Andy Durr and Victoria Solt Dennis examine regalia
Fraternal societies go on show
The Library and Museum of Freemasonry has a large collection of non-Masonic material and has been using it over the last few years to introduce people to the idea
of fraternity in its broadest sense.
This year the threads of the project are drawn together with the release by Shire Publications of a richly illustrated guide, Friendly and Fraternal Societies, their Badges and Regalia, to the regalia of these organisations and an accompanying exhibition at Freemasons’ Hall which will tell their story.
MQ spoke to the author of the book Victoria Solt Dennis and to Andy Durr, currently a Visiting Research Fellow at
the University of Sussex and a member of Quatuor Coronati Lodge No.2076, who
has studied this subject for many years.
Victoria, how did you come to be interested in this subject?
I have been interested for many years in the ways people create identity and meaning from the way they dress, and the chance to work with the relatively unknown subject
of fraternity was too good to resist!
The project started in 2001, when the Library and Museum looked at its holdings of non-Masonic material. They were often being referred to by other museums, and there was no literature, so with the help of funding from Supreme Grand Chapter they engaged me to prepare a catalogue of the objects they held.
Working with the staff of the Library and Museum we then began to explore ways to allow people greater access to the objects. We have given talks to specialists in the field including the Orders and Medals Research Society, The Friendly Society Research Group and an international conference at the University of Sheffield.
We have also added some explanation to the Library and Museum website and
we held a presentation at the Museums Association Conference 2003 in Brighton with an exhibition alongside that.
So this year’s show and the book
build on all this?
Yes, the presentation at the Museums Association Conference and the exhibition prepared at the Brighton Fishing Museum by Andy Durr and the Library and
Museum, were both aimed to make Museum professionals aware of the subject. This time we are hoping to make contact with a wider public and allow them to rediscover a forgotten past that is in almost every family.
Why are these long gone societies so important?
In the days before the health service, sick
pay or the welfare state, membership of a voluntary association was the only way that millions of ordinary people could protect themselves and their famlies in times of unemployment or ill-health, and at the
end of life give members a decent funeral.
They also provided sociability and moral leadership for a very wide range of people. One of the people whose jewel we show
led her Lodge in the Totally Abstinent Order of the Phoenix as a Chief Noble
at the age of nine!
That’s remarkable, and it was her Lodge?
Well, yes. There were many voluntary associations for all ages and both sexes.
The Ancient Order of Foresters even altered their banners, regalia and membership emblems to include a female forester.
Nor are they all long gone – a few survived and still offer benefits. Some, like the Oddfellows, still have regalia.
It all sounds a bit ‘worthy’ – were they popular?
Very – and they realised that just being savings clubs wouldn’t get people to join,
so they wore regalia, held processions, trips and meetings at which food and drink were a big part. From them grew trades unions and the principles of the welfare state.
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