If you were male, under forty, free of "the distemper", not a thief, and could pay 1/-3d (including beer) at the monthly meetings at the British Arms, the "Cradley Society of Tradesmen and Others" offered you the security of going "on the box" in times of hardship
"ON THE BOX"
by NORMAN BIRD
In order to mitigate the poverty and insecurity of the 19th Century, Mutual Benefit Societies sprang up, particularly in industrial areas, all over the country. These clubs provided insurance, mainly against unemployment due to illness, and occasionally a little relaxation from the daily round.
On January 8th, a Society of Tradesmen and Others was inaugurated at the house of Abel Tate, The British Arms, Cradley, a copy of the rules of which can be seen in the B'ham. Ref. Library. The word tradesmen in the above sense included craftsmen and workmen.
The Meetings were held every fourth Saturday from 7 to 9 p.m. at the above Inn, where members were ordered not to appear "in liquor." One became a member by paying 2/6 entrance fee, but only if such a person was under forty and did not suffer from "the distemper."
The society was exclusive as well as select; women and thieves were barred.
The subscription which was paid at each meeting was "1/- for the box" and "3d. for beer," thus each meeting provided an opportunity for conviviality as well as mutual assistance. Fines were imposed for betting, playing cards and swearing and a person who absented himself forfeited one shilling. This seems an excessive amount for what would appear to be a trivial offence nowadays.
If a member became sick, he had to get a medical certificate from a doctor in order to go "on the box,", and he could remain on benefit to the limit of sixteen weeks, during which time he would be visited, by an officer appointed for that duty.
The high spot of the year was the annual feast which took place on Whit-Monday. For this, it was laid down that members must appear "decent and clean" and answer the roll call at 10 o'clock in the morning. They then proceeded to church where there was a special service for the occasion. Absentees forfeited a shilling which was the usual cost of the repast. Stewards were ordered to refuse admission to women and children in case they might eat the food not consumed and this was to be put on one side until the evening when the jolifications continued.
The first president was Benjamin Cox who was also a trustee; the other trustees being Joseph Coley, Daniel Gill and Benjamin Cook.
Note by Cradley Links:
This article was first published in the Cradley Parish Church Magazine, June 1957.
The author, Norman Bird, took an active interest in Cradley history, and was a regular contributor to the parish magazine. Deputy Head Master at the Cradley Church Schools for more than 20 years, he died suddenly in the school staff room in the late 1950s.