History of Reserve Forces Lodge

Reserve Forces Lodge of Northumbria was founded in 1897, the year of Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee, by 17 Freemasons then serving in some of the Volunteer units of Newcastle upon Tyne and Tyneside, who petitioned UGL for authority to form a new lodge for the benefit of Officers holding Commissions in Her Majesty’s Reserve Forces.  Those original Founders were :-

Major J Straker Wilson, late 3rd Volunteer Bn Northumberland Fusiliers
Capt A Falconer Ball, 1st Northumberland Volunteer Artillery
Hon Col W M Angus, 1st Northumberland Volunteer Artillery
Lt Col P Watts, 1st Northumberland Volunteer Artillery
Chaplain H Bott, Submarine Miners Volunteers
Major R F Kidd, Tynemouth Volunteer Artillery
Major W H Strachan, late 1st Northumberland Volunteer Artillery
Captain W Spicer, Tynemouth Volunteer Artillery
Captain A C Kayll, 1st Northumberland Volunteer Artillery
Lt R H Muir, 1st Northumberland Volunteer Artillery
Hon Major J Braithwaite, Tynemouth Volunteer Artillery
Surg Capt W C Beatley, 3rd Volunteer Bn Northumberland Fusiliers
Surg Lt Col A Wilson, 3rd Volunteer Bn Northumberland Fusiliers
Lt E G Cheke, Royal Artillery
Capt J Graham, 1st Northumberland Volunteer Artillery
Capt T Henderson, 3rd Durham Volunteer Artillery
Vet Capt G Elphick, Northumberland Hussars

The Warrant, dated 10th May 1897, was granted for the Victoria Commemoration (Reserve Forces) Lodge and the name was changed in 1929 to Reserve Forces Lodge of Northumbria.

The Lodge was consecrated, dedicated and constituted on 29 October 1897 at the annual meeting of the Provincial Grand Lodge of Northumberland by the then PGM the Right Honourable Sir Matthew White Ridley Bart MP (late Colonel Northumberland Hussars, who became an Honorary Member) assisted by the Deputy Provincial Grand Master Alderman Richard Henry Holmes and Officers of Provincial Grand Lodge.

Bro Major John Straker Wilson was installed by the Provincial G M in the chair of King Solomon as the first Worshipful Master of the Lodge. The first three candidates for initiation were Colonel E Downing who commanded the 3rd VBNF, Captain G J Carter, a Gunner and Captain M H Graham of the 5th VBDLI. The Right Honourable Sir Matthew White Ridley was elected the first Honorary member of the Lodge.

The By-Laws of the new Lodge were passed in December 1897 and By-Law 1 declared the name and constitution of the Lodge which read ‘The name of this Lodge is the Victoria Commemoration Reserve Forces Lodge and it consists of Officers holding commissions in Her Majesty’s Reserve Forces or such as have retired with their rank and the right to wear the prescribed uniform’. By-Law 3 allowed for Regular Officers stationed in Newcastle being admitted. By-Law 16 declared that the annual subscription be £2 2s which included dining after each regular meeting. The initiation fee was to be £6 6s. The By-Laws were to change many times during the next 100 years.

In the early days of the Lodge it met at the rooms of the Newcastle upon Tyne Lodge, No 24, but in October 1899 moved from the Central Masonic Hall to the Masonic Hall at 18 Grainger Street, Newcastle (now changed postal address to 57 Grainger Street Newcastle).

In September 1898 the new Banner of the Lodge was presented by Bro Colonel P Watts, the Junior Warden.

The Lodge was placed in Masonic mourning for 3 months on the death of H M Queen Victoria in 1901.

In 1906 W Bro Major A E Burdon, a member of the Lodge, was appointed Provincial Grand Master for Northumberland.

As may be expected, the Lodge found that during the First World War many members were away on Active Service and the business of the Lodge was often curtailed to a reading of the minutes.  The Lodge flag was kept flying by older members, some of whom held junior office in the Lodge whilst also holding senior Provincial rank. Interestingly it was only in two Masonic years of WW1, from October 1915 to April 1916 and also from October 1918 to April 1919, that there were no new members.

In March 1919 The Right Honourable G W Liddell (later Lord Ravensworth), a joining member of the Lodge, was installed Right Worshipful Grand Master of the province of Durham. It was this year too which saw the renewal of candidates for initiation and the Lodge returning to good health after the lean war years.

During this first twenty years or so the Lodge made generous donations to charity, particularly to the Royal Masonic Institute for Girls and The Royal Masonic Institute for Boys. It is interesting to note that the Lodge helped a deceased Brother’s son to complete his engineering education at the Armstrong College.

A Founder’s Jewel formerly belonging to W Bro Major J Straker Wilson, the first Master of the Lodge, was presented to the Lodge by the Deputy Provincial Grand Master in 1924 and it was decided that it should be attached to the Roll of Past Masters from which it was subsequently stolen. The sum of £60 had been spent from the Lodge funds to procure and erect such a Roll during the previous year. It was also in 1923 that W Bro Major W Spicer resigned as Treasurer after holding that office for 25 years.

1929 saw the change of name of the Lodge. Formal approval was given by the Most Worshipful The Grand Master to the change of name to ‘Reserve Forces Lodge of Northumbria’.

In 1930 a large majority of the Lodge members voted in favour of continuing with the Northumberland Past Masters Ritual rather than Emulation.

In 1935 the executors of the late WBro Colonel W M Angus CB TD presented the Lodge with the Late Colonel’s Founder’s jewel mounted on a cigarette box, which is placed before the Master at the Festive Board.

Upon the death of Bro Major J Graham in 1938, who had been an elected member of the Finance and General Purposes Committee for 41 years, his Founder’s jewel was presented to the Grand Lodge Museum.

