History of Priory Lodge 70 years

Priory Lodge No 6913, the first 70 years by our Platinum Year in 2019

The history of a lodge, particularly if it includes verbatim renditions of minutes can be a pretty dry affair. To endeavour to make it more interesting I have tried to blend the Lodge history with the social history of the period. In the latter part of the presentation I have include some personal recollections of Lodge characters who will be familiar to some of you. I have incorporated information from a short document prepared for the silver jubilee in 1974 by W.Bro W.T.Wilkes and a paper given by W.Bro Tony Gover at the Lodge Golden Jubilee in 1999.

It’s interesting to note that in the 1974 document no Christian names are used. Everyone is referred to by their rank and surname. 25 year later, Tony Gover’s document incorporates and expands the earlier work, including Christian names and adding of course events of the intervening period.

But what was life like in 1949? By todays standards most of us would now consider it harsh. The war had left the country on the verge of bankruptcy, there simply wasn’t the money available to quickly repair the physical damage that German bombers had wrought on the towns and cities across the country. Bristol had been particularly badly damaged during the blitz of 1941. There was a chronic shortage of housing. Being newly married in the years after the war probably meant a spell living with your outlaws in cramped conditions before you could find a property to rent or save enough for a deposit to buy one. Most housing was still basic, no central heating, double glazing or loft insulation, often no inside toilet and no white goods to help with the chores. Rationing of some commodities and food was still in place. It wasn’t until 1955 the rationing ended completely when sweets were taken off ration. There was no television, even if you could afford one, the BBC were only broadcasting around London in 1949. Radio was the only option, the BBC Home service. What little time people had to socialise could be spent at the pub or the cinema, or football at 3.00pm on Saturdays. Holidays were likely to be a day at Weston or somewhere on the south coast easily accessible via the S&D, the slow and dirty as it was called, Somerset and Dorset Railway. Eating out was probably limited to fish and chips. Car ownership was limited and the common mode of transport was train, bus, bicycle or shanks’s Pony. On the upside there was almost full employment.

The National Health Service came into being in July 1948. It promised to give cradle to grave free hospital and medical care for everyone in the country, regardless of income. There must have been an air of optimism and the hope that after six years of war things were getting better. For Freemasonry generally it was a time of great expansion. The two World Wars both had a great effect on English Freemasonry. In the three years after the First World War over 350 new Lodges were set up, and in the three years after the Second World War nearly 600 new Lodges came into being. In some cases the founders included servicemen who wanted to continue the camaraderie they had built up during their war service. Certainly the ranks of returning servicemen were to provide a fertile recruiting ground for all Lodges. These men were attracted by the cache of Freemasonry and its apparent exclusivity, you had to be asked to join. Also the secrecy, the importance of which they had learnt during the war. “Careless talk costs lives” was one slogan from World War II. The growth continued well beyond that three year period after 1945, Priory was one of 142 Lodges founded in 1949. That is almost three a week! The consecration took place in Keynsham Masonic Hall on Friday 28th October that year, less than five years after the end of the War. Planning for the founding of the Lodge had gone on for some 15 months before the consecration.

The idea of a Masonic Hall at Keynsham had been mooted in the late 1920s but it was over a decade later in early 1939 when the land on which the hall now stands was bought for the princely sum of £400. Building work started the day after the outbreak of the Second World War in September 1939. The structure of the building was completed a year later but due to shortages and I suspect, lack of funds it wasn’t finished completely until the mid 1950s. Before the hall was built St Keyna Lodge, founded in 1879 and daughter Lodge Abbey founded in 1922, both met at the Lamb and Lark pub in Keynsham. Members of St Keyna provided the motivation and much of the finance for the new hall. Additional financial support also came from, St Keyna Chapter, Carnarvon Mark and Irwin Royal Ark Mariners, many of their members of course would also be members of St Keyna Craft Lodge.
The Vale of Brislington Lodge, didn’t move to KMH until the late 1950s having continued to meet at the White Hart Hotel at the bottom of Brislington Hill.

