Compiled by Ralph E Gray

“THE EARLY DAYS”

It is well-nigh impossible to carry out even a superficial study of Masonic History without having regard to the Biblical and Historic Chronology of the Degrees, the Degrees are twenty six in number and all based on the acceptance of a supreme being.

In this context the Craft Degree (Master Mason), the bedrock of Freemasonry itself, dealing with the death of the chief architect of to King Solomon’s Temple, is seventh in the chronological order, occurring circa 968 BC, the Mark Degree, which revolves around the preparation of the Keystone for the Sacred Arch of the Temple, is fourth in the order, occurring circa 947 BC and the Royal Ark Mariner Degree, dealing with Noah, the Ark and the Flood, is by far the oldest of them all, occurring circa 4,000 BC.

The Great Flood is particularly noteworthy in that it is a story related in all major religions, whilst the date of the flood may vary, the occurrence is in no doubt.

It is a wide held belief that Craft and Mark Masonry have always been intimately connected, but this is most difficult to confirm s there is little or no documentary proof of antiquity for either degree. This situation arises from the early practice of overhauling the records of a Lodge every few years and destroying everything not in current use. Indeed, in order to preserve the secrecy of the institution, entire records of a Lodge were destroyed because it was being relocated or in danger of becoming extinct and, in the days prior to Grand Lodge coming into being, there was no one to prevent this vandalism, to take charge of and carefully preserve the documentation records.

This situation arose from the fear that, if not destroyed by their rightful possessors they could fall into the hands of outsiders, a fear not altogether groundless. Conversely, it is also true that masonry provides a rich stock of evidence by the existence of mason’s marks in almost every significant building of antiquity, thus proving that Masonry itself belongs to ancient times and that the links were established from the early times... the skilful craftsman using his specific mark on the finished work for the purpose of identification.

In that manner therefore Craft and Mark were united in operative masonry in bygone times, as indeed they are speculatively at the present time.

It should not be forgotten that during the middle ages, every calling kept to itself, each had its own secrets, which were not communicated to anyone outside their own company and fraternity, even that which could have been revealed was jealously guarded.

Despite all, however, in the course of time and the changing environment, the mysteries of Craft and Mark, with their emblems and watchwords, gradually developed into what is now denominated speculative or symbolic Freemasonry.

In this process the grade of Mark Man, originally an extension of the Old Craft Mason Degree (Fellowcraft), and the grade of Mark Master, an extension of the old Master Mason Degree, were conjoined and worked together as a matter of convenience.

Thus the two Masonic grades became one degree and were so conferred in the symbolic Craft Lodges.

As a degree the Mark has been practised from at least 1700, in Scotland it was and still is part of the Craft and it is a pre-requisite for becoming a member of the Royal Arch.

However, in England things were very different. To begin with there were two Grand Lodges with no love lost between them. This was to change quite dramatically however, when, following years of antagonism, a union was forced upon them simply because Freemasonry was spreading worldwide and bluntly refused to deal with two Grand Lodges in England. Reluctantly, a compromise was reached and the Ancients and Moderns formed the English United Grand Lodge in 1813.

Having done so, however, recognition was given to the three degrees in the Craft with the Royal Arch as an extension to the Third Degree and no other ... this left the mark “in limbo”.

Despite a number of setbacks and problems, Mark Masonry continued to be popular at grass roots level and the Degree continued to be practised under the warrants of Craft Lodges; this was a convenient arrangement enabling them to avoid obligations under the Secret Societies Act, which became effective as a result of events in France following the revolution.

It was conferred in Craft Lodges as an extension of the Second Degree.

During this period a Mark Lodge had been established in London under the Scottish Constitution – The Bon Accord Lodge, it was Consecrated in September 1891 under a warrant granted by the Bon Accord Chapter in Aberdeen.

The Consecration took place in Blackfriars, London, following which six regularly registered Royal Arch Masons of England were advanced; the second meeting, held in October (the following month), saw the advancement of a further four brethren, among them a brother Thomas Julius Bembridge of Exeter, this brother was destined to play an important part in Mark Masonry in the Province of Devonshire.

The popularity of Mark Masonry was plain for all to see by the number of candidates being advanced, many of whom came from the Provinces ... at the time the Province of Devonshire continued to confer the Degree as an extension of the Fellowcraft Degree. This prompted the Supreme Grand Chapter of England to decide in February 1856, that there was nothing objectionable about the Mark Degree, it has no part to play in the Royal Arch and was not considered essential in Craft Lodges, however, it might well be considered a graceful addition to the Fellowcraft Degree.

