A Brief History of the First 150 Years

The Russell Mark Lodge No.23 was founded on the 8th of April 1858 and is the fourth oldest Mark Lodge in the Province of Devonshire. It is a Double Keystone and a Grand Patron Lodge.

The four founders of Russell Mark Lodge had originally been advanced in the Friendship Lodge Number 16 TI. at the Lord Hood Tavern, Kings Street, Devonport, Plymouth. A copy of their advancement document of the 31st Day of August 1857 is available to this day. In this document though only three advancements are illustrated but four names recorded in the Book of Marks for the 8th of April 1858. They were:

Brother William Merrifield - a librarian. His mark wheat sheaf and according to the Warrant he was the first Master.
Brother William Elliot Hadow - a Clergyman His mark was a Saltre ingratiated he was the first Senior Warden.
Brother John Merrifield - a Schoolmaster his mark was a Pentangle he was the first Junior Warden.
Brother Joseph Matthews - an Engineer his mark was a Bulls Head Winged one can assume he was the first Secretary.

The first four and founder members of Russell Mark Lodge were Craft members in Bedford Lodge No 351 later to be renumbered 282. New members to Russell Mark Lodge now came from Bedford Lodge. Nonetheless in the period to 1863 according to the Registry of Marks, from the founding of the lodge in 1858 to 1863 a period of six years there were only 10 members. It is during this period and up to 1874 that the records available are vague. The first minutes now in the possession of the Lodge are from September 1874 onwards and again like many early Masonic records are very faint and indistinct with age due to the type of ink used in the early days.

Nonetheless from these early minutes we can see that some of the first meetings were held in the Abbey Rooms Library (referred to as the Bedford Lodge rooms) following the library foundation in 1856 through until 1894 when they moved to the Masonic Hall at 84 West Street.

The next move was to the present Masonic Hall in Pym Street following the building of the new Masonic Temple in the Autumn of 1901. At the meeting dated 11th June 1901 it was proposed by the Worshipful Master that the next meeting of the Russell Lodge be in the new Masonic Hall and permission of the Provincial Grand Secretary was obtained. At this time the Russell Lodge No.23 had a membership of forty two. The lodge has continued to the present to meet in the Masonic Hall in Pym Street.

The first meeting in the new Masonic Hall was an emergency meeting at which there were three candidates. All were Advanced.

In 1898 W. Bro Harry Skinner was proposed as Worshipful Master for the third consecutive year around the time of the Boer War. For such an appointment the permission of the Grand Master was required and obtained and a certificate to that effect was forwarded to the Lodge.

As with every historical record it is best to start at the beginning and follow on in chronological order, but as with many ancient records the anecdotal story is always nearby. A useful addition enabling us to pick out the outstanding features of the goings on in a lodge are historical terms.

For sure the Lodge was small in numbers and brief in documentation. Letters were markers to many events candidates were proposed in open lodge but only after written letter proposal to the secretary. There is no record of when this routine started and stopped.

Many meetings were emergency meetings by letter notification, but no agenda. Letters seem to have been the sole communication to members. In one case the only business recorded was to instruct the Secretary to inform the Provincial Grand Master of the date and time of the next meeting. Having no agenda it seems that this was the only way to inform brethren of date and time of regular meetings.

On the 15th September 1871 a meeting with only six members present was held. The Worshipful Master was Edward Browning who had joined on the 1st October 1866. Nonetheless the Lodge appears to have prospered as the first returns to The Grand Mark and Provincial Grand Mark Lodges dated the 31st December 1874 there were 24 members.

Aside from the brevity of documentation and limited membership the Marks were in geometric form, but as from 13th of June 1876 the marks changed to monographic form.

The documents currently in the lodge's possession are the Warrant of the Lodge which after many years exposure is very difficult to read. Nonetheless with some effort a large magnifying glass, much patience and fortitude it was recently translated, scanned and digitized to preserve the contents. The original Register of Marks book including the founders marks are as illustrated.

The membership since the foundation and up to the present day numbers 406. Mainly from the members of Bedford Lodge No.282, Loyal Victoria No.557 and Benevolence No.666.

In 1880 the first Mark Degree tracing board was believed to have been introduced in Mark Masonry and in 1894 Russell Lodge had its first tracing board which is thought to be the one behind the Junior Wardens chair in the Pym Street Masonic Hall.

In 1898 there is record of a letter sent to the lodge secretary by the Grand Secretary dated the 19th Day of October 1898 this by command of HRH The Prince of Wales KG the Most Worshipful Grand Master. Doubtless accompanied by the original Lodge Certificate or Warrant

In 1903 the lodge celebrated its Jubilee on 28th April 1903, which was followed by a six course banquet.

During the Great War of 1914-18 the lodge carried on the business of Mark Masonry. It also did the same during the 1939-45 war. However after the Great War money was very tight and a great number of members were still abroad. As a consequence the matter of arrears and finance in general became a feature in Mark Masonry in the lodges in Devonshire and in Russell Lodge in particular. This matter was also relevant after the Second World War.

In 1925 the death occurred of W. Bro Charles Wilson who was the ProvDC for a period of ten years and a member of Russell Lodge.

In 1943 the Master of Russell Lodge W Bro Symons was included in the Guard of Honor for the installation of R.W. Bro CB Spencer as Provincial Grand Master.

In 1956 the Province of Devonshire attained its centenary and W. Bro C.R. Petherick was appointed ProvJD he was of course a forebear of Past Master W. Bro R. Petherick.

In 1958 Russell Lodge No 23 and Sincerity No 35 attained their centenaries and as a compliment to these lodges the Provincial Grand Lodge met under their combined banners at the Tavistock Town Hall.

The lodge held its centenary meeting on the 11th March 1958 with W. Bro Robert Kendall as Worshipful Master. At that time the Lodge had forty one members and thirty one visitors were present including the Provincial Grand Master R. W. Bro C.B. Spencer.

Bro George Reynolds the father in law of the present Master Len Booth was the Junior Warden. Sadly there is no evidence that the lodge applied for a Centenary Warrant, although the centenary was marked with a ceremony of thanksgiving conducted by the Provincial Grand Chaplain. Our oldest Past Master W. Bro G.H. Chenhall was a Steward at that meeting.

Worshipful. Brother Len Booth is on his second stint as WM of the Lodge having already been through the chair in 1996. He has worldwide Masonic experience few can match and his status as the elder statesman of the Lodge is enhanced by his elevation to Grand Rank. Worshipful Brother LW Booth PAGDC 150th Master of the Russell Mark

The Centenary Meeting of Russell Mark Lodge No 23

The Labour of the Lodge at this meeting was as follows:

  1. To read and put for confirmation the minutes of the last regular meeting.
  2. To deal with matters arising if any.
  3. Ceremony of Thanksgiving to mark the Centenary.
  4. Installation of the Master Elect. Bro. George Henry Doidge who will appoint and invest his officers.
  5. Any other business the Worshipful Master may submit or sanction.

The Centenary Banquet was held in the Town Hall Tavistock.

By now Russell Lodge membership had grown to 75 surely a peak in the history so far. Many members were placed in the Chair of this old lodge by dispensation. But it is reassuring to note when looking through the minutes that most went on to become Masters of Lodges in the Craft. Of the one hundred and fifty masters of this lodge one W. Bro Harry Skinner was master for three consecutive years and there have been seven masters who have served two years.

It is our fervent hope that the Russell Mark Master Lodge No 23 will continue to prosper in the future. This is a wonderful degree of friendship and brings enjoyment to all its members.