History of Lodge St James No.123

NOTES ON THE HISTORY OF
LODGE ST. JAMES, BRECHIN, No. 123.

(Written in 1913 By Bro The Rev Dr Coats of Brechin Cathedral who was Lodge Chaplain at that time)

 

No writtendocuments record the introduction of Freemasonry into the Ancient City of Brechin. There are those who would trace it to the earliest Missionaries of Christian civilization in our native land.
Such was the speaker at a Festival of St. John, whose views were afterwards expressed in pithy verse by the late Brother Alexander Annandale, of happy memory.

"St. Ninian brought Masonic licht
Tae Scotland, fan as dark as nicht—
He made it clear in ages dark
They biggit Scotland's first stein Kirk;
An, aifter that, ye may be sure,
They biggit Brechin's Auld Roond Tooer."

Certainly the venerable Buildings, which are the glory of the Ancient City, bear conclusive evidence that the Masonic Art was practised from a very remote period of its history. On the Round Tower, which competent judges assign to a date not later than the year 1000, and on very many of the stones in the Square Tower and the ancient part of the Cathedral, there are marks, the significance of which no Master Mason can mistake. If the marks on the Round Tower (which are mentioned in Laurie's History of Freemasonry as the most distinct now extant) were inscribed when the Tower itself was built, we may perhaps claim for Brechin that it possesses the earliest traces of Masonic practice in Scotland. Even if we hesitate to put it so high, and assign them to the period at which the Cap was added to the Tower, we can still allege a more than respectable antiquity for the Craft in Brechin, for we know that work was executed about the middle of the fourteenth century. The marks on the walls of the Cathedral were undoubtedly made when the edifice was built, and there is reason to believe that this carries us back at least another hundred years to a date not so much later than that assigned to the famous Lodge of Kilwinning, which is the Mother of us all.

The first written records of Masonry in Brechin, so far as we know at Present, belong to the year 1714, and are in possession of Lodge St. Ninian No.66, whose office-bearers have most courteously placed them at the disposal of this compiler of these Notes. On the 27th day of December in that year, "being the Anniversary of the Holy Apostle St. John," certain Ordinances and Acts ware unanimously agreed to by "the haill members of the Mason Craft of the Mason Lodge of Brechin, now called St. Ninian's Lodge of the said Burgh."

Certain abuses had been committed by several members of the Lodge witnessing the entry of certain persons in country and obscure places. To remedy this evil, it was enacted that no member should witness the passing or raising of any member, unless the same were done in a regular manner within the Burgh of Brechin, and that the entry of all Handicraft Prentices be reserved to St. John's Day yearly.

This rule was made at a meeting of the Council, and "several others of the members of the Mason Trade"; an expression which recurs several times about this period, as if to emphasise the fact that the Lodge was primarily one of operative masons.

All this time, the Master of the Lodge was John Spence, Town Clerk of Brechin. On St. John's Day 1743, John Oakenhead, "Merchant and Mason in Brechin," was appointed in his room. There were several Oakenheads among the office-bearers of the Lodge at this period, and it is interesting to notice that the name, Isabell Oakenhead, may still be read on a house in River Street, conjoined with that of James Eaton, presumably her husband, in the year 1765. There was a James Eaton, in Nether Tenements of Caldhame, among the entered Apprentices who were appointed in 1743, "only to give their advice, but had not a decisive voice in the management of the Common Stock." One of those named for the same purpose is noted as "from the Lodge of Fordoun." It is not easy to clear up the relations between these two Lodges. In 1740, the Depute Master of "The Right Worshipful the United Lodges of the Holy Apostle St. John, Brechin and Fordoun," appeared at a meeting of the Brechin Lodge, and intimated that by the powers given him by the Lodge of Brechin and their Grand Master, he had admitted certain persons, who were there and then admitted to all the privileges of the Lodge. It appears that the Lodge at Fordoun was a sort of branch of that at Brechin.

John Oakenhead continued Master for two years. In 1745, that great year in Scottish History, John Spence, Commissary of Brechin, was again placed in the chair. There is no trace in the records of the stirring events that were then taking place, but tradition asserts that they left a lasting mark on the history of the Lodge; When H.R.H, the Duke of Cumberland (who had been initiated in 1743) visited Brechin in 1746, it is said that there was trouble among the Brethren because some of their number went to wait on him. We may suppose that John Spence, being an official of the City, was on the side of King George. We do not know the political opinions of the other brethren of the Lodge, but David Ferrier, who signs his name in &singularly clear and educated hand, may have been the gentleman of that name, tenant of Unthank, and merchant in Brechin, who held a commission in Prince Charlie's army, and was appointed Deputy Governor of Brechin in the Stuart interest. The Earl of Kilmarnock, who had been Grand Master of Scotland in 1742, threw in his lot with Prince Charlie, and laid down his life on Tower Hill for the cause. We cannot doubt that many of the Brethren in Brechin were like minded, and disposed to resent any deference paid to the son and representative of King George; but, whatever the feelings engendered in 1746, they have left no trace on the records. John Spence continued to be re-elected Master down to 1752. Then the storm burst. We cannot presume, after 160 years, to decide on the merits. We may be content to assume that there were probably faults on both sides. We rejoice that the representatives of the parties are now living in peace and brotherhood.

