On the 22nd of December 1823, a group of Masonic rebels met at the Shakespeare Tavern in Williamson Square in Liverpool to re-establish the ‘Antient’ Grand Lodge, a Grand Lodge that had officially merged with the ‘Moderns’ ten years previously. The group of Freemasons, led by local tailor Michael Alexander Gage, were rebelling against the central control of London and what they saw as the ‘tyranny’ of the Duke of Sussex, who had neglected their grievances concerning the ritualistic and administrative practices which had been imposed on them. The rebellion in Liverpool was the culmination of discontent within the large Lancashire Province, which seemed to have been simmering since the Union of the ‘Antients’ and the ‘Moderns’ Grand Lodges in 1813.
The ‘Moderns’ or ‘Premier’ Grand Lodge claimed to be the official body of English Freemasons; formed in 1717, they had been central to the modernisation of Freemasonry. However, in 1751, the ‘Antients’ Grand Lodge was formed, which rebelled against the ‘Moderns’ for what they saw as their tampering with Freemasonry. Both Grand Lodges existed side by side throughout the remainder of the eighteenth century, operating as rivals, but in 1813, they came together and formed the United Grand Lodge of England, though, as we shall see, some lodges in certain areas on England were not happy with this move. The ‘Antients’ had different ritualistic views; for example besides having the usual three Craft degrees, they practised a fourth degree called The Royal Arch, though the Moderns used The Royal Arch ritual as an awkward ‘add-on’ to their third degree. Administration was also different, both Grand Lodges having different methods of running their lodges; the ‘Antients’ having travelling Warrants which meant a lodge could in effect travel around the country. The lodge could also die out, but its Warrant could be purchased and a lodge set up elsewhere.
The Lodge of Friendship No. 277 in Oldham had witnessed disruption a few years after the Union in 1817, the bickering between the brethren splitting the lodge in two, the rift only being healed the following year after the direct intervention of the Provincial Grand Master, Francis Dukinfield Astley. Disruptions in Liverpool had previously taken place in 1806, when the Grand Secretary of the Antients Grand Lodge was forced to write a letter to Lodge No. 53b which met at the Cheshire Coffee House at Old Dock Gate, after receiving a complaint – apparently from other Liverpool Antient lodges – that the lodge was open at unreasonable hours and that several members of the lodge were confined for breaking into a warehouse and stealing. The Grand Secretary requested that the lodge should suspend all Masonic business until they were cleared of the charges brought against them, but despite this request, the lodge continued to meet. The Mayor of Liverpool became involved when he received a letter from the other Antient lodges of the port, and the Committee of the Masters of the Antient lodges in Liverpool started an official investigation which concluded that Lodge No. 53b had been involved in ‘unmasonic behaviour’ resulting in their Warrant being withdrawn by the Antient Grand Lodge in 1807. The following year however, despite all the trouble, a number of the brethren of the erased lodge were desperately seeking a new Warrant to form a new lodge.
The Liverpool rebellion of 1823 certainly reflected the spirit of internal bickering and ‘unmasonic behaviour’ that had resulted in the closure of Lodge No. 53b. The rebellion was also tainted with an element of isolationism and networking ‘cliques’ within the lodges; some of the outlying industrial towns such as Wigan, Warrington and Ashton-in-Makerfield, had strong business links to Liverpool, mainly in relation to the cotton and coal trade, and these towns became the location for lodges which came under the sway of the rebels. Many of the Liverpool lodges, like other lodges based in the neighbouring industrial towns, were also suffering from low membership and in the acrid climate where the threat of closure and the loss of traditional rights caused increasing dissatisfaction amongst the Masons, revolt spread quickly, gaining momentum and stamina.
Many of the Liverpool Masonic rebels, who were mainly a collective of Liverpool and Wigan based tradesmen and merchants, eventually returned to the United Grand Lodge renouncing their initial grievances and apologising. But a hardcore remained, and under the leadership of the tempestuous Michael Alexander Gage, the rebels created the groundbreaking Magna Charta of Masonic Freedom and formed the Grand Lodge of Free and Accepted Masons of England According to the Old Constitutions, which was later to become the Grand Lodge held at Wigan. The Magna Charta of Masonic Freedom was a bold Masonic statement for the time, the majority of which was probably written by Gage himself. It reflected the rebels’ grievances and outlined their hope for an independent future, but it also reflected Gage’s egotistical personality, and set him up as a ‘founding father’ of the re-launch of ‘Antient’ Freemasonry. Ironically, many of the Liverpool based Masonic rebels were originally from outside Liverpool, such as Gage, who was born in Norfolk, John Robert Goepel, a Jeweller who originated from London, and James Broadhurst, a watchmaker from Great Sankey near Warrington.
