Leicestershire and Rutland Freemasons celebrated the 300th Anniversary of the formation of the first Grand Lodge of England, by unveiling commemorative blue plaques to mark the first activity of Freemasonry in the area at Masonic Halls across the Province
On 24th June 1717, four lodges, which had existed for some time in London, formed the Grand Lodge of England which has since continued to administer lodges across the country including the 76 lodges and it's 3,000 members in Leicestershire and Rutland.
The earliest known lodge in Leicester was established in 1739 and met at the Wheat Sheaf Inn on Humberstone Gate. Other lodges followed including St John’s Lodge in 1790 which is the oldest surviving lodge in Leicester still in existence. In 1859, the two lodges meeting in Leicester, St John’s Lodge, then meeting at the Bell Hotel, and John of Gaunt Lodge, raised funds to build a permanent home in Halford Street. The Masonic Hall in Halford Street continued to be the principal place of meeting for 50 years until it was deemed no longer adequate.
A freehold Georgian house and its grounds on London Road were purchased in 1909 and the new headquarters were in use a year later in 1910. Freemasons’ Hall has been extended on a number of occasions, particularly in the 1930s and 1960s, and continues as the headquarters for the Province of Leicestershire and Rutland and has 43 lodges meeting there. The building has some of the finest Masonic Lodge Rooms in the country and has a large Masonic Museum with artefacts dating back to the 17th Century.
The first Masonic Lodge in Syston was formed in 1901, East Goscote Lodge, and was granted a Warrant to meet in the village hall. The Master of the Lodge, who owned an old school in Broad Street, built a new single storey Masonic Hall which continues to be in use after several extensions over the years. A total of 7 lodges meet at the hall today which makes it one of the largest halls outside of Leicester.
The first Masonic Lodge in Loughborough was formed in 1835 and met at the King’s Head but unfortunately closed in 1853. A new lodge, Howe & Charnwood Lodge, was formed in 1864 which also met at the King’s Head before moving to the Town Hall, after a disagreement with the landlady over the charge of 25 shillings per meeting. In 1956, the Masonic Lodges in the town purchased the Old Adult School in Ashby Square which has continued to serve as their meeting place.
The first Masonic Lodge to meet in Ashby-de-la-Zouch was Ivanhoe Lodge which met at the Royal Hotel from 1836 until the Lodge closed in 1841. Another lodge, Ferrers and Ivanhoe, which continues to meet today, was subsequently formed in 1859 and originally met at the Town Hall. In 1981, the old Lyric Picture Palace was purchased for £7,000 and refurbished at a total costs of £94,500. The Lyric Rooms continues to host the two Ashby lodges and serving the local community.
The first Masonic Lodge in Coalville, Grace Dieu Lodge, was formed in 1892 which met at the Masonic rooms situated next to the Railway Hotel. In 1926, a Committee was formed to raise money to pay for the building of the present Masonic Hall in Park Road which was subsequently opened in 1928. This Hall continues to be used by the two Masonic Lodges that meet in Coalville.
The first Lodge to meet in Hinckley, the Knights of Malta Lodge, was brought to Hinckley from Macclesfield in 1803. The Lodge met at various inns in Hinckley over a number of years. As the popularity of Freemasonry rose it was necessary to find a permanent home and land was bought in St Mary’s Road to build a Masonic Hall. The Hall was opened in 1928 and continues to host the lodges that meet in Hinckley along with serving the local community.
The first Masonic Lodge in Melton Mowbray, Rutland Lodge, was formed in 1866 which met at the George Hotel. Subsequently, the stabling at the Wicklow Hunting Lodge on Burton Road was purchased for conversion into the present Masonic Hall. This was opened in 1951 and continues to serve the three Masonic Lodges that meet there.
Vale of Catmos Lodge was formed in 1869 and met at the Agriculture Hall in Oakham. In 1877, the Lodge decided to meet in licenced premises and moved to the George Hotel. After 10 years, the Lodge moved back to the Agriculture Hall which was subsequently renamed Victoria Hall to commemorate Queen Victoria’s Jubilee. An opportunity rose to utilise the accumulated funds of a member’s legacy to secure long term accommodation at the Old Hall at Oakham School. Two lodges have met there for the last nine years.
The Uppingham in Rutland Lodge was consecrated in 1984 and meets at the Upper Cricket Pavillion in Uppingham. After each meeting, members dine at the Falcon Hotel which has provided the Lodge with a venuefor over 30 years.
