As the lark was still slumbering and dreaming of catching flies during the forthcoming daylight, 27 companions of the Provincial Stewards’ Chapter No 8516 of West Lancashire, Demonstration Team were already on the road and heading for Shrewsbury, in Shropshire.
They had been invited to the Masonic Hall in Crewe Street to perform ‘The Re-building of a Chapter’, by the Shropshire First Principals’ Chapter No 6262 after correspondence between their secretary Eric Booth and the head of the demonstration team Bill Smith.
After a long journey the team was thankful for a hearty breakfast which was served soon after arriving at the hall at 7.30 am, but a fully organized chef and his team were more than able to match even the most voracious of appetites.
The name of the host chapter is self-explanatory and was consecrated in 1987 and since permission was granted by Supreme Grand Chapter, has like many, chosen to dispense with the wearing of gloves. It meets in what is now the Shrewsbury Masonic Hall, which was the former parish church of St Michael and it was pleasing to see the war memorial within the grounds fully renovated and adorned with flowers.
The church was consecrated on 24 August 1830, being designed by John Carlisle in the Grecian style and includes an octagonal tower. The church was built in brick and the chancel was added later in 1873, the church served the local community until it was closed in 1976.
It was within this fine building that the demonstration team spent their early morning in setting out the room and having the necessary practice to assimilate with the unfamiliar surroundings. When all were satisfied that everything was ready there was just enough time to change into regalia before the Shropshire companions arrived and the chapter opened. Present on the day were the Grand Superintendent of Shropshire Peter Taylor, accompanied by Roger Pemberton, (Second Provincial Grand Principal) and John Williamson (Deputy Grand Superintendent).
The past first principals of the chapter were introduced and escorted to their places, this was followed by the First Principals of Shropshire Royal Arch Chapters being individually announced and escorted to their respective place by a Provincial Steward from West Lancashire. The chapter was then placed in a state of darkness and a synopsis of the historical events and of the proclamation of Cyrus King of Persia leading up to the ‘re-building’ was delivered by David Harrison.
The chapter resumed its illumination as Barry Elman described the purpose and cause of the individual pieces of furniture which were brought in by the members of Provincial Stewards’ Chapter. When this was complete the chapter was opened by its three Principals and after two matters of chapter business had been dealt with the demonstration was resumed. The chapter was also at this time re-dedicated by Reverend Graham Halsall.
There then followed a reminder to the companions of what the six lights within the chapter represent. This was delivered by Bill Smith and his conclusion of the form of a triangle which represented the Supreme Being and/or an aide memoire, as the triangle could be reconstructed by using one piece of material or matter that was totally portable. Furthermore as it was a geometrical figure, was geometry itself the powerful superior knowledge that set aside the intelligent being, man? Robin Andrews Morris then presented the acting candidate to the first principal and proceeded to inform him on what the floor furniture represented.
Bill then introduced David Harrison, who had with him an extremely special gavel which may be described as a true Masonic gavel for a number of reasons, which David explained most eloquently. It is made of three differing woods; elm, ash, and oak.
On conclusion of the talk, David and Bill presented the gavel to the chapter on behalf of the Provincial Stewards’ Chapter, suitably inscribed onto an adorning plaque. First Principal, David Joyce assured them both that it would be treasured by all of the members of the Shropshire First Principals’ Chapter and become a respected artifact within the chapter.
On conclusion of the meeting, all descended to the ground floor for a very agreeable festive board at which twocheques were made out from the alms collection at the ceremony, for an equal three figure amount, one for the West Lancashire Freemasons’ Charity, the other was returned to David Joyce to be used for the benefit of the Midland Air Ambulance Service.
In the next available post, Bill Smith received a letter of thanks and appreciation from David Joyce, part of which said: “It has been a lovely experience and it is clear that the companions of our chapter and our Province were deeply impressed with the choreography, the detail and the ethos of your presentation. Would you please pass on to your team our enormous appreciation of the efforts they made, each and everyone? Thank you, again.”
It had obviously been a successful day for all concerned and it must be remembered that the demonstration team carry out their work voluntary and in their spare time, but such dedication brings its own reward at the satisfaction gained spreading knowledge to those that attend a chapter to see the team at work.
David Harrison looks at the foundation of the lodge and its illustrious members and friends
Authors’ Lodge No. 3456, upon its foundation in November 1910, received letters of goodwill from Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Rudyard Kipling, Henry Rider Haggard and Jerome K Jerome.
