ANTIENT FRATERNITY OF FREE & ACCEPTED MASONS

 
 
  Provincial Grand Lodge of Staffordshire
 
 
 
OUR HISTORY  


Introduction

Freemasonry has been a part of the social life of the historic cathedral city of Lichfield for over 240 years. In the 18th century, Lichfield’s importance in Staffordshire was far greater than its relatively small size compared to the surrounding commercial centres, notably Birmingham. This was largely due to the presence of its wonderful cathedral and a number of notable scientific and literary residents.

Lichfield can also claim one of freemasonry’s most notably individuals, namely Elias Ashmole, the antiquarian and Windsor Herald to King Charles II; who was born in Lichfield in 1617 and is the first recorded person in England to be made a Speculative Mason in 1646. Another notable resident of the City was freemason Erasmus Darwin the physician, naturalist, member of the lunar society and grandfather to Charles Darwin. He was initiated in St David’s Lodge, Edinburgh in 1754 and was later a member of Tyrian Lodge No 253 in Derby. He had his practice in Lichfield from 1756 to 1781. Both men though did not appear to be involved in freemasonry in Lichfield.

Earliest Traces


The earliest trace of Masonic activity in Lichfield is recorded in relation to a lodge meeting under a “traveling warrant” which were predominantly issued by the Grand Lodges of Ireland, Scotland and by the Most Ancient and Honorable Fraternity of Free and Accepted Masons (the “Antients”), one of the two or even three English Grand Lodges of the time. The Freemasons Magazine and Masonic Mirror June 13th 1868, in an article on the 2nd Royal North British Dragoons (Scot’s Greys regiment), states that in 1770 when the regiment was in Lichfield “..where in the course of 12 communications 32 candidates were made. These included one Lieut-colonel; one captain in the royal horse guards; a captain in one of the regiments of the royal foot guards; a surgeon; a clergyman and other civilians”.

The First Lodges


The earliest listed masonic lodge actually formed in the City was Lodge 224 (originally designated 220), on the register of the Antients Grand Lodge. It was formed at the Scales Inn, Market Street on 10 March 1784 and officially constituted on 1 April 1784. This was the 7th Lodge to be constituted in the County of Staffordshire, since the formation of Grand Lodge in 1717. A letter in The Library and Museum of Freemasonry at Grand Lodge indicates that this Ancients’ Lodge did not exist for long. This contradicts the accepted view and the facts recorded in the Ahiman Rezon (the record of Antient’s Lodges) and Lane’s Masonic Record. This letter shows that the Lodge in fact “swapped sides” and became instead a ‘Moderns Lodge’ which was constituted as Lodge of Unity on 24th July 1787 at the Three Crowns Inn, Bread Market, Lichfield. The last record of this Lodge is of a celebration meeting, parade to the Cathedral preceded by a band of music and Ball for the Ladies held on Saturday, September 16th 1797. By 1811 the Lodge had closed and  transferred its warrant and furniture, to Longnor in North Staffordshire. The furniture, including the pedestals and chairs are described as “said to be Chippendale”, nine silver jewels (A Deacon jewel is still in use), banner and other furnishings still exist and are the property of Phoenix St Anne’s Lodge, No. 1235.

Military Lodges


The City of Lichfield developed a strong Military association in the 18th and 19th centuries, with, for example, the 38th of Foot being raised at the George Inn in 1705 and the 80th Regiment. Many of these Regiments had Lodges connected to them and during the period of interest, Lichfield often provided a home to visiting troops who regularly exercised at Whittington Heath. Visiting regiments were normally billeted around the town until a permanent home for the Staffordshire Regiment was built at Whittington Barracks in 1880.

As well as the lodge attached to the Scots Greys regiment, at least two other military Lodges met briefly in the City, namely one connected to the 17th Regiment Light Dragoons in 1801 and 1st Regiment East Devon Militia in 1813.

Although the 38th and 80th, units later combined to form the South Staffordshire Regiment, both had Masonic lodges attached to them, as did the Staffordshire Militia, it does not seem likely that any of them met in Lichfield at any time.

French Connection


During the main period of hostility between Britain and France (1740-1815) large numbers of soldiers and sailors from both sides were taken captive and held as prisoners of war. Lichfield's position on a main road was probably the reason for its being chosen as a place to quarter French prisoners-of-war ‘on parole’. During their spell in the City, records show that at least one masonic Lodge was formed, the St Jean en Babylone Lichfield lodge from 1807 – 1813. The only record that survives of this Lodge in the UK are some masonic membership certificates which are in the Leicester Masonic Museum. Records of the Lodge of St Jean are known to exist in the Bibliothèque Nationale de France in Paris. A second Lodge may also have existed as a Chapter - The Perfect Union of St Hubert It is unknown whether there were any links between French and English Masons.

