Oddfellows Society
The Oddfellows Society and its connection to the Newport Pagnell Historical Society through the historical Chandos Hall

Chandos Hall in Silver Street, Newport Pagnell is the headquarters of the Newport Pagnell Historical Society. It is also the Museum of the Society and is where all the historical artefacts, photographs and documents are stored and exhibited.

The Hall was sold to the Historical Society in 1994 by The Oddfellows Society, because the Hall was no longer used as an Oddfellows Society branch meeting lodge and was surplus to their requirements. A local charitable trust called The Middleton Trust provided the financial wherewithall for this transaction to take place. After purchase by the Historical Society the Hall was altered by moving the staircase and creating more space on the second floor of the building for storage and display. A kitchen and toilet were also installed. New windows have been installed recently and were chosen to maintain the character and heritage of the building. However essentially the building is very much as it was when it was taken over in 1984. In 2009 the Historical Society celebrated its 25th anniversary. In 2010 The Oddfellows celebrates its 200th anniversary and the Museum has displays of The Oddfellows Society artefacts and documents it holds in trust.

Originally the building was cottages, which were converted to create Chandos Hall.


History of The Oddfellows

Fraternal societies and Guilds

Legend has it that the origins of fraternal societies date back to the exile of the Israelites from Babylon in 587BC when many of those exiled banded together into a brotherhood for mutual support and defence. Legend goes on to say "an Order of Odd Fellows was established in 1452 by knights who were said to have met at the Boulogne-sur-Mere in London and formed a fraternity".

More verifiable is the evolution from the Guilds. By the 13th century, the tradesmen's Guilds had become established and prosperous. During the 14th Century, with the growth of trade, the guild "Masters" moved to protect their power (and wealth) by restricting access to the Guilds. In response, the less experienced (and less wealthy) "Fellows" set up their own rival Guilds.

The Odd Fellows

In smaller towns and villages, there weren't enough Fellows from the same trade to set up a local Guild, so Fellows from a number of trades banded together to form a local Guild of Fellows from an odd assortment of trades. Hence, Guilds of Odd Fellows.

Over the next 300 years or so, the idea of "ordinary" people joining together to improve their situation met with varying degrees of opposition (and persecution) from "the establishment", depending on whether they were seen as a source of revenue (taxes) or a threat to their power. For example, when Henry VIII broke from the Roman Catholic church, the Guilds were seen by him as supporters of the Pope, and in 1545 all material property of the Guilds was confiscated. Elizabeth I took away from the Guilds the responsibility for apprenticeships, and by the end of her reign, most Guilds had been suppressed.

The Oddfellows Lodge

The suppression of the Trade Guilds removed an important form of social and financial support from ordinary men and women. In major cities (like London), some Guilds (like the Free Masons and the Odd Fellows) survived by adapting their roles to a social support function. Both of these organisations had their base in London, but established other Branches (called 'Lodges') across the country. The earliest surviving rules of an Oddfellows Lodge date from 1730 and refer to the Loyal Aristarcus Lodge in London. Many pubs in Britain are named 'The Oddfellows' or 'Oddfellows Arms'. Invariably these are past meeting places of Lodges.

The French Revolution caused "the establishment" to view organisations such as the Oddfellows and Freemasons with fear. Membership became a criminal offence, and such organisations were driven underground and forced to use codes, passwords, special handshakes and similar mechanisms. Fear of revolution was not the sole reason for persecution. Friendly societies like the Oddfellows were the predecessors of modern-day trade unions and could organise effective local strike action by levying all of their members for additional contributions for their benevolent funds, out of which payments could be made to the families of members who were on strike.

The Oddfellows subsequently introduced a number of novel benefits for members. These included the Travel Warrant, which allowed members seeking work to stay overnight in an Oddfellows Hall, anywhere in the country, free of charge. The Oddfellows also introduced standard protection policies (or 'tables') to which people could subscribe to protect themselves. At that time (and until 1948), to see a doctor or go into hospital, people had to pay. Many people therefore joined friendly societies like the Oddfellows to obtain protection to meet these costs.


As a result of the Glorious Revolution of 1688, (when the Protestant William of Orange replaced the Catholic King James II), in the mid-1700s the Oddfellows split into The Order of Patriotic Oddfellows (based in the south of England and supporting William) and The Ancient Order of Oddfellows (based in the north and favouring the Stuarts).

The Grand United Order of Oddfellows

Subsequent to the failure of Bonnie Prince Charlie's uprising, in 1789 the two Orders formed a partial amalgamation as the Grand United Order of Oddfellows. These days they are more commonly known as "The Grand United Order of Oddfellows Friendly Society".

