International Order of Free Gardeners

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Origins of Gardener Societies

Nobody now knows when gardeners in the Lothians and Fife began to organise. The earliest surviving records come from Haddington (1676) and Dunfermline (1715). There has always been a general need amongst working men to secure sickness benefits, pensions and provision for their dependants. So both societies may be even older.

In cities and burghs (towns) there medieval trades incorporations. Incorporations had contracts between themselves and the town or City council as representatives of the community. Each stated the prerogatives of the craft, membership qualifications and how they were to organise. The Incorporation of Gardeners of Glasgow is believed to be only such group in Scotland to gain that status. The gardeners and greengrocers had become an incorporation of the City by 1626. Nowhere else had a gardeners' incorporation and by the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries incorporations had ceased to be created.

Some newly arising trades were adopted by existing incorporations. In common with other professions gardeners organised because they felt a pressure to regulate skills and training to protect their own reputations. But gardeners in particular lived outside burghs on nearby landed estates or market gardens and so could not become burgesses, the essential qualification to join incorporations. Gardeners' societies had been long established in Europe. Scotland's North Sea trading links may have helped spread the idea in the eastern lowlands. Further, there was an established alternative that could be adopted by gardeners. They could organise as a 'fraternity' or 'society'.

Gardeners before 1800 AD


The first lodges of which there is written evidence were formed to promote, regulate and support the craft of gardening and the gardeners themselves. The records of the gardeners of Haddington and Dunfermline both survive from before 1800 AD.

Early rules concern spreading information and new varieties of plants throughout the membership. The rules also state that money will be used to help distressed widows, orphans and the poor (of the lodges).

In time, mutual aid became the most important function of the lodges. They began to attract members from among those who were not gardeners. By the nineteenth century the lodges were mostly benefit societies. Dunfermline went as far as forming a separate section for those interested in horticulture. Lodges provided sickness benefit and pensions as well as grants and annuities.

Free and working

The Dunfermline 'bond of union' follows almost exactly the form of a seal of cause or charter of an incorporation and the society refer to themselves throughout as both a fraternity and an incorporation. The Gardeners of East Lothian listed a set of 'Interjunctions' to which every member subscribed. These too follow the kind of rules and regulations expected in a seal of cause.

In Dunfermline the senior officer was called deacon, just as in an incorporation. Later the title 'Chancellor' was preferred. In Haddington, the titles 'President' or 'Chairman' were used. Both organisations were essentially democratic. The officials were elected and the box where their money and papers were kept was subject to regular audit.

Both societies had rules that regulated gardening in their areas. They discussed entry to the profession, gardeners' conduct, education, and the administration and benefits due by the societies.

However, both bodies included clauses that allowed non-practitioner members to join (at different rates to gardeners). This was an essential difference to incorporations. The status of their 'gentlemen' members was of importance to the Dunfermline gardeners. Their published history always contained a cumulative membership list headed by a Duke, and naming a Marquis, six Earls, seven Lords, eight Knights and hundreds of professionals (soldiers, ministers, advocates) and other landowners or Lairds. However, by the end of the eighteenth century such illustrious company had faded away except for a leavening of Dunfermline based professionals.

In contrast to Dunfermline, Haddington seems to have been a practical fraternity for a longer time. They too admitted 'Free' gardeners from an early date, but most of them were shopkeepers and craftsmen in Haddington itself. A few ministers, doctors and lawyers also joined.

Growth and developments in the nineteenth century

From the first Dunfermline allowed its members to meet at places outside the town that were more convenient to them. The East Lothian Gardeners allowed their members resident near Dunbar to meet there. These groups spread the concept of gardening.

New lodges sought charters from existing lodges. Their choice may have followed personal connections rather than any precedence within the existing lodges. For example, Lodge Black Agnes at Dunbar several times got confirmatory charters from Haddington, first (1773) as a subsidiary group, as at Dunfermline, and then as a lodge in its own right.

While Dunfermline and Haddington disputed precedence, lodges owing no allegiance to either existed by the nineteenth century. When and why they arose is often lost or unknown. Within Lothian and Fife lodges at Edinburgh (founded 1782), Lasswade (1821), Penicuik (1822), and Stratheden at Letham, Fife (1845) are representative.

