January 2010 newsletter
by J R Ashby

The Oddfellows Friendly Society 
Main illustration: Courtesy of Ron James: The Oddfellows Plaque, depicting those members of the Mexborough Branch of the Oddfellows Friendly Society, who fought during WWI.
 

In those far off days when Mexborough, and its area, first became industrialised, the welfare state was just a dream and if a man could not work, and earn money, then he, and his family, became homeless and starved, preferring this to the cruelty and indignities doled out by the workhouse.
Therefore, groups of men banded together to form, what became known as ‘Friendly Societies’ The friendly society set out to enable their members, by a combination of mutual insurance and self help, to obtain benefits in the event of sickness, accident, or death.
Burial Clubs, enabling a poor man’s relatives to give him a decent funeral, were very common.
Many also ran deposit societies, to provide a fund against the event that the man could be laid off or placed on three day working; they also had ‘Goose Clubs’ to provide for Christmas; or ‘Slate Clubs’ for education.
As industry came to Mexborough, some of the representatives or agents held offices in the front room of their home.
‘As is the nature of the beast’ where groups of men meet beer will inevitably be served, and after a short time some of the agents homes became ale houses and later public houses, taking their name from the occupation of the men who frequented the establishment.
A good example of this is the Miners Alms, Doncaster Road, Mexborough, which began in a small terrace house across the road to the present building.
As will be appreciated the friendly society was very important to the working man and one of the most important things a migrant worker would do, when arriving at his new place of employment, would be to seek out the local representative of his friendly society, such as the Oddfellows, the Foresters, and the Buffaloes.
One of the friendly societies, to be found in Mexborough was the Oddfellows.
The Oddfellows descend from the medieval trade guilds and, with their membership being specifically for skilled craftsmen, from an assortment of different trades, they became known as The Oddfellows.
A representative of the Oddfellows describes the origins of their name, which to modern ears sounds an unusual one, thus: “fellow meant a craftsman who had completed his apprenticeship.
As they were fellow craftsmen from an odd assortment of trades they were termed Odd Fellows”.
They began, in this country, in London but by 1730 a group had established itself in Sheffield.
In 1799, because of the threat of revolution, as had recently been witnessed in France, one of the first Combination Laws was past making it illegal for numbers of men to congregate and also to make oaths of elegance to support one another, this being punishable by imprisonment, transportation, or even death, but despite the threat, groups grew and some were formed locally.
In Swinton, which was known as the Rockingham Branch, one was founded in 1836 at the Ring-o-Bells, Church Street.
But soon after this, in 1841, sixteen craftsmen formed a group in Mexborough.
This was named ‘The Lily of the Valley Lodge’ after their patron saint St. Mary, and met at the Old Masons’ Alms, Main Street, under the leadership of John Parkin.
In 1850 the formation of Friendly Societies, because they removed pressure from the Poor Laws, was made legal, and meetings became more open and it became so much simpler for gentlemen to be members.
After 1865, the Oddfellows changed their allegiance to The South Yorkshire Hotel and remained there for over fifty years.
It is known that in 1935 meetings were held at the British Legion Offices, then situated to the rear of the NatWest Bank and that by 1950 their meetings were held in the Montagu Arms, Montagu Square, High Street.


