Report of the February Meeting of Resolven History Society

In 2015 an article appeared in the history journal Morgannwg on Friendly Societies in Neath and Mr David Michael of Neath Antiquarians was invited to speak on the topic to the History Society. Owing to work commitments, clashing dates and a pandemic, some nine years later Mr Michael made it, and it was well worth the wait. Since Mr Michael gave a glimpse of a movement once all pervading in its time but now largely forgotten or subsumed into the world of insurance.

During the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, sickness and welfare was largely absent save for the meagre Parish relief and the workhouse following the Poor Law Amendment Act of 1831. The workhouse split up families and a friendly society was a means to ensure that this did not happen. In order to combat this working men had come together to form friendly societies which would give relief in times of distress but also had a social function in that they were largely based on pubs. The societies had rituals reminiscent of the masonic lodges with joining ceremonies. In essence a joining fee of 10 shillings was followed by smaller weekly contributions in order to ensure relief. In the 1801 century Neath had a population of around 2,500 adults, though this trebled with the advent of industrialization as did the number of societies. Indeed there were 14 societies with a collective membership of 1,222, with the earliest tracing its roots to the Coal Miners Society of 1768. The largest and most prominent group were the Oddfellows, but other more exotic names such as “True Friends” abounded. The money was kept in a box with three keys, though a pub where part of your contribution was to provide the beer was hardly an ideal situation. Indeed some societies lodged their funds with the Gnoll Estate. The Ivorites were an exclusively Welsh friendly society and several societies had Welsh names such as “LLeision Nedd”, in Glynneath and “Iestyn ap Gwrgan”

Resolven was tiny at that time with a population of around 380. Yet it boasted four societies. The New Inn was the home of the Ynysfach Lodge of the Oddfellows in 1841. In 1844 the True Britons Lodge was established at what later became the Vaughans., and in 1862 the Church began its own friendly society which held its meetings at the Vaughans, another society was ensconced at the Gored. The Farmers or Ynysbipan Arms was home to the Foresters Lodge , a society which was more closely masonic in organization. Each society had its sashes, its ceremonies and banners. In return the publican did exceedingly well from the proceeds. The processions were not unlike those of the Whitsun marches of recent memory, and were usually accompanied by a brass band. These were illustrated by Mr Michael in his talk.

The Societies declined during the 20th century as they became redundant as a welfare state tookover much of their role. The Peoples’ Budget of 1909, and the establishment of both an old age pension and national Insurance. The reforms of the Attlee government in 1945, and the provision of a National Health Service in 1948 made the notion of a self-help society redundant. The Oddfellows held their final annual meeting in Neath in 1980.


Mr David Woosnam thanked Mr Michael for a memorable talk, and hoped members would take up his offer of a course with the Antiquarians in order to further explore the history of friendly societies in Resolven.

Trefor Jones

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