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Freemasonry in North Wales
In presenting this History of Freemasonry in North Wales, it should be noted that it is perhaps unusual, but probably not unique, that the North Wales Province is older than any of its Lodges either extinct or extant. In the early days of organised Freemasonry, men of distinction were sometimes invited to become Provincial Grand Masters of geographical areas that may or may not have contained active Lodges.
At that time not all these Lodges would have been affiliated to the Premier Grand Lodge. The name of William Hughes of Holt is the very first reference, so far discovered, to speculative masonry in North Wales. His name is included amongst the list of members of a Freemasons Lodge meeting in Chester in 1660.
Several of the other names listed are of Welsh origin but his is the only one whose place of residence is particularly noted to be in Wales. The Province itself dates its origin from the appointment, by a deputation issued on 10th May 1727 by Lord Inchiquin, the then Grand Master of the Premier Grand Lodge of England, of Captain Hugh Warburton of Winnington Hall, Chester, a career officer with the 7th Regiment of Foot, as Provincial Grand Master for North Wales at Chester.
What is remarkable about this particular appointment is that Capt. Warburton was the first Provincial Grand Master to be appointed by the Grand Master and therefore the Province rightly claims to be considered the first Province in the world to be constituted by Grand Lodge.
It is somewhat puzzling therefore, to learn that prior to this first ever appointment of a Provincial Grand Master, Capt. Warburton already held the rank of Provincial Grand Master in the then Province of Chester. That latter fact is also recorded in the Minutes of the same Grand Lodge Meeting for the 10th May 1727, where a letter dated 15th April 1727 from the Provincial Grand Master of Chester was read, that letter was signed by Capt. Warburton as Provincial Grand Master.
The earliest record of this Province of Chester dates from a list issued by Grand Lodge of the Regularly Constituted Lodges and the names of their members as delivered to the Quarterly Communication of Grand Lodge held on 27th November 1725.
In the years following its inauguration on the 24th June 1717 the Premier Grand Lodge was engaged in ensuring its acceptance by the many scores of Lodges then in existence. Grand Lodge were unable to assume authority in a perfunctory manner over those Lodges, which had been meeting under their own authority, some from time immemorial even then.
Anderson´s Constitutions included clauses to the effect that Lodges operating under the Ancient Charges would have to continue using those edicts as the guiding principles for their governance, but that any changes to their established practices would then require the authorisation of Grand Lodge.
Clearly therefore, as the Sun Lodge at Chester had been in the habit of regularly electing Provincial Grand Masters, Grand Lodge would at that stage in its development have to accept this as regular.
Indeed the Chester Lodges continued their time-honoured practice of electing their own Provincial Grand Master up to 1756 and it was not until the following year that Grand Lodge granted the first Deputation to the Provincial Grand Master of Chester.
This is why the Cheshire Province celebrated its 275th Anniversary two years prior to North Wales in the year 2000. They were celebrating the earliest recorded date of their own elected Provincial Grand Master.
Captain Warburton´s military career, much of it spent abroad culminating in his promotion to the rank of full General in 1770, precluded close attention to Freemasonry and he resigned his patent in 1735 to be followed by Sir Edward Mathews as Provincial Grand Master until 1741.
William Vaughan Esq. MP of Gorsygedol in the County of Meirioneth, the third Provincial Grand Master was the first to be motivated to establish freemasonry on a firmer footing in his Province. Within two years of his appointment, on the 17th of November 1743 he consecrated his first Lodge, No.194, in the Angel and Crown in Dolgellau, the County town of Merionethshire.
Under his leadership four further Lodges were consecrated, one at Holywell, the St. David´s No. 286 on 17th January 1761, another constituted on a warrant of the recently established Antient or Athol Grand Lodge on the 28th June 1766 at the King of Prussia´s Head, Welshpool.
The different constitution deployed here further demonstrates the relatively loose and informal control exercised by the Premier Grand Lodge at that time. The fourth and fifth Lodges respectively to be warranted under William Vaughan´s stewardship shared the same number 415.
One at the Lord Boston´s Arms Holyhead, subsequently called the Mona Lodge, on 25th January 1768 and the other on 31st August 1771 at Wynnstay in Ruabon with Sir Watkin Williams Wynne, the 4th Baronet, in the Chair; the warrant being signed by his brother-in-law, the Duke of Beaufort, Grand Master.
William Vaughan gave up his patent in 1774 and passed to higher service in 1775, The Province of North Wales is in his debt for having encouraged, established and fostered the early growth of these first five Lodges.
There followed a period where Shropshire began to draw closer to the North Wales Province, probably as a result of Major Charles Shirreff becoming Provincial Grand Secretary and Deputy Provincial Grand Master.
Major Shirreff, a national figure in Freemasonry and a keen proponent of ‘additional degrees’, settled in Whitchurch, Salop in 1788. He had the reputation of being a Masonic disciplinarian but was also not popular at Grand Lodge, despite this however, for his enthusiasm and ability he was appointed Deputy Provincial Grand Master to many Provinces.
Six further Lodges were warranted namely: the Snowdon Lodge No. 494, at Caernarfon on 25th December 1786; the Royal Denbigh Lodge No. 505 on 5th August 1787, by the Provincial Grand Master of Cheshire, Sir Robert Salusbury Cotton, who had until recently owned the large Llewenni Estate at Denbigh; the Lodge of St. Winefred No. 545 at Holywell on 5th April 1795; the Lodge of Heddwch a Chymdogaeth Dda (Peace and Good Neighbourhood) No. 548 at Wynnstay on 1st October 1795, the first Lodge entitled with a Welsh name; the Flintshire Lodge No. 809 at Mold on 28th February 1826; and finally, the St. David´s Lodge No. 811 at Bangor, advanced to No. 540 in 1852 and to its current No. 384 in 1863.
All the above Lodges bar the last one at Bangor had ceased working and been erased by Grand Lodge by 1839. There followed a pause of 25 years in the further development of Lodges until 2nd December 1851 when the Hibernia Lodge, now the St Cybi Lodge, at Holyhead was warranted and since that time there has been a steady development in the formation of new Lodges.
Post war periods experienced an acceleration in that growth. During the Province´s long history three Provincial Grand Masters served for conspicuously longer periods than most, firstly Sir Watkin Williams Wynn, Bt., M.P. 1852 to 1885; Sir Herbert Lloyd Watkin Williams Wynn, Bt. C.B., T.D., 1914 to 1945 and Lloyd, 5th Baron Kenyon, C.B.E., D.L., 1958 to 1990.
Under their respective periods of leaderships 16, 24 and 38 Lodges were consecrated. Prior to his assuming the leadership of the Province, Lord Kenyon consecrated a further 8 Lodges as Deputy Provincial Grand Master.
At the time of writing there are 108 active Lodges in the Province together with 36 Royal Arch Chapters.
The last two Lodges to be consecrated, by our current Provincial Grand Master RW Bro, Ieuan Redvers Jones, were the Cambrian Meridian Lodge of Installed Masters No. 9876, a daylight Lodge meeting at Rhyl and the Glaslyn Lodge of Installed Masters meeting at Porthmadog with half the meetings in the day and half in the evening.
On 13th October 2007 our present R.W. Provincial Grand Master, Bro Ieuan Redvers Jones was Installed by R.W. Bro. Peter Geoffrey Lowndes, Deputy Grand Master.
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