Known throughout Scotland as “The Cradle of The Royal Stewarts” the town of Renfrew is proud of it’s historic connections with The Royal Family – A connection which exists to this day through The Prince of Wales who also holds the title of “Baron of Renfrew”. This gives rise to the name of our lodge and to the name of our sister Royal Arch Chapter – The Baron of Renfrew R.A.C. No. 114.
The history of freemasonry in the town of Renfrew can be traced back to 1777 when the first “Lodge of Renfrew” was founded on the 17th of November in that year. Although this lodge lapsed on 13th November 1837, there has been an almost continuous and proud history of freemasonry in the town since these early days. Research into the history of the lodge continues to this day and the lodge is deeply indebted to Bro. Robert Collins P.M. for his work in this and for his assistance in the development of the material for this website.
The Lodge Temple is situated in Queen Street in the town and a Souvenir Program was produced to commemorate the laying of the foundation stone on 16th May 1931 by The Grand Master Mason of Scotland. This publication provides an excellent history of freemasonry in Renfrew up to that date and it is presented here for interest.
Lodge “Prince of Wales” Renfrew No.426
To commemorate the laying of the Memorial Stone of the New Masonic Temple, in Queen Street, Renfrew on 16th of May, 1931, by Bro. A. A. Hagart Spiers, Grand Master Mason Of Scotland
Outside -“Sergeant! Sir! Salute! Salaam!”
Inside -“Brother ,” an’ it doesn’t do no’ arm .
We met upon the Level an’ we parted on the Square,
An’ I was Junior Deacon in my Mother Lodge out there !
KIPLING: “The Mother Lodge.”
If the saying that the nation which has no history is happy be applicable to Masonic Lodges, the first Lodge of Renfrew must be accounted happy indeed, for it has left little record behind it. It was founded on November 17, 1777. Its name, which is also that of its successor, was due, of course, to the fact that one of the many titles of the heir to the British throne is Baron Renfrew, and the princely title in its turn is explained by the circumstance that Renfrew was the home of the pro- genitors of the Stewart line of kings. “Castlehill” still reminds us of their place of residence. Who were its members, where it met, what it did, or indeed anything more about it, the present writer has been uhable to ascertain. Perhaps its health was never very robust – it was the day of small things for Freemasonry – and the feeble spark was extinguished after it had flickered for sixty years. The Lodge lapsed on November 13, 1837, the year of the accession of Queen Victoria. In 1905 rummagers among the property of the present Lodge came upon the old Charter in a cupboard, and from that time it has occupied a principal place of honour on the walls of the Lodge Room.
Almost a generation passed before a new Charter was obtained on November 2, 1863. Of the sixteen Founder Members of the resuscitated Lodge nine were Master Masons of Lodge Paisley St. Mirrins, and one belonged to Largs St. John. At the head of the list stands the name of the Duke of Atholet, then Grand Master Mason of Scotland. The name of Archibald Douglas Campbell, afterwards the first Lord Blythswood, is the sixty-second on the Roll. He, a youth of twenty-two years, was initiated on December 13, 1864. The first Master was Bro. James McL. Henderson, a shipbuilder in the town, and Provost of Renfrew (1864-67) during his term of office. This is the only occasion in the history of the Lodge when these two important offices have been held by one person, although at present we have the honour of an Ex-Provost in the Chair.
To begin with, the brethren met in the Wheatsheaf Inn Hall in Fulbar Street, but, about the time of the last-mentioned date, negotiations were opened with the Town Council of Renfrew for the tenancy of the Athenaeum, as our old Lodge Room was magnificently called. The rent agreed upon was £23 a year. In these days fees are levied before anything is done, but they seem to have been more confiding in the past, and the fees exacted were such as to make the mouths of present-day members water. They were: for the First Degree £l & ls. ; for the Second Degree, 12s. ; for the Third Degree, 7s. The further they advanced and the rougher the road, the less they had to pay !
