Freemasonry in Derbyshire was first established as early as 1732, about 15 years after the formation of the first Grand Lodge and around 86 years after the first ever recorded lodge in England.
The earliest Lodges were often named after the building where the meetings took place, which not surprisingly would have been an Inn or Tavern. Roving craftsmen required a suitable hostelry to lodge (note the phrase) for what might have been extended periods during the construction of a building. In some cases, accommodation might be provided on site, this being referred to as a Lodgement (again an interesting phrase, which in other circles may have both legal and military connotations also).
It would be easy to imagine that after a hard days toil, a ‘gang’ of craftsmen would return to a preferred Inn – where working Masons would be warmly greeted.
Have a hearty meal, a drink and a yarn until retiring for the evening. As with any group of skilled craftsmen, ‘tricks of the trade’ & ‘trade secrets’ would be discussed and exchanged, and the locations of good jobs with well paying masters, or potential new building sites would be described; but only amongst those ‘in the know’ (and specifically, those of the same rank of craftsmen), who closely guarded their skills and knowledge. Could this be one reason why Masonry acquired a reputation of being a mysterious organisation?
Lodges were formed and Lodges were disbanded. The oldest surviving Lodge in Derbyshire is Tyrian Lodge № 253, being established in 1785 with Masons from afar as Ashby-de-la-Zouch, Loughborough, Mansfield and Southwell often attending the meetings. Clearly, Freemasonry has evolved from its roots where a lodge represented a tightly bound team of skilled craftsmen meeting out of necessity, to that of a social group based on comradeship and convictions.
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As some Masons had to travel great distances for their gatherings, it would have seemed very logical to open new (daughter) Lodges where a concentration of Masons resided in the far reaches of the county. In the years 1793 to 1817 Lodges were formed in Buxton, Chesterfield and Repton. Just prior to this period, the Province of Derbyshire was designated, largely observing the County boundary in 1789, with the Provincial Grand Master of Nottinghamshire (Right Honourable Thomas Boothby Parkyns) being given the same role for Derbyshire. This might seem a very onerous endorsement, being responsible for two Provinces, but his appointment was more of a figurehead than a truly executive station. The task of running the Province was delegated to deputies. Tyrian Lodge provided the Lodge (and probably the majority of the Officers) in which the ‘business’ was conducted. So, Tyrian Lodge predated the Province by a few years, which may account for some of the unique ways of our oldest Lodge. It was not until 1826 that officers were selected from across the Province, when one may say a truly provincial team was appointed.
Derbyshire Freemasonry was to say the least sporadic, and, as late as the first third of the nineteenth century only about a hundred Derbyshire Freemasons attended the four existing Lodges. However, the number of subscribing members quadrupled in the following thirty years. In 1876, the Province received its first Banner from the Marquis of Hartington and the first Masonic Directory and Calendar was published, detailing the meetings of the Lodges. In the next 35 years or so Derbyshire Masonry steadily grew with 29 Lodges being formed, having in excess of 1,600 members (a very healthy 50-60 members per Lodge). In the years that immediately followed the First World War, membership almost doubled and the number of Lodges rose to over 40. Similarly, post Second World War saw another swell in Masonic popularity, with some 4,000 subscribing members in 50 Lodges by 1950.
Today the Province has over 75 Lodges with just under 3,000 members.
This huge growth in numbers saw the need for proper management committees to be established and amongst the foremost of these was a Provincial Grand Charity with its Standing Committee, ‘Charity’ being a core element of Masonic belief and activity from its earliest days. It is interesting to note that in 1926 a Provincial Charity ‘Festival’ raised the magnificent sum of £25,000. Our latest Charity Festival in 2014 raised £2,414,016 for the Masonic Samaritan Fund. To achieve that sum we had a very enthusiastic team of dedicated and skilled Freemasons working throughout the Province raising funds from within the membership by personal ‘giving’ or by staging special events.