Bi-Centenary Oldstone Lodge No 56, Antrim

History of Oldstone Lodge No 56, Antrim
Presented by Robert Bashford in 2009
to celebrate the Bi-Centenary of the Lodge

         Thank you for the invitation to address you all on this, the occasion of your Bi-Centenary celebrations, in this year of 2009. Two Hundred years is a very long time and your Brethren have worked long and hard over the years to keep your Lodge alive, active and growing. And in this mission you are all continuing the hard work of your Founders - James Boyd, George Hanna and Samuel Skelton, who applied to Grand Lodge on the 6th April 1809 for a Warrant to hold a Lodge in the townland of Oldstone on the outskirts of Antrim. Our current researches suggest that this first Lodge was to meet in a cottage some-where out around the Oldstone Hill about halfway between the current Dublin Road and the Oldstone Road.

          Brethren, you are very fortunate, as anyone wanting to get a good understanding of Life in Antrim in the 19th century need only read a copy of “My Lady of the Chimney Corner” by Alexander Irvine. This work is an excellent scene setter for the early days of Freemasonry in Oldstone. We know that Grand Lodge issued Warrant No 449 to James Boyd ( Farmer ), George Hanna ( Weaver ) and Samuel Skelton ( Weaver ) to hold a Lodge in the townland of Oldstone in Antrim. This Warrant was dated 6th April 1809. 

         What you may not already know, is that Antrim and district in 1809 was awash with Masonic Lodges. The earliest Warrant issued to the town, No 313 issued to the Antrim Militia Lodge was still going strong. Warrant 529 the precursor of 28 was the largest Lodge in the town by far and 643 was also active at the time. Our records show that Bro James Keenan was Master, William Berkley and William Morgan were Wardens and the Lodge was working the Excellent, Super Excellent and Royal Arch degrees at the time. In the surrounding area Lodges sat at Massereene ( No 918 ), Duncilly ( No 805 ) and Muckamore ( No 901 ).

        Antrim was a very different place at that time. It was just recovering from the rigors of the 1798 rebellion when Presbyterian rebels with pikes and pitchforks attacked a meeting of the County magistrates. A bloody battle took place and the insurgents lost and fled the scene. One of the Magistrates present at the battle, Bro the Rev George McCartney borrowed £ 1500-00 in 1812 to build a square embattled bell tower on to the end of All Saints Church of Ireland Church in Antrim. Four years later in 1816 further renovations were completed including the removal of the main entrance door to its current position under the Tower and the construction of the octagonal steeple was completed. This remains one of the most notable objects in the skyline over Antrim to this day.

       Our local Lodges were still electing their Lodge Master every six months, installing him on the morning of St John’s Day ( June and December ) and then parading off to Church with their neighbouring Lodges. One example of this tradition is recorded in the Belfast Newsletter for its edition on the 5th July 1814 when the Brethren of 449 Oldstone joined with a dozen other local Lodges and paraded to Church in Crumlin, before marching home, reconvening and closing the Lodge and then having a bite and a drink before the members returned to their individual homes

 We the Master, Wardens & Brethren of Lodges Nos. 127, 140, 404, 426, 428, 449, 490, 499, 513, 551, 643, 800, 805, & 918, of Free and Accepted Masons, held under the sanction of the Grand Lodge of Ireland, beg leave to return our sincere thanks to our Bro. Rev. Robert Campbell for his excellent and appropriate sermon delivered to us in Crumlin on the 24th June.

Signed by Order,

Richard Davison, Sec. 140, Crumlin, June 25th, 1814

          Whilst all this work was going on Irish Freemasonry was also growing and developing. Grand Lodge had taken over the Female Orphans School in Dublin and in an attempt to raise funds to support this new venture, and also to update the wording on the Warrants to give Grand Lodge greater control, Grand Lodge began to offer vacant numbers for sale to already existing Lodges. This was a very popular move as the senior Lodge attending any gathering tended to be the Lodge with the lowest number. Consequentially many local Lodges changed their Warrants, supporting the new Orphans School in the process, and improved their position in the local status quo.