The Independent Order - Manchester Unity

In 1810, members of the Oddfellows in Manchester area became dissatisfied with the way the Grand United Order was being run and formed an independent Order with the title 'Manchester Unity'. This organisation is now referred to as "The Independent Order of Oddfellows (Manchester Unity)", or more simply, "The Manchester Unity Order of Odd Fellows"

According to Manchester Unity literature: "With their improved organisation and rules, they encouraged many other lodges across the country to leave the old Grand United Order and join the Independent Order under the 'Manchester Compliance'.

Subsequent breakaways

Subsequent breakaways from the parent Grand United Order and from the new Manchester Unity Order resulted in the formation of further Orders of Odd Fellows. In the case of the parent Order, various lodges seceded in 1832 to found the Ancient & Noble (Bolton Unity), which subsequently dissolved in 1962, and in the case of the new Order, the Nottingham Odd Fellows.

In 1834 Britain, the Tolpuddle Martyrs were unexpectedly convicted and "transported" for "membership of an illegal friendly society". The Oddfellow "Board of Directors" hastily modified the "constitution" to evade a similar fate.


The Oddfellows continued to be viewed with suspicion by "the establishment". At various times, right up to 1850, some aspects of the Orders' practices were declared illegal. However, by 1850, the Independent Order of Oddfellows Manchester Unity Friendly Society had become the largest and richest friendly society in Britain. This growth was spurred by the growth caused by the Industrial Revolution, the lack of Trade Unions, and the lack of personal or public insurance; only by joining mutual friendly societies like the Oddfellows could ordinary people protect themselves and their families against illness, injury or death.

In 1911, when Asquith's Liberal government was setting up the National Insurance Act in Britain, the Oddfellows protected so many people that the government used the Oddfellows' actuarial tables to work out the level of contribution and payment required. At that time the Oddfellows was the largest friendly society in the world.

The Welfare State and modern Oddfellows

The Welfare State and the National Health Service took over the major part of the role of Friendly Societies, and since 1948 the role of the Oddfellows has evolved in other directions, with a continuing focus on social involvement, care & support and financial benefits.

In the second half of the 20th century, the Oddfellows moved into financial products.

Manchester Unity

The Manchester Unity of Oddfellows is based at 32 Booth Street, Manchester M2 4QP. The Grand Master is elected annually at the society's AGM, which is styled the Annual Moveable Conference.

A comprehensive collection of Manchester Unity reports, accounts, by-laws and other books and documentation, as well as museum objects, can be found on the website of the London Library and Museum of Freemasonry.

The international spread of Oddfellowship

The concept of the Oddfellows was taken abroad as members emigrated to the far-flung corners of the Commonwealth and to the New World. Today, the Oddfellows can be found in many countries across the world, including Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and the West Indies. The American Order has set up lodges in Canada, Germany, Iceland, Denmark, Belgium, Finland, Holland and many other European countries.

A revival of the procedures followed by the oldest ascertained Oddfellows' unit, the "Loyal Aristarcus Lodge" in London (1730-40), has been recently started by a group of Italian Oddfellows, led by Masonic author Michele Moramarco.

The majority of the contents of this information is sourced from a document on the Manchester Unity website that does not quote its sources. Other references tell a similar story, but they, too, rarely quote their sources.


"History of the Oddfellows" information can be found on www.oddfellows.co.uk

"History of the Society" information can also be found on www.guoofs.com

The "History of the Oddfellows" document traces the legendary origins of fraternal organisations from the Israelites, through the Romans and into Britain, up to the time of the formation of the Guilds. "While there is little contemporary proof of this chain of events, it is known that similar fraternities did exist from classical times." Note, however, that much Oddfellow terminology has biblical origins. For example, the female Order are called "Rebekahs", named from the Old Testament character.

The "History of the Society" information says: "Although no formal records exist, historians have advanced the theory that an Order of Odd Fellows was established in 1452 by knights who were said to have met at the Boulogne-sur-Mere in London and formed a fraternity. Large meetings were treated with some suspicion in those days, and wisdom possibly dictated that it be prudent only to keep records on matters of great importance."

The "History of the Oddfellows" document goes on to describe the evolution of the Guilds, and Oddfellow terminology derived from the Guilds. For example, each Guild was headed by a Grand Master, the name that the Oddfellows use to refer to their annually elected Head.

According to the "History of the Oddfellows", the "Master" required that guild members wear expensive uniforms and jewelery to meetings. As the less wealthy "Fellows" could not afford these, they were thus precluded from membership. Lodge "collars" and "jewels" have their origins in this guild-masters' "restrictive trade practice".

The existence of the 'Patriotic' Order has been confirmed by the discovery of a copy of the rituals revised by a meeting of the Grand Lodge held in London in 1797.