Records of the Ancient Order of Foresters, St Andrews

Scope and Content

The records include minutes, proposition books, registers, financial papers, information on membership and regalia.

Administrative / Biographical History

The Ancient Order of Foresters began in 1834, but its origins lie in a much older society called the Royal Foresters formed in the 18th century. Meeting in Leeds, this seems at first to have been a purely sociable society until the members decided that they had a duty to assist their fellow men who fell into need "as they walked through the forests of life'. This 'need' arose principally when a breadwinner fell ill, could not work and, therefore, received no wages. Illness and death left families financially distressed and often destitute. Relief of this need has been the main purpose of the Foresters throughout their long history. It was achieved by members paying, initially, a few pence a week into a common fund from which sick pay and funeral grants could be drawn.

In 1813, the Royal Foresters began to establish subsidiary Courts (branches) and the concept of an affiliated Order of Friendly Society was born, as opposed to the many individual local societies that had long existed, which, being small, often failed financially. Expansion across the industrial towns and villages of Yorkshire, Lancashire and Cheshire was rapid, but in 1834 the parent Court in Leeds became dictatorial and insisted that any changes in the rules governing all the Courts of the Royal Foresters should be in their hands alone. The majority of Courts seceded to form the Ancient Order of Foresters, on the basis of democracy from grass-roots upwards.

The structure of the Order which developed consisted of Courts which were responsible for their own funds and for relief of their own members, all decisions being made by democratic vote. The majority of Courts linked themselves into Districts for mutual support. Every Court was entitled to elect a delegate to attend the annual High Court, whose purpose was to make any necessary changes to the common rules and to elect each year a group of members to act as an Executive Council. The ultimate authority was High Court.

Migration to the United States and into the then colonies of the British Empire had taken Forestry overseas to the US, Canada, the West Indies, Australia, South Africa and New Zealand, the administration of these Courts becoming eventually independent of the parent body in the UK. In Britain, the formation of ordinary Courts slowed after 1890, but the admission of women in 1892 produced a wave of Courts for Females only, permitted at first to meet only in non-licensed premises. Catering for mostly young, single women, these Courts enjoyed only a modicum of success, membership falling away on marriage. In addition, by 1899, women were allowed to join the previously all male Courts, leading to many amalgamations of Female Courts with their sponsoring male equivalents.

Further expansion occurred in 1912. In that year Lloyd George's National Insurance scheme came into operation, compulsory for those earning less than the income tax threshold, which meant the majority of the working population. Friendly societies with more than 10,000 members, which of course included the Foresters, were organisations approved to administer the scheme for the government, along with commercial companies. At that point, many small local societies joined the Foresters to be able to take part in the scheme.

By the end of the 19th century, competition from other societies had grown. In particular, societies established by employers made membership of their scheme a condition of employment. This had consequences for numerical membership, as had the Depression years between the World Wars. The formation of the Welfare State in 1948 had a similar effect, but the Foresters kept going, eventually producing a range of financial products designed to meet changing needs in the changing world of the late 20th century.

The St Andrews court was established in 1879.

Source: A. Fisk, History of the Society on the Forester's Friendly Society website(


  • ms37197 Diploma of Institution, 1879;
  • ms37198-37201 Proposition books, 1880-1947;
  • ms37202 Register book, 1879-1912;
  • ms37203-37213 Minute books, 1879-1927, 1934-1954;
  • ms37214 Cash book, 1940-1946;
  • ms37215 Contribution book, 1943-1952;
  • ms37216 Nomination of funeral money book, 1880-1904;
  • ms37217 Miscellaneous notebook incuding auditor's notes on accounts, 1935-1940;
  • ms37218 Juvenile foresters register, 1933-1940;
  • ms37219 Juvenile foresters annual finanicial reports, 1934-1959;
  • ms37220 Juvenile foresters contribution book, 1938-1944;
  • ms37221 Juvenile foresters enrolment forms, 1935-1952;
  • ms37222 Miscellaneous papers and other items including sashes of office bearers.

Access Information

By appointment with the Archivist. Access to unpublished records less than 30 years old and other records containing confidential information may be restricted. Special conditions apply to photographs.

Acquisition Information

The papers were given to the University of St Andrews in 1975.


Description compiled by Rachel Hart, Archives Hub Project.

Other Finding Aids

Hand list is available in the Reading Room.

Conditions Governing Use

Applications for permission to quote should be sent to the University Archivist. Reproduction subject to usual conditions: educational use and condition of documents.

Geographical Names