On the 2nd of December 1753, John Spence presided at a Meeting of Council which took into consideration the fact that Alexander Wood, a member of the Lodge, and "some others, his accomplices," had illegally called a Meeting with­out advising him, and without his consent, and therefore fined them five pounds. Mr. Spence's signature to this minute, seems to bear signs of the passion that probably moved him as he wrote. An unknown hand warns all readers of the ancient record, that being made without consent, it is null and void. The next page contains a narrative, in usual form, of a meeting on St. John's Day, four days later, at which Alexander Wood, Mason in Brechin, was of new chosen Master, Mr. Spence, however, being named a Member of Council.

Perhaps we may gather something of the causes of this resolution from the minute which records the subsequent proceedings on that memorable 27th December 1753. It was enacted and ordained that in all times thereafter, no Master nor Warden of the Lodge should continue in office more than two years, and that at the expiration of that term "these several offices shall Vaike, any former custom of this Lodge to the contrary notwithstanding," and further, none shall be admitted a member of this Lodge who is not an actual mason by trade under the sum of Six Pounds Scots, besides Three Pounds for entertainment, Freemen's Sons and Prentices excepted. Among the signatures attached to this statute that of Mr. Spence does not appear. It was evidently aimed at him and others of his party. He had continued too long in office, and he was a lawyer. The Lodge was to be, in the first place, a Lodge of actual masons by trade, and others could only be admitted on a different footing.

From the records now in possession of St. Ninian's Lodge, it appears that Mr. Spence and those who agreed with him, lost no time in asserting their claim to represent the ancient Mason Lodge of Brechin. On that very 27th of December 1753 they met, and made choice of office-bearers, Mr, Spence himself being Master, at the same time administering the Mason Word to certain persons who are named. From that day there have been two Masonic Lodges in Brechin.

It is a remarkable fact that up to 1756 the Masons of the Ancient City do not seem to have claimed the patronage of any Saint but John the Evangelist. In that year, being three years after the separation, quite suddenly both Lodges assume in their records the name and style of St. Ninian's. At this point, we take our leave of that which continues worthily to bear the name at the present day, again acknowledging the brotherly kindness and courtesy of its present representatives, and wishing it all good and success in the work which faithful Masons have at heart.

The first record, so far as known, of the Lodge now called St. James 123, in its separate state, is dated 27th December 1756. Since 1753, we may pre­sume it had been meeting, but no documents are known to exist showing what happened in these years. On St. John's Day 1756 there met John Spence, Commissary of Brechin, John Finlay, Merchant there, James Doig, Merchant there, James Carnegie, surgeon there, Alex. Wyllie, Writer there, John Hunter, Mason there, James Spied, Weaver there, James  Hill, Tailor there, James Millar, Junior, Shoemaker there, John Knox, Glover there, "All members of the Mason Lodge of Brechin, now called St Ninian’s Lodge of the said Burgh.”

The rehearsal of the callings of those thus convened—only one mason among them—seems almost like a studied counterblast to the claims of "actual masons by trade." The Brethren assembled go on to say they are well informed that certain persons, sometime members of the same Lodge with them, have this day proceeded to the election of a Master and office-bearers, contrary to the fund­amental statutes thereof, and particularly without acquainting them with the time and place of election. Therefore they decide to separate and proceed to elect a Master and office-bearers for the year. The Master chosen was Mr. James Carnegie, the Surgeon, but John Hunter, the Mason (he had re-built the Cross of Brechin in 1734) was appointed Warden, as if to show that the Lodge was not entirely composed of merely speculative Craftsmen.

In 1761, John Spence, Commissary, resumed his old place as Master of the Lodge, and for several years there is little of special interest to record. Among the Brethren there seem to have been several men of standing, such as James Inverarity, Hospital Master (whose name appears with the date 1750 on a house in Bridge Street), James Hill, late Deacon of the Tailors, David Millar, late Deacon of the Shoemakers, and Robert Langlands, late Convener of the Trades. In 1768 the name "St. Ninian's" appears for the last time. In 1769, it is simply "The Mason Lodge of Brechin." Probably negotiations were proceeding which rendered it inexpedient to claim a title borne by another Lodge. On St. Andrew's Day 1770, there was produced a Charter of Constitution and Erection from the Grand Lodge of Scotland, bearing date at Edinburgh, the 13th November, constituting and erecting the Lodge into a Regular Lodge by style and title of St. James's Lodge in Brechin. The Brethren appointed to office under this Charter were those on whose petition it had been granted, viz.:— John Spence, Master, James Millar and John Spence Junior, Wardens, Robert Hodge, Treasurer, and Alexander Strachan, Secretary. The Charter bore no number. In was only in 1800, thirty years later, that Grand Lodge informed its Members that it was number 162. It was subsequently altered to 122, and later to its present number, so easy for its sons to remember, 123.