Broadhurst had settled in Liverpool in the early 1790s, where he set himself up as a watchmaker. With the outbreak of the French wars, Liverpool was rife with press gangs, and Broadhurst was forcibly ‘inrolled’ into the Navy in 1795. He served as an able seaman on the Namur, taking part in the decisive Battle of Cape St. Vincent on the 14th of February 1797, which was an outstanding victory for the British, revealing the brilliance of Nelson. In the December of 1800, Broadhurst was transferred to the San Josef, one of the two captured Spanish ships from the battle, which displayed Nelson’s flag for a time in early 1801. It would be another two years before Broadhurst was released from service, and he returned to Liverpool and to watchmaking. In 1817, like many veterans of the Napoleonic Wars, he entered into Freemasonry, joining the Merchants Lodge and in 1820; he subsequently joined the Ancient Union Lodge, where he was to serve as Worshipful Master. Both of these lodges included members that became actively involved in the rebellion, and Broadhurst, having served on the San Josef when Nelson had hoisted his flag on the ship, would have been seen as a local naval hero, giving him a respect which would have made him an obvious leading figure in the rebellion.
Broadhurst, like Gage took an active part in the Provincial Grand Lodge meetings, and was quick to join his fellow Masonic tradesmen in the rebellion, sharing the same grievances, freely giving his signature to the document which outlined these issues. The discontent had developed a year after Broadhurst had become a Freemason, and quickly gathered pace, the Lancashire Province suffering in part due to the neglect of its Provincial Grand Master, Francis Dukinfield Astley, who never took action in Liverpool or Wigan to diffuse the situation. Perhaps, like his fellow tradesmen, after surviving through the Napoleonic Wars and hardships of the early decades of the nineteenth century, Broadhurst sought equality and freedom of speech, which was perhaps the initial attraction to a society which he felt held those qualities.
At a Provincial Grand Lodge meeting held at Ye Spread eagle Inn, Hanging Ditch, Manchester, during the October of 1818, a motion was passed which declared that any lodge whose membership is reduced to less than seven, should not be considered as a regular lodge and the Warrant be declared void. This motion, which was seen as a move to correct a defect in the New Constitution-Book, was actually made by Michael Alexander Gage with the overwhelming support of his fellow brethren. This motion was then duly passed on to the Board of General Purposes, but instead of it being presented by them to the United Grand Lodge, the motion was not reported and the Board remained silent on the issue. Certain Liverpool lodges, such as the Ancient Union Lodge No. 348, an old ‘Antient’ lodge, only had ten members at the time and the lodge had held an emergency meeting prior to the Provincial Grand Lodge meeting, sending a brother to attend, keeping an eye on the proceedings.
Many lodges at this time, especially in the industrial areas of Lancashire, had suffered a decline in the wake of the Unlawful Societies Act of 1799, Freemasonry suffering stagnation in the province, with only a scatter of new lodges actually being founded in the area during the early decades of the nineteenth century. When the Unlawful Societies Act had been passed in July 1799, Freemasonry was unavoidably affected, Masonry having to adapt to what many saw as an oppressive legislation. The original proposal of the bill would have completely banned Freemasonry along with other oath taking secret societies, but the Earl of Moira and other leading Freemasons from both the ‘Moderns’, the ‘Antients’ and the Scottish Grand Lodge prevailed upon Prime Minister William Pitt the Younger to amend it by exempting Masonic lodges ‘sitting by the precise authorization of a Grand Lodge and under its direct superintendence’.
In the wake of the Act, the decline continued, especially in the industrial areas of Lancashire, and the majority of the Liverpool lodges, some suffering more than others from low attendance, bonded together. The low attendance leading some Freemasons to join other lodges as well as their existing lodge, such as when Broadhurst and some other brethren from the Merchants Lodge – who were to play an important role in the rebellion – joined the Ancient Union Lodge, a move, which ensured not only the survival of the struggling lodge but would have created greater bonding between the brethren.
