to local tradition, it was in the year 1800 that a friendly society
was formed in Harting. At some early date the name Harting Old
Club was adopted, though the official title, Harting Friendly
Society lingered on until 1951. A rival club that sprung up in
1882 lasted for nearly 50 years. After a century of inestimable
benefit to the working men, and so meeting the challenge of national
friendly societies, The Harting Old Club was retained to supplement
other benefits from national insurance schemes in the last century.
Whereas many village clubs never revived their annual feast when
the wars ended, Harting saw to it that both Club and Feast remained.
An independent village friendly society is now a rarity, especially
one which keeps up its insurance work, feast and customs.
The main rule of the Club has always been "that the intent
and purpose of its establishment is for raising a common stock
or fund for the support and maintenance of its members in old
age, sickness or infirmity, and for their decent burial........."
Another rule provides for a yearly feast and another describes
the procedure of members who shall "....dissemble themselves
together on Whit Monday, every year, between the hour of nine
and ten o'clock in the morning at the said clubhouse, and from
thence proceed in a direct and orderly manner to the Parish Church
to hear a sermon preached by the minister of the parish for the
time being...." (Fine of 5p for those who missed this).
Before Church, the Secretary calls the roll and members
proceed through the village street, previously decorated with
beech boughs - a custom derived from a primitive, ancient tree-cult
promoting the vigorous life of the woods into the village, to
benefit its people, stock and crops. Members should wear red,
white and blue ribbons and carry peeled hazel sticks. Other rules
are framed to promote good conduct. Fines can be imposed if they
are not kept, ranging from "upbraiding a fellow member who
has received benefits, he having a right thereto" (25p),
"proposing anything without good order and decorum"
(2½p), "calling another a liar, swearing, quarrelling
or coming in liquor to the Club's meetings" (5p each)
The Club's officials consist of two Trustees, Honorary Secretary,
four Stewards and two Flagmen, and the Club at present has approximately
seventy members. In 90 years there have been only ten Trustees,
the present ones being Mr D Barnard (since 1986) and Mr P Glue
(since 1995). In the past 80 years there have been only five
Secretaries, the present one being Mr H Sladden (since 1973).
Any healthy male between 15 and 45 years of age can join, subscription
£5.00 per year. Sickness benefits of £1.20 per week
are paid when a member is ill up to a continuous period of nine
months. After that, or it is considered he is unable to work
for his living, he is superannuated and receives £12 per
year for the rest of his life. When a member dies, £60
is paid towards his funeral expenses and it is an unwritten rule
that a member receives £20.00 if his wife dies.
Although perhaps nowadays not all the rules and customs are strictly
adhered to, and the amount of sickness benefit is not great,
nevertheless the basic principles and traditions remain
the same as they were in 1800. As was recently written, the Old
Club is now rather like an old oak beam in a modernised cottage:
not essential perhaps, but still a useful, pleasing feature in
changed surrounds. Whether it owes its preservation as much to
the thorough "oiling" it once annually received and
still gets in a mild and colourful form each year, as to its
own steady character and sterling purpose, is another matter!