The creation of the Grand Lodge of Mark Master Masons of England and Wales and the Colonies and Dependencies of the British Crown on 23rd June 1856, was one of the great and good things which evolved from the troubles and frictions which beset Freemasonry in the first half of the 19th Centaury.
The first Grand Master was the RW Bro Lord Leigh of Stoneleigh in Warwickshire.
Within the first twelve months, Grand Lodge had constituted six new Mark Lodges which included Fortescue No. 9 at South Molton, on the 18th June 1857 and St. George No. 15 at Exeter, on the 15th October 1857.
In June 1857, only a year after the establishment of Grand Lodge, the Grand Master announced that he proposed constituting eight provinces to aid administration and to control Lodges.
Among the provinces was Devonshire and whilst the other seven have changed their geographical areas and titles, the Province of Devonshire remains unaltered and is universally recognised as the Premier Province in Mark Masonry.
The Provincial Grand Lodge of Mark Master Masons of Devonshire was first constituted under the authority of a Patent of Appointment to the Office of Provincial Grand Master, granted on the 11th December 1857, by the Most Worshipful the Grand Master, the Rt Hon Lord Leigh to the Rev John Huyshe, MA, JP, a great scholar with an Oxford University First in mathematics, the author of a treatise on logic and an established Freemason, the Rector of the Parish of Clyst Hydon.
He had been initiated into Apollo University Lodge No. 711 at Oxford in 1822, then aged 22. Since that time he had become a subscribing member of five other Lodges and was also active in other Degrees including the Holy Royal Arch, the Royal Exalted, Religious and Military Orders of HRDM and the Knights Templar.
On 13th October 1857, he was advanced into Fortescue Mark Lodge No. 9, at their second meeting. Just two months later the Grand Master granted a Patent of Appointment to RW Bro Rev John Huyshe as Provincial Grand Master, an office he filled with distinction until 1873, seven years before his death. With this Office he combined those of Provincial Grand Master of the Craft from 1866 and of Grand Superintendent of the Holy Royal Arch from 1859.
During his sixteen years as Provincial Grand Master of the Province, 1857 to 1873, twelve more Mark Lodges were warranted, namely the Friendship Lodge of MMM’s No. 16, TI; Russell Mark Lodge No. 23; Sincerity Mark Masters No. 35; Brunswick Mark Lodge No. 48; St. John Mark Lodge No. 50; St. Aubyn Mark Lodge No. 64; Fortitude Mark Lodge No. 66; Charity Mark Lodge No. 76; “Fidelity Huyshe” Mark Lodge No. 91; Metham Mark Lodge No. 96; Hawton Mark Lodge No. 100 and Pleides Mark Lodge No. 675. Pleides Mark Lodge was at Totnes, it had been warranted in 1859, but shortly thereafter the Warrant, furniture and property were destroyed by fire and the Lodge ceased to meet.
In 1867 a Warrant was issued as a replacement, after a few years the Lodge, once more, ceased to function until June 1918 when the present Lodge No. 675 was consecrated at a Provincial Grand Lodge held at Newton Abbot.
From the outset the two foundation lodges of Mark Grand Lodge which formed the basis of the Province, namely Fortescue Mark Lodge No. 9 and St. George Mark Lodge No. 15, of necessity, worked closely together and had vital roles in the inauguration of the Provincial Grand Lodge, indeed, it can be confidently assumed that Devon was chosen as a venue for one of the first eight Mark Provinces when Grand Lodge itself was only twelve months old, for the simple reason that it was a known locality where the Mark Degree had been worked for many years under various guises and in the uncertain period between the union of the two Craft Grand Lodges and the setting up of Mark Grand Lodge, brethren practising the degree, viewed authority with suspicion.
But as new Lodges were formed and given Warrants of Constitution and Numbers by Mark Grand Lodge, this suspicion gradually receded, however, it did not resolve the difficulties of the Lodges which had been operating before the creation of Mark Grand Lodge.
It took a number of years for them to cast aside all doubt and pledge allegiance and thus entitle them to be granted Warrants of Confirmation and numbers.
Old habits die hard, the Mark Degree was relatively strong and popular in Devon long before the establishment of Mark Grand Lodge, this makes the achievements of the first Provincial Grand Master all the more commendable.
It should also be noted that the growing popularity of the Mark Degree was evident to all Craft Masons, without doubt the Rev John Huyshe, the Mark Provincial Grand Master, who was also the Deputy Provincial Grand Master of the Craft, used every opportunity to recommend the beautiful and instructive Mark Degree and lost no opportunity to stress the advantages of membership of his captive audience.
Bro John Huyshe died on the 18th October 1880, aged 80 years.
Perhaps he is best portrayed by a quotation from a speech delivered by W Bro Rev L P Metham, a noted Masonic orator of the 19th Century ...
“It has been the inevitable lot of our Brother Huyshe to achieve greatness for himself, a greatness built up stone by stone and step by step by service rendered, through long and arduous zeal, not only to Freemasonry but to humanity at large, cemented together by the daily practice of brotherly love, relief and truth in their best and widest sense.
As a clergyman, as a magistrate, a landlord and a friend, he led a life of usefulness such as best becomes a true Masonic gentleman”.