In September 1819, it was proposed by Gage that a letter should be drafted, addressed to the Grand Master himself – the Duke of Sussex, which would thus outline the grievances of Gage and his supporters; focussing on the fact that the motion passed during the meeting the previous year had not been presented by the Board of General Purposes to the United Grand Lodge. In the letter to the Duke, the rebels also referred to an incident in Bath, were Petitions for Royal Arch Chapters were dismissed by the Grand Chapter because it was:
‘not desirable to make the Number of Chapters in any place equal to the Number of Lodges’.
The rebels seized upon this example, and, being of ‘Antient’ persuasion, they indicated that they saw the Royal Arch as part of Craft Masonry, and the rejection of the Petitions was an abuse of power. The Duke of Sussex however, did not reply to the letter. Indeed, the Masonic historian Beesley puts forward that the letter may have been destroyed as it was addressed directly to the Duke of Sussex and not addressed through the normal administrative channels of the United Grand Lodge. The fact there was no reply only intensified the anger of the rebels and culminated in a decisive meeting in the Castle Inn, North Liverpool on the 26th of November of 1821 which would launch the revival of the ‘Antients’.
The Duke seemed to have been quite dismissive of any disagreeable elements within Freemasonry and had little sympathy for rebels within the society. Such was the case with the outspoken Freemason Dr. George Oliver, whose removal from his Provincial office was engineered by the Duke after Oliver incurred his dislike. The letter had been extremely direct and revealed the anger felt by the rebels, complaining how certain ‘Modern’ practices were being enforced and how new rules concerning the Royal Arch conflicted with the ‘Ancient Landmarks’. Gage and his fellow rebels had given the Duke plenty of time to reply, but with no response, it could be said the Duke had played into their hands.
This period was certainly a sensitive one, and certain local lodges had their own, slightly different – almost eccentric practices. Hampered by the increasing neglect of the Provincial Grand Master within the rebellious areas of Liverpool and Wigan, and with a growing feeling that their rights in the society were being eroded by the tampering of London based officials, the Liverpool rebels grew extremely sensitive to the transition of the Union regarding the ‘Antient’ and ‘Modern’ practices. Trouble had been simmering slowly during 1819, with disruptions in Liverpool with the Merchants Lodge, the Sea Captains Lodge and the Lodge of Harmony, and with Lodge No. 394 in Chorley, near Wigan. It had been thought that the trouble had been settled by a visit from the Provincial Grand Secretary in the May of that year, but it was just a sign of more serious trouble to come.
The decisive meeting at the Castle Inn, North Liverpool, in the November of 1821, set the final scene for rebellion. A document was drafted with 34 signatures, including Gage and Broadhurst, outlining the dissatisfaction felt by the rebels. The other lodges included in the rebellion were Lodge No. 74 and Sincerity Lodge No. 486 (both based in Wigan), as well as a number of brethren from the Liverpool based Mariners Lodge No. 466, the Ancient Union Lodge, the Sea Captains Lodge and the Merchants Lodge.
Broadhurst was the Worshipful Master of the Ancient Union Lodge in 1821, and along with a number of brethren including William Walker and Thomas Berry, he represented their lodge in the rebellion, adding their signatures to the Castle Inn document. Broadhurst, apart from being the senior member of his lodge, became vital in gaining support for the rebellion from the Ancient Union Lodge, and would have been secure in gaining an important role in the rebel Grand Lodge. Representatives from Broadhurst’s original lodge; the Merchants Lodge, included liquor merchant John Eltonhead – who later was connected to the Castle Inn as landlord, tailor Daniel Mackay, tanner John Manifold and excise man Samuel Money Blogg.
