The Ancient Order of Foresters in Audley

John Taylor

If you had been born in Audley during the years 1860-1944 it is likely that your birth would have occasioned a knock at the door by a man calling himself a Forester, an Oddfellow, a Shepherd or perhaps a Rechabite, to ask your parents if you should be admitted as a juvenile member of their organisation.

What were these strange sounding organisations?

Why should you become a member?

They were the main friendly societies in the area and it was more than likely that your family already had an allegiance and were members of one of them.

The friendly societies were all about self help and thrift in an age where there was no social security, no free medical attention, no free medicine. In short - no welfare state. Being ill meant paying the doctor, being away from work meant no wages; dying could mean a pauper's grave. Thus in the harsh social and economic climate of the late 18th, 19th and early 20th centuries it was necessary for men to club together for mutual support in times of sickness and distress. A modest contribution each week whilst in work ensured that there would be some income when off work; a death benefit of £10 ensured a decent burial. The early death of the breadwinner was compensated by grants to widows and orphans. Simple provisions of this nature gave rise to the formation and growth of the friendly societies in general. Into being came the expression - "He's on the Club", meaning that he was drawing on the funds of his society.

Nationally the Foresters started in 1790 as the Royal Foresters and their branches were known as courts. court No. 1 was established at the Old Crown Inn, Leeds. By 1800 it had 80 members and the principles and ritual of Forestry had been laid down. Study of their rule book shows that they were selective in their choice of members and, being religious men, they demanded a high standard of conduct and philanthropy from those who sought to join. They developed passwords, handshakes, and indulged in initiation ceremonies which were heavily laced with biblical references. Lectures were prepared on the aims of their society and gave advice on how members should live. They shared their meeting place with a masonic lodge from whom they may have taken some ideas of ritual etc. They defined the object of Forestry thus:-

The object of Forestry is to unite the virtuous and good in all sects and denominations of men in the sacred bonds of brotherhood so that while wandering through the forests of this world they may render mutual aid and assistance to each other.

Thus membership had nothing to do with trees and forests but everything to do with helping fellow members in time of need and distress.

The society adopted a woodman's dress and the symbol of a bow and arrow - "The Bow of Benevolence speeding the Arrow of Assistance" -together with regalia of Lincoln green and these, understandably in the public's eye, linked with the Robin Hood story. This was emphasised when many courts’ names were from the Sherwood Forest outlaws.

In the early days the passwords, handshakes and guarded door, gave rise to the idea that the order was a secret society - due no doubt in part to the suspicion employers had about the emergence of trade unions. In fact, passwords were used in order to ensure that only members were admitted to the court meetings, especially when finances were always on the agenda, just as today when proof of identity is required to attend meetings of building societies, companies and other financial institutions. The password also allowed a travelling Forester to request assistance at another court and served as proof of his membership of the order.

The Royal Order continued to grow and in 1834 had 408 courts and 5,863 members were initiated in that year - making an estimated membership of over 14,500. Due, however, to the increasingly autocratic attitude being adopted by court No 1, a significant break away took place in 1834 which resulted in the formation of the democratic Ancient Order of Foresters.

A notice was sent to all courts and districts in the order "To call a special meeting at Rochdale on the first Monday of August 1834 to resolve upon and decide what is to be done for the future interest of Forestry, and to fix laws of Forestry upon an enlightened and benevolent basis, and above the reach of future despotic and impertinent attempts at subversion".

The Rochdale meeting resolved itself into the 1st High Court of the Ancient Order with every court being entitled to send delegates. It adopted the idea of meeting at a different venue each year and it met in Newcastle-under-Lyme in 1847 when 170 delegates attended. A record number, 1135, assembled at Nottingham for the centenary in 1934.

The democracy of the order was established in the adoption of a pyramidal structure. The wide base being the courts, each one being an autonomous body which adopted a set of rules which, although individual to the court, conformed to the General Laws as laid down by the High Court. Decisions on investment of funds, relief payments and charitable donations fell within each court's jurisdiction.

The second tier was that of the districts made up of courts within a geographical region. Courts joined districts initially for combined strength in meeting death benefit payments.

The apex of the structure was the High Court. At this annual conference the delegates have the power to amend, add to or repeal the general laws of the order.

