Looking back at the Sheffield group known for secret knocks, signs and codewords

Once they were so secret even members didn't speak of them to outsiders.

Thursday, 7th October 2021, 12:22 pm

They were, apparently, the men in the pub who would silently drift upstairs to the club room to do behind closed doors whatever it was they did.

No, not the Masons - this is the wonderfully named Royal Antediluvian Order of Buffaloes.

They're not to be confused with the Loyal Order of Water Buffaloes Lodge - that was the fraternity which Fred Flintstone and Barney Rubble were members of in The Flintstones.

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The Buffs, as they're known for short, were sometimes snootily looked down upon as a working man's version of the Freemasons.

They grew out of a self help organisation set up in 1823 by a group of strolling players in the Drury Lane area of London.

Today they are an open society these days with a website, of course, and various lodges dotted around Sheffield.

Back in April, 1982, things were a little different but were already changing.

The Star and Telegraph ran a revealing piece on the Buffs, which showed how they were becoming far less secretive.

But, even then they still had their secret knocks, signs and codewords that got them admitted into their meetings - and outsiders were still not welcomed.

They still wore their regalia - sashes, cuffs and aprons.

As the provincial grand secretary in Sheffield said "I remember asking a Buff what it was all about and the only thing he would say was 'pay your guinea and then we'll tell you'."

The Buffs had - and still have - noble and honourable aims: "Protection of the fatherless, the orphaned child, the widow, the sick and the aged."

By the early Eighties it was now longer a guinea to join (did anyone have access to guineas?) - it was then £5.50 for life membership and 10p every time they attended their lodge.

It was still popular - there were 650 members of 36 minor lodges in and around Sheffield.

The subs and 10p wasn't enough to support the groups' activities though. So they had a novel, and rather comical, way of getting a little more cash from members.

After business was concluded and they sat down for a drink to relax and have a chat, they fined each other - a penny for each offence. And there were 30 'crimes'.

Not calling someone Brother - that's a 1p fine please. Someone getting the name of a beer wrong? That'll be another penny.

Today the money they raise still helps their own, but is spread across a wide range of exceptionally worthy causes. Well done, Brothers!