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MASONIC PAPERS

by Dr ANDREW PRESCOTT


RESEARCHING FREEMASONRY

Extracts from talk to Humber Lodge of Installed Masters, October 2002

The 1820s has been described as the darkest time in the history of freemasonry in Hull, but it is precisely such stormy periods which interest the historian. The central figure in Hull freemasonry at that time is a name that is I am sure familiar to you, that of William Crow, a lieutenant in the Royal Navy, who joined Minerva lodge No. 250 in  1819 and became Senior Deacon the following year. Crow quickly demonstrated his abilities when the Treasurer of the lodge left Hull taking the lodge accounts with him. Crow ensured that they were returned, and sorted out the mess left behind by the Treasurer.  He became the Master of Minerva lodge in 1823.

The Humber Lodge No. 57 had been suffering financial difficulties for some years. When the lodge was invited to the lodge of reconciliation at the time of the union, it replied that the officers could not afford to travel to London. By 1821, the lodge had virtually ceased functioning. The former master, Thomas Stoddard, had been  expelled from freemasonry, but retained all correspondence of the lodge, so that membership fees disappeared. The warrant, jewels and clothing of the lodge had been kept by the Treasurer who refused to give them up. According to the reminiscences recorded by Coltman Smith, when summoned to a meeting at the Black Swan in Dock Street to discuss these matters, the Treasurer left the warrant downstairs with the landlady, with strict instructions not to give it to anyone without his permission. Nevertheless, the Master of the Lodge tricked the landlady into giving him the warrant which he hid in an empty house. The Treasurer protested to the Provincial Grand Master, who suspended the warrant.

Crow had acquired a reputation as a trouble shooter, and was one of the arbitrators appointed to sort out the problems of Humber lodge. By 1824, matters had been resolved, but the Humber was still very sickly. The Master, Joseph  Ridsdale wrote to Great Queen Street apologising that 'the fewness of our members, the lowness of our finances, and the absence of those who have not yet returned, may all have contributed to the appearance of errors in our accounts'. However, by the end of 1825, the membership of Humber had doubled, with twelve members joining from Minerva, led by Crow, the first to join in October 1824. In 1825, Crow became Master of the Humber lodge. What were the reasons for this secession? According to Coltman Smith, the split was connected with the heavy debts of the Minerva lodge and there seems no reason to doubt this. The reasons for these financial problems are not clear: Coltman Smith suggests that the funds were depleted by an excess of hospitality, but, in the very poor economic climate at that time, the lodge probably also had many demands to relieve impoverished brethren. The cost of maintaining the Minerva's own premises at Dagger Lane may also have been a factor. In 1826-7 a further nineteen members of Minerva joined Humber lodge.

The new members of Humber lodge had great ambitions. In 1826, the Humber petitioned for the establishment of a Royal Arch chapter attached to the lodge, but the petition ran into difficulties because there was no record that the proposed First Principal, Thomas Feetam, a cabinet maker who was another of those who had joined Humber from Minerva, had ever been exalted to the Royal Arch. The bye-laws were revised and an attempt was made to establish a formal fund of benevolence. In March 1827, a proposal was made to build a masonic hall for use by both the Humber and Minerva lodges, but this fell through. Nevertheless, Humber pushed ahead with building a hall.

What happened next is described in a letter from the Deputy Provincial Grand Master, Richard Beverley, to the Grand Secretary, which I will quote. 'The Humber Lodge of Hull, has lately come to the determination to build a new lodge on a grand scale - which they have begun, and have already advanced considerably. The landlord of the inn where they lately held their meetings (the Turks Head) of course feels that he will be a loser by the lodge leaving his house: to prevent therefore their meeting in a new lodge or going on with the building, he, at the last time they met at his house, posted constables at the door to take the Masters and Wardens into custody and to arrest from them by violence the warrant.' Coltman Smith recorded a tradition that the Master, who was Thomas Feetam, had the warrant specially strengthened with canvas, and wore it instead of an apron so that it could not be seized.

Beverley continued as follows:  The Master was accordingly arrested [by the constables posted outside the inn], and the lodge broke up in a great riot, though the Master was shortly released from custody and got off safely with the warrant.... The Humber lodge now meets at some other public house till their new Lodge is finished; but the Landlord of the old inn vexed at what has happened, has persuaded three other members (the most prominent of whom is one Brother Roach) uniformly to blackball all persons that may be proposed either for initiation or admission from other lodges, so as to prevent the Humber lodge ever having any new members, and so of course finally to make it dissolve. One of these four brothers openly professed his determination to blackball every person that should be proposed, and they began their conspiracy by excluding some most unexceptionable persons of the best character, who would have been a valuable addition to any lodge.'

All this was bad enough, but it was not the main reason for Beverley writing to Great Queen Street. The Humber lodge had excluded the four blackballers and Beverley had approved the lodge's  actions. However, Roach, a mariner who had been one of those who had joined Humber from Minerva lodge with Crow, had decided to take revenge. Beverley described how Roach 'takes about with him Carlisleís publications on masonry, lends them to people, not masons, to read, and assures them all the secrets of masonry are there fully and completely exposed - & that any body purchasing Carlisle's book may know the whole secret for 2s 9d'. Beverley was outraged at what he considered complete perjury, and asked the Grand Secretary for guidance about how Roach could be punished.