The Executive Council presides over the general running of the order at their monthly meetings. The Head Office has been under the control of a Permanent Secretary since the first appointment in 1841. Thus 1834 saw the format in place and, although the signs and symbols of the Royal Order were changed, the forest imagery was retained. Now, due to the democratic framework, there was a surge of courts to join the Ancient Order of Foresters and by 1854 there were 100,000 members.

The great growth of the friendly societies began at the beginning of the 19th century and accelerated rapidly in the second half of the century. It was a time of great industrial expansion which raised the earnings of the worker and it became ever more essential to ensure sick pay and medical care. The early members had tended to be craftsmen - wheelwrights, weavers, carpenters - in mainly village communities, but now came in the influx of factory workers, miners and railwaymen. The self-help movement spread and so did the number of friendly societies - all competing for members. Many and varied were their names, emblems and regalia. Some set great store on antiquity as a sign of their reliability, and appeal might also be made to certain groups or interests through the names, hence: The Ancient Fraternity of Gardeners, The Loyal Ancient Shepherds, The Ancient Order of Comical Fellows and The Original Grand Order of Total Abstinence - Sons of the Phoenix. The Oddfellows claimed formation in the time of Nero; The Ancient Order of Foresters claimed Adam as their first member; the Shepherds claimed Abel, son of Adam, as the first Shepherd. Foresters had their Courts, Oddfellows their Lodges, Shepherds their Sanctuaries and Rechabities their Tents.

The rapid expansion of the friendly societies led to a number of Friendly Societies’ Acts in an effort to bring some supervision to the rapidly growing movement.

Frequent amendments, however, resulted in the setting up of a Royal Commission 1871 - 1874. The aims of which were to make the societies more reliable as insurers and to get them to arrange and manage their financial affairs more effectively. It recommended that accounts should be audited and forwarded to the Registrar of Friendly Societies. Each society should submit quinquennial returns detailing benefits and liabilities. The acts of 1875 and 1876 incorporated these recommendations and further strengthened the power of the Chief Registrar to suspend branches and societies for failure to comply.

The commission reported that there were 34 affiliated societies, each having more than l000 members. Of these the Oddfellows 426,663 and Ancient Order of Foresters 361,735 were by far the largest.

With the extra legislation many small societies found difficulty in finding sufficiently literate secretaries. Others foundered when contributions failed to fund the promised benefits. Thus the trend was towards larger societies with efficient management and it was with satisfaction that the registrar reported the more business like administration of the large societies.

The 2nd December 1868 saw Forestry's birth in Audley when court Wilbraham No. 5288 was formed under the sponsorship of court Rising Sun No. 918 of Silverdale. The first secretary was J. Dale. The membership was initially 8, growing to 31 in 1871, with funds of £29. It met, as did most courts, in a public house - The Bull's Head and moved to the Butcher's Arms in 1875. There would have been a specially designated room and the court meetings encouraged by the landlord who benefited from the extra drinks, meals and rent which he charged. In 1839 only 5 out of over 500 courts did not meet in a public house. However, with the emergence of a strong temperance movement together with powerful nonconformist chapels the order came under criticism for encouraging the opportunity for men to waste their time and money on drink. This resulted in a movement to meet in schools, chapels, reading rooms and in specially built Foresters’ Halls. Court Wilbraham moved from the Butcher's Arms to the National School.

It is interesting to note that a temperance society called the Rechabites, which was later to appear in Audley, was formed in 1835. It had a slow growth initially but eventually reached 500,000 members as the temperance movement grew. Candidates had to pledge abstinence from strong intoxicating drink - except for religious or medicinal purposes. However, recognising human frailty, three offences were allowed before expulsion. Such was the competition for members that it was claimed that the average Rechabite member aged 20 had a further 45.1 years life expectancy whereas a Forester of the same age had a mere 40.2 years left.

In the year of Court Wilbraham's formation the order had 376,666 members and such was its reputation as a major large society that its list of honorary members included 8 knights, 3 judges, 7 baronets, 12 peers and 124 MPs.

Membership of a court was restricted to within a radius of three miles of the meeting place as walking was the chief means of travel, so at Court Lord Crewe it was minuted on 5th October 1889 that, "A Committee be formed to define the radius of three miles from the court Room". Attending meetings was a serious and compulsory matter and a member was expected to attend at least once each quarter. Fines were the consequence of none attendance or even of failure to wear the sash or collar. Suspension from benefits could also result from ignoring of the summons.

