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Pension societies and Almshouses for Bookbinders

This post is the second of a series of features written by our archivist, Jae Mauthe, exploring the development of charitable organizations devoted to social services for bookbinders.

The industrial revolution brought about many changes to the worklife of bookbinders. Bookbinder John Jaffery sought social reform in Victorian London through the London Working Men’s Association, which was established in 1836.  Jaffery fought to improve the situation of workers and to provide aid to those in need. (As described in the previous installment of this series.) Industrialization created a shift from life in the countryside towards the development of cities and towns, which led to rapid population growth, unemployment, and increased poverty. This cycle eventually led to the foundation of the country’s poor laws in 1834. These had a huge impact on bookbindery workers because of the itinerant nature of their work. Many workers seasonally found themselves out of work and in need of assistance.

As Britain reformed and amended it’s poor laws, industry grew, and trade unions sprung up focused on the maintenance of wage levels, reduction of work hours, and continued availability of work. In addition to unions, Friendly societies began to form around the bookbinding trade with members of the group contributing to a mutual fund in order to receive benefits in times of need. Although the concept had been around for hundreds of years, by the 1800s, their role was acknowledged by the government and membership was encouraged. The meetings were often social gatherings in pubs and churches where the subscriptions would be paid. Prior to the Welfare State, these societies were often the only option a bindery worker had to receive help in times of sickness, unemployment, or old age.

Image from the ABM archive: the Bookbinders Provident Asylum, Islington.

The Bookbinders Charity was founded on the principle of mutual assistance where workers helped other workers within the trade.  Bookbinders Provident Asylum Society, founded in May of 1839, built an asylum in 1843 in Balls Pond Road, Islington to care for aged and infirm members, their widows and female workers in the trade. On March 25, 1844 the first election of three inmates took place.

These trade unions and Friendly societies merged and changed names often, as one can see from the list below.

  • Amicable Society of Bookbinders
  • Bookbinders’ Consolidated Relief Fund
  • Bookbinders Consolidated Union
  • Bookbinders’ Friendly Benefit Society
  • Bookbinders’ Pension and Asylum Society
  • Bookbinders’ Pension Society
  • Bookbinders’ Provident Asylum Society
  • Friendly Society of Bookbinders
  • Friendly Society of Journeyman Bookbinders of London and Westminster
  • London Consolidated Society/Lodge of Journeyman Bookbinders
  • National Union of Bookbinders and Machine Rulers
  • Society of Day-working Bookbinders of London and Westminster

Much information resides in archives and libraries for further research on the subject or by searching the minutes of these guilds and crafts associations.

-Jae Mauthe

Next in the series: Bookbinders Unions and social services in the United States.