The name Oddfellows
refers to a number of friendly societies
A friendly society is a mutual association for insurance, pensions or savings and loan-like purposes, or cooperative banking. It is a mutual organization or benefit society composed of a body of people who join together for a common financial or social purpose...
and fraternal organisations operating in the United Kingdom
The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern IrelandIn the United Kingdom and Dependencies, other languages have been officially recognised as legitimate autochthonous languages under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages...
. It also refers to a number of Lodges with histories dating back to the 18th century. These various organisations were set up to protect and care for their members and communities at a time when there was no welfare state
A welfare state is a "concept of government in which the state plays a key role in the protection and promotion of the economic and social well-being of its citizens. It is based on the principles of equality of opportunity, equitable distribution of wealth, and public responsibility for those...
, trade unions or National Health Service
The National Health Service is the shared name of three of the four publicly funded healthcare systems in the United Kingdom. They provide a comprehensive range of health services, the vast majority of which are free at the point of use to residents of the United Kingdom...
. The aim was (and still is) to provide help to members when they need it. The friendly societies are non-profit mutual
A mutual, mutual organization, or mutual society is an organization based on the principle of mutuality. Unlike a true cooperative, members usually do not contribute to the capital of the company by direct investment, but derive their right to profits and votes through their customer relationship...
organisations owned by their members. All income is passed back to the members in the form of services and benefits.
The Oddfellows are fundraisers for both local and national charities. Branches raise money for local causes and the Societies as a whole raise significant amounts for charities.
Fraternal societies and Guilds
Legend claims that fraternal societies date to the exile
The Exodus is the story of the departure of the Israelites from ancient Egypt described in the Hebrew Bible.Narrowly defined, the term refers only to the departure from Egypt described in the Book of Exodus; more widely, it takes in the subsequent law-givings and wanderings in the wilderness...
of the Israelites from Babylon
Babylon was an Akkadian city-state of ancient Mesopotamia, the remains of which are found in present-day Al Hillah, Babil Province, Iraq, about 85 kilometers south of Baghdad...
in 587 BC, when many of those exiled banded together into a brotherhood for mutual support and defence. This same tales goes on to claim that "an Order of Odd Fellows was established in 1452 by knights who were said to have met at the Boulogne-sur-Mer
-Road:* Metropolitan bus services are operated by the TCRB* Coach services to Calais and Dunkerque* A16 motorway-Rail:* The main railway station is Gare de Boulogne-Ville and located in the south of the city....
London is the capital city of :England and the :United Kingdom, the largest metropolitan area in the United Kingdom, and the largest urban zone in the European Union by most measures. Located on the River Thames, London has been a major settlement for two millennia, its history going back to its...
and formed a fraternity".
While the legend is surely fanciful, the evolution from the Guilds is more documented. By the 13th century, the tradesmen's Guilds had become established and prosperous. During the 14th Century, with the growth of trade, the guild "Masters" moved to protect their power (and wealth) by restricting access to the Guilds. In response, the less experienced (and less wealthy) "Fellows" set up their own rival Guilds.
The Odd Fellows
The term Odd Fellows comes from the fact that in smaller towns and villages, there were too few Fellows in the same trade to form a local Guild. The Fellows from a number of trades therefore joined together to form a local Guild of Fellows from an assortment of different trades, the Odd Fellows.
During the following centuries, the idea of common people working together to improve their situation met with opposition (and persecution) from the upper classes, who saw them possibly as a source of revenue (taxes) but also as threat to their power. For example, when the English King Henry VIII broke with the Roman Catholic Church, the Guilds were viewed by him as supporting the Pope, and in 1545 he confiscated all material property of the Guilds. Queen Elizabeth I took from the Guilds the responsibility for training apprentices, and by the end of her reign, most Guilds had been suppressed.
The Oddfellows Lodge
The elimination of the Trade Guilds removed an important form of social and financial support from ordinary working people. In major cities like London, some Guilds (the Free Masons and the Odd Fellows) survived by adapting their roles to a social support function. Both of these had their base in London, but had established other Branches (called 'Lodges') across the country. The earliest surviving records of an Oddfellows Lodge date from 1730 and refer to the Loyal Aristarcus Lodge in London. Many pubs in Britain are named 'The Oddfellows' or 'Oddfellows Arms', probably because they were once meeting places of Lodges.