Doubtless the granting of this Charter gave an impetus to Freemasonry in Brechin. Immediately after, we find new Members flocking into the Lodge. But old John Spence apparently felt that his work was done. He was ready to say Nunc dimitiis. On St. Andrew's Day 1771, the year after the Charter, John Spence, Junior, is chosen Master and reigns in his father's stead. New names begin to appear among the Members, notably that of Colin Gillies, whose family furnished other worthy Masons to the Lodge, and public-spirited Citizens to the community of Brechin. In 1774, Henry William Tytler, surgeon in Brechin, was admitted—a well-known man in the city for many years, a great classical scholar as well as a medical practitioner. His brother, James, is famous as the first man in Scotland who attempted to go up in a balloon of his own construction. From time to time honorary members were admitted—for instance, the Earl of Kintore in 1779, and Mr Skene of Skene in 1781.

The day of Mr Skene's admission, 25th July, St. James's Day, 1781, was a notable one in our history. On it was laid the foundation stone of the new Lodge. Singularly enough, the records contain no account of the steps that led up to it. The following page is left blank, as if for a narrative of the proceedings on that memorable occasion. But somehow it was never written. Perhaps, like other enterprises of great pith and moment, it was put off to a more convenient season, when justice could be done to it. But we may be sure the Merry Masons of Brechin celebrated the day in suitable fashion. It does not appear where they had been in the habit of meeting. Tradition points to a house in High Street near Liddle's Close. They had now the satisfaction of gathering in a Lodge built for themselves. But such luxuries are not acquired or main­tained without expense, and, on St. John's Day, 1781, it was agreed that for the purpose of paying the interest on the money borrowed for building the Lodge and extinguishing the principal as far as might be, each Brother should pay in quarterly, - threepence, making one shilling per annum, beginning on the 1st of February, 1782.

Among the members admitted in that year, 1782, was one, of whom the Lodge had in later years reason to be proud—Adam Gillies, afterwards Lord Gillies in the Court of Session. On New Year Day, 1783, he was passed and raised on the ground that he was soon to leave the place, doubtless to take up residence in Edinburgh. He was proxy for St. James's in Grand Lodge in 1801. Other notable initiations in 1783 are Mr. William Gourlay, Preacher of the Gospel, apparently the first of his cloth to be enrolled among her sons (as yet the Lodge had no Chaplain), and Lieutenant Thomas Molison, of His Majesty's Marine Forces, who afterwards appears in the lists under the title of "Provost." In the same year there was passed a solemn sentence of expulsion upon a brother who had shamefully forfeited all title to the Craft, Orders were given to advertise the fact in one of the Edinburgh News­papers and in handbills to be distributed warning all men and Masons to avoid such a character. Four days after the offender confessed his fault (whatever it was) and promised amendment, on which the former resolution was unanimously reversed. Many years after his name appears as that of a worthy Brother of the Lodge, so we may hope his error was not very serious after all.

In 1785, a state of the Lodge account was laid before a meeting of the Brethren, from which it appeared that the New Lodge had cost £259 2s. sd., and there remained only £140 of debt. On this the Brethren congratulated themselves with much complacency, remarking that "the flourishing state of the Lodge will fully appear when it is considered the Brethren, from the building executed, are not only conveniently but elegantly accommodated," and that besides they draw a yearly rent of £6for the Lodge from Mr. Colin Smith. Some of the entries relating to the letting of the Lodge afford interesting glimpses of-the social state of the city at the time. In 1785, it was given to the subscribers to the Brechin Assemblies, and at the same meeting the thanks of the Lodge are tendered to Mr. Malcolm Dalmahoy, of Edinburgh, for his disinterested and gentlemanly tender and execution of a most handsome painting. As the name of Robert Dalmahoy, Merchant in Brechin, occurs among the office-bearers of this period, we may suppose the artist had a family connection with the Lodge and city.

In 1791 an old trouble re-appeared. There had been irregularities, which led to a resolution that in future all passings and raisings should be gone about in the Lodge, and that by a meeting called on proper advertisement, which is, indeed, the only way of preventing gross abuses and the admission of unfit persons to the fraternity. In 1792, another old question emerged once more,, and it was resolved that in time coming no officer should be capable of being elected for more than two years successively, and that the elections should be by ballot. At a later meeting, however, the Brethren changed their minds about the ballot, and resolved to stick to open voting. The record of entries at this time is interesting as showing the extent to which Masonry was taking hold of the country about the end of the eighteenth century. In 1792, Viscount Arbuthnott was admitted an honorary member of the Lodge.

