Records of the Knutsford District of Foresters Friendly Society and Predecessor Bodies

Scope and Content

These records have been divided into two subfonds. The first relates to the Ancient Order of Foresters and the Knutsford District of Foresters and is a comprehensive subfonds. The minute books, membership records and accounts are extremely detailed and provide a vast amount of information about the societies and their functions. The second subfonds focuses on the Ancient Order of Shepherds, and although it is much smaller, it still provides interesting and unique accounts of the society. The records range from 1860 to 1948, but some Ancient Order of Foresters records date back to 1821, specifically the membership records. Dale, Massey and Burgess family names are found throughout the collection, all of which were notable families in Cheshire (particularly Knutsford) at the time.

Administrative / Biographical History

Records of the Knutsford District of Foresters Friendly Society and its predecessor bodies, the Ancient Order of Shepherds and Ancient Order of Foresters.

A friendly society is a mutual aid organization that protects its members against hardship and misfortune. Before the establishment of the Welfare State, friendly societies provided financial assistance for their members in the event of illness or unemployment, and they covered funeral expenses and supported widows and dependents. Members paid a monthly fee and in return they received monetary and practical support. Friendly societies grew rapidly in the nineteenth century; with urbanization people could no longer rely on the traditional support networks of families and village communities. The passing of the National Insurance Act of 1911 led to a change in the function of friendly societies as the State took over many of their responsibilities; all workers and employers were now required to pay into the National Insurance scheme and in return workers received limited unemployment benefits and medical care. However, the scheme was partly operated through the existing network of friendly societies. From 1948 the Welfare State was administered directly by the Government and the number of friendly societies reduced dramatically.

Friendly societies were often divided into a number of local 'courts' or branches, which would meet once a month on a 'sanctuary' night. When the Ancient Order of Foresters was formally constituted in 1834 from the Royal Foresters, which had formed in the eighteenth century, it had over three hundred branches. The records in this archive relate to the Ancient Order of Foresters, Court Stanley No. 3313 (with the earliest records dating back to 1821). This was a local branch in Knutsford, Cheshire, which eventually became the Knutsford District of Foresters (Court Stanley No. 10, Great Warford) in 1912, after a merger between the societies. The Ancient Order of Shepherds was an independent branch, that dissolved in 1905 and eventually merged with the Knutsford District of Foresters in 1912.

Records for the Knutsford District of Foresters end in 1948, the year in which the society was wound up.


The collection was found in a state of disorder, with no apparent distinction between the three different Orders. It was therefore decided to arrange the collection into two subfonds, and to keep the Ancient Order of Foresters and Knutsford District of Foresters together (as their records overlap), and to separate the Ancient Order of Shepherds.

Access Information

The collection is open to any accredited reader. This finding aid may contain personal data about living individuals. Under Section 33 of the Data Protection Act 1988 (DPA), the John Rylands University Library (JRUL) holds the right to process such personal data for research purposes. The Data Protection (Processing of Sensitive Personal Data) Order 2000 enables the JRUL to process personal sensitive data for research purposes. In accordance with the DPA the JRUL has made every attempt to ensure that all personal data has been processed fairly, lawfully and accurately.

Acquisition Information

The Dale Family Papers, including these records, were deposited in the John Rylands Library in the 1950s and 1960s.

Separated Material

Cheshire and Chester Archives and Local Studies holds minutes of the Ancient Order of Foresters, Knutsford, Cheshire, 1852-1866; ref.: D422/39.

Conditions Governing Use

Photocopies and photographic copies of material in the archive can be supplied for private study purposes only, depending on the condition of the documents.

Some items in the archive remain within copyright under the terms of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988; it is the responsibility of users to obtain the copyright holder's permission for reproduction of copyright material for purposes other than private study.

Prior written permission must be obtained from the Library for publication or reproduction of any material within the archive. Please contact the Head of Special Collections, John Rylands University Library, 150 Deansgate, Manchester, M3 3EH.

Custodial History

These records were part of the Dale Family Papers. Alan Dale was secretary of the Knutsford District of Foresters from 1911 until it was wound up in the 1940s.


No. accruals are expected.

Related Material

The JRUL also holds the papers of the Dale family, including papers of Messrs William Dale and Sons, 1702-1975, ref. DP.

Geographical Names