Court Wilbraham's successful application to the executive council brought the award of an elaborately framed dispensation duly signed and sealed. The name of the court reflected the respectability of the local vicar's name. As a member of the North Staffordshire District it joined numerous courts in the Potteries as well as the more rural ones in the Newcastle area, Silverdale, Blythe Bridge and Stableford. Later it was joined by Court Heathcote, Chesterton, Madeley Manor, Pride of Wolstanton, Foresters Home Cheadle, Excelsior Dilhorne and Court Biddulph. The new officers of the court were supervised by the officers of the sponsoring court for the first six months. There were six annually appointed court offices all with specific duties:-

The Chief Ranger had to preserve due order and decorum, administer rules, inflict penalties and see justice done. He also had to open and close the court according to ritual as laid down.

The Sub Chief Ranger acted as deputy and support to the Chief Ranger and assisted with initiation ceremonies.

The Senior and Junior Woodwards visited sick members and reported to the meeting. They had to check claims were genuine and see that members were not doing any work of any kind whilst in receipt of benefits.

The Senior and Junior Beadles were the doorkeepers and checked members by password, credentials and so on. They also looked after the court property in the court room. The minutes of nearby Lord Crewe Court noted on 18 May 1889, "That the outside Beadle be instructed not to use his hammer so (six knocks for the admission of member) and that there be a slide put in the door for the convenience of members paying monies".

The more permanent officers were the Secretary and the Treasurer.

All officers wore appropriate badges and scarves of office and may have carried other emblems such as staffs.

The annual officers moved each year up the ladder of promotion to reach the position of Chief Ranger. This gave gradually increased responsibility for suitably inclined members to reach the highest position in the court. Completion of the Chief Ranger's year brought the award of an ornate framed certificate which often hung in a place of honour at the member's home. Later it became customary for a medal to be awarded. Thus the court gave the ordinary working man responsibility for ruling the meetings under democratic rules laid down by the High court of the order. It gave them the opportunity to speak in public and have experience in managing finances. Often as a result they went on to serve on public committees and councils.

Each candidate for election had two sponsors and was strictly vetted as to character, and then subjected to a medical examination by the court Medical Officer. Dr. Vernon was an early M.O. of the Audley court. The candidate would then be voted on using the court ballot box and black/white balls. Combat had, happily, been abandoned earlier.

The court would have purchased its own regalia and furniture for the court room together with a large ornate banner of silk which was carried in the annual procession. Court rule books would be printed applying to Court Wilbraham. Rules were strictly enforced and members doing any kind of work whilst receiving benefits were often reported by fellow members and subsequently punished by suspension or fines. For an interesting example of this strict application of rules a century ago, please refer to the end of this article.

The court funds were kept in a strong chest which had three keys. These were held by the Chief Ranger, Secretary and Treasurer. Rule 25 of Court Lord Crewe stated: "If any Officer having possession of the keys be absent or not produce the keys at the appointed time of meeting, he shall/be fined six pence, and should the keys not be sent by nine o clock, shall be fined one shilling, and if not sent at all, be fined two shillings".

Court Wilbraham prospered greatly from 1875 when its second secretary was appointed - the energetic and far-seeing John Dodd. He served for 44 years until his death in 1919. During his tenure the court increased dramatically in membership and funds. Thus in 1889 under the title "Coming of Age" the Foresters Miscellany (the official magazine) complimented the court on its achievements during its minority years:

To have membership of 330 adults and 100 juveniles together with funds of 1400 pounds shows that the members have true grit. It was therefore right and proper that members, sweethearts, wives and olive branches should celebrate their coming of age with joy and thanksgiving. This they did in true forestric fashion, all of them joining in wishing prosperity to the court and their neighbours.

With the main industry in the area being mining 75% of the members of court Wilbraham were miners, which led John Dodd to campaign in 1888 for a review of contributions in mining areas, where accidents and associated diseases led to high claims for benefit.

"75% of my members are miners and fully half of the so called sick pay is for accidents only". Seven years later, 29 members of court Wilbraham lost their lives in the Diglake Colliery disaster. The High Court was petitioned in 1896 for assistance in meeting the heavy liability of £305 in death benefits. £200 was forthcoming. The Foresters' Miscellany of February 1896 reported the bravery of Bro. William Dodd the court Treasurer and a member of the rescue team. It described the presentation made to him in the National School, Audley, as follows:-


Readers of the Miscellany are acquainted with the terrible disaster which occurred by the flooding of the Diglake Colliery on January 14th, 1895, and how a relief fund was started for the help of the widows and orphans of court Wilbraham, 5288; how the Brighton High court generously voted a sum of money for the purpose of acknowledging, in a becoming manner, the unexampled bravery of Bro. William Dodd, Treasurer of that court, in the rescuing of so many valuable lives of members of our order.

