The first account of Mark Masonry in Devon, taken from Friendship Lodge of Mark Masters No.16, T.I. minutes proves that this order was in operation some 40 years prior to the creation of Mark Grand Lodge. Interestingly their 'Minute Books' indicate that, between March 1817 and October 1862 no less than 209 brethren were advanced, and of this number some came from the Sincerity Craft Lodge.
On the 23rd June 1856, saw the creation of the Grand Lodge of Mark Master Masons of England and Wales and the Colonies and Dependencies of the British Crown. It is reported, that the creation of this body was one of the great and good things that evolved from the troubles and friction that had beset Freemasonry in the first half of the 19th century. The first Grand Master was the R.W. Bro. Lord Leigh of Stoneleigh (Warwickshire) and during his first 12 months, he built on and cemented the new Order when he was instrumental, together with Grand Lodge, in constituting six new Mark Lodges. These included Fortescue No.9 at South Molton on the 18th June 1857, and St George No.15, at Exeter, on the 15th October 1857.
Historically as recorded in Quatuor Coronatorum (QC) Vol. 107, it notes that in 1856, most of the 'Old' or 'Independent' Mark Lodges that included Friendship, used only three principle officers i.e., the three Overseers, who were alternatively styled as the Worshipful Master, Senior and Junior Wardens. The presence of Overseers and Wardens strongly indicates that Friendship was using the ritual known as the 'Long' Working and supports the view that other Mark Lodges, including those that remained 'Independent' also used this 'Working'. However, in 1890, sometime after the creation of Grand Mark Lodge, it would appear that all Lodges were, instructed to use the 'Bon Accord', or 'Short' working, until the Overseers' part was later, made obligatory.
Evidence exists that the, 'Short Working' was not, 'favourably received by all', indeed, it is at this juncture that we find the first reference to Sincerity Lodge of Mark Masters No.35, again in QC Vol.
107. Included in the minutes of the Friendship Mark Lodge is a record that one of the older brethren of the, Sincerity Lodge of Mark Masters No. 35, Stonehouse, Plymouth, when he, compared the introduction of modifications to the ritual to: 'To the play of Hamlet, with the character of Hamlet omitted'.
Albeit, given some licence, it may be worth considering that the above statement could infer that Sincerity Lodge of Mark Masters No.35 predates the start of the Grand Lodge of Mark Master Masons of England, but remained 'Unattached' and independently minded. This hypothesis may be enhanced when viewing of the original 'Marks' of the early Sincerity Lodge of Mark Masters. Like all Mark Lodges in being prior to the 'Union', many of the member's 'Marks' contained non-angular signs and even triangles.
This is of great significance because, after the inauguration of the Grand Lodge of England, angular signs became the order of the day and the inclusion of any triangles was debarred. This is supported by the accepted standard ritual where in the first 'Address' in the Ceremony of Advancement it includes the statement that the Triangle is always used as the Worshipful Masters acknowledgement of acceptance of the candidates 'Mark'. By definition, he could never accept a non-angular sign or that which included a triangle once this edict had been enforced.
By June 1857, 12 months after the formation of Mark Grand Lodge there were 15 Lodges in the county, including Fortescue No.9 and St George No.15. It is now, that Lord Leigh proposed the establishment of eight Provinces to aid the administration and control over the new order of lodges. After careful consideration, Lord Leigh invited the Rev. John Huyshe to be the first Provincial Grand Master of Devonshire. If ever a man were hand-picked it was W. Bro. Huyshe, M.A., J.P., F.R.H.S., F.Z.A. who, although only the Rector of a small relatively unknown county parish, was in fact, a great scholar with an Oxford 'First' in Mathematics and an acclaimed author. More importantly, he was an established Freemason and a popular and beloved figure in Devonshire Masonic circles.
Among the Provinces created, where those of Devonshire, Hants and Berks, Wiltshire, Kent, Surrey, South Wales, South Australia and China and whereas the other seven original provinces have changed their geographical locations and titles, the Province of Devonshire remains unaltered. In this light and as an early addition to the original converts to Grand Lodge 'modus-operandi' we in Sincerity Lodge of Mark Masters No.35 enjoy the acclaim and privilege of being one of the very early Mark Lodges in this unique forum.