        To that end the Brethren in Antrim exchanged 529 for 160 on the 2/12/1824 and some 8 months later changed again to 28 on the 24/8/1825. This move gave Warrant 28 precedence in the Antrim area parades. In Massereene, a similar series of moves took place changing Warrant No 918 on the 5/2/1818 to Warrant 193 and then again on the 29/8/1825 changing again to Warrant No 31. And one possible reason for all these changes was the fact that Oldstone changed their Warrant number from 449 to 56 on the 24th June 1817. It has been recorded that competition was quite fierce between 160 and 193 as follows :-

 The desire for a lower number was created, and a heated race between this Lodge and Lodge No. 193 took place as to which would get the premier position. The difficulty of communicating with Dublin was only possible per stage coach, which did not run frequently, but Lodge 160 was fortunate in having their arrangements completed sooner than their rivals and secured the advantage of getting their position forwarded by an earlier coach, and thus had No. 28 allocated, whilst No. 31 went to Lodge 193.

       The Right Honourable Clotworthy John Eyre Foster Lord Viscount Massereene provided a parcel of land ( in a section of Antrim then known as Scotch Corner ) on lease for 500 years at an annual rent of £ 4-8-0 per annum provided that a suitable building be erected, costing not less than £ 400 pounds, quite a substantial sum in those days. This has been the home of Antrim Freemasonry ever since.

     Sadly other Lodges were not doing quite so well as these three. Warrant 313, the oldest of the Antrim Lodges, had its Warrant cancelled by Grand Lodge on the 1/7/1818 along with some 63 other Warrants throughout the Constitution. These were all Lodges that had went out of communication with Grand Lodge for various reasons. In some cases the office holders emigrated and in some instances even took their Warrants with them to America, Canada, Australia or New Zealand. In other case poor health had decimated Lodge memberships with outbreaks of Cholera and other infectious diseases taking place from time to time. And in even other cases it may well have been due to financial hardship, as the ordinary members were facing a daily struggle to survive.

 One interesting snippet of Antrim History is that John ( Speaker ) Foster, Baron Oriel, the last Speaker in the Irish House of Commons took possession of the Speakers Chair and the ornate silver Irish Speakers Mace once the Act of Union between Great Britain and Ireland was enacted throughout Ireland in 1801. His son Thomas Henry Foster married the 4th Earl of Massereene’s daughter Harriet and when he died in 1816 without male issue, she inherited the title Viscountess Massereene and the entire family estates in Antrim. The family moved up to Antrim Castle as the Massereene House was known and took the chair and mace with them.                                           

These treasures were in the house at the time of the great fire in 1922. The mace was eventually sold to The Bank of Ireland in 1933 and the chair has ended up in the Rosemary Street Masonic Hall in Belfast, where it is preserved to the present day.

  Chichester   Skeffington the   4th Earl of   Massereene  died in 1816 and in 1821   his  widow   commissioned  a  fine   marble  effigy  of    Chichester Skeffington complete with his Masonic apron. This effigy can still be seen in the church to this day. Some years later the Rev George McCartney died in 1824 and was also buried at Antrim, in the church graveyard. Masonically the Lodges in Antrim went through another hard period and in 1830 Duncilly Lodge 805 and Muckamore Lodge 901 both had their Warrants cancelled by Grand Lodge. Again, they both appear to have closed up before Grand Lodge acted in 1830.

      In 1838 the Poor Relief ( Ireland ) Act was brought in, splitting Ireland into a number of Poor Law Unions, usually encompassing an area of 10 square miles around a major town or city. Each Union would build a workhouse which would be financed from the rates payable by the property owners living within the boundaries of each Poor Law Union. Each Union was managed by a Board of Guardians. The original aim was to provide relief to the destitute poor, who had to live within the Workhouse, to qualify for assistance. What you may not be aware of, is that this system remained in place right up to 1948, when it was finally replaced in Northern Ireland with the provisions of the new Welfare State legislation. So it was around this time that the Antrim Workhouse was built and managed by its own Board of Guardians including a number of prominent Antrim Masons.

