By Janet Archer
In the May photograph of the Oddfellows in the Reepham Life 2021 Calendar, we can see the huge banner declaring the fundamental principles of the association: friendship, love and truth.
Officers of the society are displaying their sashes, and we can see one with “NG” indicating that he is the Noble Grand, or current president of a lodge, and another with the initials “PG” representing a Past Grand Master.
The Eynsford Lodge was part of the East Dereham District group of lodges, and in 1907 Reepham was chosen to host the next district meeting since it was that lodge’s 50th anniversary. The photograph may have been taken to celebrate that occasion.
Signs of a marquee can be seen in the background. More than 200 members and visitors, including Sir William Brampton Gurdon MP, dined in a marquee erected in Brownsell’s Pasture (Rookery Farm).
By 1850, the Independent Order of Oddfellows Manchester Unity Friendly Society had become the largest and richest friendly society in Britain.
It was established in 1810 having become dissatisfied with the way the Grand United Order was being run.
The Industrial Revolution, the lack of trade unions, and the lack of personal or public insurance caused the growth of friendly and benevolent societies.
Only by joining mutual friendly societies such as the Oddfellows could ordinary people protect themselves and their families against illness, injury or death.
Public houses were often used as the base for regular society business. When members met, they often “took something for the good of the house”.
The Loyal Eynsford Lodge made use of the King’s Arms in Reepham and, after being formed in 1857, celebrated their anniversary each Whitsun by parading through the town, paying calls on their supporters at Whitwell Hall, Hackford Hall, The Limes and The Ollands before attendance at a church service.
In 1875 more than 100 guests filled a marquee erected in the Market Place with dinner provided by host Berriman of the King’s Arms.
Besides the annual Whit Sunday parade and church service, afternoons of sports and fun races were often arranged, followed by dancing in the evening.
In the 1880s the fun races included a sack race, a three-legged race and climbing a greasy pole for a leg of mutton. The prizes were sums of money, e.g., 7s. 6d. for the winner of the sack race.
Other events such as smoking concerts were also arranged to raise funds. The poster (below) shows such an event that took place in 1933.
The Eynsford Lodge was still in existence in the 1970s, advertising itself in several Reepham Carnival programmes, but more recently the lodge has been superseded by the Heart of Norfolk branch based in Dereham.
The Reepham Archive is normally open to the public on the first Wednesday and Saturday of the month from 10 am – 12 noon (or by appointment), upstairs in the Bircham Centre, Market Place, Reepham. For more information about current services during the coronavirus pandemic, please email