A Brief History Of Freemasonry In Devonshire
From an original text by W.Bro. Ron Chudley, edited by W.Bro.
David Purnell PAGDC for use on this web site.
|In 1775 Devonshire was the 25th Province to be
warranted by the then Grand Lodge of England. It is of interest to
note that this relatively late recognition of the province was in
contradiction with the fact that within Devonshire are some of the
oldest Masonic Lodges in the world, most notably St. John the
Baptist Lodge, No. 39, which has continuously worked in Exeter since
1732 – some 43 years before the first Provincial Grand Master was
appointed. The warrant for the Province was given under the
authorisation of the Moderns Grand Lodge, 38 years before The United
Grand Lodge of England was formed, when the Moderns and the Antients
united under one banner.
The request for a Provincial Grand Master for Devonshire was made by
members of the Union Lodge, which was started in 1766 with an
exclusive and influential membership limited to 24. After seeking
the approval of the three other Lodges in Exeter – St Georges No
112, The Ship Masters, and (belatedly) St. John the Baptist No. 39 –
the Grand Master in London was petitioned. Eventually, on 18th
December 1775 Sir Charles Bampfylde, 5th Baronet of Poltimore, of
the Union Lodge, was installed as the first Provincial Grand Master.
Sir Charles’s uncle, the Master of the Union Lodge, John Codrington
was installed as Deputy Provincial Grand Master and was
responsible for organising the Province whilst Sir Charles,
who was also the Whig Member of Parliament for Exeter, was
away in London.
|The members of St. John the Baptist Lodge No. 39, appeared to have
had a grievance with the way in which the Provincial Grand Master
was appointed and the dominance of members of Union Lodge in the
Provincial hierarchy and wrote to Grand Lodge for confirmation of
the appointment. Lodges in Tiverton and Topsham also made similar
requests and each received the confirmation that Sir Charles
Bampfylde had been appointed as PGM. Of the 22 known ‘Moderns’ lodges in
operation when the Province was established six are still in
existence and of the ‘Antient’ lodges, two are still in operation.
There are now 135 operational lodges in the Province.
Sir Charles Bampfylde was only 15 years old when he became a
freemason, probably one of the youngest initiates ever. He became
Provincial Grand Master at the age of 22 and he presided in that
position for 44 years, longer than any other PGM. He resigned in
1819. In 1823 Sir Charles was shot dead by Joseph Morland, against
whom Sir Charles’s servants had been bringing a criminal prosecution
In the years following the warranting of the Province in 1775
freemasonry seems to have taken a decline in Devonshire. Several
lodges closed and charity returns to Grand Lodge were either minimal
or absent. However, a reversal of fortunes from about 1795 lead to
the formation of several new Lodges that are still active today and
Lodge records began to show that visiting Brethren were more
Sir Charles Bampfylde was succeeded 1819 by Hugh Fortescue, Viscount
Ebrington, later the 2nd Earl of Fortescue. He was installed by the
Provincial Grand Master of Somerset, Colonel C.K.K. Tynte MP, and
immediately set about reinvigorating the Province. He initiated a
committee to draw up by-laws for the Province, ordered an inventory
to be made of Provincial Lodge possessions and instituted a
committee to investigate applications for relief. Under his
leadership the Devon Provincial Educational Fund and the Devon
Provincial Fund of Masonic Benevolence were initiated. Upon his
death in 1861 the Fortescue Fund was set up as a memorial to his
|The oldest Lodge in Devonshire, Saint
John The Baptist No. 39 was awarded its jewel to celebrate the
centenary of its founding, in 1832 but it was not until 1864, and
only with the assistance of the then deputy Provincial Grand Master
Reverend John Huyshe, that it was actually presented. This delay was
probably the result of an outbreak of Cholera in Exeter in 1832 and
a suspension of meetings of the Lodge for eighteen months over this
infectious period during which time the awarding of the centenary
jewel was obviously forgotten about and not resurrected until much
The Reverend John Huyshe succeeded Viscount Ebrington as Provincial
Grand Master and was installed in 1866. John Huyshe had already been
Provincial Grand Master of Mark Master Masons and also Grand
Superintendent of the Province for the Holy Royal Arch so was well
knowledgeable about the governance of freemasonry. His absorbing
ambition was to enhance the respectability of freemasonry by
encouraging Lodges to find their own premises away from the inns and
taverns where they frequently met and to encourage members to return
to their families after their meetings.
