The Masonic Halls Of South Shields
The Early Years
When Freemasonry was established in South Shields in the late 18th Century there were, of course, no Masonic Buildings and Lodges had to hold their Meetings in taverns, The first Lodge was the St. Bede Lodge founded in1714 and meeting at The King of Prussia Inn in King Street.
This Lodge had a chequered history, removing to Morpeth in 1789, and was erased in 1815. The history ‘of this Lodge has been researched by the late W. Bro. Sinclair Bruce in a fascinating paper which is in the Provincial Museum and Library together with the restored wooden coat of arms of the Lodge.
The oldest existing Lodge in South Shields is St. Hilda Lodge No. 240, consecrated in March 1780. The venue of the Consecrations, is not definitely known but is believed to have been ‘The Golden Lion Inn, King Street. In any event the Lodge met there until October, 1822- when the Meeting was held at the Freemason’s Arms, the house of the then Tyler, Mr. Grieves.
The Lodge returned to The Golden Lion in November 1822 but there was a dispute with the landlord over payment for candles and it was resolved to remove to the Crown and Anchor, Commercial Street, (the property of Bro. James Hall). From December 1822 until December 1826, the Lodge met at the Crown and Anchor except for two occasions on 26th and 27th December 1822 when it returned to the Golden Lion for a meeting of Provincial Grand Lodge and the Annual Festival respectively.
In January 1827 the Lodge returned to the Golden Lion and continued to meet there until May 1861. In May 1861 the Lodge began to hold its Meetings’ in the Central Hall, Chapter Row and remained there until the new Freemasons’ Hall in Fowler Street was opened in March 1863. During the 1850’s St. Hilda Lodge steadily increased its membership and in February 1862 a Committee was appointed to consider the provision of a Masonic Hall. On 5th May 1862 the Committee reported in favour of building a Hall in Fowler Street at a cost of £600.00 and recommended the raising of £800.00 – £200,00 out of Lodge funds and £600.00 in £1.00 shares issued to St. Hilda members only. These shares were to be redeemed out of a special fund provided from the annual savings of the Lodge.
The report was adopted and on 27th. August 1862 the foundation stone was laid with full Masonic Honours, by W. Bro, George Potts, PProvSGW a distinguished Past Master of the Lodge. The water for the cement for the foundation stone was brought in a bottle from the River Jordan, by the Chief Engineer of H.M.S. Melpomene (whose name is not recorded) and presented through W. Bro. Ridley, P.M. By a remarkable coincidence the silver trowel used in the Ceremony was returned to St. Hilda Lodge in October 1990 by a descendant of W. Bro. Potts living in Virginia, U.S.A.
The new Hall was opened on 9th March, 1863. The era of subsisting in other people’s property was over, the Freemasons of South. Shields now had a purpose built home in which, to practice their masonry. St. Hilda. Lodge settled into its new home and Freemasonry continued to flourish in the town to the extent that on 10th April 1882 a petition was submitted for the formation of a new Lodge. The petition was granted and on the 15th September 1882: the Hadrian Lodge No. 1970 was consecrated in the Fowler Street hall where it continued to work alongside St. Hilda Lodge, until the premises were vacated.
The Building continued in existence for almost a century thereafter being used for retail shopping. It was demolished in March 1983 to make way for the Denmark Shopping Centre but its location was easily identifiable as it was immediately adjacent to the premises of the Midland Bank which survived the re-development. The actual site is now occupied by Thomas Cook the Travel Agents. The tender for the new Hall amounting to £2,247.00 was accepted on. I6th March 1884. ‘The Foundation Stone was laid on 9th June 1884. A special Lodge was held at the Wesleyan Schoolroom, Chapter Row. By special dispensation the brethren, in full Masonic Regalia and headed by the band of the Third Durham Artillery Volunteers, marched in procession to the site of the new Hall.
The Foundation Stone was laid by the Mayor of South Shields, W. Bro. T.G. Mabane. After the ceremony the procession returned to the Schoolroom and closed the Lodge. A Banquet, held afterwards in the Golden Lion Hotel, was attended by 130 Brethren including distinguished Provincial Officers.
The Hall was opened on 9th February 1885 the Regular Meeting of St. Hilda Lodge and the St. Hilda and Hadrian Lodges began working in their new home and remain there to this day. The cost of the Hall was financed by a Mortgage which was finally paid off on 1st October 1916. In 1925 the hall was extended and improved. The Lodge Room was enlarged, the Banqueting Hall extended to accommodate 170 diners (fire regulations have reduced this substantially) and new Club Rooms, Kitchen, Servery etc., added.
