Northumberland Freemasons today help celebrate Reserve Forces of Northumbria Lodge No.2666, which meets at Fern Avenue Masonic Hall, recent 125th anniversary
In 1897, there was little sign that one of the longest reigns of any Monarch in British History was anywhere near drawing to a close. Queen Victoria had been on the throne for sixty years, and by decree the year 1897 was officially known as ‘Her Majesty’s Diamond Jubilee Year’.
Perhaps the most important event, as far as the Provincial Grand Lodge of Northumberland was concerned that year, was revealed at the very end of the book ‘Northumbrian Freemasonry’ by John Strachan when he writes ‘The year 1897, being known as Her Majesty’s Diamond Jubilee Year, a Lodge bearing the name of “Victoria Commemoration (Reserve Forces) No 2666,” was consecrated in Newcastle at the Provincial Grand Lodge meeting held on 29 October. W Bro. John Straker Wilson, P.P.G.W was installed as WM. The Founders were all past or present volunteer officers.’
This simple statement of fact actually conceals quite an interesting background history to the new Lodge. The Victoria Commemoration (Reserve Forces) Lodge No 2666 was indeed constituted, dedicated and constituted on Friday 29 October 1897. The ceremony took place within the new Central Masonic Hall, Pilgrim Street, Newcastle, and was conducted by the R W Provincial Grand Master, Sir Matthew White Ridley, who was assisted by his Deputy Provincial Grand Master, V W Bro. Alderman Richard Henry Holmes. The ceremony being concluded, W Bro. Major John Straker Wilson was installed as the first Master of the Lodge with the second Master being Colonel William Mathwin Angus, who later went on to be Provincial Grand Master of the Mark Master Masons of Northumberland.
The Lodge was sponsored by Northumberland Lodge No 685, and a printed form still exists which apparently was used for the Visitors signatures at the Consecration, for it bears the message ‘ The WM, Wardens, and Brethren of St. Peter’s Lodge No 481 having charge of the arrangements’. The form has the signatures of 15 Visitors from various Lodges.
The name of the Lodge has caused some confusion. ‘Victoria Commemoration’ is easy to understand considering the year in which the Lodge was consecrated, but why the bracketed ‘Reserve Forces?’ To understand this, it is worth taking a look at the by-laws of the Lodge, which were adopted in December 1897, perhaps at the first regular meeting of the Lodge.
The first By-law states ‘The name of this Lodge is the Victoria Commemoration Reserve Forces Lodge, and it consists of Officers holding commissions in Her Majesty’s Reserve Forces or such as have retired with their rank and the right to wear the proscribed uniform’. A subsequent By-Law provided that Regular Officers stationed in Newcastle could be admitted as members. In the fullness of time, these volunteers became battalions of the Northumberland Fusiliers and the Durham Light Infantry, from which many of the Lodge members originated.
When the Central Masonic Hall in Pilgrim Street closed the Lodge moved to the Masonic Hall at 18, Grainger Street, Newcastle, and is recorded as meeting there until 1976, when the Lodge was removed to Neville Hall with the most recent move being to Fern Avenue, Jesmond in 2012.
In 1906, a member of the Lodge, A.E. Burdon was appointed Provincial Grand Master of Northumberland, and in 1919, another joining member, who later took the title of Lord Ravensworth became Provincial Grand Master for Durham
The motto of the Lodge which appears on the Summons, is ‘Defence not Defiance’, and seems to have been one universally adopted by various Volunteer Groups. The members of the Lodge who hold Military Rank are permitted to have those ranks entered on the Lodge Summons, and it is understood that uniform and decorations may be worn at certain meetings, and afterwards at a full military festive board.
The Victoria Commemoration Lodge applied to change its name in 1929 to the ‘Reserve Forces Lodge of Northumbria. The reason for this change is unclear and it was still being referred to by its original name as late as 1934.
The Lodge celebrated its hundredth anniversary by holding a Centenary Festival on 16 April 1998, when the Lodge received a Centenary Warrant from the Provincial Grand Master, R W Bro. Michael N Craigs. In 2006, the Lodge hosted the prestigious Prestonian Lecture, at the Civic Centre, Newcastle which was delivered by W Bro. G S Angell, and was entitled ‘ The Victoria Cross- Freemason’s Band of Brothers’.
Congratulations to the Lodge on another fantastic milestone and we wish them every continued success for the future.
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