The French Revolution caused "the establishment" to view organisations such as the Oddfellows and Freemasons with fear. Membership became a criminal offence in France, and such organisations were driven underground and forced to use codes, passwords, special handshakes and similar mechanisms. Fear of revolution was not the sole reason for persecution. Friendly societies like the Oddfellows were the predecessors of modern-day trade unions and could organise effective local strike action by levying all of their members for additional contributions for their benevolent funds, out of which payments could be made to the families of members who were on strike.
The Oddfellows subsequently introduced a number of novel benefits for members. These included the Travel Warrant, which allowed members seeking work to stay overnight in an Oddfellows Hall, anywhere in the country, free of charge. The Oddfellows also introduced standard protection policies (or 'tables') to which people could subscribe to protect themselves financially. In the United Kingdom at that time, until 1948, payment was required to see a doctor or to go into hospital. Many people therefore joined friendly societies like the Oddfellows to obtain financial protection to meet these costs.
As a result of the Glorious Revolution
The Glorious Revolution, also called the Revolution of 1688, is the overthrow of King James II of England by a union of English Parliamentarians with the Dutch stadtholder William III of Orange-Nassau...
of 1688, (when the Protestant William of Orange
William III & II was a sovereign Prince of Orange of the House of Orange-Nassau by birth. From 1672 he governed as Stadtholder William III of Orange over Holland, Zeeland, Utrecht, Guelders, and Overijssel of the Dutch Republic. From 1689 he reigned as William III over England and Ireland...
replaced the Catholic King James II
James II & VII was King of England and King of Ireland as James II and King of Scotland as James VII, from 6 February 1685. He was the last Catholic monarch to reign over the Kingdoms of England, Scotland, and Ireland...
), in the mid-18th century the Oddfellows split into The Order of Patriotic Oddfellows (based in the south of England and supporting William) and The Ancient Order of Oddfellows (based in the north and favouring the Stuarts).
The Grand United Order of Oddfellows
Subsequent to the failure of Bonnie Prince Charlie
Prince Charles Edward Louis John Casimir Sylvester Severino Maria Stuart commonly known as Bonnie Prince Charlie or The Young Pretender was the second Jacobite pretender to the thrones of Great Britain , and Ireland...
's uprising, in 1789 the two Orders formed a partial amalgamation as the Grand United Order of Oddfellows. These days they are more commonly known as "The Grand United Order of Oddfellows Friendly Society" (GUOOFS)
The Independent Order - Manchester Unity
In 1810, members of the Oddfellows in Manchester area became dissatisfied with the way the Grand United Order was being run and formed an independent Order with the title 'Manchester Unity'. This organisation is now referred to as "The Independent Order of Oddfellows (Manchester Unity)", or more simply, "The Manchester Unity Order of Odd Fellows" (MUOOF).
According to Manchester Unity literature: "With their improved organisation and rules, they encouraged many other lodges across the country to leave the old Grand United Order and join the Independent Order under the 'Manchester Compliance'.
Subsequent breakaways from the parent Grand United Order and from the new Manchester Unity Order resulted in the formation of further Orders of Odd Fellows. In the case of the parent Order, various lodges seceded in 1832 to found the Ancient & Noble (Bolton Unity), which subsequently dissolved in 1962, and in the case of the new Order, the Nottingham Odd Fellows.
The American Separation
The Oddfellows had spread to America in the late 18th century, and several unofficial lodges existed in New York City; but American Odd Fellowship is regarded as being founded in Baltimore in 1819, by Thomas Wildey, and the following year affiliated with the Manchester Unity.
In 1834 Britain, the Tolpuddle Martyrs
The Tolpuddle Martyrs were a group of 19th century Dorset agricultural labourers who were arrested for and convicted of swearing a secret oath as members of the Friendly Society of Agricultural Labourers. The rules of the society show it was clearly structured as a friendly society and operated as...
were unexpectedly convicted and "transported" for "membership of an illegal friendly society". The Oddfellow "Board of Directors" hastily modified the "constitution" to evade a similar fate. Members of the Oddfellows in the United States were not pleased to see the ancient rituals changed without their agreement, particularly to satisfy a British Government against which they had fought a war of independence.