The total cost including refurbishing amounted to £5297.14.8d. This sum was also financed by Mortgage – finally paid off in January 1948. The Craft continued to flourish in the town and on 17th December 1891 a new Lodge, Hedworth No. 2418 was consecrated at Ingham Street where it continued to meet until 1925 when it moved to its own newly built Hall in Dean Road.
The first decade of the new century saw two new Lodges consecrated at Ingham Street:- The Lord Barnard Lodge No. 2935 consecrated on 16th October 1902 and The John Readhead Lodge No. 3217 consecrated on 1st June 1907. The Lord Barnard Lodge remained at Ingham Street until 1904 when it moved to its own premises at Whitehead Street, Tyne Dock. The John Readhead Lodge moved to Whitehead Street immediately after the Consecration.
The last Lodge to be consecrated at Ingham Street was the Caer Urfa Lodge No. 4345 on 23rd November 1921 and is still working there. Wrekendike Lodge No. 6401 was consecrated at the Hedworth Hall on 5th February 1947 but met at Ingham Street from March 1947 to May 1990 after which it transferred to the Hedworth Hall.
The closure of the Hedworth Hall in 2007 saw the transfer of all the Masonic organisations residing there to the Ingham Street Hall.
Situated adjacent to the Town Centre it has been threatened on a number of occasions by development schemes of the Local Authority. For a variety of reasons (usually financial) these came to nothing until the early 1980’s when the adjacent school site was cleared and redeveloped as a supermarket. Happily, the Hall was not affected and has been progressively refurbished and developed over the last 12 years and continues as a very active centre of all South Shields Freemasonry at the ripe old age of 126 years. . It now stands in splendid isolation and we have the use of the store’s very large car-park.
The Whitehead Street Temple
It has already been mentioned that the Lord Barnard Lodge was consecrated at Ingham Street in October 1902. The Founders must have intended to have their own premises for at an emergency Lodge held on 14th January 1903 it was agreed to acquire the premises of the Tyne Dock Unionist Club in Whitehead Street, Tyne Dock.
No purchase price was given but at a later meeting it was agreed to pay £70.00 to the Unionist Club for furniture and fittings and expend a further £80.00 on furnishings for the Lodge and Ante-rooms.
The Hall was opened on 26th April,1904 by the Provincial Grand Master, The Rt. Honourable, The Lord Barnard. A special Lodge Meeting was held to mark the occasion and after the Lodge was opened the Provincial Grand Master entered and took the Chair. He remained in the Chair as Acting Worshipful Master, initiated the Candidate, Mr. John Anderson McLean, into Freemasonry and delivered the Charge in the N.E. corner.
It is worth noting that in 1904 there were 44 Lodges in the Province compared with 205 today. In 1907 Lord Barnard Lodge was joined by John Readhead Lodge which remained at Whitehead Street until 1925 when it transferred to the newly opened Hedworth Hall. Over the next forty years two Lodges were consecrated, and held their subsequent meetings at Whitehead Street:- Tyne Dock Lodge No. 4218 on 16th April 1921 and Gothic Lodge No. 6749 on 27th November 1948.
The Hall continued to operate until 1952 when, owing to increasing costs, Lord Barnard Lodge resolved to sell the Building to the Perseverance Social Club for £2,500.00. The Hall was closed on 7th July, 1952 and the three Craft Lodges plus two Royal Arch Chapters and one Mark Lodge removed to the Hedworth Hall.
In the early 1920’s the Brethren of Hedworth Lodge began to find their existing accommodation at Ingham Street inadequate for their needs. Lodge memberships were increasing and the town was expanding to the South into the Westoe, Harton and Cleadon areas. Accordingly, in March 1923 a small Committee was set up to enquire into the prospects of obtaining suitable premises or land.
Two sites near Westoe Village were considered and in August 1923 the Lodge acquired the house and grounds known as “Woodside”, Westoe for £3,500.00. A contract was awarded to erect the Building now known as the Hedworth Masonic Hall, at an estimated cost of £11,480.00. With the addition of furniture and furnishings the final cost of the whole project was approximately £20,000.00.
The foundation stone was laid on 19th November, 1924 by the Provincial Grand Master, Rt. W. Bro. The Right Honourable, The Lord Ravensworth, who in the following year opened and dedicated the completed Building on 26th August 1925. The first Regular Meeting of Hedworth Lodge in its new home was held the following day on Thursday 27th August 1925.