Condescendingly, United Grand Lodge decided that, perhaps after all, it was not at variance with the Craft; it then had second thoughts, and in June 1856, once again performed a ‘U’ turn and rejected it.

This infuriated a number of very influential brethren, who urgently petitioned the Supreme Grand Chapter of Scotland to constitute them as a Lodge of Mark Master Masons to be located in London and to be known as “The St. Marks Lodge of Mark Masters” ... the petition was granted.

The situation had become quite ludicrous and it was obvious that it could not be allowed to continue, the only satisfactory solution was to set up a Mark Grand Lodge of England. Accordingly a meeting was called on the 23rd June 1856 ... Mark Grand Lodge was created that same afternoon.

Despite considerable opposition, criticism and wild accusations that it could easily become a threat to United Grand Lodge, it survived and flourished.

On 6th February 1857, Mark Grand Lodge issued a warrant for “The Fortescue Lodge of Mark Master Masons, No. 9; nominating Bro. Thomas Julius Bembridge as Master, Bro. John Tanner Davy as Senior Warden and Bro. Frederick Courtenay Tanner as Junior Warden.

Why South Molton? Why these particular brethren? The first candidates from all over Devon. The brethren quite obviously knew each other well professionally as well as through Freemasonry. The real enthusiast amongst them was John Tanner Davy, recently advanced into a Mark Lodge and destined to become the second Provincial Grand Master in 1873.

John Tanner Davy had a large country house near South Molton at Rose Ash, what better therefore than using the Lodge Room at South Molton having gathered a ‘Rose Ash’ ... once the brethren had established themselves and worked out a ritual they could then, with confidence, proceed to the City of Exeter and form other Lodges.

The three nominated in the Warrant of the Fortescue Lodge of Mark Master Masons were Brother Ridgeway the Grand Secretary, Brother Bembridge and Brother John Tanner Davy, along with a list of the prospective members; they met at South Molton on 5th August 1857. First Brother Bembridge, under a dispensation, was entrusted by Brother Ridgeway with the secrets of a Worshipful Master to enable them to form a Board and install him. The Warrant was read by Brother Ridgeway and the Lodge formally opened ... there was no consecration ceremony at the time, a new Lodge was opened by the three nominated in the Warrant.

Seven candidates were then proposed, balloted for and advanced.

Brother John Tanner Davy was then elected as the Treasurer in addition to being the Senior Warden, all of the seven advanced brethren were then appointed to office in the lodge. Following which Brother Ridgeway, the Grand Secretary, was made an Honorary Member. Eight more brethren were then proposed, including the Rev. John Huyshe. The By-Laws were then adopted and the Lodge closed.

It is interesting to note that there were no Overseers at that time, they were introduced into the Lodge Ritual in October 1872. Clothing at the time comprised Craft Aprons with Mark Jewels, as Brother Bembridge had been brought up in the Scottish tradition, the jewels for No. 9 came from Scotland, none were available in England at that time. Likewise the peculiarities in their ritual can be traced to Scottish practices.

As previously stated, among the brethren proposed into No. 9, was the Rev. John Huyshe, at that time the Deputy Provincial Grand Master in the Craft, eventually to become the first Provincial Grand Master in the Mark Degree in 1857.

On 25th February 1858, Brother Bembridge, along with the six other brethren, assembled in Exeter and founded the St. George Lodge of Mark Master Mason, No. 15. Brother Rev. John Huyshe was installed as Master.
This “of Mark Masters” is the correct title of the Lodge of the Fortescue Lodge of Mark Master Masons No. 9, the St. George Lodge of Mark Master Masons No. 15 and the Friendship Lodge of Mark Masters No. 16 T.I.

Now a Provincial Grand Lodge could be formed and Grand Lodge issued a Warrant appointing Brother Rev. John Huyshe, as the Provincial Grand Master, on the 11th December 1857. Brother Huyshe had become Provincial Grand Master for the Province of Devonshire having been a Mark Mason for less than sixty days, he was later installed as the Master of St. George Lodge No. 15.

The stage was set, there was no turning back and Brother Rev. John Huyshe presided over the first meeting of Provincial Grand Lodge of Devonshire on Thursday 20th October 1858, held in Tucker’s Hall, Fore Street, Exeter.

