Friendly Societies were formal mutual aid organisations. While they were “major creations of the Enlightenment ideals of the 1700s” (Dennis, M), they also played a particular role during industrialisation and urbanisation of towns and had connections with the co-operative movement and trade unions. They promoted support and are considered precursors to the welfare state.
By the end of the 19th century about six million people, equivalent to half the adult males of Britain, were members (Weinbren, 2002; Harris 2004 pages 82, 194; Hennock 2007, pages 166–181) as cited in Weinbren 2014.
In Reading Old we have found links to the following Friendly Societies so far: the Freemasons, the Ancient Order of Druids (AOD), the Independent Order of Oddfellows, the Ancient Order of Foresters (AOF), the Sons of Temperance (possibly).
More information about Friendly Societies to follow soon.