[From Manx Quarterly #7 1909]
[The early history is, I'm afraid, absolute nonsense though it does show the aspirations of the Organisation]
Paper read at a meeting of the Mona Lodge of Oddfellows on August 3rd, 1909, by Mr. George Brindley, P.P.G.M., Burslem Perseverance Lodge, Pottery and Newcastle District.
Our subject for consideration this evening, is "Oddfellows and Oddfellowship : Past and Present," giving some interesting and curious particulars of its origin, rse and progress. It has often been asked-asked at different times, by different persons, in various places when, where, and by whom did Oddfellowship originate? That problem is more easily propounded than solved. It would be a most interesting, useful, and instructive study to examine into its origin and history. That Adam was an Oddfellow no one can doubt, and that Eve was another is a matter of fact; and that they constituted in the Garden of Eden the first Oddfellows' Friendly Society is a matter of History. I do not, however, propose to take you through a number of historical facts that could be produced dealing with this question. The three pillars of our Order were well-known and practised by the Ancient Egyptians, and on monuments now in the British Museum, Friendship, Love, and Truth can be plainly read in those old hieroglyphics. Bridging the gulf of history, and coming down to the time of the Roman Emperor Nero, we seem to be getting on firmer ground. Still the subject is enshrouded in mystery. I shall, therefore, deal with it in the best way and manner I can. I am indebted to Bro. C. Graham for several of the following important items in this paper. The following is an extract from a paper sent by the Manchester Unity directors, in 1842, to our American brethren, who had been inquiring about the origin of our Order:-" We are not in possession of any manuscripts in the archives of the Order that enable us to give a detailed account. We have, therefore, obtained our information in a concise form from past officers of the Order who were amongst the originators of it in Manchester, and from whom we can vouch its veracity. Th origin of the Order is of antique date. It was first established by the Roman soldier in camp, after the order of the Israelites during the reign of Nero, the Roman Emperor, in the year of grace 55, at whit time they were called Fellow-citizens: The name of Oddfellows was given to this order of men in the year 79,, by Titus Caesar, from the singularity of their notions, and from their knowing each other by night as well as by day, and for their fidelity to him as well as their country he not only gave them the name of Oddfellows, but at the same time, as a pledge of his friendship, presented them with a dispensation, engraved upon plate of gold, having the following emblems, viz., the Royal Arch of Titus and the Ark of the Covenant, the Golden Candlesticks and Table, weighing a great talent, the Sun for the Noble Grand, the Moon and Stars for the Vice-Grand, the Lamb for the Secretary, the Lion for the Guardian, the Dove for the Warden, an the Emblems of Mortality for the Grand Master. It is very probable that the first Oddfellows made their appearance in North Wales about that time, as an invasion was made by one of Titus Caesar's generals, Agricola, on North Wales, and shortly afterwards on the Island of Mona, now called Anglesea The first account that we have of the Order spreading itself into other countries is in the fifth century, when it was established in the Spanish dominions under the Roman dispensation, in the sixth century, by Henry of Portugal; in the twelfth century it was established in France; and afterwards in England b John D. Neville, attended by five knights from France, who established a Grand Lodge of Honour in London, which Order remained until the eighteenth century, in the reign of George III., when a part of them formed themselves into a union, and a portion of them remain, I believe, until this day."