The newer lodges accumulated mysticism, legends, rituals and craft practices that were wider ranging and developed than those of Haddington and Dunfermline. The older lodges were happy with their own practices until very late in the nineteenth century. Most of the new detail was freely adapted from the rites and practices of Freemasonry. The appearance of Masonic style imagery and symbolism on gardeners' artefacts is almost a marker for a nineteenth century foundation.

There were around 50 lodges in the Scottish region by 1850 AD. The newer Lodge names usually had a descriptive term or a dedication, e.g., Penicuik Thistle Lodge, Lasswade St Paul's Lodge, Whitburn Olive Lodge, Dunbar Black Agnes Lodge. They also included the words 'Free Gardeners' in their titles. Although some had roots in practical gardening, most were from the first exclusively mutual benefit societies of the type known as 'friendly societies'.

In 1849 AD Lasswade St Paul's Lodge of Free Gardeners invited delegates to a meeting to open a Grand Lodge. There had been one in England for a while - the British Order of Free Gardeners. So five lodges joined the (brand new) 'Ancient Order of Free Gardeners', which had offices in Edinburgh. Lodge numbering was introduced, Lasswade being No1 and Penicuik No2. Soon internal disagreement prompted the formation of an eastern and western grand lodge. Glasgow City Archives hold a minute book of the West Of Scotland Grand Lodge of the Ancient Order of Free Gardeners dating from 1859. In 1879 the Western Order opened the St Andrew Order of Ancient Free Gardeners Friendly Society.

The Gardeners of the Lothians and Fife faced the 20th century in good heart. Despite the variety of organisations that had developed, all recognised a 'community' and shared a common mythology. Some had considerable resources and most were at least capable of honouring their commitments, thanks to the supporting Friendly Society Acts passed in recent years.

The 20th century

The National Insurance Act changed friendly societies. Those that were strong could become 'approved' under the act to administer its provisions for their members. However, each individual lodge was too small. Even the total membership of the lodges affiliated to Grand Lodge (Ancient Order of Free Gardeners) in Edinburgh was too small. So throughout 1911 all the lodges of the Ancient, the British, and Western Orders and the unaffiliated societies met. Together they numbered around 70-80 lodges and 12,000 Free Gardeners. Delegates discussed the formation of an association of 'Free Gardeners in Scotland for the purposes of the Act (Section 39)', whilst 'maintaining their craft connection with the Orders'.

In March 1912, 44 societies (lodges) from all orders and none joined a new association, the Ancient Order of Free Gardeners (Scotland) National Insurance Association. Some lodges did not approve the terms and conditions of the Association and instead joined the British Order of Free Gardeners. It was large enough to become approved in its own right.

Most lodges kept this complicated set of insurance transactions separate from 'craft' practices (their ritual traditions). So, for example, Penicuik Thistle remained affiliated to the Ancient Order for Craft purposes (where it was No 2 and male only) but opened a new approved society affiliated to the British Order for insurance purposes in May 1912 (where it was No 479 and open to both men and women)!

Many lodges decided to close: Dunbar's Black Agnes Lodge and Bonnyrigg's Dundas Lodge of the Ancient Order both took that path.

Still lodges were created. Mindful of their traditions, members of the Ancient Order of Free Gardeners created a special 'Craft' lodge (Past Masters or Installed Masters Lodge) in November 1921 called St Giles. It was open only to Past Masters and others interested in the rituals of the Order.

For 30 years the friendly society sector delivered state welfare. But the Labour Government elected after the second world war nationalised the whole process. From then on the State took all responsibility for benefits and pensions. With their main reason removed friendly societies quickly declined. Their staff became civil servants almost at a stroke. Their members deserted in droves. The few that stayed found it difficult to attract new ones.

By the end of the twentieth century Free Gardeners in Scotland had shared the fate of many other similar organisations - they were near on extinct.

Ritual and Symbols

Lodges participated in all manner of public events. Over the course of time they acquired a wide variety of articles to signal their distinctiveness in public - banners, aprons and sashes were most common.

