During the last two years I have been asked many questions on the early history Thistle Lodge, No. 62 formerly Journeyman's Lodge.
This is not the history of the Lodge; this has never been written, and I doubt it ever will be, the reason being that two of the earliest minute books of the Lodge are lost. These cover the years 1773 to 1858, years in which I believe many important events took place in the Lodge.
We are fortunate that we still have the first minute book of the lodge in the original, also a copied version in handwriting which I believe to be that of the late Brother William Aitkin, P.M., who was Secretary from 1900-1902 and Master in 1903, and who holds a unique honour in Scottish Freemasonry which will be referred to later. The first page of the minute book Commences: - " The books of records belonging to the Journeymans Lodge Dumfries. This Lodge was first constituted on the 6th day of June ye year of Masonry 5753, and in the year of mans redemption by our Lord Jesus Christ 1753, by these persons following, viz. Jas.Connon who was unanimously chosen Matr.For that year. " George Walker Mafson chosen Seignor Warden; James Fulton Mafson Junr. Warden; William Turnbull Seign. Deacon; John Englis Junr. Dean; Both Mafsons; Patrick Goff Secretary; Ben Gillat & Oliver Strong, Members, All Master Mafsons and Willm. Cowan also. " Its to be recorded that there was two members more at the first rise of this Lodge, i.e. Geo. Walker and Alexander McKnaught both weavers who was chosen Officers; but being guilty of entering, pafsing and raising men clandestly out of the Lodge, was turnd of as rotten members, and Willm.Turnbull and John Englis chosen Officers in there stead as soon as they were qualified, so the said Geo. Walker and Alex. McKnaught Weavers was the rise of that clandestine Lodge called now The Weavers, or Bridge end Lodge".
It is interesting to note at this first meeting was a man who was not a Freemason, William Turnbull, who was initiated on the 30th June 1753, and also that they would have no dealings with clandestine Masons, though they were not authorised to act by Grand Lodge, the Charter being granted on 10th December 1745.
The rest of the first page in the book, and the whole of the second contains the list of members initiated in the Lodge, or admitted as joining members, with notes against several of the names.
The third to seventh pages contain minutes in 1758 and 1759 and a list, which seems to have been used for attendances. There are no minutes for 1754 to1758.
The eights, ninth and tenth pages are blank, and the eleventh, twelfth and thirteenth contain a copy of the Lodge Warrant.
A very interesting point about the Prayer to Grand Lodge; it contains the names of the Brethren who were appointed Office-Bearers, and asks for a warrant or charter, but this application does not give the name of the Mother Lodge of these Brethren, and the letter was not supported by the Old Lodge of Dumfries.
Where then were these men made Masons? They were not members of the Old Lodge of Dumfries, though the minutes of the latter are far from complete, as Brother The Rev. Herbert Pool points out in his paper on the Thistle MS. Which he gave to the Quatuor Coronati Lodge, London in 1922. All the books and records of the Lodge, and those of Lodge No.53 were made available to Brother pool to assist in his research.
From the History of Dumfries Town by W. McDowall, there were very few stone masons in the district in the eighteenth century, when the Town Council decided to build "ane suitable council-house and clerks chamber for keeping the Charter, Chist and records of the Burgh". The Work was undertaken by Tobias Bachup, a Master Builder from Alloa, and is known to have brought a large number of stone masons from outside the town to carry out the work on what is now known as the Midsteeple. It would appear that these stone masons were also Freemasons and formed themselves into a body to constitute a Lodge of Journeymen.
The fifteenth to seventeenth pages contain the beginning of a series of Byelaws of 1745 and the eighteenth has a copy of the Lodge certificate, which is of great interest, and appears to have been framed in 1758.