Founders: William Hunt, John Cree Hancock, Richard Robinson Rodd.
Consecration of Sincerity Lodge of Mark Master Masons No.35 (1859)
Meetings to be held at East Stonehouse in the County of Devon or such other places within 5 miles there of as they may from time to time see fit upon the 1st Monday in each month, or such other time as they may appoint. Members of the Sincerity Lodge shall annually, at a Meeting to be held within one month after the Autumnal Equinox elect a Master who shall appoint his officers and transmit a correct list of them to the Grand Lodge.
On the 26th September 1859 - The Charter or Warrant of Constitution was read in open Lodge. The first two candidates to be 'Advanced' were Kadri-Bey and R.H. Rae. At the same meeting, three Brethren, already, admitted Mark Master Masons in an unattached Lodge were reobligated at their own request.
Sadly, between September 1859 and the Minute Books of October 1863 we have very little knowledge on the progress and working of Sincerity Lodge of Mark Masters No.35. However, interest is again stimulated when, on that date, an Organist was appointed at the princely rate of one shilling per night. One wonders as to how much that would equate in today's monies. In 1867 we again see the name of Robert H Rae recorded when he became Worshipful Master, he was the second Master to be installed following on from the original Founder Members. Sadly by viewing the list of Worshipful Masters it can be seen that Brother Kadri-Bey never attained the Chair of Sincerity Lodge of Mark Masters No.35.
In 1870 reflects that 'Charity' was at the bedrock of masonry and taken very seriously, for when a letter was read emanating from Grand Lodge, soliciting help for the wounded of the Franco-German War a donation of £1 was granted. More monies was requested in 1871, in a printed circular from Grand Lodge read with reference to Annual Festival, on this occasion, the Brethren, 'Considered it inexpedient to send a donation this time'.
In 1874, the Lodge having been in existence for 15 years, recorded that the 'First visit of Provincial Grand Master took place'.
An additional historic note worthy of mention occurred in 1873 when the Consecration of Royal Ark Mariners Sincerity, No. 35 took place. The meetings were conducted on the same evening as that of the Mark Meetings and this practice was to continue until 4th July 1966. Although, contrary to belief a distinguished member of our Lodge, W. Bro. Frank Workman was not present at the outset but was in fact 'Advanced' in 1977 and went on to gain Grand Lodge honours' in this Degree.
By March 1894 we gain some idea of the strength of the Lodge, the Return Book indicates 18 Members coming from Plymouth, Devonport, Ivybridge, Torquay, Bristol and London. Here we see the influence of transport, specifically the railways in allowing brethren to travel and sustain membership over considerable distances.
Remaining for a moment in the 19th century it may be of interest to some to observe that the oldest Certificate held by the Lodge is for a Brother George Harry Myers of Green Bank Avenue Plymouth Occupation Jeweler - dated 2nd May 1898. Moving on, 11th November 1908 sees the 'Celebration of the Jubilee of 'Sincerity' Lodge of MarkMoving on, 11th November 1908 sees the ‘Celebration of the Jubilee of ‘Sincerity’ Lodge of Mark Masters No 35; the event is simply included in the minutes as an entry without any special accord.
By 1917 and in the throes of supporting another Festival, the membership of Sincerity Lodge of Mark Masters No.35 had grown to 36 in turn these Brethren contributed the grand sum of £57 15s 0d out of a grand total of £4,396 collected for the Province. The Province by this time was supported by some 24 Mark Lodges.
Unfortunately, again a gap in records or the absence of the taking of comprehensive minutes precludes historic facts of interest being related. It is not until the period approaching the Second world War that we again have an insight into the Lodge workings. On4th September 1939, the Meeting opened with the singing of the National Anthem, after which the following business ensued. There was no candidate for ‘Advancement’. The Worshipful Master of the time declared that Brother Stone had written, postponing his advancement in view of the present, ‘Emergency’. (Perhaps an underestimation for what was to become World War 2). At the same meeting, a letter was also received from Grand Lodge, stating that Officers were neither expected nor required, to attend Grand Lodge of the 5th September 1939.