They had traditions, many peculiar to each lodge, and attempted to fit their 'trade' into a wider story by drawing parallels with the original garden - Eden. Enthusiasts assembled a body of esoteric knowledge and ritual, borrowing freely from the example of Freemasonry.

They had a hierarchy of membership that was similar to Freemasonry and based in Scotland's craft traditions. Members could pass through a sequence of three degrees - Entered Apprentice, Journeyman, and Master. Members in good standing served as officers of each lodge (and later of the Grand Lodges). These posts were essentially democratically elected.

Lodges made sure that members attended meetings by fining absentees. They also tried to regulate behaviour and keep the rituals of the lodge secret from non-members. At one time this would have been important for security or for practical purposes (to confirm a stranger was a real Free Gardener and whether he be of the rank of Apprentice, Journeyman or Master Gardener).

There were two main kinds of symbology in the free gardening movement. Some of the later symbology is overtly Masonic but older articles appear to express a true gardening tradition. From the Masonic tradition come the all-seeing eye, compasses and square (crossed by a clasp knife) and Masonic-style short aprons, usually made of leather-backed blue cloth and trimmed with braid.

The other tradition is horticultural. It is characterised by plants and produce (pineapples, grapes, flowers and, in particular, roses and thistles) and of working tools (crossed spade and rake, watering cans, reel and measuring line, and so on). Whilst this tradition shares ribbons, sashes and aprons with the former, their shape and decoration differ. Thus, aprons are full length, are usually made of dark blue serge and are often colourfully and fantastically embroidered.

The differences appear to reflect an earlier tradition (the horticultural symbology) supplanted by a later accretion (the pseudo-Masonic); sometimes evidence from both can be seen in a single lodge or a single article.


Regalia dating to before 1850 AD are extremely scarce and valuable to collectors, although surviving pieces have not yet been subject to detailed investigation. However, from the earlier tradition, a pineapple or a bunch of grapes were used to symbolise the skill of a gardener. Only a master had skill to cultivate those fruits in 18th century Scotland.

Square and Compass symbols appear in 19th century Free Gardener regalia, leading to a natural confusion with Freemasonry. However, gardener connections are shown by an open clasp knife crossing the compasses. The compasses (submission to the rules), the square (squaring moral actions) and the pruning knife (cultivation of one's mind and the embrace of brotherly affection) had the meanings indicated.

Free Gardeners based their creation story on Biblical references. Coded allusions to the mythology appear on many articles of regalia. It was coded because only 'initiates' were admitted to the 'correct' interpretations of the symbols. The letters PGHE are code for the four rivers (Pishon, Euphrates, Gihon and Hiddekel) that flow through the Garden of Eden. A further letter group, ANS, symbolises a word of recognition appropriate to each degree. These letters are often accompanied by embroidered or gold braid depictions of Adam and Eve in Eden, Noah's Ark, doves and the rainbow after the Flood.

In the 19th century all the similar organisations competing for members tried to spread their own 'creation story' to highlight their uniqueness and build brotherhood and fraternity. However, many of the new enthusiasts were already Freemasons and they brought with them a tradition of 'correct' symbols and styles. As these were universally recognised, older local forms were often discarded.

The commercial suppliers of Masonic regalia helped spread conformity. In Scotland Vernal of Glasgow and Jockel of Edinburgh simply adapted for Free Gardeners what they made already for Freemasons. They kept the Masonic design and just changed the decoration as necessary. By the end of the 19th century almost all regalia was being provided from one or other of the 'Masonic warehouses' and local or homemade articles were no longer used.

Gardeners' artefacts

Jewels (medals) and insignia (badges of office) are fairly common. Tableware, strongboxes and other special artefacts are also known. Many lodges bought marching banners. Sometimes trophies survive from the days of gardening competitions. Other artefacts are now known only from photographs, like the bowers and garlands of flowers carried on some parades.

Most surviving artefacts date from after 1850 AD. However, Haddington's silver badges were made in 1825-6 and are very distinctive. The fraternity ingeniously symbolised stewardship (or pastoral care) using a watering pan (used to care for fragile plants). In contrast the medal awarded to Brother James Thomson by the Armadale Lodge of Free Gardeners shows a Masonic heritage. The obverse side is engraved with an open Bible on which is lying a pair of compasses, a setsquare and an open pruning knife, all recognised symbols of the 'Western Grand Lodge of the Scottish Order of Ancient Free Gardeners'.

