History of Masonic Hall, Swan Lane

By Richard John Kendrick PPSGD 2014

Travelling along Swan Lane and being confronted by the imposing wall of the Masonic Hall, it is easy to understand the long and often held opinion that the Lodge was, at one time, a place of worship. This belief was expelled when examination of records confirmed that it had been built initially as a school.

In the documents of title, the earliest reference was of a sale by one George Evans in 1776, of a barn and land for £50. This changed hands on a number of occasions until it was bought, possibly in 1850, by the British and Foreign School Society (the then existing British School was on the corner of Conduit Hill and Chapel Street). There is some doubt about the date 1850, it may have been earlier as the vendor also appears to have owned the site of the British School but the chain of ownership is a little unclear. May’s History of Evesham (published 1835) refers to the existence of an infants’ school. Apparently the present building was constructed shortly afterwards, around mid 1850.
It is not unreasonable to assume there were operative Masonic Lodges in Evesham at the time the Abbey was constructed, but it was not until 1818 that Evesham had its first known Speculative Lodge, Mercy and Truth Lodge No 703. The Lodge was formed by dispensation on May 13th 1818 and had its first meeting at the Rose and Crown, Evesham on May 27th 1818.
Although between 1818 and 1831 the Lodge met 90 times, alternating between the Crown, Rose & Crown the Cross Keys Evesham and the Ship and Coach & Horses in Pershore, as early as 1922 members enthusiasm had waned and the treasurer had great difficulty collecting dues.
Grand Lodge renumbered the Lodge as No 454 in 1832, but the writing was on the wall and the Lodge was erased in 1833.
Moving forward, in 1909 title was transferred to Worcestershire County Council from whom the Directors purchased it in 1913

EARLY HISTORY OF THE COMPANY
Following the purchase, it is clear that from the outset it was resolved to form a company to be the legal owners of the building. The earliest minute of a “preliminary” meeting, at the Crown Hotel Evesham, of the nominated Directors of the new company on 8th December 1913, record the main topic was a discussion on the alterations necessary for Masonic use, and whether or not a fixed tender of £450 from the builders, Espley’s Co Ltd., should be accepted. ( Mr Bomford, a member of the Masonic movement, was a company director.) It was.
At a meeting later that month the appointed solicitor reported that the company had been incorporated and the Certificate of Incorporation and Memorandum of Association were presented. At the same meeting the formal resolution to purchase the freehold in Swan Lane was passed by the directors, and that it should be the ‘Hall’ as the Registered Office. 285 Shares of the original 1 000 authorised share capital were allocated.
At a further meeting on 23rd December it was recorded that the Registration Certificate had been received and that the company was “in business”.

FIRST DIRECTORS

The Founding Directors were W/Bros, Henry Bloxham, Thomas Cox, Julius (later Sir Julius) Sladden, J W E Baggitt, Henry Richardson and E W Beck.
The first Secretary was Percy Choules.
Henry Bloxham was elected and remained as Chairman until 1940 – a period of 27 years.
Much later it was decided to offer directorships to Elmley Castle Lodge after its consecration in 1946 and to Avon Lodge in 1967 after its move to Evesham.

HOW SWAN LANE WAS FUNDED

The cost of the purchase including the original cottage, since demolished, was £650 and a mortgage was arranged through L Cox (Solicitor) for £500 at 4%. Later this was felt inadequate (by the Directors) and increased to 5%. The first bankers were the Capital and Counties Bank. The first AGM was held in the Council Chamber of the Town Hall on 18th March 1914. That month the original cottage was let out at 5/6d per week.
Over the years with inflation and more particularly, the need to repair and develop the property, finance was, and still is, a significant preoccupation of the Directors. The original share capital was authorised at £1000 but, largely to finance improvements, it was increased to £4000 in 1947, £8000 in 1969, £12,000 in 1971 (on this occasion partly to allow Avon Lodge to purchase 3000 shares after its removal to Evesham) and £20,000 in 1995 when borrowing and the issue of further shares became necessary to cover the major refurbishment.
The original rent to Abbot Lichfield Lodge was fixed at £30 to include, heat, light and rates. £40 was suggested but further negotiations took place and £30 was agreed.
For many years the company declared a small dividend ranging from 2 to 3 per cent.
Over the years a number of appeals have been made to Lodges and to members. A mortgage of £1000 was taken out with the Evesham Building Society (subsumed in the Cheltenham & Gloucester Building Society) as late as 1956. Obviously rents have had to be reviewed from time to time but the most dramatic increases were in 1922 (nearly 80% and in 1963 50%).

DEVELOPMENT OF SWAN LANE

For almost the whole of its history the minutes of the Companies Directors meetings were (and still are!) concerned not only with finance but also the maintenance and improvement of the property.
Apart from the original work to adapt the property for Masonic use the first major scheme was to extend the supper-room, in 1921, at a cost estimated at £200 to £220. In 1926 Abbot Lichfield Lodge offered to pay for the installation of electricity which was accepted. One can only assume that previous to this many candles/lamps must have been used.
In 1939 it was reported that a new boiler was required (not dealt with until after the war).
1945 saw the completion of the repairs required after the war-time occupation. The compensation came to £430 – 13s. 1d and was eventually received from the ministry in 1947.
Some of these funds were used to purchase a new boiler and other improvements to the heating system.
In 1959 W/Bros H W King and J Roebuck were instructed to prepare a schedule of necessary repairs etc., this came to £555.
In 1968 came the opportunity to purchase 41 Swan Lane which was effected at £2,600. Following this, the present robing-room, ladies and gent’s lavatories and extensions to the supper-room, stores and kitchen were completed.

