The Order Of Buffaloes In Newport

By Jim Dyer
First published in the Western Mail on 13/2/1987

© Jim Dyer 2012

No secret society with the Buffs but good works undertaken by its members.

I crept into the back lounge of the Talisman Inn in the centre of Newport, expecting to find mysterious men in odd outfits clutching little black briefcases and using sign language. Not so.

This was the weekly meeting place of the Royal Antediluvian Order of Buffaloes, Cross Lodge No 2343, one of four in Newport and sixteen in Gwent.

I was therefore more than a little surprised to find no 'cloak and dagger' stuff and that the Buffs are more than open about their activities. The Cross Lodge is certainly a mixed bunch, young and old, including a clerk, a few retired seamen, a chef, a former magistrate, and a publican.

Long standing City Secretary, Tex Shapland, told me:' People think there is mystery about the Buffs, but you can see for yourself it's nothing like that. There is a simple initiation ceremony and the use of odd words at meetings, but we all have little jobs to do which are aimed at giving confidence in speaking and getting everyone involved.'

Tex has been a Buff for 12 years and he explained that the Order was all about charitable and social purposes. Anyone seeking profit would be very disappointed. 'It is all about giving. There is no back-scratching but we do try to look after the welfare of brothers and their families who are ill or fall on bad times. Money is given to widows and orphans from central funds every year.'

The Wider Picture

Not only that but there are educational grants, gifts for the elderly, annuities and all sorts of other grants. The Order maintains an investment fund, but most of the money comes from the members themselves, collected voluntarily at the weekly lodge meetings.

There is always friendly rivalry between the lodges to see who can collect the most for the Grand Primo's – the head of the Grand Lodge of England – widows and orphans fund. The Cross Lodge have always done well with this locally, but last year lost out narrowly to the Lion Lodge who meet at the Ivy Bush across town.

Buffaloism has its roots in the 18th century, developed by out-of-work actors to look after each other when they were in need. Their passwords are worked around theatre language.

Since then it has gone from strength to strength and there are now 3,500 lodges all over the world. The Grand Lodge of England was established in 1866. The Order works on a three-tier system of minor lodge, provincial lodge, with their headquarters at Grove House, Harrogate.

Members progress within the Order is within four stages or degrees, depending upon their experience, commitment and attendance. The current Monmouthshire Provincial Grand Primo, Tom Eliot, the Newport Market foreman, told me about his duties, 'It is our job at Provincial Lodge to liaise with all the lodges and discuss common issues. I try to get around all the lodges and have certain ceremonies to perform. It is time-consuming and you have to travel a fair bit, but it's worth it.'

The RAOB are proud of the fact that they own two convalescent homes for the benefit of members and relatives. The York at Weston-Super-Mare and Grove House provide expert and skilled attention much appreciated by those seeking speedy recoveries from illness. In 1986 over 110 members benefited from this excellent scheme.

Help to Charities

Not only are national activities supported but the Cross Lodge and its members are actively involved locally. Among its members is John Davies, chairman of Newport's Action Aid for the Disabled – a charity which the lodge is pledged to help. 'They are a great bunch of people and have given me and the disabled fine service,' said Mr Davies.

The Cross Lodge made no excuse for their commitment and have helped with functions, turning out in force at the Christmas service for the disabled at St Woolos Cathedral and at a recent reception at Ladyhill Centre. John commented, 'They are never afraid to get their hands dirty and you can always rely upon them to be there when needed.'

Tex explained this commitment, ' We believe in community service and this means getting involved locally. Many of us are also members of many voluntary bodies and this keeps us in touch. We took pleasure in donating three wheelchairs to Tredegar House for use by disabled visitors and like to see these fruits of our efforts.'

At present the order is worried about the decline in membership, but there is nothing but optimism in the Cross Lodge. It was old-timer, Gordon Carne, who summed-up the true spirit of the Buffs. ' We are fortunate here to have a lodge with good members with a range of talents. Young and old, they all mix in and get on with things. I have been in the Buffs for over forty years and have travelled the world. I have always found friendship within the Order wherever I've been and never been lonely. They do good work.'

Jim Dyer – 3rd January 12.


1.First published in Western Mail on 13th February 1987.

2..Since this article appeared all the people mentioned have died and there are no longer any lodges in Newport.