      A couple of years later in 1840 the 10th Viscount Massereene and 3rd Viscount Ferrard commissioned Sir Charles Lanyon, a future P.D.G.M. of Belfast and North Down to build a new Stable Block in neo-gothic style. This is the building which is better known today as The Clotworthy Arts Centre. Before leaving the 10th Viscount, I’m reminded of a famous story told about his unfortunate demise in 1863, as a result of falling off his horse. He was the second member of his family to die that way, for the 1st Earl had been killed under mysterious and supernatural circumstances in 1757 whilst out “Fowling in the demense”. It was said that the 10th Viscount, an excellent horseman died in a similar mysterious way.

      Permission granted by Grand Lodge, 2 September 1830, for the Brethren of 56 to remove the Lodge to CONNOR, Co. Antrim, but apparently they did not do so. It was around this time that moves were afoot to introduce a new Provincial Grand Master  and Lodge into the South Antrim area. In May 1835 Grand Lodge finally agreed and issued letters patient to George Augustus,  2nd Marquess  of  Donegal  to  take  office  as  Provincial   Grand Master  in a body to be  known  as   The   Provincial   Grand   Lodge  of  the Baronies of Belfast, Antrim and Massereene. On the  morning of the  Installation  on the  25th January  1836,  a  number of Brethren  called  at  Belfast  Castle  and  gave  the  Marquess  his  first  three degrees so that he would be suitably qualified to take his main obligation later in the day at The Exchange Rooms.

       It may be of interest tonight to learn that a number of south Antrim Lodges including 28 Antrim, 31 Massereene and 56 Oldstone True Blue were not in favour of the move to form a new P.G.L. A special committee was set up to review the whole matter and its landmark decision issued in July 1836 was to have a major impact on the whole scheme. The report of the Special Committee found : “That no power is given to the Provincial Grand Master, to enforce the attendance of the Officers of any lodge which has not consented to acknowledge the jurisdiction of the new Provincial Grand Lodge”. Clearly things did not bode well for the new Province, and matters were exasperated by the fact that the 2nd Marquis was rarely at home in the North to conduct the business of the Order. However the position remained unchanged until the death of the 2nd Marquis in 1844. Some 4 years later Grand Lodge appointed Bro Walter Bishop Mant to the post of P.G.L. and extended his remit to include North Down. This time round all the Lodges in Antrim gave their support and played a full role in the workings of the Order at that time.

         In 1842 Grand Lodge cancelled Warrant No 643 Antrim, for non payment of Dues. Oldstone was to have its own problems when Warrant 56 was Suspended on the 5th May 1864., along with 31 Massereene and 28 Royal Blue Lodge. The problem appears to have been that all three Lodges with others marched to church in regalia, as organised bodies to participate in the burial of a Brother. They did not seek approval from P.G.L., which they knew would be refused and in consequence their Warrants were suspended for a period to teach them all a lesson. In the case of Oldstone their Warrant was restored in August 1864. 

      In 1870 the beautiful East Window in All Saints, Antrim was dedicated. It comprised a series of ten scenes from the life of Our Lord, and represented the latest in stained glass technology at the time. John Skeffington Clotsworthy 11th Viscount Massereene and 4th Viscount Ferrard was one of the benefactors who contributed to the costs. He was a very colourful character with a  love for  strong  drink,  and this  weakness  gave  rise to the celebrated description of him walking along St James’s Street in London

“There goes Lord Massereene and Ferrard and they are both drunk”. However regardless of his personal foibles he was the man in 1895 who created Massereene Golf Club under the presidency of himself using some of his own lands from the northern part of the Antrim Castle demense, located just beyond the Six Mile Water. Sadly he was to pass to The Grand Lodge above in 1905, at the relatively young age of sixty three.

      In 1906 a  most successful concert on behalf of Masonic charities was held in the Protestant Hall, Antrim, on the evening of the 15th inst., under the auspices of Oldstone Masonic Lodge No. 56. Prior to the commencement of the concert there was a procession of the Brethren to the platform, led by the Knight Templars, wearing their robes of office.

