Reading Old Boys Lodge (3545) celebrated its centenary on 29th October 2011.
Not of itself a startling piece of information. Old Boys Lodge used to meet at Reading School until November 1990 when, as a result of reduced support from the Head Master, it moved to Sindlesham. However, the centenary meeting will take place at school meaning that it will be the only lodge to meet in Reading for a number of years.
What is perhaps not well known is that the Masonic links at Reading School date back to 1870. On 1stJuly 1870 the then Prince of Wales (later Edward VII) laid the foundation stone in a fully Masonic (and public) ceremony. An article about the laying of a foundation stone may not be of great interest except, perhaps, to former pupils of the school but my researches discovered that the event was possibly the largest public Masonic event in Reading (if not the county), involved all of the seven oldest lodges in the Province and shows the marked change in attitude to Masonry that has occurred in the last 130 years. The Reading Mercury in its report on the event stated that the “whole demonstration was, without doubt, one of the grandest viewed in a Masonic light which has ever been witnessed in the country”.
The visit of the Prince of Wales to lay the Foundation Stone was in his capacity as the Past Grand Master – he was not Grand Master again until 1874, the GM of the day being the Earl of Ripon who had been appointed on 23 April1870 – and so although the visit was an important civic occasion for the Borough, it was distinctly Masonic in character, the Masonic arrangements being made by Bro Biggs, the Provincial Grand Secretary. The Berkshire Library has in its archives a copy of the three page “Masonic Order of Procession” together with a twenty page Official Programme for the visit.
The Foundation Stone is directly below “Big School” where the centenary meeting will be held. Alfred Waterhouse, the notable Victorian architect designed the buildings (he also designed Manchester and Reading Town Halls and the Natural History Museum amongst other buildings). At that time he lived at Whiteknights House, now the centre of the University of Reading.
From the Masonic perspective, the event was “An Especial Provincial Grand Lodge”, it being opened at 11 am in the Assembly Rooms in Friar Street by Sir Daniel Gooch, the Provincial Grand Master. The meeting was then adjourned as the Procession was formed outside the town’s railway station to await the arrival of the Royal train. In 1870 there were 11 lodges in the combined Masonic Province of Berkshire and Buckinghamshire.
Volume XX111 of the Freemasons Magazine and Masonic Mirror sets out how many brethren attended from each lodge. From the current Province of Berkshire: Etonian Lodge of St John (209) had 14 members present, Union (414) had 17, Hope (574) had 13, Windsor Castle (called Castle, 771) had 7, St Johns (795) had 3, Abbey (945) had 14 and Grey Friars, the junior lodge in the Province (1101) had 20 present. The current Buckinghamshire Lodge that were present were: Buckingham (591) with 3 members attending, Scientific (840) had 3 and St Barnabas (948) had 4. Methuen (631) had no representatives attending. The procession was formed of the lodges of the Province in ascending order of seniority after which came the officers of Provincial Grand Lodge, likewise in ascending order of seniority with a total of 54 visiting brethren. In The Freemason (Number 70, Volume 3 at page 326) there is a detailed report. It states that there were “several hundred members of various provinces”. A simple calculation of those attending from the above numbers suggests that this is a very early example of “spin”
The active Provincial Officers were drawn from 9 of the 11 lodges with only Methuen and Scientific not represented. Five lodges had two active Provincial Officers. As with any Provincial Meeting, there were a large number of senior masons attending, including the PGMs of Essex (Bro Bagshaw), Cornwall Bro Augustus Smith MP), Warwickshire (Lord Leigh), Huntingdon and Northamptonshire and Middlesex. In addition there were the Deputy PGMs of Wiltshire and Somerset together with the Grand Secretary the Past Deputy PGM of China, 4 Past Grand Chaplains and Past Grand Wardens.
The day started with the arrival of the Prince and Princess of Wales by train. They were received at the station by a number of luminaries in addition to the Mayor and Corporation of Reading. These included the Earl of Abingdon (the Lord Lieutenant), the Bishop of Oxford and the Mayors of Windsor, Abingdon, Wallingford and Maidenhead. The report in the Illustrated London News (which had a full page engraving of the event, see below) states that “The Freemasons of Berks and Bucks, with the emblems and ensigns of their order, were mustered in full array.” It is fair to say that much of the report in the ILN was taken verbatim from the Order of Procession and Official Programme.
