Leeds Oddfellows: Historic HQ is to be formally recognised

A thriving social organisation whose roots can be traced back to Roman times is to be commemorated with a Blue Plaque on its former headquarters in Leeds.

Leeds Oddfellows is a friendly society some of whose ritualistic symbols are seen in a plaque presented to freed slaves by Titus Caesar.

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Further roots can be found in the Middle Ages as a workers' (fellows') counter to powerful masters' trade guilds.

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Today the Oddfellows exist as a social, charitable and welfare

organisation with 2,500 members in the city.

The Blue Plaque will be placed on their former Georgian headquarters in Queen Square in Woodhouse.

The organisation's official title is The Independent Order of Odd Fellows Manchester Unity Friendly Society, and it was founded formally 200 years ago.

In Victorian times – having survived an attempt by Henry VIII to wipe them out 300 years earlier – the organisations which had become friendly societies flourished across Britain, providing their members with support in times of illness or hardship.

The Oddfellows' main organisational unit was and remains the Lodge. The earliest recorded lodge in Leeds, the Loyal Mechanic, was founded 1826, and still has regular meetings. In 1844 Leeds had 95 Lodges with 7,434 members.

The early lodges were men-only. Women could form their own lodges after 1893, and the earliest recorded in Leeds was the Loyal Victoria Lodge in Armley founded 1900.

In 1933 there were 52 Lodges in Leeds with 19,636 members.

Lodges were grouped into several Districts. The two dominant ones were

Leeds and Bramley, and by 1933 these were the only ones left. They merged in 1990.

The Blue Plaque will be unveiled at 2.30pm on Thursday at 2 Queen Square, by Alan Cole, Grand Master of the Independent Order of

Oddfellows Manchester Unity Friendly Society.

The text will read: "The 33 lodges of the Leeds District of the Independent Order of Odd Fellows Manchester Unity Friendly Society were administered from here 1910-1979. They offered workers and their families mutual financial protection in times of illness, unemployment and bereavement. Facilities here included meeting rooms, a ballroom and a club. Founded 1826."

Colin Woodward, Immediate Past Provincial Grand Master of Leeds Oddfellows, said: "This magnificent building served us well during our busiest period of history."

The Oddfellows, who recently donated 15,000 to local charities, now have offices at Unity Court in Meanwood Road.

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