The grouping of the Masonic Lodges of England
into Provinces began about the year 1727; (fn. 1) but
although there were no doubt Lodges in Wiltshire
at that time, if not before, the earliest records that
have survived are the minutes of one formed at
Salisbury in 1732. There exists no evidence of any
Provincial Grand Lodge for the county before 1777.
Lodges in the Province
|Town||Craft Lodges||Date of Warrant||Royal Arch Chapters||Date of Warrant||Mark Master Lodges and Royal Ark Mariners||Date of Warrant||Preceptory of the Orders of the Temple and Knights of St. John|
|Bradford-on-Avon||Friendship and Unity||1869||Friendship and Unity||1947||. .||. .||. .|
|Malmesbury||St. Aldhelm||1901||St. Aldhelm||1906|
|Salisbury||Elias de Dereham||1850||Elias de Dereham||1867||Elias de Dereham||1892||William Longspee 1948|
|Total membership 1951||2,392||599||697||32|
A few scanty records show that Lodges were
in existence at Warminster (1735), Chippenham
(1763), Melksham (1765), Marlborough (1768), a
second Lodge at Warminster (1770), and Devizes
(1770). Two of these—the earlier Warminster Lodge
and that at Marlborough—had been erased from the
Grand Lodge Register by the time of the Provincial
Grand Lodge of 1777, and most of the others seem
to have ceased working, for only the Salisbury and
Devizes Lodges are mentioned in the minutes of the
1777 Provincial Grand Lodge, and of these Devizes
failed to send any representatives. At this Lodge
Bro. Thomas Dunkerley, who was already Provincial Grand Master for Dorset, was appointed
to the same office for Wiltshire.
The minutes of the 1777 meeting give a full
account of a serious dispute between Salisbury and
Grand Lodge. It had been decreed by Grand Lodge
that Provincial Lodges should contribute to the
cost of building a new Masonic Hall in London.
Salisbury refused to do this on the grounds that they
had already spent a large sum on equipping their
own hall, and that they regarded the demand as
'totally repugnant to the principles of Freemasonry,
reflecting no honour on those who impose it'. Grand
Lodge thereupon suspended the Salisbury Lodge,
which retaliated by threatening to sever their connexion with London and to establish a Grand Lodge
of their own. Fortunately this threat was not carried
out; after lengthy correspondence a compromise
was agreed upon, and Salisbury's suspension was
withdrawn. But a few years later differences again
arose over a somewhat similar matter, and as these
could not be composed, the Salisbury Lodge was
erased from the Grand Lodge Register in 1801.
At this time there were two systems of Freemasonry existing in the country—the Lodges which
acknowledged the constitutions and authority of the
Grand Lodge of England, and the 'Atholl' Lodges,
so called because they gave their allegiance to a
Grand Lodge formed in 1751 under the Duke of
Atholl. This state of affairs was not satisfactory, and
in 1813 negotiations to bring about a union of
the two conflicting bodies were successfully accomplished. Of the twelve Lodges then existing in
Wiltshire, three had followed the Atholl constitution. One (at Salisbury) applied for and received a
warrant from the Grand Lodge of England; the other
two—one at Devizes and one 'travelling' Lodge
connected with the Wiltshire Militia—ceased to
No further events of importance in regard to
Wiltshire Freemasonry are recorded until 1823,
when it became clear that matters were not running
smoothly. A letter in that year from a Salisbury
brother to the Master of the Devizes Lodge complains of the unsatisfactory state of the Craft in the
Province. It states that 'for many years there has
been no Provincial Grand Master, and consequently
the art [of Freemasonry] is sinking into nothing for
want of a helping hand to cheer and support it'.
This complaint led to a petition to Grand Lodge,
the result of which was that two years later Bro.
J. R. Grossett, M.P. for Chippenham, was appointed
Provincial Grand Master.
This appointment, however, was not a success.
Grossett showed little interest in the work, and
indeed, seems to have spent most of his time abroad,
owing partly to ill health. After ten years of his
ineffective rule the deplorable position of the Province was made the subject of an article in the Freemasons' Quarterly Review. This article stated that for
six years no Provincial Grand Lodge had been held,
and consequently 'apathy had taken the place of
zeal in what had once been one of the most active
Provinces in the country'. Still nothing was done;
and it was not until 1853, nearly thirty years later,
that the Grand Master installed Frederick, 2nd Lord
Methuen of Corsham as Provincial Grand Master.
This proved to be an admirable appointment, and
under his wise and vigorous rule Freemasonry began
to flourish in the county as it had never done before.
Lodges whose activities had lapsed were revived;
new Lodges were formed, and the number of
brethren steadily increased. For thirty-eight years
Lord Methuen held office, and when he died in 1891
the number of active Lodges, of which there were
only four when he was appointed, had increased to
eleven, with a total membership of over 500.
From this time onwards the story of Freemasonry
in the county has been one of continued progress.
Lord Methuen was succeeded as Provincial Grand
Master by William, 5th Earl of Radnor. He held
the office for nine years, and when he died in 1900
his son Jacob, the 6th Earl, was appointed in his
place. Both were able and wise administrators, and
under their rule the number of Lodges rose to
eighteen, and the membership to over 1,600. An
interesting event during this period was a great
Masonic Service held in 1920 at Salisbury to commemorate the 700th anniversary of the building of
the Cathedral, which was attended by 800 Masons
from the Provinces of Wiltshire and Dorset.
Lord Radnor resigned in 1928, and was succeeded
by Major-General T. C. P. Calley, who worthily
held the office until 1934, in which year the Province was signally honoured by the appointment of
H.R.H. the Duke of Kent. This is the only occasion
on which a member of the Royal Family has held the
office of Provincial Grand Master of Wiltshire, and
the ceremony of his installation at Trowbridge was
marked by the largest gathering of Freemasons in
the history of the Province. In 1939 the Duke
resigned and was succeeded by Lord Methuen.
There were 24 Craft Lodges under his jurisdiction in
1951, having a total membership of nearly 2,400.
In Royal Arch Masonry there has also been a considerable advance. In 1789 there were only two
Chapters of this degree in the Province, and both
ceased to exist a few years later. It was not until
1856 that a revival began with the formation of a new
Chapter at Swindon. Others followed at intervals
of a few years, and there were nine in 1951.
The first Lodge of Mark Master Masons was
established at Devizes in 1874. Others soon followed,
and there were seven at work in 1951, with two
Lodges of Royal Ark Mariners.
In 1948 a Preceptory of the Orders of the Temple
and Knights of St. John was for the first time
established at Salisbury.
Table 1 gives particulars of all the Lodges in the
Province, with the date of the Grand Lodge
Warrant under which each is working.