There are echoes of, those old days. The ritual work, we imagine, was not up to the modern standard, and the business was conducted in a more go-as-you-please manner. The Master was often unaccompanied on the dais; there was none of that goodly array of past but still interested Masters which is nowadays to be seen. The attendance of Wardens and other Office-bearers, as the minute books reveal, was not so regular as we at present expect it to be. This may have been due in part, but only in part, to the number of sea-faring men connected with the Lodge. Here today, they were gone tomorrow. At one period a number of Danish sea-captains were admitted, visiting the Clyde in connection with boats built at Renfrew, and here we may find one of the reasons why all the degrees were sometimes conferred in a single night. But the whole procedure was less formal and more casual. As one of our veteran members has expressed it, it takes us almost as long to open the Lodge as it took them to open and close it and work a degree. The time came when the Lodge felt it to be expedient to set her house in order. A committee was appointed about the beginning of the present century (1900), to revise the opening and closing ritual. With the sanction of Provincial Grand Lodge and other expert advice it drew up a form which, speaking broadly, has been in use ever since.
But whatever the case with ritual, the claims of harmony would not be forgotten, and one may hazard the statement that it was conducted in the old days on more hilarious lines. The Festival of St. John was then, as now, a great occasion, and the brethren would meet in the Ferry Inn, the Bunch of Grapes in Clyde Street, or Lizzie Adam’s in Canal Street. For long a torchlight procession was the order of the night, and there are still living those who have the happy recollection of earning a sixpence as boys for the delightful but grimy task of carrying a torch. The route followed was by Fulbar Street, up Bell Street, along Inchinnan Road, down Hairst Street, and so to the place of festival. The numbers attending seem very small to us. On one occasion the Minutes tell how five good men and true met to celebrate St. John’s “in the house of Mr. Booth.” The five probably made more speeches than the hundreds make to-day!
And then there was the procession on the occasion of the Church service. The first Chaplain of the Lodge was the Rev. Robert Stephen, M.A., minister of Renfrew Parish, and copies are still treasured of a notable sermon of his, afterwards published with the title “Brothers of Christ,” This was the occasion of an incident very unusual at such services. A baby was baptized. In honour of the event the brethren subscribed a pennyy apiece to provide the little maiden with a memento in the shape of a golden slipper, for then, as now, they were very susceptible to the soft appeal of sentiment. Succeeding Mr. Stephen came the Rev. Robert McClelland, and so began the processions to Inchinnan which continued for many years. Year after year Jupiter Pluvius proved to be on his very best behaviour, and a tradition grew up in the Lodge of a sunny Church parade. But life, alas! consists of ups and downs, and good fortune does not last for ever. The Lodge has had since her experience of wet Sundays, like any ordinary Lodge.
Mr. McClelland had latterly as his colleague in the office of Chaplain the Rev. David Young, B.D., who in time became sole Chaplain. So great was the estimation in which Mr. Young was held that in 1926 he was elected to the Chair of the Lodge amid popular acclamation. His influence extended beyond his Lodge, and he was called to be P.G. Chaplain of Renfrewshire East, an office which he relinquished to become Substitute Grand Master of the Province. He a1so held successively the offices of Junior and Senior Chaplain of Grand Lodge, and in every sphere won golden opinions for the excellence of his work.
To complete the list of the ministerial Chaplains of the Lodge from the time of her revival in 1863, it is pleasant to mention the name of the Rev. Robert Hill, D.D., the venerable pastor of the North Church, Renfrew. At the time of his initiation into “Prince of Wales” he was on the eve of attaining his Jubilee as a Minister. He immediately became Chaplain in 1927, and was afterwards Joint-Chaplain with Mr. Young. He fulfilled the duties of his office with great diligence and acceptance, until the close of his long and honoured ministry in Renfrew at the end of 1930.
The Craft in Scotland, during the last decade or two, has made remarkable progress in more than one direction. In ritual there are more dignity, efficiency, and variety. An excellent feature of our Lodge in recent days is the number of young Office-bearers participating in the working of degrees. There are quaint tales of the solitary worker in the old days suddenly and completely forgetting his cue, struggling to fetch the words out of the dark abyss of memory, turning round to the members with a look of reproachful hopelessness, and exclaiming “Can nane 0′ yez mind it ?” That is of the past. The proficiency of these young brethren is often very admirable. In popular favour also the Craft has greatly progressed, and in this advance our Lodge has fully shared. The desire for admission, indeed, was so pronounced in the boom years during the War as almost to be an embarrassment. Evidence of this increasing popularity was seen on November 2,1923, when the Diamond Jubilee of the Lodge came round. The event was celebrated in Renfrew Town Hall, under the chairmanship of the Master, Bro. Duncan S. McGregor. Distinguished Masons were present from all parts of the country, at the head of them the Grand Master Mason himself, Bro. The Earl of Elgin, who graciously accepted honorary membership. This is an honour, it may be said in passing, which the Lodge has bestowed with a very laudable economy. The attendance that evening was four hundred and eighty-five, the largest in the history of No.426. A change indeed from the time when the five goodmen and true sat down to keep St. John’s “in the house of Mr.Booth.”
