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Mutual aid and civil society: friendly societies in nineteenth-century Bristol

  • Martin Gorsky (a1)

Recent work on ‘civil society’ has made claims for the past capacity of mutual aid associations to generate ‘social capital’: self-help, trust, solidarity. Friendly societies in nineteenth-century Bristol are examined to test these claims. Their origins and growth are explored, as well as their membership and social, convivial and medical roles. Solidarities of class and neighbourhood are set against evidence of exclusion and division. Trust and close personal ties proved insufficient to avert the actuarial risks that threatened financial security.

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1 Meechan, E., Civil Society, (Swindon, 1995);Cohen, J.L. and Arato, A., Civil Society and Political Theory (London, 1992), chs 1,2;Keane, J., Democracy and Civil Society (London, 1988), ch. 2.

2 de Tocqueville, A., Democracy in America, ed. Mayer, J.P., trans. G. Lawrence (London, 1988 edn), vol. 2, part II, chs 5,7, quotation 517.

3 Keane, J. (ed.), Civil Society and the State: New European Perspectives (London, 1988), 25, part 3; Agh, A., ‘Citizenship and civil society in Central Europe’, in van Steenbergen, B. (ed.), The Condition of Citizenship (London, 1994), 108–26.

4 Tocqueville, De, Democracy in America, 515.

5 Rosanvallon, P., ‘The decline of social visibility’, in Keane, Civil Society, 199220.

6 Meehan, , Civil Society, 79;Cohen, and Arato, , Civil Society, 1115.

7 The Commission on Social Justice, Social Justice: Strategies for National Renewal (London, 1994), 306–10;Hirst, P., Associative Democracy: New Forms of Economic and Social Governance (Oxford, 1994); see also Yeo, S., ‘Working-class association, private capital, welfare and the state in the late-nineteenth and twentieth centuries’, in Parry, N. et al. (ed.), Social Work, Welfare and the State (London, 1979).

8 Putnam, R.D., Making Democracy Work: Civic Traditions in Modern Italy (Princeton, 1993);idem, ‘The prosperous community: social capital and public life’, The American Prospect (Spring 1993), 3542.

9 Putnam, , Making Democracy Work, 91.

10 Ibid., 139–41, 144–5.

11 Green, D.G., Working Class Patients and the Medical Establishment (Aldershot, 1985);idem, Re-inventing Civil Society: The Rediscovery of Welfare Without Politics (London, 1993).

12 Joseph, Keith, ‘Why the Tories are the real party of the stakeholder’, Daily Telegraph, 12 01 1996;Willetts, David MP, ‘A buccaneer nation dares to be different’, Sunday Times, 25 08 1996;Etzioni, A., The Spirit of Community: Rights, Responsibilities and the Communitarian Agenda (London, 1993), chs 4 and 5, 248, 259–60;Sullivan, W.M., ‘Institutions as the infrastructure of democracy’, in Etzioni, A. (ed.), New Communitarian Thinking: Persons, Virtues, Institutions and Communitiers (Chapel Hill, 1995), 170–80; see also Selboume, D., The Principle of Duty: An Essay on the Foundations of the Civic Order (London, 1994), ch. 10;Bellah, R. et al. , Habits of the Heart: Individualism and Commitment in American Life (San Francisco, 1985).

13 Field, F., Making Welfare Work: Reconstructing Welfare for the Millenium (London, 1995), esp. 124–6.

14 Morris, R.J., ‘Voluntary societies and British urban elites, 1780–1850: an analysis’, The Historical Journal, 26, I (1983), 95118;idem, ‘Clubs, societies and associations’, in Thompson, F.M.L. (ed.), The Cambridge Social History of Britain 1750–1950. Vol. 3 Social Agencies and Institutions (Cambridge, 1990);Prochaska, F., The Voluntary Impulse (London, 1988), ch. II;Clark, P., Sociability and Urbanity: Clubs and Societies in the Eighteenth Century City (Leicester, 1986).

15 Morris, , ‘Voluntary societies’, 104–5;Bradley, I., The Call to Seriousness. The Evangelical Impact on the Victorians (London, 1976), chs 4, 5, 6, 7; Brewer, J., ‘Commercialisation and polities’, in McKendrick, N., Brewer, J. and Plumb, J.H., The Birth of a Consumer Society: The Commercialization of Eighteenth Century England (London, 1982), 217–30;Borsay, P., The English Urban Renaissance (Oxford, 1989).

