Pages 65 - 68

Wrington Village Records
Studies of the history of a Somerset Village

Wrington Friendly Society
Pages 65 - 68

Sources: A bundle of printed papers in the Wrington Parish Records, comprising
Rules, 1854; Annual Statements of Accounts, 1884,1885,1886 and 1887.

The Wrington Handbook, 1861 provides a useful note on the Wrington Friendly Society:

"The Members of this Club consist principally of Agricultural Labourers, It has long survived the terms of years usually averaged by benefit societies of this class, and is still in a healthy condition, numbering 150 members, with a fund of £725 13s. 8d. in the Savings Bank. Upwards of £1,600 have been paid to the sick, and the relatives of deceased members, since the commencement. The Anniversary Dinner is held at the Golden Lion Inn, Wrington, on Trinity Wednesday; a Procession is formed which parades the neighbourhood with a brass band, colours, and attends Divine Service in the Parish Church."

The Officers of the Society were at that time .

Trustees: Rev. John Vane; W. H. Harford, Esq,; John James, Esq.;
and Mr. F. Knowles.
               Surgeon: Horace Swete, Esq.

It is important to note that 40 years after the Establishment of the Society it is said that "it has long survived the terms of years usually averaged by benefit Societies of this class' and in fact this one went on a great deal longer. In her book on West Country Friendly Societies, Margaret Fuller comments that records show the existence of the Societies as being anything from 20-132 years; and it is pointed out that even if a society was not permanent it gave at least some support more often than not, and was, apart from charity, the only available source of help to the country worker. Also, however inadequate and badly managed many certainly were, it was estimated that at one time they were saving the country about two million pounds on the Poor Law.

Before passing on to an examination of the relevant papers on the Men's Society note must be taken of the very thriving Wrington Female Friendly Society, which in fact had a longer life; it began earlier and ended later. The quotation from The Wrington Handbook, 1861 is as follows :

"The object of this Society (established in 1797) is to secure by means of small quarterly payments, medical and pecuniary assistance to married members in case of childbirth; and in the event of death of a member , as small contribution is levied from the whole of the members towards funeral expenses. Donors of not less than Ten Pounds to the Society, or Annual Subscribers of not less than Ten Shillings, become Honorary Members but are not entitled to any benefit from the Society's Funds.

The Society holds an Anniversary on the last Tuesday in the month of June each year; on which occasion the Members attend Divine Service at the Parish Church, and afterwards partake of tea in the National School Room.

The Club consists at the present time of 62 members, whose contributions amount to about £30 per annum. There is a fund of £500 at the 3 per cent Consols, and £25 19s. 7d. in the Wrington Savings Bank".

The Book gives the officers of the time :

Patroness: Mrs. Baker.

Trustees: Rev. John Vane and Robert Baker, Esq.    (All
Treasurer: John James, Esq.                                     (Men!
Secretary: Mr. W. J. Wyatt.

The Female Friendly Society was not dissolved until 1948, having at that time the very healthy sum of £938 18s. Id. which was distributed among its 48 members. Its aims were wholly characteristic of one of Hannah More's foundations, and the date of its foundation would seem to confirm this.

The Men's Friendly Society at Wrington was established in 1822 and was dissolved in the 1920's. A set of rules was produced in 1851 (14th July)-at least, this is the earliest known date - and the Society was officially registered, i.e., given Certification, by the Registrar of Friendly Societies on 30th July, 1852. The Registrar at that time rejoiced in the name of John Tidd Pratt, and it is interesting to note that he was in office for a very long time - longer than the life of the majority of the Societies. The Registrar required that every Society should send in every five years a rate of sickness and mortality, and a Report of the Assets and Liabilities of each Society. This was, of course, in addition to the annual statements of funds (four of which are among the sources used here), i.e.,

"a general statement of the funds and effects of or belonging to the Society-and every Member shall be entitled to a copy". (Cl. 35 of the Wrington Friendly Society Rules).

The Rules were many and of wide content-Clause 26 is one of the most relevant: after stating that benefit was only payable after contributions of 24 calendar months successively it says :

"no Member shall be entitled to any allowance from the funds of this Society for any period of time during which he shall be in arrear in monthly or other contribution of the funds of the Society, or when he shall be incapacitated by fighting, back-sword, cudgelling or any other unlawful game, or that has the V.D. or who shall obtain a Certificate of illness or disability by fraud or shall be a Member of any other Friendly Society, or who at the time of such illness shall be in prison for any offence or for debt, and no offender having had such weekly allowance for more than 6 months successively shall again be entitled to weekly allowance within 3 calendar months after his recovery".

