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Maldon’s Masonic Heritage

Maldon is an ancient riverside town in Essex. It has a rich and varied history, and Freemasonry has played an important part in that heritage. The evidence for Maldon Masons goes right back to the 18th century. During Thomas Dunckerley’s time as Provincial Grand Master for Essex (that is from 1776) there were only four lodges in the whole of the County of Essex and two of them were being held “in abeyance” because of low membership. One that fell into that latter category was number 430, ‘The Lodge of Freedom’, which had started in 1772 and met at the ‘King’s Head’, in Maldon’s High Street. It was ultimately closed as a Lodge in 1785 as it had “not met for several years”. ‘Social Lodge’, number 332, was formed in the town seventeen years later, but that was also erased in 1828. It was not until later on in the nineteenth century that the uncertainties of Maldon Lodge survival diminished and things became much more stable.

By the 1890s there were three Lodges in town – ‘The Lodge of St. Peter’, number 1024, which was given its warrant in 1864; ‘The Blackwater Lodge’, number 1977, formed in 1882; and ‘The Plume Chapter of Royal Arch Freemasons’ , created in 1891. Of those, ‘The Blackwater Lodge’ met in a room at the ‘Blue Boar’ and contemporary adverts for the hotel display the distinctive Square and Compasses. That Lodge ultimately moved from Maldon to Colchester where it still meets.

 The Lodge of St. Peter, on the other hand, met in the base of the redundant church tower of St. Peter’s, on Market Hill, after which it was named. They gathered there on the Friday (later the Tuesday) “nearest full moon in every month” and their badge incorporated (and indeed still does) a cockerel with a “school-boy Latin” motto intended to translate to “always welcome in St. Peter’s”!  The Plume Royal Arch Chapter met in the same location, and was named after Dr Plume who founded the Plume Library.

In 1898 the Plume Chapter and the Lodge of St. Peter stopped meeting in the Plume building, and the adjacent St. Peters’ Tower, after a report from the Surveyor to the Borough of Maldon, a Member of the Lodge of St. Peter, that the Tower was in danger of imminent collapse. The cause was given as the severe vibrations arising from the passage of steam traction engines regularly passing in Market Hill, Maldon. The drama envisaged did not occur and the Tower still stands, although having had three extensive reconstructions during the past one hundred years.

The next reliable records of a regular meeting venue was in 1901 when both the Lodge and Chapter began using the then “new” Masonic Hall, situated above 104 High Street (now Foulkes Electrical).

During this early period, local Masons made a number of generous donations to All Saints Church. In 1866 ‘The Lodge of St. Peter’ gave the carved oak lectern that still bears their brass plaque. ‘The Plume Chapter’ sponsored the 1907 Rutland stone statue of Dr. Plume on the outside of the South Aisle. The unusual stance of the figure, particularly the positioning of its feet, is of significance in that respect. The black and white tiled flooring in the Chancel was laid in 1870 to celebrate the vicar, Rev. Edward Russell Horwood, and churchwarden, J.P. Jay, becoming members. Further on down the High Street is the ‘Warwick Arms’. Originally called the ‘Queen Adelaide’, the pub was re-named in 1899 because Lord Warwick had become Grand Master for Essex. He had visited Maldon three years earlier when the town was chosen as the venue for a meeting of Provincial Grand Lodge.

In November 1924 negotiations took place to obtain new premises on Cromwell Hill. Purchase and alteration costs amounted to £922, which was met by three local Freemasons. The current Maldon Masonic Hall was established, the very first meeting taking place there in September 1925. The building had previously served many purposes; it was used by the Girl Guides under the supervision of local benefactor Mrs. Sadd; before that it was the chapel and sanctuary of St. Joseph’s Home for Boys, run by an order of Carmelite Sisters; and earlier still perhaps the site of a medieval chapel dedicated to St. Helen.  The Masonic Hall on Cromwell Hill continues to be the venue for masonic meetings today.

The Lodge of St. Peter has since been joined there by other Craft Lodges including; Beeleigh Abbey Lodge (number 7017) from 1950; Daen Ingas (number 7951) from 1964; Wheel of Fellowship Lodge (number 9016) founded in Chelmsford in 1982 and relocated to Maldon in 1993; and, Frederick Leistikow Lodge (number 9143) from 1985.  In addition to these Craft lodges, Plume Chapter continues to meet there, and was joined by Frederick Leistikow Chapter of Royal Arch Freemasons in 1988. The other masonic meeting that currently uses the Maldon Masonic Hall is the Coromandel Chapter Rose Croix (number 27 C). This chapter was founded in Madras in 1869 and moved to Maldon in 1973.

Beeleigh Abbey Lodge, number 7017, was consecrated on Thursday, 12th October, 1950.  Its name is taken from the former Premonstratensian (or Norbertine) Abbey, situated from 1180 to its Dissolution in 1536, in the rural hamlet of Beeleigh, on the outskirts of the town of Maldon. The part of the Abbey that survived demolition in the 16th century was added to in the 17th century and, since the Second World War, has been the country retreat of the Foyle family. William Foyle, the founder of the famous Charing Cross bookshop, gave permission for the Lodge to adopt the name and former arms of the Abbey.

Originally the Lodge met at the County Hotel in Chelmsford just four times a year. However, the Lodge soon had to ask Province for permission to hold a fifth meeting because there were so many potential new members wanting to join the Lodge. The move from Chelmsford to Maldon was really the ‘brain child’ of W.Bro Frank Horton, who was the founding Master and a very influential figure in local Masonry. He was always impeccably dressed ( not really surprising as he was the owner of the local menswear shop!). W.Bro Frank was also the instigator of presenting each candidate with a Bible at their initiation – introduced in the first year of his office and has continued ever since.

The Wheel-of-Fellowship Lodge, No.9016, also began holding its meetings in Chelmsford when it was constituted in 1982. This lodge was established for members and ex. Members of the Rotary Club, and from the beginning this was a qualification needed to join the lodge. The Wheel of fellowship Lodge moved to Maldon in 1993 but numbers continued to diminish, due mainly to bereavements. The lodge has since decided to relax the entry requirements by accepting non-Rotarians as members and once more has a thriving membership.

Frederick Leistikow Lodge (number 9143) has its origins in the creation of South Woodham Ferrers. When the building of the new town South Woodham Ferrers commenced in 1975 the Masonic Housing Trust established “Hamilton Court” a warden controlled sheltered housing complex for elderly people with masonic and non-masonic connections. This was run as a joint venture between the Town Council and the Freemasons, Frederick Leistikow as Provincial Grand Master being the Chairman with other local Masons serving on the committee. As the town grew and other masons moved there a small group of masons thought about starting a Lodge and eventually they joined forces with the “Hamilton Court” committee members who were having similar thoughts.

The Lodge took its name from the retiring Provincial Grand Master, Frederick Leistikow, having been given special permission to do so in memory of him. Unfortunately, not being able to find suitable premises to hold its meetings in the town, the Lodge meets in Maldon Masonic Hall, where it still meets today. It still has many members from South Woodham Ferrers, but being based in Maldon over the years the membership is now wider spread.

Over the years, the Maldon Masonic Hall has been improved and the eight lodges/chapters that meet there make good use of it. Freemasons continue to play an active role to support our local community and to provide donations to local and national charities. A list of those recently supported can be found elsewhere on this website.

The distinctive Square and Compasses on a certain secluded door on Cromwell Hill tells us that Freemasonry is alive, well and flourishing in town over three centuries after the first Lodges met in Maldon.