Our story commences nearly 200 years ago, in 1834 to be exact, continues to this very day and will continue for many years to come
Richard Henry Holmes, the Past Deputy Provincial Grand Master of the Provincial Grand Lodge of Northumberland, was born on 6th March 1834 to John Holmes and Mary Shield and was the third of eight children. He became a member of the City Council for the North St Andrews Ward, until Councillor Temple’s re-distribution of seats took place, when he became representative of Jesmond Ward, for which he sat until he was made Alderman in 1891.
He was Chairman of the Baths and Washhouses Committee for many years as well as Corporation Auditor of the River Tyne Commission accounts and Lord Mayor’s auditor for the Corporation accounts, He helped found the Hospital Sunday Fund in 1869 and was Honorary Secretary of the Newcastle and Gateshead Sacred Harmonic and Choral Society for a lengthy period, as well as Vice President of the Newcastle Amateur Vocal Society.
Professionally, he was Chairman of the Newcastle Corporation Sub-Finance Committee; Auditor of the Gosforth Lunatic Asylum accounts; Life Governor of the Royal Infirmary; Chairman of the Visiting Justices; Chairman of the Elswick Ward Conservative Party Association; Vice-President of the Central Conservative Party Association; Ex-President of the Northern Institute of Journalists; Ex-President of the Northern Institute of Chartered Accountants; Member of the Institute of Accountants and a founder member of its successor organisation, the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales; Chairman of the Newcastle-upon-Tyne Central Masonic Hall Company, Ltd; Senior Church Warden and Overseer of the Parish Church of St Andrew’s; Church Warden of All Saint’s Church; and Vice-Chairman of the Music and Entertainments Committee of the 1887 Royal Exhibition.
A surprising activity Richard was involved with was the ‘Dicky Bird Society’. This was an initiative of the Editor of the Newcastle Weekly Chronicle, William Adams who, under the pseudonym of Uncle Toby, established the Society in October 1876. The Society was aimed at children and was intended to make them aware of the creatures around them, and to be kind to them. The success of the Society was remarkable and by 1900 the membership was in excess of 400,000 – not just in Newcastle but worldwide.
His selection as a Justice of the Peace in 1891 is recorded as being the first of his profession to be honoured by such an appointment.
Masonically, Richard Henry Holmes was initiated into Northumberland Lodge No.685 in 1868, becoming a Founder Member of Lodge Vandeleur No.3586, in 1912, and of Northumbrian Masters’ Lodge No.3477 the same year, as well as a Joining Member of at least four other Lodges: Newcastle upon Tyne Lodge No. 24, in 1869; Lodge of Industry No.48, in 1871; Percy Lodge No.1427 in 1887 and Ridley Lodge No. 2260 in 1888.
In 1881, he was appointed Deputy Provincial Grand Master for the Province, and served in that office for twenty-eight years, under three Provincial Grand Masters; the Earl Percy; Sir Matthew White Ridley; and Augustus E. Burdon. One project very dear to Richards’ heart, was the erection and consecration of a new purpose built Masonic Hall in Newcastle upon Tyne. This was the Central Masonic Hall, on a site on Pilgrim Street, with the Foundation Stone being laid on 25 July, 1894. One of the last major Masonic duties he performed was the laying of the Foundation Stone of the new Masonic Hall in Seaton Delaval on 6 April 1909. When Richard was first appointed as Deputy Provincial Grand Master, there were 21 Lodges, with 1,719 members in the Province. When he retired, there were 48 Lodges with a total membership of 5,754 members
Fast forward to 2019 and whilst conducting genealogical research into his family, Mr David Lacey, the Great Great Grandson of Richard, identified that he was buried in an unmarked grave, on unconsecrated ground, in Jesmond Old Cemetar. Having attended the Provincial Office and ascertaining that Richard had been a member of the Craft and, in fact, the Deputy Povincial Grand Master of the Province, further research was conducted and it was ascertained that the following were also buried on the same site: Dorothy Ann Holmes, nee Moon (1839-1943), Richard's wife: Mary Holmes, nee Shield (1803-1891), Richard's mother: Richard Henry Holmes (1866-1869), Richard's second son: Reginald George Earl Holmes (1868-1904), Richard's third son: David's Great Grandfather Richard John Montague Holmes (1878-1935), Richard's fourth son: Florence Annie Jane Holmes (1870-1871), Richard's first daughter and Gertrude Eleanor Frances Holmes (1873-1876), Richard's fourth daughter. In all, Richard Henry Holmes had 10 children.
Enquiries were then made to confirm what Richards wishes had been in connection with whether he had wanted to be buried in an unmarked grave. However, Newcastle City Councils Bereavement Services had no specific records and as such were unable to confirm one way or the other. David and his family also discovered that the summary of his will, and the description of his funeral made no mention of his intentions, however, it did not surprise them that it may have been his intentions as he was not the sort of person to seek publicity. The decision was then taken to purchase the lease to the plot and to erect a headstone in memory of Richard and his wider family in commemoration.
This project finally culmintated in David and his wife Marion, members of the Executive of the Provincial Greand Lodge of Northumberland and members of Holmes Lodge No.2571, which meets at Byker Masonic Hall, and is named after Richard Henry Holmes, meeting for the first time, shortly after the relaxation of government restrictions, to visit the grave and the recently erected headstone.
The legacy of this remarkable man and Mason was the establishment, in 1906, of the Fund that bears his name, the Richard Henry Holmes Benevolent Fund, which was intended to commemorate his 25 years as Deputy Provincial Grand Master. Among the objectives of the Fund was:
To relieve the urgent distress of Freemasons and the families of deceased Freemasons.
To give Annuities or Grants to aged Freemasons.
To give Annuities or Grants to the Widows of Freemasons.
To assist in the education of Children of Freemasons.
To assist in the maintenance of Children of Freemasons.
To give relief or assistance in exceptional cases.
Today, that Fund is still going. While not every recipient will know who Richard Henry Holmes was, they will have appreciated the relief issued in his name. The Richard Henry Holmes Benevolent Fund supports both Masonic and non-Masonic Charities to the tune of about £160,000 a year and assists somewhere in the region of eighty non Masonic charities each year.
Stuart Cairns, the Secretary to the Trustees of the Richard Henry Holmes Masonic Benevolent Fund, said 'Excepting the Membership in the Province of Northumberland, the Richard Henry Holmes Benevolent Fund is, without question, our most valuable asset and enables us to provide a wonderful service to Local Charities and worthy good causes. Richard Henry Holmes had been a tireless and dedicated servant to his Local Community and to Freemasonry. We were all so pleased to work with David Lacey and his family, to firstly identify the previously unmarked grave of Richard Henry Holmes in Jesmond Old Cemetery and thereafter to erect a fitting memorial headstone'.