal' masks are an important but difficult link to mediaeval times. They are, potentially, a major prop of the bridge between the allegedly 'old' and the allegedly 'new' societies. There is no evidence of animal masks in SF ritual but the claim has been made that mediaeval 'engineers' used observation of animals - wing arcs, running and leaping movements for example - for insights on which to base their arithmetic measures and geometric equations. Neither 'engineers' nor such usage of animals has achieved any mention in SF or 'benefit society' literature, as far as I know.
Put very starkly, any supporting evidence for operative practices or customs in SF, weakens the claims made that 19th century benefit societies, especially 'trade unions' and 'friendly societies', are 'new' societies, in form, attitude or content. Similarly, any carryovers from 'old' societies, the guilds, into the ritual of societies which only gain attention in the 19th century, when new degrees and whole new Orders were established, weakens claims about the newness and/or the uniqueness of such 'modern' departures.
Do the animal masks indicate an earlier version of a ritual already long in transition and other claimed evidence perhaps a later version? In a supposedly 1832 admission ritual, 'odd fellow' brethren wore 'grotesque and ludicrous dresses' and 'burlesque masks', there is a 'painted transparency representing a skeleton' and there is a lot of stooping under and stepping over unseen dangers. These effects are what to later observers made these rites 'weird' and 'terrifying'. The ceremony has the story of the Lodge 'Noble Grand' having to be awakened which appears in other summaries, but, in addition, it contains a 'Warden' said to be 'father of the Lodge' and who plays a particularly important role. This position appears in SF lodges, being common to guilds, and in later OF ritual, but as a supporter, not a leader.478
The earliest reference to the ritual of the '(Grand) United Order of Oddfellows', an Order which may have resulted from the amalgamation of the Patriotic and Ancient Orders and may have spawned the the MU and the IOOF, is an undated summary:
The lodge officers wore velvet 'Henry VIII' hats and large cloaks colored to indicate their office - black for Past Noble Grand [past officers], red for Noble Grand [presiding officers], blue for Vice-Grand and green for the Secretary. Supporting officers took their colours from these. The Initiate was led in blindfolded by two officers, accepting him from the Outside Guardian who was also in a cloak and bearing a sword. Two officers stood in the centre of the room with their swords in an arch. The candidate went below the arch, whereupon the 'Peter and Paul' [iron chain and ball] was dropped and the Noble Grand called out -
Stay thou presumptuous mortal, nor dare to enter
Within the precincts of the sacred temple.
After other exchanges, the candidate being asked what he most desired, answered 'Light' and the blindfold was removed.479
The Webbs quoted from Wilkinson's Mutual Thrift to argue that the rites of the 'Patriotic Odd Fellows' corresponded in many characteristic details with those of many 'trades unions'. I have already suggested that because the odd fellow record is, at best, a shambles and no-one has yet attempted serious comparisons, Wilkinson's claims are without solid foundation. However, the words 'Stay thou presumptuous mortal' which appear here, and in the alleged Patriotic Order's ritual, the only textual correlation between those two, also appear in the 'making' ritual of the 'Operative Stonemasons Society' for 1834 and in the ritual of 'the American Order', the IOOF. They do not appear in later published GUOOF rites, at least from 1859.
Earlier, we also saw that the Webbs argued that all lodges of the Builders' Union were ordered in 1833 to adopt the rites and organisational procedures from this Society's 'Making Book', this 'Union' then being the major support of the GNCTU. The Webbs also asserted, without providing supportive evidence, that the rites of this 'Operative Stonemasons' Society' closely resembled those of contemporary 'unions' among Yorkshire woollen workers and certain National 'Unions' and that they were largely adopted by the GNCTU. One wonders why any odd fellows' ritual coming to the GNCTU via the weavers, would contain an element recognisable as part of a uniquely stonemasons' ritual. Any proven similarities between such disparate 'crafts' surely argues for the existence of a broad cultural phenomenon. An 1833 instruction of the sort the Webbs assert, may have been to obtain conformity of approach rather than to impose a ritual where there was none.
Correspondences alone, in any event, don't prove direction or timing of transmission. If the weavers', the stonemasons' and the odd fellows' rituals could all be compared and accurate establishment dates for each determined, we might be in a position to advance the arguement. As it happens, apart from that single phrase and what I've already described as basic 'lodge' essentials, what we have for OF's ritual does not resemble known Stonemason's ritual.
In approaching this question, firstly, from the OF side, 'official' IOOF histories from the US can be useful. In particular, James Ridgley, a participant from 1829 in the IOOF until his book appeared in the 1870's and a close personal friend of the named 'founder' of IOOF in the USA, Thomas Wildey, detailed 'the first decade of American Odd Fellowship', that is, the IOOF from 1819 to approx 1830.
This chronicle shows that it was only a greater awareness of the possibilities for expansion in a new region among members of the 'Unity' that odd fellowship in the USA was nurtured by MUIOOF rather than by London's 'United Order', the self-styled 'Grand Lodge of England', again of which we know virtually nothing. The bulk of the founding fathers had received their initiations in that London 'Order' but in seeking legitimacy were aided firstly by a travelling brother from the MU Duke of York Lodge at Preston, then by the MU's Grand Committee meeting at Manchester. The further question occurs: why did not those pioneers simply establish MUIOOF rather than an Order distinct in name and as time went on increasingly distinct in almost every other way. There would seem to have been no 'IOOF' in the UK, only sub-branches of a non-existent tree, so to speak. So, in that sense, the 'American IOOF' is yet another sub-branch, and theoretically of the same status as the MU, but, because MU was 'home', it, MU, was for a brief time accorded special deference.
The third option for colonial odd fellow's, that of being totally independent as already were a number of UK lodges, does not appear to have been canvassed. I think this was because to do so would have exposed the 'pioneers' to claimjumpers waving authorisations from 'home', and to claims from other 'independents' arguing that their claim to legitimacy was as good as any.
Henry Jackson was an MU brother travelling in the 'new world' before the alignment of Wildey's 'creation' was determined. Jackson experienced the rites being used in the fledgling 'Washington Lodge, No 1' and made clear that 'his', Manchester workings and those of the London 'Grand Lodge' were quite different:
(Under) the impression there was no lodge of the Order in the United States, he had come provided with copies of the charges, then recently revised by the still incipient Manchester Unity, as well as the lectures just issued by the same authority; and he had fondly hoped to become the pioneer of Odd Fellowship in America..(Invited to act as Warden in a lodge meeting he saw that) it was not being worked on the reformed plan..and so he gravely announced to the astonished Noble Grand, "Nobody in the lodge is correct." 480
Just how or whether the actual rites differed is not clear, since what Ridgley has listed as Jackson's 'innovations' are not actions but words, that is, formalised and written down injunctions, disciplines and membership criteria, as follows:
1st. The weekly benefit system, on which the Unity had been formed in 1813;
2d. The renewable password agreed upon by the Unity as a body, in 1815, at first ordained to be changed monthly, but in a year or two was made changeable quarterly;
3d. The Code of General Laws, adopted also in 1815, but not fully enforced for several years;
4th. The 'Funeral Fund' system, adopted in 1816, but not made obligatory on the lodges;
5th. The three original degrees, with their lectures, which were also adopted in 1816; and
6th. The old charges as revised in 1817, with a new Past Grand's charge adopted at that time.
I note in passing that this period of 'formalisation' of MU is the point at which it is claimed a significant gap opened up between the old and the new benefit societies, and between what we now call 'friendly societies' and the other 2 benefit society strands.
The 'three original degrees', also designated the White, the Blue and the Scarlet, would appear to derive from and belong to the secret guild heritage for which historians such as myself still search. Noticeably, the White or initiatory degree shares that colour with the first, 'entered apprentice' SF degree in certain jurisdictions. The colours, blue and scarlet feature in SF regalia but not as specific Degrees.
US brothers added the Covenant and the Remembrance Degrees in 1821, partly, at least, to add to the attractions of lodge and to raise funds. These degrees were designated the Pink and the Green. They passed to 'the Unity' in England and were adopted there in 1825 along with what had started as a 'Mazarine (or deep) Blue but then became a (Royal) Purple Degree. A further Grand Lodge Degree, also invented in the US was rejected by 'the Unity' in conference because MUIOOF no longer had a Grand Lodge. For their part, 'the Unity' invented and passed to the US the idea, at least, of 'Past' Degrees, ie rewards for ex-lodge officers. These were initially only signs and passwords. Subsequently also transferred from the old to the new world was a formalised Patriarchal Degree and a Golden Rule Degree, which as 4th and 5th Degrees were by the end of the decade bundled with the Purple to become a set of higher 'Past Officer' attainments, the earlier 5 then being designated 'subordinate degrees'.
A clear example of a unique and defining innovation was introduced by the US brethren in 1830. Enjoying the beginnings of a surge of interest among more upwardly-mobile members akin to the onset of speculative masons into operative lodges, what were called 'Degree Lodges' and para-military 'Encampment Degrees' have not as far as I know been adopted by any other jurisdiction anywhere.481
What was being manifested here, consciously or subconsciously, were non-operative reasons for having ritual. These Orders are not trade-based, therefore rites of association no longer reflected, nor grew organically out of a brother's working life. The SF's took on and initially maintained ritual, allegedly to gain access to operative secrets. Later, SF rites, as distinct from other SF practices such as charity and welfare work, became self-perpetuating and status-driven, having as reason for their existence only that they did. However close they were to operative originals, they could not claim to embody the originating operative impulse.
