On Saturday’ past Bro Roland Spottiswoode and I spent some time wandering round the Wellington Park Hotel in a search through the many thousands of books at the Belfast Book Fair. And what a treat it was, as we looked at a variety of volumes recording all aspects of history, biography, the sciences, geography, local history and a large assortment of first editions from some of our more famous local authors. And as I suggested in my original posting, we indeed did find a fascinating volume filled with aspects of Masonic history in the city of Belfast.
The Book, entitled Sidelights on Belfast History was written by a Belfast Barrister – Stephen Shannon Millin B.A. and published by W & G Baird Ltd in 1932. It is dedicated to the memory of his Mother accompanied by a short verse – ” Virtue grows like a vine around the Memory of the Dead; and every sweet unselfish Act is now a perfumed flower.” At the very bottom of the Preface is an intriguing reference to the Research Lodge of the Ancient Free and Accepted Masons of Ireland for the use of their ( printing ) blocks of the Belfast Banknote, 1794 and the Title-page of Ahiman Rezon 1782 respectively. Clearly our interest was aroused, and we began to look closer at the content of this work.
One reason, we of The Irish Lodge of Research might be interested in The Belfast Bank note number 56 is that in the midst of the guarantors named on the note is John Brown, Master of Lodge No 257 I.C. – The Orange Lodge of Belfast, and past sovereign of Belfast. There are no political inferences in this name, as this Masonic Lodge was only using the colours of its apron trim to identify its own members from the members of other Belfast Masonic Lodges at the time, say for example True Blue Lodge Belfast No 272 I.C. Here you will find the entire history of the Brown family tracing their roots from John of Mauchlin, a Scottish landowner near Glasgow who settled near Belfast in 1640. The family moved to Peters Hill, Belfast, where it grew and prospered during the 18th Century.
John Brown’s great claim to fame Masonically was the fact that he, as Master of The Orange Lodge was the man who laid the Foundation Stone to The White Linenhall in Belfast ( fore runner to Belfast City Hall ) with Masonic ceremony at the dedication held on site on the 28th April 1783.At that time he laid a collection of documents, some coins and medals and a commemorative copper plaque into the small specially formed cavity under the Foundation Stone, with all the usual ceremony.
Brethren, you may be surprised to learn that this is the only place that I am aware of, where you can read the text of this early Masonic artifact
so closely associated with Masonic History and the social history of Belfast. The actual artifacts including the commemorative copper plaque were transferred into the safe keeping of The Ulster Museum in the 1950’s. Sadly these artifacts were eventually lost and are no longer available for view. Other parts of the book includes a detailed entry on the history of The Belfast Orange Lodge with details on some of its members in the 18th century. All in all, a fascinating book with much information on the early history of Belfast Freemasonry.