First sight of the (UAOD) Druids Hall may cause visitors to wonder if the ancient priests of Celtic Britain came to reside in Adelaide. Not so.
A number of ancient (18th / 19th century) Orders, having their roots mainly in Britain, opened branches or lodges in Australia, including here in Adelaide. The best known of these is the Freemasons. Others with, or previously having, lodges here in Adelaide include the grandly and somewhat quaintly named Independent Order of Oddfellows, the South Australian Ancient Order of Foresters’ Friendly Society, Australian Natives’ Association, and the United Ancient Order of Druids. Of course, the Australian Natives’ Association was an Australian based organisation – the natives being people of European heritage born in Australia and not indigenous Australians, but that’s another story.
Originally called the Ancient Order of Druids (AOD), this fraternal Order was founded in 1781 by merchants and artisans in the King’s Arms tavern just off Oxford Street in London, at a time when secret societies and clubs were popular. The Order’s initial link to Druids was almost accidental and merely due to the fact that one of its members, Mr Hurle, had a personal interest in ancient Druids. Hurle became the Order’s first Archdruid, of what was Lodge No 1.
By the 1830s lodges had developed throughout England and poorer members in the industrial North wanted the Order to act more like friendly societies such as the Oddfellows and the Foresters. This lead to the Great Secession in 1833 when the AOD split in two with the new faction becoming the United Ancient Order of Druids (UAOD) and aiming for “social and intellectual intercourse” and “general philanthropy and benevolence”.
English AOD member, Brother Hymen, migrated to Australia and opened the order’s first lodge in Melbourne in 1851. The Order soon spread to all Australian states plus New Zealand, adopting the name UAOD. In Australia the order was composed of friendly societies providing sick, medical, funeral and, most recently, insurance and pension coverage to members.
I have found it very difficult to find information on the UAOD or its current status in Australia and more specifically in Adelaide. Perhaps this can be explained by a section in International Grand Lodge of Druidism’s May 2014 newsletter which, rather tellingly, reads:
’The desolate situation of Druidism in Australia has been known for a long time. And the fact that there has been absolutely no sign of life for more than one year, intensifies this impression dramatically. In fact, only three lodges which can be described as working ones seem to be left over. These are the two lodges in Bunbury, Western Australia, and one in Adelaide, South Australia. Maybe there are some other places where (former) members meet from time to time, but this must mainly be seen as social gatherings without any obligation or even practicing a ritual. And currently there is no light at the end of the tunnel’.
Druidism, it appears, is not flavor de jour in Australia these days!
I don’t know where the Adelaide lodge meets, as this building has been converted into a costume hire shop and function centre/bar. Perhaps there remains a separate meeting room within or the lodge meets somewhere else. Indeed, as there were a number of lodges in Adelaide, this building may not relate to the last existing one at all.
My final picture is an 1896 image of a gathering of unknown UAOD Lodges in Old Kent Road, London – courtesy of http://www.druidicdawn.org.
Now if you do come across this building or one similar you can impress your friends with your knowledge of the Ancient Order of Druids and its associated entities.
The Druids Hall is located at 116 Flinders Street.
Footnote: A reader has put forward the view that the establishment and growth of many UAOD lodges (and other similar bodies) in Australia had more to do with laws introduced requiring pubs to close at 6pm than a desire of the local populace to become Druids, etc. The law did not apply to private clubs. My reader argues that the later demise of the UAOD and similar organisations coincided with the repeal of the early closing laws. There may indeed be a significant element of truth in the view that many UAOD lodges were established and run as drinking clubs.