Which nineteenth century Orders were without trade connection of any kind remains undetermined but the affiliated societies have certainly exchewed such connection, in which case they similarly could have no organic reasons for their ritual. Weight of tradition was probably sufficient to ensure some continuities across generations, but some US authors, at least, acknowledge an 'artificial' impulse, a need to attract members and to sustain their interest once initiated. Thus, while tensions around these very issues in the UK has obscured the process, a very strong emphasis on role playing, ornate and varied costumes and on public display developed dramatically in the US, reaching its peak just after the Civil War but maintaining emotional force for some decades thereafter.
The next link in what can seem like a new integrated chain of cause and effect is rarely acknowledged in any jurisdiction. In 'old' societies, the funds collected, it is always argued, were for the survival of brethren - the society, even at the smallest most parochial level could not exist without them. In the 'new' societies, in addition to 'old' cost-incurring needs, funds were supposedly necessary for 'modern' requirements, namely, for paid officials, for the developing hierarchical structure and for the burgeoning public display and recruitment requirements.
Are these so new? I don't think so. What is emerging is that the 'benefit payments', which remained the sine qua non of 'benefit societies', became, in the new context, the focus of competition amongst societies and their ambitious officials. The size of funds held and the value of realizable assets became prime recruiting propoganda, further, it has to be said, undermining the linkages and the essential values of fraternalism.
It is significant, however, that while these 'forward thinking officials' saw their benefit structures as modern innovations requiring more and more actuarial leverage, they saw no problem whatever in maintaining the 'mediaeval' heritage in displays, in lecures, in their basic 'welfare' practices such as sick visitors, in the idealisation of fraternalism itself and in the integrated nature of lodge activities - social/convivial, religious/symbolic, secret/fraternal, and community/charitable.
The aspect which had obviously dropped away from SF and which was dropping away from the 'friendlies' was that of maintenance and protection of actual, physical working conditions, ie the 'work/industrial'. The specifically-trade based societies of course maintained this aspect and looked askance only at the religious/symbolic, the absence of which made less impact on their overall 'benefit society' attitudes and functioning than did the loss of the work orientation on the others.
Until well into the 20th century, all AFS's continue to emphasise the need to secure the 'lodge room' against 'forrins', to ensure that the qualifications of attending brothers are appropriate for the particular degree being 'worked' and to have the minds of all officers on the correct carrying out of their part in the lodge drama. The Independent Order of Good Templars, has in its opening ceremonies first published in 1867 the following examination of 'the Sentinel' by the 'Degree Templar' (or lodge master, in OF lodges the 'Noble Grand', in SF, the 'Most Worthy Master'):
DT: You will give me the Pass Word. (Sentinel gives it.) Your duty is to give attention to all who make the proper signal at the outer gate of the Temple; to admit those who give you the Pass Word of the Subordinate Lodge; to see that members are properly clothed in Regalia, and informed that the Temple is working in the Degree of Fidelity; that order is preserved in the ante-room, and that candidates and visitors are made welcome. Be faithful to your official duties.482
The IOOF ritual, in comparison, has each lodge officer telling the 'Noble Grand' his/her duties, not being told them, for example the 'Outside Guardian':
Outside Guardian: When candidates are to be initiated, or brothers admitted, to see that they are orderly and qualified; to examine and reject any one I suspect, until your opinion is taken; to receive the password previous to admission, and to guard the lodge against improper intrusion. To prevent the admittance of any one during ritualistic ceremonies, or at other times, when so directed; to prevent any person from listening to acquire a knowledge of what is going on in the lodge; and to act in conjunction with the Supporters and the Inside Guardian in the execution of your commands.483
A third version of an OF initiation rite, allegedly, of the 'Ancient Order of Oddfellows' is too general to be of use here, except for its conclusion:
The making ceremony over, each member pledged the newly-initiated brother in a flowing glass for which he had the honour of paying. Momus now presided and the deep-wrought-up fears of the novice were soon drowned in the loud laugh, the rude jest or the boisterous chorus of a Bacchanalian song.484
Many readers would equate 'boisterous chorus' with artisans and suppose the following, taken from an 1810 Leeds newspaper, referred to an SF lodge. Compare the emphasis on decorum and admission of 'Gentlemen' with the 'loud laugh' and the 'rude jest' of the previous.
After the Brothers had taken their respective situations, the Lodge was opened in due form...when a number of Gentlemen were proposed, admitted and initiated into the Order, with all the solemnity and decorum observed on such occasions.485
This was, in fact, a gathering of the 'United Order of Odd Fellows.' Were there, then, operative 'Odd Fellows' and gentry 'Odd Fellows' or are these journalistic effusions examples of 19th century 'spin-doctoring'?
Part of the answer is that in the name of individual freedom and enterprise, 'modernisation' was directing that boisterousness and indiscipline be replaced with sobriety and stiffened formality. The subsequent record insists that only partial success was achieved, then or later. While the UK literature rarely mentions the problem, it has been acknowledged by Ridgley that in a resource-shy environment, the presence of liquor in lodge became an issue very quickly amongst US odd fellows. What did the administrators choose to do? In what remained for many years to come a 'free and easy' style of lodge meeting they determined only to safeguard lodge income by quarantining members' contributions from monies paid for 'refreshments'.486
Nevertheless, very early 19th century UK material indicate that a sophistication of approach, which we associate with 'modernisation', was already common to OF lodges, some of which were also already acting in concert:
A Leeds street procession for the 'Festival of the Original and Fraternal Lodges of Odd Fellows' in 1811 exhibited extravagance rather than decorum in its ranks, the first of which were described as:
Two Conductors with green sashes,
their jewels suspended by the same colour,
bearing wands tipped with gold
Full band of music
Two Guardians in green sashes,
their jewels.(etc)...bearing swords
The Lodge, carried by four brothers in white sashes,
supported by two brothers in pink sashes,
bearing Maces richly ornamented with gold crests, etc
The Noble Grands of the two lodges,
in scarlet sashes, richly ornamented with white fringe
their jewels suspended by the same colour,
the Noble Grands bearing an elegant gold sceptre,
their supporters in green sashes, their jewels suspended...,
bearing wands tipped with gold...487
A generalised 'Odd Fellow' funeral regalia for 1815 can be compared with SF detail already provided. Note the absence of green though there is plenty of white, red and blue amongst the black:
The Death Supporters (to) carry drawn swords, and be attired in gowns and caps; that none but Death Supporters and Tylers walk in gowns and caps during the procession; that every Brother appear in a white napkin [scarf? around the neck] and white stockings; also a white apron with the following binding, viz: Past and Present Grands, scarlet sash with mazarine [deep] blue rosette on the shoulder and tied with mazarine blue; mazarine sashes to be tied with sky, and sky sashes to be tied with mazarine...488
'Death Supporters' here indicates two persons, one on either side of a representation of 'the old mortality' - Death.
The first claimed OF funeral in the USA was in 1823. An eye-witness recalled:
Officers and members were in appropriate lodge costume; gowns, caps, sashes, collars and aprons, of white, black, blue and scarlet colors...the caps (were) fashioned after the forms of crowns and coronets. Each officer bore the emblem of his office in his hand. Six or seven of the members were in deep mourning, and occupied the centre of the crowd. These were enveloped in narrow strips of black muslin or crape, which hung from their hats almost to the ground. They bore black rods, eight or ten feet long, surmounted by spheres of some kind; the spheres covered with black cloth, with black streamers, three or four feet long, pendant. Every person not provided with some official emblem of some sort, bore a flaming torch..(At the grave side) the remains were then silently lowered into the grave; not a word was spoken...The procession resumed its disordered ranks, the mutes as before in the centre, and departed as it came.489
If this sort of theatre wasn't already part of artisinal day-to-day experience, what could working families possibly have seen in it?
Turning to ritual of operative stonemasons we find that the President of an Operative Stonemasons' lodge in addressing the candidate on 'his' fate and responsibilities referred to a skeleton, as did the 'Patriotic Odd Fellow' but the words were quite different. And for the candidate to see the skeleton as he was addressed he could not have been blindfolded as the odd fellow was:
Stranger, mark well this shadow which now you see:
Tis a faithful emblem of man's destiny.
Behold this head once filled with pregnant wit;
These hollow eyes once sparking eyes did fit.
This empty mouth no tongue or lips contains; (etc)
The President then asks:
Stranger, and pilgrim in the dark, are you come here with a pure intention to support wages, and protect the Mason's trade?
When answered positively, the President has the candidate repeat the oath:
I, AB, a stonemason, being in the awful presence of Almighty God, do voluntarily declare that I will persevere in endeavouring to maintain and support a Brotherhood, known as the Friendly Society of Operative Stonemasons, and I further promise that I will to the utmost of my power assist men on all just and lawful occasions to obtain a just remuneration for our labour...
The oath continues on to cover non-disclosure:
And I call upon God to witness this my most solemn Declaration that neither hopes, fears, rewards or punishments, or even death itself, shall induce me, directly or indirectly, to give information respecting anything in this Lodge, or any other similar Lodge connected with the Society; and I will neither write nor cause to be written upon paper, stone, wood, sand, or anything else, except for the use of the Society, and I further promise that I will keep inviolable all the rules of this Society...
