Nick Hamzij just sent us an interesting enquiry about "Cork Clubs" (see Pending enquiries):
I am interested in any information regarding Cork Clubs. These existed in public houses from Victorian(?) times and have been described as a working men's freemasonry. One such club still exists in The Cider Bar, Newton Abbot and I have references to clubs in Greenwich and Rushden. Any info would be appreciated.
This isn't specifically Devon history, so I've blogged about these clubs at JSBlog. But following the topic found a Devon connection to the founding of a similarly-named organisation, the Jolly Corks, in 19th century USA.
As described at Charles Vivian & The Jolly Corks, the organisation was originally founded in New York City in 1867 by a group of musicians and entertainers, who organised private variety shows to get around the "blue laws" forbidding Sunday drinking. They rapidly affiliated on a more formal basis as a benevolent organisation, rebadged in 1868 as the Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks, which still exists as one of the the leading US fraternal organisations.
A biographical sketch of the life of Charles Algernon Sidney Vivian, founder of the order of Elks : together with anecdotes and reminiscences of his work and travels (Imogen Holbrook Vivian, 1903, Internet Archive ID biographicalsket00vivirich) mentions that the main founder was an English émigré born in Exeter in 1846, the son of "a clergyman of the Established Church". The book says:
He never tired in describing to me the long walks by the sea he used to take in boyhood days by his father's side, near Exeter, in fair Devonshire, always alluding to him in the most affectionate terms, with fond remembrance of those delightful hours spent in pleasant and instructive conversation as they walked the sea-girt shores of old England.
I haven't yet tracked who his father might be; some accounts say "Vivian" was a stage name, and that Vivian's real name was Charlie Robertson. Accounts also differ as to his birth date.