Bristol Masonic Society Province of Bristol

The Bristol Masonic Society - Transactions Extracts
There follows extracts from four past papers, to give a feel for what has been delivered by the vast range of speakers over the years.

The first is a gory, yet illuminating extract from a paper entitled 'Some of my Predecessors,' given by Bristol's Past Provincial Grand Master, RtWBro Dennis Fox. In his paper he referred to one Brother Henry Smith who was elected Provincial Grand Master in 1815:

'Brother Henry Smith's portrait hangs in the front hall at Park Street today. This portrait was discovered by the Provincial Grand Secretary and myself in the back of a cupboard. We have no idea how it came to be there since it must have been removed from the Hall prior to its destruction by enemy action in 1941. It is the original of the copy to be found in Freemasonry in Bristol (1910) by Arthur Cecil Powell and Joseph Littleton.

Brother Smith's claim to fame lies in the fact that he fought a duel. He was a well known solicitor in the city and on February 27th 1827 attended the Theatre in King Street. In the crowd he received a blow on his back, which he thought had been delivered by Mr. Richard Priest, a tailor of Clare Street. During the altercation Priest called Smith a liar. Such an insult demanded satisfaction by duelling. Despite requests to Priest to apologise he refused to do so and the duel took place in a field in Gloucestershire. Henry Smith was unhurt but Richard Priest was wounded in the thigh, his leg was amputated on the field by attending surgeon and he subsequently died. Henry Smith immediately after the death of Priest went overseas and fought in the Peninsular War. In April 1810 Smith returned and surrendered to the local magistrates who concluded that the death of Priest had been in fair fight and Smith was immediately released. It is interesting to note that the barrister appearing for Smi th charged 80 guineas. Lawyers' fees were expensive even in those days!'

Next is an excerpt from a fascinating paper given by one of our most erudite members, WBro RAGilbert, PPrSGD (Glos1998) from his paper 'Bristol Fashion - The Triumphs and Follies of our Operative Ancestors.' In this paper on what operative masonry has to do with our speculative Craft he referred to the famous Temple Church in the centre of Bristol:
'The original oval church dated from 1145 but it was replaced at the end of the 14th century, beginning with the tower. Whoever was responsible for the tower seems to have designed it at a distance and not to have realised that Temple Church sits on a marsh. Consequently the tower began to sink and there is a pronounced bend where the upper part of the tower, added later, rests on the lower. The tower is some four feet out of true, and only stands because of massive underpinning put in place in the 15th century. Within a hundred years of its completion the tower was famous for its alarming movement when its bells were rung. In 1576 the experiences of a cartographer Abraham Ortelius were recorded by his German contemporary, Braunius: "When the bells […] sound, it is so moved this and that way that at length by the too great and frequent shaking it has separated from the body of the church, and has made a chink from the very top of the roof to the foundation, gaping so wide as to admit four fingers breadth […] when he put his back against the tower, he was afraid that he should be oppressed by its fall […] the Mayor and others of authority there told him that the whole of the fabric formerly shook […[ with such force that the lamps were put out and the oil wasted […] but the church now because it is not affected by the sound of the bells, stands without motion." Does this have any bearing on the possible connection between Operative Masonry and our modern speculative Craft? It does if we separate Masonry from the masons. What seems clear to me from examining medieval buildings in Bristol is that the working freemasons were simply doing just that: working. They were not impressing any symbolic message - moral, religious or of any other kind - upon the structures that they built. Any symbolic content came solely from architects who were theologians and moral philosophers. Such content was also closely bound up with medieval liturgical practices.'
The next extract is from a paper entitled 'Some Historical Aspects of Military Masonry' by WBro JW Reddyhoff PJGD (Yorks W. Riding). His first paragraph reads:
'Brethren, I am assuming, and I am sure correctly, that you all have some knowledge of military Masonry; how the Grand Lodges of England, Ireland and Scotland issued more than 400 Warrants during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries for lodges to be attached to regiments, and how these varied from ordinary Warrants. First, no place of meeting was specified and the lodge could meet wherever the regiment happened to be stationed. Secondly, no date of meeting was specified, and the lodge could meet whenever convenient. There were some restrictions; for example it was still to be at least a month between the taking of successive degrees. Sometimes, however, the exigencies of the service prevailed and two or even three degrees might be taken at one time. Today there are only two military lodges left in the British army, both under the Irish Constitution.'
This address finished with mixed emotions; WBro Reddyhoff described how the last two military lodges under the English Constitution were converted to civilian lodges in the 1940s. and how they helped considerably in spreading Freemasonry widely throughout the world. When the last two warrants were surrendered, in 1947 and 1949, the Board of General Purposes issued a statement:
'This brings to a close an important chapter in English Freemasonry, for there can be no doubt that the spread of the Craft overseas was largely due to the enthusiasm and pertinacity of the members of the military lodges, who carried with them the seeds of Freemasonry to many distant towns and cantonments, where stationary lodges were established and still flourish. The Board would not wish this change of status of these famous old lodges to pass unnoticed by the Craft.'
The final extract provides a glimpse of what a very recent President of the Bristol Masonic Society, WBro AR Baker, now PrSGW, was trying to convey in his paper entitled 'The Reasons for Masonic Secrecy' (2005). He discussed the difference between a "secret" and a "mystery" as follows:
'It is in the Third Degree that a mason learns to differentiate between a "secret" and a "mystery." A "mystery" in the masonic sense, is that which is concealed but may be discovered; that which is concealed not by law or promise, but hidden by its very nature. It is not so much kept secret from us but unknown to us, as are all things of which we are ignorant. It is at present hidden from us by our own inability to comprehend it, not because we are shut out of it, but because we are not yet prepared or equipped to learn or understand it. A "Mystery" in the true sense is hidden not because it is obscure but because it is profound. Such were the Ancient Mysteries and indeed the Christian mystery of which Christ himself said: "he that hath ears to hear, let him hear" (Mark Ch. 4, v. 9).

