Brethren, the Irish Lodge of Research will be going to Saintfield, Co Down to visit the Masonic Hall and learn about a significant Masonic Anniversary on Saturday the 28th November 2015 from 1.30PM in the afternoon. Saintfield has a fascinating Hall and contains many items of Masonic interest. I have taken this opportunity to re-publish an article previously published on the 29th July 2013, which will give you all a good idea of some of the history that we may hear on the day, and some of the many curio’s that are preserved in the Hall. I hope that as many of you as possible will try to come along on the day, and join with the Irish Lodge of Research, as we assist the Brethren of Saintfield to mark their special year. So Happy Reading, and we will look forward to greeting you all in person, on the day.
I am very grateful to Wor Bro David Woodrow for the kind invitation to visit the Saintfield Lodge-room home to Union Band Lodge No 35 Saintfield. This is one of the older Ulster Lodges, tracings its origins from the year 1765 to date. It is a Lodge packed with history, and quite a bit of this history has been previously recorded by one of its own members, the late Wor Bro W.G.Simpson H.K.T. Belvoir,P.P.G.I.G. in the Masonic Province of Armagh, P.D.G.C.S.V. in the District Grand Chapter of Armagh etc, in his excellent book – The History & Antiquities of Freemasonry in Saintfield, Co Down – published in Downpatrick at the Down Recorder office in 1924.
In the early days of our Order, minute keeping was very brief, and not always in chronological order. Entries such as Lodge opened – Degrees given to Bros so & so and such & such – Lodge closed. would appear to have been quite comprehensive at the time. Membership was strong
This Warrant was first issued in 1734 to the 28th Regiment of British Foot, under Major-General Nicholas Price, a member of the Price family, of Saintfield House. This famous regiment, known in military circles as “The Slashers,” won undying glory in Egypt during the Napoleonic wars. Attacked at once both in front and rear, the rear rank get the order to “turn about.” Fighting back to back the front rank beat off the enemy in front, and the rear rank beat off the enemy in the rear. As a reward for this valiant feat the men of the 28th, now the Gloucestershire Regiment, wear their regimental badge both on front and back of the cap.
Warrant 35 is marked “erased” in Downes’s list, 1804; it was issued to Kingston, Jamaica, in 1814, and to Saintfield in 1840, in direct succession to Lodge 107, and there it remains.The Lodge Secretary’s list of the members of No. 107 for 1839 gives “Wm. Shaw; Wm. Thompson, S.W.; and James Shaw, J.W.” The Warrant of Lodge 35 gives “Robert Shaw, senior, W.N.; Wm. Thompson, S.W.; and James Shaw, J.W.” The two Wardens thus retained their places, while the former Master, Wm. Shaw, is enrolled as P.M. under the new Warrant. The election of “Officers for the year 1840” resulted thus: William Dick, Master; Samuel Craig, S.W.; Andrew Patterson, J.W.; Robert Shaw, jun., Secretary; Wm. Smith, S.D.; Hugh Watson, J.D.; Thomas Harper, High Priest.
It will be seen from the above chain of Warrants that the Saintfield Union Lodge, or Union Band Lodge, as it is now called, by virtue of the By-law’s of 1921, has laboured in Saintfield since 1865, though the date against it in the Calendar is 1840. This is regarded by the Brethren as very misleading. They hold that in case of a Lodge continuing under a succession of Warrants without a hiatus, the original date should be retained.On the 14th July following “the Instalment of the Warrant” Lodge 35 adopted the following quaint rules:-
“Any member that has not settled his Acct. in the Lodge Book of Nr. 107 will not be allowed an office nor a vote in this Lodge Nr. 35.”
“No member will be allowed to smoke in the Lodge room while the Lodge is open.”
“Those who are not present at the time of refreshing will not be refreshed till it is going round again.”
Since there is no smoke without fire we infer that old Lodge 107 must have been a free and easy sort of place. But Lodge 35 was going to end all that!
A Tyler “to attend us at the door and do our outside business” was appointed on 15th December, 1840.
Warrant No. 35 appears to have had a more chequered career than its predecessors. It was suspended from the 1st till the 9th of December, 1858, on account of the Lodge walking in procession on St. John’s Day, and an endorsement to that effect appears on the Warrant. The Lodge having made due submission the suspension was quickly removed.
In this instance the transgression was wilful and deliberate. An edict prohibiting Masonic Processions was published by Grand Lodge in 1836 by circular and by newspaper advertisements. The brethren of those days always rebelled against any legislation by Grand Lodge which impinged upon their inherited liberties, as we have seen already in connection with the proposed control of the higher degrees. They set this new decree as defiance for a period of twenty-two years. But there must have been doubts in their minds at times as to the wisdom or propriety of their action. The following illustrative entry appears under date June 9, 1852:-
“Resolved by the majority of Lodge 35 that they will walk on 24th June, 1852, with the exception of J.F. Lowery and Jas. Clifford.”
