The History of Mark Masonry in Cheshire


W.Bro. Paul Bullows P. G. Stwd.

Although the shrouded history of Operative Mark Masonry begins much earlier, this story has its outset in September 1769, where we find the first written record of any working of a speculative Mark degree, when at a newly chartered Royal Arch Chapter, known as the Chapter of Friendship, held at the George Tavern in Portsmouth, the famous Thomas Dunckerley, son of the Prince of Wales (later King George II), Provincial Grand Master;

“bro’t the Warrant of the Chapter and having lately rec’d the “Mark”, he made the bre’n “Mark Masons” and “Mark Masters” and each chuse their Mark…..”

The state of the Mark Degree down to the middle of the Nineteenth Century was at best, chaotic. Many degrees of varying types had been worked in Craft Lodges prior to the Union of the two rival Grand Lodges in 1813, since when under the Articles of Union, the Mark Degree was not recognised as “Pure Ancient Masonry”.

On 25th August 1851, a group of London Brethren founded a Mark Lodge under a Charter obtained quite illegally from the Bon Accord Royal Arch Chapter No. 70 of Aberdeen, and appointed William Jones as Master, an action which resulted in the suspension, along with all its members, of the mother chapter. Bon Accord Mark Lodge was very successful; by 1855 it had 120 members, growing to about 150 by 1856.

In 1856, a joint committee of The United Grand Lodge of England and the Supreme Grand Chapter of England reported that the Mark Degree

“might be considered as forming a graceful addition to the Fellow Crafts Degree”

and United Grand Lodge actually resolved that it might be conferred by Craft Lodges, but at the following Quarterly Communication on 4th June 1856, the section of minutes regarding the Mark Degree were not confirmed, and therefore the Mark was not accepted into the fold.

Within four weeks, Grand Mark Lodge was established with Lord Leigh, Provincial Grand Master for Warwickshire in the Craft, as the first Grand Master and gradually, almost all the bodies conferring the Mark Degree in England and the existent Mark Lodges, acceded to or came under its authority. All nineteen Grand Officers then appointed came from the Bon Accord Mark Lodge in London. Three other Mark Lodges were involved, namely Northumberland and Berwick in Newcastle upon Tyne, Royal Cumberland in Bath and Old Kent in London.

From then on, the Mark Degree prospered and grew rapidly. In just twelve months it had more than trebled with 15 lodges and by 1861, just 5 years after its formation, Grand Mark Lodge had 53 lodges on it roll, including 20 newly formed ones and by 1881 there were 281 Mark lodges in England and Wales, and around the colonies, owing allegiance to it.

This was in spite of the continuing opposition from the Craft. The United Grand Lodge of England continued its policy of treating the other Orders as artificial. The Mark Degree was certainly its largest ‘competitor’.

The lead of the London Bon Accord Lodge encouraged some Mark Lodges to cut themselves loose from their parent bodies and go it alone. This was a new development. One such lodge was the Newstead Mark Lodge at Nottingham, with a semi-independent history probably going back to the 1700’s. It made itself independent in 1858, and even warranted two other lodges.

In February 1859 The Thistle Mark Lodge No 3 SC (now No.8 EC) joined, which gave a lead to other Scottish Warranted Lodges which had previously been slow to change allegiance. This Lodge also provided Fredrick Binkes, who took over as Asst. Grand Secretary, and later in 1861 as Grand Secretary, in London, making many significant improvements to the administration of the order.

In 1865, at the behest of Bro. Canon Portal, one of the visionary leaders, Grand Mark Lodge began handing out benevolence, raising funds at ‘charity festivals’ in a similar manner to the Craft. The stated aim was a speedy response, as opposed to the Craft’s slow. The Mark Benevolent Fund as we know it today was established in 1868.

In 1871, Grand Mark Lodge took charge of the re-emerged Royal Ark Mariner Degree which had been suppressed along with all the additional degrees by the Craft Grand Masters, the Duke of Sussex, until his death in 1843 and by the Earl of Zetland after that. The 1st Marquis of Ripon, who was invested as Craft Grand Master in 1870, was more tolerant. However, A ‘transparently illegal’ and fraudulent ‘Grand Lodge of Royal Ark Mariners’ had been ‘revived’ in 1870. It operated, in a small way, under a Brother Morton Edwards. This forced the hand of Grand Mark Lodge which announced its protection of the degree in 1871, but had to play along with Edwards until it was, at last in 1884, able to buy him out. The receipt for the payment hangs in Mark masons Hall today.

In 1872 the Craft commissioned a report into the Mark, and as a result a statement was issued. Included in that statement from the United Grand Lodge of England was –

“21 May 1872. The Grand Lodge (Craft) firmly forbids all their officials salaried from mixing themselves up in any way with other parties and especially the schismatic body styling itself the ‘Grand Mark Lodge of England’.

In common with most disputes, time was a healer, and in 1883, HRH The Prince of Wales, Grand Master of the United Grand Lodge of England, was advanced, becoming Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of Mark Master Masons in 1886. He expressly stated that he wished to see the Mark remain independent of the Craft or any other body.

The redoubtable Binkes completed 28 years of service as Grand Secretary in 1889, and was succeeded by Charles Matier. Matier was responsible for getting many of the Additional Degrees housed under the same roof as the Mark in London.

In 1889 the ‘Provincial Grand Lodges’ in the colonies became ‘Districts’, and were charged to largely run their own affairs. In that year also, the first ‘daughter’ Mark Grand Lodge was formed, in New South Wales.

