History of the Province of Wiltshire 1700 - 1800

In 1775 a Provincial Grand Lodge of Wiltshire was formed. The following edited text is taken from a book titled "Freemasonry in Wiltshire 1775 to 2000", written by V W Bro F M McFarland, who is a Past Deputy Provincial Grand Master.

 

History of the Province of Wiltshire in the 1700's.

 

There were Freemason's Lodges operating in Wiltshire in 1727 sometime before the creation of a Wiltshire Provincial Grand Lodge, which was formed in 1775. The history of the early Lodges is quite fascinating. Some of them were in trouble when a Grand Lodge of Freemasons was started in London as efforts to co-ordinate the growth of the Craft did not always prove popular, especially when the new moves were accompanied by a request for fees to cover expenses. Lodge Minutes reveal it was very obvious that country masons saw no reason why they should send any money to London for such a new fangled thing as a Grand Lodge. Matters did not improve until Wiltshire was visited, in 1777, by Thomas Dunckerley, in an effort to sort matters.

 

The appointment in 1775 of Sir Thomas Fowke, as the first Provincial Grand Master, is the commencement of our history as a Province. He was a Londoner and a Groom in the Bedchamber of the Duke of Cumberland. It is doubtful if he did any work in Wiltshire and was replaced in 1777 by Brother Thomas Dunckerley. who became Superintendent in Charge, not Provincial Grand Master.

 

Speculative Masonry has existed in Wiltshire from earlier than 1732, as prior to that date there was a Lodge at Salisbury, simply known as the Salisbury Lodge, it had the number 47, and at the same time there was a Lodge at Devizes known as the "Lodge at the Crown Inn".

 

In 1732, a Lodge known as Sarum Lodge was consecrated under the seal of Anthony 6th Viscount Lord Montague, Grand Master. This name, Sarum. has been in use for many years but not quite continuously as it occasionally suffered suspension for various misdeeds. In 1766 the then Grand Master, Lord Blaney, attended a meeting of the lodge so it must have been in favour again. Either that or he took no notice of the suspension of the Lodge!

It was in 1727 that England was divided into Provinces and in 1775 a formal request was made by the Lodge at Salisbury (Sarum) to a Brother Robert Cooper, asking him to accept the office of Provincial Grand Master. He declined. Said that he was too busy.

 

Some time ago there were found some rough notes of what might have been an early meeting of a Provincial Grand Lodge in Wiltshire, at Salisbury, on the 22nd September 1777, under the Banner of the Salisbury Lodge, at which Thomas Dunckerley (Provincial Grand Master of Dorsetshire presided). He has been described as P.G.M of Wiltshire but in fact he was sent down by Grand Lodge to try and keep order in Wiltshire and controlled the Province until 1795, but as Superintendent in Charge. Grand Lodge, at that time, would do this to stabilise matters. Sometimes the title of such a senior mason would have been Grand Registrar in Charge. At this meeting of the Province the name of the Devizes Lodge was called but no one appeared. So it would seem that just the Salisbury Lodge (Sarum) was present. But attending this meeting was a Hugh Skeets, also known as Highmore Skeets, who was described as D P G M of Wiltshire, Lord Charles Montague P G M of Hants. and it would also seem that among the visitors was brother Charles Wren, Grandson of Sir Christopher Wren. James Anderson mentions, in his writings, that Christopher Wren was the Grand Master of the Freemasons. This has been questioned, as records of the old Grand Lodge do not include him among past Grand Masters. However it has now been suggested that he was a Grand Master before the formation of Grand Lodge in 1717. Looking back it appears that the earliest trustworthy records are those of the lodge at Salisbury, being constituted in 1732, but it might appear that there was already a Lodge working there and also one in Devizes. Fortunately Salisbury is well blessed with early records from the old Sarum Lodge. Many now held by Elias de Derham. After Thomas Dunckerley gave up as Superintendent of the Province, he died in 1795, there was a gap of a few years with no P G M or controller. At the moment it is not known how long Skeets lasted as Deputy.

 

During 1777 a long dispute was carried out between the Salisbury Lodge and Grand Lodge in London, as the lodge declined to entertain the application from Grand Lodge for a contribution towards building and furnishing the new hail for Grand Lodge. They alleged that the great expense they had been put to in building and furnishing their own new hall made this impossible. The lodge was suspended! But shortly after a compromise was arrived at and the lodge was reinstated and agreed to pay to Grand Lodge 5/- for every person thereafter made mason by the lodge.

 

During Dunckerley's reign there was often trouble at Devizes, and at a meeting of Grand Lodge at Freemasons' Hall, London, and at the request of Brother Dunckerley the lodge held at Devizes was struck off the list for contempt. In 1792 a Brother John Dainton presided at a meeting of Provincial Grand Lodge. Very little is known about him, except that he held a Provincial Grand Lodge at Devizes in 1799. No minutes have been found. He was not Provincial Grand Master, but as the Brother presiding at that meeting it seems he held the Rank of Right Worshipful for the duration of that meeting only. He had been initiated into a Military Lodge, No 170 for the 3rd Regiment of Foot (The Buffs) stationed at Devizes. This was an Atholl Lodge. This Lodge lapsed about 1792. He was then named in the Warrant as a Founder of the Wiltshire Lodge No 523 meeting at the Black Swan, Devizes.