Tuesday, 25 October 2011

Deptford Ubiquarians

A chance listing on Abebooks alerted me to the existence of an intriguingly-named group who met in eighteenth-century Deptford. While I didn't buy the book (a sermon isn't really my taste), I did explore further who these Ubiquarians were.

In the eighteenth century, societies for middle and upper-class men were enormously popular. In fact, the problem was not so much finding a society to suit your tastes as finding enough members for your society! They ranged from learned societies to the notorious Hellfire Club. The Ubiquarians were part of this fashion, at the more respectable end of the spectrum, and shared many of the features of similar organisations.

The Right Worthy and Amicable Order of Ubiquarians of the Province of Deptford were one of many quasi-masonic societies. They were governed by a Senate, which in turn chose an (unfortunately-titled) Dictator. Despite thus making themselves a dictatorship, their purposes were in fact liberty and the pursuit of knowledge. According to Peter Clark, they had 'an interest in Egyptian learning, and sociability moderated by temperance.'

Like many such societies, the Ubiquarians pretended to have a long and venerable history. Their book of statues was preceded by 'a Preamble concerning the Antiquity, Universality, Fall, and Renovation, or Re-Institution of Ubiquarianism'.

The society met weekly in the 1730s and 1749s, and also had a sermon preached to them at St Paul's Deptford in late June each year. These included several on the theme of friendship, including 'The practice of religion and virtue the only sure foundation of friendship' and 'The duties and offices of friendship' in 1738 and 1739. In 1740, the topic was 'The faith and practice of a Christian the only true foundation of rational liberty'.

Like most such organisations, the Ubiquarians eventually faded away. They have left little trace except an intriguing name to catch the eye of later historians.

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