Now, as there seems to be some suspicion as to the genuineness of this description, I must ask your indulgence while I make a few observations on this point. This account appeared in the "Western Daily Mercury," Monday, June 12th, 1905. This was the official organ for the Plymouth A.M.C. Bro. C. Graham quotes the same account in a, short sketch that he gave to the members of the Loyal Salt Lodge, Burton-on-Trent, which was published in pamphlet form about the year 1890, a copy of which Bro. Graham was good enough to send on to me. P.G.M. Robert W. Moffrey wrote a book, which was published in the year 1905, on the Rise and Progress of the Manchester Unity. He refers to the same as of mythical origin, and the other writers treat it as romantic. Now, does it not seem inconsistent with the sound moral principles underlying the fundamental basis of our Order, that the C.S. of the Order, with the consent of the Board of Management, should write and forward such a document to our American brethren, knowing the same to be false? But Bro. Moffrey, in the work just referred to, says there is nevertheless a possible substratum of truth in these imaginings. One of the brethren, some time ago, lent me a copy of a lecture that was delivered in 1840, at Tarporley, in Cheshire, by Mr J. Russom, which was translated into Welsh, the copy I had being in that language. He quotes the same story without any reserve, and adds, "The Manchester Union is still later, but there is no doubt it derives its beginning from the above source." There are also two foot-notes; in one it says that Titus cried out "Diem perditi " (I have lost a day). Let every Oddfellow remember this. In the other it says that Titus Caesar and his general, Agricola, were such excellent characters that they were loved and respected by every one, which speaks highly in favour of Oddfellowship. I must not, however, make this portion of my paper too tedious. I have tried to place the subject fairly and squarely before you, and must leave each of you to, draw your own conclusions. Again bridging over the gulf of time for quite a number of centuries, we find that a society was founded in London in 1710, and called the Loyal Lintot of Oddfellows. Its rules contained some very severe restrictions. He was to be a good Protestant, well - intentioned towards Queen Anne, faithful to the Government, and a member of the Church as by law established. The Grand Master and Board of Directors of the Manchester Unity of Oddfellows were first established in 1812; at that time lodges were little more than free and easier, or convivial clubs, and were known as Gin and Goose Clubs, the members contributing all the year round and getting these things at Christmas. About this time there were also clubs of little men, of short men, of silent men, of tall men, of terrible men, witty men, jovial men, knowing men, odd men, and such like. Dr Vale says every member at that time had to be proposed, and his proposer had to state what there was original about him, to be entitled to the honour of a seat among them. Some sung, some made speeches, some gave recitations, some smoked, some drank, but all was conducted in a loyal, decent, and moral manner. The oldest lodge now on the roll of the Manchester Unity is the Vittoria of the Ashton-under-Lyne District, which was opened in 1813. There was, however, a lodge established at Tecknall, in Derbyshire, before this one. But it has collapsed. It had some curious rules; collections were made to aid brethren in distress, but no regularly-appointed sick or funeral fund was administered.
In their initiation ceremony, and in some lectures, the service was accompanied by gaudy tinsel and gilded trappings. Let me here give you a description of an initiation as practised at this period The candidate for membership, on being led into the lodge-room was carefully blindfolded, and after passing the outside and inside guardians of the door, he found himself in utter darkness and surrounded by a solemn and deathlike silence. A sense of mysterious awe steals over his frame, when he is startled by the rattle of huge iron chains and the hoarse murmurings of unknown voices. The brother is then tossed and tumbled in a quantity of prickly brushwood, and soused over head in a tub of water, after which the bandage is removed from his eyes. when the first object that catches his vision is the point of a naked sword close to his breast. The room is filled with symbols of holy and profane creations, in the midst of which is placed a large transparency of Old Mortality, with the grin of death, to welcome the brother to his new resurrection. The dresses of the officers were in keeping with this mummery, and when all was completed each brother pledged himself in a loving cup to the new member the expense of which the latest initiate had the satisfaction of paying for. When the compare the proceedings of that time and our present rational and sensible system, which has superseded this pomp, show, and nonsense, of making new members, I think it forms the highest testimony that call be borne in illustrating the advances in the social, moral, and intellectual progress of our Order. We now welcome our newly-initiated brother by the delivery of a charge, full of sound counsel and advice, its the carrying out of which he will be benefitted, not merely is an Oddfellow, but it will make hint a better father, brother, citizen, and member of society; and by constant attention to the instruction therein contained, lie Will be better qualified to discharge. the duties and responsibilities that snag devolve: upon him to fulfil, faithfully and honourably, thereby commending himself to the respect and esteem of those he may be called upon to move among and associate with.
The birthplace of the Manchester Unity was a tavern, surrounded with all the baneful influences of such a place at that period. In its infancy it had to struggle through and against many unwise and doubtful social habits that impeded its progress. In its youth it had to contend with many evil ' and pernicious rules, customs. and regulations. A few extracts from such rules may not be out of place here :-
Tecknall Oddfellows' Society: (e) Contributions, 1s per month, and 3d for liquor; (d) there shall be an annual feast-day, when every member shall pay 3s 6d towards his dinner and the liquor, and all short shall be taken from the funds to pay the expenses.
