Rishton Free Gardeners Club

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During the years 1893 to 1894 a sick club was formed by a group of Scotsmen, who at the time worked at the paper mill. The group initially met at the Roebuck Inn, but after a few years they had premises built on land in Parker Street, which were extended even more in 1900. The social Committee whilst meeting at the Roebuck was under the guidance of Mr. A. Walton and Mr. Fowler, and it was their decision to move to Parker Street.

Datestone for the club in January 2001.

The building was erected as the Free Gardeners Hall, as is portrayed on the date stone on the front of the building which is also dated 1894. Over the top  of the date are the words "N. U. O. Free Gardeners Hall 1894". This stands for the National United Order of Free Gardeners, and more is explained later.

The first steward of this new club was W. Skinner, esq.

The first trustees of the club were Messrs. W. Barker, W. Rushton, and L. Pope.

It is believed that the club was once part of the National United Order of Free Gardeners, a break away group from the British Order of Ancient Free Gardeners, who were formed before 1817, and went to Scotland.

The history of the Order is interesting and a brief outline might be worth including here. Like Free Masonry, Free Gardenery sprang from operative or working Gardeners. These craftsmen had much in common with their counterparts - the stonemasons. They designed, built and maintained gardens initially for the aristocracy who were, at first, the only section of society who could afford to create gardens for mere pleasure. These gardens, many of them very large, were used as a 'foil' for the great country mansions especially in the rich lands of the east of Scotland. Inevitably some members of the aristocracy became interested in the 'secret' ceremonies of the gardeners and sought membership. The admission of non-gardeners into Gardeners' Lodges has very close parallels with the admission on non-stonemasons into their Lodges. The Free Gardeners were known to have been in existence as early as 1602 although the earliest written records of their own only commence in 1670. Free Gardenery came to rival Free Masonry and at one time had more members and more Lodges than the Free Masons. Today the Order is virtually extinct.

The symbol of the Free Gardeners.

Gardeners' societies first appeared in Scotland during the seventeenth century. Working gardeners started societies to promote and regulate their profession and to support themselves in time of need. As time passed the main aim became the members' benefits - they were friendly societies.

Non-gardeners could join most lodges. They were called 'free gardeners' and soon they out-numbered working gardeners. All through the 19th century free gardeners continued to found lodges despite the attractions of the many other friendly societies, such as the Foresters, Buffaloes or Oddfellows. Free gardeners made up their own rituals and practices, which helped unite the brethren of each lodge.

Some of the societies joined together in 'Orders' led by a 'Grand Lodge'. There were several orders based in Edinburgh, Glasgow and England. Some of the older lodges stayed independent. At their height in the Lothians there were over 10,000 free gardeners organised in upwards of 50 lodges. Juvenile and even women-only branches opened at the end of the 19th century.

Gardners in July 2001.

The free gardeners are now part of history. Some of the societies are known only by name. Many different collections hold a few surviving documents or pieces of regalia.

The Order may be related to the United Order of Free Gardeners. This order is known to have lodges in England and Ireland in the 19th century and it is associated with the Saint Andrews Order in Scotland.

The Free Gardeners have survived in Africa and Australia into the 21st century. The Grand United Order of Free Gardeners of Australasia Friendly Society Limited represented the Australian lodges. Both were affiliated to the Ancient Order. Other lodges were started in the United States, Canada and the West Indies, with varying degrees of success.

The National Insurance Act changed friendly societies. Those that were strong could become 'approved' under the act to administer its provisions for their members. However, each individual lodge was too small. Even the total membership of the lodges affiliated to Grand Lodge in Edinburgh was too small. So throughout 1911 all the lodges of the Ancient, the British, and Western Orders and the unaffiliated societies met. Together they numbered around 70-80 lodges and 12,000 free gardeners. Delegates discussed the formation of an association of 'Free Gardeners in Scotland for the purposes of the Act (Section 39)', whilst 'maintaining their craft connection with the Orders'.

During March 1912, 44 societies (lodges) from all orders and none, joined a new association, the Ancient Order of Free Gardeners (Scotland) National Insurance Association. Some lodges did not approve the terms and conditions of the Association and instead joined the British Order of Free Gardeners. It was large enough to become approved in its own right.

Beer token from the club, the letters standing for the National United Order of Free Gardeners, The R in the middle is assumed to be Rishtons Branch.

Most lodges kept this complicated set of insurance transactions separate from 'craft' practices (their ritual traditions). So, for example, Penicuik Thistle remained affiliated to the Ancient Order for craft purposes (where it was No 2 and male only) but opened a new approved society affiliated to the British Order for insurance purposes in May 1912 (where it was No 479 and open to both men and women)!