There are now only five of these charges or MS. Known to be in existence which originated from the Scottish Lodges and the oldest dates from the fourteenth century, and are as follows: -
The Lodge of Melrose, 1581; Old Aberdeen, 1670; Kilwinning, No.0, 1675; Kilwinning No. 53 (Dumfries), late fifteenth century and known as The Dumfries No.4; the other is in the possession of Thistle Lodge and, as has been stated, are in our first minute book. The last two are listed in the American Masonic encyclopaedia. These curious charges gradually ceased to be used on the Brethren, declining as an operative Institution, and were merged into the system of free and accepted Masons.
The first recorded Royal Arch degrees in the South of Scotland was in the Journeymans Lodge on the 9th of November 1756 when two Brethren were exalted-which again supports the theory that the founders were Freemasons from outside Dumfries.
The Byelaws of the Lodge contain many curious acts, mainly for the behaviour of the Brethren both in and out of the Lodge and the fines to be imposed for the violation of the same. They ranged from 2d. for not attending Lodge Meetings, 1s. for being drunk on a Lodge night, and for violent behaviour in the Lodge the fine was 2s.6d.
The initiation fee at the beginning was 12s.6d., and for a joining member 7s.6d., and the quarterly dues, 6d., were collected before the Lodge was opened. The minutes of this time read as follows: "The dues having been collected, the Lodge was opened in due and Ancient form".
On the 1st December 1755, the Lodge was represented at Grand Lodge when law 18 was passed, making the Grand Master an affiliate member of all the Lodges.
6th June 1766 It was agreed that on a motion of the Lodge that a proper place be found for the Lodge to meet. This was in Brother Alex. Crombie's house at the rent of 15s. sterling per year, as the Brethren thought it undignified to meet in a public house.
2nd December 1768 First procession of the Lodge from the Coffee House to the English Chapel on St. John's Day; any Brother not present to pay the same expenses as the rest-2s.6d. sterling. This was the first St. John's dinner in the Lodge, and was held every year until 1916.
The installation of the Office-bearers took place on St. John's Day 27th December, but there was no ceremony on the lines we know. One report is worth Quoting: "This being the day of St. John, the Brethren assembled at 6 o'clock, and sat down to a c dinner, Brother Martin in the chair. Thirty of the Brethren began the attack on a substantial and tempting repast, and in a short space of time the Purveyor had clean evidence that his catering had given the utmost satisfaction to the Brethren of the mystic tie, and the lodge was closed in due form, and good harmony shortly after 11 o'clock. The first minute book closes on 26th December 1772 when from the first meeting ninety-two Brethren were admitted.
24th December 1772 A brother was fined 5s. and two years' dues for insulting the Master and given two days to pay, which sum he refused to pay and was expelled from the Lodge.
It was on the 5th February 1775 that the Brethren petitioned Grand Lodge to change its name from the Journeymen's Lodge to Thistle Lodge, and it came about this way. Journeyman's Lodge was one of the leading Lodges in the district, just as Thistle is at the present day. Its membership included all the leading men of the town and district, such as the principal tradesmen, farmers, as well as county nobility, and landowners. They had by this time lost the original image of the journeymen, and were free and accepted Masons, hence the change of name.
In the year 1776 the Grand Lodge passed a law to number all Lodges who were working under the in Scotland; they requested each Lodge to send a delegate to Edinburgh, and as each Brother entered the Lodge Room, he gave the name of the Loge he represented; that was the order in which the numbers were given. By that arrangement the delegate from the Journeymen's Lodge had been the seventy-fourth Brother to enter, so at the beginning it was a matter of luck, and not seniority with regard to the numbers.
In the year 1809 the Lodges were renumbered to bring in the Kilwinning Lodges and Thistle retained No. 74, until the year 1816, when the third re-numbering took place thistle were allocated No. 61. The forth time the Lodge number were changed was in 1822, when some of the Lodges who were included in the previous arrangements were left out, owing to having ceased to be working, so the number allocated to Thistle Lodge was 57.
