It's 26 February 1845 and at the Three Tuns Hotel in the Greenmarket, something out of the ordinary is taking place. The Loyal Queen's Own Lodge No 3910 is holding its first meeting. The Odd Fellows have come to town. George Hemming, the landlord, is hosting the meeting. Has there been a parade; a church service? Inside the Three Tuns, are the members of the new Lodge enjoying a big dinner? Were the Lodge’s brand new regalia on display?
Probably, yes. But it’s been over 170 years: those windows you’re looking through have darkened and thickened with time. The Oddfellows are not well documented in any of the usual places. The Lodge does not appear in trade directories. Although the Penzance Gazette was published on 26th February 1845, it does not include any advertisement or reference to the event – although other organisations, such as the Mutual Life Assurance Society have fulsome advertisements – variously claiming to offer legal proof against dismissal of claims except in cases of proven fraud, “peace of mind and security” for a “trifling” sum, and, for every member, “a voice in its management and control”.
However, a few weeks later a letter – perhaps a PR plant – will appear in the Gazette: “Being anxious to join a Benefit Society , and having heard the ‘Odd Fellows’ spoken very highly of by some”, ‘Enquirer’ will write, “and severely censured by others, I thought it advisable to apply to… some of your numerous correspondents, to arrive at some correct information”. Back will come a lengthy reply, affirming that the Odd Fellows are neither a “drinking club” nor a “community of whimsical dispositions”. Their laws “prohibit every species of immorality”, and despite “virulent attacks” the institution, nationally, is thriving.
Originally a trade guild dating back to 1066, by 1845 the organisation has become a network of mutual support clubs whose meetings involve much filling of glasses and liberal toasting. Just the ticket for the prosperous port of Penzance.
So, back to February 26th 1845: the Lodge is established. And what of Brother William Colenso - who will later be Mayor of Penzance, Lodge Grand Master, a “typical Odd Fellow of the old school” with a belief in “manly self-reliance” ? He is already stirring in his mother’s womb.
Penzance Gazette 26th February 1845 p 1, 30th April 1845 p 3, 14th May 1845 p 4
Further information kindly provided by Paul Eyre of the Oddfellows in response to a request via their website