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D.G. Harland


(c) D.G. Harland,1986






The advantages of putting a little money by for old age and against unexpected unemployment or sickness were recognised long before there were savings banks or local building society offices. For farm labourers weekly journeys to a town bank were out of the question because of the distance and time. Money put by could be hidden about the cottage but there was always the risk of loss through fire or theft. Further it was quite possible that the funds saved would be insufficient to cover all the costs of an emergency.


To provide a more secure repository for their savings and to obtain an element of mutual insurance the village labourers formed friendly societies or clubs. These collected members' savings regularly and provided payments for those members who were sick or unemployed. The collections were made at meetings held regularly in the village inn. The opportunity for a convivial evening was not to be wasted and the club night was a major event in village social life.


Apart from the regular evenings, "an annual feast was held, and the funerals of deceased members were usually followed by a supper. Ceremony and ritual were an essential part of the societies' life. They held open air processions with bands, banners and uniforms on all possible public occasions."Harrison JFC, Early Victorian Britain. 1979, Fontana (London)


Many villages had clubs during the nineteenth century. SturtSturt wrote more than one book about the are around Farnham - it not currently known which Gordon Harland intended to refer to refers to club dinners at Farnborough and club feast days in the villages around Farnham. Tate reports references to a village club operating in Gnossall, Staffordshire in 1766. The wealthy rate payers valued the thriftiness shown by club members since by reducing demands for poor relief it reduced poor rate payments, which were the main tax on land and hence wealth in the nineteenth century.


In their beginnings the clubs were organised by the labourers themselves as much for the social opportunity as for the savings and insurance. During the nineteenth century steps were taken to regulate the running of the societies. The small village societies were absorbed into county and national societies whose thrifty and middle class managements were able gradually to eliminate the convivial element in club activities. The insurance and savings elements of the clubs survive today either as insurance societies such as "The Ancient Order of Foresters" or as an element of "The Trustee Savings Bank".


The Yateley Clubs


The fragmentary evidence of the Yateley Clubs suggests a history very close to the national model. The main evidence is a set of club rules with amendments, found in the parish chestRules and Orders to be Observed by the Yateley Friendly Society. Yateley Society Manuscript - copied from the original by S I Loader on 18 Oct 1966.. These in their unamended form represent the voice of the Yateley labourer speaking from the early nineteenth century. The rules are not dated but can be attributed to about 1850 by the mention of "the house of William Prier The Sign of the Dog and Partridge." The 1851 census includes a 26 year old William Henry Prier as the only victualler in Yateley. In 1853 the Yateley Vestry supported his application to become Master of the Farnborough Workhouse. He was successful in his application and moved to the workhouse on 22nd August 1853 and died there just three years later Minutes of the Farnborough Incorporation.


Eyewitness evidence comes from the reminiscences of W. B. TiceTice, Reminiscences of Old Yateley by a Septuagenarian. (Yateley) and G. IvesIves C, A Walk in the Past or I Remember. 1970, Yateley Society Manuscript.. Both were the sons of labouring families who rose to become important men in Yateley society. Tice's autobiography was written in the 1930s when he was in his seventies and Ives's memoire was written in 1970 when he was 76. With both recording events in their past there may be some small errors in the detail of their accounts.


Tice tells us:

"We had two permanent Friendly Societies in Yateley, the Yateley Friendly Society or the Old Club as it was usually called was established in the year 1819 and continued its good work until 1912, when it was put out of action by the National Health Insurance Scheme, thus you will see it was doing a useful work six years before the Hampshire Friendly Society was established in 1825...


"The other Society was an off-shoot of the Old Club, and consisted of much younger men and was established in 1865. For many years they held their Festival day on separate dates, the Old Club on Whitsun Wednesday, until it was thought by some of the members it would be nice to hold the festival together. It was finally agreed when Mr. Stooks said in his address at the Club service he thought it would be better. A General Meeting was called of the Club and they invited the Old Club to be present, after a good deal of discussion it was decided that they would keep their festival together, because Whitsun Wednesday had been "Club Day" in Yateley for nearly 100 years they decided to have it on that day and it went on from that time until the Clubs were dissolved in 1912."


