What happened before today’s Mutual Credit Unions? An introduction to Friends of Labour Loan Societies 1850s-1930s
Friends of Labour Loan Societies have been overlooked in analyses of mutual self-help organisations and working class organisations. Starting around 1851, on the initiative of a Chartist activist, these grew to comprise a major section of loan societies granted legal status since 1835 and which were later to come under the oversight of the Registrar of Friendly Societies. Many survived into the early decades of the 20th century and some even into the period when the modern credit union movement began to attract attention. Sean Creighton outlines their history drawing on material at The National Archives, the British Library and from specialist newspapers and journals.
Sean Creighton is an independent historian whose interests range over the labour movement, mutuality, popular politics, social action, Black Britain, slavery and abolition, South West London, the North East and aspects of culture. He publishes small books under the imprint History & Social.
Mutual associations have a long, rich, and much under-appreciated history, and today include: friendly societies, co-operatives, building societies, trade unions and credit unions, and a range of other specialist self-help collective organisations.
While credit unions seem to have started in Germany in the 1850s, they were later to grow important in the United States, Canada, Ireland and the West Indies. But before 1979, there was no legal structure for credit unions here in Britain. So they either registered as companies or as Industrial and Provident Societies, and after lobbying the Labour government, passed the Credit Unions Act in April 1979 [http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/1979/34/contents].
Now a major reason for the non-development of credit unions in Britain until basically the early 70s was probably the existence of an existing infrastructure of working class loan societies, the majority called Friends of Labour Loan Societies, which developed from the 1850s. They appear to have been very active into the 1930s, and although they declined afterwards, there were some still active in the 60s and into the 70s.
The legal basis had been enacted in 1840 with the Loan Societies Act, but there were no major changes to that act for over 120 years, as was pointed out in a parliamentary question in November 1961 – the government at the time rejecting the suggestion that loans societies should be included under the Friendly Societies Act of 1896.
The 1840 Act required loan societies to deposit their rules, and any amendments to those rules, with the councils of the counties or county boroughs in which they were situated. So when, for example, the Greater London Council was formed in the mid-1960s, it took on that function. The Act was finally repealed in 1998.
John Tidd Pratt, the Registrar of Friendly Societies, who in 1869 said:
‘Loan societies are generally got up by a public whose house they are held at and a scamp appointed as secretary; I consider these societies as perfect swindles, and from the daily complaints made to me by members, their widows and children, I’m sure it would be very desirable to repeal the Act which authorises them to be established.’
Now this attack on loan societies was made in the last year of his 35 year tenure as registrar, as he was to die in office in early 1870. And he made the attack in a letter to Westminster magistrates, who were considering a case involving a loan society, on 10 February 1869.
Having been called to the bar in 1824, Pratt had become a civil servant. From 1829 he was the barrister responsible for certifying the legality of Friendly Society Laws. He testified to the Poor Law Commission that the threat of more stringent eligibility requirements for a relief acted as a spur for the formation of Friendly Societies. He was involved in the drafting of the 1834 Poor Law Amendment Act. And once he was appointed with responsibility, in 1834, he applied the law strictly and was concerned with the efficient organisation of society. He earned the unofficial title of ‘Minister of Self-Help’.
Friendly Society historian, Simon Cordery, says that Pratt ‘maintained a steadfast devotion to localised self-help’. Quite why is unclear. Little is known about Tidd Pratt’s personal background; his obituary is singularly uninformative and the influences on his intellectual formation can only be inferred on the basis of such information as can be gleaned from his publications and his circle of acquaintances.
Now the compass of Pratt and his successors’ job grew wider and wider, as more and more types of mutual self-help societies were created. From 1840 Pratt became responsible for loan societies. As can be seen from the registrar of Friendly Society lists here at The National Archives, Pratt dealt with the registration, annual returns and legal problems involved in thousands of organisations.