The Procession was lead by Yeomanry Cavalry, a band and three Friendly Societies: The Philanthropic Society, The Foresters and the Oddfellows after which came the Freemasons, bands and sixteen carriages including the (eighth) Royal Carriage. This large procession set off for the site “amidst the pealing of cannon, the ringing of bells, the sound of military music and popular cheering through the streets of the town; which were profusely decorated with triumphal arches, banners, and streamers, foliage and wreaths of flowers.”
The visit clearly involved the whole town because in addition to the Friendly Societies taking part in the procession, it is recorded that 3,000 children were placed in Kendrick Road to “wave their little flags and to sing “God Bless the Prince of Wales”.
On arrival at the pavilion which had been erected on what is now the school site, the Junior Lodge of Freemasons (Grey Friars) stopped. At this point Provincial Grand Lodge advanced through all the lodges and entered the pavilion, the other lodges following in order of seniority.
Once everyone was in their place, the Mayor, Brother P Spokes (a member of an unknown lodge) presented an Address. At this point the Provincial Grand Director of Ceremonies called for silence, the Provincial Grand Master (Sir Daniel Gooch, MP) handed the Mayor a trowel as a mark of the Freemasons' fraternal esteem which was then handed to the Prince of Wales. The Prov Grand Chaplin offered up a prayer, The Prov Grand Secretary read the inscription on the stone, the Prov Grand Treasurer “deposited a vessel containing all the gold, silver and copper coins of the present reign” and the Town Clerk deposited an hermetically sealed vessel containing records. During the singing of a hymn the foundation stone was lowered with three distinct stops.
An Entered Apprentice (Bro Barnicoat of Grey Friars Lodge) carried the cement for the ceremony. It seems that Bro Barnicoat did not become master of his lodge. At this point the Prince stood on the east side of the stone together with the Provincial Grand Master and the Deputy Provincial Grand Master (Reverend Sir John Hayes, member of an unknown lodge) with the square. Opposite, in the West, stood the Provincial Grand Wardens, with the level and plumb. The Prince set the stone with a Masonic prayer to which all replied, “So Mote it be”. The Provincial Grand Master handed the Prince a cornucopia, and the Provincial Senior and Junior Grand Wardens golden ewers containing wine and oil. The Prince then spread the corn on the stone and poured out wine and oil “conformably with ancient custom”. Others involved in the ceremony with Masonic connections included the Town Clerk (Bro Thomas Rogers, again, his lodge is not known) and the Treasure of the School Trustees (Bro J Simonds, Reading Lodge of Union).
Further presentations, prayers and singing completed the ceremony after which the Royal party, the Mayor and Corporation and other visitors retired to the Town Hall (by a somewhat convoluted route and in torrential rain) for lunch.
The foundation stone was laid on 1st July 1870 and the opening ceremony was performed by Lord Hatherley, the Lord Chancellor, on 11th September 1871. The Illustrated London News report of that occasion states that by then only the central block (containing Big School and the western of the two masters’ houses that were to flank it) had been built. At that time the full cost of the building of school had not been met. We know from the 1870 article that the building cost as to be £20,000 (excluding the cost of the land). A list of those who had subscribed to the building fund is worth noting in part, if only because of the connections to business for which Reading was (or was to become) famous. The MP, Mr Richard Benyon, the High Steward of Berkshire contributed (the Newbury constituency has had a Benyon as its MP for many years when it returns a Conservative) as did Mr Alderman Palmer (part of the Huntley and Palmer dynasty); Messrs J and C Simonds (brewery and bank); Messrs Stephen, Blandy and Co. (solicitors); Colonel Loyd Lindsay MP (now commemorated in Wantage by lodge 3058) and Messrs Martin and Alfred Sutton (seeds).
If you want more information about the Centenary Meeting at Reading School, please contact the lodge secretary.
W Bro Roger Coles, Berkshire Masonic Librarian
Peter Aitkenhead at Grand Lodge Library
Katy Amos at Reading Central Library
Dr Peter Durrant at Berkshire Records Office