The final revision of Lodge numbers took place in 1826, when some of the Lodges who had not come under the jurisdiction of the Grand Lodge agreed to do so if they were given a place on the roll amongst the oldest, which was their right. This put Thistle back to 62, which number we still hold. 1st November 1867 In the year 1867 the colour of the Lodge Regalia was changed from Blue and White to Green and Gold. The Lodge still has three of the Journeymen's aprons in good condition along with the sashes. Our Lodge was the first in Scotland to initiate a benefit society amongst its members in 1817.It is also recorded in books of this Lodge that the working of the Mark Degree was probably first mentioned in Scotland.
Up to this time it was customary for the Brethren in all Lodges to make their mark after the Fellowcraft Degree, which they only received after due trail and having proved themselves worthy of advancement.
It is also recorded that on the 15th April 1884 sixteen Brethren from Lodge Caledonian No. 238, Annan, and St. Cuthbert's Lodge No. 41 Kirkcudbright, took the mark steps. Also on 21st March 1887 six Brethren of a deputation from Lodge Hartfell, No. 728, Moffat, received the Mark Degree. After seeing the deputation on the train to Moffat, they returned to the Lodge Room and conferred the Mark on four Thistle members.
Before this date there were some peculiar entries here and there. For instance, when they had any surplus balance on hand they got rid of it by purchasing Whisky, Toddy, Punch Bowls, or odd china. In this way they squared their accounts and saved the trouble of banking.
Two punch bowls of Thistle lodge, No. 74, are still in the possession of the Lodge; also a Toddy jug with a printer's error giving the number as 47.
The Brethren took part in all Masonic Ceremonies, such as the laying of foundation stones, and travelling all over the South of Scotland; the list is too numerous too give full details in this short history.
The following excerpt from the minutes of Lodge 63 is worth quoting: -
11th November 1789 A petition was presented to Brother Alexander Ferguson of Graigdarroch, P.G.M., in the following terms to re-open St. Michael's Lodge: That the petitioners are all regular Masons and members of Thistle Lodge of Dumfries, that of late much confusion and disorder has prevailed in that Lodge, and that they may enjoy themselves in concord, harmony, and good fellowship that befit the character of Freemasons, they are induced to submit the following proposal to your Worship appropriation and authority, etc. Signed by six members of Thistle Lodge.
This petition was granted by Brother Ferguson on the same date. It will be observed that there were no original members of St. Michael's Named on the petition.
Then on the 16th April 1791 the Old Lodge of Dumfries objected to the Provincial Grand Master granting the certificate to re-open St. Michael's Lodge unless three Brethren who were original members of the Lodge shall appear.
This request was turned down by the Provincial Grand Master "by orders from the Grand Lodge of Scotland renovated Lodge St. Michaels in common form".
The minute book commencing 30th November 1859 gives a very full account of the working of the Lodge, but during the next forty years the greatest concern of the Brethren was to find a proper place to have Lodge meetings. It is recorded that during this time they met in no less than fifteen different places in the town. The days on which Lodge meetings were held were changed on a number of occasions, and on the 3rd August 1863 it was unanimously agreed to change the Lodge meeting to Tuesdays at 7.30pm in Winter and 9 o'clock in Summer.
On the 6th August 1866 the Lodge took the initiative in having the Provincial Grand Lodge put on an active basis owing to the dormant position it was in. An invitation to other Lodges in the town was sent to discuss this. On the 1st October it was reported by Right Worshipful Master that Brother Stewart, the Provincial Grand master for the Southern district of Scotland, expressed surprise that he had not been invited to visit the Lodge; this invitation was sent and on 15th November Brother Stewart was present at the Lodge and afterwards entertained in the new Assembly Rooms George St. Dumfries where the Lodge now meets, the expense being £2.4s.6d sterling. There is no report of any other Provincial Grand Lodge office-bearers being present. At the installation of the office-bearers of the Provincial Grand Lodge on 4th March 1867 the Thistle Lodge granted the use of any regalia they may wish for the occasion. This was not the end of the Provincial Grand Lodge troubles for, on the 5th December 1881, the Thistle Lodge asked for speedy action on the re-opening of the province and, at a meeting called for this purpose, Brother Henry Gordon, Provincial Grand Deputy Master, declined to accept the office of Provincial Grand master. Brother Maitland having died in April of that year. A large number of Thistle Brethren attended the funeral at Penpont Churchyard.
