The name Oddfellows refers to a number of friendly societies and fraternal organisations operating in the United Kingdom. It also refers to a number of Lodges with histories dating back to the 18th century.[1][2] These various organisations were set up to protect and care for their members and communities at a time when there was no welfare state, trade unions or National Health Service. The aim was (and still is) to provide help to members when they need it. The friendly societies are non-profit mutual 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 of the Israelites from Babylon in 587 BC, when many of those exiled banded together into a brotherhood for mutual support and defence.[1][3] 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 in London and formed a fraternity".[2][4]

While the legend is surely fanciful, the evolution from the Guilds is more documented.[1][5] 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.[1][6]

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.[1]

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.[1]

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.[1] 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.[1]

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.[1] 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.[1]

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.[1]


As a result of the Glorious Revolution of 1688, (when the Protestant William of Orange replaced the Catholic King James II), in the mid-18th century the Oddfellows split into The Order of Patriotic Oddfellows (based in the south of England and supporting William)[7] 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's uprising, in 1789 the two Orders formed a partial amalgamation as the Grand United Order of Oddfellows.[1][2] These days they are more commonly known as "The Grand United Order of Oddfellows Friendly Society" (GUOOFS)[8]

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'.[1]

Subsequent breakaways

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.[2]

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.[1]

In 1834 Britain, the Tolpuddle Martyrs 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.[1]

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—which established lodges across the world (and continues to this day).[1]


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.[1]

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.[1]

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.[1]

In the second half of the 20th century, the Oddfellows moved into financial products.[1]

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.[1] In Asia, the Oddfellows was revived when lodges were re-established in the Philippines in 2009.[9]

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.[10]

Notable members of the Oddfellows

See also

References and notes

Editors note:
The majority of the contents of this page are sourced from a document on the Manchester Unity website that does not quote its sources. Other references tell a similar story, but they, too, rarely quote their sources. See the Bibliography section on the Odd Fellows page for more sources.

  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u "History of the Oddfellows". www.oddfellows.co.uk Retrieved 2007-09-02.
  2. ^ a b c d "History of the Society" www.guoofs.com Retrieved 2007-09-12.
  3. ^ The "History of the Oddfellows" document traces the legendary origins of fraternal organisations from the Israelites, through the Romans and into Britain, up to the time of the formation of the Guilds. "While there is little contemporary proof of this chain of events, it is known that similar fraternities did exist from classical times." Note, however, that much Oddfellow terminology has biblical origins. For example, the female Order are called "Rebekahs", named from the Old Testament character.
  4. ^ The "History of the Society" page says: "Although no formal records exist, historians have advanced the theory that an Order of Odd Fellows was established in 1452 by knights who were said to have met at the pub named "Boulogne-sur-Mer" in London and formed a fraternity. Large meetings were treated with some suspicion in those days, and wisdom possibly dictated that it be prudent only to keep records on matters of great importance."
  5. ^ The "History of the Oddfellows" document goes on to describe the evolution of the Guilds, and Oddfellow terminology derived from the Guilds. For example, each Guild was headed by a Grand Master, the name that the Oddfellows use to refer to their annually elected Head.
  6. ^ According to the "History of the Oddfellows" document, the "Master" required that guild members wear expensive uniforms and jewellery to meetings; as the less wealthy "Fellows" could not afford these, they were thus precluded from membership. Lodge "collars" and "jewels" have their origins in this guild-masters' "restrictive trade practice".
  7. ^ The existence of the 'Patriotic' Order has been confirmed by the discovery of a copy of the rituals revised by a meeting of the Grand Lodge held in London in 1797.
  8. ^ The Grand United Order of Oddfellows, established in England in 1789, should not be confused with the Grand United Order of Odd Fellows, established in the USA in 1843.
  9. ^ www.ioofphilippines.yolasite.com
  10. ^ Loyal Aristarcus Lodge #1, Italy
  11. ^ Willis E. Parsons (1913). Odd Fellowship in Piscataquis County, Sprague's Journal of Maine History, Vol. I, No. 3, September, 1913. Retrieved on 2009-09-18.
  12. ^ a b Deborah Linton (2010) Good health! Oddfellows toast 200 years of kindness, Manchester Evening News, 8 June 2010.
  13. ^ a b http://books.google.com.ph/books?id=biDlzeoxd2AC&pg=PA90&lpg=PA90&dq=medieval+guild+fraternal+organization+odd+fellows&source=bl&ots=yovRCPfIrI&sig=ysi4JqNaSAfVvq2LULvu3307VwU&hl=tl&ei=rPm8TMz9DcbIcZLE2MYN&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=4&ved=0CCAQ6AEwAzgK#v=onepage&q&f=false
  14. ^ thePeerage.com

External links

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