Conan Doyle and Kipling were both Freemasons. The latter had been initiated into Freemasonry in the Hope and Perseverance Lodge No. 782, based in Lahore, India, in 1886, and went on to become an honorary member of the Authors’ Lodge. Conan Doyle was initiated into the Phoenix Lodge No. 257, at Southsea, Hampshire, on 26 January 1887.
There is no proof that Rider Haggard or Jerome were Freemasons, but we can certainly say that they were sympathetic; the letters of goodwill they wrote prove that.
Leagues of gentlemen
The Authors’ Lodge had a direct connection to the London-based Authors’ Club, which had been established in 1891. The latter’s membership included other literary Freemasons such as Oscar Wilde and Winston Churchill; the new lodge was founded by a number of the club’s masonic members. Jerome was a member of the Authors’ Club; for many years Conan Doyle was its chairman and he often read his manuscripts to members prior to publication. One of the founders of the Authors’ Club – though not of the lodge – was the prolific novelist and Freemason Sir Walter Besant, who went on to be a founder, in 1894, of the Quatuor Coronati Lodge No. 2076 – the London lodge dedicated to masonic research.
The consecration of the Authors’ Lodge reveals the intricate relationships between certain gentlemen’s clubs and the world of Freemasonry. Victorian gentlemen’s clubs had links to Freemasonry during the period. Indeed, many Victorian writers, artists and politicians were members of both, the thriving social scene offering opportunities for networking and social advancement.
The founding of the lodge was seen at the time not only as a way of promoting the Authors’ Club among Freemasons but also as providing a means of promoting Freemasonry within the club, since attracting literary men into the Craft, according to one of the founding members of the lodge, journalist Max Montesole, ‘could not fail to add lustre to the Order’.
Kipling and Rider Haggard were very close friends, and they both famously conveyed Freemasonry in their work. Indeed, masonic themes can be seen in Rider Haggard’s late Victorian works King Solomon’s Mines and the wonderfully exotic novel She, a story that deals with death and rebirth. Both of these works present the idea of the heroic explorer searching for hidden knowledge in lost civilisations. These, along with Kipling’s The Man Who Would Be King, testify not only to the popularity of Freemasonry at the time but also to the acceptance of the Craft in Victorian society which, within these literary contexts at least, also conveyed an element of mystery and the occult.
Conan Doyle occasionally referred to Freemasonry in his Sherlock Holmes stories, such as in The Red-Headed League, when Holmes – who was obviously very familiar with masonic symbolism – recognised that a certain gentleman was a Freemason, the particular gentleman being surprised that Holmes knew of his membership: ‘I won’t insult your intelligence by telling you how I read that, especially as, rather against the strict rules of your order, you use an arc and compass breastpin.’
He also referred to Freemasonry in other Sherlock Holmes stories such as The Adventure of the Norwood Builder and The Adventure of the Retired Colourman.
In addition, adding to the nuance of mystery and the occult, Conan Doyle, along with other Victorian Freemasons such as Arthur Edward Waite, had embraced psychic research and spiritualism, an interest that developed after the death of his wife and several other close family members. Until his death in 1930, he consistently sought proof of life after death.
Conan Doyle’s 1926 work, The History of Spiritualism, also lent his support to seances conducted by various psychics at the time, and their supposed spiritual materialisations. One of the spiritualists that Conan Doyle supported, Daniel Douglas Home, was also supported by fellow Freemason, Lord Lindsay, who had – he said – witnessed the spiritualist apparently mysteriously levitate out of a third story window and return through the window of an adjoining room.
Jerome K Jerome’s masonic membership is hotly debated; although he certainly mixed in masonic circles – Jerome having been good friends with fellow writers and Freemasons Conan Doyle and Kipling – proof of membership is lacking.
Jerome also contributed to a masonic publication: a souvenir of the Grand Masonic Bazaar in aid of the Annuity Fund of Scottish Masonic Benevolence in 1890 and produced by the Lodge of Dramatic and Arts, No. 757 (SC), for a fundraising bazaar held in Edinburgh in December 1890. The publication, given the rather humorous title of Pot Pourri of Gifts Literal and Artistic, included the Jerome story ‘The Prince’s Quest’, a rare and much sought after piece of Jerome literature. We need to be cautious: the preface written by the artist William Grant Stevenson, then Master of Lodge, states that many of its contributors were not members of the Craft.
Being friends with Conan Doyle and Kipling, Jerome would have been familiar with Freemasonry. Perhaps future findings may reveal some masonic membership. But the letters of goodwill these authors wrote testify to their respect for the founding of the Authors’ Lodge, a lodge that celebrated its centenary late last year.