In 1948 the two Lodges at Keynsham, both had large memberships and waiting lists of candidates. This also meant that there was very slow progress to the Chair of both Lodges. W.Bro Wilfred Milton, Past Master of St Keyna and a founder of Abbey Lodge, suggested founding a new Lodge, he seems to have been the prime mover. He gained sufficient support to be able to press forward with the idea. The then PGM, Brigadier General Claude Norman, signified his approval but insisted there would be no more Bristol working Lodges in the Province. If there were to be a new Lodge at Keynsham it would be Emulation ritual. This reduced the number of potential founders, who didn’t want to learn a different ritual. But it didn’t put W.Bro Milton off, he went on to gather twenty paid up founders for his new Lodge. Two names were suggested for the Lodge, Buckingham and Priory although the old paperwork gives no reason why these two were chosen, Grand Lodge preferred Priory. Perhaps they were worried by the reputation of the third Duke of Buckingham who was hung by Henry VIII for high treason. Priory was suggested presumably because of its association with the Priory of Keynsham Abbey. The first master would be W.Bro William Aston, PM of the Lodge of Sincerity No 292 in Liverpool. W.Bro W. Patterson and W.Bro G.O. Wiltshire became the founding secretary and treasurer respectively and the man who’s idea it all was, Wilf Milton became the founding Chaplain. Tony The petition for a warrant to form a new Lodge was sponsored by the Master, Wardens and brethren of St Keyna Lodge No 1833 in September 1949 and the Lodge was duly consecrated at Keynsham by the PGM R.W.Bro Norman with the assistance of seven Provincial Officers on Friday 28th October at 2.45pm precisely, becoming the 50th Lodge in the Province.

Following the consecration the Master was installed and he appointed his officers. Two things strike me about this brethren, these days, in the age of much improved communication, two months from submitting the petition to consecrating the Lodge is unheard of, it’s more likely to be at least six months. The PGM had a team of seven officers, today it would be at least double that number. A note at the bottom of the consecration summons states admission by invitation only, dinner will be served after the meeting, cost 10 shillings, remittance to be accompanied with application. ( As the current Treasurer of Somerset Fairway Lodge puts it, No Dosh No Nosh) DARK MORNING DRESS was the order of the day. Incidentally the initiation fee was set at 15 guineas, annual subscription was 3 guineas and the rent paid to KMH was £1 per member, it is now £99 per member per year. The average weekly wage in 1949 was £5/10 shillings. or £5.50p At the first regular meeting following the consecration on Friday 11th November, Bro H.C. Wilkins became a joining member and two candidates were proposed, one of whom was Henry John Burrows a twenty one year old shipping clerk. John Burrows became Master in 1967 and subsequently became Lodge Treasurer.

When VW Bro Ray Guthrie joined Priory in 1984 John was ADC and Bert Wilkins was still an active member but no longer in office. John went on to gain his 50th and 60th certificates, he passed to the GLA in 2013. The minutes of a meeting in 1952 record the Lodge’s appreciation to W.Bro TCG Ewins for “his invaluable services in designing the Lodge Badge.” The design was approved by Province and subsequently Grand Lodge providing that the Keynsham coat of arms and Square and Compasses were removed.

The badge was first used on the Lodge summons for September 1952, it is the same one that we use today and it also formed the design for the Lodge banner which was made in 1956. Richard The banner had been started by the girls of Oldfields school in Bath and was handed on to a Ms Faulkner of Wells for completion. It was finished in time for the dedication ceremony by the Provincial Grand Master, R.W.Bro Brigadier General C.L. Norman in March 1956. The PGM then went on to present founders jewels. The agenda states Item1 – The Lodge will be opened in the three degrees. Item 2 The Provincial Grand Master, Grand Lodge Officers and Dedicating Officers will be announced, escorted into the Lodge Room and saluted according to their rank. Today opening in all three degrees straight off would be considered unusual. It would mean all the salutations would be in the third degree of course.

Today for similar Provincial visits the PGM and his team would enter in procession after the reading of the minutes, while then Lodge is still open in the first degree, he would be welcomed and then saluted, in the first degree. In April 1956 W.Bro G.O.Wiltshire founding Treasurer was appointed to the rank of Past Grand Standard Bearer, Priory Lodge’s very first Grand Officer. In 1959, the cost of meals was put up by 6d or 2 1/2 new pence, to be met by the age old refrain from the brethren that KMH should give us a better meal!