One cannot accuse the Grand Lodge of impatience or want of forbearance. In quietness and in confidence lay their strength, for eventually the edict became universally obeyed, no doubt greatly to the advantage of the Society.The Warrant was again suspended on 4th April, 1861, for non-payment of dues to Provincial Grand Lodge. It was restored in 1863, when payment was made.During the first decade of its existence Lodge 35 suffered greatly from neglect and want of support. In 1848 the Committee resolved:-
“That on account of this place falling into decline, and to revive it, we have agreed that anyone that is not FREEBORN may be initiated in this Lodge.”
The reference is to illegitimacy. A belief still existed in 1924, in some old-time Lodges that an illegitimate person was not freeborn, and therefore ineligible to join Masonry. The Grand Lodge does not support that theory.
The concession does not seem to have introduced much new blood into 35, for the decline continued. In 1854 the membership had fallen to 16. Little by little its virility deserted it, and the state of affairs was so bad in 1898 that a proposal was made in Lodge to transfer the Warrant out of Saintfield, in the hope that a change of venue might accomplish some good. This proposal was turned down as a specially convened meeting on 26th November, 1898, and a resolution was unanimously adopted “that the Warrant remain in Saintfield.”
Few members, even after this warning, appear to have cared whether it lived or died. They neglected to attend when summoned and withheld their dues. The officers, who should have set a good example, were as bad as the rest; for example, out of 42 possible attendance marks (officers only) for the first half of 1899, only 6 were registered. But the second half-year was worse, for they made no attendance’s at all, consequently there were no meetings of the Lodge. Then a spasmodic effort was made which kept the Lodge alive, and little more than that, for a couple of years with a roll of about 10 or 12. Most of the time they “could not open.”
This kind of thing was bound to result in ruin. The Provincial Grand Lodge at last took action, and recommended the withdrawal of the Warrant, which Grand Lodge ratified. Accordingly the Provincial Grand Secretary, V.W. Bro. James H. Barrett, formally demanded it, but the demand was not complied with. Prolonged correspondence ensued between him and Bro. Hugh Rea, P.M., secretary of Lodge 35, but despite all means and arguments Bro. Rea would not consent to the Warrant leaving Saintfield. He was absolutely adamant on this point. An official visit by Provincial Grand Officers also proved abortive, and matters went on in this unsatisfactory way until 1906. Then something happened.
On 8th November of that year several members of 35 and other local Masons held a meeting, prepared and forwarded to Grand Lodge a memorial “praying for the restoration of Lodge working, and the removal of the ban on the Warrant.” Grand Lodge, though in a conciliatory mood, felt bound to vindicate its authority, so it insisted upon the surrender of the Warrant, but gave an express promise to re-issue it to Saintfield on receipt of £4. 9s. 6d. [£4.471/2] accumulated dues against it.
The Brethren met again and agreed to take Grand Lodge at its word. They surrendered the Warrant and paid the dues, the full amount being subscribed by nine brethren. Grand Lodge re-issued the Warrant to these Brethren on 7th March, 1907 and they became the first officers under the restoration.Its continuity in Saintfield thus remains unbroken, for which happy result sincere gratitude is due to Bro. Hugh Rea, P.M. The first Stated Communication under the restored Warrant was held in the Lodge room on 28th May, 1907, Bro. T.B. Maxwell, P.M., 556 in the chair, Bro. Hugh Rea, P.M., acting as secretary. The scene was an extraordinary one, and was thus described by W. Bro. S.H. Kinghan, P.M. 301, present on the occasion:-
“The rooms in which the Lodge had been accustomed to hold its Communications were rented from Mr. G.E. Minnis, J.P., of Saintfield. During the dormancy of the Warrant most of its equipment had been removed elsewhere, but became available shortly after the Lodge resumed its labours.
“At this first meeting (28th May, 1907), we had to proceed without proper seating or lighting; chairs and lamps were not purchased in time for that night, there being no funds on hand, nor had we any authority to purchase if there had been.”Messrs. Minnis Bros. carry on, amongst their various activities, a large undertaking business, and for a considerable time had been using the deserted lodge room as a store for coffins. The coffins had to be utilised to make seats for the brethren that night, while for light we had to be content with three small candles fixed upon an improvised altar, which by day was a bacon-box or something of the kind. “The business consisted mainly in proposing for affiliation those of us who were not already members of Lodge 35.
“It was certainly an occasion never to be forgotten; the fewness of our members, the dim light `making darkness visible,’ and the gruesome coffins, all combined to impart an eerie feeling to the heart of every brother in the room. Yet on that memorable night we laid the solid foundation of that Masonic prosperity and success which we enjoy to-day.”
The newly organised Lodge started on its career with a roll of 14 members, who met in a small rented room; their labours have been crowned with success, for there were, in 1924, upwards of 100 Masons meeting in a beautiful hall of their own, which is held free of all rent for ever.