Historic Lodges set to open doors in Whitby

Masonic Lodge, John Street, Whitby. Picture: Scott Wicking
Masonic Lodge, John Street, Whitby. Picture: Scott Wicking

Spotlight on the history of the town’s Freemasons.

Masonry, or Freemasonry as it is properly known, is the oldest and largest fraternal organisation in the world dating back more than 1,000 years and with more than five million members.

Among them are the two Lodges in Whitby which meet once a month in the same building in John Street on the West Cliff.

This building cannot be mistaken for any other as it has Masonic symbols on the outside – which puts paid to the oft-quoted myth that Freemasonry is a secret society.

To show that they are quite open about what they do an open day is being held tomorrow (Saturday) between 1pm and 4pm.

In Whitby the two Lodges are Lion and Caedmon.

Lion was already over 150 years old when Caedmon – named after the local poet - was formed in May 1950 because there were too many post-war applicants to become Masons, resulting in long waiting lists.

A replica of his cross which dominates St Hilda’s churchyard is the Caedmon Lodge emblem.

It is thought Masonry began when the great Medieval castles and cathedrals were built in Europe.

The ancient Guilds and Craftsmen gathered together for mutual protection and education, sharing their knowledge and taking on apprentices.

The buildings are called ‘Lodges’ because the men would first construct their own lodgings on a site.

Richard Godley, Past Master of the Lion Lodge in Whitby, said: “Our buildings are also sometimes referred to as ‘temples’ because the original meaning of ‘temple” was ‘a place of knowledge’ and Freemasonry certainly encourages the advancement of knowledge.

“The term Freemason or ‘Free Mason’ came about when most people were under the thrall of the local nobleman and were basically slaves and not allowed to travel except to town on market day whereas a skilled stoneworker who was in demand was free to travel anywhere he wished.”

Both Lodges used to have many members who were seafarers of some description and the 10 o’clock (four bells of the first watch) toast at the afterboard is given to ‘Seafaring and Absent Brethren’ and is believed to be unique in the Masonic movement.

The very first Masonic Lodge was formed in Whitby in 1764.
 The Lion Lodge was founded in 1797 and it had been preceeded by two other Lodges in the town.

The Golden Lion Lodge was warranted in June 1764 - meeting in the pub of that name which still exists and numbered 127 under the Ancients.

There are no records of this Lodge but its die or seal is retained by the current Lion Lodge.

The second Lodge was the Britannia Lodge No.423 of the Moderns warranted on February 3 1772 but erased on February 10 1790.
In the 200 years up to 1997 there have been 933 members initiated and 252 joining members.

Lion Lodge has had some notable members over the years including Robert Moorsholm who was captain of the Revenge during the battle of Trafalgar in 1805.

One of his successors as Master of the Lodge was the Marquis of Normanby - a member of the Lion Lodge from November 1933 until his death in 1994.

A founder member of Britannia Lodge was Captain William Scoresby (1760 – 1829) - Whitby’s most successful whaling Captain and inventor of the crow’s nest.

The organisation offers no creed or dogma nor any plan of salvation.

“Each Mason must seek his own relationship with his God through his own church or belief system and that need not be Christian,” said Mr Godley who also dispels another myth that they are all in it for each other and to further their personal fortunes via “back-scratching and favouritism.”

He also stresses that members, who come from all walks of life, do not indulge in any form of strange behavior at meetings.

Before the advent of the National Lottery, Masons were the number one donators to charity, giving £millions to various organisations.

Some 24 local and other organisations and individuals have benefitted from the charitable giving of the Whitby Masons.

“To become a Mason, you have to ask one, and he will put your name forward for consideration to a committee who will call you for an interview,” says Mr Godley.

He continued: “If you become a Mason you will find new friends, people you can trust and friends who will help you even though it may be the only thing they know about you is that you are a Mason.

“Our fraternity probably has some of the highest standards for membership of any organisation in the world and you will be expected to live up to those standards.

“Freemasonry is a great way to leave your troubles outside the Lodge room door, spend some time with others and help your society and community.”