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Ancient Order of Druids
It has been said that in Britain in the 19th century there was a greater number and a wider variety of clubs and societies than anywhere else in the world. These clubs and particularly those which adopted some degree of secrecy attracted growing suspicion form the Government keen to prevent the revolutionary unrest which had swept through France and America. It was into this environment that the Ancient Order of Druids was founded in 1781 at the Kings Arms Inn in Poland Street - off Oxford Street in London. It was said to have been formed as a refuge from the unrest of the streets of London at the time.
Details of the founding of the Order are unclear but what seem certain is that it was started by a man named Hurle; possibly Henry Hurle, a builder from Garlick Hill in London very much along the same lines as other fraternal societies like the Freemasons.
Membership was restricted to men and vows of secrecy were required from each member. The meetings were generally social affairs and the Druids were renowned for their love of music and song. Many of the songs that were made up early in the Orders history are still sung today.
The order’s motto is ‘Justice, Philanthropy and Brotherly Love’ which also gives an indication of two of the other founding principles of the Order that of looking after fellow members when they fall on hard times and also ‘doing good’ for your community.
The Order had two large splits in its membership in the 1830’s and 1850’s over the question of the centralisation of power in one ‘Imperial Grand Lodge’ based in London and the wish by some Lodges to form friendly societies which would guarantee financial security to members. This perceived lack of democracy, London bias and wish for financial independence led many Lodges, particularly in the North of England to split off. The losses, though deeply felt, did not stop the Ancient Order from becoming one of the largest fraternal societies in the Country and also spread to other parts of the world notably the USA and the Caribbean. Membership was drawn from all parts of the social spectrum but has continued to be restricted to men.
The Order can now claim to be the oldest existing druidical society in the world. Indeed it was the first group to meet regularly at Stonehenge in 1905, after having made the then owner Sir Edmund Antrobus a member. It could also claim Sir Winston Churchill and his uncle The 8th Duke of Marlborough as members; both joining the grandest and most famous of its Lodges, Albion Lodge in Oxford.Like all fraternal societies, it suffered a dramatic decrease in its membership after the Second World War but there are still about 10 active Lodges in England today and one in the USA.
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