Above (left to right) Fraternal Oddfellows, Foresters and Phoenix items
What is the book about?
Itís a beginners guide to the story of these organisations, but it is also the first-ever guide to their symbols and regalia. Until now, there has not been any way for museums, collectors and family historians
to recognise these jewels and sashes.
The Museum at Freemasonsí Hall gets enquiries referred by major collections like the British Museum and the Museum of London, so even the professionals are confused. There will be over 300 pictures
in the book, many in colour. There is, of course, a chapter on Freemasonry!
You obviously canít include everything,
so were any organisations missed out?
We decided at the start not to include anything that had a political aspect, so
the Orange Order and Primrose League
are not featured, and we restricted it to England and Wales. The Masonic element could have filled the whole book, so it is just a review of the more common items. Beyond the Craft by Keith Jackson remains the definitive review of the additional Degrees.
Where will we be able to buy the book?
That is the other exciting aspect. It will be available everywhere that Shire books are, which means most bookshops, including
the shop at Freemasonsí Hall, and many museums and attractions across the country. The subject will have broken free of specialist booksellers for the first time.
Thank you, Victoria. Andy, is it true that something as important as this can have been neglected for so long?
That is changing and scholars are beginning to recognise the historical importance of voluntary associations. In consequence we have had a spate of excellent academic publications from both sides of the Atlantic.
Alongside of this, historians are now beginning to recognise the importance of objects and visual culture as a major source to supplement the written record. With this new development and the growth in study, we are beginning to understand better the relationship between Freemasonry and other fraternal associations.
Are there any other museums that collect and display these objects?
Not across the board. The Peoplesí History Museum in Manchester has a wonderful collection of trade union material and the Museum of English Rural Life in Reading has a reference collection of Friendly Society items, but there is no museum dedicated
to all fraternity Ė apart from the one at Freemasonsí Hall.
Despite this, almost every local museum has holdings, but they are rarely displayed because people arenít certain what they mean or what to do with them. This is despite the forming of the Grand Lodge
of England in 1717 that created a model
that has dominated the shape of fraternal associations from the 18th century. Many societies created their regalia and structure on the Masonic model and the influence is also seen in the Degrees still worked in the Buffaloes and the Oddfellows Lodges.
And the exhibition?
Victoria and I are working with the Library and Museum to display many of the objects from the book, but also to expand the subject and show how the societies grew
out of the Georgian era into national bodies.
The exhibition will feature objects, including a full tea service from the Rechabite temperance Order, jewels from the Georgian fraternities such as the Bucks and the Gregorians, the dispensations housed in the honour boards from the Oddfellows and Foresters and a magnificent banner of
the Friendly Society of Iron Founders.
There will also be a wide range of regalia and certificates showing the identity and concerns of the many organisations represented.
Finally, what are your plans for the future?
Victoria: I aim to go on researching the subject, perhaps through the department
at University College in London that deals with material culture.
There is so much more to explore in
the way that all these fraternities developed their regalia, working tools and identity.
This is a beginning rather than an end point, and I know that the Library and Museum of Freemasonry is working on a network of museums to take this forward. Itís an exciting time.
Andy: There has never been an exhibition like it before at Freemasonsí Hall and we hope that when it closes, parts of it may be loaned to other museums so that they can explore their own collections of fraternal objects and put people in touch with an important part of their history.
Thatís certainly the hope of the Library and Museum, too, and until this subject appears in all the local museums around
the country, people are missing out on something very important and meaningful to them.
Left: Fraternal Old Friends statue
Friendly and Fraternal Societies, their
Badges and Regalia |
by Victoria Solt Dennis (ISBN 0747 806 284, Shire Publications Ltd, 01844 344 301).
The exhibition Brothers and Sisters, Knights and Nobles Ė From Clubs to Class Identity, is open weekdays at Freemasonsí Hall, London, 11am-5pm, from now until 30 September. Admission free.
Web site created by Mark Griffin