Modern freemasonry was invented in London about 1717, but was only one of a surge of British associations in the early modern era which had originated before the English Revolution. By 1800, thousands of clubs and societies had swept the country. Recruiting widely from the urban affluentclasses, mainly amongst men, they traditionally involved heavy drinking, feasting, singing, and gambling. They ranged from political, religious, and scientific societies, artistic and literary clubs, to sporting societies, bee-keeping and bird-fancying clubs, and a myriad of other associations.Providing the first account of the rise of this most powerful and distinctive British social institution up to 1800, Peter Clark maps its penetration of the English-speaking world as it came to be exported to the Empire and across to North America. The wider economic, social, and political forcesare discussed to show how they contributed to the development and growth of these clubs and societies, leading them to assume quasi-governmental functions, thereby playing a crucial role which affected relations between state, locality, and the citizen. A final chapter questions current views aboutvoluntarism and the making of civil society, bringing the debate up to the present day.