With thanks to Ron Selby, Secretary of Authors’ Lodge
The following letter was subsequently published in Freemasonry Today Winter 2011:
In his article Authors’ Lodge: A History in the Summer/Autumn edition of Freemasonry Today, David Harrison was uncertain whether Sir Henry Rider Haggard had been a Freemason. I can confirm that he was initiated in the Lodge of Good Report, No. 136, in 1877. His membership ended in 1890, when he resigned. During that thirteen-year period he published eighteen books, including his best-known novels King Solomon’s Mines (1885), Allan Quartermain and She (both in 1887). I have often wondered whether any of his characters were inspired by lodge members.
Richard Sharp, Lodge of Good Report, No. 136, London
An Intriguing Story Unearthed By David Harrison
Charismatic figures of high social rank became essential to Freemasonry, especially after the dark and difficult years of the early nineteenth century that some lodges had experienced. These influential figures attracted aspiring social-climbing men to the lodges that they were associated with, playing a part in making the Craft popular again. One such charismatic figure was Viscount Combermere, who became Provincial Grand Master of Cheshire in 1830.
Combermere was born Stapleton Cotton in 1773, the second son of Sir Robert Cotton, who had also served as Provincial Grand Master of Cheshire from 1785-1810. Stapleton Cotton, 1st Viscount Combermere, was a war hero having fought in the Peninsula Wars and was a close friend of the Duke of Wellington who was also a Freemason.
He had served as commander of Wellington’s cavalry earning a reputation for fearless bravery and received personal thanks from Wellington himself.
Combermere renovated his home at Combermere Abbey in Cheshire extensively and constructed the Wellington Wing especially to commemorate the Duke’s visit to the house in 1820. His popularity as a local war hero was evident when the Provincial Grand Lodge met in Macclesfield in 1852 where the procession route to the meeting place at the Macclesfield Arms Hotel was crammed with flags and banners, and in front of the hotel a lofty triumphal arch of evergreens was erected, from which descended banners bearing Welcome Combermere and Salamanca. When the Provincial Grand Lodge met in Congleton in 1855, Combermere again received a rapturous hero’s welcome; the public celebrations for the arrival of this Cheshire Hero being ecstatic.
Combermere’s standing among the masonic community of Cheshire was so great that he was toasted as ‘The Hero of Cheshire’ at the Provincial Grand Lodge and his son, Wellington Cotton, followed in his footsteps becoming a high-ranking Freemason within the Cheshire Province.
On the death of the Duke of Wellington in 1852, Combermere gave a speech to the Provincial Grand Lodge, in which he said:
‘He had been associated with him [Wellington] since 1793. Perhaps it was not generally known that the Duke was a Mason, he was made in Ireland, and often when in Spain, where Masonry was prohibited, in conversation with his Lordship, he regretted repeatedly how sorry he was that his military duties had prevented him taking the active part his feelings dictated, for it was his opinion that Masonry was a great and royal art, beneficial to the individual and to the community.’
The Duke of Wellington’s masonic career had begun in 1790, when he entered into his family lodge in Ireland, but after 1795 he distanced himself from the Craft even opposing masonic processions and meetings when in Lisbon, Portugal, in 1810, realising it was sensitive to the local population.
Governor Of Barbados
After the Napoleonic wars, in 1817, Combermere was appointed Governor of Barbados, and it was there that an infamous incident occurred that has since made Combermere the focus of many a book on the paranormal.
The macabre ‘moving coffins of Barbados’ have since been much discussed and researched by countless paranormal investigators; in fact, the incidents caused such a stir on the island in 1819 that Combermere himself became directly involved. They centred on the tomb of the Chase family, a vault which lies in the graveyard of Christ Church in Oistins, situated in the south-west of Barbados.
The curious events had actually started a number of years before with the burial of Mrs Thomasina Goddard in 1807. The tomb however had been there for nearly a century before; being the resting place for a certain Honourable James Elliott who was buried there in 1724, but by the time of Mrs Goddard’s burial, Elliot’s coffin had vanished.
A few months after Mrs Goddard’s burial, the tomb was reopened to bury Mary Ann Chase, the infant daughter of the Hon. Thomas Chase, a local plantation owner. On 6 July 1812, the tomb was again reopened for the burial of another daughter, and the following month, Thomas Chase himself passed away and the tomb was reopened once more.
This time, however, when the tomb was opened, the tiny lead coffins of his children were found to have mysteriously and inexplicably moved, especially the coffin of Mary Ann which appeared to have been thrown from one side of the tomb to the other, leaning head down in the corner. Later, when another infant was buried, the coffins were again displaced and strewn around the tomb.