The 34 brethren who signed the document were subsequently suspended by the United Grand Lodge, and Gage’s lodge, Lodge No.31, was erased, an action that mirrored the erasing of Lodge No.53b in 1807. This action created further isolation for the suspended rebels as they were not allowed to visit any other lodges, ultimately providing greater bonding between them and giving them further cause to complain about the ‘tyranny’ of the United Grand Lodge. The dissent spread rapidly through Liverpool as certain lodges began to support their fellow brethren. The Liverpool based Sea Captain’s Lodge No. 140 threatened to separate itself entirely from the United Grand Lodge if Lodge No. 31 was not re-instated, and by the middle of 1822, an increased number of 65 brethren from Liverpool and Wigan were recorded as being suspended.
Gage’s Lodge No. 31 had been the ‘senior’ lodge amongst the ‘Antient’ lodges in Liverpool, having the oldest Warrant, and therefore having the position to settle the disputes that occurred within other ‘Antient’ lodges within the town. The lodge had been called Lodge No. 20 before the Union, but had been subsequently re-numbered, and, in doing so, had lost some of its local prestige. This re-numbering was obviously a sore point for the lodge as they reverted back to No 20 on the creation of the rebel Grand Lodge in 1823. The Warrant for Lodge No. 20 had been purchased by a number of brethren from the Ancient Union Lodge shortly after it was founded in 1792, and, with the original Warrant dating from 1753, Lodge No. 20 became the oldest ‘Antient’ lodge operating in Liverpool, out-dating and thus displacing the local St. George’s Lodge, which, despite being founded in 1786, had a Warrant which dated from 1755. St. George’s Lodge became extremely aggressive in its attitude to the rebels, particular against the conduct of Gage and Lodge No. 31, and when looking at the membership makeup of the St. George’s Lodge, a greater number of local gentlemen are evident, whereas in Lodge No. 31, the membership makeup had a greater number of tradesmen, such as Gage who was a tailor. There was a clear issue of class within the dispute, and this may explain the anger felt by Gage – a man with aspirations.
On the 5th of March, 1823, the United Grand Lodge finally expelled 26 brethren, stating that the rebels had:
‘been found guilty of various Acts of insubordination against the Authority of the Grand Lodge, and having been summoned to show cause why they should not therefore be expelled from the Craft; have not sent any sufficient apology for their late misconduct’.
Their rebellious activities were described as an ‘insult’ by the United Grand Lodge and the brethren, having ‘violated the laws of the Craft’, were ostracized. Gage and his followers were now free to proceed with their master-plan – to resurrect the ‘Antient’ Grand Lodge. The plan was certainly to go national and to spread the influence of the rebel Grand Lodge, and it was declared that the causes which led to the re-establishment of the ‘Antient’ Grand Lodge were to be advertised in four of the London Papers, a public declaration which would be guaranteed to reach the eyes of the leaders of the United Grand Lodge.
Gage took on the role of Deputy Grand Master, while George Woodcock Esq. was duly elected as the Grand Master of the Rebel Grand Lodge. Woodcock was a prominent member of the Barnsley based Friendly Lodge No. 557 and fully supported the ‘Antient landmarks of Freemasonry’. He was in correspondence with Gage and Lodge No. 31 in Liverpool from early 1823, Woodcock seeking writing an eight part resolution which outlined the ‘sorrow and regret at these severe measures which the G. Lodge has thought it proper to exercise towards Twenty-six respectable members of the Society’. Woodcock struck up a long-distance friendship with Gage, with the new Grand Master seeking advice from him on numerous occasions in regard to the administration of the Rebel Grand Lodge. The correspondence continued between them until Gage distanced himself from Freemasonry; in a letter to Woodcock dated June 1828, Gage declined meeting Woodcock and the brethren of the Barnsley lodge in Manchester, and also declined an invitation by Woodcock to spend Christmas at Barnsley. Gage also outlined in the letter how he had been putting Masonry before business for too long, and that he must now start devoting himself to the inhabitants of Liverpool and concentrate on his ‘plan of Liverpool’.
The new Grand Master was listed as a Gentleman in the minutes of his lodge meetings, but he worked as a bank manager for a fellow member of the lodge; John Staniforth Beckett – a member of a local banking family. Despite this, Woodcock appears to have been in control of the lodge and certainly engineered the lodge joining the rebellion; a decision that split his lodge in two, mirroring the incident which had occurred at the Lodge of Friendship in Oldham. Woodcock certainly shared the same spirit as his fellow rebels in Liverpool and Wigan, though events were to dampen the fire of revolt.