The Dundee Executive Council put the matter forward, and had the satisfaction of knowing that the address to Bro. Dodd was a magnificent work of art, worthy of the reputation of the great order which it represented. The Council deputed the actual presentation of the address to that "Grand Old Man of the order," Bro. Colonel Scott, P.H.C.R. and Senior Trustee of the order. The officers of court Wilbraham arranged a gathering of the members at the National School, Audley.

During the afternoon, the widows of the deceased members were invited to the school and were each presented with a further instalment from the Relief Fund and a ticket for the tea which was to follow. The recipients expressed their thanks for the kindly help afforded by the readers of the Miscellany.

Later on there was an excellent knife-and-fork tea provided in the schoolroom by Bro. Fred Rhodes, and afterwards a public meeting was held in the same room, when Mr. R.N. Wood, J.P., C.C., presided.

The chairman alluded to the sad event which was the cause of their meeting. He was proud of the gallantry shown by Staffordshire men on that occasion, and was indeed pleased to know that Her Majesty the Queen had graciously bestowed the Albert Medal on Bro. William Dodd.

Bro. Scott expressed his great pleasure in having been requested to present to Bro. Dodd the beautiful address which conveyed the high appreciation of the courage and devotion displayed by him. Beautiful as it was a work of art, it was much more valuable as conveying the admiration of nearly 900,000 fellow members.

The court suffered too in the Minnie Pit explosion of 1918 when the mortality of the court was the highest on record due mainly to the Disaster but also to the War and the influenza outbreak of that year.

Devoted to the cause of the Forestry in general and in North Staffs in particular John Dodd was instrumental in setting up a voluntary campaign which led to the formation of courts at Alsager, Cheadle, Woore, Betley, Wrinehill, Hinstock, Wolstanton. 1895 saw him establish the North Staffs Western District Investment Association into which courts in the district could invest their surplus funds. Such funds were then advanced to members and others to purchase their homes. The courts received 4% interest which compared favourably to the Post Office 2.5%. Thus over the years the Foresters was the first port of call for Audley people desiring house purchase.

Up to 1890 there were no female courts, a matter which for some years had been a contentious issue. Significantly in 1891 the Under Secretary of the order Bro. Balham Steed visited Court Wilbraham and voiced the opinion that a change in feeling was on its way. It had been thought that women were not capable of handling business affairs, that pubs were not suitable places for respectable women, that financial matters were beyond them. If they were allowed to join it should be as silent members of male courts. It was no surprise that John Dodd should in 1893 set up Court Pride of Audley No. 8249 as one of the first ten female courts in the country - even if all the trustees were men!

A year later, in a minute of Court Pride of Audley, dated 6th Sept. 1894, we find: "That the 1st Anniversary of the Court be Celebrated by a Public Tea on Monday 8th October 1894. That Sister Rowson, Chief Ranger, provide tea at 8d per head". Boiling water cost 2/6. Mrs Sherratt was paid 2/6 for cleaning the schools.

In 1889 Sister Dodd was elected as delegate to the High court in Cardiff (the annual conference) - on condition she paid all her own expenses!

Nationally and locally the friendly societies continued their growth into the 20th century. The AOF just failed to reach 1 million members in 1900, reaching a total of 914,583. At this time dominating the thoughts of societies was the public debate on the provision of state pensions and a form of national insurance. The government had, for some time, hoped to persuade the societies to co-operate but they had resisted fearing that it would affect the funds which they had built up, as well as which they were committed to the idea of self-help and voluntary thrift. They had always been embittered by the fact that any member receiving sick benefit had the amount deducted from any parish relief he might have been entitled to. It appeared that whenever assistance from public funds was sought the means test applied made it that the thrifty did less well. The friendly societies, however, did not provide directly for old age pensions and, as pointed out by the registrar in 1895, giving sick pay for whole life could put at risk their finances. The societies came to recognise that a state-assisted pension would be of mutual benefit.

Typical of the meetings on this subject was one held at Nantwich on 4th March 1896 when the societies represented included:-

Courts of the Ancient Orders of Foresters

Lodges of Independent Order of Oddfellows M.U.