The burial, a few weeks after, of Samuel Brewster, who had been murdered by slaves, revealed further disarray with the coffins again having been mysteriously moved around. By the time yet another burial took place on 7 July 1819 the nervous locals had an idea of what to find and sure enough the tomb was yet again in a mess; the coffins had been moved again and the coffin of Mrs Goddard had been completely smashed.
Rumour and superstition spread through the community and crowds gathered around the tomb to see the unearthly chaos and it was then that Combermere himself became involved personally supervising the investigation into how the disturbances occurred; checking for secret tunnels and placing the coffins neatly in order again and recording the layout with a sketch.
When the slab was replaced to conceal the entrance of the tomb, Combermere made a series of secret marks and symbols within the cement to alert him to further tampering.
Ten months later, Combermere and some friends returned to the tomb to check on the outcome of their investigation, and sure enough after carefully opening the tomb, the coffins were again in chaos, the children’s coffins having been thrown to the back of the vault. Nothing had been disturbed on the outside of the tomb, the appearance being perfect and Combermere’s secret marks still being visible. Another sketch of the coffins in their chaotic state was done to record the event and the vault was closed once more.
To this day the mystery has never been solved.
LETTERS TO THE EDITOR
The article published in the last issue of Freemasonry Today, ‘The Mystery of the Moving Coffins’ was interesting. However, with reference to the moving coffins themselves, can we not apply the principle of Occam’s Razor to this? The principle which holds that the simplest solution is more often the best?
Consider the parameters: the moving coffins were lead-sealed and of young children and therefore they were watertight and light. The vault was underground and presumably brick-lined with no easy exit for water. Barbados, like many Caribbean islands, is renowned for intense cloudbursts.
Any substantial rainfall occurring over a short period of time would therefore collect in the vault and quickly submerge that which was there – except for the watertight light coffins which would float until the water receded and landed them in random positions with no impressions on what probably would have been an earth floor.
Conjecture, of course.
Commercial Temperance Lodge No. 3144
I read with great interest the article by David Harrison in Freemasonry Today, Issue 13, on ‘The Mystery of the Moving Coffins’ in Barbados.
In the spring of 2010 I attended a funeral for a lady who was a close family friend. She was a spinster and had made arrangements to be buried with her parents. The family plot was in the ‘old’ town cemetery and the lady had previously asked the retired grave-digger if he would do her the honour of opening the plot for her to be interred. It was while he was carrying out this task that we got talking.
He told me a story of how many years ago he was asked by his manager to open up an old burial chamber that belonged to a family who lived away; it was in preparation for an imminent funeral.
On opening the tomb it was noticed that the coffins were strewn all over the place, still intact, but seemingly rearranged and thrown about. The police were called but as the locks showed no sign of being tampered with, after some investigation, no explanation was given for the movement of the casks.
The tomb was tidied and the latest funeral took place after which the chamber was resealed; this task was observed by the local police.
Later that year the tomb was needed again and it was duly opened and again the coffins had been rearranged. Some were even standing upright. This caused great concern and many possibilities were considered but after a while nothing seemed to answer the question as to how these coffins had been so easily strewn about.
It was agreed that the chamber would be opened on a regular basis over the next few months in an attempt to find the cause of the disruption. Nothing was seen for two months but when the tomb was opened on the third month it was found to have been rearranged again but this time there was about two inches of water in the base.
It was concluded that at certain times the chamber would fill with water up to six feet deep and the coffins were therefore being lifted and moved as the water rose and fell.
This explanation eased the nerves of my friend and his colleagues as all sorts of things had been running through their minds as to the cause of the moving coffins.
I wonder if this has any bearing on Mr. Harrison’s story.
Rhyl, North Wales
David Harrison Looks At The Work Of This Pioneering Scientist
It has been said that the discovery of the smallpox vaccine in the late eighteenth century by Freemason, Edward Jenner has saved more lives than the work of any other man: Jenner has been fairly described as the ‘father of immunology’
The publication in 1798 of Jenner’s findings that cowpox could protect against the feared and usually fatal disease – smallpox – gained him instant support by members of the scientific community. Recognition of his work was reflected in the foundation of the Jennerian Society in London in 1803 by admirers in order to promote vaccination among the poor; Jenner was actively involved in its affairs. Government grants followed and Jenner carried out further experimental work on his vaccine. His interest in science led him to form a number of scientific societies and he was to become a Fellow of the Royal Society.
Jenner was an active Freemason, serving in 1812 as Master of the Royal Lodge of Faith and Friendship, No. 270, based in Berkeley, Gloucestershire. This lodge was regularly visited by the Prince of Wales – the future George IV – and was a lodge that was to become associated with the Jenner family.
