The Province of West Lancashire is one of the largest of the Provinces ranged under the banner of the United Grand Lodge of England, it can also claim to be the birthplace of English Freemasonry. The initiation of Elias Ashmole in Warrington on 16 October 1646 is the earliest recorded initiation into English Freemasonry. All trace of that early Lancashire lodge, if indeed such a lodge existed and was not merely an ad hoc meeting of conveniently situated Freemasons, has disappeared.
The oldest of the existing lodges in the Province is the Lodge of Loyalty No 86 in Prescot which dates from 1753 and still meets on the Wednesday before full moon, although the brethren, of course, can no longer rely on their horses to see them safely home in the moonlight.
The Province was founded as Lancashire Western Division in 1826, becoming the Province of West Lancashire in 1960. It covers that part of the ancient county of Lancashire west of the Great North Road (A6) but including Preston and Lancaster. It extends from the Lake District to the Mersey and from Liverpool into the suburbs of Manchester. Its lodges now meet in five counties – Lancashire, Cumbria, Greater Manchester, Merseyside and Cheshire. However, in all lodges within the Province the loyal toast is still to ‘The King, Duke of Lancaster’.
The Province, being so large, is divided into 17 groups, each with its chairman, vice chairman and secretary, the largest number of lodges being in Liverpool which is divided into two groups: the Liverpool Group and the Gladstone Group.
The Liverpool Group meet in the Masonic hall on Hope Street and one of the lodges in the Gladstone Group meets in the Medical Institute on the corner of Hope Street opposite the spectacular lantern crown of the Metropolitan Cathedral, which gazes down on one end of the street and the monumental Anglican Cathedral ‘the final blaze of Gothic’ looks across the chasm of St James Gardens at the other.
Liverpool’s oldest lodge is St George’s Lodge of Harmony No 32. The history of ’32’, not least the mystery of its number, is a microcosm of the complex history of English Freemasonry. The enterprising Liverpool gentlemen of Lodge No 45 bought the warrant of the defunct Lodge 25, a common and profitable practice among the ‘Ancients’. When the ‘Ancients’ and ‘Moderns’ united, Antient and Amicable Lodge No 25 was one of three with that number. This confusion led to the assumption that St George’s Lodge of Harmony, as it had now become, was two years older than it actually was. Hence St George’s Lodge of Harmony, founded in October 1755, has a lower number than the Lodge of Loyalty, founded in December 1753.
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