Banquets & Burlesque

Masonic dining and banquets, at least for the annual Investitures, were lavish, and Kent Lodge No. 15, the oldest Atholl lodge with continuous working from 1752, was no exception. 

Programmes c. 1895–1950 still exist in the Lodge archives. All set against the gaiety of the Edwardian period and theatreland.

With thanks to QCCC and UGLE Library & Museum of Freemasonry

Burlesque theatre had amongst its popular performers a flamboyant star in the form of Harry Sydney.

Harry was initiated in Kent Lodge on 10 April 1861, passed on 8 May and raised on 7 August.

At the time of his initiation, he was aged 32 and his occupation is listed as Author.

His Masonic necktie can be seen adorning his publicity material.

The lineage of Kent Lodge is somewhat opaque; regrettably several years of the minute books for the Lodge are missing. 

A cursory search shows that Kent’s history seeps back further, possibly to 1721, when it is found in the 1893 history of Prosperity Lodge No. 65 (Bro. Ferry, see appendix) that in 1806, ‘No. 8’ (now Kent No. 15) were, with members of No. 225 (now Oak No. 190), signatories to a petition for the then No. 68 to purchase a defunct Warrant from a Portsmouth lodge.

This was achieved by 1810, and with the Union they became No. 91, and with later closures 78, and then 65, which they remain today.

They chose the name Prosperity in 1832. Oak Lodge No. 190 sadly do not have any historical information prior to 1990, when the said books were lost owing to a death of one of their stalwarts in whose possession they possibly were lodged.

For some time thereafter a close bond existed between No. 8 (15) and No. 91 (65).

So much so, that common names can be found in both histories. Noted by Ferry, and no doubt because Prosperity was a daughter lodge of Kent:

There was a tradition amongst the elder Past Masters and Members of our Lodge that it was established as an offshoot of Kent Lodge, No. 15, formally No. 8, but this tradition soon resolved itself into a reality after a little perseverance and research, for I then ascertained that all the founders were prominent brethren of Kent Lodge, and subsequently, members were at each other’s meetings as visitors.

The pre-history of Kent Lodge is hinted at in Prosperity’s history, which goes on to say:

…the supposed Centenary of “Kent” Lodge having been completed in 1821”.

It continues “Bro. Ferry considers that the present No. 15, “previous to 1752, no doubt met and worked according to immemorial custom, without an actual warrant”, and thus its origin in 1721 is accounted for.

By the 1750s, it is tempting to think they were getting disenchanted with the ‘governance’ that was growing up around London by way of the Premier Grand Lodge of 1717 albeit this was one of many Grand Lodge that were to emerge and die throughout the Realm.

What is clear is the independence of these unaffiliated – or St John’s lodges – who rowed in from time to time with an overarching body, but just as easily left.

So, probably in 1745, the brethren called it a day and rubbed along with informal meetings until they were energised by the new wave of Masonic fundamentalism being preached by Laurence Dermott in Spitalfields when he arrived in 1748.

By 1751, they were so convinced they joined him and his new Grand Lodge of the Antients, where they were to be allocated No. 9 on the nominal role.

But schism – as some would say – and then merger would follow. However, the good times were to roll.

Music for one of Harry Sydney’s famous songs ‘Act on the Square’ – note the reference to the Provincial Grand Master.

Image: Reproduced by kind permission QCCC.

Harry Sydney’s name was not carried forward when the new set of Registers was made up in 1863, so it would appear that he dropped his membership of the Lodge in 1862.

He was a very popular and famous theatrical artist in the 19th century, and at one time was the manager of Collin’s Music Hall in Islington.

He was described as ‘John Bull‘s Old Favourite’. One of his songs was ‘Act on the Square’.

He died in 1870 aged 45, but his music still exists.

More latterly another Masonic song of very similar name has come to light from this period:  

Entitled “Act on the Square, Boys” sung by “The Great Vance”, real name Alfred Stevens. His stage name being Alfred Vance and no doubt from a similar Masonic stable.    

Kent Lodge’s Masonic programmes of 1895 and 1922, highlight ‘singing’ and ‘band performances’, and these banquets were much enjoyed and obviously played a large part in the Festive Boards.

It can only be imagined the amount of liquor imbibed on these occasions.

Masonic programmes

Image: Reproduced by kind permission of the Library and Museum of Freemasonry, London.

History by its nature needs to be constantly updated and recorded, and in 2016, Kent Lodge re-adopted its early title of ‘Royal Kent Lodge No. 15’ by the approval of the Grand Master following a decade of research into its unbroken history.

The ‘Royal’ title was originally used in 1816, so named after the Duke of Kent, the Grand Master of the Antients, at the time of the Union.

It fell out of use after 1820 when the duke died. The associated Chapter likewise was permitted to change its title a year later.

Bust of the Duke of Kent, Grand Master of the Antients at the time of the Union.

Image: Reproduced by kind permission of the Library and Museum of Freemasonry, London.

In the 21st century, let us quietly recount those halcyon days – obviously much enjoyed by our erstwhile brethren – and wish ‘if only’, whilst we continue to ‘Act on the Square’.

Article by: Paul Gardner

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