Between 1840 and 1869 these included over 3,000 loan societies. The majority of those from 1854 were called ‘Friends of Labour Loan Societies’. Like most other mutual organisations, these met in public houses, for lack of other venues and because of the social activities that formed a key element of mutual organisation.
It’s not clear why Pratt decided to turn on the loan societies for meeting in pubs. It may have been a tester to see what the reaction would be. If he had aimed his criticism at the thousands of lodges of the big Friendly Society orders like the Oddfellows and the Foresters, he would probably have unleashed a storm of fury.
Pratt’s attack was reported in several newspapers. The much neglected and under-used journal, Labour and Unity, which is in the British Library newspaper collection, sprang to the defence of the societies:
‘Our experience tells us that they are usually got up by a few members from a society already established who, having the benefits derived therefrom, endeavour with laudable desire to extend their good influence by establishing another. And this more widely to diffuse the advantages they have themselves received. As a rule, publicans do not consider these societies pay them, the members not spending enough money and, unless they pay rent, are constantly shifted from one pub to another. Now lax habits on the part of members sometimes induces the otherwise honest secretary gradually to become scampish. But is an occasional scamp of a society to be the reason that all these societies should be abolished? Are the whole flock of hundreds to be destroyed because there are a few black sheep amongst them?’
And this was their final quote on the matter, where they appeal to him to actually do more to help such societies.
Officers of various Friends of Labour Loan Societies joined in this condemnation of Pratt through letters in Labour and Unity. JL Turner, the chairman of the Hand in Hand and Surprise Societies in Wandsworth Road, pointed out that Labour and Unity had often published accounts of meetings of the societies, at which ‘the members frequently present their secretaries with a handsome testimonial, for the straightforward manner in which he keeps his books and manages the affairs of the society’.
He compared them favourably with private loan societies: ‘They are of benefit to the working man if properly conducted because of its principle as a savings bank, enabling the honest hard working man to save his sixpence per week, and at the end of three months, get a good interest for it, which enables him to obtain a small loan at five percent, when sickness, slackness of work or death comes upon him, and pay it back by easy instalments during a period of forty weeks, thus enabling him to become a saving man, an independent, and prevents him from being pressed by his rich, aristocratic enemy, and assists him in keeping that destroyer of men’s homes, the detestable broker, from entering his house’. One, kind of, thinks of Wonga and other rather rapacious loan operators today.
The Hand in Hand debated the matter at its weekly meeting on 15 February and unanimously passed the resolution. Other letters protesting against Pratt’s attitude included: the secretary, treasure and trustees of the Friends of Labour Loan Society number 164, which met at the Peacock Tavern in Francis Street, Westminster; from WE Currie, a secretary in North London whose society had been set up by a Working Men’s Institute; Joseph Edwards, secretary of a Friends of Labour Loan Society in the Oxford Street area, who pointed out among other things that when his society had submitted their rules to Pratt, he had struck out the democratic annual election of secretary in favour of the secretaryship being permanent. JW Barker was from the Reading society and he wrote to Pratt stating among other things the point on this, and this is Pratt’s reply [shows image].
Pratt’s death in 1870 appears to have brought the issue to a close for a while. Now what were these Friends of Labour Loan Societies? Their objects were to raise money from the members to create a fund out of which money could be lent – as one set of rules said – to ‘the industrious classes’. As we said, they usually met in public houses, although there is evidence of ones linked to the Temperance Movement as well.
The Friends of Labour Loan Society Movement was formally started in May 1851. At first the research I undertook suggested there were two separate initiatives, partly due to differences in names used for organisation. Although there are one or two remaining pieces of information that do not quite add up, I’m fairly convinced that this mutual self-help movement was started as the Friends of Labour Investment Association.
