A Short History

By W. Bro. John G. Dollery, P.G.Std.B. Secretary

Our Warrant is 1860 and it stands displayed on each occasion of the Lodge meeting, but present and past members of the Lodge through the years have always challenged this beginning date since our lodge has the 'Book of registered Marks' dating from 1825 - and it continues to be used to the present day. The problem, of course, is the mess that existed in the early days up-and-until Grand Lodge was formed to give some regulation and order. Here is where the wish for extended foresight must come to bear. " Oh if only " this cry we can be sure, made by dozens of Lodges over ages past. Our Minute books give some insights to the efforts made by its members and many of them obviously had the Lodge's interest at heart. Many became famous in their own right; such was the passion for the order in general. Research is being undertaken within the Lodge but in this modern world where time seems to run at twice the speed of light, we are unfortunately, "still in progress.

Despite not being ready with a full history it is still possible to consider, for a moment or two, the conditions that prevailed at the time when our lodge was first meeting. Plymouth in those days had a population in the region of fifty-two thousand and the other 'Town' of Devonport, thirty-eight thousand - this was to rise considerably in the ten years that followed as the history books will show. Wood and Sail were quickly going out of fashion and being hungrily replaced by iron and steam, the Dockyard was seething, the towns were alive with prosperity. Lord Palmerston was Prime Minister, Disraeli and Gladstone were yet to appear on the scene, but when they did - a mass of legislative changes were introduced to completely transform the lives of the lesser privileged. Elsewhere, in America the civil war was raging and across the world in Italy and Germany two men by the name of Garibaidi and Bismarck were beginning to make a name for themselves, so in many ways, it was an era which might just as well be compared with the present time, a period when progress, expansion and development is very much upon us, The problem now of course, is that we have evolved as citizens and the more intelligent among us have created the microchip. Sadly we also have the intelligence to create weapons of destruction and we continue to live in a delicately balanced world. Computer technology continues un-abated, there is scarcely a man or woman walking who does not own some form of personal communication device albeit a mobile phone or personal computer - and yet - we still get the summons printed late. Or fail to tell the Secretary of our forthcoming attendance at Lodge.

The mind boggles at the effort employed by the Secretaries of old to communicate with the members. But it did happen and our lodge was like many others meeting regularly, without Ritual Books - since all was learned by being present at meetings and paying attention to the Ceremony - as the minute books show. Our attendance in those early days was first weak, and then strong, probably due to the movement of shipping and armed forces in and out of the towns. Records show that some Members were joiners of other lodges in far distant places as well as others who came to us and joined or brought with them a suitable candidate Evidence is there in the minute books on several 'emergency occasions' where the purpose of the meeting was "To carry out the ceremony of advancement - the Candidate having been summoned to report to a foreign destination" or " summoned to report to His Majesty's armed forces". So life went on - much the same as today, and our minute books seem to reveal that the harmony of the lodge was not often disturbed. We did one or two things that probably upset the powers-to-be, but Masonic History must surely show that we were not alone"

We came originally as St. John's No 1.held in No 83. This is printed on the cover of the Register of Marks of 1825. On the inside cover of the same book has been added a label printed in red ink NOW TEMPLE 50 - there is no indication when, or by whom this note was written. The tile on the Minute Book reads: St. John Mark Masters Lodge - No 1 Held in Lodge No 83

St. John 83 was an Exeter craft Lodge, and with a Military warrant attached to the 3rd Regiment of Foot (The Buffs), it was one of the Antient or Athol Lodges prior to the Union of Grand Lodges' The 3d Regiment of foot later became the East Kent Regiment and then more recently - part of the ,'Queens', along with; other county Regiments which were. recruited from the 'Home Counties' around London.

St. John 83 moved to Plymouth in 1828 and was subsequently re-numbered St. John 70 and evidence of the Mark meetings and the relationship we hold with St. John 70 craft is thankfully contained in the various documents and Minute books, which they have to this present day' Many past masters of St. John 70 Craft Lodge have the Chair of St. John Lodge of Mark Master Masons No.50.

St. John 50 members appear in many early formations and as has already been stated, some rose to notoriety. The petition for the formation of Fortitude 66 Lodge of MMM lists the following:-

  • Richard Rodda, Provincial Grand secretary - as the first worshipful Master.
  • B. W. Stoneman, Provincial Grand Senior Deacon - as the Senior Warden'

These members, along with others of St. Aubyn 64 were rewarded for their efforts in the granting of the petition and also with the added compliment from the then Provincial Grand Master in the following terms:

"I am well acquainted with the Brethren who have signed this Petition. They are well deserving of having a Warrant entrusted to them, and I therefore recommend that the prayer of their Petition be granted."

