Stanley closes the book

As the 2017 season came to an end for most of us, it is a poignant time to reflect those who have had to find another lodge to continue their Freemasonry. It has been a period of great sadness for the members of Stanley Lodge No 1325 who took the decision after much deliberation, to hand back their lodge warrant.

Emblem of Stanley Lodge.

The final lodge meeting was opened by Brian McLoughlin with Kevin Poynton, Assistant Provincial Grand Master in attendance. Brian started the meeting with a résumé of the lodge’s long history from 1870, when the warrant was issued, with its consecration shortly after on Thursday 27 April 1871 at Kirkdale Masonic Hall. Walton Lodge No 1086 is recognised as the ‘mother lodge’, which itself came from Derby Lodge No 724, who in turn were the daughter lodge of Merchants’ Lodge No 241, so Stanley Lodge has a long and illustrious pedigree.

He spoke of how the origins of the first officers of the lodge are also interesting as only two were listed as members of the mother lodge. The first WM, John Horbury and the secretary were both from Combermere Lodge No 605 which still meets at Manor Road, Wallasey, over on the Wirral, while the senior deacon is recorded as being a member from Commonwealth Lodge No 409 in Brooklyn, New York.

One week after the consecration the first regular meeting took place, this was attended by just seven officers, as were the second and third meetings, plus of course, the candidates. There then followed a hectic year as during these first 12 months some 17 meetings were held, five of them being emergency meetings, 15 candidates were initiated and three joining members admitted. During the year, on three occasions all three degrees were worked at a single meeting. The following year was even more productive with some 31 candidates, and so it continued as the lodge grew and grew.

In the year 1877, following unsuccessful negotiations to buy Kirkdale Hall, the lodge moved to the newly formed Liverpool Masonic Hall, Hope Street. The lodge continued to prosper at Hope Street which was to be the home of Stanley Lodge for the next 91 years. In fact, the decade of 1910 proved particularly eventful and world events did not just pass by. In 1912 one of the biggest disasters of modern times took place with the loss of the unsinkable Titanic, one of the luxury vessels of the White Star Line, on 15 April 1912. Among those who perished was Bootle born Herbert Henry Thompson, Second Storekeeper, who was initiated into Stanley Lodge on 30 August 1909 age 22.

Two years later saw the outbreak of the First World War, yet despite the disruption this inevitably caused, a record number of 181 new members were recorded in the lodge. For this period, the brethren serving with the armed forces were accorded honorary membership until the end of hostilities. Sadly, records show that of the serving members, at least six lost their lives through enemy action, or wartime activity whilst doing their duty as part of the Merchant Service. These gallant men are listed in order of surname;
Charles Lawford Devine, initiated July 1914, served as Lieutenant Royal Naval Reserve died 28 January 1918 on HMS Monitor M28:
Frederick William Knowles, initiated February 1907, served as boilermaker Cunard Line on SS Pannonia, accidentally killed on board age 32 on 19 September 1916:

WM Brian McLoughlin.

Francis Le Breton, initiated October 1907, served as Corporal Canadian Artillery, awarded the Military Medal for bravery in the field. He was killed in action on 9 April 1917:
Edward Wilson McBurney, initiated March 1916, first served as Eng Lieut Royal Naval Reserve with 10th Special Service Squadron, later serving on transport vessel SS Mauretania of the Cunard Line. Buried at sea 2 July 1919 age 25:
Walter Rankin, initiated November 1913, served as Chief Officer, (First Mate) aboard the SS Avetoro, which left Liverpool on 12 November 1915 never to be seen again. Walter was age 38 and presumed drowned when the vessel was presumed lost to enemy action:
James Stoddart, initiated December 1901, served as Regimental Quartermaster Sergeant, formerly Pipe-Major, Liverpool Scottish, died of wounds 2 August 1917 age 49 years.

Even during this horrendous and challenging period, donations were made to the Hall and to the Grand Lodge Memorial Fund, each of £100, which today may appear paltry but in terms of today’s values this approximately equates to a total of £11,240.

In 1917 Grand Lodge amended rule 192 (now 168) limiting the number of candidates to two for any degree per meeting, the previous limit being five. This seemed to have slowed down recruitment as the membership peaked in 1925 then began a steady decline. As a consequence of this, the number of meetings was reduced from 12 to 10 per annum, remaining at this until 1960 when further reduced to nine. At the time when the lodge was at its peak, it celebrated its 50th anniversary and to commemorate the occasion a tie pin was issued in nine carat gold, suitably inscribed on the rear of the pin with, ’STANLEY LODGE 1325 JUBILEE 1870-1920’.

During the Second World War, the lodge continued to meet as usual although it is interesting to note the changes to the installation festive board. The menu for 1939 read; hors d’oeuvre, celery soup, halibut, roast chicken, followed by a pineapple dessert. While by contrast that of 1942 was listed as; soup, poultry (if available) and sweet, obviously meaning, you will have what we can get.

