On 18th December 2021 John of Gaunt Lodge No.523 in Leicestershire celebrated one hundred and seventy-five years since it received its warrant and held its first meeting. That had been held on 11th May 1846, and was attended by fourteen members of the Lodge, eleven visitors from within the Province of Leicestershire, and twenty-five visitors from the neighbouring Provinces. The celebratory meeting was attended by thirteen officers, three Past Masters, four members, and fifty-nine guests, including the R W Provincial Grand Master, the Deputy Provincial Grand Master, the Assistant Grand Master, and many Provincial Grand Officers. The Director of Ceremonies introduced representatives from the eight daughter lodges, twelve granddaughter lodges, and nine great-granddaughter Lodges.
As part of the celebrations W.Bro. Aubrey Newman, OSM, PJGD, presented an address on ‘The Lads of 766’. He explained that when the Lodge was consecrated it was given the number 766, but over the following years some Lodges had ceased to be active, and by December 1862 the Board of General Purposes of United Grand Lodge pointed out some anomalies in the listing of Lodges. Although there were apparently 1235 Lodges on the Register, in practice there was in all a total of 940 working Lodges - 148 in London, 504 in the Provinces, 11 in the Channel Islands, and 271 abroad. Grand Lodge decided that the numbers should be closed up. Some 240 Lodges with numbers issued between 1832 and 1846 were removed from the nominal lists. As a result of this process John of Gaunt Lodge was given the new number of 523.
Whichever number the Lodge held it had played an important part in the growth of Freemasonry in Leicestershire, evidenced on this occasion by the number of Lodges for which John of Gaunt had directly or indirectly acted as sponsor in the Province. It had also recruited a number of individuals who had played a significant part at both Provincial and Grand Lodge level. Foremost amongst them were three Provincial Grand Masters - Sir Frederick Fowke, Earl Howe, and William Kelly. In addition, Walter Bunney, a member of the Lodge, was the first Leicester Mason to be appointed by Grand Lodge as Prestonian Lecturer. Another member was that eminent Masonic historian and founder of the Lodge of Research, John Thorp, who was the first Leicester Mason to be elected Worshipful Master of the leading Lodge of Masonic Research, Quatour Coronati Lodge. Frederick Goodyer was for many years the Chief Constable of the Leicestershire Police Force. Other members who had, in their time, a high reputation in Leicester include James Thompson who was a local historian and Editor/Publisher of The Leicester Chronicle; William Millican who was a noted architect and responsible for the Halford Street Masonic Hall as well as being a distinguished local artist who produced a number of very impressive illuminated addresses; and George Toller, a local solicitor still remembered in Leicester by Toller Road.
The Lodge also played a very significant part in the building of the first dedicated Freemasons’ Hall to be opened in Leicester, in Halford Street in 1859. When the Province opened its first Library it contained a total of 80 books and 26 pamphlets of which 33 books and three pamphlets were contributed by John of Gaunt Lodge. The Minutes of John of Gaunt Lodge reflect also continued donations to charity, such as the contributions made to the national Patriotic Fund set up for the relief of the widows and orphans of soldiers killed in the Crimean War. The Minutes include a number of references to the dreadful conditions under which the forces in the Crimea were fighting, as well as the donations to charities set up to alleviate such distress. There are also echoes of the Indian Mutiny, including a Lodge of Emergency called to initiate a candidate who was still under-age but who was under orders to proceed to India. He was later, while still in India, to ask permission for support from John of Gaunt Lodge for a new Lodge in India to be called ‘John of Gaunt in the East.’
One of the impacts of the wars were curtailments in the social activities of the Lodge. Although in World War One rationing was not into operation until 1918 the Provincial Grand Master even before then had expressed the hope that care should be taken to restrict menus at Masonic gatherings; he would very much regret if social gatherings were discontinued but was of the opinion that they might be maintained with a very limited bill of fare. As a result, the WM of John of Gaunt Lodge announced that for the future Lodge Suppers would cost three shillings – 15 decimal pence -and at times they consisted of bread, cheese, and beer.
W.Bro. Newman, himself a Past Prestonian Lecturer and Past Master of Quatuour Lodge, concluded his address by pointing out the numbers of father and son relationships illustrated in the lists of members of the Lodge. There can be no greater indication of pride of membership than to have one’s son brought into one’s own Lodge, and even better for the father to be in the Chair for such an initiation.
After the conclusion of the paper W.Bro. David Hughes led the Brethren in singing a song composed a hundred years earlier especially for the members of the Lodge. After the Lodge was closed all who attended was presented with three souvenirs of the evening. One was a special Firing Glass inscribed for the celebration. The second was an engraved pen. The third was a specially designed Summons, echoing the Summons produced for the celebration of the Lodge’s centenary in 1946.