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COVEHAM LODGE No. 4212
Installation Meeting - March 2nd 2011
"Some Reflections on the Birth and Infant Nurture of Coveham Lodge"
by W Bro N D Bennett PPGReg.
Whilst today we are celebrating the ninetieth year of the existence of Coveham Lodge you will no doubt be pleased to hear that I do not propose to
recount the details of the whole ninety years. Instead, I would like to take you on a journey back to the 1920's and beyond and along the way to
throw in some Masonic history, some genealogy, some references to the Constitutions of Masonry and finally some local demography. The more
experienced Masons among you may be familiar with parts of what I have to say but I hope that even they will find something of interest. I do not
pretend to have an exhaustive knowledge of the history of Coveham Lodge and even I have made enlightening discoveries during the preparation of
this paper. I am however conscious that there are present this evening a number of Brethren relatively new to Masonry and to Coveham Lodge for
whom a little bit of history will not come amiss.
Let us begin with a bit of history. Every Mason should have the date of 24 June emblazoned on his heart. This is St John's Day, after St John the
Baptist, who is the Patron Saint of Freemasonry. On this day in 1717 a meeting took place at the Goose and Gridiron Ale House near St Paul's
Cathedral in London between Masons belonging to four London Lodges. In those days Lodges did not have names as such but were known by
the place where they held their meetings. Thus, the four Lodges which attended the meeting were from the Goose and Gridiron Ale House in St
Paul's Church Yard, the Apple Tree Tavern in Covent Garden, the Crown Ale House in Drury Lane and the Rummer and Grapes in Westminster.
As a result of this meeting the Lodges came together under the umbrella of a new Lodge called The Premier Grand Lodge of England claiming
jurisdiction over Lodges in London and Westminster. The first Grand Master elected on this occasion was Anthony Sayer. One of his first duties
was to command that the new Premier Grand Lodge should "meet every Quarter Day in Communication". Hence, to this day each Lodge is sent
a copy of the Minutes of the quarterly meetings of Grand Lodge known as "Quarterly Communications". The influence of The Premier Grand
Lodge of England gradually increased as more Lodges came under its jurisdiction. Unfortunately, as might have been expected, a number of
Lodges, particularly from the North of England objected to the changes which The Premier Grand Lodge was making to the ritual and they broke
away to form their own Grand Lodges called The Grand Lodge of York and The Grand Lodge of England South of the River Trent. These
breakaway Grand Lodges, retained the old rituals, and became known as the 'Antients' whereas those Lodges coming under the auspices of The
Premier Grand Lodge of England in London were known as the 'Moderns'. In 1813 Edward, Duke of Kent took over from the Duke of Atholl
to become the Grand Master of the Antients. At the same time his brother, Augustus Fredrick, Duke of Sussex, was made Grand Master of the
Moderns. Finally, after years of feuding between the rival Grand Lodges, the two Royal Princes got together and the two branches of Freemasonry
settled their differences. The Duke of Sussex became the first Grand Master of The United Grand Lodge of England as we know it today.
Enough of history. Now for the genealogical bit. Whilst all the wrangling and turmoil was going on between the Antients and Moderns, Lodges
began giving themselves names and each Grand Lodge began to allocate numbers to those Lodges under its jurisdiction. One Lodge in which we
are particularly interested is the Lodge of Unity. This Lodge was one of the Moderns and originally met at the Goose and Gridiron Ale House.