Lodges of the Order of Druids

Tents of Rechabites

Sons of Temperance

Lodges of Grand United Order of Oddfellows

Rational Sick and Burial society

The subject was "The furthering of Old Age Pensions with the assistance of State Aid".

The eventual scheme brought in by Lloyd George included those large friendly societies who chose to register as an Approved Society and operate the scheme under the Act of 1911. Thus the experience of these societies in administering benefits was so successfully applied that they were acknowledged later as being the "coping stone" of the national scheme.

Nine Pence for Four Pence.

The rate of contributions to the new scheme when it began was 7d from the employer, 2d from the state and 4d from the worker. The operation of the new Health Scheme was through the approved societies of which the AOF was a major one. The courts such as Wilbraham were local branches . The majority of eligible workers now joined a friendly society. The courts collected the fully stamped cards and paid out the appropriate state sickness benefits:-

1. Medical Benefit - doctor and medicine

2. Sanatorium Benefit

3. Sickness Benefit - 10/- per week for men, 7/6 for women for 26 weeks commencing on 4th day of sickness.

4. Disablement Benefit of 5/- per week afterwards.

5. Maternity Benefit of 30/- on confinement plus 4 weeks sickness benefit provided there was no return to work.

"Being on the club" now took on an even wider meaning. There were two classes of member - the normal voluntary member of the society and the state member. The latter did not have to submit for medical examination nor need to be initiated. State members were, however, allowed to attend court meetings and play their part in its functions though only voluntary members received court benefits.

As a result of the National Health Scheme the order grew to 1.5 million and the Audley courts’ membership rose rapidly. The influx of new members and larger income eventually allowed further benefits, for dental and optical treatment. Later, Courts Wilbraham and Pride of Audley had an office and full time staff. The heyday of the courts had arrived and they continued to flourish under their secretary John Dodd until his death in 1919. The Foresters Miscellany wrote as his Obituary:-

We regret to record the death of Bro. John Dodd of Audley. The deceased, who was held in high esteem for his kindly disposition and genial manner, in addition to his sterling qualities, was for 44 years Secretary of the Audley Foresters friendly society.

The cortege was headed by 150 members of court "Wilbraham". these were followed by representatives of distant courts and Districts.

The loyal "Lord Audley" Lodge of Oddfellows, the Audley Urban District Council, the Newcastle Board of Guardians, Audley Church, Wesleyan Church, the Miners Federation, Tradesmen, the Day School Managers, Council Officials, the Medical Fraternity were also represented...

When Bro. Dodd took charge of the secretarial duties the society was but in its infancy, with slender capital and few adherents but under his fostering care the sturdy infant grew until it developed into a veritable giant. Today court "Wilbraham" together with companion court "Pride of Audley" and the Juvenile society has a membership of 1,900 with a capital of £14,000 and is the largest affiliated society in Staffordshire...

At the Annual Meeting of Court Wilbraham held on Saturday April 12th 1919, and at which over 200 members were present, it was unanimously resolved to change the name of the court to Court John Dodd. An inscribed tablet was placed in Audley church to commemorate the work done for Audley Foresters by John Dodd.











His successor was Reginald Marler who held office for 36 years until his retirement in 1955 and under whose guidance the courts continued to flourish and expand.

The Foresters and Oddfellows were the largest local Societies. They were rivals but very much part of the village scene, particularly in their annual processions and fetes. The Foresters’ procession traditionally took place during the first week in August. There were horsemen dressed in Lincoln green costumes, floats with juveniles on board, bands, sports, a fair and a large marquee for teas. It all started at 10.30am and ended after dark. The records of the court have preserved a public announcement of the events which were to take place on the 23rd Anniversary of the court, in 1891 and this can be seen on the next page.

It can be compared with an account from the following year, 1892, from the Foresters Miscellany:

The members of court Wilbraham No. 5288 have recently reached their 24th Anniversary which was celebrated by a Demonstration and Fete. In the morning the members and juveniles assembled at the Butchers Arms and the National Schools. A large procession was formed consisting of 300 members and 500 juveniles, about 150 of those under six years of age being conveyed in waggonettes. The route taken was via Ravens Lane, Wood Lane, Miles Green, Alsagers Bank, Halmerend and Wereton, returning to the Church for Divine Service conducted by the Rev. Pauli. Afterwards a Public Tea was provided to which about 800 sat down, the juveniles being regaled in the schools.