St Peter’s Lodge was granted a Warrant in 1870 to meet at the Three Swans Hotel in Market Harborough. As Freemasonry began to expand its popularity, a building fund was established in 1967 to build a permanent home. Land was purchased in Kings Road and the current Masonic Hall was built and opened in 1968 where currently two lodges continue to meet today.
Wiclif Lodge was grant a Warrant in 1904 to meet in the Upper Room of the Town Hall in Lutterworth. The Lodge continued to meet at the Town Hall until 1963 when they moved to their permanent residence at the former Ritz Cinema. More recently further refurbishment and an extension has been undertaken. The Wycliffe Rooms now acts as both a Masonic Hall for the two lodges and also a Community Centre for a wide range of activities.
The plaques were unveiled by the Provincial Grand Master of Leicestershire and Rutland, David Hagger who was supported by the Mayors of Charnwood, Oakham, Lutterworth and a large number of members, family and friends. The plaques were designed by W Bro Andy Green, Provincial Junior Grand Warden and made by local firm The Metal Foundry based in South Wigston, Leicestershire.
RW Bro David Hagger, said: 'We are celebrating 300 years of Freemasonry and the foresight and courage of our forebears to perceive and enhance our society over the centuries. If we continue to pursue our ideals of integrity, fairness and honesty, Freemasonry will continue to flourish in Leicestershire and Rutland.
'We'll also be holding several public events throughout 2017 including opening the doors to our Masonic Halls during the Heritage Open Days for everyone to see inside and an exhibition at Newarke Houses Museum in Leicester on Freemasonry, highlighting the contribution of Freemasons to our local communities. We hope this will lead to further interest and a better understanding of our historic fraternity.'
In March 2017, five Freemasons from Howe and Charnwood Lodge No 1007 which meets in Loughborough, accompanied by their wives, flew to Panama City in order to attend the Centenary celebrations of Pacific Lodge No 5, under the jurisdiction of the Grand Lodge of Panama
In addition, a member from London based St Barnabas Lodge No 3771 also attended. They were invited by W.Bro. Andres Lopez, brother of W.Bro. Gabriel Lopez of Emulation Lodge No 5 in Madrid of which the Brethren are members. On arrival, a gift bag for each couple was given by the Master and his lady, which contained Panama hats and a bottle of Rioja. Two days before the meeting, the visitors were invited to attend a Centenary Gala Dinner, which was a very elaborate affair and good food and wine were enjoyed by all. The Centenary meeting of the lodge was held on Monday 27th March 2017 which the Brethren attended whilst the ladies were taken to a bar overlooking the Pacific Ocean for drinks and then on to a restaurant for dinner.
Pacific Lodge performed an immaculate ceremony of Passing (English Emulation working) and their Centenary Banner was subsequently presented by the M.W. Grand Master of Panama, Bro. Roberto Coueto, who was assisted by the M.W. District Grand Master of Massachusetts in the Panama Canal Zone, Bro. George O’Masta.
Interestingly, Panama has two M.W. Grand Masters because the United States originally owned the Panama Canal and the American Engineers who assisted in building the Canal formed Masonic Lodges under the jurisdiction of the Grand Lodge of Massachusetts and this practice has been continued after the Canal was gifted back to Panama by President Jimmy Carter in 1977, with full ownership being granted by the Millennium.
W.Bro. Tony Ridewood from Howe & Charnwood Lodge presented an engraved “naval” gavel to the Master on behalf of the Brethren present and St Barnabas Lodge.
The Festive Board, once again a first for the English masons as it was a buffet supper, taken in the open air, overlooking the Pacific Ocean.
W.Bro. Geoff Searson responded to the toast to the visitors and presented the the lodge with commemorative cufflinks, the History of Howe and Charnwood Lodge and Freemasonry in Loughborough. He also presented the Master and M.W. Grand Masters of Panama and the Canal Zone with Leicestershire and Rutland Provincial ties with an explanation of the 2022 Festival for the Masonic Charitable Foundation. He also gave the best wishes and congratulations from the Provincial Grand Master, R.W.Bro. David Hagger.