In the mid C18th it is believed to have had the number 183 but after the reallocation of Lodge numbers following the Union in 1813 it finally
ended up with the number 69 which number it retains to this day. This Lodge is our original ancestor and is still going strong at Freemason's Hall
after 269 years. I am delighted to say that the Secretary of the Lodge of Unity, W Bro Chris Brooks, is here with us this evening The Lodge of
Unity No.69 is in fact our great, great, great, great, great, great grandmother Lodge. For the sake of regularity our family tree starts with the Lodge
of Unity No.69 warranted in 1742, followed by the Fredrick, Lodge of Unity No.452 warranted in 1836, the Croydon Lodge of Concord No.463
warranted in 1839, the Lorne Lodge No.1347 warranted in 1871, the Ebbisham Lodge No.2422 warranted in 1891, the Leodride Lodge No. 3585
warranted in 1912 and ends with our mother Lodge, Coveham Lodge No.4212 warranted in 1920. In all, the Lodge of Unity has spawned some
125 Lodges in London and Surrey of which around 117 are still in existence. As a point of interest, the names of Ebbisham, Leodride and
Coveham Lodges are derived from the Old English names for Epsom, Leatherhead and Cobham respectively. It is also of interest to note that one
of our cousin Lodges in our family tree is Astede Lodge No.4693 - Astede being the Old English name for Ashtead.
Now that you are all up to date with our genealogy I want to turn your attention to the Book of Constitutions - that's the blue book you all received
on your Initiation! In particular I wish to refer to Rules 94 to 102.
When a Lodge gets too big or when a group of Masons want to start up a new Lodge for whatever reason, such as in a village like Cobham, they
can Petition the Grand Master to form a new Lodge. Such a Petition, together with a letter setting forth the reasons for proposing a new Lodge,
requires the support of a sponsoring Lodge and at least seven Brethren who are all Master Masons of over three years standing. These Petitioners
are required to become subscribing members of the new Lodge in that they agree to join the Lodge and pay annual subscriptions. Petitioners also
have to provide Clearance Certificates in respect of those Lodges of which they are or have been a member to show that they are not indebted to
those Lodges. In the event that the Grand Master approves the Petition, a Warrant will be issued by Grand Lodge confirming the name and
number of the Lodge but the Lodge is not placed on the Register of Lodges until it has been Consecrated, usually by a high ranking Officer of
Grand Lodge such as a Provincial Grand Master. For this reason you will find on the front of most Lodge Summonses the date on which the
Warrant was issued and a later date for the date of the Consecration. At this stage the Petitioners become Founders of the new Lodge and they
will probably have to pay a Founders fee to cover the costs of purchasing all the Lodge furniture, Minute books and Regalia etc. If the Officers
of Coveham care to look at the Jewels of Office with which they have just been invested they will find engraved on the reverse the name of the
Founder who purchased that Jewel. At the Consecration meeting the first Worshipful Master and his Officers are Installed and the By-Laws of
the new Lodge approved.
In as far as Coveham Lodge was concerned we were sponsored by Leodride Lodge No. 3585. We had some 27 Petitioners and the Lodge was
Consecrated at Mark Mason's Hall then situated in Great Queen Street, London by the then Provincial Grand Master of Surrey, Right
Worshipful Brother Rev. Cannon Herbert William Turner MA, PGChap.. Our association with Leodride Lodge is quite strong in that six of our
Founders, including the Founding Master, W Bro Henry Court Willock-Pollen JGD, PPSGW, LR, were members of Leodride Lodge as were
seven of the visitors who attended the Consecration. Unfortunately, no members of Leodride Lodge could be here this evening as they have a
Lodge meeting of their own. Although we still have a copy of the original Petition I shall not read out the details of all the Founders but will
confine myself to drawing your attention to just two of them.
First there is a George Rowland Blades. Nothing particularly remarkable about him you might think until you start delving into his background.
I noticed that his "Profession" was stated as "Member of Parliament". Then I noticed that he was a member of The Grand Master's Lodge No.1.
