Royal Arch Masonry in the Wild West Province of Dorset

Wednesday, 29 June 2022

Royal Arch Masonry in the Wild West Province of Dorset – well; a bit west and at times in our history – a bit wild.

Part 1: The beginnings of the Provincial Grand Chapter of Dorset

The first Most Excellent Grand Superintendent of the Royal Arch in Dorset was also the first Provincial Grand Master. His name was Thomas Dunckerley. Born in 1724, Thomas was the illegitimate son of George II and Mary Dunckerley, the wife of a servant of the Duke of Devonshire. He was not abandoned by his Royal father and brother as he was later granted a pension by George II which was increased by George III, and he was allowed to live in a suite of apartments in Hampton Court Palace.

Initially however, at the age of 10, Thomas joined the Royal Navy. Thomas was initiated into Freemasonry in Portsmouth in 1754. He was an energetic and devoted Freemason and was appointed Provincial Grand Master for Hampshire in 1767. He quickly gave up that post to be Provincial Grand Master for Dorset and Wiltshire together. He added Essex to his list in 1777. By 1793 he was Grand Superintendent and Past Grand Master for Royal Arch Masons of Bristol and 12 other counties including Dorset.

We know of the first Provincial Grand Chapter meeting held in Dorset only from a reference in the minutes of the Centenary meeting of the Amity Chapter No 137 held in Poole Masonic Hall in 1880, when it is stated that the minutes of the Provincial Grand Chapter held on the 26th June 1780 were read by Companion Reverend W. M. Heath.

Given its Charter at that first meeting in 1780, Amity Chapter No. 137, which is active to this day, is the longest surviving Chapter in the Province of Dorset.

Part 2: They practiced no discrimination,
with not a hint of snobbery,
just ordinary, friendly, commonplace, down-right daylight robbery! (Lauri Say 1969)

On the 20th July 1842 the then MEGS William Elliot held a Provincial Grand Chapter meeting in Weymouth at the home of All Souls Chapter 170 who received their charter in 1807 and are still going to this day. What transpired is recorded in a wonderful resource we have, called the History of Dorset Freemasonry Revealed 1736 – 2000.

Things were proceeding as normal when 'It was proposed by J Sydenham and seconded by W. J. Hill that Colbourne and Hayward, both of the Lodge of Amity in Poole, be balloted for exultation'

The minutes then go on to detail a proposition from the MEGS himself to ballot for exultation a John Pearce of All Souls Lodge 170, Weymouth. This was further extended to include two Brethren from Faith and Unanimity Lodge 417 in Dorchester, making a total of five. It was at this point when a most remarkable thing happened, a private Chapter was opened in the middle of the meeting, and the candidates were balloted for and then exalted into Royal Arch Freemasonry; once done the meeting resumed as the Provincial Grand Chapter.

It was then proposed by the MEGS that all fees for exultation, apart from those joining the host Chapter, All Souls 170, should be considered to belong to the Province, it was seconded by MEGJ and unanimously agreed!

The procedure was repeated in 1843 and again in 1844 with the Province trousering the exaltation fees. In fact, although they did not hold a Provincial Grand Chapter every year, the practice went on unabated for 20 years and under three MEGS.

It was in 1863 when the Province tried to enshrine the practice in its bye-laws that London became aware of what was going on. What follows is an extract from a letter to the Province from the Grand Scribe E:

'If exultations have been permitted in the Provincial Grand Chapter of Dorsetshire , the fact has never been known here, and false returns must have been made by private Chapters to procure Grand Chapter Certificates for Brethren so exulted. There is nothing in the Royal Arch Regulations or the Book of Constitutions that I think can be cited in anywise supporting such a proceeding'

I expect that the Provincial subs went up the next year!

Part 3: Come on baby light my fire. (Morrison/Krieger 1966)

Thomas Barnabus Hanham, Esquire Commander RN, Deputy Lieutenant of Dorset, JP, Past Master and Past ‘Z’ of Dorset Lodges and Chapters was initiated into Freemasonry in the Lodge of the Rock 325 in Gibraltar under the Irish Constitution 1863. He Joined the Lodge of Friendship and Sincerity 472, Shaftesbury, Dorset 1867, Lodge of Honour and Friendship, 1266 Blandford, Dorset in 1869 and various other Lodges and Chapters in Dorset.

He is remarkable because he performed the first modern cremation in England which was not illegal. Below is an extract from The Cremation Society web-site:
The Cremation Society

CREMATION PRONOUNCED LEGAL The period of quiescence ended in 1882, when the Council of the Cremation Society was requested by Captain Hanham of Blandford, Dorset, to undertake the cremation of two deceased members of his family who had left expressed instructions to that effect. The Home Secretary, when applied to, repeated his previous objections and the Society was thus unable to comply with the request of Captain Hanham, who consequently erected a crematorium on his own estate and proceeded to cremate his wife and mother on 8th and 9th October. Captain Hanham himself died about a year later and was also cremated there. Although these events excited much comment in the Press, the Home Office took no action. Nevertheless, the following year, when the eccentric Dr. William Price attempted to cremate the body of his five months old son, christened Jesus Christ, born to him at the age of 83, he was at once arrested and put on trial at the South Glamorgan Assizes in Cardiff. Dr. Price claimed to be a Druid High Priest and performed the rites dressed in a white tunic over green trousers. The result of the trial, announced in February, 1884, was the breakthrough the Cremation Society had been waiting for. Mr. Justice Stephen delivered his all important pronouncement that cremation is legal provided no nuisance is caused in the process to others. Following this, Dr. Price tried to claim £3,120 damages against the police for preventing the completion of his son’s cremation. He was, however, awarded the nominal sum of only one farthing.