The John Readhead Lodge transferred to the Hedworth Hall from Whitehead Street in September, 1925 and on the 21st October, 1925 the Westoe Lodge No. 4750, a daughter Lodge of John Readhead Lodge, was consecrated at the Hedworth Hall. On 9th June 1945 St. Lawrence Lodge No. 6042 was consecrated at the Hedworth Hall. On 3rd July 1999 the Lodge of Fellowship No. 9694, a Daylight Lodge, was consecrated at the Hedworth Hall. As mentioned earlier, following the closure of the Whitehead Street Hall in 1952, Lord Barnard Lodge No. 2935, Tyne Dock Lodge No. 4218 and Gothic Lodge No. 6749 transferred to the Hedworth Hall. The last Lodge to move to the Hedworth Hall was Wrekendike Lodge No. 6401 which transferred in June 1990. The Lodge Room in the Hedworth Hall is extremely large having a basic seating capacity of 235 which can be substantially increased for special occasions such as the Annual Meetings of Provincial Grand Chapter and Provincial Grand Mark Lodge.
As an example the consecration of St. Lawrence Lodge in June 1945 saw 350 Brethren present – a far cry from the 15 present at the consecration of St. Hilda Lodge in 1780. The Banqueting Hall, immediately below the Lodge Room is of the same size and can cater for equally large numbers at the Festive Board. In January 1996 the Lord Barnard, Westoe, St. Lawrence and Gothic Lodges transferred to Ingham Street. A few months later they were joined by the Lord Barnard Royal Arch Chapter No. 2935.
On Thursday 27th December 2007 the usual Hedworth Christmas meeting was special for a whole host of reasons. The last Masonic meeting at the largest hall in our town began in the usual early and quiet manner, with a short but expert meeting in the temple upstairs. Meanwhile below, guests, visitors, brethren and their families gathered in the lounge to enjoy another special Masonic occasion, swap some stories and mark the passing of a wonderful building. Around 200 attendees enjoyed a fine 3 course meal, served expertly as is the usual custom.
The tables being cleared and everyone having had more than their share, the formal part of the evening began. As is fitting for a lodge steeped in tradition and well established customs the Worshipful Master WBro Fred Fatkin rose and gave a moving welcome to all his visitors. He thanked them all for sharing this special occasion with the members of Hedworth Lodge, and providing such a fitting send off to Hedworth Hall.
In the room that night were many people who had made this particular event at this particular venue a permanent fixture in their social calendar, indeed my own wife insisted we come along to enjoy such a historic event. This hall was made for such nights and it is with great sadness that an era has come to an end.
The entertainment seemed fitting, with a stirring performance from Felling band rousing the audience and ensuring a positive end to a wonderful evening. By the time the festivities had ended and the bar closed all in attendance agreed that a special evening marked the passing of a very special building.
The Hall That Never Was
The last section of this paper is about a non-event but it is appropriate to refer to it briefly to complete the story of the South Shields Masonic Buildings.
In the early 1950’s great alarm was generated among the Lodges at Ingham Street by the publication of proposals by the Local Authority to re-develop the Central Area of the Town.
These proposals would have required the Hall to be demolished. It was, therefore, decided to set up a Building Fund to provide a replacement Hall and the 4 Lodges at Ingham Street agreed to contribute an annual sum per head of membership.
Because of the continued expansion of the Town to the South it was felt that a site further South than the Hedworth Hall was required and a piece of land was acquired in the Brinkburn area about a mile to the West of Harton Village. A limited company, The Brinkburn Masonic Temple Company Limited, was set up to administer the scheme.
The Lodges continued to contribute for several years when it became apparent that the Council’s schemes were not going to materialize and payments were suspended. A few years later the land was sold and the whole project ‘mothballed’.
The Ingham Street Building is over 100 years old and whilst its future is not threatened by external agencies it will have to be replaced sometime. The cost of new premises is beyond the resources of a single Lodge and will need the co-operation of all the Masonic Bodies meeting in the building at that time.
At a Special General Meeting of the Company held on 18th September 2000 it was resolved to wind up the Company and hand over the remaining funds to the Management Committee of the Ingham Street Freemasons’ Hall.
Reference / Acknowledgement
W Bro Derek Cuthbert, PM Westoe Lodge No 4750
W Bro Ellwood Potts, PM St Hilda Lodge No 240