For 30 years the friendly society sector delivered state welfare. But the Labour Government elected after the second world war nationalised the whole process. From then on the State took all responsibility for benefits and pensions. With their main reason removed friendly societies quickly declined. Their staff became civil servants almost at a stroke. Their members deserted in droves. The few that stayed found it difficult to attract new ones.

By the end of the twentieth century free gardeners in Scotland had shared the fate of many other similar organisations - they were extinct.

The St Andrew Order of Ancient Free Gardeners Friendly Society (refounded 1878-9; founded 1859)

More than 100 gardener lodges are known to have attended a meeting in Edinburgh during 1859 to discuss the organisation of the existing Grand Lodge of the Ancient Order. It would be reasonable to suppose that irreconcilable differences caused a schism in that year, creating the bodies known first as the Ancient Order of Free Gardeners (Western Grand Lodge) and the Ancient Order of Free Gardeners (located in Edinburgh and Leith). An Eastern and Western Grand Lodge appear from this date in several sources. A minute book of the latter dated 1859-84 supports the above inference.

In the Edinburgh PO Directory for 1885/6 an entry for the Ancient Order of Free Gardeners (Western) appears with one affiliated lodge, Archibald Stewart Leith. Later, the same lodge appears with others under the St Andrew Order and the Western attribution has disappeared. In the late 1890s the St Andrews Order appears with the additional information 'affiliated to the National United Order of Free Gardeners (England)', which persisted into the 1900s. The registered office of the St Andrew Order was in McFarlane Street, Glasgow, where it remained. In the late 1890s the East of Scotland District (No2) had settled in offices at 5 Hope Park Terrace, Edinburgh, where they remained until after 1974/5.

All of this ties in with the club being formed by Scotsmen! The Free Gardeners also have their own Battle song. Click here to see and hear this song.

The club used land to build a bowling green, which was acquired by the Rishton Urban District Council in 1950.

It was returfed and opened in the annual holidays of 1950 as a municipal bowling green.

A beer token used to obtain a drink from the club, presented to members at the Annual General Meetings.

In 1936, the council had to intervene with the Gardeners when it was decided that the boundary wall was in a bad state of repair. Corrs builders from Great Harwood were employed to make good the wall, and the gardeners club was billed with the sum of moneys owing.

The Council surveyor read a letter which he had sent to the Free Gardner's Club on the 13th February 1941, regarding the dangerous condition of a portion of the boundary wall to their premises. The Club replied some two months later, on the 17th April, when the Councils Surveyor reported that he had been requested by the Committee of the Free Gardeners Club to prepare an estimate of the cost of re-building a portion of the Boundary wall of their premises and advise them regarding the work. By the 12th of June, the work on the re-erection of the boundary wall at the Free Gardeners' Club had been completed, the Club Committee having made their own arrangements regarding the work.

On the 2nd July 1942, a book was opened for E. Thompson.

A week later on the 9th July, the price of beer was dropped by 1d per pint, and likewise with the bottles. Membership was increasing weekly at this time.

On the 20th July 1942, J. Stephenson was employed as a cellar man, to cover for T. Heyhurst, who had damaged his back while carrying out his duties as same. A. Coligan was summoned to appear before the club committee on the 8th August, to answer for creating a disturbance in the club. His membership was suspended until January 1943.

Members were reminded that the bar must close at the specified times, and all non-members must be signed in according to the clubs rules, on 17th August 1942. At the end of August G. Sanderson was accepted as a member subject to him being 21 years old! C. Sullivan was granted 2 weeks at Grange Home.

At a meeting on the 28th September 1942, it was decided to convert the reading room into a card room at the very earliest opportunity.

Beer was dropped 1d per pint after current stock was exhausted from Sunday December 27th 1942 for one month.

The above medal was sold in the summer of 2003. Lot number 164. UNITED FREE GARDENERS with in exergue, UNITY, grapes, wheat, snowdrops and another potted shrub, maker W. D. Lewis, Birmingham. Round the edge of the coin it says "Presented as a mark of respect for past services, Clithero District". On the rear it has A F G with spade, rake and gardener's knife. It is made from silver, and is  38mm in diameter with a blue ribbon suspender. Sold for £125.00.

P. Fox was suspended from the club for 1 month from 1st March 1943. On June 19th 1944, Mr. Fox applied for reinstatement to the club, which was refused. This ban was confirmed again on the 10th October 1944, again the ban not being lifted against Mr. Fox. The ban against Mr. Fox was finally lifted on the 13th November 1945. By the 27th November 1945, Mr. Fox had had his membership application accepted by the club.