The first music in the Lodge was played by Brother Gordon at the Provincial Grand Lodge visitation on 12th December 1867, when the minutes report: "the novelty was well received, the Lodge Room being decorated with evergreens, and the word 'welcome' above the Square and Compass, the Provincial Grand Master, Brother Lauderdale Maitland of Eccles, and nine thistle Provincial office bearers retired to the air of 'The merry Masons'".
February 1868 It was agreed that this Lodge would support the Provincial Grand Master at the consecration of the new Lodge at Dalbeattie 'Granite Union', and also that we would give assistance to the new Lodge of such furniture, regalia and jewels that they may require, also that any Brother of'The Thistle' would receive his train fare, 2s. Twenty-six members were present.
Benevolence has played an important in the early part years of the Lodge, and it has been stated that the Lodge had a benefit society in 1817; outside the Lodge grants were also made. It is recorded that on St.John's Day 1866 a grant was made to the ragged school and the industrial home. On the 2nd November 1868 Â£5 was voted to the cost of the new Royal Infirmary, and again Â£5 was voted to the fund of the Dumfries Town Council for the relief of the unemployed in 1879.
It was also agreed that the members of 'The Thistle' would walk in Masonic Dress in the torchlight procession to the Mechanics' Hall on Tuesday, 26th, to attend a concert for the relief of the unemployed,
The first ceremonial of the installed Master was held in April 1874 when Brother Thomas Dykes, Brother Robert Wilson and Brother James Riddick along with three P.M.s of Lodge St. Michael's had the degree conferred on them. The installing Masters were Brother Maitland, Provincial Grand Master, Brother Davidson, P.M. Lodge 360, Glasgow, and Brother Brander, P.M., Lodge 72 E.C. On the 6th December 1857 Brother Sinclair was installed according to the new order from the Grand Lodge of Scotland by the first Thistle installing board. At this same meeting Brother James Halliday, P.M. Lodge 140, was duly installed on proof that he was entitled to the degree.
On the 19th March 1874 Thistle Lodge Master, Wardens, and a number of Brethren were present at the re-opening of Dumfries Kilwinning Lodge No, 53, in the Kings Arms Hotel, Dumfries, by the Provincial Grand Master, Brother Lauderdale Maitland of Eccles, a Lodge which had been dormant for twenty-seven years.
The Lodge bought a banner to carry in all processions in 1854 at a cost of Â£5,9s.8p. The second was presented by Brother John Crosbie on 5th October 1875, as he was leaving the country. He stated "he would like to make a complement to this Lodge 'Thistle' in remembrance of him". These two banners are still in possession of the Lodge and are displayed at many functions.
On 20th November 1876 Brother Thomas Dykes moved that the a committee be formed for the purpose of seeking a proper place for holding the Lodge meetings, as it was agreed by all the Brethren that meeting in a public house was objectionable in many ways. On the 4th December the committee reported that a suitable lodging belonging to Brother Coltart, of three Queensberry Street had been secured. It was moved in the lodge that Â£20 be voted from the Benevolent Fund to put the house in order and the Bye-laws were altered on the motion being put to the members: - Initiation fee Â£2,2s. - of this 5s. was to repay the loan to the Benevolent Fund; monthly subscription 6d. instead of 3d. - of this 4d. had to be paid to the Rent Fund of the new Lodge Room and 2d. to the benevolent Fund; and it was further agreed that liquor be kept in the Lodge room press - Whisky to be charged at 4d. a glass and beer sold at 4d. a bottle. This department to be looked after by the Lodge Steward, the profit to go to the Rent Fund. No drink sold after 10.45pm.o,clock
The first meeting in the new Lodge Room was on the 5th February 1877 when the Right Worshipful Master congratulated the Brethren on all the hard work and effort, which had made 'Thistle Lodge Room' possible.
