Dark purple/blue square apron embroidered with Free Gardeners' symbols, including set square and compass Chapelhall St Joseph Lodge of Free Gardeners apron

Friendly Societies: Free Gardeners

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The first Gardeners Lodge is believed to have been founded in Haddington around the 1670s. The original aim of these lodges was to share practical advice and specialist knowledge within the gardening profession. They quickly evolved into friendly societies. These were open to non-gardeners and offered mutual aid provision for members enduring hardship in times predating the welfare state. The Free Gardeners’ lodges had pseudo-masonic trappings but were not masonic organisations.

Several Free Gardeners’ lodges were established in North Lanarkshire. According to James Knox (1862-1938), founder of Airdrie Savings Bank and a leading civic figure in Airdrie, the Gardeners’ Parade was a great gala for the town. On this day, all the local Free Gardeners’ lodges marched through Airdrie in their regalia on the way to their annual general meeting.

Airdrie Greenhouse Lodge

The Airdrie Greenhouse Lodge of Free Gardeners was instituted on 23rd January 1812 by the amalgamation of two pre-existing Gardeners’ lodges. It is thought that one of these may have been the Airdrie St Joseph Lodge, which was also referred to as the No 1 Mother Lodge.

Membership to the Lodge was open to healthy Protestant men between the ages of 16 and 40. Payments were made to provide relief for members who were unable to work due to ill health and to the family of a member upon his death. Records show that labourers and gentry alike were members of the Airdrie Greenhouse Lodge. Local dignitaries included Patrick Rankin of Mavisbank, James Tennant of Bredenhill, and John Mack of Fruitfield.

The Airdrie Greenhouse Lodge celebrated its Golden Jubilee in 1862, holding a special parade through Airdrie. Their centenary in 1912 was marked with a dinner in the Royal Hotel. By this time, the society was in some financial difficulty, and it was dissolved in 1914. A wide range of records including minutes, roll books and an early charter are held in North Lanarkshire Archives (ref. U56).

Airdrie Thistle Lodge

Existing Free Gardeners lodges had the power to grant charters, so many new lodges formed in the mid-nineteenth century. Authority for establishing the Airdrie Thistle Lodge of Free Gardeners was granted by the Airdrie Olive Lodge of Free Gardeners on 20th September 1841. North Lanarkshire Archives holds the charter and seal for the Airdrie Thistle Lodge (ref. U170).

Kilsyth Thistle Lodge

The Kilsyth Thistle Lodge was instituted in 1860 and its Charter of Constitution and Erection was granted by the Western Grand Lodge the following year. By 1867, the Kilsyth Thistle Lodge’s rules had been deposited with the Registrars of Friendly Societies. North Lanarkshire Archives holds the scroll and metal scroll holder for the Kilsyth Thistle Lodge (ref. U199).

Other local Free Gardener Lodges

Several other North Lanarkshire lodges are known to have been established or in existence during this period. They include the Monkland Thistle Lodge, Chapelhall St Joseph Lodge and Bellshill Daisy Lodge (established in 1876).


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