Lodge of Fortitude No. 105 and Lodge of Friendship No 202 had
already opened a Masonic hall in Plymouth and Provincial Grand Lodge
formally used this in April 1823. However, the use of the building
by freemasons was short lived and in only a few years it had been
sold as the financial support to maintain it could not be found (the
hall was eventually destroyed during the wartime blitz in 1941).
St. George’s Lodge No. 112 first suggested the idea of a Masonic
Hall in Exeter in 1823 but it was not until 1841 that John Huyshe’s
dream of ‘rescue’ from the inns and taverns was realised when the
Exeter Lodges moved to Tuckers Hall in Fore Street and there they
remained for several years. Over the next 20 or so years other
Lodges in Devonshire moved to their own premises; for example St.
John’s Lodge, Torquay, followed suit in 1857 and in 1866 the Lodge
of Fortitude No. 105 moved into the Huyshe Masonic temple in Stoke,
Plymouth. In addition, over this same period more than a dozen new
Lodges were formed and the membership grew from 500 to more than
1500 in Devonshire alone.
|In Exeter pressure to move from the
shared accommodation in Tuckers Hall was sufficient that new
premises in Gandy Street were acquired and dedicated by John Huyshe
on St Georges’s Day 1877 The St. John the Baptist Lodge held their
first meeting there three days later being quickly followed by other
Exeter based lodges. Modification to the building led to the
discovery of fine oak screens dating to the 14th and 15th century
together with a very fine entrance.
Suffering poor health John Huyshe resigned as Provincial Grand
Master in 1879, and died, aged 80, the following year. A
contemporary remembers him as “The history of John Huyshe is the
history of all that has been good and progressive in masonry for the
past half century”.
Hugh, Viscount Ebrington, 4th Earl Fortescue succeeded John Huyshe.
Initiated into Loyal Lodge No. 251, in Barnstaple, he served as
Master in 1879 and joined St. George’s Lodge No. 112 in the same
year. He resigned as Provincial Grand Master in 1896 when he
installed his successor, Hugh Stafford, Baron Northcote of Exeter.
Hugh Stafford was initiated into St. John The Baptist Lodge No. 39
where he served as Master in 1894. He also joined St. George’s Lodge
in 1893. At the time of his appointment as Provincial Grand Master
in the Craft degree he was already Provincial Grand Master of the
Mark degree. He was MP for Exeter from 1880 to 1899 and in 1900 he
was elevated to the peerage and appointed Governor of Bombay. During
his absence abroad he left the running of the Province to his deputy
Major G.C. Davie who remained in charge whilst Lord Northcote was in
India. Following his term in India, he was appointed Governor of the
Australian Commonwealth and feeling that he could no longer serve
the province adequately, whilst absent for a further five years, he
resigned in 1903. Lord Northcote was the third and last governor
General of Australia.
In 1904 Major George Christopher Davie
was installed as Provincial Grand master. He had been initiated into
Loyal Lodge No. 251, in Barnstaple, in 1882. He was a member of
Devon County Council and had served with the North Devon Yeomanry
Cavalry. At the time of his installation there were 62 lodges in the
Province and 4691 subscribing members. Major Davie died in office in
September 1928 and was mourned by the province as having been a
much-loved Mason who exerted a ‘beneficial rule’.
Missing documentary proof meant that the centenary of Freemasonry in
Devonshire could not be celebrated until 1921 though it was
acknowledged that 1875 would have been the correct date. The event
was presided over by the Provincial Grand Master, Major G.C. Davie,
and celebrated by more than 700 Brethren from all the 79 Lodges in
Devonshire, in full regalia, assembled in Exeter Cathedral. The
Provincial Grand Chaplain, Worshipful Brother the Reverend W.F.
Surtees – later to become Bishop of Crediton and also Provincial
Grand Master from 1938 to 1955 – gave the sermon.
Sir Henry Lopes Bt. was installed as Provincial Grand Master in
1929. He was a Barrister at Law and had been MP for Grantham from
1892 to 1900. He was also Deputy Lieutenant and High Sheriff of
Devonshire. He had married the daughter of the 4th Earl of Mount
Edgcumbe who was Provincial Grand Master of Cornwall and later,
Deputy Grand Master of England. In 1938 he became Lord Roborough of
Maristow and died in the same year.