On Saturday 2nd October 1965 Priory Lodge hosted a special meeting for the purpose of dedicating the new Lodge Room organ. The old organ had been bought by St Keyna Lodge in 1929 and was described as now being beyond repair. The new organ cost £2,500, a significant amount of money bearing in mind that you could then buy a three bedroom semi on the newly developed Chandag estate in Keynsham for £2,999, without a garage of course! The meeting for the organ dedication was unusual in that the summons states – the Lodge will be officered by Worshipful Brethren from all the degrees meeting at Keynsham. Presumably because all had been asked to contribute. After the dedication the Lodge was closed and W.Bro George Garlick, Past Prov G Organist of Bristol gave an organ recital. 54 years on the organ is still going and hopefully will continue for many years. Check out the connection with W.Bro JH Spiller, the secretary of the Lodge and dedication plaque on the Lodge organ.

By 1974 life was improving for most people. New houses were being built with central heating and double glazing! Car ownership had increased dramatically, you could buy a mini for £599. Lager was twenty pence a pint. Eating out was becoming more common place with the advent of Wimpy, Berni Inns and others. Harold Wilson became prime minister in March 1974, following a months long strike by Miners and Railwaymen. Ordinary people were taking foreign holidays and to demonstrate that everything changes but nothing changes, on 15th August that year heralded the collapse of Court Line and its subsidiaries Clarksons and Horizon Holidays. The resultant chaos left 100,000 British holidaymakers stranded abroad. At the recommendation of a subsequent enquiry the ATOL protection scheme was brought into being. It was the start of the era of technology, in September 1974 – the BBC rolled out Ceefax– one of the first public service information systems.

By the Lodges 25th birthday Priory was thriving and had grown to 62 members. Lodge subs had gone up threefold to a massive £11 per year. The Province had grown from 50 Lodges in 1949 to 63 Lodge in 1974 with 5300 members, an average of 84 members per Lodge. The Lodge minutes for the 11th October 1974 are headed Silver Jubilee Meeting. The list of officers included; Worshipful Master S C Bryant. Senior Warden Phil Shirley, Junior Warden Ron Whitlock, Brother Ray Ling was the Junior Deacon. The Lodge had eight stewards, an Almoner W.Bro George Denman but no Charity Steward only a Charity Representative, who was also George Denman. The Collar of Charity Steward was introduced by Grand Lodge the following year. There were 39 visitors the lodge was opened at 6pm The PGM Colonel Harry Owen Hughes attended he was accompanied by V W Bro H Frampton the Deputy PGM. A 3rd Degree Ceremony was performed with W Bro George Denman taking the Chair, he was a busy chap was George. The brother being raised was Ron Andrews. W Bro Wally Ling, Ray’s father presented the lecture on the tracing board. The minutes of the consecration meeting were read followed by a resume of the first 25 years of Priory Lodge written by W Bro W T Wilkes, this was read to the brethren by the secretary in the absence of W Bro Wilkes through illness. The next memorable event occurred in September 1981 when Priory Lodge sponsored a petition for a new Lodge to meet at Keynsham, thus becoming the mother Lodge of Cornucopia. Ray Guthrie joined Priory as a MM in 1984 and his proposer was Ray Ling and seconded by his father Wally. Later Ron Babbage the Hall Steward joined Priory Lodge, Ron looked after Keynsham Masonic Hall and together with wife Julie provided good home cooking at Lodge meetings. In the early 1980s it was still Priory Lodge practice for the stewards to leave the Lodge early, have their meal downstairs then be ready to serve the other members and guests when they emerged from the Lodge Room, all organised by Ron Babbage of course.

Despite the number of Stewards progress was rapid. Made more so by the Chief Constable of Avon and Somerset declaring in 1987, that any police officer in his force who was a Freemason should not expect promotion. Whilst his actions were contested it was several years before the policy was binned. It caused problems both for individuals and Lodges. At that time Priory had a fairly strong police contingent, two brethren who were in progressive offices resigned. One of whom, Bro Colin Hope, a police inspector was immediately above Ray Guthrie in progression to the chair. Other police officers who were either close to retirement or cared little about the Chief Constables actions remained. Alan Thackway, Colin Pruett, Harvey Lloyd and Geoff Monk in particular, all of whom were, or would go onto be Past Masters of the Lodge. Unfortunately such attacks on Freemasonry continue today but Grand Lodge does seem more adept in responding to them. In the late 1980s the Grand Lodge attitude was to ignore such attacks, deeming them not worthy of discussion. A policy of non engagement that was doomed to failure from the start.