By the end of the 1850s, the initiative was being talked about in terms of a small group of men having met in a North London pub. The rules that have survived in the British Library and a newspaper obituary in 1870 suggest that the association was started on the initiative of an artist named Clifton. Labour and Unity recorded him as being a parliamentary candidate in Lambeth, but John Newman, one of Lambeth’s archivists, tells me he can’t find any trace of Clifton standing in a Lambeth election. The lack of any more detailed information about Clifton is a great shame.
A copy of the association’s rule book, as amended on 30 September 1856 and printed in 1858, has survived at the British Library. The political and class approach of the association is clearly stated in the preamble. The associations were designed as a membership organisation with no limit on the number of members. Anyone aged 18 or over could join. Clearly only better-off members of the working class, and small tradesmen who regarded themselves as working class, could afford to take part. There was an entrance fee of 1/7 (one shilling and sevenpence). Members had to pay twopence per week to buy a share in the association and threepence per quarter for the secretary. Members could buy three shares but were only entitled to one vote each.
The affairs of the association were to be controlled by a committee of management of 12. Branches could be established and each branch would control its own fund. Although the association would meet weekly between 8 and 10 pm, members’ minimum requirement on attendance was quarterly. This was backed by a fine of twopence if they failed to pay arrears and subscription, or fines on the appropriate night every quarter.
In other words, members were required to attend. The rules forbade, and I quote: ‘All cursing, swearing, violent or obscene language, or the introduction of political or theological subjects during the hours of business’. Now presumably this was to prevent arguments that would detract from conducting the financial business of the association.
The behaviour at meetings was also proscribed, with a rule stating: ‘Any member so offending shall be fined one penny for each offence, and any member addressing the chairman must be upstanding and in respectful manner’.
In the event of a member dying, the shares would be passed to his wife, children or other next of kin. At the time these rules were printed in 1858, the association was meeting at the Coach and Horses public house in Little Ormond Yard off Great Ormond Street. The chairman was one Henry Pardoe and the secretary Charles Finch, and it was known as the Parent Society.
Now in 1859 and 1860, the Friends of Labour Loan Societies were collectively identifying themselves as the Friends of Labour Association, not the Labour Investment Association. Their parent body was meeting at the Vernon Arms in Pentonville. Its secretary between November 1854 and his death in 1859 was one J Doddington. However, the reason I’m fairly certain that this Parent Society is that of the Investment Association is that several of the latter’s branches have the same number and addresses as the Friends of Labour Loan Societies at this time, coming together as the Friends of Labour Association. But I haven’t tracked why there was a change, I’ve not been able to find that out.
Being autonomous, each branch had to register under the 1840 Loan Societies Act in its own right. Therefore they did have scope to amend rules, and these rules survive here at The National Archives.
The growth in the number of branches necessitated a sharing of information and ideas, and this led to the start of their own information circular, The Friends of Labour Association’s Monthly Circular of General Information and Working Mens’ Advocate, published by William Shave, a member of one of the societies, who lived at 42 Cromer Street, off Gray’s Inn Road. The first issue came out in March 1859. Its first print run was just under a thousand copies and they were all sold.
The Clerkenwell News reported that The Circular was ‘admirably adapted to accompany its mission’. It came out monthly. Shave later sold it to T Williams who became the new publisher from November 1860, and the title was changed from May 1861 to Friends of Labour Association Monthly Circulator and Co-operator. Its last surviving copy is from March 1863. It’s not clear whether or not The Circular folded or whether subsequent issues have not survived. The monthly Circular records details about the branches.
Up to early 1860, the movement had been London-based. There is only one branch significantly distant from London, number 211 at the King William IV in Salford. The Monthly Circular and another paper, The Councillor, provides a lot of information about the activities and the concerns of societies between 1869 and 1863.
Now Thomas Parker, who lived in Clerkenwell, suggested in the second issue of The Circular, that a correspondence society should be established with a delegate from each branch to improve communication and to strengthen the branches.
The need for such a development became widely recognised, especially as there was growing concern about what T Shepherd of Branch 43 described as ‘unprincipled characters contracting loans with as many branches as they can without ever intending to return the money’.
