Local Social Organisations
Before the National Insurance Act of 1911 and the establishment of the Welfare State in 1945, waged workers, in times of hardship, provided for their families by joining Friendly Societies. Regular contributions entitled a member to sickness benefits and funeral allowances.
By the end of the nineteenth century there were several such societies in Penicuik, for example the Ancient Order of Foresters, the Ancient Order of Shepherds and the Thistle Lodge of Free Gardeners. In July each year the Gardeners held their annual walk parading through the town behind the Lodge Banner carrying baskets of flowers before proceeding to the grounds of Penicuik House for a picnic.
Other societies e.g. the Independent Order of Rechabites and the Good Templars were also members of the Temperance Movement. Industrialists keen to have a sober workforce, resulting in fewer man hours lost and fewer accidents with machinery were often patrons of the movement. Sir John Cowan, of Alex Cowan & Sons, gave financial support to the Total Abstinence Society while his brother Charles Cowan MP supported the passing of the Forbes McKenzie Act, 1853, banning the opening of public houses in Scotland on a Sunday.
Co-operative Societies were formed to provide members with quality food at affordable prices and a cash dividend based on the value of goods bought. The Penicuik Co-operative Society was formed in 1860 being the idea of four paper mill workers. It was very successful with its own dairy and bakery in addition to the grocery business and other departments.
The first of many Penicuik Children’s Gala Days was organized by the United Friendly Societies of Penicuik in 1906. In 1926 the Coronation Chair, made by the Scottish Co-operative Wholesale Society at their works at Shieldhall, Glasgow, was presented to the UFSP by former paper mill workers and their families who had emigrated to Waterville, Maine U.S.A. to work in paper mills on the Kennebec River.