16 Morris, R.J., Class, Sect and Party. The Making of the British Middle Class, Leeds 1820–1850 (Manchester, 1990);Barry, J., ‘Review article: the making of the middle class?’, Past and Present, 145 (1995), 194208;idem, ‘Introduction’ and ‘Bourgeois collectivism? Urban association and the middling sort’, in idem and Brooks, C. (eds), The Middling Sort of People. Culture, Society and Politics in England, 1550–1800 (London, 1994).

17 Orme, N., ‘The guild of kalendars, Bristol’, Transactions of the Bristol and Gloucestershire Archaeological Society, xcvi (1978), 3252;Westlake, H.F., The Parish Gilds of Mediaeval England (London, 1919), ch. iv, 42–4.

18 The following discussion draws on sources in Bristol Record Office (hereafter BRO). Guilds: BRO 9748 Bakers (1623), BRO 08155 Bakers (1499–1732), BRO 04369(1) Joiners (1606); BRO 01244 Drapers (1654), BRO 08156 (2) Feltmakers, etc. (1673–1865), BRO 08019 Whitawers, etc. (1735–81), BRO 35684 (15) Merchant Taylors (1707–1818); friendly societies: BRO Quarter Sessions (hereafter QS), 2, 8, 10, 11, 12, 18a, 24a, 30a; also Rogers, F.H., ‘The Bristol craft guilds during the 16th and 17th centuries’ (University of Bristol M.A. thesis 1949), 90, 104, 110–11;Veale, E.W.W. (ed.), The Great Red Book of Bristol, part I (Bristol, 1933), 26–7, 74–5, 118, 150–1, 153, 160–1, part III (Bristol, 1951), 75, 116;Bickley, F. (ed.), The Little Red Book of Bristol (Bristol, 1900), part I, xxvii–iii, part II, 186–92;Fuller, M., West Country Friendly Societies (Reading, 1964), 51–2;Howkins, A., ‘The taming of Whitsun in nineteenth century Oxfordshire’, in , E. and Yeo, S. (eds), Popular Culture and Class Conflict 1590–1914: Explorations in the History of Labour and Leisure (London, 1981), 187208.

19 Walker, M.J., ‘The extent of guild control of trades in England, c.1660–1820’ (unpublished University of Cambridge Ph.D. thesis, 1986), 326–8, 332–5.

20 Moffrey, R.W., A Century of Oddfellowship (Manchester, 1910), 25–7;Odd Fellows Magazine, lxxxii (03 1951), 91.

21 Walker, , ‘Extent of guild control’, 62–3, 102, 332, 361, 345, 389;Leeson, R.A., Travelling Brothers: The Six Centuries' Road from Craft Fellowship to Trade Unionism (London, 1979), 77–8, ch. 16; Dobson, C.R., Masters and Journeymen: A Prehistory of Industrial Relations 1717–1800 (London, 1980);Rule, J., The Labouring Classes in Early Industrial England, 1750–1850 (London, 1986), 255–65.

22 van Genabeek, J., ‘Mutual labour insurance in the nineteenth century: the Netherlands internationally compared’ (forthcoming Free University of Amsterdam Ph.D. thesis);van Gerwen, J. and Lucassen, J., ‘Mutual societies in the Netherlands from the sixteenth century to the present’, IISH Research Paper 15 (Amsterdam, 1995).

23 BRO QS, 4a, 7a, 18a, 21a, 34a; Barry, J., ‘The cultural life of Bristol, 1640–1775’ (unpublished University of Oxford D.Phil, thesis, 1985), 172, note 3.

24 Southall, H.R., ‘Unionization’, in Langton, J. and Morris, R.J. (eds), Atlas of Industrializing Britain (London, 1986), 189–93.

25 Moffrey, , Century of Oddfellowship, 16.

26 Bergeron, D.M., English Civic Pageantry 1558–1642 (London, 1971); BRO 08155 Bakers (1720); BRO 08019 Whitawers, etc. (1735–36); BRO 35684 (15) Merchant Taylors (1737); Dobson, W. and Harland, J., A History of Preston Guild (Preston, 1862), 5471.