As a result, the Oddfellows in America declared their independence from the Manchester Unity of Oddfellows and became a self governing Order—the Independent Order of Odd Fellows
The Independent Order of Odd Fellows , also known as the Three Link Fraternity, is an altruistic and benevolent fraternal organization derived from the similar British Oddfellows service organizations which came into being during the 18th century, at a time when altruistic and charitable acts were...
—which established lodges across the world (and continues to this day).
The Oddfellows continued to be viewed with suspicion by "the establishment". At various times, right up to 1850, some aspects of the Orders' practices were declared illegal. However, by 1850, the Independent Order of Oddfellows Manchester Unity Friendly Society had become the largest and richest friendly society in Britain. This growth was spurred by the growth caused by the Industrial Revolution, the lack of Trade Unions, and the lack of personal or public insurance; only by joining mutual friendly societies like the Oddfellows could ordinary people protect themselves and their families against illness, injury or death.
In 1911, when Asquith's Liberal government was setting up the National Insurance Act in Britain, the Oddfellows protected so many people that the government used the Oddfellows' actuarial tables to work out the level of contribution and payment required. At that time the Oddfellows was the largest friendly society in the world.
The Welfare State and modern Oddfellows
The Welfare State and the National Health Service took over the major part of the role of Friendly Societies, and since 1948 the role of the Oddfellows has evolved in other directions, with a continuing focus on social involvement, care & support and financial benefits.
In the second half of the 20th century, the Oddfellows moved into financial products.
The international spread of Oddfellowship
The concept of the Oddfellows was taken abroad as members emigrated to the far-flung corners of the Commonwealth and to the New World. Today, the Oddfellows can be found in many countries across the world, including Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and the West Indies. The American Order has set up lodges in Canada, Germany, Iceland, Denmark, Belgium, Finland, Holland and many other European countries. In Asia, the Oddfellows was revived when lodges were re-established in the Philippines in 2009.
A revival of the procedures followed by the oldest ascertained Oddfellows' unit, the "Loyal Aristarcus Lodge" in London (1730–40), has been recently started by a group of Italian Oddfellows, led by Masonic author Michele Moramarco
Michele Moramarco is an Italian author on Masonic ritual and history, a pop musician, and an advocate of Mazdean Christian Universalism.-Works:Publications* La Massoneria ieri e oggi...
Notable members of the Oddfellows
- George IV
George IV was the King of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland and also of Hanover from the death of his father, George III, on 29 January 1820 until his own death ten years later...
, King of United Kingdom (1820–1830)
- Levi and Matilda Stanley
Levi Stanley and Matilda Joles Stanley were accorded the honorific titles of King and Queen of the Gypsies...
, considered as King and Queen of the Gypsies
- Winston Churchill
Sir Winston Leonard Spencer-Churchill, was a predominantly Conservative British politician and statesman known for his leadership of the United Kingdom during the Second World War. He is widely regarded as one of the greatest wartime leaders of the century and served as Prime Minister twice...
, Wartime Prime Minister of United Kingdom
- John Wilkes
John Wilkes was an English radical, journalist and politician.He was first elected Member of Parliament in 1757. In the Middlesex election dispute, he fought for the right of voters—rather than the House of Commons—to determine their representatives...
, English radical, journalist and politician.
- Sir George Savile, 8th Baronet, English politician.
- Stanley Baldwin
Stanley Baldwin, 1st Earl Baldwin of Bewdley, KG, PC was a British Conservative politician, who dominated the government in his country between the two world wars...
, Prime Minister of United Kingdom (1923–1924, 1924–1929, 1925–1937)
- The fathers of George Harrison
George Harrison, MBE was an English musician, guitarist, singer-songwriter, actor and film producer who achieved international fame as lead guitarist of The Beatles. Often referred to as "the quiet Beatle", Harrison became over time an admirer of Indian mysticism, and introduced it to the other...
and Ringo Starr
Richard Starkey, MBE better known by his stage name Ringo Starr, is an English musician and actor who gained worldwide fame as the drummer for The Beatles. When the band formed in 1960, Starr was a member of another Liverpool band, Rory Storm and the Hurricanes. He became The Beatles' drummer in...
, members of The Beatles
The Beatles were an English rock band, active throughout the 1960s and one of the most commercially successful and critically acclaimed acts in the history of popular music. Formed in Liverpool, by 1962 the group consisted of John Lennon , Paul McCartney , George Harrison and Ringo Starr...