So while we were without doubt working within the environment of 83 and then 70 where and when did the breakout - if it can labelled that way? Imagine the. Masonic environment: - Lodges meeting all over the place, Masons in London scheming to 'organise' the degree' petitions flying around and being granted'- usually in no particular order, as the practise was in some cases to issue numbers ,"sometimes from defunct lodges - eventually 1816 came and prominent MMM's formed Grand Mark Lodge with Lord Leigh as Grand Master. The dust settles and in our minute books for 1860 we find:

"A Provincial Grand Lodge of Mark Master Masons will be held at the St' John's Masonic Hall, Courtney street, Plymouth on Monday 12th June 1860 at half past one, when the RW. PGM, the Rev. Bro. John Huyshe will deliver the Warrants of the Mark Lodges BRUNSWICK 185 and St. JOHN 83, and the Worshipful Masters and such brethren as may be desirous to be advanced to that degree by the Right Worshipful Provincial Grand Master. All Mark Masons advanced before April 1859 are privileged to Recognition and Admittance "

(It should be noted here that subsequent records prove that the above mention of St John 83 is a mistake and should read St' John 50)

It is also interesting to note that in an entry dated 7th August 1860 the following extract is clear:

"The Provincial Grand Master presented to W Bro. Maynard, for his perusal, the Charter of our Authority to Hold, and Work, The Mark Master Mason's Degree in this Hall, and having received the warrant, to affix there-on the Crest of the R.W.PGM , the Rev. Bro. John Huyshe. The same was sketched, and a tablet commemorating this event, was attached to the panelling of the Lodge and is a record 'of much that is pleasurable".
(Sadly this panel was ultimately destroyed by enemy action in World War 2 during the Blitz onPlymouth.)

Our first Master, if we are to accept for the moment that we really did not exist until 1860, was W. Bro Harry Maynard. W. Bro. John Batters Gover and W. Bro John Dupre supported him as Senior and Junior Wardens respectively. Bro. J.R. Brewer was the first Secretary.

J.R. Brewer was a staunch supporter of St. John 50 as well as the degree in general, and although his Mark can be found in the First page of our Register dated 1825, he never filled the chair of St. John. He served as Secretary until 17th September 1872 and while he was obviously involved in the heart of Mark Masonry, he did manage to fill the chair of King Solomon in Fidelity Craft Lodge (1822) and also St. John 83 (1828).

So there we are, re-named St. John 50 and with a fresh warrant - until that ts, l1ttt November 1870 When another extract states: - It was Proposed and Seconded, that,

  • "For the accommodation of other lodges meeting in the same Temple, That the name be changed from St. John 50 to TEMPLE 50 "

Authority from Grand Lodge was sought and granted in October 1871. The first circular bearing the TEMPLE name appeared for the meeting of 17th October 1871.

With our new title we continued until 1952 when the then Secretary W. Bro. N.W. Trobridge, raised the question for fuller discussion "should the Lodge apply to revert to its original title? "

Discussion must have ensued, as records show that during the Regular Meeting of the Lodge held on Friday 20tn June 1952 at The Sincerity Masonic Hall, Plymouth, the Secretary, W. Bro. N.W. Trobridge raised, for further discussion, the question whether the Lodge should send a petition to Grand Lodge praying that the name of the Lodge should be changed to its original name as shown on the Warrant, namely, St John No. 50

Item 9 on the business of the following Regular Meeting, held on Friday 1st August 1952 was as follows; -

To consider a notice of motion from W. Bro, N.W. Trobridge - that the Lodge should petition the Grand Master praying that the name of the Lodge should be altered to 'St. John Lodge No. 50'. The original name on the Warrant of Constitution.

The resolution was seconded by Bro. J.G. Brooks S.W and supported by Bro. R. Olds S.0. and was unanimously approved by the brethren.

The Secretary received a letter from the Provincial Grand Secretary dated 17th September 1852 which reads as follows; -

I have to inform you that the Most Worshipful Grand Master has been pleased to approve the petition from the above-named Lodge, for the name to be changed to that of "St. John Lodge", thus reverting to the original name under which it was constituted under the jurisdiction of the Grand Lodge of Mark master Masons in 1860.