In Cheshire, the oldest Masonic Craft Province in the world, the Mark degree was worked without much control in a number of Craft Lodges throughout the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century. It was slow to make formal progress. Many looked on the Grand Mark Lodge as Illegal, including the Supreme Grand Chapter of Scotland, which had continued to issue Mark Degree Charters after the formation of the English Grand Mark Lodge. I mention this because one of our oldest lodges in Cheshire was first warranted in Scotland, this being Joppa No. 5 at Birkenhead, now numbered 11 Time Immemorial, which was first officially charted between 1856 and 1858, and whose original members incidentally, all wore Mark aprons shaped in the form of a keystone!

Continuing on as regards the Supreme Grand Chapter of Scotland, this body went as far as to constitute an English Mark Province and actually appointed William Romaine Callender as the first Provincial Grand Master in 1870, in Lancashire! They finally recognised the Authority of the English Grand Mark Lodge in 1879. R.W.Bro Callender was to feature prominently in the Cheshire story some three years later!

Another of our oldest and indeed our most senior Mark Lodge in Cheshire, is now styled the Ashton District Mark lodge, commonly known as Ashton District TI, which traveled all around Cheshire, Lancashire and Yorkshire, commonly meeting within the confines of a Craft Lodge, usually on a Sunday, and conferring the Mark Degree and demonstrating the ceremony. The members of Ashton District clearly did not take well to the formation of Grand Mark Lodge in London and in 1857 decided to form their own Grand Lodge which had the fancy title “The Honorable United Grand Lodge of Mark Master Masons of the Ashton-under-Lyne District”. It is not certain how many subordinate lodges were constituted by this Grand Lodge, but it is known that Joppa No.5 at Birkenhead (now numbered 11), which was originally warranted by the Supreme Grand Chapter of Scotland, was Joppa’s first subordinate lodge. In 1870 the Deputy Provincial Grand Master of Lancashire visited Ashton District TI, trying to persuade them to submit to the authority of the Grand Mark Lodge of England. He stressed his view that there must be uniformity. Whose uniformity? Ashton saw value in diversity, and refused to submit. Like Scotland had, and arguably correctly at the time, it saw the English Grand Mark Lodge as irregular. In 1898 the editor of the Masonic Record asked questions about this Ashton District Mark Grand Lodge which no doubt stirred Grand Mark Lodge into action. The Grand Secretary dispatched a letter to Ashton District Grand Lodge in March 1899, abruptly stating that the ‘so-called’ Grand Lodge would be declared a ‘Clandestine Lodge’ in May, and all Masonic connections to it would be severed, unless it submitted. Could it have been that London had forgotten its own treatment by Scotland!

Ashton District replied, pointing out that, far from being clandestine, it had been working its old ritual, and openly, for over one hundred years. The lodge then asked that the term “clandestine” be withdrawn. They wanted to know in which way London could put down such a strong, popular, body.

In June 1899 Grand Mark Lodge in London officially declared Ashton District as “spurious and clandestine”.

A very strange and unexpected turn in events then occurred. Instead of sticking to its no-doubt well founded integrity, it actually gave in and submitted. It appears that this was due to the new presence of a very persuasive person, a Dr Foreman.

London of course was ecstatic. Suddenly Ashton was not spurious. Dr Foreman received his reward by being made a Past Grand Overseer of England. This Grand Lodge had been very stubborn, being the last external authority to submit to the Grand Mark Lodge of England on 17th February 1900, when it received its Time Immemorial status and now meets at Dukinfield.

In 1903, in a publication celebrating the achievements of W.Bro. Richard Newhouse, the first Mark Provincial Grand Secretary in Cheshire, we find the following interesting information.

          Wilbraham Egerton       1st Earl Egerton of Tatton

“Up to 1872, there had been no Provincial Grand Mark Lodge for the Province of Cheshire. The consecration of the Stamford Mark Lodge No. 148 in March 1872, now meeting at Sale, brought the number of Mark Lodges in Cheshire at the time, to four, the other three being Ashton District at Dukinfield, Benevolent No. 67 (now Benevolent TI) at Stockport, and Fidelity Mark No.31 at Birkenhead. With the addition of North Wales, it was deemed desirable by several eminent Mark Master Masons, that a Provincial Grand Lodge should be established for the area of Cheshire and North Wales. on 5th April 1873 therefore, ostensibly through the united exertions of Brothers Bulkeley Hughes, W. Romaine Callender ( who we mentioned earlier as the Mark Provincial Grand Master in Lancashire), J. Chadwick, Lt. Col Wilkinson, J. A. Birch, and Richard Newhouse, the Provincial Grand Lodge of Mark Master Masons of Cheshire and North Wales was Instituted and Consecrated under the command of The first Provincial Grand Master, R.W.Bro. The Hon. Wilbraham Egerton (later Earl Egerton of Tatton). W.Bro Newhouse was appointed as the first Provincial Grand Secretary (and indeed, he held the same position in Craft).

The combined Province separated in 1880 and The Province of Cheshire as we know it today, was born.

Currently, from the list of 41 Mark Provinces and 27 Mark Districts under Grand Mark Lodge, Cheshire is one of the largest outside London, having 38 Mark and 21 Royal Ark Mariner Lodges under its authority with approximately one thousand Mark Masons and five hundred Royal Ark Mariners proudly practicing the degrees.

Extract from the original Minute Book of the Mark Provincial Grand Lodge of Cheshire and North Wales