At the next meeting a Lieutenant in His Majesty's Navy was entered, passed, and raised. Among those who joined in the immediately succeeding years we find vintners, wrights, a tailor, merchants, hairdressers, manufacturers, a butcher, an officer of the Frazer Fencibles, and a farmer. All sorts were represented in the Lodge, and it is pleasing to find that while they thus upheld the principle of Masonry which teaches men to meet on the level, they were not forgetful of the duty of universal benevolence for which our Order is a witness in the world. In 1796 it was represented that the public bodies in town had resolved to establish a fund for the purchase of meal to be distributed to the poor in this time of scarcity at or under price. Our Lodge promptly ordered five guineas to be paid to the treasurer of the fund. Unfortunately, however; it was hot very long till the Lodge had to be reminded that while charity should begin at home it must not end there.

On St. Andrew's Day, 1796, the attention of the Brethren was called to a remonstrance from Grand Lodge regarding the deficiency of their contribu­tions to the funds for the relief of indigent Brethren, their widows, and children. In reply, they frankly acknowledged the fact and expressed regret, but explained that many years before a heavy debt had been incurred in the building of a Lodge, which cost upwards of £400. This is considerably more than the sum stated on a previous page of the records, and it would seem there must have been some serious miscalculation. The Lodge, however, pointed out that the building had been carried out, not only for the better accommodation of the Brethren of St. James's, but for the promotion of Masonry in general. They forwarded a contribution of Ten Guineas and promised amendment in the future. In reply, Grand Lodge pointed out that the last remittance received had been in 1774, but they accepted the sum which St. James's proposed, and so the matter ended amicably.

On St. John's Day, 1796, St James's thanked Grand Lodge for abating its demands, and the accounts show that on that day three shillings and sixpence were expended on a tar barrel, five shillings and twopence for a deputation's punch, and seven shillings on illuminations from which we may conclude that the settlement of the difficulty was fitly celebrated by the brethren on their Festival Day.

It appears from the correspondence which passed on this occasion that, at the beginning of 1797, there were 109 Members entered in St. James's Lodge. Oh St John's Day, 1798, a communication was received from Grand Lodge respecting the erection of a Freemasons' Hall for their accommodation In Edinburgh, and it was unanimously agreed to give ten pounds for that purpose, and a contribution of the same amount for a similar purpose was voted again in. 1806. About 1799, a special duty fell upon the Grand Lodge of Scotland. The country was in an unsettled condition, and Parliament passed an Act for the suppression of seditious and treasonable Societies. It does not need to be said that Freemasonry inculcates loyalty to the civil government, and therefore it was specially excepted from the operation of the Clauses of the Act, which forbade any oath, test or declaration not authorised by law. But in order to obtain the benefit of this exemption it was necessary that certain declarations should be made on behalf of each Lodge in the country, and Grand Lodge sent down instructions to St. James's, among others, and in due time a certificate that it was folly qualified and authorised to meet for the purposes of Freemasonry, none daring to make It afraid. It is an interesting fact that the first to enter the Lodge after this attestation of its attachment to the King and Constitution was a gallant officer in His Majesty's service, Lieut. Andrew Will, of the Angus-shire Fencibles. A Memorial Tablet in the North wall of the Cathedral Choir records his further services in the 92nd Regiment Wounded in the Peninsular War, he took part in the actions of Quatre Bras and Waterloo, but fell at last a victim to the climate of Jamaica.

In 1801, the Lodge received an Honorary Member, who was destined after-wards to become famous, the Hon. William Maule, of Panmure, Provincial Grand Master of the district It was the beginning of a connection between St James's and the family of Brechin Castle, which has continued to the present day. In the following year there was admitted the Hon. Captain John Ramsay, of the 92nd Regiment of Foot, a member of the Lodge of Andilusia, Gibraltar the great grandfather of the present Master of the Lodge.

In 1804, St. James's received a warning from Grand Lodge against a society of persons of some respectability in life, in a town not many miles distant from Edinburgh, who had obtained possession of certain pamphlets pretending to enable them to obtain admission to regular Lodges, and made bets that they would do so. Special precautions were to be taken against such impostors, but it does not appear that any of them attempted to intrude on the meetings of St. James's.

In 1811, a proposal was made that the Lodge should be sanctioned as a Friendly Society and the matter was considered so important that intimation of the meeting on St. John's Day was made in the Montrose and Dundee newspapers. It was unanimously agreed by the Brethren, with the exception of Brother David Dakers, that it was expedient to establish a Friendly Society, but without departing from the other objects of Freemasonry. Regulations for the Society were accordingly drawn up, the first of which provided for the election of office-bearers on St Andrew's Day every year. After the election, the Festival of St Andrew was to be "held and be spent in convivial and rational enjoyments," and the harmony of the meeting was not to be disturbed by debates, or disputed points, on any pretence whatever. Stewards were to be appointed to examine claims and visit the sick, and careful provision was made for the order and decorum of the meetings and for the preservation of a good character by all the members of the Society. It is worthy of note that several members of St Ninian's Lodge joined St James's soon after the institution of the Society.