One purpose for the suggested corresponding society was to share information about loan defaulters. A conference of branch representatives was held on 18 November 1859 to discuss how the problem could be resolved. There seems to have been an acrimonious three-way split at this meeting. One group wanted a centralised structure and a form of initiation into membership; another wanted a charge on each branch to pay for the expenses involved in representatives of the branches meeting to share information about borrowers in default; and a third group argued – typically British – for another conference.
Shepherd was given the responsibility for this up to January 1860. The divisions of opinion seem to have led to the founding of The Councillor: A journal of Friends of Labour Association, edited and published by Richard Howe, a bookbinder, letterpress and copperplate printer in Lincoln’s Inn Field.
This seems to have been very short-lived. The last surviving issue is April 1860, and it seems to have been allied to the line being taken by Shepherd. Other delegates’ meetings took place and lengthy reports on what occurred at them appear in both The Circular and The Councillor. Reading the reports give the impression the authors were attending entirely different meetings! What eventually emerged was a corresponding society.
By May 1861 there were over 400 branches with about 50,000 members. They were beginning to spread outside London. By April 1862, with over 500 branches in London, they were now particularly attracting support in Manchester and Lancashire, and the total membership was now estimated at about 80,000.
As the number of branches grew, the question of where they should meet was raised. The Councillor reflects the concern among some members about the links with pubs, echoing the debate in the Lords and the Commons back in 1840 over the Act, when this was an issue, and the growth of temperance and teetotalism among the working class. Writing in the February 1860 issue, E Smith suggested that to make the associations of ‘real lasting good, they must not be confined to the public houses which were the very worst place in the world for a working man to save in’.
And this was Smith’s remedy: that they should actually rent rooms in non-pubs. The same issue carried an advertisement for Wisedale’s Coffee House in The Strand as a potential meeting place for Friends of Labour Association branches and working men in general.
The editorial in the February 1860 issue of The Councillor comments there was a growing trend towards meeting in venues other than public houses:
‘For although Friends of Labour sprang from a tap room, branches have shot forth since that event in coffee houses and elsewhere. No doubt can exist in the mind of the far-seeing man also that the Temperance Party will turn their attention to the necessity of providing accommodation for their wavering members who cannot decide whether they should or should not throw their pence into the branches held in taverns’.
The list of branches in February 1860 in the monthly circular shows a few were meeting in non-pub venues, such as the Beehive Coffee House in Great St Andrew’s Street in Seven Dials, The London Coffee House at 136 St John’s Street and the Cogers’ Hall in Bridge Street in the City.
The movement saw itself as distinctly different from other types of savings and loan societies. In its first editorial, The Councillor argued that there were ‘undeniable advantages of being a member of a Friends of Labour Association over the savings banks and a borrower at an old and ruinous loan society’. It argued that the old-style societies in which the profits were pocketed by the shareholders were rapidly dying out. The Friends of Labour Association’s principles are the direct opposite; all the profits are equally divided among the borrowers and shareholders.
Like the friendly benefit societies, the co-operatives and the trade unions, the labour loan societies had a rich and varied social life as well. Obviously, for those held in public houses, there was the companionship of a chat over a pint. There were annual anniversary dinners – Branches 74 and 197 celebrated the latter’s first anniversary by holding a cricket match on Peckham Rye, which the fledgling branch won by two runs. Food was also provided during the match and at the end there was a supper at The Hope in Rye Lane. The meal was followed by singing and recitations until midnight. The two branches planned to hold a second match to celebrate Branch 74’s second anniversary.
There’s also special fund-raising events. A special fund was established following the death of J Donnington, who left a widow and seven children. He had joined the Parent Society on 13 June 1853 and is said to have been its secretary from 20 November 1854 until his death in 1859, even though the rules printed in 1858 recall a Charles Finch as secretary. By July 1859, 31 branches had contributed to the fund as well as a number of individuals.
