Armadale Works Friendly Society - "Thistle" Lodge of Free Gardeners: its Rise and Fall - "Olive" Lodge of Free Gardeners - "Jessie o' the Dell" Lodge of Ancient Shepherds - "Excelsior" Tent of the Independent Order of Rechabites - " Hope Bridge Castle " Lodge of Freemasons
Public works had been but a year or two in operation in the district when a desire was expressed by a large portion of the workmen to form themselves into a friendly society for the purpose of assisting each other in a time of enforced idleness through sickness or accident. The old original society became defunct in January, 1846, but a new and better state of affairs now existed, and a bright prospect lay before the members.
A general meeting of the workmen resulted in the formation of a yearly benefit society, the surplus being divided at the end of every year. This, however, after a number of years, was considered unsatisfactory in view of the fact that some of the members were getting old, and they felt that some permanent provision should be made for them in their old age. It was then decided to make it a permanent institution, and the name was changed to "The Armadale Friendly Society" on the 2nd March, 1867. It was decided that all meetings for the transaction of business should be held in the Subscription School-Room.
A set of very strict rules was drawn up, one of them setting forth "That any member who, by fighting, quarrelling, or drunkenness has been the evident cause of bringing trouble upon himself will not be allowed any aliment whatever, and any member in receipt of aliment found intoxicated or quarrelling will be fined, and will receive no aliment until such fine is paid. In the case of non-compliance, he shall be expelled from the society."
The amount of subscription, as per rule, 4, was 1s as entry money, and 2s in four weeks thereafter, after which the ordinary contribution was 1s every four weeks, with power to call a levy, or to reduce the sum if it was found that 1s was too much.
Members were admitted from 15 to 44 years of age, if in good health and pursuing their ordinary vocation, and boys were admitted from 12 to 15 years of age as half-members, paying half-subscriptions, and receiving half-benefits. The benefits paid to members were 4s for the first week, 6s for the next twelve weeks, 4s for the next thirteen weeks, and 2s per week thereafter so long as the member was unfit to resume his employment. Funeral allowance was paid on the death of a member or his wife, the amount being £3 for each. For the death of a member's daughter who was past 12 years of age and unmarried, and who had preserved a good moral character, £1 10s was allowed, and for a member's child from birth to 3 years of age, £1 was paid; and from 3 to 12 years, £1 5s. For a still-born child the society allowed 10s. On the death of a member his widow could, by paying half the subscription, enjoy funeral allowance for herself and family until her demise, after which the privilege ceased.
The first office-bearers—who were all prominent men in Armadale at that time - who signed the rules were:- James Wilcox, Preses; George Balloch, Treasurer; James K. Jarvie, Secretary; and James Johnston.
Mr Balloch and Mr. Jarvie appeared before Mr. Thomas Durham Weir, J.P., of Boghead, and declared that the rules had been duly passed and approved of by the members at a general meeting, after which they were certified and registered by Mr. A. Carnegie Ritchie, Registrar of Friendly Societies in Scotland, at Edinburgh, on the 3rd June, 1867.
This society continued to prosper for many years, and many well-remembered names of old Armadalians appear in the society's books as having identified themselves with its welfare, most notably Mr. Alex. Mallace, the present well-known manager of Scotland's largest co-operative concern, St. Cuthbert's Co-operative Association, Edinburgh, who early became the secretary of the society, and continued as such with conspicuous success until pressure of co-operative work in Armadale caused him to resign.
Towards the eighties the society began to decline, and at last it again resolved itself into its original constitution, that of a yearly benefit society.
By the influx of a large number of workers from Airdrie district, where benefit societies were chiefly in connection with Free Gardenery, an effort was made to have a lodge formed in Armadale, with the result that the "Thistle Lodge of Free Gardeners' Friendly Society" was instituted and chartered by the Western Grand Lodge of Scotland in January, 1860.
Those who had been members of the Airdrie “Thistle Lodge of Free Gardeners", and who were mainly instrumental in the creation of the Armadale Lodge, were the first office-bearers, chief among whom were David Beveridge, who was first Master; Andrew Lees, Archibald Goldie, Wm. M'Farlane, and Alex. Goldie.
