Medieval Bridge over Exe
Medieval Bridge over Exe


Seen through the lives of some extraordinary Freemasons

on Thursday, 12 January 2023 at Leonardo Hotel Exeter [Jurys Inn Exeter Hotel]

At the recent meeting of the ELHS held at Leonardo’s on the 12th January, Mr Brian Thornton, Secretary of the St John the Baptist Lodge gave a detailed and most interesting lecture on the History of Freemasonry in Exeter since the 17th century.

Brian pointed out that the Freemasons have five million members worldwide, the brethren are apolitical, adhere to high standards, and raise money for charity. 50% of the funds raised go to the Freemasons, and 50% to charitable causes. They also look after their members. If any mason falls on hard times there are funds set aside to help the member and his family out. Most lodges are for men, though there are now also some women’s lodges.

The St John the Baptist lodge has officially existed from 1732 and will celebrate its tercentenary in 9 years’ time. It is the oldest Freemasons Lodge outside London. Brian gave an insight into Freemasonry from 1646 to the present day, highlighting some of the famous people who have been members. From Andrew Brice, the local printer, to the Bishop of Crediton, Bishop Surtees.

An interesting fact about the masonic meetings was its use of hostelries, pubs and hotels for its meetings. Much of the detail included in the lecture was extracted from the ancient minute books held by the lodge since 1757.”

There was a terrific amount of information in Brian’s talk which gave details of names that were proposed before being accepted. Those proposed came from a variety of backgrounds plus all of the craft and trade skills, members of the clergy, the Police, innkeepers, and landlords, and Brian spoke about the many Exeter pubs and hotels where meetings and grand feasts with several courses starting at 3 p.m. took place such as the New Inn, the Globe Inn, the Half Moon Inn and the Royal Clarence. Rationing during World War 2 prevented the grand meals of earlier times.

The current Lodge premises in Gandy Street were purchased in 1876. Andrew Brice’s name featured heavily in the Minutes along with John Stocker and James, Henry and Owen Stocker, Sir Stafford Northcote, Sidney Endacott, artist and woodturner, James George Owen, F.J.Widgery, artist, Gilbert H.Stephens, solicitor, Hugh Michelmore, Sir Henry Lopes, A.C.Reed, magistrate and mayor among others. We were able to inspect a facsimile of the Warrant which is used at meetings, the original being locked in the safe. During the war years it was removed for safe keeping at the National Provincial Bank.

Long-standing history society members may recall a visit to the Gandy Street building in March 2012 with a potted history by the then Secretary T. Sloan which appeared in two parts in the January and March Newsletters. John Moore, a member of the ELHS wrote up an interesting account of the visit which also appeared in the March edition. This was mentioned to Brian (and he agreed) that another visit to the Lodge would be desirable to enable those who were not members in 2012 to gain an insight into the very interesting Gandy Street building. So please watch out for a date to be arranged later in the year.

Sue Jackson / Brian Thornton

Brian Thornton is the Secretary of the St John the Baptist Lodge.

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