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Friendly Societies

PLEASE DO NOT SKIP THIS PAGE, even though it looks a bit heavy. If, like the majority of people, are not familiar with Friendly Societies, this page is written for you, to help you understand and appreciate the many fascinating items illustrating the history, heritage and significance of the Ancient Order of Foresters that are shown on this website.

Today, in the first decade of the 21st century AD, general awareness of what friendly societies were, and what roles they played in British society during the past 250 years, has effectively diminished to zero.   That provides the opportunity to come afresh to a cultural form whose many values have, along with the idea, slipped away from everyday life.



Friendly societies, and their members, were very much products and creators of the world in which they existed. Dynamic yet conservative, controlled but democratic, there is no simple description to encompass all the evident diversity of structure and form. Yet, at heart, all friendly societies conformed to one model of clearly identified purpose. That was to enable people to contribute voluntarily to a common financial fund from which, on the occasion of illness or death, a benefit, as a right, not charity, would be available to meet immediate needs. In many societies this was underpinned by a strong element of self-management and social activity.

By the mid 18th century, friendly societies could be found throughout England. At the beginning of the 19th century, they were a common-place, as locally based organisations, within communities or trades. On the whole they tended to be individual societies not associated with others. This association was the big idea of the 19th century, as the concept of Orders, not initially openly ¡®friendly societies¡¯, spread.  Such Orders, or as they were later called, ¡®affiliated societies¡¯, had local groups, called lodges, courts, tents, etc., all subject to some central administrative control, yet with varying degrees of local autonomy as to contributions and benefits.

The second largest of these for much of the 19th century was the Ancient Order of Foresters. Adopting the term Friendly Society only after the Order registered as a society under the 1850 Friendly Societies Act, its many and varied characteristics and facets are those which feature on this website. The diversity and range of material illustrated will, it is hoped, offer some insight into the workings of the AOF, stimulating perhaps a desire to know more about the role of friendly societies in the lives of our forebears.

© The Foresters Heritage Trust. Registered Charity No. 1109859. Address: Station Chambers, The Boulevard, Tunstall, Stoke on Trent ST6 6DU