History of The Province of Warwickshire

Warwickshire Provincial Grand Lodge logoThis is just a brief glimpse at some of the events and occasions in the life of the Province of Warwickshire. It does not aim to be comprehensive and apologies are recorded to those Brethren whose Lodges or special occasions are not reported. Those who wish to find out more can avail themselves of the facility of the Library at 2 Stirling Road Edgbaston (the home of Provincial Grand Lodge) or can purchase the books by Robert Russell entitled ‘Freemasonry in Warwickshire 1728-1978’ and ‘Freemasonry in Warwickshire 1978-2003’ both available from the office of the Provincial Grand Secretary (0121 454 4422).

The Province of Warwickshire became 275 years old in 2003. A banquet was held at the headquarters of the Province in Birmingham on 22 April 2003 to celebrate this most significant event in Freemasonry. The date was chosen quite deliberately since the earliest recorded meeting of a Lodge in Warwickshire was for the ‘constitution’ of a Lodge on 22 April 1728 at The Woolpack in Warwick when James Prescot, Provincial Grand Master, was present The Reverend Greenwood, the Vicar of St Mary’s Church, Warwick, was the first Master, his Wardens being Mr Stephen Heath and Mr Francis Smith.

The second Warwickshire Lodge to appear was the Lodge at The Swan, Birmingham in 1733. That Lodge survives to this day and is St Paul’s Lodge No 43. Its earliest Minutes commence in 1764. The Lodge celebrated its 275th Anniversary on 2 February 2008 when the RW Bro Michael J Price, Provincial Grand Master, was installed as its Master and RW Bro George Pipon Francis, Senior Grand Warden, was the Presiding Officer.

The middle of the 18th century saw the development of the Royal Arch. In the Grand Chapter Minutes there is an entry of 11 April 1783 recording the granting of a dispensation dated 6 April 1783 by ME Companion Dunckerley for a Chapter to be held at Birmingham by the name of the Chapter of Fortitude with a Warrant being issued bearing the same date as the dispensation. This Chapter continues to meet today.

The appointment of Thomas Thompson in 1792 as the second Provincial Grand Master is significant in that he summoned the first meeting of the Provincial Grand Lodge of Warwickshire in the same year. James Sketchley, auctioneer, printer, publisher and appraiser, a Past Master of St Paul’s Lodge, was the first Provincial Grand Secretary. He signed the Warrants of Shakespeare Lodge in 1792 and Apollo Lodge in 1794, both Lodges still meeting. Apollo Lodge possesses complete minutes from 1794, the original Warrant and the original furniture used by the Master and his Wardens.

In 1810 when the Hon Washington Shirley became Provincial Grand Master there were six Lodges in the Province – St Paul’s, St Alban’s and Union in Birmingham, Trinity in Coventry, Apollo in Alcester and Shakespeare in Warwick – and the Chapter of Fortitude in Birmingham. St John’s Lodge at Henley-in-Arden had been inactive since 1797 and was finally erased in 1837. St Alban’s Lodge had been erased in 1829.

In 1811 the 7th Dragoon Guards were stationed in the barracks in Great Brook Street Birmingham. The regiment possessed a Military Lodge under an Irish warrant. They initiated at least six Birmingham citizens who were joined by three other Birmingham Brethren in applying to the Antients’ Grand Lodge for a Warrant. The Warrant of Constitution was signed and sealed on 16 July 1811, and the Lodge (No 83) consecrated on 24 July 1811. The first Initiate was William Stone whose portrait hangs behind the Senior Warden’s Chair in the Lodge Room at Severn Street Birmingham. In 1863 this Lodge became Lodge No 74, having taken the name ‘Athol’ in the year it was founded.

Earl Howe became the Provincial Grand Master in 1844. As Deputy Grand Master he signed the Warrant for the first Lodge in Rugby, the Lodge of Rectitude, consecrated in October 1846 by Robert Crucefix. Sixteen candidates had been initiated prior to its consecration. Mr J W Boughton Leigh was amongst these, in April 1845. In 1846 he was Junior Warden, in 1849 Master, and nine days after his Installation he was appointed Deputy Provincial Grand Master of Warwickshire!

On 15 October 1850 the Howe Lodge of Mark Master Masons TI was established.

Lord Leigh was installed as Provincial Grand Master in October 1852, less than ten months after his Initiation in the Lodge of Light. He held that office for the next 53 years and was the first Warwickshire Freemason to serve in this capacity.

The first Lodge of Instruction was started under the sanction of St Paul’s Lodge in 1847, but by 1853 it was in a moribund state. Howe Lodge took over and the first regular meeting was held at the Masonic Rooms Newhall Street Birmingham on 24 March 1854. The Lodge of Instruction has met ever since.