This oath is completed with an avowal that 'he' will not agree to any money belonging to the Society being 'divided or appropriated to any other purpose' than the use of the Society 'and the support of the trade' and the wish:
So help me God, and keep me steadfast in my most solemn Obligation.'
to which the President asks 'him' to repeat:
And if ever I reveal either part or parts of this my most solemn Obligation, may what is before me plunge my soul into Eternity. Amen.490
In summary, we can say that this 'making' ritual contains some elements found in other 'makings' while bearing only minimal similarities to actual/known SF or AFS ritual.
There was a further, quite different, 7-degree ritual in use among at least some 19th century stonemasons and related tradesmen, involving what appears to be a genuinely work-integrated structure and approach yet it was repudiated by 'trade unionists' and effectively buried by Craft SF.
Speculative 'Operatives' & Operative 'Operatives'
The British SF author and lecturer, the Reverend Neville Cryer made plain in 1995 that he had only just realised the importance of a document he had been given some years previously - a copy of the ritual of a 'Guild of Operative Masons' which flourished in England until around 1870 and connected with which lodges of up to 300 members remained in existence at least until 1914. The full title of this body was 'The Worshipful Society of Free Masons, Rough Masons, Wallers, Slaters, Paviors, Plaisterers and Bricklayers.' He noted that a similar grouping of trades in Durham was known from 1594 when it was granted its Charter, and that he remained a member of a speculative 'Order of Operatives' established in 1913 at Channel Row in London, and having as its full title 'The Worshipful Society of Free Masons, Rough Masons, Wallers, Slaters, Paviors, Plaisterers and Bricklayers', ie exactly the same.491
Confusion over what is 'operative' and what is 'speculative' reaches a peak with this material, and SF spokespersons are very little help, refusing to directly confront the issues involved. I have found my own way through this material. Patient, determined readers will, I believe, be rewarded.
In summary, the 'Guild' document appears to show that its membership, operative masons, was divided into the same two classes held to have been the mediaeval practice - Straight or Square Masons, who were adept with the square, and the more skilled Round or Arch Masons, who worked mainly with the compass. Each class had seven grades:
Apprentice to the Craft of Free Mason.
Fellow of the Craft of Free Mason.
Super Fellow, who had received his mark.
Super Fellow Erector, who worked on the stone.
Super-Intendant of the Craft, or Menatzchim.
Passed Master of the Craft.
Master Mason, or Grand Master of the Craft of Free Masons.
This is the same number of degrees as 'worked' by the speculative 'Order of Operatives'. Cryer reports that three Grand Masters ruled the whole Guild, ie over both Square and Arch Masonry, and may therefore be the source of the three keys needed to open 'the (benefits) box'.
Even in summary, Cryer's explanation shows clear, direct connections between the practice and the symbolism of building. The operative lodge room working up to the fifth degree was oriented so that the Masters were in the West in order to face the rising sun. The Junior Wardens sat in the north to see the sun at its meridian, and the Senior Warden sat in the East so as to observe the setting sun:
This was the same orientation as of the Holy Place in the Temple at Jerusalem and it also explains why the Antient Freemasons insisted on this type of lodge formation for the principal officers in the initial degrees.
When you learn that in the higher operative degrees the officers sat either with the Right Worshipful Master at one end and the Wardens facing him at the other or that the Grand Masters sat side by side, then you begin to grasp why we [SF's] adopt the former in the Ark Mariner degree and the latter in the Holy Royal Arch.
The altar was in the center of the lodge and there were three Deacons. Entering, the Apprentice was hoodwinked [blindfolded], clothed in a white cloak, with a blue cord around his waist, the ends held taut by two brethren, one on each side. In addition, one man in front and one behind held the ends of another blue cord around his neck. When asked how he hoped to obtain admission, the candidate claimed the help of El Shaddai. When he came to his obligation [oath] he knelt at the central altar, which had a rough ashlar [stone] to the east of it, and placed his left hand flat under the Volume of the Sacred Law [the Bible] whilst laying his right hand flat upon it.
The candidate for the degree of Fellow of the Craft had to prepare a rough-dressed ashlar as a specimen of his work and the Inspector of materials had to pass it before he could proceed. He also had to have this specimen with him when he entered the lodge and had to declare that it was all his own work. He was obligated, given the [secret] sign [of recognition] with the right hand flat, and the word Banai, meaning Builder. After hearing and obligating himself to uphold the Charge, which included:
You shall keep Secret the obscure and intricate Parts of the Science, not disclosing them to any but such as study and use the same.
The mason having made his test piece, and had it approved by the Inspector of Materials and having served another year as a Fellow, was then eligible to apply for the degree of Super Fellow. Notice having been given by a form posted in the yard, and the sign, word and work having been presented, the candidate was allotted his Mark and charged to produce 'fare work and square'. He was led around the lodge three times and took his obligation kneeling on his bare knees and on the polished stone he brought with him.
Cryer noted the significance of the document to SF's as the rituals show close resemblance to those of SF and commented:
I have no doubt that there will be some readers who will query whether the operative society did not receive its forms and title from the speculatives and not the other way round. If that were so then we have two further and apparently insoluble questions to tackle: The first is: 'Where did the speculatives get their original information and basis of practice from?' and the second: 'Why are there differences between the two systems, with the operatives having material not used by the speculatives, and with the latter always employing material that is much more logically explained when set within the larger operative scheme?'492
The 'Guild' material has been available to the SF scholarly community in almost the same form for most of the 20th century, and yet, as observed above, the issue remains unresolved, indeed (comparatively) unexplored. At the time that the 20-volume British Masonic Miscellany was published, 1918?, containing relevant articles by (another) Carr, Gorham and others, it was still possible for operative, Guild lodge members to be interviewed. As far as I know, this was never officially done. Both of T Carr's papers in this collection began with:
Most Speculative Free Masons are aware of the fact that a Guild of Operative Free Masons still exists...
In one paper he went on to say 'and that The Mason's Company of London is also still extant.' Carr explained that as 'lodge doctor' at the time of writing, he was a member and officer of two of the Guild's lodges, Nos 91 and 110 of the York Division, and that he had 'the right - even the duty - to be present at some of the ceremonies', having a role in 'one of their annual dramas'.493
He provided evidence to show that from at least the 16th century, it was common for related building trades to associate for the purpose of gaining charters but that the 'particular art or craft [of stonemasonry] was reserved as to its training and practice to their own apprentices and craftsmen.' Although drawing on the same material, his description of the ritual tied it more closely than did Cryer's to the actual work procedures involved in laying out a site plan, taking stone from a quarry to the building site and placing it in its pre-arranged position. For example:
(The Degree of Super Fellow, their 3rd Degree) corresponds very nearly to the Mark Man or the first part of the Speculative Mark Degree, and the candidate is not only told to produce 'Fair Work and Square,' but he is also told how to do it. [My emphasis]494
After working in this Degree for one year the Super Fellow is eligible to be advanced to the 4th, the Super Fellow Erector, which means he is qualified to erect in position on the site, stones which have been progressively prepared in 3 stoneyards, corresponding to the first 3 Degrees, ie by apprentices who replace a quarry mark with their own as they roughly work it, by Fellows of the 2nd Degree, and by Super Fellows who bring it to a finished state. It is marked for the last time in the 3rd yard in a way which tells the Mason of the 4th Degree where it is to go:
The Super Fellow Erector ascertains from the marks the exact position in which each stone is intended to be placed.
It is in this, the Fourth Degree, that the Annual Ceremony of the Foundation of King Solomon's Temple takes place. The Hebrew influence is shown by the Mason having in this ceremony to remove his shoes and keep his head covered.
The secrets held by the operative Guild's three Master Masons relate directly to the misterie of building, eg, the rods of 3, 4 and 5 units, held separately by the Masters, when brought together produce a 3,4,5, ie a right-angled, triangle, from which many other 'secrets' relative to the setting and erection of buildings can be ascertained. This initial 'secret', at least, was known to Vitruvius the Roman engineer and, of course, to Pythagoras, who has been claimed in some 'Old Charges' to have been a founder of SF.
There is much more of interest in these papers, eg:
The 'Levels' which [SF] Past Masters wear on their aprons are considered by Operative Free Masons to be footing stones, which were used for the foundations of all important buildings.
Another use of the triangle was to form the Master's Diamond; which we [SF] have in our Tesselated Border and again in our Royal Arch Sash and Apron.495
Carr set out the ceremony of 'making' an Entered Apprentice in detail. It included the wearing for the period of apprenticeship, ie, seven years, a blue neck cord as a sign that the wearer was still bound apprentice. The speculative 'Order of Operatives' has as its only regalia for the first 3 Degrees a blue neck cord, from which is suspended an appropriate emblem.496 Carr commented:
The Ritual of the Operatives is more archaic in form and is much fuller than is that of the Speculatives, and contains practical instruction of which only the echoes are found in the Speculative Ritual.
Nearly all of the Speculative Teaching can be traced to the Operative Ceremonies, but there is much of the Operative Teaching which has no correspondence in the Speculative Ceremonies.
