History and the growth of Freemasonry in Maidstone
In the 1700’s, Lodges in Maidstone tended to be Military Lodges, associated with Regiments stationed at Maidstone
It was in 1779 that a new Lodge was founded in Maidstone and named the Lodge of Fortitude No. 437. It met in the Bell Inn – Week Street.
Because of problems with the Grand Lodge it was admonished by the Grand lodge and closed in 1828.
At the time that the Lodge of Fortitude was meeting under the Premier Grand Lodge, known as the “Moderns”, another Lodge was warranted in 1791 and met under the constitution of the “Ancients”.
It was named The Maidstone Lodge of Athol Grand Lodge No. 266 and met at the Castle Inn – Week Street. Its Warrant was returned to the Ancient Grand Lodge in 1799.
Following these closures, Freemasonry in Maidstone became dormant.
In 1844 Freemasons in Maidstone decided to found a new Lodge.
The majority of these founders were members of The Royal Kent Lodge of Antiquity No. 20 Chatham and received the support of this Lodge, in their application to Grand Lodge.
This was counter signed by Joseph Ashley, Deputy Provincial Grand Master for Kent.
Their first choice of name was the Lodge of United friends, then altered to the Kentish Lodge of United Friends and finally to Belvidere Lodge.
The reason for the name was that the then Provincial Grand Master for Kent, was the Lord of Saye and Sele who lived at Belvidere House in the parish of Erith and gave his permission for the new Lodge to be named after his house.
Belvidere Lodge No. 741 was consecrated at the Star Hotel – High Street – Maidstone on Tuesday 3rd December 1844, with 13 founders.
At the consecration of Belvidere Lodge, the 13 founder members were:
Six from the Lodge of Royal Kent Lodge of Antiquity No 20 Chatham:
• Two from Lodge of fortitude No. 437 – Maidstone
• One from Lodge of Harmony No. 403 – Brompton
• One from Robert Burns Lodge No. 25 – London
• One from Lodge of Brotherly Love No. 624 – Yeovil – Somerset
• One from West Kent Militia
• One from Military Lodge of Good Hope
Belvidere Lodge 741 was re-numbered in 1863 at the “closing up” of the
Lodges as 503
Belvidere House. 1740 – 1978
It had this name when first built in 1740, and was virtually rebuilt and enclosed in a park in 1764.
The name Belvidere is taken from the Italian language meaning “beautiful view”
The Saye and Sele family became owners of Belvidere House in 1824 and in
1844 on the death of the 14th Lord, who was also a Freemason, it passed to the 15th Lord Saye and Sele, who was the Provincial Grand master of Kent.
Sir Culling Eardley succeeded to the title and ownership in 1848 and this enabled him to carry out many good works in the area.
He paid for the building of the All Saints Church and a school for Local children in 1861.
It is in the building of this church that a Parish was formed and the name of Belvedere was adopted by the local village.
So Belvidere Lodge was named before the parish and village of Belvedere by some 17 years.
Freemasonry in the area, after 1848, had started to become more active and Belvidere House was used for special meetings.
Cornwallis lodge No. 1107 was consecrated, in the gold room, at Belvidere House in 1866 but did not continue to meet here.
However the Saye and Sele Lodge No.1973 did meet here from 1884 and held their Consecration Banquet in the Gold room.
Following this the old stable block was made into Masonic Rooms and Saye and Sele Lodge remained here until 1962.
The house was demolished in 1978.
The next lodge to be present in Maidstone was Douglas Lodge No 1725 in 1877 and was named after its first Worshipful Master, Akers Douglas Member of Parliament for St Augustine division in Thanet.
The Founders were mainly members of Marling Abbey Lodge No. 1063 and a few from Belvidere Lodge 503.
Although an active Lodge, their membership has never been great and has met almost continuously at the Ancient College Gateway.
Douglas lodge is the Masonic home of the Cornwallis family, a very prominent name in Freemasonry in Kent.
19th September 1881.
The Presbyterian Chapel in Brewer Street, Maidstone, was purchased for a sum of £850 and conveyed to seven named members of Belvidere, who on the same date executed a Declaration of Trust in the favour of the members of the Belvidere lodge.
20th September 1881.
The Aforesaid Trustees then mortgaged the property for £700.
Belvidere Lodge apparently then spent a sum of £400, which without doubt was raised among the members and by gifts from other Brethren, in converting the building into a Masonic Lodge.
Robinson Lodge 1884.
In 1884 a new Lodge, to be founded in Maidstone, requested Douglas Lodge to be its sponsor. It was to be named Robinson Lodge and on its consecration was numbered 2046.
There are no records, but it is thought that in Belvidere Lodge there appeared, to be a split between its members.
Therefore some of its members felt strongly enough to approach Douglas Lodge to support them in founding Robinson Lodge rather than approaching Belvidere.
Of the nine founders, six were members of Belvidere Lodge 503.
Another pointer to the possible bad feeling between the two Lodge’s, was that even though Robinson Lodge were finding difficulty in finding a suitable place to meet in Maidstone, they did not seem to want to meet at the Masonic Temple in Brewer Street, then owned by Belvidere Lodge.