An additional agenda item reflected that the Secretary of Grand Lodge had appealed for increased sales of the Mark Year Book. Clearly one could see where the priorities lay - sell the books at any cost. Later in the war, it is noted that the Lodge was meeting at Sincerity Masonic Hall, Elliot Street Plymouth. A meeting on th January 1943 gives an insight and clear indication of the underlying precepts of Masonry when the thoughts of those present turned to ‘Absent Brethren’. It records that it was ‘Proposed’ by W. Bro. G. Maisey, and Seconded by W. Bro. W. A. Jarbox and agreed by the Brethren that £1 be drawn from the Charity Fund to provide some cigarettes to be sent to Bro. D. Dodsworth who was a Prisoner of War. Whether Bro. Dodsworth everever received his cigarettes is not evident, nor whether he returned to Sincerity Lodge after his incarceration.
Following the war, reference to the status of Sincerity Lodge of Mark Masters No.35 as a Keystone Lodge, appears and is recorded, at a meeting of 15th March 1956. This minute identifies the commitment entered into by our predecessors to secure this great honour for the Lodge when a letter from the Provincial Grand Master R. W. Bro Col. C. B. Spencer OBE.TD, informing the Lodge that the Province had reached the quota for Keystone recognition of £8,615. 0s. 0d. It goes on to say that he hoped that the five Lodges, who had passed the Keystone resolution but had not yet completed their quota, would continue and become Keystone Lodges at an early date. It was to be another 14 years before Sincerity Lodge of Mark Masters No.35 would complete this obligation. Minutes of the meeting of 13th June 1970 records the 'Congratulations to the Officers and Brethren of Sincerity No.35 received from the Provincial Grand Secretary on the occasion of their reaching their quota to become a Keystone Lodge'.
In bringing this history into the realms of living memory, it is appropriate to make mention of individuals who were or are stalwarts of the Sincerity Lodge of Mark Masters No.35. Deserving of mention is W. Bro Arthur William Ash who was 'Advanced' into Sincerity 35, on 5th November 1934. By May 1945 he had been through the 'Chair' and had become Secretary a position he was to hold for 23 years until he stood down on 3rd March 1969. The final mention of W. Bro A.W. Ash, after 36 years loyal service, appears in the minutes of 2nd November 1970 when he is remembered in memoriam together with a Bro. Ivor Dewdney, (Perhaps of Pasty Fame?).
Further on in time and the modern era, the 3rd May 1971 sees the name of a certain Bro. Maurice S. Free, appear in the minutes for the first time; he is mentioned as a Steward. He then moves through the various Offices to become Worshipful Master of the Lodge in March 1979. Immediately afterwards, at the Installation meeting in March1980, he becomes Director of Ceremonies, a position he held until March 1993 but for a year 1988/89, when he was again Worshipful Master.
An undoubted mainstay in the administration and running of Sincerity is W. Bro Trevor G Wyatt BSc (Hons), MSc, BPhil, CEng, MIET, CITP, MBCS who as a Master Mason of The Lodge of Fortitude No.105 was 'Advanced' to Mark Master into Sincerity 35 on 3rd May 1976. The aforementioned W. Bro. M.S. Free was by this time the Master Overseer in the Lodge. W. Bro Wyatt moved steadily through various offices to become Worshipful Master in March 1985 and subsequently deputised for W. Bro. M.S. Free as 'Director of Ceremonies' during his Masters year of 1988/89. In March 1989, W. Bro Wyatt then became Treasurer and continues in that office to this day having held that office over this extensive period of twenty years. Another Senior Member of the Lodge and much appreciated Brother is W. Bro Frank T Workman, who was 'Advanced' to Mark Master Mason in Sincerity 35 on 3rd May 1976, and who was to occupy the 'Masters' Chair in 1987.