Then the reason for much of the Speculative Ceremonies can be seen in the Operative Rituals, while the Operative Ceremonies get no elucidation from the Speculative rituals.497
These and Cryer's assertions are fully supported by two articles published in the Leicester (UK) Lodge of Research Transactions in the years 1911-13.498 Mailed enquiries to SF members including Cryer on these matters have not even been acknowledged.
The significance of this operative material to the present study includes the showing of i) direct links from mediaeval to 'modern' times of full-blown, not attenuated or 'primitive', trade-based rites of association; and ii) evidence that these rites contain clear allegorical elements. It also throws doubt on one of the central assertions of SF 'creationists', viz, that the trade of stonemasonry was defunct in southern England in the 17th and 18th centuries.
Its existence has, however, more profound implications. It suggests that the 'Craft' SF promulgated by the United Grand Lodge, based in London, and all its affiliates around the world is at best a pale imitation of what it could be. It may be that it is in the more esoteric, post-Craft Degrees available to enthusiasts prepared to pay the money and put in the work required where this material becomes accessible. Numerous questions remain should this be the case. One or two of these will be taken up in the 'Tolpuddle' context, below.
The Tramping Networks And Acts of Conspiracy
If trades other than stone masonry were experiencing declines in funds and members, or similar pressures to adapt, they may have refrained from expensive street parades and advertised functions, thus may have appeared to have gone 'underground'. They may have adopted non-operative patrons, such as with SF and in the shoemaker example with Lord Alva. Individuals alienated by factional disputes or faced with a lack of work and a low benefit pool no doubt 'hit the road' as their predecessors had always done.
Durr has argued that it was 'from the practical requirements of the tramping system that ritual was first introduced into the stonemasons' lodges', and he has opened this out to conclude from Plot's 1686 account of a stonemason's initiation that 'we can establish a framework of rituals of association' that has remained common 'in voluntary organisations of trades and of self-help to the present day'. That 1686 account included:
they proceed [at the admission of candidates] chiefly...in the communication of certain secret signes, whereby they are known to one another all over the Nation, by which means they have maintenance whither ever they travel.499
Prominent SF historians admit that it's not clear whether this refers to operative or speculative masonry, others take it as a sure SF indicator since the operatives could not possibly have been so well organised. Durr, however, knows that from 1721 lists of Masonic lodges and meeting places were being published and, he asserts, 'we start to see one of the most sophisticated tramping systems of the eighteenth century.'
This is most interesting since his SF colleagues have been moving in the opposite direction. But historiography aside, as we have seen, there was no need for the artisans to invoke a 'tradition' in the sense of a curious relic, or for a disguise, or as an excuse for 'dressing up', their historical reality was quite sufficient.
Leeson has argued that 'tramping', after having been a dynamic vehicle for artisinal 'rites' for hundreds of years and across the whole of Europe, was further strengthened and formalised by most trades in the 17th and 18th, only to become a catalyst for forces of centralisation that, in the 19th century, made the system obsolete.
At the beginning of the 19th century, 'tramping masons' in India, New South Wales and Canada were being assisted by British masonic administration,500 but 'modern' SF was well into its official forgetting. In the 1880's a Scottish Lodge pronounced in its best patrician, probably protestant voice:
Those intolerable nuisances, masonic tramps - in general very unworthy members of the craft - vexed the souls of the Kilwinning [Scotland] brethren in days of yore, as they do the society in these more favoured times.
Those brethren recalled that:
In 1717, the members passed a resolution that "as the lodge have been imposed upon by begging brethren, both here and at Irvine, it is resolved that no charity be given to travelling brethren without an order from the master."
The 1880's Resolution ended with:
After a lapse of more than a century and a half, no better regulation has been made to lessen this evil, for indiscriminate and profuse relief to masonic mendicants tends but to widen the area over which their depredations extend.501
The only genealogical society taking the evidence of tramping networks seriously, that of the (UK) Brushmakers, has published 'Tramping Route, 1829' showing how the mileages and corresponding 'monies received for expenses, beer and bed' were set out in the Rules of the London Society of Brushmakers, with a map of 'Brushmakers Clubhouses' throughout the country and strictures on how the network was to be used and its benefits safeguarded.502 These are taken from Kiddier, of whom more anon.
'Friendly society' writers like Spry may be unreliable but they were at least concerned with the artisanal rather than the gentry stream. He set down his belief in a scene in an early 'Odd Fellow's Lodge' as members and visitors paid the secretary on entering the lodge:
If a brother needed aid, a sufficient sum was voted him. If out of work, he was furnished with a card and funds to reach the next lodge. If unsuccessful there, that lodge provided for his farther progress, and thus he went on until he found employment, when he deposited his card in the nearest lodge.
This account went on:
When the funds of a lodge ran out, it sent word to other lodges, and visitors were sent, or a whip around made, to swell the penny collections. It was no unusual thing for a whole lodge thus to visit a needy lodge,...week after week, until the exhausted treasury was replenished.503
The 1842 Annual Moveable Conference [or AGM] of the IOOF, MU featured an unresolved debate on 'the propriety of discontinuing the then travelling relief system'.504 In 1885, a letter writer to the MUIOOF Oddfellows Magazine detailed his attempts to make honest use of the system:
I am sure when the Rule was made, it was with the intention of helping our brothers out of employment. But the times are altered now, and a brother may have to wait many a day in a town before he gets work...there should be something allowed for a bed for a second night, to give a chance to look for work...505
An account nearer the beginning of that century, of just how extensive and multi-faceted were the networks, comes from an apprentice, 'sober, honest and steady' who undertook a journey of 300 miles to a clerical position organised by his 'master':
I may state that a small Reading Society or Club had been instituted in our place a few months prior to the expiry of my indenture, and as neither my parents nor late master had any objections, I, at the desire of a few of my comrades, became a member; and this occurrence rendered my long journey very interesting, as well as pleasant and instructive in many respects: having got a ticket or diploma from the Office-bearers of our Society to be shewn to the Office-bearers of similar Societies, which had lately been established in every town and village on the whole of the road to this city, it would seem almost incredible were I to detail minutely the information that was imparted to me, and many other travellers. Suffice it to say, that every evening when my day's journey was ended, I had no sooner entered the apartments of a Reading Club, which were all instituted on the same principles, than I found myself encircled among ten or twelve intelligent travellers, who had come from, and were going to, different parts of the country. [More of the same]506
This has nothing to do with Speculative Freemasonry and, I presume, no-one would argue it was a borrowing from that source. Francis Place experienced the trial of an abusive and irresponsible father and years of penury as a married man and father. He also knew, from the inside, numerous 'clubs', including the London Corresponding Society. This was attacked variously by the authorities through the anxious 1790's and finally proscribed in 1799 along with the United Irishmen, United Englishmen, United Scotsmen and the United Britons. The LCS used a book subscription service to obtain titles for its discussion groups, was organised into 'Divisions' with delegates and sub-delegates, and erroneously believed it had circumvented the 1793 Act against combinations by using the postal service to pass information. Place insisted that the amount of sedition within the Society was miniscule.507
His account of his earlier involvement with the London Breeches-Makers Benefit Society 'for the support of the members when sick and to bury them when dead', is useful:
The club, though actually a benefit society, was intended for the purpose of supporting the members in a strike for wages.508
This could not be clearer. The 'friendly society' and the 'trades union', the 'club' and the 'benefit society' are one and the same. Biographer Thale is wrong to conclude that the members had 'had to disguise their real aims by pretending they were forming a society to benefit their sick members.'509 [My emphasis] Watching his purse, Place only attended meetings before the strike of 1793 when 'Stewards' were being elected. Having 'stewards', a term in need of deep research, indicates the club had other activities besides collecting and paying out subscriptions, and that a sophisticated level of organisation was in place. One activity here, too, turns out to have been a system of book subscriptions.510
On a strike being called Place put certain proposals which stretched the 'club' funds over a longer period but which eventually brought him and a few others a boycotting by the triumphant employers. This particular 'club' was new and the leather breeches trade was in decline. Yet one of his proposals was that as many of the strikers as possible should go 'on the tramp' to reduce the drain on the funds:
It was well known that a man who brought a certificate [a clearance] to any Leather breeches makers shop in the country would be sure of a days keep a nights lodging and a shilling to start again with the next morning.
This also could not be clearer. He had confidence that even a small, comparatively unknown trade had a proven tramping network throughout England, if not further afield. His fellow 'brothers' shared his confidence and 'many' agreed to immediately leave London. He says that on acceptance of his ideas, 'the business' of paying benefits and of producing saleable items, was 'so managed that legal proceedings could not be taken against us, for a combination.'
It's fair to say the guild 'essentials' were by then entering the time of their greatest struggle to survive. Internally, drinking customs were wreaking havoc, while external threats were multiplying and tramping networks, in particular, were becoming the focus for increased attention by the authorities. Especially obvious to employers and state authorities alike were the dangers to them of work-based organisation with covert proceedings.511
In 1720, an Act had been gazetted specifically to declare illegal Journeymen Tailor 'combinations'. Similarly treated in 1725 were the 'Clubs, Societies and Combinations' of Weavers and Woolcombers.512 In 1749, this latter Act was extended to a range of manufacturing trades, including a provision for transportation for 7 years or the death penalty for damaging looms. In 1768 a new Act re-visited the tailors, even threatening any masters consenting to pay above the legal maximum with imprisonment.513
These Acts were still about protecting 'State' control and not yet about protecting the masters' freedom to set whatever rates they chose. This would come when the urban entrepreneurs displaced the landed gentry at Westminster. Legal scholar Dicey in 1905 dated to 1825 the change in dominant paradigm in the House of Commons from 'Old Toryism, or legislative quiescence' to 'Benthamism or Individualism',514 but of course free trade tenets were bruited abroad long before.
