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Abridged History of the First 169 Years, 1850 – 2019

Hope Lodge EmblemThe Loyal Berkshire Lodge of Hope was sponsored by Vitruvian Lodge No 87 (London) in 1850. The Founding Master was John Packer, who was also the Founding Master of the Royal Sussex Lodge in Newbury in 1815 at the age of 35, and is credited with reviving Freemasonry in Newbury, in the days before the advent of street lighting and railways. At that time Freemasonry required men of standing and intelligence, which considerably limited its intake, and it wasn’t until 1900 that candidates for Freemasonry were from other than the gentry and professional classes.

The Loyal Berkshire Lodge of Hope’s Warrant from Grand Lodge is dated 21st March 1850. It bears the signature of the Earl of Zetland, Grand Master, with its original number 839. This number lasted until 1863, when Grand Lodge carried out a general renumbering to close gaps and it became 574. The original seal is still in the display cabinet at Newbury Masonic Centre along with the oldest surviving minute book dating back to October 1861. The Lodge is the third oldest in Berkshire being preceded by The Etonian Lodge of St John No 209 in 1813 and Reading Lodge of Union No 414 in 1833. The Lodge has had many meeting places, notably the White Heart Tavern, The Three Tuns (now named The Queens Hotel), the Council Chamber, the Congregational School Room, the Temperance Hall, the Oddfellows Hall, Own Premises off Northbrook Street, and Clarendon Gardens London Road, the present Newbury Masonic Centre.

Early subscriptions were 10s. 6d. per quarter and an Initiation fee of 5 guineas. The Lodge was opened at 7.30pm. Banquets were at the expense of the Lodge, the Tyler was paid 3s. 0d. and given free refreshment after the banquet. Attendances were small, under 10 initially, and improved in 1857 when the Earl of Carnarvon became a joining Member and went on to become Grand Master. Minutes were brief – six lines! However, the Lodge struggled until there were 16 Initiates over the two years of 1869/70. Then the start time was brought forward to 6.0pm, the newspaper "The Freemason" was purchased and a Ball held at the Mansion House, attended by 120, commenced at 9 pm, with supper at midnight and dancing until 6 am.

In 1872 Provincial Grand Lodge was held in Newbury and the Province of Berkshire separated from Bucks in 1890 and began to grow. 1875 saw the first mention of a Past Master’s Jewel being presented and at that time Installation ceremonies were carried out by the Provincial Grand Secretary. In 1878 Charles Hopson became Secretary and in May 1879 the Treasurer was fined 2s. 0d. for non attendance, and in December submitted his resignation! 1882 was marred by the sudden death of the Worshipful Master, Walter B Wilson at the age of 32, during his year of Office. A procession followed the hearse in full Masonic regalia and the grave, which stands in Newtown Road Cemetery, was restored by the Lodge in 2010.

To summarise the first 50 years, by 1900 the Lodge was well established, had its own fully equipped Masonic Temple in premises off Northbrook Street, a Daughter Lodge, a Royal Arch Chapter and ten of its Worshipful Masters were Mayor of Newbury.

From 1902 onwards Brother Camp and Brother Hopson donated carpet, hymn books, a portrait of H M King Edward VII, brass knockers for the temple door and oak platforms for candles. The Lodge building was financed by Debenture Shares and electricity arrived in 1923. In 1913 the ballot for the candidate proved unfavourable, the only time this has happened in the Lodge’s history. 1919 was a remarkable year with as many emergency meetings as regular ones, 14 Brethren were Initiated, there were 11 double ceremonies and one triple. In 1921 there were 89 Brethren present at the Installation. Daughter Lodges then came at regular intervals, Victory Lodge No 3954 in 1919, Hungerford Lodge No 4748 in 1925, St Bartholomew Lodge No 6307 in 1947, and Thatcham Lodge No 8121 in 1966.

The Centenary Celebration was held at the Corn Exchange in October 1950. There are 96 names listed in the attendance register and the banquet was held at the Chequers Hotel. From 1951 white gloves were worn at all ceremonies following a communication from Grand Lodge and in 1954 a Masonic Church Service was held at Chilton Foliat Church, the Parish Church of the Chaplain of the Lodge, Reverend Unwin. In 1958 the Benevolent Fund was formerly constituted as a Charity and in 1961 the Lodge moved to its current premises. The foundation stone was laid by Right Worshipful Brother Lt Col R H Ingham Clark the Provincial Grand Master (PGM). The subscription was raised to 4 guineas. On 1st June 1971 the Worshipful Masters of all five daughter Lodges were present and all occupied Chairs. In 1975 the Lodge celebrated its 125th Anniversary, the principal guest being Very Worshipful Brother J E Bignal the Deputy Provincial Grand Master (DPGM). In 1976 the PGM and his team dedicated a new Lodge Banner and in 1977 the Secretary Worshipful Brother Hague celebrated 25 years in the role, coinciding with the Queen’s Silver Jubilee.

During the decades of the 80s, 90s and 00s the Lodge membership fluctuated but overall has continued to increase in numbers.

On 2nd December 2014 Worshipful Brother William 'Bill' Coster, a Past Master of Hope Lodge and Past Provincial Junior Grand Warden (PPJGW), was granted Honorary Membership after celebrating 50 years of Freemasonry. He was later presented by the PGM with a 50 year certificate in recognition of his length of service. By 2015 the Lodge Banner was almost 40 years old and on 3rd March 2015 a newly designed banner was dedicated by the PGM, Right Worshipful Brother M G Peters, assisted by 6 other Provincial Officers. The ceremony was conducted at the Newbury Masonic Centre at the 1,317th regular meeting of Hope Lodge.

There have been many dedicated Freemasons in the history of the Loyal Berkshire Lodge of Hope, we are proud to follow in their footsteps and you to could become part of this history.

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