Now I did start to take a keen interest. Bro Blades, who was born on 15 April 1868, was not only a member of The Grand Master's Lodge No.1,
but he was actually Initiated into the Lodge on 20 May 1895 at the age of 28. The meteoric rise of Bro Blades in Freemasonry culminated in his
being appointed Past Junior Grand Deacon of the United Grand Lodge of England in 1913. During his Masonic career Brother Blades went on to
join 13 Craft Lodges. In seven of these Lodges, including Coveham, he was a Founder member. He was, incidentally, also an old boy of King's
College School, Wimbledon and became a Founder Member of the King's College School Lodge No. 4257 only four months after becoming a
Founder of Coveham. I feel sure that the Provincial Executive Officer here this evening, W Bro Chris Rashbrook, is aware of this as he is also an
old boy of the School and member of King's College Lodge. The rise to eminence in Masonry by Bro Blades was matched only by his rapid
progress in Politics. As a Sheriff of the City of London Bro. Blades received a Knighthood on 6 July 1918 and was elected the Member of
Parliament for Epsom the same year. By 1926 he became Lord Mayor of London and after several rapid elevations was raised to the peerage as
1st Baron Ebbisham of Cobham in 1928, taking the name Ebbisham from the Old English name for his Parliamentary Constituency of Epsom and
Cobham because he lived at Fairmile Hatch, Sandy Lane, Cobham from 1927 to 1937. On being elevated to the peerage Lord Ebbisham took the
Chiltern Hundreds to relinquish his position as an MP. Lord Ebbisham resigned from Coveham Lodge on 22 April 1931 and passed to the Grand
Lodge above on 24 May 1953, clearly the most illustrious member of our Lodge.
The other Founding Brother I want to talk about goes by the name of Richard Chenery Lee. Bro. Lee was a Motor Engineer and lived in what
was then Street Cobham where between Streets meets the Portsmouth Road. He was Initiated into the Duchy of Cornwall Lodge No.3038,
meeting at Freemason's Hall, London, on 2 December 1908. His Initiation Fee was 12 guineas (£12.60) and his Annual Subscription was 4 guineas
(£4.20). How times have changed! Quite how a Cobham motor engineer ended up in a Lodge meeting in London is not clear but it is apparent that
another Cobham man, Bro. Percy Shoosmith, a local builder, was also encouraged to join the Duchy of Cornwall Lodge and was Initiated in
October 1911. Bros Lee and Shoosmith were obviously good friends and, as some of the older members of the Lodge will no doubt remember,
they joined forces as the Builders Shoosmith and Lee. Their yard was on the Portsmouth Road, Cobham next to where the Alsfords, the timber
yard now is. Bro Lee was obviously a mover and shaker of his day as it was he who put forward the idea of forming a Lodge in Cobham. This
information has only recently come to light as a result of my investigations into the origins of our Lodge. I have been trying to locate relatives of
deceased members in an attempt to secure photographs and other memorabilia which may still be available. With the aid of W Bro Brian Powell
we met with a Mr Richard Lee, the grandson of Bro Chenery Lee. To our astonishment Mr Lee produced a bag of papers which had been lying
at the bottom of a desk draw for 90 years. On recovering from the shock we found that the papers included items of correspondence dating back
to 1919 relating to the endeavours by W Bro Chenery Lee to obtain support for the Petition. When the Petition had been signed by all the
Founders it was then sent to the Grand Secretary with a covering letter. I have now managed to obtain a copy of this letter from the Library and
Museum of Masonry at Great Queen Street. In essence, the reasons for wishing to start a Lodge in Cobham were:-
1. That it would be more convenient for local Masons to attend a local Lodge rather than travel to London, Kingston and Guilford.
2. That a number of local men wishing to become Masons were travelling to London and elsewhere to join Lodges despite the transport problems.
3. Several friends of local Masons had expressed a desire to join Masonry but would not do so unless there was a Lodge in Cobham. The reason
being the inaccessibility of Cobham and the difficulty of getting to other towns where there was a Lodge. Even though it was not well known
that a Lodge was being formed in Cobham there were already 10 local men waiting to be initiated.
4. Cobham, at that time, had a population of around 6,000 and it was considered sufficiently large to support a Lodge of its own.