Haddington bought a set of jugs around the same time as they got their badges. These show a gardener taking his ease under a spreading tree as he leans on a spade and reviews the fruits of his labours. Three sizes are known, all in Scots measure - quart, pint and mutchkin. Even their lodge box is decorated with a pineapple. To grow one was a challenge of skill in 18th and 19th century Scotland.

Some societies paraded with a costumed character - usually 'Old Adam' or the Green Man but sometimes 'Jock in the Green', who represented their mythology come to life. Other members carried garlands or bowers. Sometimes these were judged in a competition.

If a lodge were used to marching it would not feel complete without a giant banner. A few have survived.

Most date from the late 19th century or early 20th century, when their style had become fixed. The banners are usually designed to hang from a horizontal pole, held up by two vertical poles. Gardeners' banners are usually blue with painted or embroidered decoration. Much of the decoration is similar to that on aprons - Adam and Eve, Noah, the Ark and a rainbow - but there was usually room for the lodge name, a motto and a different picture on the back.

Gardeners' documents

Documents are sometimes the best surviving source for the detail of gardener societies, their members and their activities. Most 19th century societies published annual accounts. Sometimes these are bare financial statements but others list officers and a few contain potted histories of the lodge. In addition to the statutory returns each lodge maintained a set of business books.

The survival of this kind of material has been mostly down to chance. In some instances, significant records have been preserved by the foresight of the last members or their executors. But mostly all the business records of a lodge will have been lost with perhaps only a stray volume or two finding its way into a library or archive.

Minute books record the events and business conducted at meetings of the lodge or individual committees. They often record new members, notes referring to sickness claims, fines and lodge events. Some include a register of members and, at the very least, a record of elections to committee posts. The very best will be full of gossip and anecdote.

Treasurer's books and accounts record the full financial history of each lodge. There is often a wealth of membership detail, showing both payments made and received. Transactions involving the administration of lodge property and all manner of day-to-day transactions are listed.

In addition to the more formal books of each lodge other more ephemeral material can survive. Such items usually refer to particular events such as special campaigns, competitions, or meetings. All this material is scarce, but some Victorian posters have survived, Haddington made sure that its members were always formally invited to the AGM. To save money they bought their own engraved copper plate, which would be handed to a local printer whenever more invitations were needed.

Gardeners' diversity

Gardeners' societies differed from place to place in the Lothians and Fife. Many lodges had customs unique to themselves and these customs changed from time to time. Even the creation of the Grand Lodge in 1849 did little bring about systematic habits because within a few years there were lodges affiliated to at least three grand lodges. There were even short-lived bodies that seem to have, from their names, taken the esoteric side of the movement to extremes: in 1885 the 'Husbandmen Gardeners (Knights)' were based at Cordwainers' Hall in Edinburgh.

The study of esoteric gardening had its own devotees. In November 1921 members of the Ancient Order of Free Gardeners created a special 'craft' lodge in Edinburgh called St Giles. It had no friendly society function. It was not even a forum for members interested in real gardening. Instead, it was open only to Past Masters and others interested in the rituals of the Order. One of these was Mr Black of Penicuik. Like many others he was deeply interested in the history of his society and collected what he could. Much of his research is still preserved in Midlothian.

The Fraternity of Gardeners of East Lothian

The Fraternity of Gardeners of East Lothian was in existence as early as 1676. On 16 August of that year a surviving minute book records the organisation's constitution, which clearly lays out the aims and intentions of the body. Article Quatro (four) states a 'sufficient Quorum of the Fraternity appointed' shall examine any 'professing to be handie labouring and working Gardeners' 'that noblemen, Gentlemen, and others may be sufficiently served with well qualified Gardiners'. The rest of the 15 rules stipulate the fraternity's administration, regulate members' behaviour as gardeners and towards each other, and lay down benefits and eligibility. There is some suggestion from the form of words used that the fraternity was merely restating existing rules in a new minute book. For example, article decimo quinto (15) contains the leading phrase 'in respect there is frequently a thin Meeting', which suggests the article is an amendment based on experience. The entry money for a gardener was a Merk (13 shillings and 4 pence Scots or around one shilling Sterling) but gentlemen paid half a crown (2 shillings and 6 pence). The gentleman member was there to learn topical methods and cultivation to apply to his estate. An undated (eighteenth century) later article emends the entry money to the advantage of 'labouring gardeners': they paid 5/- and gentlemen 10/- Sterling.