On the 5th may 1878 the Right Worshipful Master asked the Lodge to grant the use of the rooms for a few evenings to a new Royal Arch Chapter which had been started in Dumfries; the request was granted on the understanding that the chapter would contribute to the Thistle Lodge Fund a proportion of the rent, but on the 8th July it was agreed to make no charge except what had been expended for cleaning. On the 6th February 1882 Brother Thomas Dykes conferred the installed Master Degree on Brother Andrew Glendinning and Brother Peter Brown of Lodge St, John Thornhill, No. 252. After refreshments the visitors were accompanied to the by the Right worshipful Master and a deputation.
At a special meeting on the third May 1882 petitions craving admittance were presented from Mr Arnistain Nargarrao and Mr Trangott Israel Kempffe, both from Denmark 'and well recommended to us,' were balloted for, then entered, passed and raised to the dignity of a Master Mason, all on the same evening
This was not uncommon in these days - the last master to confer three degrees on a candidate on the same night was the late Brother Houliston, P.M. in the year 1891, who was recognised as one of the best exponents of ritual in the south of Scotland.
These were not the first foreigners to be admitted into the lodge as the petitions show that eight others, Germans and Russians received three degrees 1808
In the year 1815 a candidate of the name of Moses Solomon was initiated, surly a fit and proper name for a freemason.
On the 4th February 1896 Grand Lodge passed a Bye - law to the affect that no candidate shall be advanced from the degree of apprentice to that of Fellowcraft, or received from the fellowcraft to that of Master Mason at a shorter interval that two weeks between each degree.
Burns, Centenary Minute of 1st September 1896.
"The Centenary of the death of our beloved Brother and National Poet, Robert Burns, being celebrated in this town on the 21st July, thousands of admirers congregated from all parts of the world to pay homage to the cherished memory of him, who through his genious has become the Beacon of Scottish literature, and through his honesty, integrity, and sterling worth the idol of every fine Scotsman, the proceedings throughout being accompanied with the greatest enthusiasm and public rejoycings. The Masonic Order of which Robert Burns was a faithful supporter, availed themselves of the opportunity to do honour to his cherished memory. Representative contingents of Brethren from far and near visited his tomb, and gave expression to the great respect and admiration of our departed Brother by placing upon his tomb wreaths and other floral tokens, the gift of their respective Mother Lodges. Lodge Thistle, No.62, assembled in goodly numbers, a handsome wreath - the gift of the Lodge - being placed upon the tomb by Brother Alex. Bryson R.W.M., and deputation.
"He squared his life upon the principals of moral truth and justice and has ascended to the Grand Lodge above and lives in the illuminated light and presence of the great architect for ever and ever."
The first tracing board lecture in the Lodge was on the 4th July 1887. This innovation was greatly appreciated by the members and visitors present; Brother James Murphy, Right Worshipful Master, was congratulated on his effort to improve the Fellowcraft degree.
In the year 1889 the Lodge were invited by St. Michael's to appoint a committee to discuss the subject of obtaining property for a larger meeting place, but as the Lodge found themselves unable to incur any liability, they agreed to become tenants of any building the St. Michael's Lodge cared to erect.
The new Masonic Hall was consecrated on the 28th November 1890 and Thistle became tenants along with Kilwinning Lodge, No. 51, at a rent of Â£8 per annum.
We remained at George Street till the 2nd April 1901 when a notice to quit the Masonic Hall was delivered from St. Michael's because we refused to pay the increased rent of Â£15, as we had been promised a reduction from Â£8 along with Kilwinning No.53.
The Minute 2nd April is as follows :-
" A notice which had been served upon the secretary by the proprietors of the Masonic Hall intimating that our tenancy of the hall would terminate at Whitsunday next, and that we would then require to remove from the premises".
The Master explained that this action was taken in consequence of our refusal to comply with absurd and extortionate demands for increased rent by the proprietors of the hall - a sub-committee was formed to find another suitable hall.