There were present some of the most notable craftsmen of the period, the names recorded are as follows:

Bro. the Rev. John Huyshe, M.A. Provincial Grand Master
Bro. Captain Trower, Senior Warden
Bro. J A Locke, Junior Warden
Bro. C J Laidman, Secretary
Bro. R W Scott, Senior Deacon
Bro. W Hunt, Junior Deacon
Bro. L W Channing, Pursivant
Bro. J Gregory, Tyler
Also Bros. J Tanner Davy, W Dennis Moore. W W James, Captain Deacon, H G Lloyd, S R Force, B Dicker, R R Rodd, Ridley, T D Hogg, Dennaford, J J Clase, W Hunt, Daykin, Lidstone.

The majority of these brethren were, quite obviously, from Fortescue Lodge of Mark Master Masons No. 9; St. George Lodge No. 15 and 1st Devon Militia No. 29 T.I.

Bro. Dennaford however gave his Lodge number as 185 and Bro. Lidstone as 224 ... Lodges No. 185 and 224 were in all probability, Brunswick and Sincerity Craft Lodges and these brethren had been made Mark Masons before 1857, it was known that both these Lodges did operate the Mark degree.

Bro T D Hogg is given as from No. 29, it is unknown when this Lodge was warranted, but No. 26, the old Pleiades Mark Lodge was not warranted until 1859, it follows that No. 29 is unlikely to have existed in 1858.

It was unfortunate that those Craft Lodges in the Province which practised the Mark Degree prior to the formation of Mark Grand Lodge, did not avail themselves of the opportunity to participate and become “Time Immemorial” Lodges and thereby help to establish the Province.

Undoubtedly there were two, if not more, “workings”, No. 9 was influenced by the Scottish ritual and there were two English, a Long and a Short version, probably emanating from the Modern and Ancient Grand Lodge respectively pre “Union”.

Devonshire was the third Province to receive a Patent from Grand Mark Lodge, Wiltshire being the first and Kent the second, however, Devonshire was the first to be inaugurated, it has worked unchanged and without interruption since the original Patent was granted ... it is therefore the Senior Province in the Grand Lodge of Mark Master Masons to this day.

In November 1862, Friendship Lodge of Mark Master Masons No. 16 T.I. obtained from the Grand Master of Mark Masons, a Warrant of Confirmation and held its first meeting under the New Constitution on 13th November 1862; it requested Brethren to attend with these instructions “All those Brethren who have been advanced to the Degree of Mark Master in the Lodge under previous workings and desire to be registered as Members under the New Constitution, are requested to attend on this occasion and produce their Certificates in order that they may be enrolled without further Ballot; to such Brethren so presenting themselves, through the Kindness of Lord Carnarvon, new Certificates will be granted at the mere cost of the parchment, but indulgence cannot be shown to any who apply at a later date than the 13th instant”.

At the end of the first ten years, the Province had fifteen Mark Lodges under its jurisdiction, all of which were numbered 100 and below. Of these, No. 29, Devon Militia Lodge, eventually ceased to function; No. 26, Pleiades, had a fire on its premises and ceased to exist, however, it was resuscitated in 1918 as No. 675; No. 9 had a gap between 1883 and 1900, when it did not meet.

A curious item from Grand Lodge is that on 28th March 1860, Loyalty Lodge was warranted to meet at Barnstable. Its first Mater being nominated as Brother Rev. J C Carwithen, Stokenham, Nr. Kingsbridge. He had been master of Loyal Craft Lodge in 1852 and was later Senior Warden of the Mark Province in 1862. Nothing further is known to this Lodge, there are no references in Barnstable or in any other Lodge records, it can only be assumed therefore that it never came into being.

Another strange feature is that Overseers were appointed at Provincial Office from the outset but not in Mark Lodge until 1872, they were titled as “Very Worshipful”. In the very early days there was no regular or annual meetings of Provincial Grand Lodge, meetings were held at the wish of the Provincial Grand Master at venues throughout the Province of Devonshire, with an occasional additional meeting to invest a new Provincial Grand Master or to permit a meeting of Grand Lodge in the Province. Such a meeting was known as a Moveable Grand Lodge, the first of which took place in Exeter in 1884. There is a full account of this faithfully recorded in the Minutes of St. George No. 15, they were the sponsors and made all the arrangements for the Grand Lodge Meeting. This meeting was followed by a banquet at the Rougemont Hotel.