The fraternity was based in Haddington where they purchased a property on a corner in Market Street. It contained an inn, which is still known as the Gardeners' Arms today. However, the membership was predominantly resident at their workplaces on the estates surrounding the town and nearby Dunbar (members there petitioned to be allowed to meet in that town owing to the difficulty of appearing at Haddington; as they were liable to fines for non-attendance the compromise was accepted). Their main meeting hall above the Gardeners' Arms was used for business meetings, dinners, and lectures as well as to store documents and their moveable property.

The fraternity elected officers from the first. A chairman (sometimes called President or Preses) and an unknown number of Joint Masters are the first to be noted, together with an appointed Clerk. In the middle of the eighteenth century a Box-master (Treasurer) was necessary. In the nineteenth century the officers' titles included Grand Master (President), Depute GM, Treasurer, Secretary (formerly the Clerk), as well as Keyholders (treasurer's assistants), Guards and Stewards. All can be identified in regalia purchased from the Edinburgh silversmith George McHattie in 1825-6. The senior positions and junior positions were vacated annually, but the more administrative posts of Treasurer and Secretary could be held for considerable periods. Also during the nineteenth century the Fraternity became commonly known as 'The Ancient Fraternity of Free Gardeners of East Lothian' reflecting both their seniority amongst a growing number of similar societies and the ever-increasing preponderance of non-gardeners amongst the membership. Despite this, the fraternity maintained from 1772 an annual programme of two competitions, extended to six during 1847. The programme was maintained (not without difficulty) until 1939.

The fraternity acquired traditions over the years. Many of them parallel to the practices of Freemasonry, to which Free Gardening bears a superficial comparison. Thus members were differentiated by degrees. Master and Prentice appear in the 1676 constitution and mention of 'Servants' may indicate the intermediate degree of journeyman. All members possessed a 'Word', which was used to identify them where they might be unknown and to gain access to formal meetings. How essential this was in the restricted world of East Lothian horticulture is open to question. The fraternity paraded through Haddington before their annual dinner led by the town piper and a costumed 'Jock in the Green', who carried a bower of flowers to represent the Garden of Eden. For many years 'Jock' was the sole prerogative of succeeding members of the Nisbet family. Flower shows and quarter meetings were also usually celebrated with a meal. The fraternity had a seat, or box, in Haddington parish church, painted 'a neat green colour' and decorated with painted flowers. The box was shrouded with black cloth when a member died. They also appear to have taken the lead in a number of tree planting ceremonies celebrating Queen Victoria's long reign and participated in the customary public activities of the town.

On public occasions the members wore long gardener's aprons made of blue serge cloth. Two sets survive, one plain and one with gold fringes and embroidered devices that match a set of superlative sashes. The officers wore the sashes and the devices denote their position - halberds for Guards, bunches of grapes for Stewards, a briar rose for the Depute Grand Master, and the last crowned for the Grand Master. In addition there were the silver insignia mentioned above. These were worn on blue neck collars.

The Fraternity commissioned decorative jugs from a nearby pottery for private occasions and their important documents were kept in a box with an identifying brass plaque on top (their third box, commissioned from a local cabinet maker by a minute of 13 December 1815, survives). Medals and trophies were acquired for the competitions.

With time, new members were attracted to the fraternity for the benefits it provided; the constitution allowed them as 'gentlemen' members - the 'Free' gardeners. Scales of sickness benefit and annuities were published and if men, of any profession, could meet the fees while they were working then they received regular payments when in need. The fraternity's death grant not only covered the immediate costs of a funeral but also the needs of 'distressed widows or orphans' for a few weeks. For many years the fraternity earned income from its accumulated funds by making loans to members 'from the box'.