The new Grand Lodge soon ran into trouble; at a meeting of the Grand Lodge held at the Cross Keys in Wigan on the 23rd of June, 1824, the ex-Grand Secretary John Eden was:
‘for ever expelled…in consequence of his having Embezzled the funds of the Grand Lodge for his contempt of Summonses and other unmasonic conduct.’
Eden had been a member of Gage’s lodge, and this would have been a personal blow to the leader and would have created difficulties for the financial status in the early days of the rebel Grand Lodge. Part of the Grand Secretary’s job would have been to assist in looking after funds, and Eden had certainly abused the trust that had been placed in him. The returns paid to the Grand Secretary from certain lodges under the sway of the new rebel Grand Lodge, such as the Barnsley lodge, had not been passed on to the Grand Treasurer, Eden fraudulently using the funds. It seems that this incident had certainly shaken the fledgling rebel Grand Lodge, affecting the brethren deeply, some of whom became quickly disenchanted.
During the same year, James Broadhurst turned his back on the rebellion and conformed. Along with a number of other rebels, Broadhurst presented an apology to the United Grand Lodge, which brought them back into the fold. He immediately rejoined the Merchants Lodge, but his payments ceased in 1826, the experience of the rebellion and the subsequent fall out perhaps affecting the camaraderie of the lodge. Out of the original rebels representing the Ancient Union Lodge, only Thomas Berry remained to become an active member of what would become the Grand Lodge of Wigan, Berry having attended the first meeting of the rebel Grand Lodge at the Shakespeare Tavern in 1823 and serving as Secretary in the March meeting of 1825.
George Woodcock’s Barnsley Lodge became alarmed at the financial irregularities occurring in the administration of the rebel Grand Lodge and formally separated themselves from their Lancashire brethren in 1827, Woodcock going on to resign his office as Grand Master. The Barnsley lodge – being the only Yorkshire lodge in support of the rebellion – thus styled themselves as ‘The Yorkshire Lodge of Ancient Masons’, and Woodcock continued to lead his lodge in isolation until his death in 1842. Gage himself seemed to have slowly distanced himself from the rebels, and it was if the Liverpool brethren became disillusioned, the energy of the rebels quickly ebbing away.
Click here to learn more about the Liverpool Masonic Rebellion and the Wigan Grand Lodge.
 See David Harrison, The Genesis of Freemasonry, (Hersham: Lewis Masonic, 2009). Also see David Harrison, The Transformation of Freemasonry, (Bury St. Edmunds; Arima, 2010).
 See Minutes of the Lodge of Friendship, No.277, Masonic Hall, Oldham, 26th of February, 1817 – 20th of May, 1818. Not Listed.
 Letters concerning the Lodge at the Cheshire Coffee House, Old Dock Gate, No. 53b [erased], Liverpool Annual Returns, AR/906, 1797-1809, Library and Museum of Freemasonry, UGLE, Great Queen Street, London.
 The Grand Lodge of Free and Accepted Masons of England According to the Old Constitutions, first met officially in Liverpool in the July of 1823, which resulted in the declaration of the ‘Magna Charta of Masonic Freedom’ which was read out in the aforementioned meeting in the Shakespeare Tavern the following December. The ‘Magna Charta of Masonic Freedom’ was a document which put forward the theme of a new dawn in Masonry; free from what seen as the ‘despotic power’ of the United Grand Lodge. The Grand Lodge first met in Wigan on the 1st of March, 1824, and with no mention of the Grand Lodge meeting in Liverpool again after 1825, it became known as The Wigan Grand Lodge.
 See 1841 Census for Liverpool, Lancashire. Liverpool Library. Ref: HO107/561/15, where Broadhurst is still working as a ‘Watchmaker’ aged 69.
 Family papers of James Broadhurst. Private collection. Not Listed. See also Minutes of the Ancient Union Lodge no. 203, 1795-1835, Garston Masonic Hall, Liverpool. Not Listed.
