Head above water
Instrumental in the construction of Tilbury Docks, Augustus Manning met Kaiser Wilhelm II eight years before the start of World War I, thanks to a shared interest in yachting. Richard Burrell navigates this Freemason’s intriguing life
Throughout his life, it would be fair to say that Augustus George Sackville Manning liked making waves. Born on 3 November 1837 in Chelsea, he was the son of a share broker and married in October 1868, fathering five children. Manning was the chief engineer for the East & West India Dock Company and principally responsible for designing the docks at Tilbury in Essex. In later life, he was to meet Kaiser Wilhelm II, King of Prussia and the last emperor of Germany, after joining the Yacht Racing Association.
Manning was also one of the founders of Tilbury Lodge, No. 2006. He was not a great ritualist, only performing one ceremony during his time there, and he never held office after leaving the chair, but without him it is very unlikely we would have a Tilbury Lodge today.
In 1880 the two main dock companies on the Thames were the East & West India Dock Company and the London & St Katherine Dock Company. Great rivalry existed between the companies, of the sort that is mostly found today between fans of opposing football teams.
For many years shipping had been moving from sail to steam, with ships becoming larger. It was a time of falling commodity prices, which also affected shipping rates. While the East & West India Dock Company had not made the investments it should have, its rival had bought the Victoria Dock at a discount after the financial crash of 1866. The company then used its profits wisely to build Albert Dock, which employed the latest technology, was able to take the largest ships afloat and was considered the best dock in the world when it opened in 1880.
Not to be outdone, the new chairman of the East & West India Dock Company called a shareholders’ meeting on 30 September 1881 and proposed the dramatic idea of moving down the river to Tilbury. By moving, he said, they could save the twelve or even twenty-four hours that large ships had to spend opposite Gravesend waiting g to have enough water to get them into London. The chairman said that if the shareholders did not approve the move, they might as well vote for liquidation.
Manning was one of the very public faces of the East & West India Dock Company. He gave evidence in a select committee meeting chaired by Prime Minister Gladstone’s son that examined the inadequacy of the current docks for London’s purposes. On 3 July 1882 the Act of Parliament received Royal Assent and construction was started with an elaborate ceremony to mark the cutting of the first turf on 8 July 1882.
Something in common
The principal engineers on the project soon realised that they were fellow masons and the notion of starting a new lodge was formed. The initial idea is believed to have come from Frank Kirk and Donald Baynes, with Manning, Joseph Randall, John Morgan Ross, Alexander Dudgeon and John Hamilton completing the founding circle. A friend of Baynes, Hamilton was Provincial Senior Grand Warden of Kent and the only founder not associated with Tilbury Docks; included for his masonic connections, he took on the role of Director of Ceremonies.
In June 1883 the Warrant of Constitution of Tilbury was signed, with the consecration taking place in the engineers’ office at the Tilbury site in January 1884.
Out of the sixteen members proposed by the founders, ten were proposed by Manning.
All was not plain sailing for Tilbury Lodge, however. On 10 July 1884, Manning and Baynes sacked the main dock contractors Kirk and Randall in a payment dispute. In effect, the Senior Warden and Master had sacked the Treasurer and Secretary of the lodge. Hamilton, in his Provincial role, likely knew Kirk and Randall – both Kent masons – and resigned from Tilbury Lodge after attending only three meetings. Ross, a friend of the contractors, did not attend meetings after June 1885. And the partnership of Manning & Baynes Engineers was dissolved in March 1887, with Baynes effectively leaving the lodge at this point. In just over three years, the lodge had lost five out of its seven founders.
Despite these fallings out, Tilbury Docks survived, the location providing an attractive loading point for steamships. In later life, Manning stayed on the water, becoming vice president of the Yacht Racing Association, where he chaired the committee that established the rules to standardise yacht measurement. His efforts were to capture the attention of Kaiser Wilhelm, and the Nottingham Evening Post of 30 October 1906 reports what happened when members of the committee were invited to meet him in Potsdam:
‘His Majesty, in the course of conversation, told his visitors that he owned a schooner yacht. It was suggested that it would be well for him to also have a first-class cutter. In reply the Kaiser in his usual excellent English said: “That’s all very well, but I have a large family growing up and the expenses are as much as I can meet. I am also a grandfather.”’
That there is a Tilbury Lodge today is due in large part to Dudgeon, who became the second master and was a member for thirty-two years. It is also due to some degree to Manning, who stayed with the lodge until his death in May 1910 at the age of seventy-two.
The author would like to thank Colin Tredwell and Andrew Woods of Granite Lodge, No. 1328, for information on the masonic careers of Frank Kirk and Joseph Randall; Bob Flynn of Pattison Lodge, No. 913, for information on the masonic career of Randall; Robert Riseley, great-grandson of Augustus Manning, and David Riseley for the portrait of Manning; Simone Hull for information on her great-grandfather Frank Kirk; Pauline Watson and staff at the Greenwich Heritage Centre; Jackie Reid of the Royal Yachting Association for extracts from the story of the RYA, Minute by Minute, and other information on Manning; Jonathon Catton of Thurrock Museum for his advice and contact work with the PLA.
The founders of Tilbury Lodge
|Name||First office||DOB||Mother lodge||Initiated||Occupation|
|Frank Kirk||Treasurer||1843||Pattison Lodge, No. 913||1867||Partner in Kirk & Randall, the main construction
contractor for the Tilbury Docks project
|Donald Baynes||Worshipful Master||1848||White Horse of Kent Lodge, No. 1506||1879||Partner in Manning & Baynes Engineers,
who were the engineers to the owner for the
Tilbury Docks project
|Augustus Manning||Senior Warden||1837||Lodge of Fidelity, No. 3||1865||Partner in Manning & Baynes Engineers, who
were the engineers to the owner for the
Tilbury Docks project
|Joseph Randall||Secretary||1839||Pattison Lodge, No. 913||1871||Partner in Kirk & Randall, the main construction
contractor for the Tilbury Docks project
|Alexander Dudgeon||Junior Warden||1848||Britannic Lodge, No. 33||1871||Consulting engineer for the Tilbury Docks project|
|John Morgan Ross||Senior Deacon||1844||Merchant Navy Lodge, No. 781||—||Timber merchant and supplier to Kirk & Randall|
|John Hamilton||Director of Ceremonies||1846||White Horse of Kent Lodge, No. 1506||—||Partner in the firm of Hamilton Sinclair & Company,
who were the Hamilton Companies London agents