Friendly Societies

Friendly societies were mutual benefit savings societies. Members paid a subscription into a general fund and were able to claim sickness and burial costs. Friendly societies also acted as social clubs.

Scottish friendly societies have their origins in the trade and craft incorporations (or guilds) of the medieval boroughs. These groups were originally established to protect and support specialist or skilled workers but by the 17th century they had expanded to become locally-based self-help organisations. During the 18th century the idea of national organisations, often based on a network of regional groups or lodges, spread across the country; amongst the earliest were the Free Gardeners and The Freemasons. The largest and most popular friendly society in south-west Scotland was The Oddfellows which had a number of lodges in the area by the 1840s. Another popular society, especially in the larger towns, was the Loyal Order of Shepherds which was at its height in the 1890s. Towards the end of the 19th century a number of temperance friendly societies were established and Rechabite lodges appeared across the region.

By the early 20th century friendly societies were part of the social fabric of south-west Scotland. Many towns had one or more lodge halls and society events and parades were the high points in a community's calendar.

The introduction of pensions in the National Insurance Act of 1911 had a major effect on friendly societies and most experienced a huge drop in membership. Membership fell even further in the mid 1940s with the National Health Act and the Welfare State. Some friendly societies are still in existence but most are now social organisations.

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