The second visit of Grand Lodge to Devonshire took place on Wednesday 20th My 1908; it marked the Golden Jubilee of the Province and it was the last of the Moveable Grand Lodge meetings to take place.

Since Grand Mark Lodge decided to hold one meeting a year in the Provinces, starting in 1884, up until the practice ceased in 1908, seventeen of these Moveable Grand Lodges were held and the Province of Devonshire was the only province to be honoured by two visits ... the first and the last.

In 1891, Grand Lodge had commenced holding quarterly meetings, from 1908 onwards these were all held in London, a practice continued up until the present day.

In the case of the Royal Ark Mariner Degree, there is proof that it was practised in the mid-1700’s; there are suggestions of an earlier existence but no evidence whatsoever.

However, the degree has a more intimate association with early operative masonry than is generally realised. Among a number of suggestions for its coming into being is one that believes that it was originally a degree for carpenters and woodworkers, these being closely allied with masons and stoneworkers. There is considerable evidence in this suggestion.

In 18th Century speculative craft there are many details present in Royal Ark Masonry but which did not reappear in the Craft after the union in 1813.

Prior to the union, both the Premier Grand Lodge and the Ancients Grand Lodge were strong but relations between the two non-existent, both regarded the other as irregular and each other’s members as clandestine masons. At Lodge and individual member levels, the situation was very different and neither had any real problems with the other.

Following the union of the two, which as forced upon them, as the United Grand Lodge of England, many obstacles were put in the way of the others degrees. Final acceptance of the Mark Degree became a reality in 1856, the others, the Royal Ark Mariners Degree among them, were cast adrift and left floundering, until in 1871, Grand Mark Lodge agreed to afford its protection and set up the Grand Masters Royal Ark Council to administer the degree; an arrangement continued up until the present day. Prior to this, however, in the first known Constitution, there is a passing reference to Noah and the flood. Thereafter every Constitution contains reference to Noah, not, however, to the flood and the Ark, but to his finding the two great pillars inscribed with the seven liberal arts and sciences.

Hence, as early as the middle of the 14th Century, the Noah story was appearing in association with masonry but the flood and the Ark take a secondary place to the two great pillars found by Noah after the flood.

In Anderson’s first book of Constitution 1723, it states “Noah the fifth from Seth was commanded and directed by God to build the Great Ark which, though of wood, was fabricated by Geometry according to the Rules of Masonry”.

The Graham Constitution of 1726 states “For I hope all will allow that all things needful for the New World was in the Ark with Noah”.

Anderson’s second Book of Constitution, 1738, writes “Noachidae or Sons of Noah – the first name of Masons according to the Old Traditions”.

As neither Anderson’s 1723 edition, nor in the Bible, is there the slightest indication that the death to Hiram was of any great interest, it would appear that the Noah story was given more importance than the Hiramic Legend .. it must be remembered that in very early times, the ritual was very different from what it is today.

From about 1730 a number of new degrees made their appearance. A number of Brethren , of necessity keen ritualists, directed much energy and creative ability into fabricating new rituals and one of these was the degree of Royal Ark Mariner.

As far as can be ascertained, the Degree was compiled by an unknown author somewhere between 1760 and 1790.

Several references were made to the existence of the Degree in the statutes of the self-styled Grand Lodge of Royal Ark Mariners produced in 1871 ... which stated that a Grand Lodge was re-constituted in 1772 and the Degree had been worked in London long previously to that time.

Yet again it is claimed in the Transactions of the Manchester Association for Masonic Research that the earliest place in which it was known to have been worked was in Portsmouth in 1780 ... there is however no real proof.

The first authenticated record is dated 1790 “William Boyce took all Degrees of Ye Red Cross and Royal Ark Mariner”.
This refers to the Knights Templar Camp of Antiquity, No. 1 at Bath, making it certain that the Degree was known prior to 1790. In the Freemasons Magazine for August 1794 is written – August 16th, being the birthday of His Royal Highness the Duke of York, it was celebrated with all the honours of Masonry by the Orders of the Knights Templars resident in London, united with the Society of Ancient Masons of the Diluvian Order of Royal Ark and Mark Masons assembled at the Surrey Tavern in the Strand by summons from Thomas Dunkerley Esq, Grand Master and Grand Commander of these United Orders.
Thus it would appear that Thomas Dunkerley had assumed control of the Grand Lodge of Royal Ark Mariners and Head of these United Orders.