Monthly Meetings


Some flavour of the early meetings may be deduced from the rules of the Old Club Rules and Orders etc. op. cit.). The date of the document is not recorded but the mention of William Prier at the Dog and Partridge indicates a date of about 1850. The crossed out sections suggest that these rules are revisions of an earlier set, perhaps the original set. The deletions, which are enclosed in curly brackets and struck through in the extracts quoted below, show how attitudes were changing in the middle of the nineteenth century:-


"(The Society) who agree to meet for the purpose of raising a fund by a monthly contribution or other denomination, by the members thereof; for the mutual relief and maintenance of the members, in sickness and infirmity held at the house of William Prier The Sign of the Dog and Partridge..

"1. Every person entering as a member of this Society shall pay to the stock thereof, two shillings and sixpence {and spend sixpence to the house on entrance} and any person may be admitted as a member of this Society who is fourteen years of age, and under forty years age, at any monthly meeting, who appears likely to get his living, and is agreed of by the members present, or the majority of them; but if any person shall enter himself into this society, labouring under sickness, lameness, or any other bodily complaint, before his entering this society, or above forty years of age, and is afterwards proved, he shall be excluded this society, and forfeit all the money he has paid to the stock.

"2. ...their times of meeting shall be every fourth Saturday, in the evening, between the hours of six and nine o'clock, from Michaelmas to Lady Day, and between the hours of seven and ten o'clock, from Lady Day to Michaelmas, every year: and every member to pay one shilling per month to the box, {and threepence per month for liquor on the feast day, and spend threepence to the house} ;...

"3. ...the under Stewards business shall be to attend on the society {to see that the liquor is regularly served to the members: that the Stewards shall receive and pay all; for which reason no member shall presume to call for any liquor, or anything whatsoever without the consent of the Stewards upon the forfeiture of sixpence} ....

"9. That no disturbance shall arise on any meeting night, on the forfeiture of ten shillings by the offender; if any member shall offer to fight on the said night he shall forfeit 20s or be excluded. But any member is allowed to protect himself from injury.

"10. For the better regulation of this Society at all meetings in the clubroom during club hours or time of business, it is agreed that whosoever neglects to obey the Stewards when they call for silence, shall forfeit threepence; whosoever plays at any games, {or calls for any liquor without leave of the Stewards} shall forfeit sixpence; if any member shall lay bets or wagers, to forfeit threepence; if any member shall profanely curse or swear, or give the lie he shall threepence; if any member comes into the clubroom drunk or disguised in liquor, he shall forfeit sixpence; whoever upbraids or causes to be upbraided for having received benefit from the stock, he having a right thereto, shall forfeit five shillings; if any member abuse, tease, or anywise illtreat any other member, so as to cause a dispute, shall forfeit five shillings; if any member in coming to or returning from any meetings of this Society shall committ any misdemeanor, he shall, on proof thereof, forfeit ten shillings, or be excluded;... Any member leaving his seat on any Club night, or on the feast day, and any brother member wilfully taking the same, and will not give it up at the request of the said member, shall forfeit sixpence.

"14. Every meeting night in the winter season there shall be a fire lighted, the club room clean, and everything in order and readiness by six o'clock,..." Rules and Orders etc. op. cit.


The Benefits


The benefits seem quite small sums by current standards. They need to be compared with contemporary values. In 1850-51 the average weekly wage for agricultural labourers in Hampshire was nine shillingsCaird J, English Agriculture in 1850-51. 2nd edition. 1968, Frank Cass and Co Ltd (London) and the Yateley Vestry set the level of relief payment for aged paupers at two shillings per week Vestry Minutes - Yateley (Secular), 18 April 1850.