This rule does not, however, altogether correspond with the obvious support given to a few chronic sick.

In addition to the payment of a benefit in sickness there were two other benefits; one was for the Breaking of a Bone, when a Member was entitled to the sum of one shilling from each member in addition to his weekly allowance-unless this accident had been caused by drunkenness, fighting or wrestling. Without the undertaking of further investigation, this sounds slightly similar to today's disparity between ordinary sickness payment and the Industrial Injuries Benefit. Secondly: on the death of a Member or his wife, every Member paid a shilling to the child and widow; but not if death was by suicide or Justice. Also every Member who attended the funeral was paid 6d.

There were other conditions affecting benefit: if a Member joined the Army, Navy or Militia voluntarily then his money stayed with the Society - to his advantage if he could produce a Certificate of Discharge, when a quarter of arrears were payable on his return. If he was in receipt of pension from his Service then he was only allowed two-thirds of future allowance.

Notably, of course, a Member was for ever excluded if he came to be convicted of a felony.

Concerning the composition of the Society in the years from 1884-1887, there are about 40 Honorary Members, which seems quite a good figure. The population of Wrington at this time was between about 1551 (in 1881) and 1472 (in 1891).

The accounts published in the 4 years under review are composed of: Management Fund; General Fund; Stock Fund; Monthly Contributions; and Cash paid to Sick Members. The Stock Fund consists of a small sum (less than £4) in the Wrington Post Office Savings Bank, and just over £600 in Consols.

Two of the most interesting ways of getting and spending money within the Society are the matter of fines and the Annual get-together at the Golden Lion. You could be fined for just about anything and everything - for not being quiet at the right time, for failing to stand up at the right time and so on. If the Treasurer did not attend a meeting, or send a competent person to do so on his behalf within ½ hour, he was fined 2/6d. Everyone else was fined in sums of pennies, with the result that in 1884 Fines amounted to £2 14s. 6d. ; in 1885 to £6; in 1886 £2 16s. and in 1887 £2 3s. 1885 must have been a rather undisciplined year.

The Anniversary Celebration was held at the Golden Lion on Trinity Wednesday and preceded by a Church Service including a walk around the village with coloured ribbons and the staff, or pole, bearing the emblem of the Society. It was a common complaint that this Celebration, common to all Friendly Societies, was part of the ruin of them in that the expenses were too heavy to be borne. This may have been so, and in fact the Wrington expenses seem rather high although this Society did manage to survive well in spite of them - but it is all most understandable when one realises that most of the time, life for the labourer even 80 years ago was mainly "nasty, brutish and short".

The expenses included payment of the Band, Dinner for the Band, Ringers etc. In 1884 this came to £8 4s. 6d. ; it was the same for the next two years, but in 1887 the Band's Dinner cost 3s. 3d. more. Possibly the Fines were fixed and collected with this expense in mind. The Members contributed towards their Dinner and other expenses - a "sum not exceeding Ss. Od." according to the rules.

Finally, a comment on that most important person, the Surgeon: Henry William Collins. He was paid a sum equivalent to 3s. Od. for each member resident within the limits aforesaid (i.e., laid down in one of the Rules), by half-yearly payments in advance, in the months of January and July.


SOCIETY, 1884-1887

                                                                1884     1885         1886        1887

Number of Monthly
Contributions                               73          68             57             55

Number of Payments-
Hon. Members and
others                                           32          39            37              37

Number of Deceased
Members                                         2           3               3                2

Number of Wives of
Members died                                 2           3               0                0

Cash from Monthly
Contributions                           £42 8 7    £39 1 4    £33 7 8    £31 6 11

Cash paid out for sick
Members                                  £70 0 0    £66 17 0  £56 8 9     £80 1 3

Cash paid on account of
Deaths                                    £16 8 0      £24 16 O £13 16 0     £9 10 0

Cash paid for "Broken
Bones"                                         nil         £3 4 O      £2 14 0       £0 1 O

Cash paid to surgeon             £8 15 6      £8 12 6     £7 5 6        £6 16 6

Stock Fund:
Consols net cost                  £578 7 3  £553 7 9  £553 7 9   £553 7 9

Wrington P.O. Savings
Bank, with interest             £3 16 4      £317 10    £3 19 4      £4 O 10

Totals                               £582 3 7    £557 5 7    £557 7 1   £557 8 7