In present day speculative Masonry it is not until reaching the Third Degree that the poor Candidate is given a clue that the Signs, Tokens and Words are not the real secrets of Masonry. Even in the Third Degree, after all his patience and effort, he is still only given signs and words, but he is for the first time told that these are not the real secrets - only substituted secrets since the real ones, it turns out, have been lost! It is only in the Third Degree that the aspiring mason gets the first clue as to what the genuine secrets of Masonry might be. The clue comes in the opening (which of course he does not see in his own Raising). It is in the opening that the WM asks the JW where he expects to find the Genuine Secrets. In the Centre. Why in the Centre Bro JW? Because it is that point within, around which, if a MM keeps his conduct circumscribed; he cannot materially err.

Although her "secrets" are of no value outside the brotherhood, Freemasonry's "mysteries," her teachings, and her philosophy are all of great value to the world, and Freemasonry is keen to give them out to any man who is capable of assimilating them.'
These are four very brief examples of what goes on at the Bristol Masonic Society. More could have been given, for example what do you know about Round Table Lodges; The origin of the Ceremony of "Passing the Veils" in the Royal Arch as practised in the Province of Bristol? The Society even received a paper from a non-mason, in October 2005, entitled "Why I am not a Mason!"

Although the Society is called the "Bristol Masonic Society" it does not have any actual membership boundaries, and brethren from other Provinces are more than welcome to attend our meetings

Corona Gladiorum - Transactions of the Bristol Masonic Society
Anthology Volume 1992 - 2004
Volume 2004 - 2005
Volume 2005 - 2006

This page has been extracted from a paper entitled:
'The Bristol Masonic Society - Past, Present and Future' by AB Lavelle (2008).
The full paper may be found in Corona Gladiorum (2007-8), Vol 5, pp. 135-142.
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