Ashford Men's Friendly Society : (a) That an annual club feast be held, and a sums of money allowed for beer and music, and that beer be allowed at each monthly meeting. During seven years, the total sum drawn from the club funds and spent at feasts and on club nights was £114 2s 8d.
Loyal New Oddfellows' Society, Tecknall : (b) No person shall be admitted under fifteen nor beyond thirty-five years of tige, and shall pay per month 1s, and also 3d for the ale found. (i) The High Steward shall each night appoint three members to act as waiters, fetch in the liquor, collect the money, and command silence while the roll call is read over; and that no liquor, pipes, or tobacco be introduced but by the order and consent of the High Steward.
To every one of you it must be evident that for' the Order of the Manchester Unity to emancipate itself from such habitual and pernicious habits it had to struggle hard and long against many difficulties, anxieties, and perplexities before emerging out of them all in the year 1908, not only emancipated, but as a. whole more than solvent, having £407 ,625 to the good, after being able to meet all just and legitimate demands on its funds. This is truly a magnificent record. The total membership of this Order is now (January, 1909) 1,033,701, ; wives of members, 468,633 ; total, 1,502,334. And the total worth now is over £14,000,000 The income of this society for 1907 was £2,118,494, and the amount paid away in benefits for 1907, and other expenses, was £1,713,166 ; at the same time adding to the reserve fund £451,778. Who can estimate the vast amount of good which these payments represent-the suffering that has been alleviated, and the thousands of homes which have been brightened in the hour of sickness and distress ! We may, there-fore, justly be proud of our connection with this, the largest, soundest, best-conducted, and wealthiest friendly society in the world. This great and powerful organisation is only what the districts make it. The districts are only what the lodges make them ; and the lodges what the members make them. You see, therefore. how important it is for each individual to exert himself in promoting and encouraging others to join us in spreading our glorious and philanthropic principles. Just as the greatest rivers are made up of the smallest streams, so is the Manchester Unity made up of the smallest units, and it would not be so powerful numerically or financially as it is to-day if it was not for the Isle of Man District furnishing its 3,283 members and its £58,990 to its funds. We don't know any sects, clans, classes, or creeds, either theologically, politically, or nationally; we stand on strict neutral ground, and recognise only the broad principles of the Brotherhood of Man and the Fatherhood of God.
We try to induce each section of our Order to work in harmony and conjcniction with each other. If through some unforeseen circumstances, a lodge fails, another should help it; if a District fails, the Unity ought to come to its rescue. This is not only the teaching of our Order, but what it practices also. The policy of the strong and wealthy lodges in helping the poor and weak ones is the right hand of Oddfellowship and the true spirit of Brotherhood.
In referring you to the objects and aims of our Order, the story of mutual assurance and brotherly help must be interesting to every active worker in this truly good cause-that of banding together man with man in order that store might be laid up against those certain ills of sickness and death, together with a sense of fellowship established and sympathy implanted in the minds of those' whose lives were a labour without stint and a. drudgery without mercy. Thus an opportunity was afforded to the hardworking classes of keeping; themselves and providing against the sick chamber- and deathbed, thereby inculcating the principles of shrift, Self- denial, self-support, and self-respect, whereby they may not only be insured against sickness and death, but against pauperism and the workhouse. What is now keeping the Order of Oddfellows together when, so many benevolent associations have gone to pieces? Simply its righteous principles cemented together with the bond of Friendship, Love, and Truth. And so long as that is our general aim we shall continue to prosper. For truth and righteousness can never lose their efficiency in enlightening and blessing mankind and making them wiser and better. It is utterly impossible to estimate the value and usefulness of such a society as ours, when you come to consider that in 1907 £1,731,166 was paid away in benefits and other expenses. The sick-room and death-chamber are the twin shadows that darken the economies of labour, and it was a happy thought that induced a number of men to arrange that these mischiefs should bring up the workers nearer to one another to get these pangs of trouble relieved, and form a system of brotherly unity and love that should do something to compensate for them, and draw men together in health and strength to provide for