On the eve of the 100th anniversary of the RMS Titanic’s ill-fated maiden journey, the Director of the Library and Museum of Freemasonry, Diane Clements, investigates the stories of the Freemasons on board

With 2012 marking the centenary of its first and only voyage, the RMS Titanic has become one of the most famous ships in history. After setting sail from Southampton for New York City on 10 April 1912 with 2,223 people on board, the ship hit an iceberg four days into the crossing, at 11.40pm on 14 April 1912, and sank at 2.20am the following morning.

More than 1,500 people died – the high casualty rate due in part to the fact that, although complying with regulations of the era, the ship carried lifeboats for only 1,178 people. The Titanic was the largest passenger ship in the world at the time and the loss of this ‘unsinkable’ ship was a major news story around the globe and covered by masonic newspapers.

The Freemason’s Chronicle wondered whether Grand Lodge itself would ‘vote a considerable sum… to one of the funds now being raised in different parts of the country’. This didn’t happen but the Chronicle recorded lodge donations, at the suggested rate of one guinea, to a Freemasons Titanic Fund, which the paper established, and which were then sent on to a larger fund set up by the Daily Telegraph.

Fallen heroes

Among the English Freemasons who died on the Titanic was Howard Brown Case, aged 49. Case was the managing director of the Vacuum Oil Company (part of the Standard Oil Company), based in Rochester, New York, and was establishing the company’s operations in the UK. He lived at Ascot with his wife, two sons and two daughters and was described as ‘an exceptionally hard worker’ with a ‘magnetic personality’. Case had been travelling in a first-class cabin and some survivors recalled that he helped women and children into the lifeboats and finally stepped back to meet his fate. He had been initiated in America Lodge, No. 3368, in June 1909.

Percy Cornelius Taylor, aged 32, was a Past Master of Musgrave Lodge, No. 1597, at Hampton Court, and a cellist in the ship’s orchestra. The band famously kept playing as the Titanic went down, with all eight members sadly perishing.

Two Liverpool-based stewards, Robert Arthur Wareham, aged 36, from Toxteth Lodge, No. 1356, and Arthur Lawrence, aged 35, a member of Neptune Lodge, No. 1264, also died.

Henry Price Hodges was a 50-year-old salesman of musical instruments from Southampton who was travelling as a second-class passenger en route to Boston. He had been initiated in Caulsentum Lodge, No. 1461, Woolston (Southampton), before joining Royal Gloucester Lodge, No. 130. Pierre Giuseppe Bochet, meanwhile, had moved to London from Aosta in Italy where he worked in the catering trade. He joined the Titanic at Southampton as a waiter, aged 43. He was a member of Loggia Italia, No. 2687 and also Columbia Chapter, No. 2397.

Officer and gentleman

One Freemason was known to be among the survivors. Herbert John Pitman, aged 34, was third officer on the Titanic. He helped to load and lower one of the lifeboats and row it towards the nearby ship Carpathia. Pitman went back to sea with other liners and served in the Merchant Navy in the Second World War. He had joined Abbey Lodge, No. 3341, in Hatfield in 1909 and remained a member until his death in 1961. A letter from the lodge congratulating him on his rescue was sold at auction in October 2011.

As the Titanic was bound for New York there were many American passengers. The condolences of several grand lodges, including Hungary and Cuba, to the Grand Lodge of New York are recorded in the proceedings of that Grand Lodge in May 1912. Three New York casualties were also recorded. Henry Harris was a New York theatre manager and a member of Munn Lodge, No. 100. Frank Millet was vice chairman of the Fine Arts Committee, based in Washington DC, and member of Kane Lodge, No. 454. Alexander Holverson was a member of Transportation Lodge, No. 842. Another Freemason casualty was Oscar Scott Woody, a clerk in the on-board post office. He was a member of Acacia Lodge, No. 16, in Virginia.

The passengers on the Titanic were drawn from all walks of life so it is no surprise that the Freemasons, casualties and survivors, were too.