This growing prosperity, welcome as it was, brought with it its own problems. The main one was the incteasing inadequacy of the Lodge Room to meet the activities of the Lodge. The Social Club, for instance, had been compelled to seek elsewhere accommodation for its meetings. There was a feeling that “the auld house” had served its day, and that new and larger premises must be found. A movement towards this end was initiated in 1911, when Bro. John Liddie was Master, and Bro. John McGregor was Secretary it is a happy circumstance that the latter, as re-elected Master, will see the consummation of the movement. The first proposal was a Grand Bazaar, to be held in Paisley in 1914 and most of the arrangements for it were actually completed. Then, like a bolt from the blue, came War – the War which broke far more precious things than plans. The Bazaar was never held. In its place there was a wonderful Fete at Blythswood on Saturday, June 28, 1919, the very day on which Peace was signed. It was, as it deserved to be, a great success. How vividly one recalls the long and laborious preliminary organisation, the planning of ways and means of extracting money from the pockets of the long-suffering British public, the battalion of happy workers toiling as though their livelihood depended on the issue, the beating of metaphorical big drums, at length the dawning of the great day itself, a day of brilliant sunshine, the animated scene amid the beautiful surroundings, the large and distinguished gathering, the famous band of the Coldstream Guards under the leadership of Major J. MacKenzie Rogan, M.V.O., last but not least, the counting up of the spoils when all was over! They made the heart of the weary worker – and many were very forfochen – to rejoice. The sum realised was over £3,000.
That was good, it was more than good, but for the kind of building aimed at it was not enough. For a time the project hung fire. Impatient members chafed at the delay, the bolder spirits cried “Launch out into the deep,” the cannier Scots said “Wait and see.” Meanwhile, the interest on the funds was steadily mounting up. Finally, at a joint meeting of the Lodge and Building Committees, held early in 1930, it was decided to advise the Lodge to proceed with the work of building, and scarce had the resolve been taken when the wisdom of it received a very agreeable justification.
No.426 had always had good friends, and none better than Bro. A. A. Hagart Speirs, our present Grand Master Mason. As far back as 1872, when he was only a small boy, with the throne of Scottish Masonry far away from his dreams, he had presented the Working Tools used in the Lodge and at the laying of Foundation and Memorial Stones – tools greatly enhanced both in interest and value by the fact that they had been made from the wood of the Wallace oak at Elderslie. In 1911, when a new Temple was first mooted, he had offered a valuable site on the east side of the Mill Vennel at the nominal feu duty of a shilling a year. Succeeding events, however, in particular, the construction of the new boulevard from Glasgow, appeared to render the site less suitable than it had been. At length, and at a cost of £600, the Lodge purchased three houses, with considerable gardens attached to them, in that quaint old thoroughfare, Queen Street, the “Coo Loan” of days gone by. For many years the largest of the houses had been the office-home of the Registrar of Renfrew Parish. With great kindness Bro. Speirs substituted for his site – offer a gift of £300. So splendid a contribution gave the brethren good heart to proceed. The three houses were taken down, and room was made for the new Temple, towards the end of 1930.