In 1858 Trinity Lodge increased the charge for supper, including ale and attendance, to two shillings per head. At the meeting of Provincial Grand Lodge in that year the first appointment to Past Provincial Rank was made – Bro Hopkins.

By 1870 there were seven Royal Arch Chapters in the Province.

In 1872 Lord Leigh accompanied by several hundred Freemasons in full regalia laid the foundation stone, in traditional Masonic manner, of the ‘Middle Class Idiot Asylum’ at Knowle. That stone is now a part of the Solihull Masonic Temple, just a few hundred yards from where it was originally laid. The ‘Lady Leigh’ lifeboat, whose cost had been raised by theBrethren of Warwickshire, was stationed at Scarborough and launched on 11 September 1872. On 28 October 1880 it was launched five times in twenty-four hours and rescued twenty eight people. In 1876 Lord Leigh laid the foundation stone of the Abbey Church in Nuneaton. In the same year he unveiled the Reredos provided for St Martin’s Church in the Bull Ring, Birmingham by Warwickshire Freemasons.

In 1881 Athelstan Lodge, in Atherstone, suggested a new by-law for removing ‘obnoxious’ Brethren from membership but this was later abandoned on the advice of Provincial Grand Lodge.

The finances of St Alphege Lodge were not helped by the activities of the 1889 Secretary who, having visited Brazil and sent back a highly critical account of the conduct of Freemasons in that country, profited from his experience by appropriating the Lodge funds in his year of office. He was, of course, expelled but the Brethren had to make up the deficiency of £80. The same year saw the members of Guy’s Lodge realise their ambition of owning their own premises, when they purchased Victoria House in Leamington Spa for £800. It is still in use today for Masonic meetings.

In 1897 Lord Leigh on behalf of the Warwickshire Brethren presented an oak pulpit to the Church of St Mary at Warwick. Lord Leigh died on 21 October 1905. As a mark of respect Lodges in the Province were asked not to have banquets for one month and to wear Masonic mourning in Lodges for six months.

At a meeting of Provincial Grand Lodge in February 1906 held at the Town Hall Birmingham the Marquis of Hertford was installed as Provincial Grand Master by the Rt Hon T F Halsey, Deputy Grand Master. He died on 23 March 1912. During his six years of service, six new Lodges had been formed and the number of members in the Province had risen from 1,829 to 2,125. George Beech, whose regalia is displayed in the Museum at Stirling Road, became Provincial Grand Master in 1913 at the age of 76, installed by Lord Ampthill, Pro Grand Master. He appointed Colonel Wyley as his Deputy. Beech died in 1916 and the 47 Lodges and 15 Chapters then in the Province were represented at his funeral. He had served the Province for 28 years as Provincial Grand Secretary and 16 years as Deputy Provincial Grand Master.

On 12 January 1918 St George’s Lodge was consecrated by Col Wyley, Deputy Provincial Grand Master in Charge. During the meeting a telegram came from Grand Lodge announcing that Col Wyley had been appointed as Provincial Grand Master. He was installed on 17 April 1918.

On 30 June 1923 The Warwickshire Installed Masters Lodge was consecrated by the then Grand Secretary and Col Wyley was installed as the first Master. The foundation stone of the new Masonic Temple at Broad Street Birmingham was laid on 8 July 1926, and opened on 23 September 1927 by Lord Ampthill. The first Lodge to hold a meeting there was St Paul’s No 43.

The Provincial Grand Secretary, F G Swinden, had died in April 1926. He had served four Provincial Grand Masters in his 26 years in that office and had seen the Province grow from 31 to 87 Lodges in 1925.

The Bi-Centenary of the Province in 1928 was celebrated over two days. On 13 May a service was held in St Mary’s Church, Warwick, conducted by W Bro the Rt Rev C L Carr, the Bishop of Coventry, and in attendance were the Provincial Grand Master Col Wyley and the Pro Grand Master Lord Ampthill. Brethren walked in procession to the Church in full regalia and afterwards were entertained to tea in the grounds of Warwick Castle. Open for inspection was the original Lodge Room at The Woolpack. The following day the official celebrations took place in Birmingham.

On 2 July 1929 Lord Ampthill laid the foundation stone of the new Shakespeare Memorial Theatre, one having been laid for the original theatre by Lord Leigh in 1877. It was in 1929 that Guy’s Lodge celebrated its centenary and that the Masonic Hall in Nuneaton was purchased, Newdegate Lodge having been consecrated earlier that year.

In 1930 the number of subscribing Brethren in the Province was 6,256, abut the same number as today.

