A history of Freemasonry in Honiton from 1806 to the present day

By chris hallett

31st May 2023 | Local History

847 Temple, Honiton (Chris Hallett)
847 Temple, Honiton (Chris Hallett)

Being a Freemason is belonging to one of the oldest social and charitable organisations in the world, having no political or religious affiliations and comprising of members of all ages, races, religions, cultures and backgrounds, financial and social standings.

Freemasonry's roots lie in the traditions of buildings made from substantial materials, which required certain skills for their construction. 

Travelling around to find work and being very skilled with their hands, but often being unable to read or write, they needed a form of confirmation of their level of skills to determine whether they could undertake the tasks required and justify the rewards for their labours. 

They would use handgrips, words and signs in order to distinguish themselves from unqualified builders, hence from this grew the secret handshakes and passwords that freemasons use today, regarded as being the only "secrets" of a Freemason.

The United Grand Lodge of England was formed in 1813 leading to a great deal of standardisation of ritual, procedures and regalia. 

In the times before a welfare state, freemasonry created charities to look after the wellbeing of members and their families, but over time, has evolved into a major supporter of charities and causes beyond Freemasonry, today it is thought to be exceeded only by the National Lottery.

A little known fact is that Freemasons are responsible for Manchester City playing in blue. In 1894 and facing financial crisis, Manchester City Football Club was offered a helping hand by some Freemasons. In acknowledgement of the organisation's act of charity, the club adopted masonic colours, giving them the light blue shirts that are so recognisable to football fans today.

Worldwide, current membership is in excess of six million, with famous names that have included; Christopher Wren, Winston Churchill, Philip, HRH The Duke of Edinburgh, Alf Ramsey, Buzz Aldrin, Davy Crockett (Billy the Kid), George Washington , Benjamin Franklin, Nat King Cole, Alexander Fleming, Rudyard Kipling, Robbie Burns, Malcolm Campbell, Rick Wakeman, Ernest Shackleton, King George VI, William Billy" Butlin to name just a few.

On 16th April 1765, a masonic lodge was formed in London called The Corinthian Lodge and met at The White Hart, Strand, London, WC2.

Then for the next 40 plus years, they met in various public houses around the West End of London for masonic meetings. The Tyler (a person who stood guard outside the door to prevent unauthorised access) would chalk an image of the ceremony performed that evening on the floor before the meeting and wash it off afterwards, often entitling the Tyler to an exemption in subscriptions.

In 1806 with a name and number change, the Corinthian and Constitutional Lodge, number 188, moved from London to the Golden Lion Tavern in the High Street of Honiton, then in 1811 to the Bakers Arms Inn, High Street. In 1814, the number changed again to 230, but was erased from masonic records in 1829.

Why the lodge moved from London to Honiton is currently unknown but it may be that an influential person or people had interests in both areas. Large estates at the time in the Honiton area were held in the names of Gundry (Bridport hemp nets from Napoleon's time), Ashburton, Addington (more later), Peek-Frean (from Bermondsey in London biscuit manufacturers still today) and Marker (current owners of most of Gittisham). Names that some of us recognise today.

Henry Addington (1st Viscount of Sidmouth), Speaker of the House of Commons 1789 – 1801 and then Prime Minister in 1801, acquired the Manor estate at Up-Ottery which would tie in with the dates of change and movement to Honiton, but we don't know for sure.

In November 1860, an application to form a masonic lodge in Honiton was made to the Right Honourable the Earl Fortescue, Provincial Grand Master of Devonshire. With the Lodge starting afresh in Honiton, why continue a name from London? What better name than Fortescue? The Provincial Grand Master was the Rt. Hon. Earl Fortescue, K.G. and the rector of Honiton was the Rev. Fortescue, a fair assumption they were related.

A Dispensation for FORTESCUE LODGE No. 1149 to be formed at Honiton was signed on 18th January 1861 by the Reverend John Huyshe, Deputy Provincial Grand Master of Devonshire and gave this authority,

"It is expedient to defer the formal opening of the said constitution to a convenient season to be hereafter appointed and it is for the benefit of the said Lodge, No. 1149, of the Order, that the said Lodge shall be in operation for general purposes in the meantime, at a convenient place." A stipulation was also made, "Providing that not more than 5 such candidates be initiated on the same day, also true minutes be kept and passed to Provincial Grand Lodge."

You will note that permission was granted to hold Lodge meetings and make Masons before the formal opening or the Lodge being consecrated.

The first meeting was held at the Dolphin Hotel, High Street at 3 pm on 22nd January 1861 and a James Frost (carpenter) was initiated into Freemasonry. Proposals for further members were made and at an emergency meeting held at 4 pm, John Murch and William Henry Banfield were also initiated into Freemasonry.

Subscriptions were agreed to be:

Members £1. 11. 11d (equating to wages for 7 days of a skilled tradesman)

Members beyond 3 miles 15s. 11d

Members beyond 10 miles 11s. 11d.

Remember that journeys to meetings at this time would be either on foot or by horse.

At the meeting on 7th October 1861, it was announced that Earl Fortescue had died and the Grand Secretary proposed that the Fortescue Lodge be officially consecrated at the earliest opportunity.

At the first Installation meeting on 8th November 1861:

Bro T N Webber was invested as Worshipful Master

Bro John Seager Gundry as Senior Warden

Bro A W Warder as Junior Warden

Bro. John Murch as Senior Deacon

Bro. Edwin Murch as Junior Deacon

Bro. G W Hill as Treasurer.

Bro. William Henry Banfield, temporary Inner Guard and Secretary.

Bro. James Frost as Tyler.

On 28 July 1863, the Reverend John Huyshe, Deputy Provincial Grand Master, officially consecrated the Lodge at a temporary lodge room in New Street at which 100 members attended with a church service afterwards.

Later in the year, on 26th August 1863, the Lodge number changed from 1149 to 847. 

The various venues used for meetings of Fortescue Lodge were;

1861 – 1865 - Dolphin Hotel, High Street, Honiton.

1865 – 1873 - 1st Floor of the Armoury in Dowell Street, Honiton (where the Scout building is now)

1873 WBro Gundry who had purchased the Golden Lion Tavern and renovated it into the Manor House, leased rooms to the Lodge for 14 years at a rent of £9 per annum. A new lease for 21 years was granted in 1887 for 2 rooms and a WC at a rent of £12 per annum.

1921 the Manor House and houses behind, were sold to Charles Slade who terminated the lease on 14th February 1921 and from March 1921 to October 1921 meetings were held in the old British School Rooms in Honiton.

In 1921, a contract was signed to purchase the Dolphin Hotel wine store and dray shed (adjoining what was the Pit Club in Northcote Lane) from Bro Banfield. The lodge members converted the dray store and wine shed into the present lodge building and where there are now two windows facing the road, this is where there were large doors which opened to allow the dray wagon and horses to enter the store to load and unload stock. During the renovation, groves were found in the stone flags from the dray wagons wheels

Over the years, many alterations have taken place to modernise the building with a purpose built kitchen, bar with dining and social rooms, making the building a popular venue for hire by groups for educational purposes.

If you would like to know more regarding Freemasons or have ever coincided the possibility of becoming a Freemason, further details can be obtained from the Provincial Lodge Secretary, https://devonshirefreemasons.org.uk/information/how-to-join

Written and researched by. Worshipful Brother Chris Hallett, Secretary of Fortescue Lodge No. 847 in Honiton.


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