Main content

Felons and Oddfellows

Friendship and self-help among the 19th-century poor. Dr Thomas Dixon's history of the evolution of friendship. From March 2014.

As the nature and depth of our friendships comes under scrutiny in an era of Social Networking, Dr Thomas Dixon presents a major new history of the changing meaning of friendship over the centuries.

Episode 6: Felons and Oddfellows

Thomas Dixon traces the idea of friendship as a form of practical self-help back to the Friendly Societies of the 18th and 19th centuries. At their peak, there were 9000 of these grass-roots institutions - many with quaint, archaic names, such as The Manchester Unity of Oddfellows - and it is estimated that 40% of the adult male population belonged to one - mobilising the power of friendship in a sort of forerunner of the Welfare State.

The importance of the idea of friendship emerges through the colourful vocabulary of friendship in the period - from cronies, trumps and bloaters to culliles, marrows and rib-stones, and the more familiar, chums and pals.

With contributions from Dr Helen Rogers and Professor Hugh Cunningham.

Producer Beaty Rubens

Dr Thomas Dixon is Director of the Centre for the History of the Emotions at Queen Mary, University of London, with a particular expertise in the histories of emotions, science, philosophy and religion.

Available now

15 minutes

Further Reading

Barbara Caine (ed.), Friendship: A History (Equinox, 2009), Chapter 7, ‘Class, Sex and Friendship: The Long Nineteenth Century’, by Marc Brodie and Barbara Caine
Simon Cordery, British Friendly Societies, 1750-1914 (Palgrave Macmillan, 2003)

R. A. Houston, Bride Ales and Penny Weddings: Recreations, Reciprocity, and Regions in Britain from the Sixteenth to the Nineteenth Centuries (Oxford University Press, 2014)

Heather Shore, Artful Dodgers: Youth and Crime in Early Nineteenth-Century (Boydell Press, 2002)

E. P. Thompson, The Making of the English Working Class (Victor Gollancz, 1963)

The History of Emotions blog

Read a series of specially commissioned blog posts supporting this series.
Helen Rogers, ‘Thick as thieves


What makes friendships last?

What makes friendships last?

How familial, instrumental and emotional bonds keep people connected over many years.