In 1814, St James's had some correspondence with Grand Lodge on the old subject of the payment of dues, and showed itself quite able to hold its own " It regrets the raising of the Intrants' dues, as their funds, have enough to do with their own poor, and we beg leave to observe that the: necessity for the annual certificates may now be considered as obsolete, as times are now changed, and seditious societies are no longer heard of." These funds, as before, were in part derived from the letting of the Lodge, and again we can see a little of the life of the city reflected in the accounts. In 1814 there were comedians and a giant to delight the inhabitants. In 1815, Brechin Musical Society had the Room for a rent of ten shillings. In 1817, it was considered necessary that strolling players or others wishing the use of the Lodge should pay rent in advance—which tells a tale. They were cautious people, the Brethren in that year. When an attempt was made by Lodge Old St. John's, Lanark, to draw them into a dispute which it had with Grand Lodge, the Brechiners declined to commit themselves to either party, perhaps remembering that—

"Those who in quarrels interpose
Must often wipe a bloody nose."

The letting of the Lodge Room was not without its inconveniences. In 1818 it \vas occupied by St. Paul's Wright Society, when certain candidates appeared for admission. An adjournment was made to another place of meeting, but one scrupulous member protested and complained to a subsequent meeting that the proceedings were irregular. His complaint, however, was disallowed, and he forfeited five shillings for having brought it in 1820, the Lodge was let for a Reading Room to "the Subscribers for Newspapers to be read in Brechin," but they gave it up two years later. An application for the use of the Lodge for the Exhibition of Waxworks for a month, to the exclusion of all other Meetings, was sternly refused. Brechin must have been a gay place when George IV was King.

On St. John's Day, 1829, a Committee was appointed to consider a recent Act of Parliament regarding Friendly Societies, and to revise the Rules and Regulations. Unfortunately the proceedings of that Meeting do not seem to have been altogether harmonious, as it was resolved at next Meeting to make inquiry regarding a disturbance that had taken place; and ultimately two Brethren (one of them the man who had made the frivolous complaint on a previous occasion) were dealt with somewhat severely. On St John's Day, 1830, it was resolved by a majority to continue the Society, but evidently there was some dissatisfaction, for in 1832 the matter was again brought up, when 152 voted for dissolution and 73 against, but as the legal majority of three-fourths was wanting, the question was abandoned.

On St. Andrew's Day, 1835, the Lodge, after agreeing "to meet on St. John's Day at six O'clock evening for enjoying themselves," appointed a Committee for the purpose of getting the Lodge lighted up with gas. The following year it was unanimously agreed to celebrate St. John's Day in the house of Brother Walker, the Lodge being let to Mr Wynne, comedian, as a theatre. The Brethren considerately made this arrangement, as it would be productive of great inconvenience to him if he were obliged to remove his scenery. It is written in the History of Brechin by David Dakers Black (who was Master in 1830-31) that at the time of the Coronation of Queen Victoria a "Fantoccini Theatre," with marionettes, was in the Masonic Lodge. A fraternity which has contributed so frequently to the gaiety of the community in the past may appeal with confidence to the support of the present generation, although more commodious halls are now open for larger public meetings and entertainments in the city.

The Coronation Day of Queen Victoria, 28th June 1838, was indeed a great occasion in the history of Lodge St. James. The Foundation Stone of the "New Seminaries of Education," the building now known as the Mechanics' Hall, was laid by the R.W.M., Brother James Laing, In preparation for the great event, the Lodge provided itself with a functionary who does not seem to 'have been previously recognised within its walls. The Rev. Robert Inglis of St. Andrew's Lodge, Lochlee, was admitted an Honorary Member and appointed Chaplain on 22nd June, none of the Clergy of the City apparently being Free­masons. After a procession through the principal streets, the Stone was duly laid in presence of a great concourse of spectators. Probably the Craft had never been so much in evidence in the Ancient City before. But the services rendered by St. James's Lodge to the cause of Education were not of a merely ceremonial character. In 1839, its premises were let to the Town Council for a Burgh School, and again in 1840, to Miss M. Sime for a Day School. The Brethren have ever been ready to come to the aid of any movement for the good of the people of Brechin.

It cannot be said, however, that these early years of the reign of good Queen Victoria were marked by any increase in the prosperity of the Lodge. In 1846, it was considered advisable to appoint a Committee to enquire into the state of the funds and the working of the Rules adopted in 1831. The Report presented at the end of 1847, showed that whereas there were 125 Members on the books when the Regulations came into force, there were only 59 at the end of 1846, and only six new Members had been admitted in fifteen years. While the funds had not decreased in that period, the increase was only trifling, and for several years there had been a downward tendency which was likely to continue. That year 1847 was indeed a sad one for the Lodge. The R.W.M., Brother John Ruxton, a man held in high estimation for his personal qualities and Masonic virtues, died while holding office. By a strange coincidence Brother Alexander Strachan who succeeded him on St. Andrew's Day, died in 1860, while occupying the Master's Chair for a subsequent term. He was, according to the historian of Brechin, a man universally beloved.