Letters to the Editor - Freemasonry Today No. 18 - SUMMER 2012


Your article, ‘Final Voyage’ in Freemasonry Today, Spring 2012, highlights some known Freemasons who were on board the Titanic. One officer’s actions, on that fateful night, have also become legendary. Harold Godfrey Lowe brought 118 passengers to safety and he was the last to leave the lifeboats on being rescued by the Carpathia. Fifth Officer Lowe was subsequently hailed a hero by some of the survivors for his actions that night, which he simply put down to doing his duty. What may not be known, but of interest to brethren, is that Lowe was initiated into St. Trillo Lodge, No. 2569, in the Province of North Wales, on the 6 May 1921. Unfortunately, he didn’t occupy our master chair, but seemingly remained a member of this lodge for the rest of his life.

Tony Young, St. Trillo Lodge, No. 2569, Colwyn Bay, North Wales


I read with great interest your article on Freemasons and the Titanic. Unfortunately, you made no reference to a young brother of the Cambrian Lodge, No. 364, lost on that fateful voyage. He was Robert William Norman Leyson, a mechanical engineer aged 24.

Norman Leyson came from a respected Neath family. His father was a Freemason and he was proposed by Henry Pendrill Charles, who later became Deputy Provincial Grand Master. He was initiated on 16 January 1912. On 28 March 1912, the Minute Book records that a Lodge of Emergency was called. This was to permit Norman Leyson to be raised to the sublime degree of a master mason before he set sail for New York on the Royal Mail Ship Titanic, to go into business in America. His father is listed among the visitors.

The Titanic berthed at Ocean Dock in Southampton on 4 April 1912 and some time around this date Norman Leyson travelled there to board the ship for departure on 10 April. At 11.40pm on 14 April the ship travelling at 22 knots grazed an iceberg. There was lifeboat capacity for 1,200 passengers but 2,201 passengers and crew were on board. Even so, nearly 500 lifeboat places were not filled and at 2.20am on 15 April, the Titanic sank.

We do not know what happened to Norman Leyson during those dark hours, only that he did not get into a lifeboat. There were many documented and undocumented acts of bravery and also some of abject cowardice. We can only hope he acted as a true son and his actions may be numbered among the former. The body of Norman Leyson was one of those found. He was buried at sea on 24 April.

Roger B Evans, Cambrian Lodge, No. 364, Neath, South Wales

Published in Features
Wednesday, 08 September 2010 17:36

‘The Library & Museum of Freemasonry’


8 September 2010

A speech by Mrs Diane Clements, Director, The Library & Museum of Freemasonry

I am pleased to report that in the four years since I last spoke in this forum, the Library and Museum has continued to make good progress in meeting our objective of making the library, museum and archive collections here at Freemasons’ Hall available to as many people and to the widest possible range of audiences as we can, to try to improve the understanding of freemasonry and its role, past and present, in society.

The most obvious way that we do that is for the Library and Museum to be open free of charge every weekday. People join the regular guided tours of the ceremonial areas of the building. They are also attracted by our range of temporary exhibitions. Over the last four years the subjects of these exhibitions have included Freemasonry and the French Revolution, London Grand Rank and Masonic Charity. As someone who regularly has to respond to visitors’ comments such as “I didn’t know they allowed women in”, which is probably not something that any of you encounter, I was particularly pleased by our exhibition on Women and Freemasonry in 2008- even if it didn’t necessarily explain why I am here!. Our current exhibition The Masonic Emporium looks at the development of the commercial market for Masonic regalia and furniture. Visitor numbers have increased by 40% over the last four years. We have been able to cope with these additional numbers with our existing staff of guides thanks to working closely with other teams within the building especially security and maintenance.

The exhibitions may be temporary but we work to ensure that there is a legacy. This may be a book, an exhibition guide or an addition to the permanent museum displays or to the catalogue record for an item. For the exhibition on Freemasons and the Royal Society earlier this year- to mark the 350th Anniversary of the Royal Society- we worked with a freemason in North Yorkshire to produce a list of more than 350 freemasons who were also Fellows of the Society. This added significantly to our knowledge of “famous” freemasons. The list is available on the Library and Museum website. Amongst the names included are Sir George Everest of mountain fame, the psychologist Charles Myers who is generally credited with the first use of the term “shell shock” and the zoologist Edward Hindle who, during a long and distinguished scientific career, can also claim to have introduced the golden hamster as a domestic pet.