16th April 1901: The committee who were delegated to procure the tenancy of a new hall reported that they had taken the hall and anti-rooms attached to the congregational Church Irving Street, for the year from Whitsunday next at the rent of Â£8; this to include twenty-six meetings during the year. The meeting expressed satisfaction and approval with what had been done.
The first meeting in the new Thistle Lodge Room took place on the 21st may 1901 when suitable reference was made to the most desirable change which the Lodge had made in removing from the Freemasons' Hall to the new premises in Irving Street, and a vote of thanks was given to the committee.
At the St. John's Festival on 26th December 1902 Brother William Aitken was installed as Right Worshipful Master, the youngest Brother ever to be installed in the Lodge. He was twenty-four years of age, and the report of this occasion in The Scotsman and the local press state that he was the youngest Brother to attain the Chair of any Lodge in Scotland.
On the recommendation of Grand Lodge the Lodge agreed after considerable discussion of the new 'Licensing Bill' that no liquor shall be introduced into the Lodge, and that all functions where liquors are to be used the same shall be held in licensed premises in the town.
This Bill was passed by parliament, was of such a complex nature that grand lodge issued a memorandum to all Lodges with the opinion of Brother Sheriff C. K. Mackenzie. On its main points as regard Masonic Lodges as Clubs, the assumption that the word 'Club' in the sense of the Act embraces a Masonic Lodge.
On the 7th March 1904 a visitation of twenty-five Brethren from the United Lodges of Carlisle were present to witness the Third Degree as worked by Brother John Houliston P.M. This visitation afforded the brethren of Thistle Lodge much pleasure and Brother John Lockerbie, the Right Worshipful Master, was complimented on the success of the evening. 106 Brethren were present at the meeting.
In the same year Grand lodge passed three Bye-laws: the initiation fee was raised to Â£3, 3s.; no more than seven candidates shall have any Degree conferred upon them at one meeting (except the mark); and that a collection must be taken at St. John's Festival, or Initiation for Grand Lodge Benevolence Fund.
A special meeting was held on the 25th August 1904 when the arrangements were made to celebrate the Ter-Jubilee of the Lodge on the 23rd September. Four pages of the minute book were devoted to the discussion. The meeting in September was held in the Thistle Lodge Room, Irving Street, Dumfries; eighty-four brethren signed the Attendance Book; representatives from the Grand lodge, Provincial Grand lodge, the three Dumfries Lodges, Lodges in the province of Dumfriesshire, Cumberland, Ayrshire, Galloway and Glasgow. The minutes and the reports in the local papers take up twelve pages of the minute book, including a photograph, taken at sweetheart abbey on the Saturday, when the brethren entertained all the distinguished Brethren and visitors.
A special Lodge Jewel was struck for the occasion and one is still carried on the Master's collarette.
On the 9th January 1905 Brother John Lockerbie, I. P. M., gave notice of motion that Thistle Lodge, 62, consider the advisability of securing more suitable premises. On the 6th February a full report and correspondence in connection with the motion was given to the Brethren, the committee, after viewing several halls in the town, gave the opinion that only two were suitable, the upper hall at 5 Irving Street, and the Freemasons Hall, George Street. After a very lengthy discussion twenty-one voted for the Masonic Hall and eleven for Irving Street, so the Lodge once again moved their premises, after four years in which they went from strength to strength. The first meeting was on the 5th June 1905, where they stayed till 1932 when the Masonic Hall was sold, and all the lodges moved to The Assembly Rooms.
The balance Sheet for the Year 1905 was as follows:- Benevolent Fund £141 18 8½ Ordinary Fund £29 9 10½ Total Funds £ 171 8 7__ This concludes my story of the first 150 years of this Grand Lodge with its unbroken history of 214 years. Much research requires to be done to bring this 'story' up to date, perhaps in the future some Brother more able than I will complete this and put it in book form for future prosperity.
One final comment, since the 6th June 1753 to the 15th May 1967, 2,245 men have seen the light of Freemasonry in The Thistle Lodge.