BUILDING PROBLEMS

Finally a structural survey was carried out in 1994 by W/Bro L S Ward of Avon Lodge. This identified a number of serious problems to the roof of the dining room, and later, the roof of the Lodge room. Add to that, with degradation of the pinnacles on the front elevation it is understandable why expenditure of well over £20,000 became necessary.

MANAGEMENT OF SWAN LANE

From the outset the building has been managed and maintained by the Company. Over the years various committees came into being to deal with specific matters. At the time furnishings were paid for by the Abbot Litchfield Lodge (although there is a curious record of 2/6d compensation being received by the Directors from the railway company for damage to chairs in transit). After the first year a House Committee was set up to hold the licence and to purchase alcoholic beverages. Over the following years various funds including a Tyler’s fund and an Organ Fund were set up.
W/Bro Blinkhorn, Abbot Lichfield Lodge, recalls being a member of the working party which he thinks recommended in 1972, these funds be consolidated. This led to the current arrangements whereby:-
a) The company maintains the building and maintains and insures the contents.
b) The Masonic Association holds the licence and deals with the purchase of beverages and the provision and maintenance of catering and other equipment.
He explains; the rents charged are based on the membership figures in the current Provincial Year Book although a kindly view has traditionally been taken towards newly consecrated minor degrees during their early years.

INTERESTING VARIOUS POINTS IN THE HISTORY OF SWAN LANE OUTSIDE LETTINGS

It has always been a policy to consider non Masonic lettings, although on a very selective basis. These were included as far back as 1914.
“The Brotherhood Club” at one shilling per meeting, various dancing classes from a Mrs Smith in very early days, and the Wilson’s Academy later.
W/Bro Ron Tarry recalls going to dance classes many years ago in what is now the Lodge room.
The Operatic Society (despite objections that they would cause damage) and apparently Bridge Clubs and occasional parties and dances – these judging by complaints received in 1923 about noise from would you believe “all night parties”. This led to a closing time of 12.30am being fixed! Latterly we have had the Elm Pentecostal Church a “spiritual” church and, of course, Weightwatchers.
In 1915 rumours were around that the Lodge room would be required for a hospital but this never transpired.
The new Lodge of Instruction, formed in 1946, was to be charged £1 – 11s – 6d rent p.a. (soon increased).
The original setting up expenses, were finally cleared in 1919.
It was agreed, in Feb 1936, to borrow £150 from the Bank to pay off the outstanding mortgage.
During 1940 the property was requisitioned for military use, said to be a military canteen, at a rental of £80 p.a. eventually being released on 4th October 1946. In 1947 the building was renovated and thanks to the generosity of the late F J Bryant (whose company was Bryant’s Adamantine Plaster Specialists) the magnificent cast pillars and other decorative plasterwork was completed.
He goes on to say “When I was entrusted with the designing and execution of the renovations of the Lodge Room, I was inspired to create an atmosphere compatible with the recognised features of such buildings so as to follow as far as possible what we are taught in our Ritual and would be those which were used in the embellishment of the Temple of our Ancient Order”.
“I was desirous, therefore, to introduce permanently those Architectural features which represent Wisdom, Strength and Beauty, namely the three most celebrated orders of Architecture, the ‘Ionic,’ ‘Doric’ and ‘Corinthian,’ These orders represent the three principal officers of The Lodge, The Worshipful Master ‘Ionic’; the Senior Warden ‘Doric’ and the Junior Warden ‘Corinthian”.
In 1948 following a suggestion from Abbot Lichfield Chapter, the Lodge room was formally dedicated by the Provincial Grand Master, R W Bro Ben Marsh at a ceremony which took place on 23rd November W Bro Douglas Yates was the Worshipful Master.
In 1968 the purchase of 41 Swan Lane was recorded. However this led to the eventual demolition of the old cottage in 1978 as being beyond economic repair

HIRAM ABIFF PLAQUE

The plaque at the west end of the Lodge, over the Senior Wardens chair was generously donated by W.Bro.W.J.Craven PPGW, and unveiled at the Abbot Lichfield Lodge on November 14th. It represents Hiram Abiff and is a replica of a carved stone placed high on the wall of the Scottish, Melrose Abbey. We are indebted to the researches of the Late W. Bro. Darricott (and possibly E.A.B. Barnard) It is thought that two were made with the second being presented to the Grand Lodge of Scotland.
At one time it was thought by clerics of no Masonic knowledge to be the head of The Christ. However it is obvious to us that it is not, for we learn from the Scriptures that Christ’s head was not wounded except by the crown of thorns and there is no trace of any such marking on the carving. Moreover the features are not Jewish but Arabic or Tyrian.
The importance of this carving is that it appears to afford proof of the great age of our Masonic traditions as it takes us back to a period long before any narration in writing. The stone itself was placed in the present position in Melrose Abbey in 1616 (although the official guide to the Abbey quotes 1618) but it came from the ruins of the Abbey which had been rebuilt in 1326 and it might even been part of the original Abbey which was built in 1136 but this latter must be pure surmise. Incidentally the records of The Lodge of Melrose go back to 1674 without a break and they have reason to believe that The Lodge was formed at the time of the building of the Abbey
Members are justly proud to be privileged by the plaque believed to be unique to any private Lodge.

My sincere thanks to W/Bro Michael Blinkhorn, W/Bro Richard Rollings, and
W/B Anthony King for their kind help in assisting me with this this research

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Peter Ross October 18, 2014 at 7:00 pm

A truly fascinating insite to our ” home ” thank you W Bro Richard and team.

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