The Lodge was first accommodated in Mr. James Beveridge's "Buckshead Tavern," but was shortly afterwards transferred to Mary Campbell's Hall in South Street, on that hall being built, and was afterwards removed to the Crown Hotel Hall.
The first member to be made in the new Lodge was meant to be James Beveridge, jun., but the Brass Band of that day, knowing this, desired to have the honour, and by a sly move on their part they had one of their members, in the person of Thomas Pow, " put through."
The Free Gardeners' Society became extremely popular amongst a large section of the community, but the rules, at first, were so strict that no person of a party spirit could be admitted, which excluded Orangemen and Roman Catholics. This rule was not made through any ill-feeling towards either faction, but it was felt that it would be impossible to get both sections to agree, and the original members desired harmony to prevail in the Lodge. The Orangemen, however, were greatly annoyed at their exclusion, and between them and the "Gardeners " a great deal of friction was the result.
The society nevertheless prospered, and the annual procession held on the fourth Friday of July became the great day of the year in the village. The stir and excitement of a Parliamentary election was nothing compared to what was in those days in connection with the election of the Grand Master of the Lodge.
Two popular members of the Lodge were annually nominated for the position of Master two weeks before the election and procession, and each had a committee formed to work on his behalf. From the nomination to the morning of the procession, when the members of the lodge would make their selection, the duty, or rather the practice, of the candidates was to scour the district, canvassing all who were members for their support, and bringing in every available young man over sixteen years of age who was eligible to get a "Ride on the Goat."
The competition, which was always keen, was exceedingly so during the early years of the society, and many who were elected to the chair - none were elected twice in succession - paid dearly for it, their election expenses costing some as much as £10, a sum that was easily reached when it was the practice of the Master to refresh the processionists when they escorted him home, and again the outgoing and incoming committees, when the seals of office were exchanged eight days after the election. This ceremony, which was known as "the eight-day meeting," took the form of a miniature procession, about midnight, from the Lodge-Room to the Master's house, when both the old and the new committee had to partake of the Master's hospitality, which generally consisted of a large baking of oat cakes and flour scones, a large cheese, and as much whisky and ale as the company was able to hold.
These meetings were looked forward to with great glee, and it was considered shabby to leave the house before everything provided had been eaten and drunk, so that the orgies continued all night, and even well into the next day on some occasions.
The week before the procession the "busking " of the Grand Master's chair was put up for offers, and conducted in the fashion of a Dutch auction by the reigning Master, that is to say, someone would offer to do the work for £2; another would reduce it by 2s 6d, and so on, until perhaps the last bid would be 30s - a very common price. Then a committee was appointed to see that the work was properly done.
The method of building the chair, which was placed at the east end of the lodge, was to procure the loan of sufficient wood, from one or other of the colliery managers, with which to erect a large frame. This done, a large number of boys were engaged to carry green bushes from the woods, which were then in abundance in the district, and when the lodge floor was littered with these the real work of "busking the chair" began. Where flowers could be had for the asking they were got, and where they could not be had for the asking they were taken, and by the dawn of the procession morning the chair was a gorgeous sight, to view which was a special privilege before it had done its duty.
On one occasion, when the society was at the height of its popularity, the members agreed to have a large floral "Figure" erected to carry in the procession representing the Garden of Eden, with Adam and Eve as its occupants. The flowers necessary for this "Figure," as well as the chair, were difficult to procure, and in order that both might be a perfect success, in floral design, a number of the most enthusiastic members set out at midnight to see what they could find in some of the gardens of the mansion-houses in the district. One party of three were congratulating themselves on their success at Bridge Castle, when suddenly they were disturbed by the gardener, and they took flight. On mounting the garden wall, the gardener's boot went whistling over one of their heads, carrying the head gear with it, and with a shout of "Oh, man !" from the one aimed at, the party cleared and got off. Next morning, when everything was in readiness, the officer of the Lodge, who was one of the party referred to, was busy laying out the Regalia, when he happened to look over the window of the Lodge, which was then in the Crown Hotel Hall, and his heart sank within him at beholding the sight of a lady and gentleman, accompanied by Constable Douglas, making for the hall door.