Adam Smith, to his honour, remarked in his 1776 Wealth of Nations that employers' combinations were rarely publicised, but whether defensive or offensive, workmen's combinations were 'always abundantly heard of', partly because of the clamour raised.515 In 1768 and 1769 un-named London 'clubs' battled the military in the streets:
A club of "oppressed" silk-handkerchief weavers had opened a contest against the masters and was conducting night-operations to force all in the trade to subscribe to the club's funds and the terms it was attempting to enforce.516
Were these 'freemasons'? odd fellows? The club's 'lodge' room was raided, hand-to-hand fighting with 'guns, pistols and other offensive weapons' took place and public executions of some weavers followed in Bethnal Green. In this case government was being attacked for its refusal to protect traditional manufacturing regions from competitive new factories in the north where pay and apprenticeship were unregulated and new inventions much more freely usable. The author of a memoir of a 1780 'Odd Fellows' lodge believed that the political agitations of the previous twenty years of the 18th century
were exceedingly unfavourable to the successful carrying on of secret societies...The more the Oddfellows proclaimed their loyalty to the State, the more the State suspected them.517
This apparent observer of the Gordon Riots, very recent history in 1780, reported the closure of an 'odd fellows' lodge because 'agitator Wilkes' was believed to have addressed it 'violently on political matters.'
As pressure on the individual's working conditions increased, the content of lodge conversations hardened, and specialised objectives evolved, making distinct 'strands' of benefit society more likely. As individualism gained ground, the connections between the guild essentials appeared less logical and 'necessary.' Nineteenth and twentieth century 'friendlies' ultimately joined SF in setting their faces resolutely against tramping as a species of parasitism, undeserving of access to the commmon purse.
Labour History and The Rose Act of 1793
Ludlow, the second Registrar of Friendly Societies, who believed in an unbroken heritage from mediaeval guilds to 'lodges' whether trade-oriented or 'friendly', saw a 'true craft gild' in a Worcester society of carpenters and joiners whose 'orders and bylawes made and ordained' were confirmed in 1723 and again in 1793, the year the first legislative enactment defining a 'friendly society' was passed by the English Parliament.518
The 'Rose' Act of 1793, named after its sponsor, recognised and encouraged 'friendly societies'519 on the basis of their being small and local, but explicitly prohibited any that were not, ie, any that had networks or were forming branch-structures. It contained the first official inducements to be legitimated, ie registration, for lodge 'brethren' concerned that funds were being lost to defaulting officers with no redress possible because of a lack of status before the courts.520
Examining the Act's genesis, we find much 'discussions in the lobbies' amongst MP's about the need for State registration and thus surveillance of 'friendly societies', but there was a more pressing context.
Henry VIII's 'robbery' of the guilds had resulted in increased pressure on poor relief, and thus on tax-payers on the one hand, and on the other, on those robbed of their chance for a dignified independence and forced to accept charity. Wilkinson, who seems to have believed that the period's 'destruction and spoliation of mediaeval trade or craft guilds' caused 'friendly societies' to appear, quoted Defoe's call for compulsory 'mutual assurance' societies to
prevent the general misery and poverty of mankind, and at once secure us against beggars, parish poor, almshouses and hospitals.521
Coming the same year the first Freemason Constitution was published, a 1723 Act of George I had called the 'union workhouse' into existence but, Wilkinson noted, omitted any reference to mutuality, by which he, Wilkinson meant compulsory contributions. Thus it 'riveted...tighter the chains of semi-slavery' which it then became the work of 'the resolute hearts of the friendly societies' to unbolt.522 Two futile legislative attempts in mid-century to set up 'benefit societies' for boatmen and coal heavers forced governments out of the arena for 4 decades. But the revolutionary atmosphere forced a further re-think, which among other things produced, as Beveridge saw it 'a fair summary of friendly societies at their best':
a society of good fellowship for the purpose of raising from time to time, by voluntary contributions, a stock or fund for the mutual relief and maintenance of all and every the members thereof, in old age, sickness, and infirmity, or for the relief of widows and children of deceased members.523
The possibility that it may have been a strategic definition at a time of high political volatility does not seem to have occurred to him or to others. Ludlow, however, did perceive its pragmatism. He noted that the guild statutes had provided for brethren 'falling into mischief', ie poverty through no fault of their own, but the 1793 Act omitted any reference to and thus failed to legitimate combinations concerned to guard against simple poverty. He concluded:
Now, the reason why this limitation was obviously and avowedly introduced was this. Poverty not arising from disease or old age must arise almost necessarily from want of employment; to provide for poverty in itself is therefore to provide against want of employment; hence it was concluded that to provide against want of employment was to enable the labouring classes to maintain themselves during a strike or lock-out; which, it was implied, the law must not allow them to do.524
Here is the snare which has caught LH. In this artificial distinction by government is the genesis of the confusions which bedevil it.
At least since Elizabeth I, the pendulum of control over one's product had been swinging away from the producing artisan to the seller of the produce. As 'master', then employer, manufacturer and/or capitalist, the seller's economic and political ascendancy has continued to increase. The term 'trade union' was virtually non-existent in 1793 but around 40 statutes banning 'combinations' acting in 'restraint of trade', ie, acting to raise wages, alter hours of work and so on, were already on the books.
The separation of 'trade' and 'benefit' functions has come about since that time entirely at the behest of the manufacturing and commercial classes whose interests were best served by selective laisser faire arguments epitomised in an 1806 Report of the House of Commons, which declared:
the right of every man to employ the capital he inherits or has acquired, according to his own discretion, without molestation or obstruction, so long as he does not infringe on the rights or property of others, is one of those privileges which the free and happy Constitution of this country has long accustomed every Briton to consider as his birthright.525
Thus was the myth of British justice and freedom for all shaped, in a way which seemed reasonable and unassailable, to favour those moving into control of the parliamentary numbers. Workers, though subsequently granted the right to combine for the purpose of wage negotiations, were never going to be granted the same room for manoeuvre granted to employers. That phrase 'so long as he does not infringe on the rights of property of others' was always going to be found to apply in the case of trade combinations, and rarely if ever in the case of wage-payers.
A Mr Thomas Gilbert had actively pursued in the 1780's and 90's a means of addressing legislatively the worsening conditions of the poor. He drafted a number of Bills intended to consolidate parishes for welfare purposes under Overseers and Committees which would institute work-houses. One draft Bill in particular would have authorised the county committee to pay a grant to every 'friendly club or society' duly registered and its Rules approved, and to 'order such sum as they shall think proper, not exceeding one shilling per week, to be paid to every poor person who shall have contributed to the fund belonging to the society..(etc)' In other words, although this payment was in addition to what the member was ordinarily entitled to, the Act would mean the county constantly looking over the shoulder of individual lodges, necessarily constricting their freedom of movement. The county was also to 'support' lodge officers imposing fines, in effect bringing the power of the State to bear so that payment would be ensured, even if it meant 'distress and sale of the goods and chattels of the persons so indebted, by virtue of a warrant from a justice of the peace..(etc).526
Gilbert's proposals were printed and circulated, attracting a lot of adverse comment, especially from local magistrates who did not want the responsibility for administering the Poor Law taken from them. Approval came in the form of a printed pamphlet signed by 'A Country Gentleman' who was clearly close to government circles. His 'A Letter to Thomas Gilbert' included the following paragraph:
Mr Acland proposes to extend the principle and design of those Friendly Societies and Clubs, that are well known in trading towns and in most parts of the kingdom. Instead of voluntary institutions, that may be destroyed at any time, by the caprice or indiscretion of the members; it is proposed by him that a parliamentary sanction be obtained, making such establishments general throughout the kingdom, and giving a degree of stability to them by adding certain restrictions and compulsions, that would at once secure the regularity of contributions, and the due application of the funds to the purposes of their institution. The detail of this scheme is entered into very minutely, and credit may be given to the calculations of Mr Acland and his correspondent Dr Price, for the consequences that would follow from the data on which they rest. A multitude no doubt would be entitled to and would receive temporary relief from such fund, and the poor rates might, possibly, be eased of much of the burthen they are now obliged to bear alone.527
Sir Frederick Eden, writing in 1797, declared that there were great objections to 'all compulsory schemes for erecting Friendly Societies', including the difficulties of computing and enforcing the appropriate 'contribution', really a tax, especially on workers earning piece-rates - 'As to compelling the employer to be answerable, this seems to be equally visionary'.528 Eden was a strong advocate of 'friendly societies' which fostered a culture of self-help:
In doing a deed of charity, motives of benevolence, as well as delicacy, suggest the propriety of its being done, not by directly furnishing the money that may be wanted on the occasion, but by leading and enabling the object, who wants relief, to relieve himself. And the true principle of national interference with respect to the Poor, and...the only one that is justifiable in the eye either of reason or religion is...to enable them to maintain themselves.529
Eden asserted that friendly societies had proven this principle to be both popular and 'perfectly practicable'. He approved the fact that the 1793 Act allowed members to sue or to be sued, and that it permitted tradesmen to carry on their occupation in the most convenient place for them, in other words searching for work. Eden considered these institutions important enough to issue a number of separate pamphlets in quick succession. He began an 1801 polemic by documenting the historicity of what was becoming one of the most hotly contested topics within Westminster:
