The Independent Magazine for Freemasons
By: John Wade
The approach of the celebration of the Tercentenary of Grand Lodge led to a renewed interest in the history of Freemasonry in England. There had always been a degree of interest by individual Freemasons in the story of their own lodges but what now appeared was the suggestion that the stories of groups of lodges might have something to say of significance not merely at a local level but might have significance for a regional and even national understanding of the ways in which Freemasonry had developed over the three centuries.
While the most obvious units for study are either the individual lodge or the wider Province as a whole, John Wade has chosen to make an individual city the focus of his work, thus enabling him to set the story of local Freemasonry firmly into the background of the society and economic structure of one of the great cities of the North of England. The justification for not widening out to cover the whole Province is the sheer size of such an enterprise. The Province of Yorkshire, West Riding, covers such an enormous diversity of activities and such a wide geographical area that a single volume would clearly have been inadequate. As it was, the author had to go a little beyond his original intention to consider all those lodges meeting at Tapton Hall, the headquarters of Sheffield Masonry, and to include a number of lodges that are linked with Sheffield but meet at the Dore Hall in the Province of Derbyshire.
Some of the lodges included in this work are of considerable antiquity – such as Britannia Lodge No. 139, dating back to 1761 – while others are really modern – such as the Lodge of South Yorkshire No. 9633, founded in 1996. But their histories, and details of membership, throw considerable light on the way in which industries developed in the City and threw up numbers of very enterprising entrepreneurs. Collectively they shew the part played not only by individual Freemasons but also by the Craft as a whole in the development of Sheffield over a period of more than 250 years.
The core of this work is the history of the individual lodge. Thirty-eight Craft lodges were invited to produce their own stories which were then to be brought into a basic pattern, while the story had to include the four lodges which, over the years, had proved unsustainable. Unsurprisingly, not all lodges were equally responsive in providing the information required, so that the editor found himself involved in rather more of the work than he had originally envisaged. But in addition, it fell to the editor to draw several significant conclusions, such as demographic analyses of a number of lodges, a compilation of Sheffield civic worthies who had been associated with Freemasonry, or the extent of the connection of Freemasonry in Sheffield with Clergy and the Church. Not least was the link with various charities, and the decision to devote all the profits of the book to two local charities – Cavendish Cancer Care in Sheffield and the Organ Restoration Fund at the Chesterfield Parish Church.
But in addition to covering Sheffield and its Freemasons since 1761, the book deals with the various meeting places of the Sheffield lodges, the Library and Museum at Tapton Hall, and the significant collection of portraits now also preserved at Tapton Hall. It even deals with what some may consider the very tendentious topic of Women’s lodges.
Much still remains to be the subject of a second volume. John Wade alludes to the various other Orders and Degrees that form part of English Freemasonry without going into detail, especially the extent to which individual Freemasons who had progressed to the headship of their lodges then sought fresh fields of endeavour. How far, for instance, did the Masonic career of the Prince of Wales, later Edward VII, who interested himself in and became head of virtually all these Orders, have an impact upon the would-be socially mobile leaders of local Freemasonry and brought them to emulate him?
In the meantime, this first volume has been such a success that a second printing has been required. Further details may be obtained from John Wade at Sheffield Masonic Press, Hallamshire College Library, Tapton Hall, Shore Lane, Sheffield S10 3BU where orders for copies can also be placed.
Review: Aubrey Newman PM Quatuour Coronati Lodge No. 2706 (EC)
Sheffield Masonic Press
(Available from Lewis Masonic)