23 January 1933 saw the celebration of the 200th anniversary of St Paul’s Lodge when the Provincial Grand Master was installed as the Master, in the presence of the Pro Grand Master, the Grand Secretary and the Grand Director of Ceremonies.

On 3 February 1937 the new Masonic Temple at Little Park Street Coventry was dedicated by Col Wyley. He died on 11 August 1940, having led the Province since 1918. The service was held in Coventry Cathedral which was filled to capacity by Freemasons and citizens of Coventry.

In 1942 Brigadier-General W H V Darell, Assistant Grand Master, was installed as Provincial Grand Master. He consecrated his eponymous Lodge in Rugby on 1 April 1944. A prized possession of the Lodge is the Sword of Honour awarded to the Brigadier-General when he was a cadet at Sandhurst. He resigned as Provincial Grand Master in 1953 and died in 1954.

The Very Rev Michael Clarke, the Provost of Birmingham Cathedral, was installed as Provincial Grand Master by the Grand Master, the Earl of Scarborough, in December 1953. He will always be remembered in particular for his saying ‘What we want is not more men in Masonry but more Masonry in men’.

Samuel Guise had been Provincial Grand Secretary since 1934 and announced his retirement in 1956. He had worked for three Provincial Grand Masters.

Following the resignation of Michael Clarke, Sir Stanley Harley took over the leadership of the Province and was installed on 30 November 1965 by the Grand Master.

On 28 October 1969 the Provincial Grand Master laid the foundation stone of the new Temple at Clarendon Road, Edgbaston (now more familiarly known as Stirling Road). The Temple was dedicated by the Earl Cadogan on 1 December 1971 at a meeting held under the banner of St Paul’s Lodge.

In 1975 the membership of the Province was 10,112, a decrease on the previous year and in October 1977 membership dipped to below 10,000.

Once again, on 14 May 1978, the Annual Service was held at the Church of St Mary Warwick, 250 years after that first meeting of the Lodge at The Woolpack Inn.

Sir Stanley Harley was unable to attend the Annual Meeting in 1978 due to ill-health; his death in 1979 was announced by Thomas Wood at the Annual Meeting in October 1979. Joe Pendrill retired after 23 years as Provincial Grand Secretary. The Concord Lodge of Royal Ark Mariners and the Charity Lodge of RAM were consecrated.

Thomas Arthur Wood became Provincial Grand Master in 1980. His Deputy was Stanley Bennett and the Assistants were Donald Icke, Thomas White and Albert Bales. St Mary’s Chapter was consecrated. The Mark Lodge of Instruction Festival had as its President the Grand Secretary, William Leake.

At the November 1981 meeting of the Warwickshire Installed Masters Lodge, Cyril Batham, presented his Prestonian Lecture ‘The Grand Lodge of England according to the Ancient Institutions’. The year saw the first edition of the Warwickshire ‘Masonic Record’. Harry Wilson, the genial and friendly Deputy Provincial Grand Master in the Mark Degree died.

In 1982 Stanley Bennett died at the age of 61. Members of the Duquense Chapter of the Grand Royal Arch Chapter of France visited the Warwickshire First Principals Chapter. The membership of the Mark Degree in the Province was a healthy 850. The outstanding event was the celebration of the 250th Anniversary of St Paul’s Lodge.

In 1984 Stanley Lates was installed as the Grand Superintendent with more than 400 Companions present for the event. 1985 saw the 200th Anniversary of Trinity Lodge. The banners of Prometheus Lodge, Chevron Lodge and Junior Chamber Lodge were dedicated. Thomas Wood announced his retirement as Provincial Grand Master. Stanley Lates became Master and Richard Wallis Treasurer of the Installed Masters Lodge. The Rt Rev Vernon Samson Nicholls was installed as the Provincial Grand Master in 1985, at which time there were 181 Lodges in the Province.

In 1986 Victor Morgan was installed as Master of the Installed masters Lodge but sadly died in June 1987 while in office. The year saw the introduction of computers into the Provincial Office! Sir James Stubbs attended the 25th Anniversary of the Warwickshire First Principal’ Chapter, having been the Consecrating Officer.

In 1987, Clarendon, George Eliot, and the Provincial Grand Stewards’ Lodges were consecrated and Reading Court was opened. In December the Grand Master visited The Temple at Clarendon Road. Vernon Nicholls became the Master of the Installed Masters Lodge. The Deputy Grand Master and the Grand Secretary attended the Annual Meeting of the Mark Province.

In 1988 the membership of the Province stood at 7,328. Tom Wood celebrated 50 years as a Freemason.

The Lodges of Scola Warwicensis and Serenity were consecrated in 1989, and Mozart Lodge celebrated its 75th Anniversary. The Masonic School for girls celebrated its Bi-centenary.