In 1852 there passed away a Brother of the Lodge, who held a very high place in the Masonic world—the Right Honourable Lord Panmure, Provincial Grand Master of Forfarshire. The Brethren entered on their Records an expression of their appreciation of his services to the Craft, and sent a deputation to attend his public funeral as their representatives. A portrait of Lord Panmure, presented by Brother Jervise, the famous antiquarian, and no mean artist, in 1846, still hangs in the Lodge Room.

The short and simple annals of St. James's record few even of permanent interest during the latter half of the nineteenth century. In 1859, the R.W.M. laid the foundation stone of the Tenements School. In 1861, the Lodge took part in an undertaking of national importance by sending a deputation to the laying of the foundation of the Wallace Monument on the Abbey Craig, near Stirling. On the 10th of March, 1863, the Brethren walked along with "the Magistrates and Town Council, the other public bodies of the town and the inhabitants generally in a large and numerous procession formed in honour of the celebration of the marriage of the Prince of Wales with the Princess Alexandra of Denmark; after which the Lodge returned to their Hall and celebrated the occasion by drinking to the health of the Royal couple and the other usual loyal toasts." It would be interesting to know how many of those who drank these toasts fifty years ago survive to-day. Before the end of 1863, Brother James Jolly, the Treasurer, died in office, and in the beginning of 1865 his successor, Brother James Hampton, had followed him.

On 1st May 1866, the Lodge appointed the Rev. Valentine Grantham Faithful, of Lodge St. Luke, No. 44, to be their representative in the Grand Lodge of Scotland. It is interesting to note that at this time the Lodge was without a Chaplain, the only occupant of that office, so far as the records show, having been Mr Inglis, appointed in 1838. In 1866, the Rev. James Crabb, of the Episcopal Church, Brechin, was elected, and he continued for many years to fulfil the duties of Chaplain in Lodge St. James. Many of the people of Brechin still cherish his memory. Mr. Crabb preached an eloquent sermon to the Brethren (who were accompanied by the Members of St. Ninian's) on the evening of St. John's Day, apparently the first service of the kind in the Lodge's history, and the occasion was fitly marked by Brother William Johnston presenting St. James's with a handsome new Bible. On 4th May 1867, the Lodge took part in a ceremony of great interest to the people of Brechin, the laying of the foundation stone of Brechin Infirmary by the Provincial Grand Master, the Earl of Dalhousie. No institution can be more deserving of support from a Society which inculcates universal benevolence, relief, and charity, and it is gratifying to note that the concourse of the Craft was so great that it was necessary to secure the Mechanics' Institution to accommodate the Brethren assembled on the occasion. On 28th September of the same year, the Brethren of the Lodge were again assembled to take part in the opening of the Public Park by the Provincial Grand Master.

In 1869, the Earl of Dalhousie was installed for the second time as Grand Master of Scotland, and the Lodge resolved to send a deputation to represent them on that occasion. On their return the deputation reported that due honour had been paid to the Lodge, and suitably acknowledged. Few country Lodges, indeed, have more to be proud of in their relations with the Grand Lodge of Scotland during the last half-century.

It will be remembered that in 1811, the Lodge was sanctioned as a Friendly Society, and that at a later date a proposal to dissolve it just failed to find a legal majority. Nothing seems to have been heard of this proposal again for many years, but on St John's Day, 1871, the accounts showed such a serious deficiency that a Committee was appointed to consider what should be done. The Committee recommended the reduction of allowances, and on 6th April 1872, a Special Meeting of the Members of the Society was held to go into matters more fully. It was then resolved that the property containing the Society's Hall should be sold at the price of £165,according to valuation, but as the Hall did not originally belong to the Friendly Society, but to St. James's Lodge of Masons, fraternising together on purely Masonic Principles, and was made over to the Friendly Society in a manner not truly Masonic, an opportunity should be given to St. James's Lodge to resume their property. It was further resolved that a Committee be appointed to sell the Hall to St. James's Lodge within three months at the price of £165.

The year 1872, brought several serious losses to the Lodge. Brother Alexander Durie, D.M., died in office. He was soon followed by Brother John Smith, the Officer of the Lodge for over 41 years, to whom the Brethren have raised an appropriate Memorial in the Old Churchyard, at the north-east corner of the Cathedral. It may be noted that several of the older stones in the Kirk-yard bear emblems of the Masonic Craft, but whether the inhabitants below were actually Brethren of the Ancient Order, it isnot easy to say. In 1872, Brother the Rev. James Crabb, resigned the Office of Chaplain, and as there was no clerical member of the Lodge at the moment ready to succeed him, his place was filled by a lay Brother of St. James's. In 1874, the Earl of Dalhousie, still remembered as "Fox Maule," Fast Grand Master of Scotland, died, and in 1876, the eldest son of his successor, then Lord Ramsay, was installed as Provincial Grand Master of Forfarshire. Presently we find him evincing his interest in St. James's by presenting a portrait of Past Master Wm. Shiress, at a great meeting in the Mechanics' Hall. Mr. Shiress, after thanking the Brethren for the kindness extended to him for over 50 years, requested that the portrait should be hung in their Hall. In 1877, an application from St. Ninian's Lodge for the use of St. James's Lodge was granted—a pleasing indication of the fraternal feelings prevailing among the Members of the Craft in Brechin.