If the merit of political institutions is to be appreciated from ancient precedent and long practice, there are, perhaps, few which have a better claim, on this account, to approbation and support, than Friendly Societies...These useful establishments were known in a very early period, not only in this country, under the appelation of Gilds and Fraternities,...but were held in high estimation by the most polished people of antiquity, the Athenians.530
Eden was by then no supporter of 'clubs' as they stood, even though he knew of a number then in existence over a century old. He took at face value recent Reports of the parliament's Secrecy Committees that 'they have been perverted to purposes most inimical to social order.' (p.24) He listed a number of other 'weaknesses' including the legal right of husbands to claim for their own use benefits paid to wives as female society members. Focussing quite narrowly on the aspect of 'annuities and insurances' he was among the first to suggest
(a) public establishment, permanent, solid and respectable, sanctioned by the authority of Government, possessed of the best information necessary for calculating annuities and insurances, and having agents in different parts of the kingdom...(p.24)
On the occasion of a serious Papermakers' dispute in 1796, 'the summary inquisitorial and imprisonment powers' allowed to two Justices by the Tailors' Acts of 1720 and 1768 'were conferred on a single Justice without even the slightest legal security being taken' to ensure no conflict of interest was involved. The 1796 Papermakers Act subsequently became the model for a 'general' Act of 1799, which by some lights was seeking to suppress all combinations of every trade:
Every journeyman papermaker who shall enter into any combination to raise such wages, or alter the hours and duration of work...(etc)...shall be committed to the house of correction...(etc)...Every person...who shall attend any meeting or combination by this Act declared illegal, or shall summons...or who shall collect any sum...(etc)531
The function of 'lodge' secrecy altered in these years from being a cloak for specialised knowledge to being a protection against observation.532 Indeed, Roberts believes 'a new political universe' had been brought about by the hysteria over secret societies, exacerbated by numerous authors, some cashing-in and some genuinely worried, at a time of real revolutionary upheavals. This new universe and the forms it took are essential, he says, to the explanation of the mounting appeal of what he calls 'the plot mythology.' Stemming from the Enlightenment's valuing of individual motivation, 'it rested on the assumption of one great and general antithesis, Good versus Evil, Right versus Wrong' expressed in the rapid crystallisation of the French Revolution's day-to-day politics into a two-sided confrontation, and the appearance of the Left-Right convention:
(It) was this disembodied conflict which provided the origin of the historical dialectic of first Hegel and then Marx, and it has haunted the philosophical and historical consciousness of Europe ever since.533
Uncontrolled secrecy meant uncontrolled information. What the SF's may have unleashed upon the world and what subversive combinants may have borrowed was a location and an excuse for legitimised, uncontrolled secrecy. Such spoor as exists for a process of this kind has at times a distinctly capital-P Protestant aroma, and sometimes not.
Disloyalty was to be prevented but where commerce intersected with Government, Protestant aspirations had to be juggled with the prevention of workers forcing up wages or related labour costs at a time when free trade ideology was spreading and when cross-Channel shipping was at best difficult. The government therefore sought to establish a definition for 'good' worker combinations in order that it be able to track and suppress 'bad' worker combinations - thus the definition of 'friendly society'. It didn't succeed. Indeed, Clapham observed in 1926:
(With) the great combination laws of 1799-1800, the confusion between friendly societies and trade clubs was complete.534
Bridging the pre-scientific and the rational world-views, SF was certainly seen by its most publically-ardent advocates as synonymous with the rights of everyman, as espoused by Thomas Paine. And SF was certainly feared by 'established authority' and banned in parts of Continental Europe, but:
By the late 1780's enormous confusion existed about the whole world of masonry, secret societies and sects; everything was by then so muddled up that the uninitiated could not be expected to make distinctions where even adepts often found themselves at sea.535
An essential component of the rationalist world view was a a gender-displaced egalitarianism, conveniently labelled 'the Rights of Man'. Within lodge all 'brothers' were equal, and were to be treated equally. Any un-equal treatment before the laws of the lodge must signify favouratism, corruption, injustice and/or oppression. Since the world of the lodge was being held up as the example of the perfect society, brothers were inevitably encouraged to see the outside civil society as imperfect, imperfect, that is, from their, male, perspective.
The first UK statutory acknowledgement of 'Freemasonry' occurred when SF was granted exemption from this 1799 Act ('for the more Effectual Suppression of Societies Established for Seditious or Treasonable Purposes') but it was touch-and-go.536 Under a draft of the 1799 Act any lodge of English or Scottish Freemasons which claimed independence from London Grand Lodge was to be declared equally as unlawful as any mutinous outlaw band. Vigorous negotiations secured a change in the final wording. Even so, the Acting Grand Master Lord Moira, recorded the personal opinion of the Prince of Wales, the titular head of Freemasonry in England and Scotland, that 'the authority of the Grand Lodge should be strictly maintained...(for) on no other terms will the Government now permit the existence of lodges.' This may have been good political advice but it was spurious logic in the sense that it was being used to strengthen the hand of central Masonic authority, for example in a dispute with certain Scottish lodges,537 while being the opposite of the anti-network policy insisted upon for other combinations.
Irish and Scottish 'freemasonry'
In 1799 the Scottish Lodge Kilwinning, which had become identified with the issuing of charters for 'further' degrees, issued a public statement repudiating the observance of any other than the 3 Craft degrees. The lodge felt this was necessary as the officers of a lodge under its district supervision were being investigated by the Grand Lodge of Scotland. A subsequent charge by the civil authorities of sedition and the administering of unlawful oaths arose when members of the same 'Maybole Lodge' plus some Irish brethren who were also 'United Irishmen' constituted themselves in 1796-7 into an Assembly of Knights Templar and surreptitiously began to practise Royal Arch Masonry and Knights Templary. Charges by the Scottish Grand Lodge included that these extra degrees were a cover for revolutionaries wanting to subvert Church and State - the Bible was supposedly replaced with Paine's Age of Reason and the ceremony was said to be satirical rather than devout.
During the trial witnesses asserted the initiation included ale and porter being poured on the floor to represent blood, a shot being fired, and liquor being drunk from a skull. The oath was 'to keep the secrets of the Knights Templar, murder and treason not excepted', the penalty for revelation being that 'his body would be rooted up like a fir deal.' The charges were dismissed in both venues of investigation, the judge saying that such ceremonies had nothing to do with Freemasonry.538
Undoubtedly split between nationalist activists and social conservatives, SF in Ireland was presented with a similar opportunity to straddle a sectarian divide. 'International Catholicism', in fact the authority of the Pope, was said to be 'at its lowest ebb in modern history'. A 1797 Masonic magazine reported:
There is an enthusiasm for Masonry in Ireland which is (greater than) in this Country [England]. Every village has its masonic meeting, and, therefore, no wonder can be made at the great number of Masons constantly made in that country.539
There is no reason to suppose the originators of the first Irish SF Grand Lodge in the 1720's were any less politically aware than those of its metropolitan predecessor. So, one would suspect class and sectarian divides within the ranks of initiates, and the reality behind the use of this word 'Masonry.'
Williams claims that 'like the Defenders and nearly all contemporary fraternal societies' the Orange Order took SF lodges as their model. Such a connection is hard to accept with regard to the earliest 'meetings' when the first 'Orange Society' initiations were known to be rough and rudimentary, being 'held behind hedges and in ruined buildings' and having nothing to do with geometry, apprentice discipline or moral growth. Williams has observed:
Following the practice of most secret societies, the Orangemen sought to secure better control over their members by creating the degree of Marksman, which soon became known as the Purple because it conferred the right to wear purple and blue ribbons along with the Orange. Marksmen were required to swear not to induct members into the Order 'on roads or behind hedges.'540
He doesn't quote the 'Purple oath' which according to contemporary sources carried the 'extermination' instruction. There was some identification of SF with Catholics, and Orange violence at the time was often as not directed against 'free-masons' adding to the difficulty of seeing the one being the model for the other.541 Williams tells of an 1802 attack by an SF lodge in Derry on Orangemen and a later riot between the groups which left 5 dead.542 A government spy in Belfast in the late 1790's wrote in one report:
There's scarcely a United Irishman, who is not a Mason, nor a Mason, who is not both.543
This same informer stated that one of the rebel leaders, Simpson, had said that his 'Masonic Club' had 40 members, all of whom were United Irishmen and Defenders. Another, more recent author, has found that the Defenders, a Catholic militia, had 'esoteric' catechisms, passwords and handsigns which were 'unmistakeable' Masonic imprints. 'Clearly', he asserts, 'Freemasonry and the popular political movements answered the same social and recreational needs.' Again, it seems to me, elements of 'the lodge idea' have been wrongly labelled 'masonic' and the whole identified as 'Freemasonry'. A related conclusion is unclear:
One of the most important characteristics of the Volunteer movement in Belfast, as elsewhere, was the readiness of men to lay out their own money for uniforms and equipment and to give up their time for drills, parades and reviews. This trait was reflected in Belfast in the revival of freemasonry...544
There were indeed a lot of parades, but whether any more than at any other time is undetermined. The Orange initiation ceremony has been described:
The candidate, carrying in his hand a bible and the book of rules of the society, was introduced at a meeting of the lodge...by two sponsors...He was placed at the end of the room while the other members stood in their places. The chaplain of the lodge, or in his absence a brother nominated by the master, repeated some scripture verses expressive of the power and paternal care of Providence, and the necessity of trust in Him in time of danger.
