This handsome banner was bought by the Robin Hood and Little John Society in Robin Hood’s Bay, back in 1901 and hangs upstairs in the village’s museum.
Robin Hood’s Bay was said to be named after the 13th-century outlaw because he returned the villagers’ belongings after they were stolen by French pirates.
A friendly society (sometimes called a mutual society, benevolent society, or fraternal organization) is a mutual association for the purposes of insurance, pensions, savings or co-operative banking.
The Robin Hood and Little John was one of the five friendly societies in Robin Hood’s Bay. There were several in Whitby also.
Before modern insurance, and the welfare state, friendly societies provided financial and social services to individuals, often according to their religious, political, or trade links. These societies are still widespread in many parts of the developing world, where they are referred to as ROSCAs (rotating savings and credit associations), ASCAs (accumulating savings and credit associations) or burial societies.
Before the development of health insurance and other financial services, friendly societies played an important part in many people’s lives with the Bay versions often more about socialising. They often have several weird and wonderful regulations. The Robin Hood and Little John society had 42 rules regarding member behaviour. Practices such as heavy drinking, swearing, dishonesty and fighting were strictly prohibited and could even result in curfews being imposed by the society itself.
Many of these societies still exist around the world. In some countries, they are developed into large mutually run financial institutions, typically insurance companies, and lost any social and ceremonial aspect they may have had; in others they have taken on a more charitable or social aspect.
Friendly Societies in the UK were subject to heavy regulation to safeguard the financial interests of their members, but the legislation was separate from that applicable to insurance companies.
In some cases, especially in America, members typically paid a regular membership fee and went to lodge meetings to take part in ceremonies. If members became sick, they would receive an allowance to help them meet their financial obligations.
The society might have a doctor whom the member could consult for free. Members of the lodge would visit to provide emotional and other support (and possibly to verify that the sick member was not malingering). When members died, their funeral would be paid for and the members of their lodge might attend in ceremonial dress—often, there was some money left over from the funeral for the widow. Friendly societies might also organise social functions such as dances, and some had sports teams for members. They occasionally became involved in political issues that were of interest to their members. Others were purely financial, with little or no social side, from their foundation—this was more typical in Great Britain. The first mutual savings bank, founded in Scotland in 1810, was called the “Savings and Friendly Society”. Credit unions and other types of organization are modern equivalents.
In the more social type, each lodge was generally responsible for its own affairs, but it was often linked to an order of lodges such as the Independent Order of Odd Fellows or the Independent Order of Foresters.