Many of you will agree with me Ray Guthrie when I say a Masons first time in the chair of his Lodge is always something very special. I have many happy memories from my first year in 1991. The Masters in the corner in particular, it was the practice then for all Lodges meeting at Keynsham to invite Masters of the other eight Lodges to every one of their meetings, normally five or six out of the eight would be there. It made for a strong bond between Lodges. There was a specially camaraderie between you and the other Masters of your year that continued long after you had all vacated your respective chairs. Unfortunately this model of cooperation and good practice has largely died out due in part to those past masters of Lodges who, having enjoyed this special privilege during their year in office, subsequently deemed it too expensive for their successors to enjoy. Today Priory is still proud to invite the Masters of all the nine other Lodges meeting here at Keynsham to every one of our meetings. We regard ourselves fortunate if two attend, we would love to see more but times have indeed changed. As Master I remember accepting an invitation to St Dunstan’s Lodge in Glastonbury, there I met W.Bro Norman James. Norman was a founder of this Lodge and it’s Master in 1954. By then he was well into his eighties but still managed a fine rendition of the Entered Apprentices song at the festive board. Norman was a serial Founder, for those of you who travel the Province you will see his name on honours boards not only here but in Glastonbury, Bruton, Wincanton and Yeovil.

By 1999 fifty years after the founding of the Lodge, life had changed significantly, for most it was for the better. The information era had dawned, computers were commonplace. So reliant had we become on them that there was great concern that the world would stop working at 11.59 pm on the 31st December that year due to the ‘Millennium Bug’ that would make all computers unusable. At the time when the Lodge was founded a family would normally have a working father, the breadwinner, and a mother who gave up her career to care for the children. By the millennium this was far from the norm, now both parents worked, driven in part by the massive increase in house prices but also by other factors, women who didn’t want to give up their careers for one. The era of shared responsibility was with us. By 1999 the Province had grown to 85 Lodges with 4600 members an average of 54 members per Lodge. Priory had 44 members.

The Golden Jubilee meeting of the Lodge was attended by the PGM R.W.Bro Stanley Hopkins and a team of Provincial Officers. The Master in the Chair was W.Bro Graham Howell, Senior Warden John Connelly and Junior Warden Tony Gover who later that meeting gave an address on the first fifty years of the Lodge. Other officers that evening included, Ray Ling Chaplain and Charity Steward, Dave Nash Treasurer, David Cooke Secretary, Colin Pruett DC, Eric Potter Almoner and ADC, Roy ‘fingers’ Binding Organist, Ray Weldon Assistant Secretary, Bernie Hasell Inner Guard, Terry Hosier, Pete Thompson and Roger Goodwin, Stewards and Roger Cooper as Tyler. Out of the list of 19 officers that year only three remain members today. Some of those officers were great stalwarts of the Lodge during the nineties and noughties. Alan Thackway, for many years the Lodge Treasurer and KMH Treasurer. Eric Potter probably the most diligent almoner the Lodge has had. Ray Ling, Charity Steward for many years and great enthusiast and promoter of the weekly Priory class of instruction. The class had been started way back in 1956 to help brethren going towards the chair improve their ritual. Over the years it was to prove invaluable to all of us who attended and benefited from the help of Ray and others. Those of us who knew Ray will remember almost every sentence was started with “I’m sorry but.” Colin Pruett, Lodge DC and subsequently secretary until just before the time of his death in 2011. Colin was like candy rock, if you snapped him in two he would have had Priory written right through him. I remember Colin with great affection. He was always ready to volunteer himself to give or respond to the visitors toast. Rarely would he stick to the subject, insisting on telling a joke, usually badly. And he had a habit on such occasions of digging himself into an embarrassing hole, much to everyone’s amusement. And Colin never knew when to stop digging. W.Bro Ron Babbage became a joining member 32 years ago, he was our Master in 2006 and still continues to work for the Lodge today, standing in as Inner Guard for our 70th birthday and always there to help in whatever way he can, the mark of a true Mason. There were many others of course who over the years have served this Lodge well, unfortunately it is impossible to mention them all in the time allowed this evening. In 2001, Ray Guthrie became the Lodge’s second Grand Officer when he was appointed Past Junior Grand Deacon in April of that year, having been appointed as an Assistant Provincial Grand Master earlier that month by the then PGM, Stanley Hopkins. Priory Lodge was celebrated for our Diamond Anniversary when Eric Wagg was in the chair in 2009 and his wife Sheila wished Priory Lodge happy birthday during her Ladies Night speech in Barnstable during our wonderful annual ladies weekend away, a special weekend to thank ladies for all they do for our lodge.