Because of his efforts to set up a Lodge Bro Lee was the obvious choice to become the Secretary to the Founders and, once the Warrant had been
granted on 13 December 1920 and the Lodge Consecrated on 31 January 1921, he became the Founding Secretary and remained Secretary of the
Lodge for a further 16 years. He passed to the Grand Lodge above on 22 February 1953.
Now for the demography bit. Cobham today is still relatively isolated from the larger centres of population of Kingston, Epsom, Guildford and
Weybridge but in the 1920's cars were mainly the preserve of the well off and rural buses were relatively rare. Looking through the early Minutes
of the Lodge it will be seen that virtually all the members were living in Cobham itself or no further than Esher or Leatherhead. The addresses of
these members were very simple such as High Street, Cobham or 'Oakdene', Great Bookham, or 'Netherbury', Cobham. Clearly the population
was so small that house numbers and road names did not matter as the postmen knew the names of all the residents. The members of the Lodge
were drawn from the local population and represented a snapshot of the life of the village at that time. I do not propose to list dozens of the
members and their occupations many of whom the older members of the Lodge can still remember. But as an illustration it is interesting to look at
the occupations of the first Initiates into the Lodge. They were described as Motor Engineer, Harness Maker, Cycle Agent, Master Baker, Master
Clothier, Poulterer, General Carrier, Farmer, Dried Fruit Merchant, Grocer, Assistant School Master, Builder and Licensed Victualler. Over the
years the Lodge has had several Policemen among its number as well as a Vicar and at least three Publicans. One business still at the centre of the
village is the Newsagent, 'Farrants'. George Farrant was Initiated into the Lodge on 3 May 1928 and died in 1953. He was succeeded in the
business by the late W Bro Colin Worsfold, a Secretary of the Lodge for 19 years, who died in 2004 and subsequently by his son David, our
current Director of Ceremonies. W Bro David is our last surviving link with the past although to refer to him as a Dinosaur is perhaps a little
unwarranted. You will I'm sure all appreciate just how the occupations of our members have changed over the years and how, with the advent of
modern communications and travel, the Lodge is now reflecting modern British society in becoming multicultural in race and creed and nationality.
The first year in the life of Coveham Lodge was very busy and, in addition to the four Regular Lodge meetings, five Emergency meetings were
convened. Such was the clamour to join the Lodge that some 15 Initiations, 15 Passings and 14 Raisings were worked during the year. At one
meeting, on 28 June 1921, the Lodge Raised Bros Goldsmith and Trenchard, followed by Bros Lucas and Brown, then they Passed Bros Kippen
and A Osman followed by Bros. H Osman and Weller and finally they Initiated Mr Arthur Cooper. Makes you wonder what today's Officers of the
Lodge are complaining about when they have to do a 'double'. At end of the first year in 1922 the Lodge numbers had risen to 44 and by 1929/30
to 56. In recent years numbers peaked at 58 in 1985/86 but, in line with the national trends, slumped to 32 by 2001/2. As we all know it is a
constant struggle to maintain numbers in the modern world but we confidently expect to get back into the 40's again next year.
In conclusion Brethren, let us take a quick look to the future. In recent years I have been attempting to collect any items of Lodge memorabilia,
photographs, press cuttings etc with a view to preserving the history of our Lodge. Unfortunately, some of my predecessors have not been as
diligent in this respect as they might have been so if any of you come across anything at all which relates to our past please be sure to pass it on
to me. I can advise you that the Lodge is intending to purchase a fire-proof cabinet in which to store our archive material for future generations.
Tonight, Brethren, we may be celebrating our 90th Anniversary but even more importantly we shall be celebrating our Centenary in 2021 and
some poor soul will be charged with the responsibility of writing the Lodge history. Such is the nature of our history that it is intimately entwined
with the history of the village of Cobham, and I would therefore encourage all Brethren to seek for that which is lost but may be found sculling
around in the attics, cellars and garages of the older generations of Cobham residents.
W Bro N D Bennett PPGReg - 2nd March 2011
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