Although some Friendly Societies were established earlier, their heyday was during the Victorian era, with a gradual decline during this last century. The main purpose of the these groups was to act as a benefit club in times of sickness and death. An annual club feast was a social highlight in the village calendar, often heralding a school holiday, with a procession of bands and banners to a location where a meal was held, then the accounts read, followed by entertainments.
The social atmosphere of the public house could obviously perform an essential factor beneficial to both themselves and the clubs, in a farm labouring community where there were not many places could accomodate or cater for large gatherings. Meetings were held of the :-
Kent Lodge of Oddfellows at the George Inn.
Wellington Lodge of Oddfellows at the Woolpack Inn.
The Royal Victoria Union Society at the Duke of Wellington.
The Independent Order of Oddfellows at the Bull Inn.
and as we shall see next, The Benifit Club at the Bull Inn.
YALDING AMICABLE SOCIETY.
This is one of our earliest groups, which was very active and often refered to as The Benefit Club. It was established in 1816 and on the occassion of its 19th anniversary on Wednesday 3rd June 1835 reported that, `The members attended divine service followed by a parade round the village of banners and music. They investigated their accounts and afterwards 140 members sat down to a good old English dinner of roast and boiled beef and plum pudding provided by Mrs English of the Bull Inn.'
In 1845 it was reported in the Maidstone Journal that `the place was again enlivened by its being the fete day of the Amicable Society Benefit Club, which after parading the town with band playing and colours waving, proceeded to the church where an appropriate sermon was preached by Rev'd Ramsay Warde. The members afterwards dined together at the Bull Inn under the presidency of Mr W Tompkin.
The activities of this society continued to flourish, for in 1874 there were 154 members plus 8 with honorary status, who were usually local gentry paying a larger annual contribution to be linked with the benevolent work of the club. Amongst the members names that year, were 14 of Jones, 7 King, 5 Smith, and 5 Sales. At this time the total contributions and sickness payments each exceeded £ 170, with individual payments ranging from 4s. 6d. to £ 19 11s. 6d., supported by a bank balance of £ 519.
ROYAL VICTORIA UNION SOCIETY.
On June 16th 1845 “this society celebrated its anniversary. After divine service at church the Rev'd J Bluett Curate officiating, the members assembled in a large booth at the Duke of Wellington public house and did ample justice to the good things provided by the worthy landlord Mr John Bird”.