Dear Dedicated Members for Change,
History buffs, step right up!
I’m pleased to share with you some excerpts from the United Kingdom’s Manchester Unity of Oddfellows, forwarded by Mel Astrahan, a member of America Lodge #385 and a Director of the Grand Lodge Board of Directors. I think you will find these excerpts of interest, particularly the historical roots of our own Independent Order of Odd Fellows.
F – L – T
Deputy Grand Master
The Manchester Unity of Oddfellows
Our Odd Fellow cousins in the UK (https://www.oddfellows.co.uk), aka the Manchester Unity of Oddfellows, currently claim about 280,000 members and 146 branches (lodges). According to my research, the population of the United Kingdom (UK) in 2013 was 64.1 million. The population of California in 2014 was 38.8 million. If Odd Fellowship in California was operating as effectively as Odd Fellowship in the UK one would expect that our membership here in CA alone would be at least 150,000. Whatever the differences are, membership costs are not a factor. The annual cost of membership in the UK is 30 pounds ($45) which is similar to our cost here in the USA.
So, just who are the Manchester Unity of Oddfellows, how are they operating today that has proven so successful, and what can we learn from them?
In their own words:
“Oddfellows is one of the largest friendly societies in the UK having celebrated its 200 anniversary in 2010. Evolving from the medieval Trade Guilds, Oddfellows began in London in the late 17th century with more and more groups setting up around the country, generally meeting in pubs and church halls and now many Branches own their own meeting place or Oddfellows hall.
In 1810 the Manchester Unity of Oddfellows was formed by a number of local social groups joining together. Every year, thousands of people join Oddfellows, not just for the range of financial and practical benefits available, but increasingly for the network of social events that membership offers and the opportunity for making friends.
How did Oddfellows begin?
In 1810 the Manchester Unity of Oddfellows became officially recognised by the Government. However, Oddfellows social groups in England can be traced all the way back to 1066, making it one of the oldest friendly societies currently operating in the UK.
What is a friendly society?
Emerging from the “medieval Trade Guilds”, ordinary people worked together to help each other out in times of need. In its early days of operation, there was no welfare state, NHS, personal insurance or even trade unions, so by joining friendly societies members could protect themselves and their families against illness, injury or death.
Where did the name the ‘Oddfellows’ come from?
Originally, every apprentice could expect to become a Master in due course with the expectation of running their own business in time, but with the growth in trade some master craftsmen wanted to pass their businesses onto their children. They also wanted to protect their market share by preventing too many rival businesses being set up by Fellows. Thus began the first industrial disputes.
The Masters excluded the lower orders from the Guild by introducing expensive uniforms and regalia, or livery, which members had to buy and wear in order to attend Guild meetings. Because the wage-earning Fellows could not afford such regalia, they found themselves excluded from meetings which became the exclusive preserve of the Masters who went on to pass Rules (or ‘Ordinances’), giving themselves greater powers and further excluding the wage-earning Fellows.
To combat this nefarious practice, the Fellows started to set up their own Rival Guilds, commonly called Yeoman Guilds, as distinct from the ‘Livery Guilds’ of the Masters. This led inevitably to the first organised industrial actions and attempts to suppress the Yeoman (Fellows) Guilds.
In time, the Yeoman Guilds became viewed as respectable, law abiding organisations. In smaller towns and villages Fellows from all trades in a town banded together to form one Guild. The Guildsmen could be called “Odd Fellows” because they were fellow tradesmen from an odd assortment of trades.
How did the Oddfellows operate in the early days?
The earliest surviving rules of an Oddfellows Lodge date from 1730 and refer to the Loyal Aristarcus Lodge in London. It met in the Oakley Arms in Southwark, the Globe Tavern in Hatton Garden or the Boar’s Head in Smithfield. There are many pubs in Britain today which are named ‘The Oddfellows’ or ‘Oddfellows Arms’. Invariably these are past meeting places of lodges.
At that time, attendance at an Oddfellows meeting was compulsory, although not nowadays though, you’ll be glad to know!
The meetings included a number of toasts (at least three a night) and the Lodge was instructed to keep each members’ cups replenished during the evening. No wonder then that many Oddfellows meetings resulted in much revelry and, often as not, the calling of the Watch to restore order.
How and why was “Manchester Unity” formed in 1810?
In 1810, members of the Oddfellows in Manchester area became dissatisfied with the way the United Order was being run by the ‘Original Oddfellows’ and broke away to form an independent Order with the title ‘Manchester Unity’.
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’. It was the Manchester Unity which was to become the Oddfellows of today.
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.
Who are the Manchester Unity Oddfellows today?
Celebrating over 200 years of making friends and helping people, we’re a mutual, not for profit friendly society with the aim of ensuring that our 280,000 members, across 146 Branches, join together to enjoy the social side of life, as well as providing care advice and support in times of need. We’re one of the largest Branch based Friendly Societies that continues to innovate by developing new and improved services for our members.
The Oddfellows has no political or religious affiliations – membership is open to all, regardless of age, sex, political persuasion, religion, race or disability. Quite simply: We encourage members to build upon their friendship networks with others across the UK, and overseas, by socialising and showing mutual support.
What we do: Social Activities
Most people join the Oddfellows today to expand their social networks and take part in a range of activities including: musical nights, day trips, dances and meals out. In addition, we’ve an Active Travel Club which hosts UK and overseas holidays.
Care and Support
Provided through our Care Department and a network of Branch-based Welfare Officers, the team delivers advice on all aspects of care and health services, from finding doctors and dentists in your area to helping members deal with professional agencies such as the NHS or social services. We also have a dedicated Advice Line provided by the Citizens Advice Bureau where you can obtain advice and information on over 15,000 topics!
Our members are entitled to a range of benefits which include money towards dental and optical costs, legal aid and convalescent home stays. Online courses are also available to assist with the transition of retirement, as well gaining free and exclusive access to our online archives which has over 70,000 documents.
Fact and Figures
Officially dating back to Manchester 1810, many of our early meetings were held in taverns which is why there so many pubs in Britain today which are named “The Oddfellows” or “Oddfellow Arms”
Since 2006 we have held nearly 6000 events across the UK with more 151,145 attendees
Over 3,100 members have enjoyed an annual group holiday with other Oddfellows thanks to the Active Travel Club
The Care Department has handled 4,360 care cases from members with our Advice Line having dealt with more 18,000 queries
Since 2001, 3,198 members have enjoyed the benefits of convalescence.
Whether you want to meet new friends, take advantage of our wide range of benefits or simply have fun, the Oddfellows has something for you. With 280,000 members and 146 Branches nationwide, we’re one of the largest membership organisations in the UK. We offer thousands of activities to suit everyone, from chat-filled coffee mornings to adventure trips abroad. Plus we’re over two hundred years old, so we know a thing or two about making friends and helping people.”
What can we, here in California (as well as the entire USA), learn from the UK’s Manchester Unity of Oddfellows?
(1) A successful fraternal organization in today’s world provides a wealth of social activities, a point often expounded by our own bro. Rosenberg in his writings to this newsletter.
(2) Their organization also provides an attractive package of benefits and services. That is something I think we need to explore in greater depth and I will comment in detail concerning the package of Manchester Unity benefits and services in my next letter.
(3) Interestingly, the Manchester Unity makes no mention of any civic service or charitable activities. That marks a huge difference from our IOOF lodges and is a difference that we will surely NOT want to emulate.
Melvin Astrahan, PhD
America Lodge #385
Director of the Grand Lodge of CA