What follows are extracts from the Belvidere minutes in 1844.
The reader will probably form an opinion as to the feelings at that time.
Belvidere P.C. meeting February 27th 1884.
A letter from Lord Johnstondale was read asking if Belvidere Lodge had any reason to offer against the formation of a 3rd lodge in Maidstone.
The meeting had no objection.
No name of the proposed new lodge was recorded.
Belvidere P.C. meeting April 11th 1844.
It was proposed and seconded that the Masonic Hall be offered to the proposed new lodge on the 3rd Tuesday of the month or any Friday.
The hall to be let, at the rate of 21/- (21 shillings) per evening.
Still no name mentioned.
Belvidere P.C. meeting October 2nd 1884.
To consider an application from Robinson Lodge.
The meeting was informed that the application had been withdrawn, therefore the matter be dropped.
Belvidere Lodge meeting April 1885.
The Secretary reported that the P.C. must consider the communication from the Secretary of Robinson Craft Lodge and from Robinson Mark Lodge and had directed copies of the following resolutions to be sent in reply.
Robinson Craft Lodge.
“The terms having already been offered to Robinson Craft Lodge and absolutely declined”.
“It has also been said that the Robinson Lodge was driven to hold its meetings in an unsuitable place owing to the Belvidere Lodge refusing to receive it”.
Proposed that Belvidere Lodge is prepared to receive the Robinson Lodge, upon the terms already quoted, not one guinea per night.
Robinson Mark Lodge.
“That this Lodge shall be at liberty to return to the Freemason Hall and that the terms be one guinea per night inclusive”.
Following this there was no further mention of Robinson Lodge.
They used several meeting places and this wandering of Robinson Lodge was only brought to an end in 1892, when the then Provincial Grand Master for Kent, Earl Amherst, prevailed upon Robinson Lodge and Belvidere Lodge to join together in the use of the Freemason Hall, Brewer Street.
The Secretary read out a joint communication from both Douglas Lodge No. 1725 and Robinson Lodge No. 2046.
They suggested on the advisability of appointing a joint Almoner representative of the three lodges in the town, in the distribution of casual relief and on the proposition of the Secretary and seconded by the Treasurer it was unanimously decided to join in such an appointment.
Bro. A C Mackintosh Almoner of Belvidere Lodge having given his consent, it was agreed to recommend his appointment in the joint capacity as described by the other lodges and also that any amount of expenditure shall be paid in equal proportion from the several lodge funds.
Douglas and Robinson Lodges replied with their agreement to the proposed terms by Belvidere Lodge on January 8th 1907.
Provincial Grand Lodge Festival 1917.
The Secretary reported that it is proposed to hold the Annual Meeting and
Festival of the Provincial Grand Lodge in Maidstone this year and the Permanent Committee has recommended that this Lodge should unite with the Douglas Lodge 1725 and Robinson Lodge 2046 in issuing a Invitation to the Provincial Grand Lodge to hold the Meeting and festival under the joint banners of the three Maidstone Lodges.
The recommendation of the Permanent Committee was adopted and confirmed.
Lodge meeting Tuesday 9th October 1917.
Provincial Grand Lodge Festival.
The Secretary presented the Balance Sheet of the Provincial Grand Lodge
Festival held at Maidstone on June 27th 1917 showing a total expenditure of £170-4-6, met by the grant from the P. G. Lodge of £80, tickets sold £50-10-0 and a contribution of £13-4-10 from Lodges 503, 1725 and 2046.
The sale of Freemasons Hall. 1920.
Belvidere lodge. October 1920.
The Treasurer briefly explained the circumstances which since the last Lodge meeting had led up to the sale of Freemasons Hall Brewer Street by public auction for the sum of £1,680.
The Secretary explained that pending the realization of a scheme for a permanent housing of Freemasonry in Maidstone, it is proposed to hold the meetings at the Old Palace, Mill Street.
Also at this meeting the minutes record that the Freemasons Hall was to be sold to a Mr. Edward Sharp for the sum of £1,680 and “That the mortgage of £700 to the Trustees of Court Star Lodge No. 1845 of the Ancient Order of Foresters Friendly Society be repaid”.
Edward Sharp purchased the Hall as a welfare centre for his employees. It was later renamed as Kelley Hall.
The Lodges then moved to the Old Palace in Mill Street, which was their home for two years.
78 Installation Belvidere Lodge December 1921
Again dispensation had to be granted to hold this at the Maidstone Town hall.
Several interesting item were raised at this meeting:
The Director of Ceremonies, W/Bro. A. Epps P.M., was presented by the I.P.M. with a Silver mounted Wand of office, to be used by himself and his successors in office, in commemoration of his completion of 21 years’ service as D.C., and his re-appointment for the 22nd year.
Remember the Joint Appointment of W/Bro. Mackintosh in 1906?
The R.W. Provincial Grand Master in the name of the Three Local Lodges,
Belvidere No. 503, Douglas No. 1725 and Robinson No. 2046, presented to
W/Bro. Angus Campbell Mackintosh P.M. 503 a cheque for the purchase of an Article of Furniture, in grateful recognition of his unique services as Almoner for the Three Lodges. W/Bro. Mackintosh who is leaving the town on his retirement from the appointment of Chief Constable, suitably acknowledged the gift.
