Photos by Frank Leppard
Freemasons in Margate opened the doors to their venue this month to give the public a chance to see inside.
Union Lodge’s centre is based in New Cross Street and the group’s history dates back more than 260 years. There are 17 men’s and 3 ladies Lodges that meet in the Margate, Ramsgate, Broadstairs, Westgate and Birchington areas. In total there are 179 Men’s lodges in East Kent with around 5200 members.
Union Lodge was formed in 1763 and moved from Spitalfields in London to Margate in 1813. Members met at various hostelries in the area until the building in New Cross Street was opened in 1895.
Members come from all walks of life and range in age from their late teens into their 80s.
Freemasonry is one of the oldest social and charitable organisations in the world. Its principles are Integrity, Friendship, Respect and Charity.
During the lifetime of the lodge its number has changed eight times. This is because in 1779 the government enacted the Unlawful Society’s Act which required a lot of administration including an annual return of members to the clerk of the peace, this continued until the 1960s.
Lodges formed before the date of enactment were exempt from other parts of the legislation. New Lodges were given defunct lodges warrants to circumvent some of the regulations required.
The founding fathers of Union Lodge are believed to have been the silk weavers and associated trades found in the area of Spittalfields. When membership declined because of major population changes due to the drop in demand for silk and immigration to the new world of America, the Lodge was removed from London to begin anew in Margate.
For many years the Union Lodge led a very peripatetic existence, having some 21 venues in the first 132 years of the its life.
In April 1894 the Lodge bought a house called The Limes in Hawley Street, took some 80 feet by 57 feet from the garden, resold the property at a profit and built the Lodge with the proceeds. The Temple was opened on 16 October 1895.
Dinner was held afterwards at the King’s Head Hotel where the Lodge had been meeting prior to the move to its new permanent home, on the proviso, that the hotel made no charge for rent for the use of the rooms earlier in the year.
Bros Thomas Penny, James Gibbs and Daniel Waghorn were among those who were instrumental in bringing the Lodge to Margate in 1813.
Bro George Henry Hoffman, a surgeon who was 50 when initiated into Freemasonry, for a number of years from 1844 allowed his home, 1 Cecil Square, to be used on Lodge nights. This is the only building still standing from all the venues that the Lodge at one time called home.
The Lodge has two “unofficial” banners. The first, coming from London, was paraded in 1828 with all brethren in full Masonic regalia marching from the town hall, in Market Square, to the pier head where the foundation stone for the new light house was laid. The other “unofficial” banner hangs under glass behind the master’s chair and was presented to the Lodge by Brother Hollams on 1st January 1834.
This banner was present at a number of Provincial Grand Lodge meetings that were held in Margate in the mid 1800’s at the Royal Hotel, Cecil Square until it was destroyed by fire along with the Assembly Rooms.
Steve Wyatt, Provincial Grand Membership Officer and Secretary at Union Lodge No 127, said: “Freemasonry is fun. We are a group of men and women who meet with a common purpose, to raise money for charity and worthy causes.
There are 17 male and 3 ladies lodges in Thanet and membership varies in each lodge from 20 or 30 to 50 or 60 members. Lodges meet on different days of the week usually from October to May.
“ Locally we raised £22,000 for the new research laboratory at QEQM, as well as giving donations to a variety of worthy causes such as Sea Scouts, Riding for the Disabled etc. “There are two routes to membership. The sponsored route where the person is approached by a current member to join and the independent route.
“We welcome people from all walks in life and backgrounds and would welcome enquiries. The best way of contact is www.justaskone.org and fill in the form and we will be in touch. There is also a link to the ladies freemason site.”
Source: Union Lodge 127 website