In 1933, when Sir Henry Lopes was Provincial Grand Master, some 2000
Masons in full regalia paraded through the streets of Exeter to the
Cathedral where a special service was held to mark the 800th
anniversary of the church. Bishop Surtees again preached the sermon.
At this ceremony one of the Assistant Directors of Ceremonies was
W.Bro. W.A. Kneel, later also to become Provincial Grand Master
(1970-1984). This was the last occasion, until the 225th
celebrations in June 2000, that Freemasons were seen in public, in
their regalia, in the province.
William Frederick Surtees, who had been initiated into Earl of Mount
Edgcumbe Lodge No 3924 in 1920, was installed as
Provincial Grand Master for Devonshire in 1938. Educated at King’s
College Cambridge he served the Church all his life as rector of Sampford Courtenay from 1907-1912, Vicar of St Simon’s, Plymouth
(1912-1925), Archdeacon of Exeter (1925-1930) and Lord Bishop of
Crediton for the next 25 years. He had been appointed Provincial
Grand Chaplain in 1920 and Grand Lodge Chaplain in 1933. Failing
health forced him reluctantly to resign in 1955 having steered the
Province through the difficult times of the Second World War and the
subsequent rebuilding years. A memorial fund raised £6000 for the
purchase of a new choir stalls for the nave in Exeter Cathedral.
His successor was the Assistant Provincial Grand Master, Sir Arthur
Conrad Reed, Master of St. George’s Lodge No. 112, who was installed
as Provincial Grand Master in 1955. He was educated at Queen’s
College, Taunton and was MP for Exeter from 1931 to 1945 as well as
being a member of the City Council and a magistrate. He was knighted
in 1945 and Chairman of Directors of Reed, Smith Ltd. as well as
other companies. He died in office in 1961.
Cyril Henry Crews who was installed as Provincial Grand Master at
Torquay, in 1961 succeeded Sir Arthur Reed. He had been initiated
into the Sir Joshua Reynolds Lodge No. 4782, meeting in his hometown
of Plympton and where he was Master in 1937. Under his guidance the
Province continued to flourish as he emphasised the importance of
care when choosing candidates and of observing Masonic etiquette. He
died in office in 1970 when his successor described him as “a
One of the most endearing and active Provincial Grand Masters was
William Alexander Kneel who was installed in June 1970 having been
in Freemasonry for 50 years. He was initiated into St John the
Baptist Lodge No. 39 but was also a founder member of two other
Lodges. Charity was his major interest and in 1962 he was the
Provincial Treasurer for the Girls Festival, which raised £167,455
from Devonshire out of a total of £310,723 raised nationally. In
1977 he presided over the Boy’s Festival and from the national total
raised of £819,144 Devonshire contributed £649,393.
Right Worshipful Brother Kneel’s ambition was to provide a home for
the elderly and lonely Freemasons and their dependents. An appeal
was launched in the Province and in 1983 land was acquired in Exeter
on which to build the home. This lead to the development of Cadogan
Court, a beautifully appointed residential home where Freemasons and
their dependents can live out their lives in peace and tranquillity.
William Alexander Kneel resigned and died in 1984.
Archibald John Huxtable was initiated into Loyal Lodge No. 251 in
1943, serving as Master in 1960. He served as Provincial Grand
Master from 1984 to 1992.
Kenneth John Alford was initiated into the Sun Lodge No 106 in 1958
where he served as Master in 1970. He was Provincial Grand Master
from 1992 until his death in 1994.
Edward Joseph Holman initiated into
Pleiades Lodge No. 710 in 1959 where he served as Master in 1970. He
was installed as Provincial Grand Master in 1994 and served the
Province until his resignation in 1999.
The 15th Provincial Grand Master was Robin Osborn Osborn. He was
initiated into the Benevolent Lodge No. 303 in 1957 and served as
Master in 1970. He was installed as leader of the Province in
1999 and retired from office on 2nd June 2007. He was succeeded by
Rt.W.Bro. Michael T. Penny who served the office until he retires
wef 1st January 2013. He will be succeeded W.Bro. Ian