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The beginning to 1888
In 1883, Glasgow was in terms of population, area and industrial enterprise one of the leading cities of a vast Empire. The 1881 Census recorded a population of 511,415 and in particular the Burgh of Partick, with which we are concerned, had a population of 39,028. Industrially, the city was almost unique in the United Kingdom because of its broad industrial base. It did not rely like many cities on a single industry for its prosperity. Shipbuilding, heavy engineering, textiles and printing all contributed to the common wealth.
It is clear that the desire to erect a new Lodge in Whiteinch was the product of one main factor. As a trading nation, Britain required merchant vessels and as a major international power her navy needed to be strengthened. In 1871, the Fairfield Company opened and by 1875 claimed to be the greatest shipyard in the world. In the same period Alexander Stephen and Sons moved to the Clyde from the North East of Scotland. Perhaps most significantly for us in 1876, Barclay Curle Ltd. moved to the north bank opposite Linthouse. Its chairman was Sir Andrew McLean of whom we shall hear more later. In 1883, the number of new vessels launched on the Clyde was 379, whose total tonnage was 404,383.
Thus many craftsmen were attracted to this area by the possibility of better and more secure employment. They probably owed no loyalty to their adopted home. Living not in Partick but in Whiteinch and finding their friends among ‘immigrant’ workers, they felt a desire to form a lodge of their own. Many were members of Lodges which contained Saint John in the titles. This may provide an explanation of our name.
It is appropriate at this early stage in the History to consider the attitude of Partick St. Mary’s toward the erection of a new Lodge. In the newspaper, the Weekly Gazette, on 22nd February, 1908 which described the Consecration of the new Burgh Hall, it was stated that ‘two Brethren of 117 had travelled to Edinburgh to oppose the granting of a Charter.’ There is no record either at Grand Lodge or in Partick St. Mary’s minutes of such opposition. There were however among our Founder Members Brethren of 117. One of these, Bro. James Faith, attended ‘a meeting which was held in Whiteinch on Thursday 21st December, 1882 for the purpose of supporting a resolution to erect a new Lodge in Whiteinch.’ He was reprimanded in hos own Lodge for having made ‘use of some very offensive and insulting remarks derogatory to and repugnant to the fair name of St. Mary’s Lodge.’ It is interesting to note that our Sponsor Lodges were the Lodge of Glasgow St. Mungo No.27 and Lodge St. Andrew No. 465. Perhaps this does indicate an initial coolness on the part of St. Mary’s towards a new Lodge. The years thereafter reveal that any animosity could not have been deep-rooted or extensive. Very close fraternal relations were soon established.
In Provincial Grand Lodge, there was concern that in setting up a new Lodge no harm should be done to St. Mary’s. The Acting Provincial Grand Master Bro. William J. Easton recorded his concern on the Petition praying for a Charter in these terms:
‘Whiteinch is a growing place having there a few shipbuilding yards. It is one mile west from Partick where there is handsome Masonic Hall in which Lodge 117 meets and I would be sorry if the establishment of a Lodge at Whiteinch should in any way injure that in Partick. The information I have received has led me to think that it will not.’
Grand Lodge in its wisdom granted a Charter in the name of Saint John Whiteinch with the number 683 on the roll of the Grand Lodge of Scotland. There were 23 founder members.
The following is an extract from the Proceedings of Grand Lodge, 3rd May 1883, page 74:
“The minutes of Grand Committee were put for approval, when those referring to the following recommendations were unanimously confirmed:
1. That Brothers Jasper M. Pownell and Don A. Woodward be appointed Representatives to the Grand Lodges of Arkansas and New Hampshire respectively.
2. That Charters be granted to Lodges Saint John Whiteinch, Glasgow No. 683, St. Clement No. 688 and Luce Abbey No. 689.”
The Charter Master was Bro. John F. Imrie, a Past Master of Lodge Troon Navigation No. 86. He must have been a man of considerable Masonic experience sincere he occupied the Chair of his Lodge from 1869-1875. It is evident from the records of this peroid that Bro. Imrie was not present in the Lodge on very many occasions. In 1883, Andrew Martin Smith assumed the Chair. He remained Master until 1888. Unlike nowadays where a different Brother is installed as R.W.M. each year, it was in former times difficult to find Brethren willing to occupy the highest office in the Lodge. A survey of the list of Past Masters will reveal that such a situation prevailed until 1925.
The first meeting place of the Lodge was in a room and kitchen in a George Street tenement. To provide more suitable accommodation, another two apartments were added. Members carried out work on the flat in their own time. A lease of the premises was taken for five years. One of the conditions of the contract was that, on removal, the house would be restored to its original state.
In its first few years of existence, the Lodge experienced serious difficulties. The Minute Books show that often a sufficient number of well-qualified Brethren were not present in order to open the Lodge. The dull state of trade in the district was blamed. The economic situation was also used as a reason for not having a harmony at meetings.
Appendix 3 nevertheless indicates the interest of the Members in their Lodge. Such a number of contests for offices is in modern times unheard of. Having studied the statistics of the Nomination Meeting of 6th November, 1884, it is a wonder how long the meeting lasted.
It is proper now to return to the relationship between St. John Whiteinch and Partick St. Mary’s. Brethren of St. Mary’s from May 1883 made very frequent visits to Whiteinch and I am sure that the reverse is also correct. There is evidence of still closer friendships. In September 1885, Robert A. Fraser was made an Honorary Member of 683 as was the R.W.M. of St. Mary’s, David Draper in November 1886. A Dramatic Performance of Rob Roy was held later in the same decade in the Partick Burgh Hall in aid of the funds of both Lodges. About the same time, local Member of Parliament A. Craig Sellar, whose Mother Lodge was the Lodge of Holyrood House (St. Luke), was awarded Honorary Membership. Perhaps the most popular Brother to receive a similar honour was Sir Andrew McLean, a prominent member of St. Mary’s. Sir Andrew, who lived at Viewfield House, Balshagray, was highly regarded in the locality. Indeed his entry on one occasion into St. John Whiteinch was greeted with tumultuous applause from the Brethren.