Gifts of money were given annually at this time to Nurses, Police Funds, Male Voice Choir, Royal British Legion, Life Boat Association, Blackburn Orphanage, and others. This was usually £1 10s 0d. per annum. By the end of the 1940's this figure had doubled with most donations being in the region of £2 2s 0d.

A. Steele was ordered to appear before the committee on the 15th March, and his tab was stopped until he appeared. He was suspended for one month.

On the 29th March 1943, A letter of thanks was sent to all concerned in connection with ????? that was carried out on behalf of all the soldiers of this club. Mr. J. Sharples took over the place of Mr. Hacking as representative of the club on the soldiers welfare committee on the 11th October 1943. The resignation of Mr. Hacking as trustee of the club, was requested by the club committee, and an appreciation given to his services rendered.

On the 27th December 1943, beer was dropped by 2d per pint for 2 weeks!

Mr. Holden was granted 2 weeks at Grange home on 10th January 1944 subject to a Doctors certificate, on the 21st February, Mr. W. Riding was granted the same.

On the 13th March 1944 T. Ashton's book was stopped. The hours of opening were adjusted from 11-30am till 2pm to 11-30am to 3pm. On the 24th May 1945, the committee allowed the steward to close for one hour at lunch, one day per week, which was under constant review by the committee.

A tender of £20 was accepted with regard to the building of the bowling green wall on the 19th June 1944.

17th July 1944, membership of the club was stopped for a period of one month, such had been the expanse rate of membership over the previous two years.

Mr J. Grimshaw was invited to visit the club as a representative of the ??????? Branch on the 31st July 1944.

The sick Society Mortgage of £40 with interest was paid by the club on the 10th October 1944, two weeks later on the 23rd, the Pride of Rishton Lodge mortgage was also paid £40 with interest.

Free Gardeners Medal
The front of the Free Gardeners Medal,

A red letter day on the 19th December 1944, as the clubs committee decided that sprits should be allowed to be sold on Sunday lunch times. Beer prices were again dropped by 2d per pint for two weeks in the first 2 weeks of the year.

January 16th 1945, all concerts were cancelled after the current contracts expired. This was later rescinded on the 13th March. By the 10th April it had been decided that the first Sunday in a fortnight should be concert night, and the opposing Sunday left for a free and easy night.

The club applied for Gas heating for the 2nd time on the 13th February 1945, having been turned down on the previous application.

The first mention of the Children's treat during the war years was made on the 27th March 1945, when members of the clubs committee were delegated to handle the proceedings.

A. Bamber was granted 2 weeks at Grange Home, on the 10th July 1945, upon presentation of his doctors certificate.

The club was notified by J. Brocklehurst that J. Fielding was suspended from all Working Men's Clubs until he appeared before the committee on the 7th August 1945. On the 28th May 1946, the club agreed that if other clubs stop affiliated members then the Gardeners club should do the same.

On the 30th October 1945, Cliff Almond was made a member of the club.

Beer prices were dropped again on the 27th December 1945, commencing 1st January 1946, by 2d per pint, until stocks were replenished. Members J. Townsend and Baldwin were barred from the club until they could produced their books. A waiter was to be employed to work downstairs commencing Friday evenings for the weekend.

It was agreed that a telephone was to be installed in the club on the 19th February 1946.

On the 28th May 1946, it was agreed that only members could be served with cigarettes, but by the 13th June 1946, it had been said that the steward was to distribute cigarettes at his discretion, and in the event of a shortage of beer supplies, it was decided to segregate and veto affiliated members. The ban on associated members was lifted on the 27th June 1946.

Shortly after, on the 13th June 1946, it was agreed that Members and their wives, members and their sweethearts, and deceased members wives were allowed to use the club on a Friday evening.

On the 23rd June 1946 the committee decided that the bar should be closed on Monday and Thursdays, Wednesday and Fridays, open one hour for dinner, and no women were allowed in the members only area on Saturdays and Sundays.

On the 6th August 1946, an offer of £160 was accepted from unnamed parties for damage caused to the bowling green. Underfelts Ltd were given permission to carry out work they required subject to the clubs conditions.

New members admitted to the club on the 3rd September 1946, tabled by T. Talbot and J. Sharples, were J. Townsend, F. Howard, J. Tullett, F. Belch, and J. Heaton. Mild beer was to be sold until Friday evenings.

T. Ramsbottom was to be reprimanded for his behaviour in the club on Friday 20th December 1946.

February 4th 1947 saw the committee making a decision to "put the green in order". J. Greenwood was also ordered to appear before the committee on Tuesday the 18th March, along with J. O'Connor. J. Greenwood was suspended for 1 month, and J. O'Connor was reprimanded.

