Uncategorized

Benefit Societies and James Allen

You may remember a few posts ago one about James Allen, one of my first female husbands that I researched? This post looks at following up on his story and researching about nineteenth century Benefit Societies.

Ease Mackenzie’s work from 1827 looks at Benefit Societies in Newcastle and Gateshead. I have been unable to find information on London specific societies however, Mackenzie explicitly refers to The Associated Brethren which James Allen was supposedly a member of. Although Mackenzie looked at a different geographic area and spectrum, he explored the impact and influence of Benefit Societies which would have had similar rules and regulations across the country.

 

Screenshot 2017-04-04 14.51.59
Mackenzie’s book

 

Benefit Societies were first founded in the early nineteenth century and gained momentum in the 1820s. One of the first societies was prominent from 11th September 1823 in Newcastle which had a heavily Catholic influence. For instance, members of the societies would be expected to attend mass weekly, if they failed to attend there would be reprimanding from the President and potential exclusion from the society. [1] In Mackenzie’s survey he named 156 independent charitable societies in the Newcastle and Gateshead area with 37 only available to women. [2]

In ‘Extraordinary Investigation or Female Husband’ article published in the Newcastle Courant, there was a reference made to James being a member of a benefit club and friendship society. [3] There was an example of a ‘Friendly Society’ in Newcastle that would largely make and distribute clothing to the poor aged and infant population, although there were no specific age limitations. In both the press and the pamphlet about James’s life, there was reference to the amount of clothing that James was found to be wearing during his post mortem. The implication of these clothing was to protect the body warm during labour and to conceal his feminine form or outward appearance. For instance, his skin underneath the swathed clothing was described as, ‘the purest white intersected with veins of fine blue’. [4] The pamphlet explored how James gave his wife everything he could afford and often went without so that she could be the best dressed and proud of her appearance. Therefore, it may have been that James was a member of the Friendly Society to provide himself with substantial clothing for himself to maintain his masculinity and his masculine performance. Although this is a little like clutching like straws.

 

20170313_121505
James Allen and Abigail Naylor in the pamphlet

 

However, what was more probable in James’s story was conveyed in the pamphlet. On several occasions the anonymous author of the pamphlet refers to James’s membership and link to, ‘that noble institution, The Associated Brethren’. [5] This named institution was a Benefit Society where members would pay weekly per their age, and if they were ill they would receive a stipend for their family to live off:

‘An institution called the ‘Associated Brethren Benefit Society’ established above 23 years ago, and now consisting of 3500 members, with a capital of £13000, has a table of payments and benefits to be received much more favourable than any similar society’. [6]

Essentially this society was an early example of a working pension or a support fund for ill health as we have today with Statuary Sick Pay. The pamphlet claimed that the Associated Brethren gave all the money owned to Mrs Allen to support funeral and financial costs at the loss of her husband. These were payments that were owed to her because of her husband being a paying member of the society. This contrasted with the newspaper reports from Newcastle Courant, Morning Post and Chester Chronicle who claimed the benefit society that James was a member of would not receive the payment because he has been concealing his true identity. [7]

Revisiting the pamphlet and re-reading the information available about the Associated Brethren, it showed them in a positive light. This could suggest that it was the society itself who commissioned the pamphlet. As it was published for profit, the society may have been trying to gain more membership by showing its openness and trustworthiness as a society. Likewise, there is a quote at the end of the pamphlet,

No farther seek her merits to disclose,

Or draw her frailties from their dread abode.

The remaining lines of the stanza are,

(They are alike in trembling hope repose)

The bosom of his father and his God.

This stanza is taken from an 18th century poem by Thomas Gray in his poem Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard. The reference to churches and the quote being unpicked refers to how people should not try to find out any more about the deceased because they have made mistakes and are awaiting repose from God to live in eternal Glory. This heavily religious symbolism would link to the understanding of the religious societies and potentially the Associated Brethren trying to be progressive. Similarly, note the changing of pronouns from ‘him’ and ‘his’ in the original poem to ‘her’ in the pamphlet, clearly referring to James as female and disrespecting him as a man, despite claiming to tell the truth about his life. After all it was one of the biggest and favourable of the societies.

Reading

[1] E. Mackenzie. A Descriptive and Historical Account of the Town and County of Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Including the Borough of Gateshead, (Gateshead; Mackenzie and Dent, 1827), pg. 564.

[2] E. Mackenzie. A Descriptive and Historical Account of the Town and County of Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Including the Borough of Gateshead, (Gateshead; Mackenzie and Dent, 1827), pg. 566.

[3] ‘Extraordinary Investigation, or the Female Husband’, The Newcastle Courant, (Newcastle-upon-Tyne; England’, 04/01/1829.

[4] ‘An Authentic Narrative of the Extraordinary Career of James Allen, The Female Husband’, [1829] published by I.S. Thomas, No. 2 York Street, Covent Garden. pg. 36.

[5] ‘An Authentic Narrative of the Extraordinary Career of James Allen, The Female Husband’, [1829] published by I.S. Thomas, No. 2 York Street, Covent Garden. pg. 38.

[6] E. Mackenzie. A Descriptive and Historical Account of the Town and County of Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Including the Borough of Gateshead, (Gateshead; Mackenzie and Dent, 1827), pg. 566.

[7] ‘Extraordinary Investigation, or the Female Husband’, The Newcastle Courant, (Newcastle-upon-Tyne; England’, 04/01/1829.

‘Extraordinary Investigation’, The Morning Post, 16/01/1829.

‘The Female Husband’, Chester Chronicle and Cheshire and North Wales General Advertiser, (Chester; England), 23/01/1829.

 

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s