In terms of a resolution passed on 22 February 1953 the 23 surviving members of the fraternity were unanimous in agreeing to wind up the organisation. Mindful of their rich history, their minute books were deposited in the National Archives of Scotland (until such time as proper accommodation could be found in Haddington). The regalia were passed to the East Lothian Antiquarian Society for preservation; trophies and property were returned to the donor families or presented to individuals.

For more than 277 years the fraternity had regulated the profession of gardening in East Lothian. At first its members took care to ensure that knowledge and new varieties of plants were spread amongst the membership and that entrants to the profession were suitably qualified and diligent in their working life. They looked after their poor, sick and the dependants of deceased members. Later, this aspect became the main attraction of the fraternity and the membership widened beyond the gardening profession, although they maintained some of their colourful old traditions. The introduction of state benefits and the welfare state during the twentieth century reduced universally the demand for friendly society benefits and the declining membership voted to bring their unique society to a close.

The Society of Gardeners in and about Dunfermline

The society was founded in 1716. Like many early gardeners' associations, it may have grown out of an earlier body. It used a variety of names over the years. It is often recorded as the Dunfermline Gardeners' Society or, more formally, the Ancient Society of Gardeners in and about Dunfermline.

The Gardeners were not numbered among Dunfermline's incorporations and trades guilds. Hence their status was at first sight lesser. In partial compensation, their rules were more flexible. That the society could not be an incorporation in law does not appear to have bothered the founders unduly as their 'bond of union' follows almost exactly the form of an incorporation's seal of cause and they refer to themselves throughout as both a fraternity and an incorporation. The senior officers were at first a Deacon and a number of masters, also just like incorporations. Later, the most senior position was titled 'Chancellor', which is believed to reflect the growing influence of non-operative members.

The society was popular from the outset. From the first local 'gentry' enlisted in some numbers, although they paid different rates than practicing gardeners. This essentially gave the society a cachet or social position that was unavailable to the town's incorporations, which were restricted solely to craftsmen. Other professionals - lawyers, military men, ministers and doctors - also joined the Gardeners. In a history published at the society's centenary a complete membership list was printed. It emphasised the titled and professional men, who were headed by a Duke, a Marquis, 6 Earls, 7 Lords, 8 Knights and hundreds of professionals (soldiers, ministers, advocates) and other landowners or Lairds. The list appeared regularly, with additions, during the society's second century. Interestingly, upper class interest was at its greatest during the first fifty years of the society; few notable additions were made to the first published list. By the end of the eighteenth century such illustrious company had faded away except for a leavening of Dunfermline based professionals.

The Society was able to invest surplus cash in land. It purchased a substantial plot just outside the then boundaries of the burgh of Dunfermline in the first half of the eighteenth century. Business minutes record in detail expenditure relating to the administration of the property and the subsequent revenue that the society earned from it. Although at first some of the land was let in the short term, providing rental income, the society's sustained wealth was secured by selling feus on the land. Each feu provided both a once and only lump sum in cash and a continuing feu duty, which was still being levied into the 1990s.

At the end of the eighteenth century, the rules of society were amended to enhance its role in providing sickness, funeral and widows' benefits; to some extent the original gardening objectives were neglected. However, for many years a horticultural fund was maintained with a programme of exhibitions and prizes. In the nineteenth century this was reformulated as a separate 'Horticultural Section' with separate membership terms and dues - a small annual fee to cover administration of the events and prizes.

By 1828 the society had feued fifty individual plots on its land. They received in return annual sums ranging from 17/6 (87.5p) to £9.17.6 (£9.875), around £80 in total. Other income was realized from interest on investments and rentals from land that still remained in their own hands. The feuars could build on their feus and sell them if they wished and with the agreement of the society. Any new purchaser also owed feu duty to the society and sometimes 'entry money', a one-off charge. This steady income influenced the development of the society.

In 1832 the reforming zeal of a new secretary transformed the society once more. Sickness benefit and charitable donations were abolished, as was the quarterly subscription that had mostly sustained these payments. Instead, the society concentrated on providing annuities or pensions to members over the age of 65: the society's land wealth and admission rates served to cover outgoings.