At a special General Meeting held by the Gardeners on the 27th February 1947, and in the presence of C. Hepworth, R. Houghton, W. Riding, T. Talbot, and J. Whalley, who had been voted onto the committee that year, it was moved by Conway and Eagles that the handing over of the bowling green was going to be left in the hands of the Free Gardeners Committee.

The Council Clerk submitted correspondence from the Secretary of the Club at a Council Meeting, stating that his Committee were prepared to meet representatives of the Council regarding the acquisition of the Bowling Green on the 13th March 1947. The council resolved - That Councillors Sutcliffe, Sturzaker, Hoyle and Stairs be authorised to meet the representatives of the Club and to report back on their discussion.

It was decided that the club should fall in line with the other clubs in the district re: Children's treat, on the 18th March 1947.

The club moved on the 1st April 1947, for F. Cowburn, J. Stephenson, R. Houghton, and J. Sharples to be the clubs deputation for  a meeting with the council with regards to the bowling green. Another letter was received by the council from the Secretary of the Free Gardeners' Club stating that this Committee were prepared to meet representative of the Council. Resolved - That a meeting was arranged for Wednesday, 2nd April 1947, at 8-30 p.m. and that in the meantime the Surveyor inspect the land with the gardener and submit his report thereon. The club accepted the councils offer for the repair to the bowling green wall on the 13th May 1947, at a cost of £125. The club decided to stand by the draft plan made by Rishton Council on the 2nd March 1948.

Any member not made before the 1st April 1948 would not be allowed any benefits regarding the children's treat.

10th June 1947, D. Haughton was permitted 2 weeks at Grange Home subject to a doctors certificate. Any member receiving a new pack of cards had to pay 2/6 over the bar for them.

The ban was lifted on affiliated members on the 24th June 1947, and the club reverted back to normal opening hours.

A tender submitted by Mr Wolstenholme for the rendering of the gable end wall and front was accepted on the 5th August 1947.

R. Edge was granted 2 weeks at Grange Home on the 19th August 1947, subject to his doctors certificate.

On the 16th September 1947, R. Haughton was appointed to be the clubs delegate with the Cricket Club. The club sold the Cricket club 8 tables at a price of £1 per table on the 14th October.

It was decided that the club was to be kept open at the usual times on the 30th September 1947, but beer would not be sold until 8pm. On October 28th the Steward was informed that he could open the bar if there was anything for sale. No more members were to be signed on for the rest of the year. The 1st week in January saw 12 new members enrolled.

14th October saw the ban lifted on the members from the Legion, and a tender of £10 10s was accepted for timber. The coming Christmas concert was to see 3 artists play in a mixed concert.

J. Grimshaw was elected representative for the Manchester Branch on the 9th December 1947, Sprits were to be sold on the Monday before Christmas, Beer was to be reduced by 2d per pint from the 4th January 1948 for 2 weeks, and the front room was to be opened for mixed ??? on Saturdays and Sundays, but no bottles were to be served in that room. This was changed on the 19th January when it was decided that all bottles should go in the front room.

The club decided that they were to have a gas geyser fitted on the 16th March 1948.

It was decided on the 20th April 1948 at a general meeting, which had seen J. Ramsbotham, R. Houghton, W. Riding, T. Talbot, J. Slater, and J. O'????? voted to the committee, that rule 3 of the club should be amended, and the age of membership be decreased from the age of 21 to 18. A move to have rule 23 changed was defeated, and rule 16 was withdrawn.

The club was to close Tuesdays and Thursday from the 19th May 1948. The normal hours were reverted back to on the 14th June.

F. Howard was allowed to spend 2 weeks at Grange Home on 31st May 1948. On the 10th August the committee agreed that for a member to be eligible for the convalescent home, they must have been off work sick for 4 weeks prior to their application.

The 7th September 1948 saw J. Townsend and W. Taylor summoned to appear before the committee. Mr Taylor was to answer the charge of creating a disturbance in the street on Sunday 5th September. His tab was stopped until he had appeared. It was also put forward John Townsend be expelled from the club. W. Taylor was suspended by the club until the 1st January 1949, on the 21st September 1948. Correspondence was returned to Mr. Chapman with regards to W. Taylor on the 5th October. W. Taylor's resignation from the club was accepted on the 14th February 1949, and he was forbidden to use the club.

Raymond Bond was permitted to spend 2 weeks at Grange Home on 5th October 1948, and J. Sharples the same on 1st March 1949.