One of the problems the societies faced was what to do with the outstanding loan debts of members who died. Branches 30 and 47 came up with an ambitious fundraising plan: they set up a reserve fund to clear such debts and they organised a benefit concert at the Soho Theatre in March 1859 to raise money for the fund. There were short theatrical pieces: John Buckstone’s 1835 Dream at Sea, Charles Selly’s Unfinished Gentlemen and John Paul’s 1813 burlesque Othello’s Travesty, a clown and contortionist, a musical overture and songs, including one by Mr Major, illustrative of the benefits of the Friends of Labour Association.
Branch 47 also planned an even more ambitious benefit for a large number of branches to be held at Sadler’s Wells. And then on 19 March 1862, it held a vocal and instrumental concert in aid of the fund at the Crown Tavern in Clerkenwell, at which the Canton Dramatic Club performed. There were also summer excursions for members and their families. The first excursions were organised by the parent body with the establishment of a separate excursion fund with delegates meetings and a secretary.
With a growth in the number of branches, the parent body took responsibility for organising excursions for the North London branches, while a separate excursion was organised by the West End branches and a third by Southern branches. These were large scale events. The North London excursion in July 1859 to Rye House in Hoddeston in Hertfordshire involved 1,751 adults and 341 children. They enjoyed the day; boating, fishing, shooting, riding and walking, and they were accompanied by Sergeant Major Blackwell’s military and Quadrille Band. And one of the other excursions that year was to Southend, accompanied by Bright’s Military and Quadrille Band.
One of the ways in which branches co-operated and learned from each other seems to have been through an existing branch assisting the formation of a new one, and experienced members becoming its first officers.
There were many members who clearly devoted a lot of time and effort to the work of the societies. J Webberley was one such; he was a tailor at 10 Havesford Terrace in Wharf Road, King’s Cross. He advertised his business in The Circular. There was a clothes club linked to his business which met at the Talbot Tavern in Caledonian Road. And he was a member of the Parent Society and became its secretary after Doddington’s death. He was also secretary of No 23 branch, which met at The Silver Cup in Cromer Street, off Gray’s Inn Road. This was a pub ‘well known as a resort for the mechanics of London.’ He was also secretary of numbers 4, 30 and 97.
This involved an enormous amount of work in keeping records weekly for 1,200 members. Number 4 branch, which met at The Bridport Arms, off Gray’s Inn Road, was so pleased with his work that at its seventh anniversary meeting in June 1860, it decided to set up a special meeting on 4 July to form a committee for a testimonial for him. This was duly set up with 13 members, including Shave, the printer of The Circular. Webberley had also been treasurer of the one-off Doddington Fund and was for several years treasurer of the annual excursion fund of the Parent Society and secretary of the corresponding club.
There are other small traders who were active. W True was the landlord of the Vernon Arms in Pentonville, where the Parent Society met until September 1860. To supplement his income, he had had to let the meeting room for billiards every day. Having considered a number of alternative offers, the society decided to move to Northumberland Arms in Bagnigge Wells Road. There was no acrimony against True for the move; his reasons were understood and they passed a resolution of thanks to him. He was also chairman of number 24 branch which met at the Pewter Platter in White Lion Street, and he contributed as an individual to the Doddington Fund and was one of it trustees.
AD Lowenstaat, a jeweller at 1 Devereux Court in Essex Street, off the Strand, was a society member. He was also jeweller to the Grand Lodge of the Druids and a member of the Ancient Order of Foresters Benefit Society. He was a regular advertiser of his services.
Other tradesmen members included W Strom, a baker at 19 Little Earl Street in Seven Dials, and W Hitchcock, a hair cutter in Clare Market. Branch 162 at The Old Thatched House, which is the site of Nell Gwyn’s former dairy, in Exchange Court off The Strand, had just over 90 members in December 1859, including tradesmen in Covent Garden and in the silversmith and book-selling businesses, members of the London Compositors’ Society, which was a trade union, and gentlemen of law and their wives, sons and daughters.