The minute books and ledgers of the Society are held at Dunfermline Local Studies Library. They are remarkably complete. They can be used to follow the development of the society as a whole, both its changing role and its membership. They provide an insight into the development of a part of Dunfermline that was still open land when the society purchased it but which was fully developed when the society celebrated its 200th anniversary in 1916 by marching the boundaries of their property and they throw light on the social history of families and individuals in Dunfermline.

To single out just one member, Peter Donald was 38 when he joined the Society on 10 June 1864. Consequently, he paid high entry money - £4.16.3 (£4.81). Entry was charged at different scales for the first and subsequent sons or sons-in-law of members. Neutrals, those with no connection to the Society at all, paid even more. Entry money was also age dependant, reflecting the likely risk that older entrants would be on the society's outgoings. Tables indicating charges were published to keep members informed. Despite his age at entry, Peter Donald was able to benefit from his membership for many years. He was admitted as an annuitant (pensioner) of the Society on 31 October 1891 aged 65. At that time he was resident in New York. He died there on 9 April 1915 (aged 89). During this time his benefit totalled more than £150 - a good return on his investment.

Later members were not so fortunate. After the First World War and during the rest of the twentieth century inflation began to outstrip the growth in the sum that the society could distribute. By the 1980s, it was costing more to administer the Society's business than was paid out in annuities - £133.85 against £125. The remaining members expressed an interest in closing the society, which was first voiced at the annual general meeting of 1983. The next year the Clerk (a local solicitor) reported the opinion of the Registrar of Friendly Societies in Edinburgh that as 'the society owned the superiority of large subjects' there was 'no way of winding up'. As the value of annuities was further eroded, the society appears to have withered and died.

Edinburgh Gardeners

The Society and Association of Gardeners in the Shire of Midlothian was the first gardeners' style group in the City. However, although the membership included working gardeners its aims appear to have been commercial. They leased and let land at Dalry (near Romilly Place and Gardner's Crescent) as market gardens. The Society appears to have failed in the 1730s.

It was succeeded by the Caledonian Gardeners' Lodge of Edinburgh also known as the Caledonian Gardeners' Friendly Society. This body was formed in 1782. Like its neighbours in Dunfermline and Haddington it admitted non-gardeners from the first although on different terms to working gardeners. Writing in 2000, Forbes Robertson in Early Scottish Gardeners and their Plants recognised that the 'traditional aspects of a craft guild' were not as important as the continuing 'need for mutual support in times of stress'. So the association was mainly for mutual aid. Great care was taken to admit only those who were already known to members, or who could provide certificates of age and health. In any event, there were upper limits of 40 years for admission (as Dunfermline) and 32 in the case of non-gardeners.

In 1849 the Ancient Order of Free Gardeners was formed with headquarters in Edinburgh. The Edinburgh and Leith Post Office Directories include a separate Friendly Societies Directory that can be used to follow the fortunes of the Order and the City based lodges. For a long time Grand Lodge shared premises with the Oddfellows in Forest Road. In the 1880s there were five Edinburgh and three Leith lodges affiliated: St Cuthbert's, Barony of Broughton, Athole, St Andrew's, St George's, Archibald Stewart, Leith and St Antony.

The Ancient Order faced competition from the British Order of Free Gardeners based at the Free Gardeners' Institute at 10 Broughton Street and later 12 Picardy Place. They eventually mustered 19 lodges in the City, joined later by associated juvenile and female only lodges. They began their push into the Edinburgh area around 1880. The Order's offices ceased to be listed after 1973.

Also in Edinburgh was the Masonic Depot of AM Jockel and Company. Based in George Street, this firm supplied military, ecclesiastical and Masonic necessaries as well as 'Regalia for all other societies - Free Gardeners, Foresters, Shepherds, always kept in stock' according to an advertisement in 1900.

Midlothian Gardeners

Penicuik Thistle Lodge was for many years the most vigorous of the Free Gardener societies in the County and perhaps in Scotland. The lodge was founded in 1822 AD. A century later they recalled that a deputation from Auchterarder came to Penicuik bringing a dispensation to local gardeners allowing them to begin the lodge.

In the words of the lodge song:

oor neighbours thocht tae keep us back,

but we'll be wi' them in a crack,

now Auchter lads hae come tae mak,

us a' free maister gairdners.