During the afternoon the Hanley Town Band played selections. Nantwich Band played for dancing and the Macclesfield Band for Sports etc. Numerous sports were provided for juveniles for which prizes were given. Not withstanding the unfavourable weather a great number of people patronised the Fete

The Organising Committee minutes record the annual search for new and novel attractions, and the variety acts mentioned range from the spectacular to the bizarre - Crewe Persian Rug Dancers, 10 Guineas for 35 dancers. Another entry reads: "That a girls netball competition be promoted - 1st prize 21/- and that if possible a ventriloquist be engaged".

With the exception of the coal strike year of 1926 this type of occasion altered only in the choice of bands, acts, musical and singing competitions and was a highlight of the village year until the middle 1930s.

At the same time the serious work of the courts went on. Meetings were very well attended, rules were strictly kept and as the wealth of the courts increased so did the benefits - a tribute to the wise investments of John Dodd and his successor Reginald Marler. The minutes of the 1930s and 1940s contain some interesting personal references to members of that time, and the facts behind some of them would probably be even more interesting:

"Bro. T Ikin be granted a sum of £1 towards massage treatment".

"Bro Alfred Dean has been refused a Certificate of Disablement in respect of writers cramp by the certifying surgeon under the Factory and Workshops Act".

"A special hypodermic syringe required by Bro. Brough to be purchased by the committee for his use and possible subsequent use by any other member".

"That permission be granted to Bro. Ralph Proctor to leave home for one week".

"Miss Doris Ikin be fined 5/- for being out after hours in contravention of court Rule 36 Section 4".

"That permission be granted to Bro. H Dean to ride a cycle for a short distance into the country during the period ending 31st August".

The court's activities during the war contain the following:-

That £11-11-0 be paid to provide a place of safety for the most important books and records of the society.

Contributions of members in HMF be paid by levy on the remaining members.

The results of Warship Week locally was £6020-18-8 of which the Foresters raised £2226-15-0.

During the war, Court John Dodd was requested by the Registrar of Friendly Societies to form a National Savings Investment Fund, and this eventually reached a total of £26378

The end of the war brought a dramatic change to the friendly societies both nationally and locally. In 1942 Sir William Beveridge produced his Report on setting up of a National Health Service. The 1944 government White Paper stated that "Approved Societies will not be used in any post war scheme of Social Security". The major political parties had previously paid a great deal of lip service to the work of the friendly societies but despite this the incoming Labour Government implemented the White Paper and set up the Ministry of National Insurance in 1945.

The friendly societies were one of the three great workers’ movements of the 19th century - trade unions, co-operative movement, friendly societies, but whereas the first two tended towards political activity for their progress the friendly societies constantly remained neutral. An attitude enshrined in the words of the Chief Ranger when opening all court meetings, " will disregard all private prejudice or party feeling and let candour, equity and moderation characterise all our proceedings".

The minutes of court John Dodd for December 1945 record:-

A circular letter was read alleging a direct breach of the pledge given by the Labour Party that friendly societies who had a long and honourable record of work in Health Insurance should be free to come into the scheme if they wished.

Attitudes now changed as further minutes record:-

Resolved that the usual donation to the NSRI be discontinued in view of the new NHS and also that to the Audley Nursing Association. (January 1947)

The NHS business of the court would be transferred to the Min. of National Insurance from 9th February 1948. (January 1948)

It was somewhat bitterly said, "We have left the age of self help and entered the age of help yourself".

Many members, particularly state members left the courts now that their NHS contributions were automatically deducted from their wages. Only the older members with a traditional attachment tended to stay loyal and while the 80th Annual Report of 1948 showed 602 adult members, the 100th Annual Report showed 493.

The centenary was celebrated in 1968 with a well attended dinner at the Borough Arms Hotel, Newcastle attended by members of the executive council of the order and all the other local courts. An illustrated brochure was produced in which the former secretary, Reginald Marler, summed up the achievements of the Audley Foresters’ courts:-

In the past 100 years it is estimated that well over £100,000 has been paid to members in various benefits. This is a truly remarkable record for a more-or-less village society and a wonderful achievement as a result of voluntary effort and thrift. As well as which the Investment Association has assisted hundreds of members and others in acquiring home ownership.