After his death in 1794, Lord Ratcliffe was installed Grand Master of the Knights Templars and Grand Commander of Royal Ark Mariners in 1796, Noah Sibley was appointed Deputy Grand Noah and Robert Gill as Assistant Grand Noah.

Lord Ratcliffe later issued a warrant empowering Robert Gill to grant warrants, Dispensations etc, to Regular Registered Ark Mariners “to command such vessels as are appointed and commissioned to them and approved”.

Robert Gill became a prominent Mason of his day, he was in high office in Great Priory and many priceless records were lost when his house was burned to the ground. But for this most unhappy occurrence, much more light may well have been thrown upon the early days of the Mariner Degree.

In 1790, the Grand Lodge of Royal Ark Mariners appeared to slowly wither and die.

From 1800 to 1871, sporadic attempts were made to resuscitate the Grand Lodge of Royal Ark Mariners without success.

In 1871, Grand Mark Lodge afforded the Degree its protection. All Mariner Lodges must of necessity be attached to a Mark Lodge and to bear the same number, it must use the name of its parent Mark Lodge, except in exceptional circumstances.

To be a member of the Royal Ark Mariner Degree, a candidate must first have been advanced as a Mark Master Mason.

The Ceremony in which a Brother is elevated symbolises wisdom, strength and beauty, qualities that are relevant, not only in the construction of the Ark, but also for their moral significations to the candidate as an individual.

In the late 1930’s, Brethren in the North of England, feeling that the Degree had become something of a poor relation to the Mark, suggested that some form of recognition should be accorded to Past Commanders who had given valuable service to the Degree. At the time, nothing came of it as the Second World War was soon to break out.

Since the centenary of Grand Mark Lodge in 1956, the feeling once again gained strength. There seemed little to interest Brethren once they had passed the Commanders’ Chair and it was felt that Mark Brethren in general did not seem over keen to become Royal Ark Mariners.

It was not easy to know how best to meet this desire for more recognition, the RAM had no Grand Lodge; this made any form of grade Grand Rank impracticable.

In 1967 the Mark Grand Master announced that he was to institute a new Grand Rank, somewhat on the same lines as London Grand Rank in the Craft.

Provincial and District Grand Lodges would have the power to award Royal Ark Mariner Provincial/District Rank. The first investiture was held in December 1968, when the Provincial Grand Master, his Deputy and nine Worshipful Brethren were appointed to the rank of Royal Ark Mariner Grand Rank and nineteen Worshipful Brethren were appointed to Royal Ark Mariner Provincial Grand Rank.

Thus on the 150th year of the Devonshire Mark Master Masons, there are 46 Mark Lodges and 19 Royal Ark Mariner Lodges in the Province.

  • 1857 As Provincial Grand Master, Rev John Huyshe presided over the Consecration of 13 Mark Lodges during the 16 years that he held office.
  • 1873 Lt Col John Tanner Davy, JP, presided over the Consecration of 7 Mark Lodges and 1 Royal Ark Mariner Lodge during the 14 years that he held office. Hon Sir Henry Stafford Northcote, Bt, GCIE, CB, presided over the Consecration of 2 Mark Lodges and 1 Royal Ark Mariner Lodge during the 16 years that he held office.
  • 1904 Maj George Sydney Strode Strode, OBE, DL, presided over the Consecration of 10 Mark Lodges and 5 Royal Ark Mariner Lodges during the 39 years that he held office.
  • 1944 Col Charles Beechey Spencer, OBE, TD, presided over the Consecration of 10 Mark Lodges and 2 Royal Ark Mariner Lodges during the 23 years that he held office.
  • 1966 Col Frederick Wynford Dewhurst, RM, presided over the Consecration of 1 Mark Lodge and 3 Royal Ark Mariner Lodges during the 8 years that he held office.
  • 1975 Henry Edgar Eland Holladay, BSc(Eng), presided over the Consecration of 1 Mark Lodge and 3 Royal Ark Mariner Lodges during the 8 years that he held office.
  • 1991 Dr John Horace Wickstead, PhD, DSc, FIBiol, presided over the Consecration of 2 Mark Lodges and 4 Royal Ark Mariner Lodges during the 9 years that he held office.
  • 2000 David Iwan John Owen, Provincial Grand Master for 6 years.
  • 2006 Peter Hawken, MBE, appointed Provincial Grand Master.

Follow this link to read more about each of the Provincial Grand Masters.