At this juncture we see the arrival, as a joining member from the far West (Falmouth - Penryn), of another Brother who is later to feature very strongly in Sincerity Lodge of Mark Masters No. 35, namely W. Bro William E. Thomas. W. Bro Thomas was also to progress through the Offices in the Lodge to become Worshipful Master in 1994. In September 1995 he became Secretary and retains that job to the present day. W. Bro Wyatt and W. Bro Thomas, have both proved great ambassadors for Sincerity Lodge and Mark Masonry in general, and this has been recognised by The Grand Lodge of England of Mark Master Masons and both have been greatly honoured in having held Active Grand Officer Rank as Grand Stewards of England. Indeed, W. Bro Wyatt has recently been further rewarded and is currently Grand Junior Deacon, indisputably a very great accolade for him and in addition a huge honour for Sincerity.
Historically Sincerity Lodge of Mark Masters has met in a number of Masonic Halls in the city of Plymouth , including, on 4th January 1943, at Sincerity Masonic Hall, Elliot Street, where it continued until Mon 4th November 1968 when under the Worshipful Master W. Bro. A.M. (Mel) West it met for the last time in this location. Monday 6th January 1969 saw the Lodge relocated to a new home at, Huyshe Masonic Hall, York Place, Stoke, and W. Bro West was still the Master. The last meeting on 7th January 1991 saw the Agenda Item - To 'Advance' to the degree of a Mark Master Mason, Bro. Peter Heal residing at Coles Cottage, Mary Tavy near Tavistock, Devon. Like the Lodge, W. Bro Heal has stood the test of time and is currently the, 'Director of Ceremonies'.
Sincerity's last move to date was to the current location, Queen Victoria Masonic Halt, St. Budeaux. During the first meeting on 24th September 1991- Item 4 on the summons was to 'Advance' Peter Rex Collins, Occupation Foreman DML. Unfortunately, pressure of work prevented him being present and Bro. Roger E.C Galloway was therefore 'Advanced' in his stead. Again, we note the calibre of the candidate, for W. Bro Galloway is our Charity Steward and a great supporter of the Lodge.
By the early 1990's we see the effects of modern living and declining numbers beginning to have an effect on Lodge attendance, so much so, that in November 1993 a 'Notice of Motion' is forwarded to remove the June meeting of Sincerity No. 35 from the calendar. The reason given was that as a result of many members taking their holidays at this time of year they could not be expected to attend Lodge. Clearly this was not acceptable and the proposal that the June meeting be moved to the corresponding Tuesday in May finally won the day and, with this change Sincerity continues to meet five times a year.
November 1995 saw a Grand Lodge disbursement of £1000 to every Mark Master Masons Lodge in the country with the direction that this money should be donated to a Charity of the Lodge's choosing. W. Bro. Roger W Lillicrap, Worshipful Master at the time, together with the Charity Steward (W. Bro. Bernard EC Tranter) and the Almoner (W. Bro. John Dryden) are recorded in a press cutting presenting a cheque for £1000 to St Lukes Hospice at Turnchapel.
Towards the end of the 20th Century, particularly from the late 1980's the Lodge began, like many other in the country, to suffer from a decline in the number of suitable candidates that could be invited to be 'Advanced' into this wonderful Degree. The last twenty years of the Lodge history has centred on trying to maintain numbers, which has currently settled at around twenty five with around fifteen being active participants. Advancing years begin to take a toll on a number of our older members while for the younger brethren, the speed and expectations of the modern era where job commitments, targets and financial restrictions have all to be considered.
When the principles that apply in all the orders of Freemasonry whereby family and business interests take precedence over Masonic activities, then it is not hard to perhaps understand the basis of our problems. However in Sincerity No. 35 having suffered a dramatic decline in numbers, we have attracted a number of good people and although not out of the woods, we hope that the recycling of the more senior Brethren may at last be in abeyance.
In bringing this history of Sincerity Lodge No.35 of Mark Master Masons to its conclusion it is necessary to record that the meeting to celebrate 150 years was held on Tuesday 24th March 2009, preceded by the Installation meeting, at Queen Victoria Masonic Hall, St Budeaux, Plymouth.
The History of Sincerity No 35 was researched and collated by Bro. P. Durrant MBE, from Historical Minutes, Commercial Books and Mark Degree Books.