In February 2014 Steve Jones, now our Chaplain, was the last person initiated into the Lodge and in 2016 the Lodge became the prime mover in organising the replacement of the old Lodge room carpet. The late W.Bro Ray Ling had left a significant legacy to three of the Lodges at Keynsham where he had been a member, Priory, Carnarvon Mark and Jubilee Rose Croix. The three lodges agreed to share the cost of £18,000 equally. The carpet, a broadloom woollen Axminster was ordered from Wilton carpet near Salisbury where it was manufactured. It was subsequently delivered and laid and a dedication ceremony arranged.

On Friday 13th January 2017 – The Provincial Grand Master R.W.Bro Stuart Hadler and a team of Provincial Officers attend to dedicate the newly refurbished Lodge room and ‘Ray’s’ new Lodge carpet. The W.Master that evening was W.Bro Andy Purchase. After the dedication the PGM unveiled a plaque on the south wall of the temple to commemorate Ray Ling’s generosity. As a footnote, the old carpet although a little threadbare in places was gratefully received by W.Bro Peter Slade, a former member of St Keyna Lodge. Peter has lived in Lanzarote for some 25 years and is a member of South Porch Lodge No 59, Province of Canary Islands in the Spanish Constitution, he has however maintained his contacts with Keynsham. The old carpet can now be seen gracing the floor of South Porch Lodge meeting place in Arrecife. In April of this year W.Bro Tony Guthrie became the Lodge’s third Grand Officer when he was appointed Assistant Grand Standard Bearer.

Now in 2019 we truly are in a different world to the one inhabited by our Founders. The age of information technology is fully upon us, Facebook and Twitter rule, indeed the most powerful country on earth is now run on twitter. As individuals we are faced with a bewildering array of information, entertainment, sports and other things that we can fill our spare time with. This is reflected in the number of new Lodges being formed today, gone are the heady days of 1949 when 142 Lodges were founded. In the last 10 years a total of 124 new Lodges have opened for business, nearly half of them being in Districts overseas. The Province now has 89 Lodges and 3500 members, an average of 39 per Lodge down from 85 members per Lodge 50 years ago. In Priory Lodge we have also seen a gradual decline in numbers since 1999. We are now just twenty three subscribing members. About two years ago the Lodge decided that in order to try to cope with the changes we would make a deliberate move away from demonstrating ceremonies to being an education based Lodge. We would not decrease our number of meetings from seven but those meetings, apart from the installation would include a presentation, discussion or quiz on Masonic subjects. We would also have at least one white Table meeting involving partners and non masons such as Robert Burns Night held in January or February and enjoyed by all who attend.

The hope is this type of programme will attract more visitors and maybe joining members who would like to be part of such an education based Lodge. Of course it would also be nice to have a candidate or two! Next year we will have a young (fairly) Master Elect in Richard Irwin, a Master Mason of many years experience who will lead us positively into the future. We also have the prospect of a couple of joining members. We are endeavouring to become more involved in our local community. We have discussed helping Keynsham Dial a Ride by raising funds for a new bus, such projects will raise awareness of Freemasonry locally. We remain optimistic that Priory Lodge will continue, perhaps not with total confidence that the Lodge will reach its centenary but we will all do our best to set it on a steady course towards that goal.

In closing Worshipful Master and brethren I would thank W.Bro Tony Guthrie and W.Bro Richard Dredge for reading parts of this presentation and to Richard Dredge for his help in responding to my requests for information from the Lodge minutes. I thank you all for your attention. Historical Note – Anyone reading this in years to come may be wondering why there is a reference to the 1974 Court Line collapse. Two weeks before this paper was presented at Priory Lodge, travel company Thomas Cook collapsed leaving 150,000 passengers stranded abroad. The resulting repatriation over two weeks cost ATOL and the taxpayer over £100 million. Ray Guthrie 11th October 2019