Bristol Masonic Society Province of Bristol

The Bristol Masonic Society - History
The Bristol Masonic Society was founded in 1917. For some years before 1917, groups of Bristol masons had expressed an interest in furthering their pursuit of masonic knowledge by study and research, and so it was that at the Provincial Grand Lodge meeting of 9th February 1917, the Provincial Grand Master - Col. George Abraham Gibbs, accepted a resolution to consider the formation of such a Society or lodge for cultivating masonic knowledge.

The decisions of the steering committee were presented and accepted, namely that the new body was to be a Society rather than a lodge, and that as such, masonic regalia was not to be worn. Seventy brethren expressed interest and at the general meeting on 5th July 1917 (NB. a summer meeting in war time), the Deputy Provincial Grand Master - Dr Ernest Cook presided, commending the committee for not being too ambitious! He stated that he: "trusted that the Society would prosper and fructify after its authors have passed away."

The inaugural Meeting took place on 5th October 1917 and was well supported by 119 brethren. In his address the President stated the objects of the Society in a manner and detail that would be just as valid today as then, namely: "The objects of the Society should be to increase the interest of brethren in Freemasonry by means of lectures, papers and discussions on its history, antiquities, ritualism and symbolism, and to provide a centre and bond of union for masonic students in the Province of Bristol."

The early of the Society meetings lasted for more than two hours at a time, during which there was no limit to the numbers of papers presented. In addition time was allowed for questions and answers, and usually an object of masonic interest was presented, such as an item of regalia, a picture, or other artefact. There was always an intermission between papers for coffee and biscuits. This format lasted for the next fifty years after which limits were introduced, namely two papers only per meeting and just five minutes for each speech in discussion afterwards.

At the same time it was thought important to form a library, which should be well stocked, and this was achieved by forming a sub-committee to advise and recommend items for inclusion, a principle that exists to this day.

Again a further principle was adopted, namely to advertise the existence of the Bristol Masonic Society to all newly raised Master Masons. After five years a rather fine presidential jewel was created and an honours board for the names of Past Presidents.

Freemasons' Hall in Park Street, where all lodge meetings were held, was almost completely destroyed by enemy bombing in November 1940. The Minutes at that time simply recorded that: "The Treasurer, WBro Pearce Tapp reported that the library and museum had been destroyed by fire on the night of 24/25th November. A few burnt relics were being recovered."

From then on, as with all the other lodges in the Province of Bristol, until the restoration of Freemasons' Hall was completed in 1957, the Bristol Masonic Society met in various and diverse venues including The Royal Empire Society Rooms, the Constitution Club, to St. Michael's Church Hall, in fact a total of eleven different addresses.

During the first fifty years or so, in addition to formal meetings, there were more active presentations such as one particular occasion when WBro Hubert Hunt, Grand Organist, gave a concert of Mozart's masonic music together with choir and orchestra, attended by no less than sixty members of the Quatuor Coronati Lodge and its Correspondence Circle. On another occasion, you may be interested to hear that the brethren of the Royal Cumberland Lodge, No 41, of Bath gave a demonstration of an Initiation as performed in the 18th Century.

Summer Outings were very popular from the outset of the Bristol Masonic Society, usually by charabanc though one to Hereford in 1921 was deemed likely to be too uncomfortable for such transport, so the members went by train instead.

In order to maintain interest and enthusiasm, from an early stage another important precedent was established, namely the creation and appointment of Bristol Masonic Society Lodge Representatives, so that every lodge in the Province of Bristol could be informed of the Society's meetings, their virtues extolled and more particularly to collect questions from the lodges to be answered by the Bristol Masonic Society. Eventually the Lodge Representatives were to become members of the General Committee itself and this is still the situation.

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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