But not everyone can or wants to come to central London and so we have found a number of ways of taking knowledge of the collections and sometimes items from the collections to them. Cataloguing of the collections continues on all fronts and the information is available on our electronic catalogue on our website. We have now catalogued all our sheet music- over 1500 items- archive material including the records of erased lodges and thousands of prints and photographs of individuals. We have undertaken a detailed analysis of what is required to catalogue and photograph all the items in the museum collection – that is 40,000 objects and includes everything from a lodge jewel to the 1790 Grand Master’s throne which stands over 3 metres high - and are working towards completing that by 2017.

Research resources can be provided electronically- the charts of lodge family trees and an electronic version of Lane’s Masonic Records listing all lodges warranted by UGLE and its predecessors are already available on line and we are bringing the latter list up to date. We will be starting a two year project to digitise English eighteenth and nineteenth century Masonic periodicals this Autumn. This will enable this material -which is a rich source of Masonic history but sadly lacking in comprehensive indexes – to be searchable.

Although the Centre for Masonic Research at Sheffield University has now closed, we have found that researchers from many academic bodies in the UK and abroad now use the collections. Recent publications on individuals as diverse as an eighteenth century French journalist and a nineteenth century Jewish humanitarian as well as a study of the development of Blackpool as a seaside resort have all used information from our records.

Those researchers would be amongst the 2,000 or more readers who are registered to use the library and archive collections- it’s just as well that they don’t all visit at once!

Library and Museum staff provide an enquiry service for letters and emails and I estimate that we answer over 3000 queries a year. Recently we have assisted the Victoria and Albert Museum identify a Masonic ring, we have helped the Swindon Local Studies Library find out more about the history of an important building in the town- the Mechanics’ Institute, not the Freemasons’ Hall- and we have researched the Masonic career of a Victorian photographer for English Heritage. Over the last ten years we have researched over 15,000 names for family historians.

As well as talks to lodges and chapters, staff have given presentations at conferences organised by the Canonbury Masonic Research Centre and the International Conference on the History of Freemasonry in Edinburgh. Papers have been given to professional and specialist groups including the Decorative Arts Medals Society, the Social History Curators Group, the Families in British India Society, the Halstead Trust Family History conference and to academic conferences in Liverpool, Leiden and Bordeaux.

Material from the collections is lent to other museums and items have been lent recently to the People’s History Museum in Manchester, the Helena Thompson Museum in Workington and to museums in Austria and Corsica.

The loan to the Helena Thompson Museum was organised with the Province of Cumberland and Westmorland as part of their local awareness campaign. Our work with provinces and districts has, over the last two years, focussed on the Historical Records Survey- although I am aware that there were some light hearted local variations in that name. The HRS project aimed to survey the extent and condition of all lodge and chapter records in England and Wales. The 60% or so response rate, which was a fantastic achievement by local co-ordinators and thousands of lodge secretaries and chapter scribes, will ensure that local Masonic history makes a considerable contribution to freemasonry’s tercentenary.

Those lodges and chapters that took part in the survey are able to apply to the Library and Museum for a small grant to help with the conservation of their records. We expect this to be a competitive scheme as we will not have enough funding to meet all the demands but I would encourage all eligible lodges and chapters to have a go. Even a small amount of funding can assist with the purchase of more appropriate boxes or packaging which can really make a difference to improving the way records are kept. Details are available from the Library and Museum or from provincial secretaries

We have also provided support for provinces for their charity festivals and for members’ education.

I wanted to take the opportunity here to mention the work of the Masonic Libraries and Museums Group which is run by representatives of provincial libraries and museums and which Library and Museum staff support. Many of these collections have been featured in Freemasonry Today over the years. Not only do these provincial museums hold items of national interest, many are also significant in terms of the local history of their area. Over the last ten years this group has helped to foster new museums and libraries in several provinces so that the heritage of freemasonry can be preserved at a local level. If you haven’t been to visit your provincial museum recently I think you will be surprised!