27 Rose, G., Observations on the Poor Laws (1805).

28 Chief Registrar (Friendly Societies) Annual Report (hereafter CR's Report) 1892, PP 18931894, Ixxxiv.

29 BRO QS Friendly Society Articles of Association; PRO FS 1 and 2, Gloucestershire; Abstract of the Answers and Returns made pursuant to ‘An Act for procuring Returns relative to the Expence and Maintenance of the Poor in England’, PP 18031804, xiii.

30 Supple, B., ‘Legislation and virtue: an essay on working class self-help and the state in the early nineteenth century’, in McKendrick, N. (ed.), Historical Perspectives, Studies in English Thought and Society, in Honour of J.H. Plumb (London, 1974); for society investments, see CR's Report 1878, PP 1878–79, Ixv.

31 Bristol Mercury, 18 01 1868.

32 Gosden, P.H.J.H., The Friendly Societies in England, 1835–3875 (Manchester, 1961), ch. 8; Treble, J.H., ‘The attitudes of friendly societies towards the movement in Great Britain for state pensions, 1878–1908’, International Review of Social History, 15 (1970), 284–5.

33 See, for example, PP 1840 II, A Bill for the Registration of Medical Practitioners, 89;Gosden, , Friendly Societies, 145.

34 Ibid., 211–14; Doran, N., ‘Risky business: codifying embodied experience in the Manchester Unity of Oddfellows’, Journal of Historical Sociology, 7, 2 (1994).

35 Quotation from Supple, B., The Royal Exchange Assurance: A History of British Insurance, 1720–1970 (Cambridge, 1970), 54.

36 Clark, Sociability and Urbanity; compare also Weisser, M.R., A Brotherhood of Memory: Jewish Landmanschaften in the New World (New York, 1985) and Little, K., Urbanization as a Social Process: An Essay on Movement and Change in Contemporary Africa (London, 1974), 8894.

37 Gorsky, M., ‘The growth and distribution of friendly societies in the early nineteenth century’, Economic History Review, 51, 3 (1998), 489511.

38 Barry, , ‘Cultural life’, 179–81;Felix Farley's Bristol Journal (hereafter FFBJ), 5, 19 03, 9 07, 6, 15,27 Aug., 10,17 Sep., 16 Nov. 1774.

39 Bristol Gazette, 10 06 1806.

40 Supple, Royal Exchange; see also Morris, R.J., ‘The middle class and the property cycle during the Industrial Revolution’, in Smout, T.C. (ed.), The Search for Wealth and Stability (London, 1979).

41 State of the Prudent Man's Friend Society for the year 1814 (Bristol, 1814);Friendly and Benefit Building Societies Commission: Reports of the Assistant Commissioners, Southern and Eastern Counties, by Sir George Young, Bart: PP 1874, xxiii, pt. 2 (hereafter Young), 504.

42 Davidoff, L. and Hall, C., Family Fortunes. Men and Women of the English Middle Class, 1780–1850 (London, 1987), 300, 427–8.

43 Black, A., Gilds and Civil Society in European Political Thought (1984), 32, 237–41.

44 Keane, J., Democracy and Civil Society (London, 1988), 5664;Wood, E. Meiksins, Democracy against Capitalism: Renewing Historical Materialism (Cambridge, 1995), ch. 8.

45 Thompson, E.P., The Making of the English Working Class (London, 1963), 456–69.

46 Foster, J., Class Struggle in the Industrial Revolution: Early Industrial Capitalism in Three English Towns (London, 1974), 216–18, 341.

47 Lewins Mead Chapel Working and Visiting Society 3rd Annual Report (1837).

48 Young, , 502.

49 BRO QS 7b, 7c, 15, 30c, 32a, 33a and b; see Mathias, P., The Brewing Industry in England 1700–1830 (Cambridge, 1959), xxiii, ch. 4, 277–8; Fuller, , West Country Friendly Societies, 53, 5860, 103–5.

50 PRO FS 1 Gloucestershire 581.

51 PP 1883, Ixvii, CR's Report 1880, part 2.

52 The Medical Directory for 1891 (London, 1891).

53 BRO 35893/21/e-i, State of the Bristol Infirmary, 18461903.

54 FFBJ, 1 07 1797.

55 Dobson, W. and Harland, J., A History of Preston Guild (Preston, 1862), 5471.

56 FFBJ, 27 06 1846; Bristol Mercury, 3 07 1858.

57 Harrison, M., Crowds and History: Mass Phenomena in English Towns 1790–1835 (Cambridge, 1988).

58 Bristol Mercury, 24 07 1858.

59 St George's Brandon Hill Log, 28 Jul. 1871, cited in Humphries, S., ‘Schooling and the working class in Bristol, 1870–1914’, Southern History, 1 (1979), 187.