With bated breath he listened to their footsteps coming up the stair, and pictured himself being carried away and tried for robbing the castle garden of a handful of flowers. How could he deny it, he thought. There they were, occupying a conspicuous place in the decorations of the chair, of which a minute ago he was specially proud; but now he felt as he could tear it all down. The police was rapping at the door, but received no answer. At last the constable, knowing how strict things were, asked - "Are you in, Hughie? . Man, I've two friends here. You might let them see the chair".
Taking courage, the lodge officer opened the door and admitted the visitors, who, after expressing their admiration of the magnificent throne provided for the Grand Master, crossed the officer's "loof" with a substantial tip for the great privilege they had enjoyed, and took their departure, little knowing the amount of internal agitation they had created in the one to whom they were so grateful.
The members gathered at nine o'clock in the morning, previous to which the committee in their regalia, with flags flying and headed by the brass band, proceeded to the Master's house, and escorted him with great pomp to the lodge. On this, the last occasion on which he had the opportunity, the retiring Master sent round his bottle and cake. Arriving at the lodge, the Master took his seat in the floral chair under a floral crown, with as much dignity as the Lord Chancellor on the Woolsack, and immediately took out his watch, and when the minute-hand indicated that it was ten o'clock, down went the mallet on the regalia box, and the officer who was standing guard at the door dare not allow another member to enter on any pretence. Hearts began to beat faster now, for in a few minutes the fate of the two candidates who had fought so hard for the coveted honour would be sealed. Tellers were appointed, and those for one candidate went to one side and those for the other candidate went to the opposite side, and were counted. One candidate might have had a majority of members present, but the other might exceed him by proxy votes, which were sometimes obtained by the candidate paying the member's arrears, as none were eligible to vote in this way who were not clear in the books, or one candidate might have a larger number of new members than the other, and turn the balance.
Both candidates during the voting were absent, but within call, and when the announcement was made declaring Brother so-and-so duly elected Grand Master for one year, his supporters cheered, and the door was thrown open for a short space, and one of his election committee hastened to break the news and congratulate him.
The new Master, after a short interval, was duly installed, after which he generally delivered a simple but conciliatory address, and proceeded with the election of the other office-bearers by proposing his opponent for the chair to be his Senior Warden, a motion which was always agreed to by acclamation. The other office-bearers being elected, the route of the procession came next. In the early years of the society it invariably was West Main Street, Woodend, returning by the old road, up North Street, along East Main Street, back to the Toll, up to the Cappers, taking in Mount Pleasant and Bathville Rows by the way, and back to the lodge, and, securing the treasure chest, the key-keepers took up their position in the ranks again, and the procession wended its way to the house of the new Master, where refreshments were served and the bands were engaged playing dance music to the crowd for an hour after. Then the fragment of the procession returned to the lodge along with the committee, who divested themselves of their regalia. By this time it was night, and everybody thoroughly tired after a full day, mixed with excitement and enjoyment.
The Gardeners' procession became a recognised holiday, growing yearly in popularity, until the works had to be closed for a few days.
Since there were no other lodge in the town, the "Thistle" Lodge of Free Gardeners had a monopoly, and grew to have a membership of between 700 and 800. The funds gradually increased until the society had a tidy sum in the bank, and in 1881, at the expiry of Messrs Russell and Son's lease, their house property in Armadale was put up for sale. A movement was made by a number of the members of the society to purchase Russell's Row and other cheap property, including the Star Inn, but the proposal was defeated on account of the then general belief that Armadale was done, and that tenants would not be found for the houses.
At this time, 1881, "The Olive Lodge of Free Gardeners" was instituted in opposition to the "Thistle," as a direct result of an election at which a candidate had been rejected who had contested the seat before.
The splitting of the support had a telling effect on the prosperity of the old " Thistle Lodge." The fees charged were 1s per six weeks, and the benefits the same as mentioned in the "Armadale .Friendly Society."