In January 1878, it was resolved that a Fund of Benevolence be established in connection with the Lodge, thus setting free the ordinary income of the Lodge for Lodge purposes only, and a Committee was afterwards appointed to draw up regulations. "This Fund has been established in accordance with, and in furtherance of, the fundamental principle of Freemasonry, that Charity which is, or ought to be, the distinguishing characteristic of every Freemason's heart, which has the approbation of heaven and earth, and, like its sister Mercy, Blesseth him who gives, as well as him who receives." So the Brethren recorded their purpose, and it is in accordance with the sentiment thus expressed that they resolved "subscriptions to the Fund shall be purely voluntary, as charity ceases to deserve the name when exercised otherwise than with a free and willing mind, and from pure and benevolent motives:" It is a pleasant reflection that the fund has been the means of doing much good in a quiet way during the thirty-five years since its foundation.

The Master of the Lodge at this time was Brother Thomas Picken, whose enthusiasm for the Craft, and for St James's Lodge in particular, must have done much to inspire his Brethren with zeal for the cause. In the year 1885, when filling the office of Depute Master, he delivered an address on Freemasonry, the general scope of which was to present Masonry in its true light as a symbolical system of morality; to show that it is founded on sound scriptural principles, applicable to all creeds and nationalities, and that, if carried out in its full integrity, it would form a not unimportant factor in the moral improvement of mankind. In 1886, Brother Picken intimated that he had composed a song warmly commended, and, on the motion of the Master, ordered to be printed for circulation among the Brethren. The following are the words of the song, and, although lapse of time has taken the point from some of the topical allusions, the sentiment and humour will be appreciated by another generation of Masons.

No.   123.
TUN E—" King of the Cannibal Islands?
There's ne'er a Lodge o' a' the lot,
Frae Maidenkirk to John O'Groat,
Can boast a number such as we—
The handy symbol, I, 2, 3:
It comes so glib, it runs so clair,
No other can with it compare;
It soars not high, it sinks not low,
But takes a middle place, or so.
chorus—Our Mither's age is 1, 2, 3;
It reads as plain as A, B, C.
Then let us meet and sing with glee,
As free and accepted Masons.

St. James our patron Saint is named,
A man both learned, grave, and famed ;
True pattern he, as all agree,
To Masons such as 1, 2, 3.
For over a hundred years or more,
This Lodge has studied Masonic lore ;
And now, in 1886,
Have learned the art their stones to fix.
chorus—Our Mither's age is 1, 2, 3.
&c.

Our Lodge's colours are pale sky-blue—
Emblem of all that's good and true;
So, therefore, let us strive to do
Our duty as men, and Masons too.
Let's love the true, and do the right;
Do battle for right against the might;
Assist the poor, and cheer the heart
Of all who act the Mason's part.
chorus—Our Mither's age is 1, 2, 3.
&c.


When round the festive board we sit,
Enlivened with jocund mirth and wit,
With quips and cranks, and joke and fun,
The evening's past ere well begun.
The toast goes round with merry art,
Happy to meet and sorry to part;
The festal song is brought in play,
The Brethren's joy none may gainsay.

chorus—Our Mither's age is 1, 2, 3.
&c.

One parting word, "ye Sons of Light,"
Presided over by Brother Whyte:—
Your Mother Lodge revere and serve;
From Masonry's principles never swerve;
The Bible true your faith must guide,
That from virtue's path you ne:er may slide;
Due bounds the Compasses will tell,
The Square must square your actions well.

chorus—Our Mither's age is 1, 2, 3.
&c.

 

In 1886, the Brethren agreed, on the invitation of Brother Crabb (who had resumed the duties of Chaplain), to join in the procession at the laying of the Foundation Stone of St. Andrew's Episcopal Church, provided a sufficient number of names were given in. On 1st December 1887 a Funeral Lodge Service was held as a tribute to the memory of the Earl of Dalhousie, whose death had taken place in circumstances peculiarly sad and solemn. In 1891 Brechin witnessed a striking Masonic Ceremonial in the laying of the Foundation Stone of the Public Library by the P.G.M. of Forfarshire, and the Brethren entered on their Records an expression of their sense of the graceful conduct of the Provincial Grand Lodge in delegating a share of their honourable functions equally between Lodges St. Ninian and St. James. In 1893 the Honourable Charles Maule Ramsay, who was then resident at Brechin Castle, was initiated into the First Degree. Mr. Ramsay subsequently attained the highest place in Scottish Freemasonry, and St. James's will always be proud to claim him as one of her sons. The same year witnessed the initiation of Brother Alexander Annandale, afterwards Provost of the City and R.W.M. of the Lodge. Early in 1894 there passed from the world Brother Picken, one of the oldest and most enthusiastic Masons in Scotland, whose portrait hanging in the Lodge-Room, will long present his likeness in his habit as he lived, while a stone over his grave preserves his memory. Another event in 1894 was the initiation at the same Meeting of Brother W. M. Vallentine, Provost of the City, and the Rev. J. A. Clark, Minister of the First Charge. Later in the same year, a choir was raised by the Director of Music, Brother W. C. Christie, who did much to improve the rendering of the Masonic ritual in Lodge St. James.

