‘Heaven helps those who help themselves’

The original Oddfellows Hall at Bridge Street, Todmorden
The original Oddfellows Hall at Bridge Street, Todmorden

Robert Priestley, vice-chairman of Todmorden Antiquarian Society, enhanced his talk on Friendly Societies originally researched by his late sister, Betty Savage, in the 1980s.

In early 1800s no work meant no wage and Friendly Societies were started by ordinary folk contributing small amounts of money each week, in order to receive payouts when sick, thus avoiding the dreaded workhouse.

The ‘Women’s Friendly’ meeting at the Royal George was first in this area, followed by the Oddfellows, Ancient Order of Foresters, Rechabites at Sobriety Hall, Good Intent and many more. Our ancestors were proud, hard-living and self-sufficient folk.

But the industrial revolution was changing everything, with more people earning wages giving new outlooks.

By the 1870s there were 19 Friendly Societies in Todmorden, mostly meeting monthly in pubs, at full moon.

Some invested monies into building cottages thence let to members - hence road names like Club Street.

Virtually all Todmorden churches and chapels had Savings Groups and Burial Clubs.

Robert humourously read out some of the copious rules imposed upon members.

Rules were constantly updated to fit circumstances, including:

l No benefits to be paid for 18 months

lExclusion if anybody was already ailing

l Instant dismissal for intoxication, illegitimate children or defraud

l Sick members were not allowed out of their homes

l Only two wives could be buried

In the factories, jobs were evolving requiring new technical skills.

Cornholme had a Mutual Improvement Society of more than 400 members participating in grammar, discussions, history etc.

The Sunday Schools taught the scriptures, high moral codes and ran libraries for self-help in literacy and numeracy.

Robert concluded with accounts of successful 19th century self-educated Todmorden working men who form part of our town’s rich history.

Those men who reached international renown included Abraham Stansfield on natural history, John Nowell’s study of mosses, and Sam Banks, naturalist and poet.

The next meeting of Todmorden Antiquarian Society will be on Tuesday, January 27, at 7.30pm in Todmorden Town Hall’s Court Room.

Society member Dr Angela Redmond will speak about some of the lesser-known ‘Historic Houses of Todmorden’.

Visitors are most welcome to come along.