This has not the slightest similarity to known Speculative Freemasonry initiations or investitures. The candidate, having been asked a total of four questions and having provided coached answers, was admitted an Orangeman and invested with the Orange sash of the Order. Pro-Protestant authors, the Halls have played down the whole phenomenon:
It was in some few (lodges) the custom to impose an oath or a promise of secrecy. This unnecessary and mischievous portion of the ceremony was, however, much discouraged, and declared to be contrary to the Rules of the Institution by an address of the (Orange) Grand Lodge, published in 1828.
They also claim the Orange Society was dissolved in 1836 by a resolution of Grand Lodge. Neither this nor the assertion about the oath can be taken seriously.545 A source, perhaps better informed, was a certain 'Captain Pollard' described in 1998 as 'late of the staff of the Chief of Police, Ireland.' He dates the Defenders to 1641 when organised massacres of Protestants took place in response to government suppression of Irish Catholics. He argues that the Cromwellian armies redressed the balance and that thereafter 'famine and banishment completed the subjugation of the turbulent land.'546
What is interesting in Pollard's account connecting this earliest of Irish 'banditti' to 19th century development of benefit societies is his linking of the Society of Jesus and SF:
Just as the Jesuits had adopted much of the outward form of Freemasonry, so Illuminism in its turn adopted the mechanism of unquestioning obedience of the Jesuitical system and its doubtful doctrine that evil may be wrought in the cause of good...547
In some hands such claims can be easily dismissed as incoherent ravings. Pollard links the Defenders back to a Spanish, anti-Moor Jesuit-influenced secret society, the Garduna, and forward to the Ancient Order of Hibernians and White Boys which ultimately reached the USA:
The Garduna had no written charter; the rules, signs and passwords being, in the main, orally transmitted. There were nine degrees, those of the 7th being priests, known as Magistri. They conducted the initiations, kept the rolls and preserved the traditions of the society. Above them were the Capaces or district commanders who yeilded allegiance to the Hermano Mayor...who, as Grand Master, exercised absolute control over the whole organisation.
Their ritual, based around the legend of Appolinarius whose name formed one of the passwords, 'was purely religious and patriotic'. The ordinary hailing-sign was the lifting of the right thumb to the left nostril, and there were certain grips, signs and words for every degree.
All of this can be read merely as support for the idea that rites of association used in conjunction with fraternal organisation was widespread and that SF was by no means unique, long before 1717. What Pollard meant by saying the Jesuits had adopted 'the outward form of Freemasonry' (above) I have no idea. He opens a further complication by extending the oft-made claim that SF, in some way, created the Orange Society out of the ramshackle 'Peep-o'-Day Boys':
The Orange Society was...not so much a national growth out of the Peep-o'-Day Boys as a carefully inspired movement probably originating in the councils of English Freemasonry, and designed from the beginning as a counterpoise, not only to ultramontanism and Catholic sedition in Ireland, but to Jacobinism as well...(At a meeting of delegates of Peep-o'-Day Boys) the name of the society was changed to The Orange Society, and a grand lodge and subsidiary lodges initiated. The ritual was founded on Freemasonry (10 York rite), and the legend was the Exodus of the Israelites. Later the Purple Degree and that of the Mark Man were added, and at one time the Co-Masonic rite of Heroine of Jericho was adopted, but later wisely discarded.548
The import of the detail here would only be apparent to insiders. But the fact that the SF being introduced in 1795 was of the York rite adds a serious political dimension to high-level talks, probably already underway, about a then-in-the-future 'United' SF. This was the dissident, Irish artisinal 'Antient' rite, not that being promulgated through London's Grand Lodge. Thus, the Orange attacks on nationalist SF lodges can be better understood.
A united Irish opposition to British rule was never going to be easy. A number of 'very respectable Catholic gentlemen' had offered to march with the Cork Volunteer militias to repel a rumoured French landing in 1779. In 1784 the Belfast Volunteers demonstrated their goodwill towards Catholics by marching to Mass at St Mary's Cathedral, but frustration of the underlying land-poverty claims led to polarisation and murderous hostilities.549 The Peep-o'-Day Boys' oath has been reliably reported as:
I, ...., do swear that I will be true to King and Government, and that I will exterminate the Catholics of Ireland, as far as lies in my power.550
The intentions of Orangemen and Catholic terrorists were therefore similar. Orangemen swore to go ankle-deep in Papist blood, Ribbonmen, whose societies developed after the suppression of the United Irishmen swore:
In the presence of Almighty God and this my brother, I do swear that I will suffer my right hand to be cut off my body and laid at the gaol door before I will lay or betray my brother. That I will persevere, and will not spare from the cradle to the crutch, or the crutch to the cradle, that I will not pity the groans or moans of infancy or old age, but that I will wade knee-deep in Orangemen's blood and do as King James did.551
The 'Society of United Irishmen of Dublin', was formally established in a Dublin tavern in 1791. It was immediately in trouble with the authorities as members were loath to keep their political views private. On the first occasion a United Irishman stood in the dock, in 1793, it was attested that he with others had 'assembled in a particular uniform, with emblems of harps divested of the royal crown.' The charge on this occasion was distribution of a libel, viz a call to the Irish Volunteers to take up arms for a united Ireland, for which Archibald Rowan went down for two years.552 No questions were put regarding the detail of oaths or sanctions.
In Ireland, activists are known to have used whatever organisation was at hand - Presbyterian congregations, parish and county meetings, trade combinations, political clubs - but it cannot be reiterated too often that SF brethren were being politically active as SF's. The nationalist program has been described as 'advanced Whiggery', one 1793 declaration issued by County Tyrone SF's including:
We view with pleasure the rapid progress of liberty in France, supported by reason and philosophy, and founded on the grand principles of our institution; whilst we glory in the reflection that our illustrious brother Washington and the masons of America were the saviours of their country and the first founders of the Temple of Liberty...We are no advocates of passive obedience and non-resistance, fealty to our sovereign does not require us to support corruption.553 (My emphasis)
Another declared: 'let every lodge in the land become a company of citizen soldiers...Let every Volunteer become a lodge of masons.' Many SF brethren were prominent Volunteers and at least one medal, that of the Ballymascanlon Corps, 1782, shows the crossed square and compass surrounding the capital 'G', with other 'masonic' symbols. Detailed research is needed to interpret this evidence as the Volunteers, like SF, was a battleground, the original Protestant defence force being replaced with a largely Catholic militia.554
The United Irishmen was allegedly reformed as 'a secret society' in 1794, but what this distinction signifies is not at this moment clear. Wells located a use of sign language but the UI's internal cell-structure and what is known of its rites of association do not resemble SF, either 'Antient' or 'Modern'. Pollard accepts Barruel's contentions about personnel contact and exchanges (below) at face value, but comments:
The degree to which Continental ritual was adopted by the United Irishmen is not clearly ascertained. The initiation involved sponsors, an oath, and a grip and password. The probability is that, with the Orange Society on the one hand and the Defenders on the other, the promoters [presumably he means the Illuminatists] steered clear of the introduction of ritual which might clash with existing rites or arouse hostilities between the rival groups.555
In other words, he doesn't have any idea. SF might be considered by some to be the ideally-placed 'lingua franca' of both the Irish nationalists and loyalists, but as before I would argue there was no need to call upon SF for fraternal rites or for practical assistance with propoganda. Any SF network that existed did not, in any event, exhaust the number of 'lodges' where a bed, a meal and a coin were available for persons on the move. 'Travelling' was part of common parlance and provided one had the appropriate document few barriers existed. Government spies were equally aware of the possibilities and the 'Alien Office', well supplied with excellent information by 'fizzgigs' and the postal network, eventually made the difference at this, as at later, flash points.556
Whether or not an influx of Irish democrats and revolutionaries in the 1790's into the British Navy was responsible for the mutinies on 'mainland Britain' of 1797 and later, Well's material is unequivocal that the 'simple seamen' were organisationally sophisticated and well-versed in the use of secret methods.557
The mutineers' organisations, their elections, delegations, ships committees, and central committees, reflect perfectly those of the popular democratic societies.558
Ireland and Wales were both 'invaded' by French expeditionary forces whose Commander had large ambitions, but his detailed plans, and those of others, came to nought.