As I have mentioned on previous occasions, the Library and Museum has been awarded grants from external sources. This has continued with one recent grant enabling us to establish a properly racked paintings store and another contributing towards the conservation of our world class collection of Old Charges. The next few years will be challenging ones for cultural and heritage bodies as for many other groups and competition for more limited external funding will be intense. We monitor our cost base. The Library and Museum Council regularly reviews the performance of our professionally managed investment portfolio. The profits from the Shop here at Freemasons’ Hall are gift aided to the Library and Museum. Since 2003, the Shop has sold nearly 120,000 books- not all of them written by the Assistant Grand Secretary, more than 90,000 craft ties and 1,247 miniature Masonic teddy bears. Thank you for your support and do keep buying!

The Library and Museum already benefits from the support of Grand Lodge and Grand Chapter, the Friends of the Library and Museum and many individual lodges and chapters. As a registered charity we will be monitoring how the government encourages the development of charitable giving to make sure that we can take full advantage.

We are looking forward to making a major contribution to the Royal Arch bicentenary celebrations in 2013 with an exhibition and of course to the tercentenary in 2017. Before then, and probably along with every other museum and cultural institution in the country, we will be marking the 2012 Olympics in London. Our plans include an exhibition on Freemasonry and Sport which will cover the important role played by leading freemasons in the first London Olympics in 1908 as well as the Masonic involvement of sportsmen generally. We have already made contact with some sportsmen members to see how we can work together but I am always keen to hear about other initiatives and plans. We really would like our exhibition to reflect the personal sporting achievements of individual members.

In his recent interview in The Times the Grand Secretary’s role was described as “explaining the inner workings (of freemasonry) to a largely uncomprehending world”. I like to believe that a desire to comprehend is a factor in attracting more and more visitors to the Library and Museum and that our displays, exhibitions, guided tours and responses to enquiries can all help improve understanding. We in the Library and Museum are very happy to work alongside the Grand Secretary and the membership generally in that common cause.

Thank you.

Published in Speeches
Wednesday, 01 September 2010 14:42

Looking Forward At The Library And Museum

The Library and Museum has continued to make good progress in meeting its objective of making its collections available to as many people and to the widest possible range of audiences as possible in order to improve the understanding of Freemasonry and its role, past and present, in society, director Diane Clements told the Quarterly Communication of Grand Lodge in September.

The most obvious way that this was done was by it being open, free of charge, every weekday, including to people joining the regular guided tours. In the past four years, visitor numbers had increased by 40 per cent thanks to the existing staff of guides working with others, especially security and maintenance.

To mark the 350th anniversary of the Royal Society staff worked with North Yorkshire Province to produce a list of more than 350 masons who were also Fellows of the Society. The list is available on the Library and Museum website and include Sir George Everest of mountain fame, psychologist Charles Myers, generally credited with the first use of the term ‘shell-shock’, and zoologist Edward Hindle who, as part of his distinguished scientific career, introduced the golden hamster as a domestic pet.

Cataloguing of the collections continued and information was available on the electronic catalogue on the website. Staff had catalogued all the sheet music – over 1,500 items – and archive material including the records of erased lodges and thousands of prints and photographs of individuals.

They had also undertaken a detailed analysis of what is required to catalogue and photograph all the items in the museum collection – 40,000 objects.

They will be starting a two-year project to digitise English eighteenth and nineteenth-century masonic periodicals this autumn, which will become available in comprehensive indexes and searchable. There are also more than 2,000 readers registered to use the archive collections.

Library and Museum staff also answer more than 3,000 queries a year and had given presentations at conferences and presented papers to professional and specialist groups. Material from the collections had been lent to other museums at home and abroad.

Work with provinces and districts has focused on the Historical Records Survey, which aimed to discover the extent and condition of all lodge and chapter records in England and Wales. The 60 per cent or so response rate, which was a fantastic achievement by local co-ordinators and thousands of lodge secretaries and chapter scribes, would ensure that local masonic history made a considerable contribution to Freemasonry’s tercentenary.

The Masonic Libraries and Museums Group is run by representatives of provincial libraries and museums and which Library and Museum staff support. Over the past ten years this group has helped to foster new museums and libraries in several provinces so that the heritage of Freemasonry could be preserved at a local level.

