Oddfellows and Freemasons would appear to share a common history - Harris stating that a tightening of the rules of the London Grand Lodge prohibiting members from belonging to more than one London lodge led to the appearance of Oddfellows Lodges in 1736. Haunch (Chap II of The History of the Grand Lodge) gives a date of February 1724 for this rule but states that it appeared more honoured in the breach. By 1748 the Oddfellow lodges had mostly excluded working men being restricted to professional and the better off. However the anti-revolutionary legislation, the Unlawful Societies Act of 1799 saw the demise of such societies with many members joining the Freemasons which had managed to see a clause inserted in the Act allowing their continuation. Some Oddfellow lodges moved more towards a working class membership and may have formed the base on which the later benefit socities were founded.
The present Oddfellows were supposed to have been started by a marble mason named Bolton who went from London to Manchester in 1809; there he started an improved Order of Odd Fellows Club designed, it seems, for those whose occupations, like his, forced them to travel in search of work. Harris however gives the palm to Robert Naylor who started a social and benevolent club at the Ropemakers Arms, Chapel Street, Salford. The date of the first meeting on 10th Oct 1810 is regarded as the start of the Manchester Unity. This lodge, along with others, joined to form a burying society with a funeral fund in 1813 - such societies (or funds) had been started by many public houses in the rapidly industrialising North of England. Oddfellows shared many of the ritual practices of FreeMasonry as for example described in the account of the 'making of an Oddfellow Lodge' as given in the Rechabite History. An account of the mythical origins can be seen in a lecture delivered at Douglas in 1909.
Lodges were independent but collaborated such that a common secretary was appointed in 1816 and a collective funeral fund established. Growth was rapid such that by 1832 there were 561 lodges with a total membership of 31,042. It grew to be the largest such society in the UK, though the Ancient Order of Foresters ran it a close second by the end of the 19th century.
Kneale dates the start of Oddfellows on the Island to 1830 though growth was very slow until the late 1830's. The original Lodge was associated with the Yorkshire Unity but transferred to Manchester Unity c.1834. A second lodge (which apparently failed some years later) was established in Castletown in 1836 associated with James Dinwoody; a subsequent press comment was that growth of the order was strong in the southern part of the Island.
However not all was good fellowship as the following comment shows:
Manx Liberal 5 August 1837:
We are rather surprised to hear that the Loyal Mona Lodge of Oddfellows, No. 951 Manchester Unity, was dividing, or separating, or bring forth, or something that demanded a second lodge which is to be held at the Kings Arms. We feel sorry at this, that men who meet for the good of society, and so forth, to compare their opinions, unbend their minds, and form a kind of intellectual legislature, should be obliged to separate on any account. They will doubtless explain all this;- it may be their increasing numbers that render this measure necessary. We have heard a report (upon which we place no reliance) that this is to make the society more select, and that there are a few who do not like to shake the hand of oddfellowship, which but an hour before had been polluted by the jack-plane, the paint-brush, or the file. The first new lodge was held at Mr Crelley's on Tuesday evening last, when a great number attended, partook of a sumptuous supper, composed of every luxury of the season, and served, as the newspapers say, in Mrs Crelley's best manner; - the wines were excellent, when the company after a few hours of temporary enjoyment inThe feast of reason and the flow of soul
separated highly gratified and in perfect odd - no! good fellowship with all mankind.
It would appear both from this, the later financing of the Hall, and a serious accusation of dishonesty in 1844, that on the Island at least the order was attracting not just the working class but, it seems, the merchants of Douglas. By the end of the century there was a considerable overlap of membership between the upper ranks of the Oddfellows and the Freemasons (many of whom were non-Manx entrepreneurs in the Tourist or Service Industries).
Membership growth must have been sufficient in the late 1830's for a group of the wealthier members to join together to finance an imposing Oddfellows' Hall in the prestigious Athol Street - this was completed (though the press report indicates that more work was required) in time for the 1841 AMC [Annual Moveable Conference] to be held there and for a short time the various Douglas Lodges had their meetings there. However the cost of the building had been too much for the finances and it was sold by the coroner in 1842 - initially known as the Oddfellows' Hall and then bought by the IoM Government for use as a Courthouse when these were moved (albeit temporarily) to Douglas.
The first Odd-fellow funeral took place in May 1839 (18 May 1839 Mona's Herald )
On Sunday Afternoon, one of the members of the lodge of the above Order in this town, was interred in Kirk Braddan church yard. This being the first funeral of an Odd Fellow in the Island, the novelty of the occasion attracted a large concourse of spectators, amounting to many hundreds, who accompanied the procession of the brethren to the parish church, and we feel pleasure in stating that the whole proceedings were conducted in a manner which reflects credit upon the order at large, and more especially those of the brethren who accompanied their deceased brother to his last home.
The Manx Liberal 6 June 1840 describes the funeral of Thomas Dinwoody
On Friday last Mr Thomas Dinwoody of Castletown, a deceased member belonging to the Loyal Mona's Offspring Lodge of the Independent Order of Oddfellows, Castletown, was interred at Kirk Malew Church agreeably to the prescribed form adopted by the Order
The corpse was accompanied to the grave by upwards of one hundred of his brethren waering black sashes and white gloves and an immense concourse of spectators who were attracted by the novelty of the scene.