 Nelson hoisted his flag on the San Josef in January, 1801, after arriving at Plymouth, but transferred his flag to the St. George less than a month later. The respect for able seamen who had served under Nelson is displayed in early nineteenth century literature, such as in Redburn by Herman Melville. Redburn was based on Melville’s own visit to Liverpool in 1839, and in the book, on arriving in Liverpool docks, a description of the ‘Dock-Wall Beggars’ is given. The sailors walking past the beggars ignored them, except for one; ‘an old man-of-war’s man, who had lost his leg at the battle of Trafalgar’, his wooden leg being made from the oak timbers of the Victory. This beggar was respected by the sailors and ‘plenty of pennies were tost into his poor-box’ by them. See Herman Melville, Redburn, (Middlesex: Penguin, 1987), p.261. A reference to the status of being a naval hero is also made in Charles Dickens’s David Copperfield, by Mr. Micawber, a character who is down on his luck but who is also honest. Micawber describes himself as ‘a gallant and eminent naval Hero’, see Charles Dickens, David Copperfield, (New York: Sheldon and Company, 1863), p.138.
 E.B. Beesley, The History of the Wigan Grand Lodge, (Leeds: Manchester Association for Masonic Research, 1920), pp.2-4.
 See David Harrison and John Belton, ‘Society in Flux’ in Researching British Freemasonry 1717-2017: The Journal for the Centre of Research into Freemasonry and Fraternalism, Vol. 3, (Sheffield: University of Sheffield, 2010), pp.71-99, and David Harrison, ‘Freemasonry, Industry and Charity: The Local Community and the Working Man’, in The Journal of the Institute of Volunteering Research, Volume 5, Number 1, Winter, 2002, pp.33-45.
 A somewhat rare example of a surviving lodge that emerged during this stagnant period was the Blackburn based Lodge of Perseverance No. 345, constituted in 1815, a lodge that certainly lived up to its name.
 See L.A. Seemungal, ‘The Edinburgh Rebellion 1808-1813’, AQC, Vol. 86, (York: Ben Johnson & Co. Ltd.,1973), pp.322-325. Also see Harrison, Transformation of Freemasonry, pp.5-10.
 See A List of the Members of the Ancient Union Lodge No. 203, 1792-1887, Harmonic Lodge No. 216, 1796-1836, & St. George’s Lodge of Harmony No. 32, 1786-1836, C.D. Rom: 139 GRA/ANT/UNI, The Library and Museum of Freemasonry, UGLE, Great Queen Street, London.
 Beesley, Wigan Grand Lodge, pp.4-5.
 A Copy of the Address to His Royal Highness Prince Augustus Frederick, The Duke of Sussex, Grand Master of the United Grand Lodge of Ancient Free and Accepted Masons of England, in Beesley, Wigan Grand Lodge, p.132.
 Beesley, Wigan Grand Lodge, p.5.
 R.S.E. Sandbach, Priest and Freemason: The Life of George Oliver, (Northamptonshire: The Aquarian Press, 1988), p.99.
 Liverpool Mercury Friday 16th of May 1823, Issue 624, in which is stated that ‘A well accustomed Inn, known by the name of the Castle Inn North, situated on the West side of Scotland Road, now in the occupation of Mr John Eltonhead, with good stabling for 7-8 horses and rooms over.’ Also in the Liverpool Mercury 4th of November, 1825, issue 754, which recorded the death of Mary Kirby age 67, widow of Thomas Kirby and mother of John Eltonhead, Castle Inn North, on the 29th of October 1825. Family papers of John Eltonhead. Private collection. Not listed.
 St. George’s Lodge of Harmony No. 32 had been No. 25c, changing to No. 38 in 1814. It was renumbered again to No. 35 in 1832, and changed to its present number in 1863. See Lane’s Masonic Records 1717-1894 online: <http://freemasonry.dept.shef.ac.uk/lane/> [accessed 25th of January, 2010]
 Beesley, Wigan Grand Lodge, pp.16-19.
 Will Read, ‘The Spurious Lodge and Chapter at Barnsley’, in AQC, Vol. 90, (Abingdon: Burgess & Son, 1978), pp.1-36, on p.10.
 Ibid., p.26 and p.31.
 Beesley, Wigan Grand Lodge, pp.46-47.
 Read, AQC, Vol. 90, pp. 16-17.
 Ibid., p.23.
The above article has previously appeared in The Philalethes Journal and The Square. The paper was also presented to the Historic Society of Lancashire and Cheshire in March 2010 and was subsequently published in their journal.