The annual carol service attended by Freemasons of the Province of Leicestershire and Rutland was held at Leicester Cathedral on Sunday 11th December 2016
The Rev Canon Johannes Arens, Canon Precentor welcomed over 200 members and their family and friends to the cathedral for the service, including the Provincial Grand Master, RW Bro David Hagger, Deputy Provincial Grand Master, VW Bro Jim Buckle and Assistant Provincial Grand Master, VW Bro Peter Kinder.
The congregation were supported in singing carols by the Senior Trebles and Songmen of the Cathedral Choir and accompanied by the Cathedral Organist, Simon Headley. Carols sung included ‘O Come, O Come, Emmanuel’, ‘Long Ago, Prophets Knew’, ‘It Came Upon the Midnight Clear’, ‘See Amid the Winter's Snow’, ‘O Come, All Ye Faithful’ and ‘Hark! the Herald Angels Sing’.
Lessons were read by W Bro Ian Hammond, Master of the Howe and Charnwood Lodge No. 1007, W Bro Kelvin Johnson, Provincial Grand Secretary, W Bro Paul Roberts, Provincial Grand Director of Ceremonies, the Provincial Grand Master, Deputy Provincial Grand Master and Assistant Provincial Grand Master. The sermon was given by the Rev Canon Jeff Hopewell.
After the service, wine and mince pies, provided by the Province, were served in the cathedral by members of the Derek Buswell Lodge of Provincial Grand Stewards No. 9705.
Jewels in the crown
After W Bro James Noel Pitts, Howe and Charnwood Lodge No. 1007 and Lodge of Science and Art No. 8429, passed away in June 2013 his family asked the Almoner of Howe and Charnwood, W Bro Ray Hardy, to dispose of his masonic regalia and deal with some masonic curios
W Bro Ray faithfully returned regalia to the lodges of which W Bro Jim had been a member, but there was an old toffee tin containing a number of masonic jewels and other assorted items. W Bro David Sharpe from the Lodge of Research No. 2429 was then asked to help identify them and to deal with them as he thought best.
Many of the jewels were duplicates of those held at the Masonic Hall at Loughborough, and so he took them to the Provincial museum in Leicester to include in their collection. Four of these jewels are of special interest:
The first is a bicentennial jewel issued in 1917 during World War 1, to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the formation of the Grand Lodge of England. On the obverse is an engraving of the MW Grand Master The Duke of Connaught, and on the reverse appear the arms of UGLE and the dates 1717–1917.
There are also two silver Masonic Million Memorial Fund Commemorative Jewels. These were in recognition of money donated to the Masonic Peace Memorial, later to become known as Freemasons’ Hall, in memory of the many brethren who had given their lives in the First World War. These were issued to any lodge member under the English Constitution who donated ten guineas (£10.50) or more. They were given to W Bros JS Potter, PPJGW and H Mallinson. Some 52,334 individual jewels were issued. Any individual mason donating 100 guineas or more was eligible for one of these jewels in gold. Was there a gold one for W Bro Potter, since he donated over 100 guineas? If so, what became of it? If not, why not?
A slightly larger medal in gold on a light blue collarette to be worn by successive Masters of lodges was awarded to those lodges contributing an average of ten guineas per member, which were to be known as Hall Stone Lodges. Howe and Charnwood did not qualify, but there are two such lodges in the Province who did, Albert Edward Lodge No. 1560 and Enderby Lodge No. 5061. In all, 1,321 lodges at home and abroad qualified as Hall Stone Lodges.
The final jewel in the tin was perhaps the most interesting. It was created to be awarded to those individual masons who had donated at least 240 guineas (£252). 956 of these Jewels were issued. This was given to W Bro Potter, and is inscribed M.M.M. and his name. Does this mean it was donated through the Howe Lodge of Mark Master Masons No. 21, of which he was a member and by 1930 Director of Ceremonies?
Whilst these jewels are, of course, of considerable interest, they are only in the museum in Leicester due to the thoughtfulness of W Bro Jim’s family, and will form part of a display of his curios and works donated the museum.
How easily they could be now in some antique shop or a flea market. One must ask, will families know what to do with masonic regalia, books and curios when the owners pass away?
This is the point made by W Bro Walters in the conclusion of his inaugural address to the Lodge of Research in 1977 when he said: 'Many masons have interesting material. When they die their wives or executors may not appreciate it and it would be a service to posterity if arrangements could be made to deposit it either with their lodges, or an established library or archive before it gets into the hands of persons who may not appreciate its value.'