Barruel's English translator, before applying the Abbe's analysis to 'the secret societies of Ireland and Britain' for which he drew heavily on Reports of the UK Parliament's Secrecy Committee to make a case, recapitulated the original arguement. The Abbe's language, speaking first of Continental Europe and the intrigues of Adam Weishaupt, is prolix, but his meaning is clear:
Satan, when seeking vengeance against his Divine Creator, would have been proud to become the pupil of the modern Spartacus. Singular to say, the Sophisters of Impiety, seeking to recruit their ranks, when become the Sophisters of Rebellion, had flocked to the Masonic Lodges, and it is through the means of those very Lodges also that Illuminism has overwhelmed Europe with its curses...(After leading the candidate to Materialism) the next point was to obtain the oath which in regular-built lodges took place as follows: the candidate was led through dark windings into a cavern, where the image of death, the mechanism of spectres, potions of blood, sepulchral lamps, subterranean voices; every thing, in short, that can afright the imagination, and successively hurry the candidate from terror to enthusiasm is put in action. When the candidate is worn out with fatigue, a voice dictates the following execrable oath which is sworn:
'I here break all the ties of the flesh that bind me to father, mother, brothers, sisters, wife, relations, friends, mistress, kings, chiefs, benefactors; in short to every person to whom I have promised faith, obedience, gratitude or service. I swear to reveal to the new chief whom I acknowledge everything that I shall have seen, done, read, heard, learned, or discovered and even to seek after and spy into things that might otherwise escape my notice. I swear to revere the Aqua Tophana (a most subtle poison) as a certain, prompt and necessary means of ridding the earth, by death or stupefaction, of those who revile the truth or seek to wrest it from my hands.'559
I will have much to say about oaths, SF and other. Suffice to say here that this bears no resemblance to any SF oath I've seen, eg one offered in a 1725 expose:
You must serve God according to the best of your knowledge and Institution, and be a true Leige Man to the King, and help and assist any Brother as far as your Ability will allow: By the Contents of the Sacred Writ you will perform this Oath. So help you God. 560
The Abbe's story then goes that, having used control of Freemasonry to initiate the uprising of 14 July, 1789, the Illuminees, both Theosophic and Atheistic, developed contacts in Britain which brought into being the various societies up and down the country devoted to the 'abominations' of universal suffrage, annual elections and democratic reform of the Constitution. Evidence that the forms being adopted by the various combinations, especially the United Irishmen, United Britons, Society for Constitutional Information, Friends of the People and the London Corresponding Society, were taken from Masonic Ceremonial included alleged quotations such as:
Let every member wear (day and night) an amulet around his neck, containing the great principle which unites the brotherhood, in letters of gold, on a ribbon, striped with all the original colours, and inclosed in a sheath of white silk, to represent the pure union of the mingled rays, and the abolition of all superficial distinctions, all colours, all shades of difference, for the sake of one illustrious End.561
Huge numbers of recruits, 'travelling' delegates meeting at various points of the country, assassination attempts and enormous penetration of the artisinal population by the Illuminist propogandists are claimed, all of this vast revolutionary structure (supposedly) falling to pieces the instant a few spokespersons were discovered and arrested!!
Other detail does not appear 'mainstream' 'Masonic', eg., mentions are made of various 'sublime' Degrees - that of 'LLL' being one. Encouragement for Catholic and Orange activists to come together included the wording of the initiating oath which has at least one striking phrase:
I, AB, do voluntarily declare that I will persevere in endeavouring to form a brotherhood of affection among Irishmen of every religious persuasion, and that I will also persevere in my endeavours to obtain an equal, full, and adequate representation of all the people of Ireland. I do further declare that neither hopes nor fears, rewards nor punishments, shall ever induce me, directly or indirectly, to inform or give evidence against any member or members of this or similar societies, for any act or expression of theirs done or made collectively or individually, in or out of this society in pursuance of the spirit of this obligation.562
This phrase reappears in the colonies, eg at Norfolk Island penal settlement. Pollard, like Barruel and his translaters, seem convinced by material showing the same hierarchical command structure was followed by the Illuminees, the United Irishmen and other 'subversive' groups. I do not see this 'coincidence' as convincing proof either way.
The Earl of Moira, hero of the wars against the French stoutly defended SF when the critiques first appeared but some years later apparently admitted the strictures had justice. He referred to:
mischievous combinations on the Continent, borrowing and prostituting the respectable name of Masonry, and sowing disaffection and sedition through the communities in which they were protected. [My emphasis]563
Professor Robinson, the Abbe's English-language supporter changed tack in his second edition, gushing that
while the Freemasonry of the Continent was perverted to the most profligate and impious purposes, it retained in Britain its original form, simple and unadorned, and the Lodges remained the scenes of innocent merriment or meetings of charity and beneficence.564
Whatever elements had gone into the mix,565 tensions in Ireland boiled over in 1798 with the 'Wicklow Uprising', involving both terrified, frustrated Catholics and some Protestants against the authorities and roaming bands of 'murderers, committing massacres in the name of God'. Surviving 'conspirators' captured or exposed were sent off to Botany Bay.566
We might conclude that, tempted to ban SF altogether and in a dilemma with how to deal with the Orangemen, the British authorities eventually sided with those 'masonic' forces seeking to maintain top-down discipline, in both lodge and community, and the non-Catholic, Hanoverian-oriented SF ideology. Sparks from the internal SF struggle and Irish nationalist aspirations went south with the transportees. But is this 'Freemasonry' the source of the Webb's claims?
Prescott has made the point that the 1799 Anti-Sedition Act created difficulties for the Orange Order, the Home Secretary declaring that, because of the administered oath, members 'were liable to imprisonment and transportation.' It would seem Orangemen were warned rather than arrested.567
Young Catholic lawyer, Daniel O'Connell, like many of his contemporaries was 'made', but after Wicklow, in 1799. He later stated that he had not long after renounced SF, but, he said, not for political reasons:
(The) great, the important objection is this, the profane taking in vain the awful name of the Deity, in the wanton and multiplied taking of oaths - of Oaths administered on the book of God either in mockery or derision or with a solemnity which renders the taking of them, without any adequate motive, only the more criminal.568
Irish artisans, some of whom were Orangemen, were migrating to 'the mainland'. In the English industrial heartland, the Leeds Mercury of the 1790's contains interesting ads for a number of benefit societies, all of which had a significant use of the word 'free':
Notwithstanding the many Advantages and great Success of this Society...any young Man from 16 to 30 Years of Age, and otherwise properly qualified, will be admitted paying only ...Entrance, and...per month; and in eighteen months he will become free, and entitled to all the benefits of this Society, viz...per week when any free member is rendered incapable of working, and not so ill as to be confined to his House, he shall receive...per week. Likewise at the death of his lawful wife, he shall receive..., and at his own death, his wife or any other person that he empowered shall receive...
This paragraph was used for the following societies, varying only in the title and the stated benefits: the 'Clothiers Union Society', the 'Otley Friendly Society', the 'Leeds Benevolent Society', the 'Leeds Union Society', the 'Brotherly Society', the 'Prince of Wales Society', the 'Philanthropic Society', 'His Majesty's Royal Society', and the 'Hunslet Humane Society'. The same internal structure is indicated - an annual meeting, at which a roll-call is conducted, a sermon, a parade and a feast.
A news par began:
The establishment of female clubs, or sick boxes, is now become very prevalent in Manchester and neighborhood. The advantages arising from Friendly Societies in general... ..would be equally found in these...569
A combination entitled 'The York Female Friendly Society' had both Honorary Members, 'Ladies' who run the affairs of the society, and General Members, subscribers in the normal benefit sense. Another news item tells of forty three Sheffield 'Sick Clubs' 'with music, flags, etc, and attended by an immense concourse of people,' processing to lay the foundation stone of a corn mill 'intended to be built for their common use and benefit.' Another refers to 'one of the noblest triumphs of humanity ever witnessed in this nation' - the opening of the General Infirmary at Sheffield - the parade including 'several lodges of free-masons', the Cutlers Company and 'near fifty friendly societies.'570
SF's are noted parading on their own to open a bridge, to dedicate a military lodge, and for a funeral.571 A magazine review of a 1798 sermon preached in the Sheffield Parish Church began:
We have occasionally perused sermons preached before Free Masons, Jerusalem Sols, the antient and honorable Order of Bucks, Benefit Societies and Friendly Associations. We are now presented with a discourse preached before the Odd Fellows; a singular name, and in the opinion of the preacher himself [not an Odd Fellow], "a very equivocal and foolish name." These Odd Fellows appear to be very numerous; there are thirty-nine lodges of them in London and its vicinity; two at Sheffield, and one at each of the following places: Wolverhampton, Birmingham, Shrewsbury, Windsor, Wandsworth, Canterbury, Liverpool, Richmond in Surrey and Lewes. Their whole number is said to be amazingly great and to be rapidly increasing. We were of the opinion there were many Odd Fellows in England, but we did not believe they were so numerous as we now find them to be. These lodges forming so considerable a body, it becomes a subject of just enquiry, what are their political tenets? Are they friendly or inimical to the State? That a conspiracy has been formed, by certain secret societies, against all the Governments of Europe has been fully proved by Professor Robison and the Abbe Baruel. Whether the Society of Odd Fellows are implicated in this atrocious combination, we cannot say: appearances however are against them, and charges of a very serious nature have been brought forward, which Mr Smith, the curate of Sheffield, in this discourse, endeavours to refute.572
Not far away, the Rector of the Wanstead church was unambiguously celebrating the anniversary of a 'Friendly Society, consisting of 61 persons (chiefly labourers, shop-keepers and mechanicks) in this and adjoining parishes' with a banner and a very generous sermon. With a French invasion possible, such societies were being called upon to show their loyalty in material ways, in this case 'the produce of one month's pay from your flock'.573