The History of the Province – 1826 to 2023
On 24 th April 1826 the R W Bro John Crossley of Scaitcliffe, Todmorden was installed as the first Provincial Grand Master of the then newly created Eastern Division of Lancashire. He presided until his death in December 1830.
This date was hugely significant because it marked the first mention of our Province in such a formal capacity. However, it was not until 1960 – only 46 years ago – and 134 years after its first mention that the Province of East Lancashire with the area that it covers and as we know it today was formally established.
But how did we reach there?
- Ashton Under Lyne Population 9,200 – 1824 Population 49,000 – 1971
- Blackburn Population 22,000 – 1824 Population 101,000 – 1971
- Rochdale Population 27,000 – 1824 Population 91,000 – 1971
Following the death of R W Bro John Crossley in December 1830 Provincial Grand Lodge remained dormant for five years. The Minute Book states very explicitly, ‘No business from 1830 to 1835’.
However, two interesting propositions received the attention of the Provincial Grand Lodge during the interregnum. In 1835 the institution of a ‘Local Fund of Benevolence’ was proposed, but the scheme was rejected in 1837. In 1840 the provision of a school for the daughters of deceased brethren was approved, but the plan did not materialise.
On 9th December 1835 at 9:00 am a meeting was convened in the name of Bro Thomas Preston Esq, Merchant of Manchester at Hayward‘s Hotel, Bridge Street, Manchester, who had been appointed Deputy Provincial Grand Master in September 1835.
Although there is no specific mention of the death of Bro Thomas Preston, nor of his elevation to Provincial Grand Master, in April 1845 a Patent of Appointment was issued to Lord Francis Egerton constituting him Provincial Grand Master. But, in the interval between his appointment and his Installation he had been elevated to the Peerage in his own right as the Earl of Ellesmere.
Owner of the Bridgewater Canal and a large landowner in South Lancashire, Lord Ellesmere was installed at a Provincial Grand Lodge meeting held in Bolton on 2nd July 1846, when the town was ‘en fete and the Province welcomed its first Provincial Grand Master for 16 years. However, Lord Ellesmere never again attended Provincial Grand Lodge and resigned his position in 1856.
His successor was Bro Stephen Blair. His Masonic record was impressive: – PM Anchor and Hope Lodge No 37; PGJW 1835 to 1840; PGSW 1840 to 1846 and Deputy PGM 1846 to 1856. Stephen Blair was a Bolton industrialist, Mayor and MP and he was installed as PGM at the Royal Exchange, Manchester on 24th July 1856.
Following his appointment the Province began to prosper with the following key foci: –
- A ‘Local Fund of Benevolence’ was started – the first payment was made in 1856.
- In 1858 a Charity Committee was formed when Lodge Charity Representatives have been appointed.
- In the same year, the first beneficiary of the Provincial Annuity Fund was elected.
- Provincial by-laws were revised.
- A chain of office was provided for the use of the PGM.
- Provincial Lodge assumed the pattern with which we are now familiar.
Bro Blair ‘dedicated to the purposes of Freemasonry’ the Manchester Freemasons Hall, Cooper Street on 2nd November 1864.
Bro Blair’s successor to the office of Provincial Grand Master was Colonel Le Gendre Nicholas Starkie whose term of office began in 1870. Colonel Starkie’s outstanding service to the Province was the development of the ELMBI. He was affectionately known as the ‘Father of the Institution’ and presided over 28 consecutive Annual General Meetings of the Institution.
East Lancashire Systematic Benevolent Fund
In 1875 Provincial Grand Lodge decided to organise and extend the working of the ‘East Lancashire Systematic Benevolent Fund’ with the result that from 18th January 1876 ‘The East Lancashire Systematic Masonic Educational and Benevolent Institution was formed. Since 1910 this organisation has been known as the ELMBI [Incorporated]. In 2006 – after 130 years – the organisation’s name again changed to the ELMC, ‘The East Lancashire Masonic Charity’, to reflect the changing and ever more demanding times for assistance.
Despite the change in name, its aim is still the same as when founded in 1876, i.e.
‘The education and advancement in life of children of indigent or deceased Freemasons of East Lancashire, and to afford relief or assistance, where considered desirable in aid of Freemasons and their families in the said Province, and generally to promote the cause of Masonic Charity’.
To commemorate Colonel Starkie’s great work for the Institution, the Province in 1901 purchased a perpetual presentation in his name on the Royal Masonic Benevolent Institution.
When Bro Starkie became Provincial Grand Master in 1870, the Province contained 79 Lodges. On his death in 1899, there were 113 Lodges and 4,829 members in the Province.
Such was W Bro Starkie’s profile as PGM that an area of this Province has been named after him. Also, a craft lodge – The Starkie Lodge No 1634. This Lodge was consecrated on 27th December 1876 at the Station Hotel, Ramsbottom, with the personal permission of the then Provincial Grand Master.