The Library and Museum has been awarded grants from external sources. One recent grant enabled them to establish a properly racked paintings store, another contributed towards the conservation of the world-class collection of Old Charges. Profits from the shop at Freemasons’ Hall are gift-aided to the Library and Museum. Since 2003, the shop had sold nearly 120,000 books, more than 90,000 Craft ties and 1,247 miniature masonic teddy bears.

The Library and Museum was looking forward to making a major contribution to the Royal Arch bicentenary celebrations in 2013 with an exhibition and to the tercentenary in 2017.

They would also be marking the 2012 Olympics in London. Plans include an exhibition on Freemasonry and Sport which will cover the important role played by leading masons in the first London Olympics in 1908 as well as the masonic involvement of sportsmen generally.

Venue: The Library and Museum of Freemasonry, Freemasons’ Hall, Great Queen Street, London, WC2B 5AZ
Exhibition dates: Thursday 1 July – Thursday 23 December 2010
Exhibition free of charge to all visitors
Opening hours: Monday to Friday, 10am to 5pm. Museum closed at weekends
Visitor information: www.freemasonry.london.museum or 020 7395 9257

Published in Features
Wednesday, 01 September 2010 13:35

The Masonic Emporium

Diane Clements Charts The Creation Of The Masonic Consumer

At the beginning of July, the Library and Museum of Freemasonry in Freemasons’ Hall, Great Queen Street, London, opened an exhibition showing the development of the commercial production of masonic regalia, jewels, lodge furniture and dining ware. The exhibition, ‘The Masonic Emporium’, charts the development of the Freemason as a consumer and the creation of companies to serve the production and sale of these specifically produced goods for this specifically masonic market which had never existed before.

By around 1800 masonic regalia and objects such as glassware and pottery were being produced in greater quantities and with a variety of designs but some uniformity in style began to emerge. In the Royal Arch, for example, two distinct designs for jewels had evolved, one for Royal Arch masons affiliated to the Premier Grand Lodge and another for Antient Grand Lodge members.

Manufacturing techniques such as transfer printing were also encouraging repetition of design on larger numbers of items or enabled the same design to be repeated on different objects used in lodges such as plates, mugs, ale-jugs and loving-cups.

But it was the union of the Premier and the Antients Grand Lodges in 1813 that provided the impetus for the expansion of the masonic market. The new United Grand Lodge laid down a specific set of rules as to what a Freemason under the English Constitution could wear in his lodge and these were published as part of the Book of Constitutions.

The standardisation of regalia, together with the increasing number of lodges established as the 1800s progressed, made it easier for manufacturers to undertake ‘mass’ production, ensuring a range of competitively priced products. As additional masonic degrees appeared, each with its own governing body, they too produced their own sets of rules governing their distinctive regalia; these were duly sold by the same retailers.

The increase in masonic membership during the nineteenth century gave important purchasing power to this new market. In 1837, when Queen Victoria ascended the British throne, there were around five hundred lodges in Britain and the Empire. At her death in 1901 the number of lodges had reached almost two thousand. All these lodges needed special masonic equipment and all the new members needed their regalia.

New products were developed. For example, Richard Spencer’s catalogue illustrated a range of styles of collecting boxes. George Kenning invented his patent hanger to go over the shoulder to protect the formal clothing. The hanger provided a vehicle both for displaying the large number of jewels that it was then fashionable to wear and a convenient form of storage when not in use.

In March 1869 the final piece opening the way towards the Freemason as consumer fell into place: the first edition of Kenning’s weekly masonic newspaper, The Freemason, appeared. Kenning declared that its purpose was to have press representation for ‘a society so admirable and so extensive [with] so many members of talent and influence’.

But, importantly, the eight-page paper provided Kenning and many other businesses with the space to advertise to and Brother Higman’s Masonic Bouquet, sold in stoppered bottles and ‘greatly admired for its richness and permanency of fragrance’. As a result Freemasons were established as keen consumers for the increasing range of products that Kenning and others were supplying.

Purpose-built Masonic Halls
By the 1850s it was becoming much more common for individual lodges, or groups of lodges, to meet in dedicated masonic halls rather than rent space in other buildings such as pubs and taverns. As more lodges were established, or enlarged their membership, dedicated halls became affordable. Victorian morality and a desire for respectability also played a part, attitudes epitomised by the reaction of John Havers, a surgeon and chairman of the committee that redeveloped Freemasons’ Hall in London in the 1860s, who told fellow members: ‘It appears to me a disgrace and reproach that the most ancient, influential and by far the most wealthy Grand Lodge in the world should longer permit its headquarters to be used as a Tavern’.