    A year later in 1907 a talk entitled "Freemasonry in Antrim” was given followed by a presentation to Br. James Boyd. In the Protestant Hall, Antrim, on the evening of the 19th instant, a company of over one hundred, representing the various Masonic Lodges and Chapters in the district, met to do honour to Br. James Boyd, P.M., P.K., H.T., P.P.G.S., on the occasion of his recovery from a severe illness. For nearly forty years Br. Boyd has rendered signal service to the Order, and his popularity is great among the Antrim Brethren, whose compliment took the tangible form of an illuminated address and a purse containing a hundred guineas........"

     Another notable event organised by Oldstone Lodge No. 56 in 1907 was in honour of a popular local musician. A large number of members of the Oldstone Masonic Lodge No. 56, Antrim, took supper in their well-equipped hall on the evening of the 22nd inst., when opportunity was taken to pay a well-deserved compliment to Br. Clarles Lindop, A.P., T.C.L., organist of the Antrim Parish Church. Br. Lindop is extremely popular with members of the Craft, in all parts of the Province, and naturally so, as his services have always been willingly placed at the command of the various Lodges.

     The presentation took the form of a very handsome illuminated address supplied by Messrs W & G. Baird, Ltd, Belfast. The proceedings, which were most enjoyable, closed with the singing of the National Anthem.

 Nine members served in the 1914-18 War and eight returned safely to kith & kin. Bro. Jack Caton, a sub Lieut in the Royal Navel reserve made the supreme sacrifice. The others who served and returned safely home included;

William C. Davidson a Serg in the Tank Corps.

Robert J. Fannon a Squadron Serg Major in the RASC.

William J. Jamieson a Serg Major in the RASC.

Charles Lindop Bugle Major in the RIR.

G. Montgomery M.M. Serg in the R.I.R.

Herbert Rushton Private AOC.

Robert Sprott Lieut RIR

William G. Wadge Private in the Somerset Light Infantry.

      1922 was an awful year fire the town of Antrim as that was the year that Antrim Castle was burned down by the IRA. The famous Oak Room was totally destroyed . Much of historical value was lost but a number of artefacts and furniture were salvaged. After the fire Lord Massereene moved to live in the nearby Dower House Skeffington Lodge ( better known today as the Deer Park Hotel ).

     On the 27th July 1946 the ashes of the author Alexander Irvine were received at Pogue’s Entry Antrim by the Vicar of Antrim. His four nephews carried the bronze casket to All Saints Church where the memorial address was given by the Lord Bishop of Down & Dromore. Alexander’s remains were then placed in the “ Love Is Enough”  grave in the Church graveyard under the East window.

     And just before closing Brethren, I want to make mention of one further special event, that took place in 1996 when Wor Bro Walter Carson was presented with his 50 year jewel by Rt Wor Bro Adam McKinley one of the then Provincial Assistant Grand Master’s of Antrim. Walter, one of the best known Mason’s in Antrim has given many years service to the North Antrim Committee of Inspection and served the Province as Senior Grand Deacon. He played a leading role in the Antrim Hall Refurbishment of the early 1990’s and was one of the founders of The Antrim Social Club.

     Brethren, this is a very short review of the history of a very old and distinguished Lodge, which has played an important role in the growth of Freemasonry in the greater Antrim area. From its early beginning in a room in a small cottage on the Oldstone Hill right up to its current existence here tonight.What should be clear from tonight’s presentation is that Freemasonry does not exist in a vacuum, but reflects the social life of the time. In the good times our Order grows and in the bad times we contract. Or as the late Rt Wor Bro Robert Orr would have said, – A part of Society rather than apart from Society.

        Brethren, I would thank your Secretary for his invitation to speak tonight, as it gave me an opportunity to look into the history of Freemasonry in the Antrim area. The dress suit message seems to have got lost in the ether, so I apologise for my civvies approach. As usual I would thank you all for the attention that you gave me during the presentation and hope that you all found something of interest therein.  And finally, on behalf of all the guests here present, I would extend our warmest birthday greetings to the WM, Officers and Members of Oldstone Lodge No 56 on this the occasion of their Bi-Centenary celebrations.


Rt Wor Bro Robert Bashford.