To trace the history of a lodge such as Brunswick extending over the last 200 years and to appreciate its unique participation in the development of Freemasonry in England and particular in the province of Devonshire one must recall the chequered events which led to the establishment of our present United Grand Lodge of England.
Although it is not yet possible to say when, why or where Freemasonry originated it is known where and when ‘organised’ Freemasonry began. On 24th June 1717 four London lodges came together at the Goose & Gridiron ale House in St Paul’s Churchyard, formed themselves into a Grand Lodge and elected a Grand Master (Anthony Sayer) and Grand Wardens.
For the first few years the Grand Lodge was simply an annual feast at which the Grand Master and Wardens were elected, but in 1721 other meetings started to be held and the Grand Lodge began to be a regulatory body. By 1730 it had more than one hundred lodges under its control (including one in Spain & India), had published a Book of Constitutions, began to operate a central charity fund and had attracted a wide spectrum of society into its lodges.
In 1751 a rival Grand Lodge appeared, made up of Freemasons of mainly Irish extraction who had been unable to join lodges in London. Its founders claimed that the original Grand Lodge had departed from the established customs of the Craft and that they intended practising Freemasonry ‘according to the Old Institutions. Confusingly they called themselves the Grand Lodge of Antients and bestowed upon the other body the derogatory title of The Moderns.
The two Grand Lodges also became known by the names of their Grand Masters, thus the Antients were also referred to as the Atholls, after the Duke of Atholl, and the Moderns as the Prince of Wales Masons.
It was to the Antients or Atholls Grand Lodge that Lodge Brunswick, held its early allegiance.
Unlike the Moderns, the Antient Grand Lodge did not publish a list of their Lodges in the first 50 years of their existence. The first printed roll of Antients Lodge appeared in their Book of Constitutions, or Ahiman Rezon as they named it, in the year 1807.
Six of the Devon lodges which have survived the passing of time can trace their origins to the Antient or Atholls Grand Lodge. They are:
St Johns No 70
Harmony No 156
Lodge Brunswick No 159
Perseverance No 164
Lodge of Charity No 223
Fidelity No 230
All these Lodges are in Plymouth with the exception of Perseverance which operates at Sidmouth.
United Grand Lodge of England
It was not until the end of 1813 that the Moderns Grand Lodge & the Atholls agreed to terminate their half century of rivalry and bickering to form one United Grand Lodge.
The union was consolidated on St Johns Day, 27 December 1813, and it was done with dignity and decorum. The Brethren of both Grand Lodges assembled at the Freemasons Hall in London. The moderns opened their Grand Lodge for the first time whilst likewise in another room the Atholls Grand Lodge was opened. Then, to the accompaniment of music the respective Grand Masters and their officers proceeded to the Great Hall where the company was discreetly marshalled so as to be completely intermixed.
The United Grand Lodge of England was then opened for the first time according to ancient usage. At last Freemasonry in England was united, a fraternity bonded by brotherly love and mutual understanding as far as the frailties of human nature permits.
At the time of union, the numerical strength on the rolls of the two former Grand Lodges was Atholls or Antients, 359 lodges; Moderns 641.
The Grand Master of the new United Grand Lodge, the Duke of Sussex was faced with a formidable task to overcome the differences of opinion which had existed for many years. He considered the prime importance to devise a ritual which would be acceptable to the members of the former rival factions.
To achieve this he set up a Lodge of Reconciliation, consisting of a number of outstanding masons and to them he gave the task of evolving a ritual which would be, ‘one pure unsullied system according to the genuine landmarks throughout the English Craft fraternity’.
The lodge members met in closed session to discuss and formulate the revised ritual and when this was finalised open lodges were held to demonstrate the new ceremonies and two demonstrations were given to the United Grand Lodge.
To teach the new system, members of the Lodge of Reconciliation visited the Provinces, and Provincial Masons, elected by lodges, made the journey to London. The Lodge of Reconciliation was in existence until 1816.
Brother John Rippon, nominally of the East Devon Militia Lodge No 216 which is associated with the formation of Brunswick lodge, attended the Lodge of Reconciliation on no less than 5 occasions, on three of which he acted as the candidate. On his return to Devon and between meetings, he visited lodges and demonstrated the knowledge he had acquired. Before his death in 1828 he had been made a member of almost every lodge in the province
Brunswick Lodge minutes record two such visits
Copy of Lodge Minutes 1815
Proceedings of Lodge 260 held at Prince Regent January 24th, 1815.
The Lodge was convened for the purpose of hearing Brother Rippon give a few lectures on the Union System.
The Lodge closed at 10 o’clock in Harmony
Abraham Willcocks Worshipful Master.
William Hutchings Senior Warden
William Brown Junior Warden
Proceedings of Lodge 260 held at the Prince Regent January 25th, 1815
The Lodge was convened for the purpose of receiving the Obligation of the Union System.
When Brother John Rippon from the Lodge of Reconciliation attended to give the Obligation in the Masters Degree.
The members present Visiting Lodges
Brother John Trend Sam Pyne 44
Brother William Lidstone John Hilking 98
Brother William Nutcher James Ashly 272
Brother John Cordis John Sparks 272
Brother William Hutchings
Peter Mc Iver
The above names have been Obligated in the Union System
Signed J. Rippon