The 1830’s to 1850’s


In 1833, St John’s Lodge No 657/431 transferred from Leek to Lichfield having been originally formed in the North Staffordshire town on 31 December 1814. This Lodge had changed its name from the Jedediah Lodge in the 1820’s. One member of the original Lodge of Unity, namely J J Cato, the host of the Three Crowns Inn, was involved in its transfer, with three other former members, William Bond, Benjamin Dorrington and James Blood.

The Lodge only managed to attract 37 recorded members during its seventeen year life span and the most it had at any one time was 23. Attendances were poor, often with too few members attending to open the Lodge. The membership was spilt equally between gentleman/professionals and tradesman. It did attract some members of wealth and influence in the area, the most notable being the MP for Lichfield, Sir Edward Dolmen Scott, but it did not attract many of the most notable residents of the City.

In 1847 the lodge hosted that years Provincial Grand Lodge meeting. This lavish affair was the single biggest honour to be bestowed on St John’s Lodge but it can also be seen as its final fling, as the Lodge closed less than two years later.

The Lodge finally closed in 1849. The furniture was purchased by the Lodge of Stability, No.  564, in Stourbridge which was consecrated on 23 January 1850. It is useful to mention at this point that a number of items, including the chairs and pedestals, remain in use today. The proceeds were donated to the Masonic Provincial Annuity and Benevolent Association in Birmingham.

St John’s Lodge of Lichfield No 1039.


Freemasonry was dormant in Lichfield for 15 years until some members of the old St John’s Lodge 431 and a local Scottish tailor and draper James Campbell McLean formed the present St John’s Lodge of Lichfield No1039. This was done largely with the support of Thomas James, of the Lodge of Honour 526 in Wolverhampton, who became the first Master and with the assistance of Abbey Lodge 624 in Burton who became our ‘Mother Lodge’.  

The Lodge held its first meeting in November 1864 and was consecrated the following January at Lichfield Guildhall. The Lodge went on to regularly meet at the George Hotel, an old coaching Inn, in the city’s Bird Street for 100 years before it was forced to move ‘over the road’ to the Swan Hotel where meetings were held until 1977 when it was forced to relocate with the other Lodges in the area to the masonic rooms in Tamworth where it has remained happily ever since. It was at this point that the name of the Lodge was amended to include ‘of Lichfield’ to show its historic links to the City.

The Lodge has remained part of the social fabric of Lichfield with traditional strong links to the Cathedral for nearly 150 years.  For example there have been more than 20 vicars choral as members in the Lodge, whose contributions founded the Choral tradition of St John’s Lodge that has continued to this day. Indeed masonic links to the cathedral extend wider than St John’s .To commemorate the 750th Anniversary of the consecration of Lichfield Cathedral, the Freemasons of the Province of Staffordshire undertook to meet the cost of recasting the ring of bells, and to have them suitably inscribed and re-hung.  A special Masonic service was held on 23rd June 1946, at which brethren of St John’s Lodge acted as stewards.  Masonic clothing was worn, and admission was by ticket only and the Cathedral was filled to capacity, with many people outside sitting on the grass listening to the service over a public address system. 

In 1903, the Lodge helped arrange the very first ‘Doctor’ Johnson celebration to be held in Lichfield and this eventually led to the formation of the Johnson Society in 1910, at which one of our distinguished brothers  was a co-founder.

In 1923, a petition was made to found a Royal Arch Chapter, to be attached to St John’s Lodge; and this was consecrated in February 1924, with six brethren of St John’s Lodge as Founders. The Lodge also has three ‘Daughter’ Craft Lodge’; St Augustine’s 1941; Ashmole of Lichfield 8405 and Whittington St Giles 8826.

The Lodge remains vibrant and we are looking forward to celebrating our 150th anniversary in 2015. It has yet to be decided how we will mark the momentous occasion.  The first 50 years were not marked in any great way as the Country was at war but the centenary celebrations in 1965 were held in the Great Hall of the Friary Girls’ School (now the City library) during the Easter vacation. In honour of this occasion, and in memory of our past brethren, we intend to re-write our full Lodge history.