Moving on to times that can be recalled by many of our current members, the year of 1966 (memorable not only for Everton’s Wembley Triumph) also marked the conclusion of The Festival of the Royal Masonic Institute for Girls, on which occasion Dick Calvert was able to hand over from Stanley Lodge a donation of £1,694 the equivalent today being £30,153.

Sadly, just two years later in October 1968, the Liverpool Masonic Hall in Hope Street was severely damaged by fire just two weeks before the installation, but thanks to the efforts of Bob McConomy (secretary) and Jack Ellis (treasurer) accommodation was secured at Garston Masonic Hall. The consequences of this disastrous fire still effect contemporary Freemasonry today, for many lodges were uprooted and never returned having settled into new venues before the hall was refurbished.

1971 marked the centenary of Stanley Lodge which was celebrated in the presence of the Provincial Grand Master Sir Knowles Edge, who opened Provincial Grand Lodge and presented the Centenary Warrant to the WM Alf Thacker. The Provincial Grand Director of Ceremonies was Alan Fletcher Ferris, who would in later years become the Provincial Grand Master. A cheque was presented to the charities to the sum of £1,325 (number of the lodge), again this equates to £18,800 at today’s rate. By this time the membership had fallen to 129.

Stanley Lodge 50th Jubilee tie-pin.

After the lodge had met at Garston for over seven years, the Provincial Office directed that to be in compliance with the rules as set down, a vote needed to be taken regarding the ‘move to Garston’. This requires a two-thirds majority. The proposition was put to the members with 30 in favour of Hope Street but 36 for Garston with 6 abstentions. The lodge returned to Hope Street in 1976 against the wishes of the majority resulting in some discord and resignations. The tenure lasted only until 1981 when the lodge moved to the Shaftesbury Hotel but the lack of privacy dictated a move back again to Hope Street in 1985.

1989 saw the appointment of Don Baily to rank of Past Assistant Grand Director of Ceremonies, only the second grand officer in the history of the lodge and the first in over 100 years. The remaining part of the century showed the first real signs of lack of candidates.

During the 1990s attendances stayed fairly constant at around 30 per meeting but towards the end of that period the lodge saw attendances fall below 20. However, at the turn of the century prospects looked a little brighter with an influx of candidates from the Wigan area. This however proved a false dawn as they stayed but a short period. Whether because of distance or the age gap it is impossible to know.

Amalgamation discussions took place with other lodges, Childwall, Abercromby, Marlborough and Emulation but after 18 months, were discontinued without agreement being reached. In 2007 the number of meetings was reduced to six per year and some years later to four. The final 10 years became increasingly difficult. Lengthy but amicable discussions took place with Acacia Lodge No 4512 with a view to amalgamate, but although final agreement was reached between both negotiating committees, the proposals were rejected when put to the vote. From this point on the end was inevitable.

It was noticeable that Brian mentioned but few of the leading lights over the past 146 years; as he readily admitted, to do so would take up the rest of the evening and beyond. However, Stanley Lodge having been described as a ‘family lodge’ Brian felt it but right to mention the family connections of the current membership. Don Baily’s father, Norman, was preceptor of the lodge for many years, while Reg Dixon, father of Dave, was a prolific song writer who had such a great influence on the once famous Stanley Old English Nights. Eric McConomy’s links reached back many years, not only his father, but his grandfather also held the highest honour that the lodge can bestow, worshipful master, in the case of the latter, before the First World War. Harry Thacker’s father, Alf, master at our centenary meeting, was very much involved in the restoration of Hope Street following the fire. Brian then said that he had had the pleasure of initiating his son before his move to Australia. Brian also mentioned that probably everyone present was already aware that John Lewis and himself are brothers-in-law.

Finally, Brian paid tribute to the current members, the real heroes of the hour, for without their devotion we would not be sitting here as the lodge would have ceased years ago. In addressing the members Brian, as their WM said: “Brethren of Stanley Lodge, you have carried out your duties with diligence and unremitting care for which I salute you.” Looking across the room there were members with tears in their eyes.

Kevin Poynton addressed the lodge with some fine words and asked that both the original and the centenary warrants along with the lodge’s minute book be surrendered to him. Brian then stood up and said a final few words followed by the senior warden who gavelled and said: “By command of the WM, I close the lodge for the very last time.”

Brian and the Assistant Grand Master stood by the door holding the two lodge warrants and the members and guests filed past in a quiet procession. It was all so very sad that a lodge with such a fine 146-year history should fold. The contributory factors were an ageing membership, not being proactive in recruiting new members, not retaining the new members once recruited and a decline in enthusiasm in organising half nights and ladies’ nights together with other social events.

When asked his thoughts, one member replied that all should learn a lesson from the demise of Stanley Lodge. The need to have an outward approach in attracting new young members and then retain them by arranging social events which suit them and giving them work to do inside the Lodge. He added by saying: ‘I am convinced that once we have a few more younger Masons amongst us it will have a knock-on effect and more will join’.

Members at the final meeting.