After the 2nd World War, it became a regular thing for the club to give an annual picnic for their members aged 65 and over. This carried on for many years.

It was decided on the 14th February 1950, that the club should join the combined children's treat.

F. Connor was permitted 2 weeks at Grange Home on 27th June 1950.

Jack Slater and G. Barnes were summoned to appear before the club committee on the 22nd August 1950, to answer charges of ungentlemanly conduct towards a visitor to the club.

T. Ramsbottom was permitted 2 weeks at Grange Home on the 8th October 1950.

J. O'Connor was summoned to appear before the committee on the 17th October 1950 to answer charges of insulting 2 of the clubs officials. He was suspended until the 23rd December 1950.

A. Greenwood was permitted 2 weeks at Grange Home on the 15th March 1951.

on the 27th March 1951 beer was dropped in price by 2d per pint and bottles accordingly for one month.

In 1951 the Secretary was F. Cowburn, the President T. Talbot, and the Trustees J. W. Stephenson and J. Sharples. On April 24th that year, Quarterly General Meeting, Rule 16 was altered to vote an elected trustee every 2 years starting in January 1952. This was voted for 21 - 6 in favour.

£2 2s 0d was granted towards the Festival of Britain celebrations by the club on the 12th June 1951.

W. Entwistle was reprimanded by the club on the 26th June 1951.

R. Walsh junior, and J. Townsend Senior were suspended from the club for misconduct on the club premises until the 27th November 1951, and the 1st January 1952, respectively, on the 27th September 1951. R. Walsh wrote to the club, asking if his case could be reopened which was refused on the 2nd October 1951. On the 16th of October, R. Walsh Juniors resignation from the club was accepted by the committee. Meanwhile J. Townsend was again summoned before the committee for causing a disturbance on the club premises. On the 29th October, he was warned, and suspended until 1st January 1952. By the 26th February 1952, J. Townsend had been summoned again. He was to answer to charges of causing a disturbance on the club premises, and also in the street on the night of the 22nd February. J. Townsend Senior was expelled from the club on the 11th March 1952.

On the 16th October 1951, Brandy was sold for 3/3 and Whiskey 1/9 per small glass.

Beer was dropped by 2d per pint for 2 weeks on the 29th October 1951.

H. Smith was to spend 2 weeks at Grange Home on the 27th November 1951.

The club entered Rishton Cricket Clubs knockout competition on the 6th May 1952. A gate was to be erected on the side entrance of the club.

Trumans Mild was raised to 1/ 1/2 per pint due to rise in price of beer on the 1st July 1952.

August the 26th, 1952 saw the club donate £2 2s 0d to Rishton Urban District Councils Lynmouth Flood Disaster fund.


Members wives and Lady friends were allowed into the club on Wednesday evenings from the 11th September 1952.

"Owd Bens" was dropped in price to 1/6 on the 25th January 1953. An electric fan was placed in the games room.

The 9th April 1953 saw the club writing to the rest of the clubs in Rishton with regard to G. Birtwhistle's conduct on Monday the 6th April, and ask that his association be stopped at the club. He had formally been the club Steward, but had been given 14 days notice for being inefficient. He was also ordered to vacate the clubs house by the 18th April, so that the new steward could proceed with his work.

On May the 5th 1953, all member s were to receive £1 in 1s checks, with no change to be given. This seems to be in place of a reduction in the price of ale.

The club purchased a piano for £4 on the 30th June 1953. A piano was finally bought on the 1st September for £12 10s.

The club owned 41 Talbot Street, and was used by the steward of the club as living accommodation. The house was sold off due to stewards not being prepared to vacate the premises once they had changed jobs, and the costs of solicitors and loss of rent etc was to great a burden for the club to continue.

T. Townsend was expelled from the club for theft of stock from the bar on October 23rd 1953, which was admitted to in front of the police. The club wrote to him on the 18th November informing him that he had been expelled from the club.

L. Sanderson was granted permission to attend Grange Home for 2 weeks on the 22nd December 1953.

The green is still there today, and is still being used. It is to the right on the photo, and goes to the houses on the right hand side, which is Wheatfield Street.


Gardeners Battle SongThe Battle Song of the Free Gardeners Club.
Members BookThe Free Gardeners Members book 1942 to 1953.


Local Council Minutes

Allan Presho, Club Secretary.

Free Gardeners Club Minutes 1952 - 1953, used with permission.

Masonry Symbolism

Online Newsletter Issue 10 (PDF File)

History of Free Gardeners website.

Free Gardeners Medal for sale. (Page no longer exists - http://www.simmonsgallery.co.uk/2001site/medals/Livery/liverymedals_7.htm)