A very memorable event in the history of the Lodge was the visit of the M.W. The Grand Master Mason of Scotland, Brother Sir Charles Dalrymple, on 17th April 1895, to perform the ceremony of the Installation of Brother the Hon. Charles M. Ramsay as Substitute Provincial Grand Master of Forfarshire. The attendance from all parts of the Province was so great that it was necessary to hold the Meeting in the Hall of the Mechanics' Institution. Later in the year, Brother Ramsay's portrait was hung on the walls of the Lodge, along with one of his brother, the late Earl of Dalhousie, which completed the chain of members of the family who had been Free Masons in the Lodge. At the same time, there was hung a portrait of H.R.H. The Prince of Wales, afterwards King Edward VII., Grand Master of England. In 1897, Brother Ramsay was elected R.W.M. of the Lodge. In 1899 the Lodge gave proof that the spirit of King Solomon, the great builder of the Temple, was not dead in its members, by agreeing to contribute to the restoration of the ancient Cathedral of Brechin. The Memorial Stone was laid by the Most Worshipful the Grand Master Mason of Scotland, the Hon. James Hozier (now Lord Newlands), with great ceremony on 22nd September 1900. Brother the Rev. J. A. Clark, who had looked forward to the occasion with great eagerness, and spent himself in promoting the work, was called from this world before the end of the following month and buried with full Masonic honours almost under the shadow of the Cathedral on 1st November. His portrait was hung in the Lodge-Room.

In 1904, Brother the Hon. Charles Ramsay became Grand Master Mason of Scotland, a great honour to his Mother Lodge, to which he afterwards presented, in addition to other gifts, a mallet received by him during his tenure of that high office, and another, made of ivory, for use at meetings of harmony. The connection between St. James's Lodge and Brechin Castle has since been more firmly cemented by the initiation of the Hon. Charles Fox Maule Ramsay and the Earl of Dalhousie. The subsequent elevation of Lord Dalhousie to one of the high offices in Grand Lodge has given peculiar pleasure to the Free­masons of Brechin, and it is hoped that in the future he may attain still higher rank, thus keeping up the traditions of his noble family.

These necessarily disjointed reminiscences of later years may perhaps be of interest to some of the Brethren and their friends, recalling as they do events and faces which are fading into the past. We must now look forward. It had been for a long time felt that an addition to the accommodation in the existing Lodge-Room was desirable, and a favourable opportunity occurred when the adjacent property came into the market in 1911. It was accordingly purchased, plans were prepared, and on Thursday, 22nd June 1911, being the Coronation Day of their Majesties King George V. and Queen Mary, the Memorial Stone was laid by the R.W.M., Brother C. H. Birse, after Public Service in the Cathedral. So expeditiously was the work performed, that the Hall was ready for occupation on 15th December 1911, when an "At Home" was held in it under the presidency of Lord Dalhousie, who was installed as R.W.M. on the 26th of the same month.

The purchase of the site and the extension of the Hall have involved expense, to defray which the Lodge has been compelled to borrow a considerable sum. To those who are familiar with the facts, the expenditure is amply justified by the prospect of increased efficiency and usefulness, which the additions and improvements render possible. The honourable history of St. James's Lodge, which has now been briefly sketched, and the part it has played in the life of the City, encourage the Brethren in the appeal which they now make to the community to assist them in their beneficent work. The Bazaar, which is now being held, gives an opportunity to many who, although not themselves Members of the Craft, appreciate the aims and the spirit of Free­masonry. It is hoped that the result of the labours of all who have interested themselves in the cause will be a substantial reduction of the debt which has been incurred by the Brethren in an effort to render Lodge St. James, Brechin, No. 123, more extensively useful in promoting the great principles to which Freemasonry bears witness in the world.

 

 

  • Return to Main History Page
  • Return to Top
  • The Grand Lodge of Scotland Website.

    Formed in 1736 theGrand Lodge of Scotland is the governing body for all Freemasonry in Scotland.

    The Provincial Grand Royal Arch Chapter of Angus and Mearns

    Formed in 1861 the Provincial Grand Royal Arch Chapter for Angus and Mearns is the governing body for Royal Arch Masonry in this area.

    FDCA Logo

    Website of the Friends of Dundee City Archives

     

    Links to other Websites.

    scottish flagsquare & compasses

     

    designIDM