Most branches seem to have liked to keep small, to rise to no more than about 150 members. The fact that so many branches met close by each other may suggest that some were aimed at particular neighbourhoods or workplaces or particular industries, and they wanted to keep numbers small in order to keep close identification, and to enhance the closeness and quality of social life. On the other hand, it may reflect the capacity of the room in which they met. The parent society had just under 100 members in the first half of 1859. Others at the same time ranged from 50 to 160. Exceptions included Branch 34, off Edgware Road, with 204; number 31 in Fetter Lane, with 300; and number 4, with just over 450 members.
As the number of Friends of Labour Loan Societies grew as branches, there were also those that set up which did not regard themselves as branches. There were also other loan societies which did not identify with the Friends movement but called themselves Working Men’s Societies, of which 22 sent in annual returns for 1875.
Although political discussion was forbidden under the rules of the Parent Society, this did not prevent the expression of political and class views among the membership. The Parent Society, for example, decided to set up an appeal on behalf of the locked out building workers and advertised in The Circular. The editorial for November 1859 commented:
‘It is with great pleasure that we hear of the sympathy and prompt response already given by some branches who were cognisant of this movement in behalf of the lock outs by the Parent Society. As members of the society denominated ‘The Friends of Labour’, they felt themselves morally bound to give their support in aid of the victims of giant capital and their example has only to be known to others to be immediately co-operated with.’
It drew readers’ attention to the fact that if branches wrote to George Potter, the builders’ leader, they could have a deputation from the Conference of the United Building Trades to speak to them. The Councillor, on the other hand, took a very different view of the lock-out, arguing in its March 1860 issue that confrontation was not productive. While printing the appeal of the Building Workers’ conference, issued under George Potter’s signature, it could not agree with some of the propositions. Neither could it ‘accept the concluding act in this struggle of labour against capital as one on which the conference have much congratulation’. It advised against giving support to the Nine Hours movement and while it was pro shorter hours, it argued it could only be achieved with public support. It is possible that this line alienated many members of the societies, since the next issue in April 1860 was the last.
In December 1860, the monthly Circular’s editorial discussed co-operation and the editor cites the Bank of England, the West End clubs, the railway system and docks as the mighty works of the co-operation of capital:
‘Can the working men of this country look at these things without thinking: what could we do if we were to co-operate together to work? Capital is a feather in the scale without labour. It is labour that creates capital, that gives to capital its weight and effect. It’s just and lawful for the rich to co-operate together. Is it so for you as working men to do so? I say all good means are not only lawful but just, and for the well-being of Man it is essential to raise him up and sustain him in his effort. Co-operation will do so.’
This prompted a reader signing himself Unity to suggest that as the number and capital of societies grew, a channel for use of that capital should be opened up:
‘Can we read of the Rochdale Co-operative Society and be at a loss? Can we say we have no use to which we can put our spare capital, when such an example is before us? Let your readers get the reports of different co-operative societies and note their rise and progress and ask themselves ‘Would it not be well for us to follow in their footsteps?’ ‘
However, another letter writer pointed out that the Loan Society Act didn’t allow funds to be used other than for loans, so they could not be invested in co-operative stores.
So you can see there’s a clear class view reflected in the movement, and this is also picked up in preambles to some of their rules. A society established in 1862 in London, its surviving rules for 1875 include elements of the preamble from the original 1851 investment association rules. And the preamble of the rules of one in Mile End, started in 1863, talks about the objects of co-operative credit.