Lodges had a long history of purchasing jewels and certain items of lodge furniture but now had to become significant consumers of masonic chairs, candlesticks and pictures of the Grand Master to furnish these halls. The regalia manufacturers produced comprehensive illustrated catalogues so that lodges outside London and across the Empire could purchase from them. Lodge Llynfi, No. 2965, in Glamorgan spent over £70 in 1903 (nearly £6,000 in today’s money) on furnishings.

All photographs courtesy The Library and Museum of Freemasonry, London.

The Freemason
The first edition of The Freemason was published by George Kenning on Saturday 13 March 1869. Its front cover featured an engraving of the façade of the new Freemasons’ Hall in Great Queen Street. The newspaper was sent by rail to agents, listed in early issues, in major towns who were responsible for its distribution via railway station bookstalls and other shops. The first edition comprised eight pages with the last page devoted to advertisements for a range of goods and services.

Within a year of its first publication, the paper had doubled in size and claimed a circulation of half a million readers a year. Although it is impossible to verify this claim, the size of the paper and the number of advertisements would certainly indicate some success. Out of sixteen pages of the edition published on 11 December 1869, four and a half pages were devoted to advertisements including the first two pages and the back two pages.

As well as advertisements for masonic regalia, books and meeting places, Miss C. Wickins advertised piano lessons in Lower Norwood and the Hydro-Carbon Light Company and Shrewsbury’s boilers were advertising their products (possibly in anticipation of winter weather). Adverts for patent medicines, foodstuffs such as Colman’s British Cornflour and Cooney’s Mustard competed for the attention of readers alongside Henry Newman’s astringent toothpaste. Kenning had found a ready market for his newspaper and the Freemasons reading it could enjoy, or at least aspire to, the products of Victorian consumer society.

Published in Features
Saturday, 19 April 2008 14:09

"A Catastrophe has Occurred"

Diane Clements Investigates the Failure of Grand Lodge’s Bankers

At Grand Lodge, in March 1878, Lord Carnarvon, the Pro Grand Master, rose to make an announcement. Describing the event as "a catastrophe", he reported that the banking house of Willis Percival & Co, which held the funds of Grand Lodge, Grand Chapter and the Masonic Charities, had failed. The Grand Lodge balance of £3,543 was at risk.

The City of London, in the 1870s, was taking on the face of the modern City. Its residential population had declined as it had become easier to live outside the metropolis and travel in by train and road. Old town houses were demolished and their sites combined into large commercial buildings. The advent of new technologies such as the electric telegraph in the 1840s had encouraged large increases in the amount of business transacted, although most was still conducted face to face. 

Lombard Street

For the Victorians, Lombard Street, where Willis Percival & Co. were based, was synonymous with banking. Although the street has retained such connections even up to today, the business of banking in the 1870s was very different; it was dominated by private partnerships, including the major firms of Barings and Rothschilds. The main business of such banks was the taking of deposits and the finance of trade by acquiring (as an investment) the bills of merchants. However, "Joint stock banks" – the forerunners of today’s high street banks - were growing in importance. They had the advantage of having a solid base of shareholders to provide capital. In contrast, partnership banks could only call on the capital of their active partners or accumulated profits.

Against this background it was not unusual for banks to fail. The Bankers Magazine (which had a regular paragraph entitled "Mercantile Embarrassments" in which failures were listed) reported, in 1878, statistics of bank failures in the previous five years – fifteen in all including five in each of 1873 and 1874. But unless there was suspicion of wrongdoing such failures did not excite particular attention. 

The Collapse

Willis Percival & Co., founded in 1700, was one of London’s oldest private banking partnerships. At the time of its failure it had three partners – Henry Willis, Samuel Tomkins and Samuel Leith Tomkins. Samuel Tomkins had been a member of the Lodge of Antiquity, No.2, since 1852, although he had been initiated in a Scottish lodge (St. Andrews Lodge, No. 333, S.C.). He was Master of Antiquity in 1854 and its Treasurer from 1861. Samuel Leith Tomkins was a member of the same lodge and had been a Grand Steward in 1862. Grand Lodge records do not provide evidence for Henry Willis’ membership of Freemasonry.