After moving to the Civic Hall in Ramsbottom some years later, the Lodge had to move again in 1989; the Lodge now meets at Haslingden Masonic Hall in Rossendale. At its inaugural meeting, Starkie Lodge also received Colonel Starkie’s personal permission to use his Starkie family crest on the Lodge summons and PM jewels. A practice that is carried on to this day and revered by its members.
Lord Stanley MP
On 3rd November 1899, Lord Stanley MP and later to become the 17th Earl of Derby was installed as Provincial Grand Master in the Free Trade Hall, Manchester.
Lord Derby presided over the Province for a magnificent 49 years – until 1948 – and a record for the Province, during which time the number of Lodges increased from 113 to 303 and the number of members from 4,829 to 19,000.
Notable events during Lord Derby’s tenure were: –
- The opening of the East Lancashire Masonic Temple by HRH the Prince of Wales on 8th November 1929.
- The division of the Province into ‘Districts’, and the allocation of Lodges into these Districts.
- The appointment of ‘Representatives’ at Lodge Installations.
- The convening of a Quarterly Communication of United Grand Lodge at the Free Trade Hall, Manchester in 1935.
- The celebration of the Boys’ Festival at Belle Vue, Manchester in 1946.
- The appointment of Assistant Provincial Grand Masters.
- The opening of Walshaw Hall in July 1947.
Lieutenant Colonel Sir Alan Sykes Bt
Lord Derby’s successor was Lieutenant Colonel Sir Alan Sykes Bt. Sir Alan was appointed Deputy Provincial Grand Master by Lord Derby on 25th April 1919 and his length of service in that office is a record for the Province.
Sir Alan became Deputy PGM exactly 50 years after his initiation at Oxford, whilst he was an undergraduate there.
Lord Derby’s public offices – Cabinet Minister, Ambassador, Lord Lieutenant inevitably involved his Deputies more closely in the administration of the Province, and it was thus that Sir Alan established a record by consecrating more than 100 Lodges whilst he was Deputy Provincial Grand Master.
Sir Alan Sykes, Chairman of the Bleachers Association, MP for Knutsford, and the fourth generation of his family to occupy the office of Mayor of Stockport was Provincial Grand Master for only two years.
Sir Edward Rhodes
In 1950 aged 80 Sir Edward Rhodes became the next Provincial Grand Master, after being appointed Deputy PGM two years earlier in 1948. He was appointed to the office of APGM in 1929, being the fourth holder of that honour. The first APGM was appointed in 1921.
Sir Edward decided that Lodge Jubilees, centenaries, sequi-centenaries and other noteworthy anniversaries should be accorded recognition by the Province through the visits of official deputations to such events.
The Right Honourable the Earl of Derby MC
The Right Honourable the Earl of Derby MC succeeded Sir Edward Rhodes in 1960. On the death of the 17th Earl of Derby, who was Provincial Grand Master from 1899 until 1948, the title was inherited by his grandson, who thus became the 18th Earl.
Lord Derby was awarded the Military Cross during the Second World War. He previously occupied the position of Deputy Grand Master and became Provincial Grand Master in 1960, a post he held until 1971.
Right Honourable the Lord Hewlett, Kt, CBE
On 18th November 1971 at Belle Vue, Manchester the Right Honourable the Lord Hewlett, Kt, CBE became Provincial Grand Master of this Province, being installed into that high office by The Most Worshipful Pro Grand Master, the Right Honourable the Earl of Cadogan.
Lord Hewlett was elevated to the Peerage in 1972, and so in 1971 he was formally installed under the style and title of the RW Bro Sir Clyde Hewlett Kt, CBE.
During the period 1967 to 1971 Lord Hewlett served the Province as APGM, thereby emulating the example of his father the late W Bro T H Hewlett APGM 1935 to 1950.
In 1972 Lord Hewlett presided over the 184th Anniversary Festival of the RMIG when the record sum of £1,129,544 was announced. He was Chairman of the Appeal for the Re-development and Modernisation of the Royal Masonic Hospital, and of the General Appeals Committee of the Hospital.
As Provincial Grand Master Lord Hewlett was President of the ELMBI that led to the establishment of the New Walshaw Appeal – our own Hewlett Court at Holcombe Brook, near Ramsbottom which still provides sheltered accommodation for freemasons and their near relatives. He left office in 1979.
Below is a list of both the Provincial and Deputy Provincial Grand Masters who served this Province in this period of 1976 to date
Our current Provincial Grand Master, RWBro Robert Frankl was Installed on 28th March 2022. We look forward to many years under his guidance and leadership. He is assisted by VWBro John Farrington, PGSwdB, Deputy Provincial Grand Master and 6 Assistant Provincial Grand Masters:
- WBro John A Griffin, PSGD
- WBro Mark William Davis, PSGD
- WBro Peter Rhodes, PSGD
- WBro The Reverend Canon Richard Whishaw Hawkins, PAGChap
- WBro Peter Hegarty, PAGDC
- WBro David McGurty, PAGDC
The Provincial Grand Director of Ceremonies is WBro John Curry, ProvGDC, and the Provincial Grand Secretary is WBro Christopher Wildman, PProvJGW, ProvGSec