Now at the end of the 1860s, reports in Labour and Unity on the activities of the Hand in Hand Society in Wandsworth Road reveal sympathy with the wider movements for social and political reform. At the first anniversary supper there was a toast to The Beehive newspaper, set up by Builders’ leader George Potter, and Labour and Unity, responded to by Mr Willis for The Beehive. At the quarterly meeting on September 13 1869, Turner expressed the hope ‘Ere long he should have the pleasure of seeing their interests properly represented in the House of Commons by such men as Odger, Guile, Allan, Applegarth etc.’ It is clear that some members of labour loan societies are also members of trade unions and other organisations. Thomas Rule, for example, the chairman of Friends Branch 249 at Park Tavern in Battersea Park Road, was on the National Reform League’s executive, Battersea having three league branches.
Many of these societies flourished for years, like the one started in May 1864 at the Working Men’s Club in Homerton High Street. Between May 1864 and April 1870 it received £1364 in subscriptions, £3422 in loan repayments and made a £227 profit. Its capital rose from £855 in 1870 to £1,558 in 1875, and by May 1872 it had lent £5,853 to about 800 borrowers.
It is possible to build up a picture of labour loan societies in different districts of London and then also put them in the context of the local areas’ Friendly Society movements. The first society to be set up in the Battersea district of South-West London was Branch 3249 at The Duchess of York, Battersea Fields, at the beginning of 1860. By 1869 the following societies had been established in the district and surrounding areas [shows image].
As one of the societies that was not listed in 1875 as having submitted a return, the Vauxhall Society is a good example of the problem with the annual return system that operated. It started on 27 September 1849 as the Vauxhall Loan Society, in Upper Kennington Lane; later moved to the King’s Head in Kennington Lane, nearly opposite Vauxhall Gardens; re-registering as the Friends of Labour Loan Society branch at the King’s Head in 1859; still in existence in 1922 as the Vauxhall Friends of Labour Loan and Investment Society, based still in Lower Kennington Lane – that year it had 34 members at the beginning and 36 at the end. Interestingly its trustees and auditors lived along Wandsworth Road in Clapham Junction, off Northcote Road in South Battersea, in Kennington and Clapham, suggesting they were probably a work-based loan society.
Reports in Labour and Unity give a detailed picture of activity at local level: the Hand in Hand was held at the Brooklands Arms in Wandsworth Road, the publican EJ Alf was the treasurer. Founded in 1866, it held its first anniversary supper on 30 April 1868, with about sixty members and friends sitting down to ‘a most bounteous repast’. By the end of the first eighteen months, the society had 96 members and lent just over £609. Its expenses were £22 and they made £32 profit on the loans. Although members borrowing loans had fallen into arrears, they had all been paid for without a murmur after sending out letters. Nine shillings had been collected in fines for the use of profane language at society meetings and Turner, the chairman, expressed the hope that societies would be the means of doing away with all private loan societies and the usurer. The event ended with Bock Thompson singing his song, My Pretty Bride.
Now a lot more research is needed to track the fortunes of Friends and other working class loan societies through the late Victorian and Edwardian period; the adverse effect of the slaughter of members in the First World War and the influenza epidemic, the depression and the Second World War.
From 1945 they were certainly in decline, yet enough loan societies were in existence for the 1840 Act to be replaced by an act in 1971. Now I haven’t got time to discuss some of the issues to do with the problems of researching at local archive, national archive level and the problems of the way catalogues are set up and digitised etc, but what I want to do is to end with an attempt at a song, called a Friends of Labour Song:
Around the lodge in friendship met
Come listen to my story
I sing to praise a noble set
I sing to our own dear glory
To help each other is our aim
To help an honest neighbour
And not to shame the name we claim
Of trusty Friends of Labour
And there are several other verses and it goes on at the end:
Up with the Friend of Labour’s light
And may it never dwindle
Down with greedy usurer’s blight
And crush the loan shop swindle
To help each other is our aim
To help an honest neighbour
And not to shame the name we claim
Of trusty Friends of Labour
Transcribed by Lisa Forrest as part of a volunteer project, April 2015