Who was Carlisle, and what were these publications which Roach was showing to non-masons? Richard Carlile was a radical atheist writer and publisher who was one of the pioneers of freedom of speech in Britain. A tin-plate worker from Devon, he drifted into radical activity in London after 1815. He became a journalist and pamphleteer, and was captivated by the works of Thomas Paine. He began printing cheap editions of Paine's work. When he produced a cheap edition of Paine's critique of christianity, The Age of Reason, Carlile was sent to Dorchester gaol. From his prison room, Carlile organised an extraordinary campaign against the ban on Paine's book, enlisting dozens of volunteers who risked trial and imprisonment by selling Carlile's publications. Carlile wore out the judicial system, and eventually the government gave up trying to suppress Paine's book.

While in Dorchester, Carlile also published a periodical called The Republican, which became the most widely read working class journal. Carlile championed many other progressive causes, such as birth control and vegetarianism, and is increasingly seen by scholars as a pivotal figure in the history of English social thought. In 1825, Carlile devoted virtually a whole volume of The Republican to publishing a great deal of masonic ritual. He saw this as an important part of his campaign against secrecy. Carlile was the first to print the post-union ritual, and his book provides the earliest evidence for the ritual of many additional degrees. It was this book which Roach was passing around Hull. Carlile's interest in freemasonry is important in understanding the later development of his thought. Influenced by Paine and others, he came to the conclusion that freemasonry embodied metaphorical truths about religion, predating the distortions which he thought that christianity had introduced. He reprinted his volume as a Manual of Freemasonry, which became one of his most widely circulated works.

In considering a figure like Carlile, evidence of the extent to which his publications were read and circulated is very important, and the letter describing Roach's behaviour in Hull provides important evidence that, just two years after its publication, Carlile's exposure was widely known and circulated. We know very little about the reaction of Grand Lodge to Carlile's work. For this reason, the reply by Edward Harper as Grand Secretary to Beverley's letter is very significant. Harper expressed his abhorrence of Roach's 'base and scandalous' conduct, but his main concern was to ensure that Carlile did not hear of the incident.. For this reason, he felt no official action was possible. Formal action by Grand Lodge would, declared Harper, be gratifying to Carlile, since 'it would be the means of giving publicity to the thing he has published and thereby be the cause of its being more generally known and consequently circulated and read'. He urged a policy of 'silent contempt'. In order to keep the affair quiet, Harper had not even dared to raise it with 'the public authorities of Grand Lodge' but had quietly discussed it with other Grand Officers, who concurred with his advice.

This incident at Humber Lodge thus reveals some interesting and unexpected information about a significant figure in England history. There is a great deal more I could add about the historical themes raised by this dispute at Hull. The disputes continued after 1827, and the blackballing activities were taken up by other members of the lodge. Protests by the Phoenix lodge against the exclusions of blackballers drew Beverley back into the dispute, and led to a row between him and Phoenix lodge. One of the factors in these disputes appears to have been about the building of masonic halls. At this time masonic halls were still a rarity; but Hull had three. This seems to me to say a great deal about the aspirations of Hull as a city, and is a fact historians of the city should investigate further. I think this provides more than enough illustration of how a single incident in a masonic lodges in a town such as Hull has a great deal to interest the historian.

Let me conclude by introducing you to a Victorian mason much revered in Hull but now perhaps completely forgotten, George Markham Tweddell. Tweddell was born at Stokesley in Cleveland in 1821 and became an apprentice to a local printer William Braithwaite. At the age of 19, Tweddell became editor of a new local newspaper published by Braithwaite, but his articles in support of the working man were so controversial that Braithwaite sacked him. Tweddell was able to continue publishing the paper on his own account, and became an all-purpose writer and publisher. He married Florence Shaw, who, as Florence Cleveland was one of the best known Yorkshire dialect poets. During the 1850s, Tweddell and his wife were Master and Matron of the Bury Industrial and Ragged Schools in Lancashire. Tweddell's literary output was enormous. He was most celebrated for his book on Shakespeare and His Contemporaries. He was a regular contributor to both The Freemasons' Magazine and The Freemason. He was also an enthusiastic oddfellow, publishing an oddfellow's reciter. By 1877, Tweddell had run into financial difficulties, and William Andrews, a popular historian and freemason who lived in Hull, arranged a subscription to present Tweddell with a 'purse of gold'. Tweddell was very interested in chartist politics, and he was one of a number of masons in northern England involved in the campaign to secure the vote for working people.

Tweddell was also a rather bad poet, but nevertheless he was included by Andrews in a collection of modern Yorkshire poets. Twedell's first published collection of poetry was 'A Hundred Masonic Sonnets Illustrative of the Principles of the Craft for Freemasons and Non-Masons'. In the introduction, Tweddell described how he had lost the sight of one eye. When he was forced to rest his eye, he often spent the time composing a sonnet. Tweddell's sonnets cover such unlikely subjects as the masonic press, politics and freemasonry, masonic jewellery, and promotion by merit - all matters still close to heart of freemasons. Since I spend much of my time in the library at Great Queen Street, and everything I've talked about tonight is drawn from the remarkable collections there, I can't resist giving you Tweddell's first sonnet on lodge libraries. (There are three altogether, you may be alarmed to hear, but I'll spare you all three).

I would that every Masons' Lodge should have
A library of good Masonic lore.
The Arts and Sciences we should explore,
And all that's calculated Man to save
From ignorance and vice. Mere sign and word
Were never masonry: they help to guard
The Craft from cowans; but the great reward
Is his who fights with Masonry's keen sword
To slaughter error. Men have labour'd hard
Age after age, to chronicle each thought
They felt was worthy; and all Masons ought
To cherish and to spread them, and to guard
Them from destruction. Thus a choice Library,
By all good Masons, ever must well-treasured be.