Instagram Linked In Twitter Facebook

The First Fifty Years of National Friendly

Here at National Friendly we are getting rather excited about a momentous occasion. 2018 marks our 150th anniversary of servicing our members’ health care needs which shows a level of stability and security of National Friendly as a friendly society. We’re sure you’ll agree that reaching 150 years really is an impressive achievement, especially when average life expectancy was at a frightening 40 years old back in 1868! We hope that you join in by taking a little look back over these years with us.

150 years certainly is a long time and yes, a lot has happened so we’ve decided to break these years down for you. So without further ado… here’s our first fifty years!


The year was 1868. A certain man, Rev. Canon George Raymond Portal, to be precise, had an idea. The Surrey Deposit Friendly Society was the name first coined by Portal at his residence, The Rectory, in Albury, Surrey. The idea stemmed from the fact that at the time, those who were in need of a doctor had to pay for it all by themselves. Families were going hungry when the breadwinner was unwell and were often reliant upon charity to help them through these tough times. In those days, if you died without any means, you were given a pauper’s funeral. Rev Portal felt this was a very unsatisfactory state of affairs.

With the help of Rev Samuel Best, he created a deposit system which allowed contributors from the Surrey area to co-fund any need for medical assistance whilst also helping to pay for their own funeral in a pooled insurance scheme. Not exactly the jolliest of times!

In the Albury Rectory’s library one evening in January 1868, over a crackling fire, an important ruling was also decided upon. Women and children would be admitted to join as members, something that was quite unheard of at the time with many sharing clubs and friendly societies excluding women members.

Members of the Society who did not claim on the fund saw their deposit rise over time, which helped to mitigate frivolous claims. This was seen as thrifty by Rev Portal, something he liked to see and which became more apparent in the thrift plant logo which later became associated with the symbol of the National Deposit Friendly Society.

How much did all this cost back in 1868? A typical premium was two shillings (10p) per month. This would then provide the member two shillings a day in sick pay, based on a six-day week. 10p in 1868 would be equivalent to around £10.30 today.


Just three years later, the popularity of the deposit scheme had caught on and by 1871 there was talk of a ‘United Friendly Society’ as interest spread to other counties. In 1872 it was resolved that the Society should hereafter be known as the National Friendly Deposit Society.


In 1889, Rev Portal died and was buried in his own and favourite county of Hampshire. He had seen his modest venture in the small village of Albury grow into a national friendly society in twenty years with the original principles as resolute in 1889 as they were in 1868. From an initial membership of 12 men and women, it had grown to around 7,000 members. This figure shot up to over 35,000 members in the 10 years following his passing, He would have been delighted!


A major turning point came in the form of the National Insurance Act in 1911. This was the first time the State had taken contributions from employers and employees towards social insurance paying for medical care. Here, the State entered the field where none but friendly societies had been until then. The architect of the Act, David Lloyd George, with help from Winston Churchill sought the experience of the leading friendly societies of the time. National Friendly was to become an Approved Society under the State Insurance Bill. This meant it was able to take on state members and administer their new-found benefits. The National Deposit Friendly Society then continued helping the state administer these benefits on behalf of the state right up until 1946.

Something had to change here. National Deposit’s members were unhappy that they were now contributing to the new systems when they already felt they were doing this with the Society. Some members of the society thought they should be allowed to opt out of the Government scheme since there seemed to be no point in belonging to two schemes. Others said they should be free to choose their own insurance against sickness and unemployment.  There was some doubt at the time about the medical benefit provided by the Act and therefore members were encouraged to keep their policies for the time being.


1912 saw a vote of 199 to 75 vote against expansion of the National Deposit Friendly Society into Canada which could have been an interesting move. Only time would tell how things would turn out for the Society for it was a rather uncertain world in 1912. This very year saw the ‘unsinkable’ vessel, the Titanic sink with great loss of life.

The first 6 months of 1912 saw no fewer than 350,000 National Insurance contributors joining the Society for State administered benefits while 100,000 had become members of the Deposit Society itself. The idea of insuring against ill health had truly caught on!

Share this article