The Lodge of Lights, based in Warrington, one of the oldest lodges in the West Lancashire province, constituted in 1765, is celebrating the conservation of two its earliest surviving minute books, the earliest of which dates from 1791. Their first minute book has long since disappeared, so to see two minute books fully repaired by an expert conservationist from the Museum of Liverpool was cause for celebration. The lodge was awarded £250 to pay for the conservation from the United Grand Lodge of England. It is hoped that all the lodge’s minute books will be eventually repaired, conserved and digitalised for future historical study. The conservationist Sharon Oldale said that it was an honour to work on such historical documents.
Indeed, the historical associations of the Lodge of Lights are well documented; the membership book reveals a lodge at the centre of its community, with its membership ranging from working men to industrialists, from teachers of the famous Warrington Academy to local watchmakers. Academy teacher John Reinhold Forster was a member of the Lodge of Lights, now more famous for accompanying Captain Cook on his second voyage as Botanist. Reinhold Forster went on to publish ‘A Voyage Around the World’. Famous Warrington brewer Sir Gilbert Greenall was also a member, Greenall becoming a Conservative MP and his son the first Lord Daresbury. Watchmaker Edward Harrison was also a member, an example of his work; a rare late eighteenth century pocket watch being on display at the local museum. Another member of note is William Williams, who left the Lodge of Lights in 1838 to form another Warrington lodge; the Lodge of Knowledge, which was a lodge under the rebel Grand Lodge of Wigan. Williams went on to become Grand Master of the rebel Grand Lodge in 1853.
The minute books give an insight into a lodge operating in a time of war and social upheaval; with the French wars and radicalism in the air, there is a reference to the 1799 Unlawful Societies Act, and in 1801, a lodge night had to be postponed due to the amount of members who belonged to the local militia. What is also interesting is that late nineteenth century Masonic historian John Armstrong, who was also a member of the Lodge of Lights, published excerpts from the lodge minute books in 1901, and his marks and rough notes are written in the margins of certain entries in the original minute books. There are references to lodge members being fined for drunkenness and rowdy behaviour, lectures on Astronomy, and incidents of rather large bills for alcohol and tobacco; so overall the lodge night was educational, smoky and could possibly get a bit rough sometimes. The Lodge of Lights, as a ‘Modern’ lodge, also had visitors from ‘Antient’ lodges, hinting at a harmony between Masons from both persuasions at local level, despite the tensions at Grand Lodge level.
A museum is being developed at Warrington Masonic Hall which aims to celebrate the unique history of Freemasonry in the town. There is the original Lodge of Lights Bible on display at the Warrington Masonic Hall museum which dates from 1599, and according to lodge tradition, was the very Bible that Elias Ashmole took his oath on when he was made a Freemason in Warrington in 1646.
There is also cause for celebration as an early copy of the lodge by-laws has also been re-discovered, the by-laws dating to c.1770. Considering the loss of the very first minute book, this discovery is important as it shines a light on the workings of the lodge prior to 1791. It is hoped that with the aid of future funding, more minute books will be repaired, so the history of the lodge can be accessed by researchers for years to come.