In 1944 the Lodge lost Bro Major H. E. Burton. He was a South African War Veteran and a holder of the George Cross. He was also famous as skipper of the lifeboat at the heroic rescue of 50 people aboard the Belgian Hospital Ship “Rohilla” off Whitby during the Great War.

Reserve Forces Lodge acted as sponsor for Defendit Lodge, 6049 (consecrated in 1945), for the acceptance of those who had then served, or were then serving, in His Majesty’s forces (irrespective of rank). The majority of the original members belonged to the 11th Bn. (West Newcastle) Northumberland Home Guard who were disbanded at the end of the war.

Their Commanding Officer, Colonel A. D. S. Rogers, was installed as First Master.

The working tools for this new Lodge were presented by brethren of the Reserve Forces Lodge. We were able to maintain a relationship with our Daughter Lodge through attendance at each others Installation until Defendit closed in November 2013.

Reserve Forces Lodge does not have a great reputation for holding Ladies Nights. However, the minutes show that on our 50th anniversary such an occasion was held at The Royal Station Hotel in November 1947. It is also recorded that the Lodge made a profit on the night of £8 17s 7d! A similar occasion was held to celebrate our Diamond Jubilee in February 1958. Two further Ladies Nights were held to celebrate our 70th and 75th anniversaries.

In 1972 a past Master’s Jewel inscribed ‘Presented to W Bro Lieut Col James Woodbury Thompson VD, PM Victoria Commemoration Reserve Forces Lodge No. 2666 1908 – 1909′ was presented to the Lodge by friends of the late W Bro Thompson. It was decided that the Jewel would be worn by each succeeding IPM as a breast Jewel.

It was also in 1972 that W Bro Lieut Col E M Robinson OBE, TO, PGSWDB Deputy Provincial Grand Master died. He had been initiated into the Lodge in 1928, was Master in 1940 and was our Treasurer for many years.

The Lodge moved from Grainger Street to Neville Hall in 1976 and dined there from that date. The Lodge had previously dined firstly at The Royal Station Hotel, then at the Union Club and for a short while at The Constitutional Club.

In 1986 Bro Colonel J M E Howarth presented the Lodge with a glass goblet engraved with Masonic symbols which had belonged to his grandfather. W Bro John Bradford kindly made a suitable case in which to hold the goblet.

Bro Howarth very generously left the Lodge a legacy of £1,000 when he died. This has been used to update and extend the Past Masters’ Roll, in a matching frame in the Centenary Year 1997.

Reserve Forces Lodge has been fortunate in having many Brethren who have become distinguished Masons being honoured with high Provincial and Grand Lodge rank. Some have already been mentioned but it seems appropriate to mention just a few more.

Firstly mention must be made of WBro Major Herbert Waugh. He was elected a member of the Lodge in 1924 and celebrated his 100th birthday in August 1987. Many of us enjoyed and learnt from his long experience in the Craft. He was a distinguished Mason and had many friends in the Province and in Grand Lodge. He died in August 1992.

W Bro Major Percy Cooper was for many years the only Grand Lodge Officer in the Lodge. He joined Reserve Forces Lodge in 1947, was Master in 1956 and is a PJGD and a PPSGW. For many of us he demonstrated all the attributes of a true Mason and the Lodge benefitted from his long experience, his wisdom and lovely sense of humour.

Bro Colonel J G M Stamp was initiated back in 1936. Although he moved to the south of the country we heard from him regularly, taking a generous interest in the Lodge until his death.

W Bro Major Don Peden showed great courage over the years, attending regularly and overcoming his physical difficulties with great good humour. He was elected as our last Honorary Member in and remained in regular touch until his death in 2010.

And then there is W Bro Major John Bradford who was Master for two years in 1973 and 1974. He was of particular help to all succeeding Masters by always being willing to stand in for any task that was required even at short notice.  When problems arose with the function of the Steward, he stepped forward to be ‘Mess Secretary’, organizing the Festive Board for many years – he is sadly missed.

A pleasing feature of our Lodge membership over the years has been the number of family connections, for example, the Liddell family, the Staffords, Robinsons, Woodwards, Coopers, Woods and Herrons.

Reserve Forces Lodge entered a new chapter in it’s history in 2011 when Province decided to sell Neville Hall, creating an urgent need to find a new home which would be appropriate.

The Lodge considers itself fortunate to have been able to move to the Masonic Hall at Fern Avenue Jesmond, albeit having to change our historic meeting night.  The facilities at Fern Avenue are greatly improved, with a working lift, adequate storage facilities and dining facilities which lend themselves to Mess Life.

So often a move can be traumatic, especially when it requires changing the Regular night of meeting.  Reserve Forces Lodge has been fortunate in attracting candidates for initiation, as well as joining members, so as to increase our membership level back to that of the late 1980’s, a considerable success.

Over the last 10 years the Lodge has been rewarded by Province for it’s renewed engagement with local Masonic work.  As well as past rank, several Brethren have been given active Provincial rank.  There is a strong deputation from the Lodge at each Provincial Meeting; the Lodge has supported the NMCA Provincial Ball in increasing numbers and subscribed the second highest amount in the Province towards the last Festival.

Also in 2011 we discovered that we had another Daughter Lodge with whom contact had been lost around the time of the Second World War, Golfers Lodge, because of research they carried out for their centenary.  Her first Master had been Lt Col A C Kayall, who had been our 3rd Master in 1900 and our contact with that Lodge was successfully re-established.

In conclusion, Reserve Forces Lodge is proud of its long history and traditions. We like to think of ourselves as a non-speaking Lodge though this has been questionable on occasions. We have been criticised, or is it praised, for our ‘flying salute’ and there have been occasions when the dignity of the Ritual has been interspersed with some odd naval terminology!