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The Square Magazine for the DECENNIAL of PS Review of Freemasonry
10 papers published on The Square Magazine from 1996 through 2006 to celebrate the 10 years of PS Review of Freemasonry.
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This project is sponsored by Lewis Masonic, the leading Masonic publisher since 1886.

by Bernard Williamson PM of the Lodge
Published in The Square Magazine Vol 32, September 2005

© All editorial matter contained in this Magazine is copyright and may not reproduced without written permission from the publisher

This is another of our 'a look at a lodge' series. Please tell us if you know of a particularly interesting or unusual lodge for possible inclusion.

lodge banner STRONG MAN LODGE was constituted in 1733, meeting in the Crown and Mitre Tavern, Labour in Vain Hill, London, just a stone's throw away from the immortal Goose and Gridiron Tavern. The lodge was first listed as number 110, and had nine other numbers until the final renumbering of 1863. In 1733, John Kay invented the flying shuttle, Britain prohibited trade between the American and West Indian colonies by the Molasses Act -and this created widespread smuggling. Prime Minister Walpole introduced an excise bill on tobacco and wine, which caused massive opposition and the bill was withdrawn. The lodge was constituted (consecrations not coming into being until 1757) taking the idea of issuing individual warrants for lodges from the Antients. 1733 was the sixth year of King George II and the 17th of Grand Lodge. 

At this time lodges were known by their number or the house or tavern in which they met, such as 'the House on Labour in Vain Hill.' We were for many years known as 'the Lodge from the Ship Hermitage' and were known informally thus for some 60 years after leaving this good tavern in 1750. 

Our new home was called the Samson and Lion Hermitage; later, in 1764, we move a few hundred yards to the Strong Man Tavern, named after Thomas Topham, who was a genuine strong man entertainer, and our lodge adopted the tavern's name for its own. There is a street there today called Samson Street that reflects the Tavern, It was believed for the best part of 150 years that Topham was one of our landlords; in the event this proved not to be so. 

High Connections 

However he was associated with many freemasons, Dr Desaguliers -the third Grand Master- being the most notable, and did run houses where lodges met. To date we have not been able to trace his membership of the Craft, but the search goes on. One of  Topham's most popular feats was to stand behind a small wall and restrain a whipped horse. Being somewhat of an expert in this field, he boldly advertised that he would hold back two for the price of one shilling per ticket to the audience. On the appointed day he duly stood at the wall, braced himself, and gave the sign for the horses to be whipped. Whereupon they both fled left and right rather than straight ahead, and catapulted poor Thomas over the wall! He walked with a limp from this escapade for the rest of his life. 

Many of his feats were recorded by Desaguliers at the Royal Society in london, and Brother Houdini devotes a chapter to this in his book 'Miracle Mongers and their Methods'. An obituary in the Advertiser of August 1749 tells that 'Topham, with the aid of the barber surgeons, has evaded the grave even though eight feet of soil was placed over him' He was then landlord of the Bell and Dragon in Norton Folgate (near Liverpool St) another tavern associated with london lodges (page 490, lane's 'Masonic Records'). 

Centenary Banner The original hand- painted banner was made to commemorate the lodge centenary. As you will note from the date, our ancient brethren got it wrong! This was owing to a misunderstanding of the old dating system used when the lodge was formed. The official way of dating important matters was by using the year and following it with the government quarter. So we were shown as having been constituted in 1733/4 the four representing the final quarter of the official year (page 16 of lane's Masonic Records). Today we are reminded of this when we have to get our tax returns in by April! The banner has become very fragile over the years, and despite having been repaired and conserved with help from the British Museum, it still needs to be kept in a frame to stop further damage being done to it. 

The lodge banner for the 250th, was produced by Bro Richard Redwood, a tailor holding the Royal Warrant. It depicts the Strong Man pulling a horse, our lodge logo. The tree is a redwood, placed there to record Brother Richard's fine gift to the lodge. Also hidden is a small face, another one of Bro Richard's little joys. 

Masonic Funeral 

The minutes record that 'Bro James French, many years a member (and late Tyler) of this lodge, died in Aldgate poorhouse in March 1801. Some of the members of the Strong Man Lodge thought it proper to have him buried in a decent manner; accordingly Bro Hopkins applied to Bro Butcher, Churchwarden of said parish, who kindly gave the ground in said parish churchyard. Bro Bickerton generously furnished the mourners with hat bands, gloves and cloaks etc., free of any expense, to prevent the final cost to rise above five pounds five shillings -which was the sum bya voluntary subscription of 2/6d each paid by the following brethren (followed a list of 42 names). He was buried at the north end of Aldgate Church on 27 April 1801 aged (blank) years, followed by Bros Van Spangen, Smith and eight others.' 

An old Master's jewel It seems that Bro French was being paid 4/3d per lodge night for his Tyling. 

Bro Van Spangen, a long-serving member of the lodge, was a merchant from Altona just outside Hamburg in Germany. Later he settled in England, forming a business in London making marble composite material for house building. His presentation of three silver working tools have been passed by the lodge to the Museum of Grand Lodge for exhibition. 

In 1838 a Brother George Turner made a gift of 80 masonic books to Grand Lodge; these became part of the foundation for the Library. Later on at the end of the century, Henry Sadler, Grand Lodge librarian and masonic writer, became a member of Strong Man. 

We moved to lots of different taverns over the years before finally settling down in Great Queen Street in the mid-1950s, and one of my favourite meeting places is the Crown Tavern in Clerkenwell. The cellar of this public house was reputedly used by the courts as a morgue after public executions on the Green. The House of Detention round the back, used to have secret passageways from the Governor and the circuit Judges' Houses, to go safely to the Middlesex Sessions House. This latter building is now used as the Clerkenwell Masonic Centre. 

The last public execution in England was performed here, when the Fenian Michael Barret was hanged for his part in the explosion that devastated the area, when an attempt to free some prisoners was made. 

Chippendale-style mahogany masonic chairs, circa 1760 In the bar of the Crown frequented by our brethren, there stands a large timepiece named 'the Rye House Clock' which was used by the Rye House conspirators when planning to assassinate King Charles the second. They plotted the deed in the bar, and allegedly synchronised their timepieces by this clock when judging the time that the King would reach Rye House when returning to London from Newmarket. Unfortunately for them, the King left much earlier that expected and the plot was postponed; but word leaked out, and the conspirators were all hanged. 

The Crown is very active today, and if you are in the area I recommend a pie and a pint in this historic setting of Clerkenwell. I believe the pub is still used by some lodges for their lodge of instruction. 

Strong Man also owns three fine Chippendale-style mahogany masonic chairs circa 1760, that are on show in the Gas Museum. These chairs were refurbished recently and are used for our installation meetings, giving us a tangible link to our lodge's past history. We believe that we are the 'mother' lodge to most Essex lodges, and we had a cluster meeting attended by over 50 daughters and granddaughters.

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