The financial position of the bank had been deteriorating for several years although, as the bank did not publish any financial information (in common with other partnership banks), this only became clear after its collapse in February 1878. The Bankers Magazine made reference to "the crisis of 1857" when the bank "is believed to have suffered severely through its Greek connections". Willis Percival had also encountered another problem endemic to partnerships: in 1877 the senior partner had died causing a reduction in the capital available.

The particular cause of the Bank’s collapse, however, was not international affairs nor even shortage of capital. The partners had over-extended credit to one borrower - Gerussi Brothers & Co. of Finsbury Circus, a firm of merchants - to the extent of £250,000, many times the bank’s capital base and comprising nearly half of its assets. When the depressed trading conditions caused the merchants to fail, the bank collapsed.

Within a few months what could be salvaged had been bought by the Hampshire and North Wiltshire Banking Company, which purchased the assets and goodwill for £288,460 and resumed business at 76 Lombard Street under the joint management of Henry Willis and Samuel Leith Tomkins, two of the former partners. Creditors received nine shillings (45p) in the pound.

Grand Lodge Finances

At the time of the collapse Samuel Tomkins was Grand Treasurer, a position he had held since 1853 and to which he had been elected in succession to Richard Percival, a previous partner of the Bank (and also a member of the Lodge of Antiquity, No.2).

The office of Treasurer had been introduced in 1725 when the Committee of Charity was established. In 1727 the position became Grand Treasurer with the incoming Grand Master nominating the post holder each year and Grand Lodge electing him.

As Grand Lodge had no income in those early years, the Grand Treasurer was solely responsible for the Charity Fund, holding money on behalf of the Committee of Charity (which authorised disbursements), providing a personal surety for it, and reporting receipts and disbursements to each Quarterly Communication of Grand Lodge.

In 1768 the premier Grand Lodge began to plan for the financing and building of the first Freemasons’ Hall, to register members, and to charge fees which were paid into a general fund for administrative expenses. After the Union in 1813 this income was supplemented from room rentals, from the lease of the Freemasons’ Tavern and income earned from investments.

The amounts involved were initially relatively small. In 1818, according to the quarterly report on receipts and payments, the Board of Benevolence received income of £1,435 during the year and the Fund for General Purposes had income of £2,756 (both including income from investments). By 1878 the Board of Benevolence receipts had increased to £8,714 (equivalent to £357,000 today) and those for the Fund of General Purposes to £11,598 (£475,000). 

The Impact

Grand Lodge had a balance of £3,543 with Willis Percival & Co (equivalent to £145,000 today). As an interim measure an account was opened at the London and Westminster Bank (one of the better capitalised joint stock banks) for future receipts with cheques to be signed by the President of the Board of General Purposes and the Grand Secretary. A committee was established to investigate the loss and to make recommendations about the future of Grand Lodge’s financial affairs. Following this report a new account was set up at the Bank of England. The Grand Treasurer was "to keep a general supervision of the accounts" and to sign cheques for funds voted by Grand Lodge which had to be countersigned by the Grand Secretary; furthermore, the accounts were to be audited. A new Grand Treasurer was appointed in 1879 (Tomkins had resigned in March 1878 and the post was in abeyance) and from that date a new Grand Treasurer was elected every year.

Tomkins felt obliged to resign from the Lodge of Antiquity (although Samuel Leith Tomkins remained a member until his death in 1899). The Lodge accepted the resignation but "expressed regret at the circumstances in which it had taken place, and its warm sympathy and continued respect".

Five months after the collapse Tomkins died, aged 68, in July 1878. The Freemason published an obituary; it noted that he had never returned to Grand Lodge. He had died a broken man.

The author would like to thank John Hamill, Director of Communications, for permission to use his earlier research into the role of the Grand Treasurer.

Diane Clements is the Director of the Library and Museum of Freemasonry, Freemasons’ Hall, London. She previously worked in banking in the City of London.

Published in Features
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