Masonic documents dating back 167 years lift lid on Bradford members’ Germanic roots

Monday, 04 January 2021

Historical records from a Bradford Masonic order are giving a fascinating insight into the German heritage of its early membership

Included with items of regalia including aprons, robes, banners, collars and certificates from the now closed Chapter of Sincerity - which was consecrated in 1854 and initially met at The Literary Institute, on Darley Street - were detailed minute books and financial ledgers.

The records reveal that a good number of those who founded the Chapter were German, or from Germanic decent, who came to Bradford to work in the city’s burgeoning cloth and textiles industry.

The Founder and First Principal was Joseph Arnold Unna, who is recorded as taking a great interest in local trade and charitable organisations. Born in Hamburg in 1800, he came to Leeds in 1836, and then to Bradford in 1844, to take charge of the local branch of a Manchester merchanting house, Messrs SL Behrens & Co.

In the second quarter of the 19th Century, when Bradford was extending in leaps and bounds both in size and population, Germans settled in Bradford to merchant the wool and cotton goods manufactured in the district.

A local directory of 1853 counts more than 50 German Merchanting Houses in the city. The number of Freemasons in Bradford increased considerably by a large influx of members of German extraction, with ceremonies and conversations performed and carried on in a mixture of English and German.

Other founders named in the Chapter of Sincerity’s first minutes include Hermann Neumann, Salomon Bardsdorf, Michael Schonfeld, Ferdinand Spiro and John Grupper.

Early members listed include Julius Wolffsohn, Isidor Ahrens, Anton Engelmann, Moritz Rothenstein, John Ludwig Siltzer and Charles Unna.

Whilst there was a break in meetings of the Chapter from March 7, 1867 until April 6, 1871, the Franco-German War, which began in 1870, not only saw a boom in the export of cloth to the continent, it coincided with a marked increase in Masonic activity.

Four new members were ‘exalted’ (initiated) into the Chapter of Sincerity in April 1871, with a further four proposed for membership at the same meeting.

Following on from its consecration 167 years ago, the Chapter met at various locations apart from The Literary Institute. These were The Connaught Rooms, Spring Bank Place off Manningham Lane, and finally from December 2015 until its closure last October, Pudsey Masonic Hall.

Whilst the minute books detail the events of each Chapter meeting - namely the ceremonies conducted and who attended them - the itemised bills specify the food and drink purchased for the ‘Festive Board’ - the meal traditionally held after each meeting.

At one occasion, which took place on November 21, 1888, at the Alexandra Hotel, on Great Horton Road, the Chapter racked up a bill of five pounds and four shillings for 13 bottles of whiskey, a bottle of sherry, a bottle of brandy and cigars.

On October 2, 1894, the ‘supper’ order included 21-and-three-quarter pounds of mutton leg and beef crop, a scalded calf’s head, four pounds of cheese, two stone of potatoes, four cauliflowers, one butter and three dozen dinner buns. Also on the list was the loan of four plants and the purchase of cut flowers.

Ahead of another meeting on September 18, 1899, the Chapter purchased six bottles of Glenlivet whisky, six bottles of Irish whiskey, two bottles of gin and 72 bottles of Bass ale from Gladstone and Conghar wine and spirit merchants.

John Watson, who joined the Chapter of Sincerity in 1997, said: 'The Chapter minute books give a fascinating insight into its first meetings and the Masons who helped found it back in 1854.

'The minute books are beautifully written and detail the events of each meeting, the ceremonies conducted, and who attended them.

'It’s clear from these records that the Chapter of Sincerity had a strong German cohort, and Bradford Freemasonry in general benefitted greatly from these migrants drawn to the city by its flourishing textiles industry.

'Whilst it’s a great pity the Chapter of Sincerity is no more, Bradford still has a strong Masonic community, with members drawn from across the community who are keen to be part of our fraternal organisation.

'My hope is that these records, and those from Masonic Lodges and Chapters from across our Province, are digitised and made available for the general public to access.'

John added: 'Whilst the nature of our meetings has not altered much from the 1850s, the festive boards certainly have. They are still highly enjoyable but possibly not quite as boozy as those enjoyed in the later part of the 19th Century.'

Additional information regarding Freemasonry in the Province of Yorkshire West Riding is available from its website.

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