The oration was read in an impressive manner by Mr J. Stephenson Pro G.M. of the Isle of Man District which concluded the ceremony.
The Manx Liberal 5th June 1841 (p3) gives a description of the procession associated with the 1841 AMC - the order of the procession was:
Medical Gentlemen and Minister in his
Dispensation of the Peveril Lodge and Members, two by two
Ramsey Philanthropic Band,
Dispensation of the Good Anchorage Lodge and Members, two by two
Dispensation of the Tynwald Lodge and Members, two by two
Dispensation of the North Star Lodge and Members, two by two
Large Flag of the Order emblematical of Faith, Hope and Charity,
Dispensation of the Victoria Lodge and Members, two by two
Kirk Christ Rushen Band,
Dispensation of the Mona's Offspring Lodge and Members, two by two
Dispensation of the Loyal Mona Lodge and Members, two by two
Douglas Independent Band,
The Arms of the Order in Gilt Relief,
Principal Officers of the Order bearing the Regalia of the Order.
The Manx Lodge rose to prominence when, exploiting the Island's postal regulations, William Shirrefs started the Oddfellows Chronicle in 1844.
A brief spat in the Manx press in November 1844 casts a somewhat darker picture of the first decade than is given by Kneale's rather anodyne history.
Like Oddfellows on the mainland its meetings were held in public houses - see early mentions in the Manx press, (one reason for the foundation of the Rechabites was to avoid this temptation for working men to spend their wages on drink). In a biography of James Rae Fielding describing the mid 1840's we can read :
Douglas Lodges were held in the Steampacket Vaults, kept by W.Topliss. Afterwards they removed to the Liver Hotel, Lord Street, and thence to their private rooms, on Douglas Bridge. This latter move was strongly urged by Bro. Fielding as one likely to prove beneficial to the best interests of Oddfellowship, and he is now able to point with pride to the fact that, though, at the time of his initiation, every Lodge in the Island held its meetings in a public house, at the present time [1890's] not a single Lodge meets within the doors of a house licensed for the sale of intoxicating liquor.
It was probably this excuse to frequent public houses that was behind the comment about the founding of the Ramsey Lodge:
The Lodge met with strong opposition from the fairer sex, they having an impression that serious consequences would certainly follow the joining of any secret society (as they called it)
Two lodges mentioned in 1841 procession appear to have disappeared by 1889.
For numbers in 1879 see Brown's 1881 Directory pp230 et sec.
1889 Lodges and Membership: see Local Intelligence Porter's Directory 1889
17 Sep 1836: Lodge of Independent Order of Oddfellows, Loyal Mona's Offspring, has been established at Castletown, meet at house of Mr James Dinwoodie and have already been joined by several respectable trade persons of the town.
15 April 1837: Oddfellow Societies of Douglas and Castletown whose numbers are increasing in the Southern part of the Island, intend to celebrate their anniversary in Castletown on Tuesday 25 inst. United body will dine together at Mr Dinwoody's.
3 June 1837: Mona's Offspring Lodge of Oddfellows, secretary Thomas Underwood, MD, gave £2 to the Highlands and Islands appeal.
22 Jul 1838 :The lodge at Laxey made a presentation to
Mr Saqui of the Oddfellows' Arms, Laxey in recognition of his exertions
as NG [Noble Grand]of that lodge.
(Joseph Saqui (1809-) was an older brother of the famous Abraham Saqui, first choirmaster Liverpool's Princes Road Orthodox Synagogue and well-known for his still extensively sung "Songs of Israel" - Abraham was reported as being born in London but moving to Liverpool early in life, another brother Jacob (John) ran a Jewellers shop in Liverpool - Joseph removed briefly to Douglas where he opened the Oddfellows' Arms on North Quay in 1840, is found with wife Esther in 1841 but is then found running a boarding house, 18 Lord Nelson Street Liverpool (an address shared by Abraham Saqui, Professor of Music), until reappearing as a tobacconist at Prospect Hill/Gt Nelson St, Douglas by 1861 - in 1881 census shown with a younger wife Margaret and family).
30 March 1839: Lodge of Oddfellows to be formed at Mr Rimmers', Ballacraine near St Johns.
11 May 1839: Loyal Good Anchorage Lodge meet at Heelis' Hotel Ramsey.
W. H. Kneale The Isle of Man A.M.C in Oddfellows Companion and Guide to Douglas, Isle of Man 1897 pp27-33 gives a short history and several biographies.
R.W.Moffrey The Rise and Progress of the Manchester Unity of the Independent Order of Oddfellows 1905
See also Finding out more.
H.E. Raynes Social Security in Britain 2nd ed London:Pitman 1965 p156 gives a short history of Oddfellows.
R.W. Harris National Health Insurance in Great Britain 1911-1946 London: George Pitman 1946.
Grand Lodge 1717-1967 London: United Grand Lodge 1967