The Defeat of Smallpox
Jenner was born in Berkeley in 1749 and had been inoculated against smallpox while at school. This inoculation, or variolation as it was termed, was a method of deliberately introducing smallpox to a person, thus giving them the disease so they could acquire immunity. It was a practice that carried its own risk of infection to others but was seen as safer than becoming infected with the disease during an outbreak. However, this variolation was to adversely affect his general health throughout his life and no doubt gave him the impetus to find an effective and safer method of immunity against the disease.
At thirteen Jenner was apprenticed to a local surgeon before going on to study surgery and anatomy under the celebrated surgeon John Hunter in London, who became a lifelong friend. He returned to his native Berkeley in 1773 and set up a successful practice of his own. It was here in 1796 that Jenner made his observation that milkmaids who had caught the milder disease known as cowpox – which resulted in a blister rash mainly on the hands – seemed to be immune from the more aggressive and deadly smallpox.
To test his theory, Jenner had to experiment by introducing cowpox to someone who had not had smallpox, which he confidently did with James Phipps, the eight-year old son of his gardener. Jenner made a few scratches on the boy’s arm and rubbed into them some infected material from the hands of a milkmaid, Sarah Nelmes, who had contracted cowpox. Jenner then introduced smallpox to the boy through the traditional variolation technique and, as predicted, the boy did not develop the disease. Jenner subsequently tested many other people with his vaccine, proving his theory that cowpox gave a greater immunity to smallpox.
Edward Jenner was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1789, not for his medical work but for his research on the study of the then misunderstood nesting habits of the cuckoo. Indeed, Jenner embraced the study of nature in a wider sense, examining many aspects of the natural world in order to gain a deeper understanding of what he saw as God’s work. He was also an avid fossil-hunter and geologist: in 1819 he found a fossil of what would become known as the plesiosaur. At this time, a theory was developing that regarded fossils as the remains of species that could be extinct, a theory which Jenner came to support, saying that ‘Fossils are…monuments to departed worlds’.
Fascinated by new ideas concerning any form of natural philosophy, Jenner had taken an interest in ballooning, launching his own balloon in 1784, which successfully flew a number of miles. He also enthusiastically studied the hibernation of animals during winter as well as the mystery of bird migration. He suggested that some birds left Britain for the winter and returned for the summer – a theory that contradicted the tradition that birds slept in mud for the winter.
He maintained an active correspondence with other eminent Freemasons of the period who shared his theories and ideas; Freemasons such as Sir Joseph Banks, a member of the Royal Somerset House and Inverness Lodge, No. 4, who served as president of the Royal Society, and Erasmus Darwin, initiated 1754 into Lodge St. Davids, No. 36 (S.C.), who was involved with the Birmingham-based Lunar Society, a number of whose members were Freemasons.
The Royal Lodge of Faith and Friendship held a Science Select Lodge organised by Jenner where lodge members had to produce a paper on a specific scientific subject; this Science Select Lodge was reminiscent of the Lunar Society meetings. Other lectures had taken place within masonic lodges throughout the country, such as the Old Kings Arms Lodge, No. 28, London, the lectures being intricately entwined with the lodge meeting itself. Another example of scientific teaching taking place within lodges can be seen in the Lodge of Lights, No. 148, Warrington, which held lectures on Newtonian gravitational astronomy in 1800 and 1801. All three lodges are still working today.
The Royal Lodge of Faith and Friendship continued to celebrate the life and work of Edward Jenner after his death in 1823 and other members of Jenner’s family, such as his nephews Henry Jenner and the clergyman William Davies, became members. The lodge emblem, used to this day, commemorates the gift to Jenner of a wampum belt by the Five Nations of North America after Jenner personally sent them a sample of the cowpox virus along with a copy of his work on vaccination; Jenner wore this belt in front of his apron at the last masonic meeting he attended.
In 1825, members of the Provincial Grand Lodge of Gloucestershire subscribed sufficient funds to erect a memorial statue to him in Gloucester Cathedral.
Jenner certainly studied many aspects of the ‘hidden mysteries of nature and science’ and seemed to have found in Freemasonry a means by which he could convey his scientific beliefs as well as his spiritual and moralistic values. His studies of nature were firmly in balance with his belief in God’s grand design of the universe. In a letter to his friend, the Rev. Thomas Pruen, he wrote:
The weather may be inconvenient for the designs of man, but must always be in harmony with the designs of God, who has not only this planet, our Earth, to manage, but the universe. The whole creation is the work of God’s hands. It cannot manage itself. Man cannot manage it, therefore, God is the manager.