These fees were found, shortly after the institution of the "Olive Lodge," to be inadequate, and various schemes were proposed to improve the situation; but it was not until the funds of the society had reached a very low ebb that the members resolved to raise the contributions, and on the 12th January, 1894, a motion was carried to raise the six-weekly payments from 1s to 1s 6d. The raising of the contributions caused many of the members to transfer to the Olive Lodge Society, the contributions of which were unaltered, and for this reason new members generally joined the younger lodge. The funds gradually sank, until, on the 3rd June, in the year 1898, it was resolved to suspend paying sick and funeral allowance. The old members of the society, who clung to it with pride to the end, and who were now too old to be admitted into any other benefit society, were cut off without any chance of reaping the benefits for which they had paid so long. But still, although the society is defunct as a paying concern, there are a number of the old members who cherish the name, and continue to hold to the charter and regalia, turning out at the procession every year. Most of the old members, however, who were not over the age limit became members of the new benefit societies which had been established in the town during the dying days of the "Thistle," namely, the "Jessie o' the Dell" Lodge of Ancient Shepherds, with its admirably graduated scale of payments and benefits, and the "Excelsior Tent" of the Independent Order of Rechabites.
The "Olive" had perforce to adjust their scale of charges, and are now sailing along smoothly.
The Gardeners' procession, like Glasgow Fair, became the recognised start of the summer holidays, and the works having changed from producing ironstone to coal, depended entirely on the daily arrival of waggons. The closing of the works in the west on Glasgow Fair week caused Armadale collieries to be on short time for two weeks before the procession. To obviate this an effort was made to change the procession from the fourth Friday in July to Glasgow Fair week, but the members at first were too conservative for that, one member remarking, amid laughter, that if they changed the date of the procession they would also have to change the date of the New Year. The slackness before the procession, however, continued, and had its effect at the quarterly general meeting held on the 22nd April, 1892, when a. motion by Brother Hugh Brown was unanimously carried, that the annual procession, instead of being held on the fourth Friday of July, be held on the first Friday after the second Monday in July.
The "Thistle" and "Olive" Lodges joined together in the holding of their annual procession, but the Shepherds and the Rechabites held their annual demonstration at different dates until the 16th July, 1897, when they all amalgamated and formed "The Friendly Societies' Joint Demonstration".
The annual games, which were, after many abortive attempts, finally established in September, 1883, and continued the following years on the Saturday after the "Gardeners' walk," by a committee, elected yearly by the public, were handed over to the Joint Societies' Committee to manage on their amalgamation, and have been conducted by them ever since, the route of the demonstration being confined to the burgh and the games being held the same day.
During the heyday of the old "Thistle Lodge" the enthusiasm was so great that the annual procession often reached nearly half a mile long, and four bands of music were considered little enough to provide marching music, but now, when all the societies are joined together, it is a difficult matter to get sufficient to walk in the procession to fill the various offices, and two bands are more than sufficient to supply the music.
The Gardeners of to-day, who turn out attired in many cases in a summer holiday suit, are a marked contrast to those of the days when every processionist wore a black-coat suit and silk hat, with white gloves and blue tie, with a ribbon of the same colour tied on the left arm, and sported a blue apron of artistic design, in addition to carrying a magnificent bouquet of flowers. The Shepherds are complete in a Tam o' Shanter with crook and shepherd tartan plaid. The Rechabites, adults and juveniles, believing that they derived no benefit from the annual demonstration, but rather contributed to the increase of the sale of strong drink, resolved this year to sever their connection with the joint demonstration. This society is in a flourishing condition, especially the juvenile tent, which is appropriately designated "The Hope of Armadale."
At the close of the year 1895, through the exertions of a number of Freemasons, a lodge was chartered in Armadale, first taking up their quarters in the "West End Vaults" (the old " Buckshead Tavern"). After a few months the membership had so increased that the members were compelled to seek new quarters, and Forsyth's Hall in South Street was rented. Colonel Thomas Hope, of Bridgecastle, being the Provincial Grand Master, the brethren resolved to honour him with the name, as the lodge was the first to be chartered in the county since he had been elected to that position, and so the lodge was designated " Hope Bridgecastle," its number being 827.
The lodge, in connection with which there is no benefit scale of aliment nor periodical payments, nevertheless offers certain advantages to its members, which has induced many to seek membership. In the course of ten years it has continued to grow in popularity and swell in numbers, until the members have been so filled with ambition as to acquire the old "Christian Institute" in South Street, lately known as the Volunteer Hall, which was purchased by Colonel Hope from the Free Church for the Volunteers' use. This hall the Masons are at present altering by adding two ante-rooms to suit their requirements, and they will occupy it in the autumn of the present .year 1906.