The 1990 Festival for the RMBI raised a total of £3,254,810 and some 1,500 Brethren attended the Festival Dinner at the NEC Metropole. Robert Russell was installed by Lord Swansea as Provincial Grand Master for the Mark Province.

1991 saw the consecration of Holy Well Lodge, the Lodge of Jurisprudence, the Warwickshire Royal Air Force Lodge, the Lodge of Service above Self and Compass Rose Lodge. Richard Wallis became the Deputy Grand Superintendent.

Vernon Nicholls stood down as PGM in 1992. His successor, Stanley Lates, was named as such at the 275th Anniversary meeting of Grand Lodge held in public at Earls Court. Stanley was installed in July 1992 by Lord Farnham. Richard Wallis became the Deputy and David Old was appointed as Provincial Grand Secretary. Shakespeare Lodge celebrated its bi-centenary with a meeting at Chesford Grange when Lord Farnham presented the bi-centenary Warrant. Stanley Lates announced the Festival for the MTGB in 2001 with a target figure of £2 million.

In 1993 Victor Keene became an Assistant PGM and Richard Wallis was installed as Grand Superintendent.

1994 saw the Silver Jubilee of Coleshill Lodge, the Golden Jubilee of Edgbaston Lodge, the 150th Anniversary of the Lodge of Rectitude and the 200th Anniversary of Apollo Lodge celebrated at Ragley Hall. The new Solihull Temple was opened and dedicated.

There were two outstanding Mark events in 1995. The advancement of twenty Swiss Brethren into the Mark Degree in Concord Mark Lodge and the investiture of Stanley Lates as Grand Senior Warden.

Michael Price became an Assistant PGM in 1996. RW Bro the Rt Rev Vernon Nicholls died.

1997 witnessed the consecration of the Warwickshire Provincial Grand Directors of Ceremonies Lodge, Linwood Lodge and the Warwickshire Scout Lodge. The new Masonic Hall in Redditch was dedicated. Stanley Lates celebrated 50 years in the Craft.

In 1998 the Annual Meeting of Provincial Grand Lodge was held at Aston University for the first time. The Stanley Lates Lodge was consecrated as the 200th Lodge in the province with Richard Wallis as its first Master. Yenton Assembly Rooms celebrated their 75th Anniversary. Stanley Lates celebrated 50 years in the Mark.

In 1999 Michael Price became Deputy PGM. The Grand Master launched the ‘Virtual Classroom’ at the Children’s Hospital in Birmingham, a venture made possible by a grant of £250,000 from the MTGB. The Lodge of Unity celebrated its 150th Anniversary in the Great Hall of Warwick Castle, with the banquet in the Undercroft. David Rawlins was appointed as an Assistant PGM.

There were two Meetings of Provincial Grand Lodge in 2000 to celebrate the Millennium. Ladies and distinguished Civic Dignitaries were present at both, including the Lord Mayor of Birmingham, Councillor Theresa Stewart. Teddy Woolf received a certificate from Stanley Lates to mark his 70 years as a Freemason in the Lodge of Israel! Mrs. Rosemary Lates was awarded the MBE. David Old and Rodney Pitham became Assistant PGMs.

Two ambulances were presented in the Province to the St John Ambulance Brigade on behalf of the Mark Grand Lodge Fund of Benevolence. Countrywide there were 57 ambulances donated in total.

Stanley Lates stood down from his high office. His distinguished career in and service to Freemasonry was honoured by the Grand Master in December 2001, when the Pro Grand Master conferred on him the Grand Master’s Order of Service to Masonry. In September the Pro Grand Master installed Michael Price CBE as the 15th Provincial Grand Master of the Province.

2002 was a momentous year for all Freemasons in England and Wales when they celebrated Freemasonry in the Community Week at the end of June and the beginning of July. Warwickshire Freemasons used their imagination and ingenuity to demonstrate to the public that Freemasonry was in integral part of the community. One of the highlights was the holding of the Annual Service at the Collegiate Church of St Mary, Warwick, attended by the Pro Grand Master, who, with other senior Warwickshire Freemasons, had walked in procession in full regalia to the Church from Alderson House in the High Street. The year was historical for two other significant reasons – the launch of the revised Craft and the new Royal Arch web sites www.warwickshirepgl.org.uk and www.royal-arch.org.uk and of the Provincial Grand Master’s Warwickshire Masonic Heritage Fund. In September David Hooker was installed as the Provincial Grand Master of the Mark Province of Warwickshire.

With grateful acknowledgement to W. Bro. Robert G Russell, the sequel to this summary has yet to arrive!