times of want and distress, thereby saving our brothers from all taint of dependence on the commiseration of outsiders. The foundation principles upon which the Manchester Unity of Oddfellows is built are unassailable. It consists in three simple rules of conduct: Our duty to our Maker, never to take His name into our lips without that reverence and respect that are due from a creature to his Creator; our duty to our neighbour, by stretching out our hand to help him in distress, and offering our warmest petitions for his welfare; our duty to ourselves by carefully avoiding everything that would mar our health or destroy our constitution. That is simply doing unto others as we should like them do unto us. The better the Oddfellow and the better the Christian. Oddfellowship keeps before its members such teachings of God's goodness as by constant promulgation influences the most careless. Its alleviation of human suffering and misery; its protection and care of the widows and orphans, is the best evidence of its superior character and of its sobriety, morality, and reliability among its members. And when you take into consideration the moral influence of this great Independent Order of Oddfellows, with its vast army of over one million members, all joining hands and hearts, the world around, all having the same principles and purposes in view, all actuated by the same motives. the uplifting of one another and the good and welfare of us all, let us not, however, forget that the high, honourable, and distinguished position occupied by the Manchester Unity of Oddfellows has not been attained without a great amount of hard work, self-denial, and self-sacrifice by numbers of our Order that have finished their labours and gone to their well-merited reward.
I earnestly and sincerely trust our hearts will glow again with renewed zeal and resolution, to arise with increased energy and strength, in imitating such splendid and noble examples. To hold aloft again the torch of Oddfellowship ; to light our brothers on the road to thrift, frugality, self-reliance, and true fellow-ship; so that when he enters his lodge and grasps our hand he should feel that he is not a mere contributor to a pay table, but that, however lonely, however distressed, however sad his lot or circum-stances in life may prove, yet a brother's heart beats in sympathy with his own; a brother's cordiai greeting shall dispel his sadness; and a brother's love and help shall comfort, support, and sustain him in any untoward circumstances that he may be called upon in the course of his life to pass through. Let such sentiments as these animate us, for the objects of our Order are noble, its purposes grand, a credit and an honour to our dear father-land-the banishment of domestic misery, the defusion of domestic happiness throughout the human family; most noble and God-like work. We meet as brothers, members of one family; shake the hand of cordial friendship. United in bonds of good fellowship, ours should be a true union; no jarring elements, discordant sounds, wrangling disputations or angry bickerings. But we should be cemented together by the union of Christian graces--Faith, Hope, and Charity. Harmony and virtue should here prevail, and love and concord never fail. Truth should be on every lip, Love in all our hearts, and Friendship in all our affections. Then we should be getting towards the true spirit of Oddfellowship. For that man, I consider, is only a true Oddfellow whose general conduct and intercourse with the world is above reproach, and who exemplifies the teach-ing of the Order in his lodge, and manifests fidelity to the sacred relations of his God, his country, and his home.
There was in Florence some years ago a beautiful statue of a woman carved in marble. The face was declared to be one of such singularly benignant expression that it fixed the eyes of the beholder. Her right arm was extended, and from her open palm there flowed a stream of pure, sparkling water. Is it not suggestive? Take a lesson home with you by it conveyed. Strive to be pure and flawless in your nature. Be generous and openhanded; it's better to give than to receive. Be womanly in your tenderness. Let your brethren have the pure and simple truths of God at your hands, that they may live for that nobler and better life. I do most heartily and sincerely wish success and prosperity to the Mona Lodge and to the Isle of Man District. May I, in conclusion, commend three simple rules of conduct for your considersation ?-
In things essential there ought to be Unity.
In things doubtful there ought to be Liberty.
And in all things, Charity
Then as a band of brothers joined-
One in heart and one in mind,
Peace and safety we shall find.
To accomplish this end there must be Work as well as Hope
It is hope that will encourage ambition,
It's grit that will pull you through ;
It's ever-a-work and never-a-shirk,
With a grim resolve to do.
The living present is with you,
Improve it while you may;
Procrastinate, and you challenge fate,
Now is the time-to-day !