British Legion Offices 1939

Following the 2nd W.W. the Welfare State was established, in this country, and numbers, both needing their services and attending meetings, of the friendly societies declined, until in c1988 the Mexborough Branch merged with the one situated in Rotherham.
During the build up to the1st WW the Mexborough Branch of the Oddfellows held meetings at the South Yorkshire Hotel, Swinton Road, Mexborough and was one of the largest in the area with 293 members.
You will therefore understand why both a representative of the Oddfellows and I were mystified, as to how, in November 2009, a plaque depicting all those members of the Mexborough Branch of the Oddfellows, who serve in the 1st WW, was discovered during renovations to the New Masons’ Arms, Doncaster Road, Mexborough.
The ex-landlord, John Lee, on making the discovery very kindly donated the plaque to our society and it became my intention, rather than these brave men become just a forgotten name on a list of men written on another forgotten list, that Ron James and I were prepared to, where it was possible, research into them, and discover what happened to the men.
Firstly, for ease of research, it was necessary to transcribe all the names.
As the original was: over ninety years old; written in mediaeval script, which was badly faded; this was extremely difficult to do.
Because of this difficulty the names of those that were killed, in the war were checked for correctness against those listed on the war memorials of the surrounding towns and villages.
Ron worked very hard in the latter and took photos of them all.
Work then began on the men and the decision was taken to accomplish this in alphabetical order.
It was noticed that many, were related to the famous Glassworks Dynasty of Barron, who, at the outbreak of the 1st WW, rather than enlist as offices, which their position is society, and in some cases education, permitted them to do, they enlisted as privates to be with the men they work alongside at the glassworks.
In this newsletter I would like to inform you of a couple of them, which we have found information on.
Alexandra (Sandy Jun.) Barron was born in 1885 and in1901 was living at Brook Villa, Conisbrough.
On joining up he was aged 31yrs and was single.
He gave his address as 9, Harlington Road, Mex. where he lived with his parents.
He was employed as a shipping clerk, we believe for Barron’s Glassworks.
His army career began in 1915 with training at the Heavy Section of the Motor Training Centre, Bisley.
Then, on 14th October 1916 he embarked from Southampton for Le Harve, France.
His army number began as 32429 until 23rd March 1918 when he was transferred to the 2nd Battalion Tank Corps and became a Tank Mechanic with regt no. 2000387.
He was promoted to corporal in August 1918 and, prior to being demob in 1919, became a sergeant.
He survived the war and we assume went back to work at the glassworks, married and had two sons, Alexandra and Keith.
Alex became an engineer in Edinburgh whereas Keith became an actor of film and small screen.
But this is in extreme contrast to the fate of his cousin.
Peter Barron was born in c1882 in Mexborough the grandson of Thomas Barron (Sen) Glass Manufacturer.
His father was Thomas Barron (Jun), and he was brother to Thomas and Horace, and cousin to Alexandra and Tom, who are also on the list.
In 1901 he was living at 1 Alfred Place, Mexborough with his father, two brothers and sister, and, meagre as their home was by today’s standards, they were still privileged enough to have a servant.
He was employed as a glass bottle maker, we believe at Barron’s Glassworks.
He enlisted on the 19th August 1915 at Doncaster, and became Private 3439 in the 5th Batt.
of the Kings Own Light Infantry.
Peter, unlike the other Barrons in the armed forces at the time, must have had a premonition concerning his impending death, as on 15th October 1915 “while a soldier in actual military service field” made a Will leaving his gross estate of 529 to his brothers and sisters.
He was killed in active service on 5th July 1916 at the Battle of the Somme, aged just thirty four years.
I am told that he fought like a lion to protect his comrades from Germans who had infiltrated their trench.
He is remembered on: Mexborough War Memorial; the Barron’s War Memorial, Constant Security, Cliff Street, Mexborough; also on Pier and Face 11C & 12A of the Thiepval Memorial, France.
But, as with too many, who died during the 1st. WW, I am unable to find a grave for this poor man.
Here you have read what happened to just two of those men on the list but to date, despite endless research we have discovered the fate of only seven others.
If anyone can give any information regarding any of those extraordinarily brave men, listed on the rear page, I would love to hear from you.

Acknowledgment : Many thanks must go to Ron James who worked so hard in researching certain items for this publication.

 

Men who appear on the plaque depicting those members of the Mexborough Branch of the Oddfellows who served during the 1914-18 War
Alexandra Barron, Ernest Hobson, Albert William Jackson, William Henry Wordsworth, William Henry Stanley, Fred Dobson, Horace Barron, Peter Barron, George H. Church, John Crow, Bernard Pearson, Thomas E. Buckley, Frank Corbutt, Edwin Hepworth, Walter Parrcham, Henry Simpson, Stanley Wright, Ben Pendlebury, Charles Bullock, Oswald Bullock, Reginald Hebden, William Hobson, --- Preston, George Preston, James William Briggs, Ralf Clayton, Harry Jarvis, Fred Hawer, Isaac Chester, Charles S. Holmes, Sidney H. Pinder, Thomas J. Taylor, Irving Howarth, Thomas Sayles, Sidney Bullock, Alfred Hayes, Septimus Hopkinson, Fred Bullock, Fred Hepinstall, Roland Steers, Joseph Hardiman, George William Elridge, William Rouane, John William Gibson, Harry E. Lamb, James S. Sayles, G. W. Tuckwood, Alexander Barron, Leonard Hobson, John Chipp, George Hobson, Horace Sayles, Nelson Frost, James Haigh, Arthur Hobson, Hubert B. Cummings, Wilber Denham, Fred William Lucas, Henry Hague, Charles W. Norton, Ernest Scott  and F. Woodhouse

 

Information Obtained from: Mexborough Branch of the British Legion. Paul Eyres, Rotherham Branch of the Oddfellows. Commonwealth War Graves Commission Website. Rotherham Local History Archives. Wills, Probate Etc. ‘Bridges, Sanderson & Munro’.

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