Out of the 157 who attended the meeting, 140 dined together at the Concert Hall, Corn Exchange.
Special Emergency Lodge meeting 28th July 1922.
Purchase of a new accommodation.
The Special Committee appointed by the Permanent Committee of this Lodge to confer with a similar representative Committee of the Robinson Lodge No. 2046 with regard to procuring better accommodation for Masonic purposes, reported that the joint representatives of the two Lodges had agreed to the purchase, for the sum of £3150 of the premises No’s 5 and 6 Bower Terrace, Maidstone, at present owned and occupied as a club by Messrs Tilling Stevens Limited, such purchase to take effect on the 29th September next and they recommended that their action on behalf of this Lodge be confirmed.
On the proposition of the Secretary, seconded by the Treasure the report was adopted and the joint purchase was confirmed.
It was also agreed that three named members of Belvidere and three members of Robinson Lodge would act as Trustees of the new premises on behalf of the two Lodges.
At the conclusion of the Official Business, a joint conference of officers and members of Lodges 503 and 2046 was held, at which many subjects of interest in connection with the occupation of the new premises, which are to be called “The Freemasons Hall” were discussed.
It was here that Maidstone Masonic Lodges increased in number.
The main reasons in the 1920’s for the introduction of new Lodges, was the growth in membership and the number of years, it took, to be appointed to office.
Both Belvidere and Robinson Lodges had memberships of over 130.
To give an example of what the Lodges were facing we can look at Belvidere at the beginning of 1921.
Two Lodge meetings per month took place for each of the Three months January, February and March.
This was solely to accommodate proposals, ballots, initiations, and the passing and raising of members.
I am sure that the other lodges in Maidstone were faced with this same demand for membership.
Consequently, a Freemason who had a desire to occupy the Worshipful Master’s Chair, could take anything from 12 to 20 years to do so.
The solution to this problem was the forming of new Lodges.
• Agricola No. 4501 – 1922
• Chillington Manor No. 4646 – 1924
• Duke of Kent No. 5818 – 1939
During World War II, from 1939 – 1945, Freemasonry met under many difficult circumstances.
Meals were often unobtainable, older members were deterred by the “blackout”, local buses stopped running early evening and many members away on active service.
However one more Lodge was consecrated at this time, this took place in 1943 and was the Kent Provincial Grand Stewards Lodge No. 5866.
With the war ending, many men, possibly looking for the comradeship that they had known in the Services, joined Freemasonry.
This put pressure on the existing Lodges, which acquired large memberships plus long waiting lists and the forming of new Lodges became inevitable.
These new Lodges were:
• Bearsted No. 6069 – 1945
• Garden of England No. 6583 – 1948
• Allington No. 7086 – 1951
• Maeides Stana No. 7868 – 1962
• Fleur de Lis No. 8969 – 1980
• Monckton No. 9236 – 1987
As the number of lodges increased, and membership grew, it was decided that the Lodge room was too small. The membership agreed to a new temple and work started in 1958 and it was dedicated in 1959.
It was situated at the rear of the Masonic Hall in Bower Terrace.
In 1975 The Bower Street building showed signs of serious structural deterioration and it was agreed to sell the site and obtain new premises.
There was sadness at having to leave Bower Terrace but relieved by the concept of developing Holy Trinity Church in Marsham Street into a new masonic centre.
This proved very difficult and not to be. So the trustees obtained the use of the Greenway Hotel at West Malling as a temporary solution.
Then, in 1977, the Management Committee of the owning Lodges made the decision to purchase Linton Park on Linton Hill, at one time owned by Lord Cornwallis, the Provincial Grand Master of East Kent.
I believe Lodges started using Linton Park late in 1977 or early 1978.
Unfortunately, the cost of running and maintaining the building and its extensive grounds soon became unaffordable and, just two years later, in 1979, it was sold and the Lodges returned to Greenways, pending finding a more suitable home.
The trustees, after inspecting 103 possible sites, then had the opportunity to purchase a new premise in Maidstone.
They bought this from Messrs Reed and Company, Tovil Mill, Torvil.
It had been the Reed’s Paper Mill, Works canteen and was of no further use to them due to the mill closing.
Though not quite large enough to begin with, there was ground available which made room for expansion, and so our present purpose home was built and opened in 1983.
Over the period covered by this talk, Belvidere was responsible for being the sponsor of five out of nine of the new Lodges. Our Daughter Lodges are:
• Duke of Kent Lodge
• Kent Provincial Grand Stewards Lodge
• Allington Lodge
• Maeides Stana Lodge
• Monckton Lodge
Belvidere Lodge has now had 170 years of continuous operation as a Masonic Lodge and has been, throughout that time, a driving force in the development of Freemasonry in Maidstone.
An achievement that we, as members of the oldest Premier Lodge in Maidstone, can all be duly proud of.
Derek Warren – Secretary: Belvidere Lodge of Instruction