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Early History of Freemasonry in Staffordshire

The first Provincial Grand Master was the Rev Francis Henry Egerton, son of the Bishop of Durham, later to become Eighth Earl of Bridgewater, who was already Provincial Grand Master for North Wales and Shropshire. The Shropshire Calendar stated that in 1791 the Rev Egerton had his patent for North Wales and Shropshire confirmed but found that the Counties of Stafford, Flint, Denbigh and Montgomery had been added, hence Staffordshire was granted the status of a Masonic Province and gained its first Provincial Grand Master, the fact being noted in a letter from Egerton himself, dated 13th April 1791, to the Grand Secretary.

Dr Robert Plot’s History of Staffordshire published in 1686, refers to the Society of Freemasons in the Moorlands of the County, but sadly no records can be found from this period. The Masonic Province of Staffordshire was formed in April 1791. It now has over 225 years of continuous service to the ideals of Freemasonry. It is interesting to reflect on how it all began and the immense changes in society that have taken place.

The first Lodge known to be recorded was no.88 founded in the County of Stafford, warranted on 28th March 1732. It met at the Bell and Raven public house in Rotton Row, Wolverhampton, and the first Master was the Rt Hon John, Lord Viscount Dudley and Ward, Baron of Birmingham.

Nothing else is known of this early Lodge, no records whatsoever have been preserved. The details quoted are those which remain on the engraved copper plate list of Grand Lodge. It survived a mere 22 years, being erased in 1754, but it is of great interest because surprisingly that Lodge pre-dated any Lodge in the neighbouring counties of Derby, Shropshire, Worcestershire, Leicestershire and even in the great town of Birmingham.

In 1763 the ‘Antients’ constituted a Lodge numbered 398 at the Crown Inn, Penkhull Street, Newcastle-under-Lyme, which lapsed around 1766.Tamworth had its first Lodge in 1795 and Lodge No 220 was warranted in Lichfield in 1784 at the “Scales”, Merchants Lane. 

The Lodge of Fortitude No 652 was warranted in 1814 in Stafford, and later became the Royal Chartley Lodge of Fortitude. 

Between 1764 and 1800, a total of 13 Antients or Modern Lodges were constituted in the County. All sadly have passed out of existence. Only one old minute book of Lodge No 42, which lapsed in 1795, survives together with a few old relics preserved by Noah’s Ark Lodge. Grand Lodge, have a few brief records on these old Lodges from the past.

Between 1800 and 1805, two Antient Lodges were formed, later to be erased, and in 1804 four new Moderns Lodges were constituted in the Potteries. Three were erased but the fourth, St Martin’s Lodge No 98 (then numbered 130, later No 115), is the oldest and is still going today. 

Noah’s Ark Lodge No 347 originally No 668 holds a warrant dated 1815 and held its meetings in Wolverhampton. Its first Master was Brother Hope Wood a Tin Plate worker from Chelsea who had been initiated into Lodge No 231 in 1803. Over a period of 14 years he would be Master of the Noah’s Ark Lodge for 12 years. This Lodge would move to Tipton in the heart of the black country, where it became one of the province’s best known and much loved black country Lodges. 

 In 1803 Etruscan Lodge was established in the province. Its warrant had first been issued to the Cambridge regiment of Militia and was numbered 327. In 1801 it was transferred to the Staffordshire regiment of Militia, then stationed at Windsor. In 1803 its warrant and Jewels where transferred to Hanley to from Etruscan Lodge No 327 in the Potteries. The Masters Jewel, a very fine rare quality silver Jewel is still in existence today in a private collection. (see photo)

This first Etruscan Lodge was erased in 1847 only to be reissued later that same year as no. 803. A rare punch bowl from this early Lodge is also said to exist in the Liverpool Museum. 

(It was quite common during the 18thand 19thcentury for military regiments to have Masonic Lodges attached to them. The Staffordshire 64th Regiment from 1788 -1817 had No 686 and from 1817 to 1858 No 130 under the Grand Lodge of Ireland.)

Moving forward Menturia Lodge No 418 Hanley and St Peter’s Lodge No 419 Wolverhampton were both consecrated in 1834. 

The first thought of a Lodge for Installed Masters came in 1866 from a suggestion by the then Provincial Grand Master William Kenwright Harvey,(1864-1866) and was originally going to be named after him, the Harvey Lodge of Union. The Lodge was not consecrated owing to his resignation as PrGM. It was finally consecrated in 1898 when the Foster Gough Lodge No 2706 was warranted as the Installed Masters Lodge for the Province. 

One of the first Royal Arch Chapters for our province was established in 1822:St Martins Chapter held under charted constitution by the Grand and Royal Chapter in London and attached to the warrant of St Martins Lodge No 154 held at the Legs of Man Inn, Burslem.

(The Royal Arch degree was worked in craft Lodges at one time, a lodge would simply close in Craft and then open in Royal Arch.)

This very old Lodge also had what is thought to be the provinces first Knight Templar Encampment attached to it, St Martin’s Knight Templar Encampment No 1 a certificate from 1840 from this Encampment is on display at Shelton Masonic Hall. Arch.)

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