The other remarkable thing about E.Comp Hanham’s funeral was that it was a full on Masonic funeral with the masonic mourners in full regalia. As far as we are aware it was the last such funeral in England which was sanctioned by Grand Lodge because the day after it they outlawed the practice.

Part 4: ….and you really ought to know w-hoo’s w-hoo! (Flanders and Swan – 1957).

Founded Chapter Location

1780 137 Amity Poole
1807 170 All Souls Weymouth
1857 417 Faith and Unanimity Dorchester
1864 622 St Cuthberga Wimborne
1870 707 St Mary’s Bridport
1880 1037 Portland Portland
1887 386 Unity Wareham
1907 1168 Benevolence Sherborne
1908 665 Montagu Lyme Regis
1920 2559 St Aldhelms Branksome
1920 3473 United Service Portland
1922 2689 King’s Court Gillingham
1951 5331 Kinson Kinson
1963 6445 Loyal Manor Portland
1975 3366 Dorset First Principles Dorchester
1979 1266 Honour and Friendship Blandford
1985 9050 Amphibious Wimborne
1995 7986 St Martin Wareham
1997 9177 Verwood Wimborne
2016 9649 Chapter of Diversity Kinson

MEGS for Dorset

Installed Name Term (years)
1780 Thomas Dunkerley 16
1796 Hon Henry Hobart 3
1799 Sir John Lester 6
1805 John Jeffery M.P. 7
1812 William Williams 27
1841 William Elliot 7
1846 William Tucker 7
1853 Henry Ralph Willett 8
1861 Joseph Grundy 16
1877 John M. P. Montagu 14
1891 Montagu John Guest 12
1903 Lt. Col. William Ernest Brymer 6
1909 Col. Sir William Watts 13
1924 Col. Gustavus Phips Symes 14
1938 Capt. Henry Cyril Royds Brocklebank 16
1954 Kenneth Bleckley Clarke 17
1971 Rev. Authur J. Mangold 6
1977 Joseph Basil Gillam 15
1992 Kenneth Henry Barnes 16
2008 Derick Mayes 6
2014 Graham Raymond Glazier

Of course not all Chapters survive, and ‘lost’ Chapters can be elusive to find. When Thomas Dunckerley issued a Charter for Amity Chapter in 1780 he also issued one for a Chapter in Dorchester. That Chapter became extinct and Royal Arch Masonry did not return to Dorchester until 1857.

The minutes of The Lodge of Honour and Friendship 665, Blandford September 2nd 1824 record:

'The consecration of the Royal Arch Chapter to be attached to the Blandford Lodge was unavoidably postponed from the non-attendance of some gentlemen from London, who were to have assisted in the Ceremony, but we understand it will take place in October, when the consecration of a Chapter at Bridport, will also be solemnized'

We have the charter for this chapter framed on the wall of the Lodge of Honour and Friendship 1266, Blandford committee room, but we know nothing of its history. Chapter masonry did not return to Blandford until 1979.

In 1824 there was no St Mary’s Lodge in Bridport but its predecessor Royal George Lodge 337 was active at the time. However in what brief notes that survive regarding the history of Royal George Lodge there is no mention of a Royal Arch Chapter – so that is a mystery. Royal Arch Masonry returned to Bridport in 1870.

Part 5: Rime Intrinsica, Fontmell Magna, Sturminster Newton and Melbury Bubb,
Whist upon whist upon whist upon whist drive, in Institute, Legion and Social Club.
Horny hands that hold the aces which this morning held the plough
While Tranter Reuben, T. S. Eliot, H. G. Wells and Edith Sitwell lie in Mellstock Churchyard now. ( John Betjeman – Not a Freemason).

If Yorkshire is God’s Own Country, then gentle Dorset is his Holiday Home; and if you are thinking of joining Him one summer; bring your case with you. Dorset has Lodges and Chapters which meet all year round.

You might think a holiday destination would resent incomers; but not us. Dorset Freemasonry has never centralised, we still have 18 different venues, all old buildings with their individual charm spread across the Province that we are only too pleased to show off. The sometimes odd layout of our buildings makes for some interesting quirks in our ritual as we try to navigate a geography not designed for Freemasonry. When you are booking your holiday, go through proper channels – your Provincial Secretary to our Provincial Secretary and we can see if there is a Lodge or Chapter meeting while you are down here. Oh – and remember to bring your vocal chords – because Dorset is a singing Province and we all believe that ear-splitting volume is more important than the right Key!

Having been on holiday and visited Dorset Freemasonry you will no doubt want to retire here – many do. Again have no fear! 25% of all Dorset Freemasons were not initiated in the Province. We welcome new members from out of Province into our Craft Lodges and Chapters. If you come to 1266 Chapter, Don will even be able to translate for you!


M.C. Hinsley

Provincial Grand Director of Ceremonies Dorset Freemasons 

ugle logoSGC logo

twitter facebook instagram youtube