And here, in ampler surroundings, no longer “cabined, cribbed, confined,” the Lodge will continue the good work she has done. For no one will deny that there has been much good work accomplished, work that has grown better with the years. The spirit of brotherhood has been strenthened within her walls. A vision of manly living, of character regulated by the Level, Square, and Plumb, has been set before the members, and it has been seen by those who have had eyes to see it. Nor has it been forgotten that “the greatest of these is Charity.” It is impossible, in this brief narrative, to describe the activities of the Lodge in full detail ; let a few illustrations suffice to establish the claim just made. When the War broke out and, at the call of King and Country, many of the brethren went abroad on active service, the Lodge displayed a fine solicitude for their welfare. Gifts in kind were regularly sent to them, their wives and bairns were remembered at Christmas, and since the War their widows and orphans have not been forgotten. In a true Masonic spirit the Diamond Jubilee of the Lodge was marked by setting aside a sum of £300 for the benefit of brethren suffering from unemployment. In the last dozen years, under the sympathetic administration of Bro. Richard Birmingham, £1,600 has been expended in benevolence. The help which it has been the privilege of the Lodge to render to the Renfrew Nursing Association, is it not known through all the countryside? To this good cause, in the last twelve years, no fewer than £1,200 have been contributed. How has it been done, this rather wonderful thing? The chief instrument has been Bro. A. C. Brown, P.M., who, at the head of the Entertainments Committee, has organised and carried out a series of annual concerts of a quality worthy of the Albert Hall in London. By what lure Bro. Brown has drawn to the Royal and Ancient Burgh the many distinguished artistes who have appeared from time to time – that is his secret. But we are betraying no secret when we say that hardly anything has commended the Lodge in the eyes of the outside world more than this admirable bit of work. These are illustrations of what the Lodge has done. In short, she has a record of which any Lodge might be proud.
With that record behind her she will enter her new domain. She will do so with high expectations of the future, yet not without regret for the old haunt she is leaving.
The auld house, the auld house!
Deserted tho’ ye be,
There ne’er can be a new house
Will seem sae fair to me.
Around the plain and unpretentious place, which the citizens had christened with such a classic name, a legion of associations gathers. We think of the many who have passed there to Masonic light. From the date of our Charter to the present day the names of 2,407 members, if affiliates are included, have been inscribed in the books of the Lodge. We think of the pleasant evenings, the happy fellowship, the camaraderie, the old familiar faces. Some have passed to the Grand Lodge above may Light supernal shine upon them ! – some are with us still. Of these it may be pardoned if we mention two. The first is Bro. James Owens, Tyler for twenty-eight years. It is difficult to think of the Lodge without him, it is equally hard to think of him without the Lodge, for without her the main interest of his life would dis- appear. The second is our Grand Old Man, Bro. James Naismith, Master in 1886-87. He is in his ninety-seventh year. But “merry goes the time when the heart is young” and the nonagenarian keeps the heart of a child. He was present in April at the meeting of the Lodge, and he can still chaunt a ballad for the delectation of the brethren. We hope to celebrate his hundredth anniversary and, when that great day arrives, we are to have a regular jamboree !
Finally, and connected with the old place in the High Street, the Lodge has her proud memories. We have supplied the Province of Renfrewshire East with three Grand Masters – the first Lord Blythswood who ruled for over a quarter of a century; Bro. George Glen, ten times elected to the chief seat on our dais; and one recently lost who was greatly beloved of all, Archibald, the fourth Lord Blythswood, O dulcis memoria! From our original or affiliated or honorary members we have given three occupants to the throne of Scottish Masonry – the two Lords of Blythswood aforesaid and Bro. Hagart Speirs. Nay, at certain red-letter hours, we have basked in the sunshine of the Royal favour. The Prince of Wales, afterwards King Edward VII, signed the Sederunt Book in 1876, and an autographed portrait of His Royal Highness hangs upon our walls. The page of the Book was duly detached and framed, and all who will may read the signature, “Albert Edward,M.W.G.M.M.O.E.”
Of his grandson, the present Prince, there are three mementos – a photograph of the Prince signed and presented by him to the Lodge, his signature in the Sederunt Book, and a facsimile of the proposal form for his initiation into the Household Brigade Lodge, with the signature of the late Lord Blythswood as his seconder. Of these tokens of Royal interest the Lodge is very proud.
We shall carry these memories with us to our new abode, we shall do what we can to be worthy of them, and we shall add to them, please God, as the years go by, others not less honourable.
Within this dear Mansion, may wayward Contention,
Or withered Envy ne’ er enter,
May Secrecy round be the mystical bound,
And brotherly love be the centre !
BURNS : “Masonic Song“