The change will be dated 1st October 1952, and from that date the Lodge will be known as "St. John Lodge No 50' and' will" be shown on the roll of Lodges accordingly.

I am now able to forward the amended By-Laws for approval

Yours Sincerely and fraternally
C.J.R. Souhamy Provincial Grand Secretary.

Included with the minutes of I5th August 1952 is a page from the Report of the .General Board of the Grand Lodge of Mark Master Masons of England and Wales and the Dominions and Dependencies of the British Crown. It's dated 2nd December 1952 and covers the period during the three months ending 30th September 1952. Under the heading 'Warrants', Temple Lodge No' 50'

'A petition having been received for the change of name of Temple Lodge No. 50 to that of St John Lodge thus reverting to the name under which it was constituted in 1860 and which was changed to Temple Lodge in 1870, the Most Worshipful Grand Master has been pleased to grant permission, and as from the 1st October 1952, the Lodge will be shown accordingly on the Roll as St. John Lodge No. 50.'

The Installation Meeting held on Friday 17h October 1952 was when the Lodge reverted to its original name 'St. John Lodge of Mark Master Masons No 50'

The presentation of the Working Tools and the Charter was made by the Right Worshipful Bro. C.B. Spencer, Provincial Grand Master, who expressed his pleasure that the Lodge would once again preserve in its title, the ancient connections of the lodge with St. John Lodge No. 70.

The number of the Lodge remains as 50, but today, some members still insist that our number should have been different - preferably No.1 , or at least that revered status of "Time Immemorial" So many questions remain un-answered, foremost of which must be - if we are not No1 should we be less than 50.? We did try for a lower number in 1867, shortly after the formation of Mark Grand Lodge. Our Lodge wrote to Grand Lodge pointing out that " the numbering of lodges were not to the expectation of some lodges." The reply was certainly succinct!

"THE ARRANGEMENT OF THE LODGES IS THE PLACE ALWAYS ACTED ON BY US'
AND I DO NOT SEE ANY POSSIBILITY OF AN ALTERNATIVE OF THAT RULE"

...this from the Grand Secretary

Research and the passage of time now shows that early acceptance of Grand Lodge as the 'authoritative body' secured lower numbers, excluding the range 4 to 44 which had been purposely reserved by Grand Lodge for 'Antient and Athol Lodges". Perhaps if we of St. John 50 had been more adoptive of the 'rulers' - we might have achieved a different title altogether.

We do hold dear to our heart the fact that St. John 50 was responsible for the First Charitable act through Grand Lodge to a Widow. It was 1862, one of our members - Bro. Smith had died. His wife and children were in dire straits and the lodge members decided to ask Grand Lodge by means of a petition for some monetary support. lt was granted in the sum off £3.00 Bearing in mind that the lodge returns to Grand Lodge show yearly dues at 2 shillings and then later at 8 shillings and six pence - to receive £3.00 was a very good result. The letter confirming the award came dated 8th December 1862 from " Office of The Grand Lodge of Mark Masters Masonic Union Hall, 14 Bedford Row, Holborn, London. WC" It is attached to our minutes and has been reproduced many times over the years. It confirms that Grand Lodge gave due consideration and that the amount was awarded forthwith. The seeds of this act however were to mature into the MARK BENEVOLENT FUND so understandably we take every opportunity to tell our story of Mrs. Smith and her plight following the death of her husband and also our deed, long ago, which gave rise to the main charity.

We continue to work in great harmony and of course are very proud to celebrate the Sesquicentennial 'Birthday'. We are also in the midst of research and as time moves on, more and more evidence appears - sometimes accompanied by papers written by eminent and wise masons who give greater insight to the degree in general. With extra and more accurate information - perhaps we could ensure the information is verified, documented, printed - and then presented to Grand Lodge to get our Number 1 status back, or at least "T1"'- who knows what the future may bring.

In completing this short story I cannot let the opportunity pass of not mentioning the research work done by others in my lodge. W Bros. D. Thynne and A. Daws contributed long, hard and painstakingly - if it were not for Masons such as these - our present line of research would not have evolved.

I am not an author and this is not the end - this article is pieced together from the various sources currently being dealt with in order to include it in some form within our celebrations of June 29th, 2010. I just hope that when you read it you will understand that we are protective of our heritage, sincerely dedicated to the Degree and very proud to be members of St John, No 50.