60 Gorsky, M., ‘Charity, mutuality and philanthropy: voluntary provision in Bristol 1800–70’ (unpublished University of Bristol Ph.D. thesis, 1995), ch. 6.

61 Neave, D., Mutual Aid in the Victorian Countryside: Friendly Societies in the Rural East Riding 1830–1914 (Hull, 1991).

62 Davidoff, and Hall, , Family Fortunes, 23–4.

63 Young, 494.

64 Bristol Gazette, 26 05 1836.

65 McClelland, K., ‘Masculinity and the “representative artisan” in Britain, 1850–80’, in Roper, M. and Tosh, J. (eds), Manful Assertions: Masculinities in Britain since 1800 (London, 1991).

66 House of Commons Journal, 2 06 1828; Prothero, I., Artisans and Politics in Early Nineteenth Century London (Chatham, 1979), ch. 12.

67 Bush, G., Bristol and its Municipal Government 1820–1851 (Bristol, 1976), 55–8.

68 FFBJ, 24 10 1846;Young, 501.

69 Pro FS 1 Gloucestershire 561; Jackson, E., A Study in Democracy: Being an Account of the Rise and Progress of Industrial Co-operation in Bristol (Manchester, 1911), 1824.

70 Riley, J.C., Sick Not Dead: The Health of British Workingmen during the Mortality Decline (London, 1997), 112–13;CR's Report 1888, PP part 2,164.

71 Minute Book of Court City of Bristol A.O. F., passim.

72 Young, 482; see also 547–8, 576.

73 Tomassini, L., ‘Mutual benefit societies in Italy, 1861–1922’, in van der Linden, M. (ed.), Social Security Mutualism: The Comparative History of Mutual Benefit Societies (Berne, 1996), 225–71, esp. 237.

74 Joyce, P., ‘The factory politics of Lancashire in the later nineteenth century’, The Historical Journal, xviii, 3 (1975), 525–53;Vincent, J., Pollbooks: How Victorians Voted (London, 1967).

75 For example, The Trades' Newspaper, 20 08 1826.

76 Gosden, , Friendly Societies, 205–10.

77 Ibid., 113; O'Neill, J., ‘A search for independence? Friendly societies in Nottinghamshire 1724–1912’, Bulletin of Local History, East Midland Region (1988), 12; Young, 498.

78 Friendly and Benefit Building Societies Commission, Reports of the Assistant Commissioners, Cheshire etc, 316–17;4th Report, Appendix xiii, 1–9, 3rd Report, 110–11; also CR's Report 1881, PP 1882, lxvi, 8.

79 Archer, I., Jordan, S. and Ramsay, K., Abstract of Bristol Historical Statistics Part 1: Poor Law Statistics 1835–1948 (Bristol, 1997), 15.

80 Appendix to the First Report from the Commissioners on the Poor Laws, Town Queries, Bristol, no. 32, PP 1834, xxviii, 512; PP 1854, xii Select Committee on Medical Relief, 503–5.

81 Minute Book of Court City of Bristol A.O. F., Feb. 1845.

82 Annual Report of the Hampshire Friendly Society, passim.

83 Young, 492–3.

84 Ibid., 468.

85 PRO FS1 Gloucestershire 596.

86 Burnett, J., Vincent, D. and Mayall, D., The Autobiography of the Working Class: An Annotated Critical Biography. Volume 1, 1790–1900 (Brighton, 1984); only 19 of 1,028 entries mention friendly societies.

87 Riley, J.C., Sickness, Recovery and Death: A History and Forecast of III Health (London, 1989), Ch. 6.

88 Treble, , ‘Attitudes of friendly societies’.

89 Wuthnow, R., ‘The voluntary sector: legacy of the past, hope for the future?’, in idem, (ed.), The Voluntary Sector in Comparative Perspective (Princeton, 1991), 22–5;Hennock, E.P., British Social Reform and German Precedents: The Case of Social Insurance 1880–1914 (Oxford, 1987), 114–15, 121, 140–1, 174–9, 188–95, 198, 204–5.

* An early version of this article was presented at the Urban History Group Conference, Brighton, 1997, and I thank participants for their comments. I am also grateful to John Mohan for his advice.

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