This lodge took a leading role in opening Grand Lodge (Ancient Order of Free Gardeners) in 1849. Several Penicuik men became leaders of the organisation. Penicuik contributed to the Grand Lodge Benevolent Fund many times by raising money from events, such as concerts. Despite participating in the Order, the lodge became a friendly society in 1874, from which time it was registered. Audited annual accounts have survived from this period. Benevolence was the most important aspect of the society's finances, but its day to day running and payments to the Grand Lodge were also significant. Continuing its tradition of seeking the best deal for its members, the lodge took a new path in 1912.

In 1911 the Liberal Government, under David Lloyd George, introduced a scheme that provided for the elderly, unemployed and sick. Prompted by this change, Penicuik Thistle Lodge affiliated to the British Order of Ancient Free Gardeners, East of Scotland District in order to participate in the National Insurance Act. However, it maintained its 'craft' links with the Ancient Order of Free Gardeners. Members could join simply for benefits (the friendly society) or for the non-statutory pleasures of the craft.

The lodge's participation in public life in Penicuik became one to the traditions of the town. Each year, usually in July, the lodge paraded through the main streets led by a costumed character, 'Old Adam', and a number of 'Virgins'. 'Buskits of floo'ers' were carried by some members - the best won a prize. Families of members played a part in the celebrations, joining in dancing on the green of Penicuik House and other related events. The day's festivities were always reported in the local press.

The lodge remained strong for a few years after the second world war even though many friendly societies were finding the times difficult. However, by the late 1960s, the availability of universal national insurance and changing social expectations were having their effect on numbers. Although one of the last Free Gardener lodges in Scotland - the writing was on the wall and the lodge closed.

Gardeners in West Lothian

The gardeners of West Lothian are very obscure, but enough survives to outline the history of several lodges.

There was a cluster of lodges, perhaps associated, that used the descriptive term 'olive' in their titles: Bathgate Olive Lodge, Armadale Olive Lodge, and Whitburn Olive Lodge, which were founded in 1863, 1880 and 1891 respectively. Evidence from surviving artefacts shows the affiliation of some of these. Armadale was a lodge in the Western Grand Lodge of the Scottish Order of Ancient Free Gardeners and was probably thus also affiliated to the St Andrew Order of Ancient Free Gardeners Friendly Society, the order's benevolent rather than craft arm.

In contrast, the Willow Tree Lodge of Linlithgow was affiliated to the British Order of Ancient Free Gardeners where it was number 200. It was established in 1889 with twenty members and a capital fund of £8. An early piece of regalia appears to be home made, but the lodge flourished and was able to afford to purchase official equipment at some later date. Some has been identified as manufactured by the firm of Kenning and Company of Manchester.

All the lodges appear to have closed at relatively early dates. Bathgate closed in 1915 but records show Armadale survived until at least 1943.

In 1849 AD the Grand Lodge known as The Ancient Order of Free Gardeners in Scotland was formed at Penicuik, Scotland. In 1956, due to failing attendances in Scotland, this Grand Lodge charter was transferred to Cape Town in South Africa and remains there.  

In September 2002 saw the Ancient Order of Free Gardeners return to Scotland when the Countess of Elgin Lodge No 105 received its charter to meet in Dysart, Fife.

Adelphi Bluebell Lodge No 4 was also chartered in 2002 by visiting Free Gardeners from South Africa based under the auspices of the Ancient Order of Free Gardeners (South Africa). In turn the Adelphi-Bluebell Lodge No 4 has chartered many daughter lodges including the Hanging Gardens of Babylon Lodge No 13. Daughter lodges of Adelphi Bluebell mainly carry the "Bluebell" name showing their lineage.


The Grand United Order of Free Gardeners still operates in Victoria, Australia from the East Kew Masonic Centre. It meets monthly under the auspices of the Victorian Grand Lodge No. 1,

A Brief History of the Rise and Fall of the Ancient Order of Free Gardeners

By Trevor Powell (PM) 

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National United Order of Free Gardeners.

Myrtle Lodge, 1658 

Rushden & District History Society

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Free Gardeners

Author(s) Unknown 

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Old Free Gardener Societies and Lodges

Partial List 

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