"4. Every member of this Society who has made due payments to the stock one year from the time of his entrance, shall be deemed a free member, and not before. Such members who shall be sick, maimed, lame or blind, or unable to work, or practice his lawful business, or any other employ, shall be entitled to receive out of the said stock, eight shillings per week for six months, and afterwards to receive four shillings per week during such his inability,... Provided also that if any member's illness or hurt came by being drunk or fighting (nothing for the gout) or by gaming or any sport or pastime, or smuggling, poaching, or any unlawful practice, or any unclean disease, such as the venereal disease, he shall not be entitled to the weekly allowance as aforesaid;...

"12. When any free member dies... no member shall be obliged to attend the funeral, but the Clerk and four Stewards... also that one shilling be paid by each surviving member at the next quarterly meeting after the funeral, to the widow or next of kin... And when any free member's wife dies, each member shall pay sixpence to such member on the next quarterly night after her decease....

"16. ...at the end of seven years, all the stock or fund exceeding five shillings for each and every member to be left therein, shall be equally shared among the then members, provided always that there shall remain at least the clear sum of thirty pounds..." Rules and Orders etc. op. cit.


The worthiness of such effort by the members to raise "themselves and their wives above pauperism" was recognised by the principal ratepayersCircular Letter from the Committee of the Yateley Branch of the Hants Friendly Society to Ratepayers 25th March 1879. They served the club in an honorary capacity and also gave some financial support, on one occasion in a most generous fashion:-


"The late Mr. Bertram Currie was astounded when Mr. Stooks told him of the existence of the Old Club and said he thought it was wonderful to think that in 1819 there were men in Yateley who had any idea of looking out for themselves and providing for sickness or any infirmity, he thought their successors were deserving of all praise and encouragement, he handed Mr. Stooks a cheque for 100 Pounds to be put to the funds." Tice, op. cit.


The Festival Day


The festival or feast day was the principal event in the club year:-


"11. This Society shall have a feast annually on Whit Wednesday, the expence of which is to be paid by the members {individually} {this is overwritten 'who partake thereof'} when every member shall attend at the club house at ten o'clock in the forenoon... and afterwards proceed decently to church; with a favour of blue and orange in his hat, to hear a sermon, and to return to dinner; the members to walk two by two in procession, either going to church or coming from it... Club hours to commence at nine o'clock in the forenoon till ten at night. No part of the expences to come out of the fund." Rules and Orders, op. cit.

"The members used to meet once a year and dine together in a large marquee that was placed on the Green in front of the Dog and Partridge, they hired a band of music, and at 11a.m. a procession was formed in front of the Dog and Partridge and headed by the Band and Banners of the two Societies, proceeded to the Vicarage to escort the Vicar down to the Church to hold a short service for them with an address, we then reformed the procession and took him back, by the time we got back to the Club house it was 1 p.m., dinner time. It was then served in the marquee to which about 125 sat down, including the gentry and others who could afford the time to come, the tickets were 2/6.

"The late Mr. J.P. Stillwell who took a great interest in the Clubs generally presided. The Green would be turned into a fair ground, and the road from the Dog and Partridge down to the maim road would be quite a street with stalls on either side, there were often two sets of round-abouts and coconut shies galore.

"In the evening the people would come from the neighbouring parishes for dancing on the Green or in the marquee."Tice, op. cit.

"Quite a day this used to be but like so many old customs this came to an end and was replaced with the Yateley Athletic Sports which became an annual event on Whit Monday. These sports were held after the first one in the Red House Park, now Cranford Park."Ives, op. cit.




This paper owes much to my friends in the Yateley Society, in particular to Michael Holroyd and Jean McIlwaine who found most of the references for me and to John Porter who encouraged me and helped with the writing up.



References (click on number to return to text):

Created RHJ 2.5.2008 from Gordon Harland's text scanned and checked by R H Johnston 21.10.2000 (c) Gordon Harland 1986, and The Yateley Society, 2008

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