The decline has continued and although districts and courts have been amalgamated it has not stemmed the fall. Today (1994) Court John Dodd has but 176 members, Court Pride of Audley 104 including 30 juveniles. Of the many courts once in North Staffs only three remain - Audley, Wolstanton and Biddulph. All funds are invested with and benefits paid from Cannock District.

The Oddfellows, Shepherds and Rechabites no longer have a presence in Audley. Younger people know nothing of them or the Foresters, though in the older folk the great days of the Foresters and Oddfellows and their part in the past village life remain a distant, but perhaps a fond memory, as the following letter shows:-

To: The Foresters Club

The Post Office


Newcastle Staffs

1 Gullivers Lane

Steeple Ashton




Dear Member

It is getting near to August Bank Holiday Monday or "Wakes Monday" as it used to be called in my younger days, and my mind goes back to those days when the club used to parade. Does it still do so?

Led by Robin Hood and his Merry Men, all in Lincoln Green and on horseback.

We started in Audley and went up Ravens Lane, up the hill to Wood Lane, down Peggys Bank to give it it's local name, and back to Audley via Wereton. It was quite a Parade in those days all the officials used to wear a Forester’s Girdle over their shoulders.

I wonder if you still parade? The Oddfellows used to parade on the following day. I don't get over to the North Staffs nowadays but should love to meet a few friends again. In those days I used to live at Diglake Farm and once rode as one of the "Merry Men" Happy Days.

Please don't dismiss this as the ramblings of an old man. I should like to see it again but Steeple Ashton is a long way from Bigny End and its hardly likely I shall see the parade again. But it is pleasant to think about.

If you can find the time and inclination, I should like to hear from you that is if you ever get this letter. If you do parade, have a very good time.

Yours sincerely

R Warburton

APPENDIX: A strict application of the rules, from the minutes of Court Lord Crewe, 1897

Complaint - July 3rd 1897.

Dear Sir,

As I have not the privilege of being present at the court tonight I send you word as I saw one of our members Mr Thos Forrester weeding in the front garden on the 24th June, and when I asked him if he was receiving sick pay he could hardly answer me.

signed H. Bennion.

Decision: Fined 10/-. Sick Pay stopped. Rule 36 section 5

J. Hancock Chief Ranger.

Letter of appeal to Court Arbitration Committee. July 8th 1897.

To The Chief Ranger,

I hereby request to appeal against the decision given against me on Saturday last regarding the report that I was seen weeding the garden and I hearby enclose the five shillings that is requested to be paid before the case is brought before the Arbitration Committee.

signed Thomas Forrester.

Witnesses called before the Committee.

Harry Bennion Snr.

Said he saw Bro Forrester (on 24th June) down on his hands and knees weeding in the front garden, he had a handful of weeds in his hand, which he threw down the alley and during my absence, he was seen carrying the weeds away.

Mrs Chisholm.

Said she was passing down Henry Street and saw Mr Forrester (on his hands and knees) weeding in the front garden on the 24th June.


Mrs Lands.

Said she saw Mr Bennion ask Mr Forrester if he was on the club and after Mr Bennion had gone she saw Mr Forrester gather the weeds up out of the alley and take them down the garden.

Bro. Forrester.

Said I answered him, meaning Mr H. Bennion, forthwith and I declare that I was not weeding in the garden. I simply reared up a flower that had been blown down by the wind and as there was several pieces broken off I carried them away. I did not pull up any weed or carry any away.

Decision of the Committee.

That in the opinion of the Committee we consider the complaint made by brother Thom. Forrester fully proved. Therefore the decision of the Officers (to carry out Rule 36 Sec. 5) must be confirmed. Also that Bro Forrester forfeit the 5/- deposited by him.

Proposed by Bro Geo Wilkinson. Seconded Bro J Cork.

Carried unanimously. Expenses 9/-.

J. Hancock Chief Ranger



W Cooper, The Ancient Order of Foresters Friendly Society 1834 - 1984.

Foresters Heritage Trust Publications :

"Grandfather was in the Foresters".

"Mine Host was in the foresters".

"Female Foresters".

"By the Members for the Members".

PHJH Gosden, Self Help: Voluntary Associations in Nineteenth Century Britain (1973).

Historical Sketch of the Order (compiled by successive Secretaries to the Order)

Minute Books of :

Court John Dodd No. 5288

Court Pride of Audley No. 8249

Court Lord Crewe No. 817

Mrs Audrey Fisk. Joint Co-ordinator Foresters Heritage Trust.

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