Toast to Lodge Girvan St. Johns No 237
Right Worshipful Master, Worthy Installing Masters, Right Worshipful Provincial Grand Master, Distinguished Members of Provincial, Masters Past and Present, Worshipful Wardens and Worthy Brethren all.
It is a privilege to be asked to perform the toast to the lodge again for Girvan St John No. 237. I had the distinct honour and pleasure of delivering the toast to the lodge in 2012 and I thank the Brethren for giving me this privilege a second time.
Prior to the in-depth historical journey that we are about to embark on focussing on Girvan St. John’s No 237, it is worth highlighting yet again that Scotland is point of convergence associated with the origin of modern Freemasonry and is akin to a nucleus of a multinucleated cell. It provides a very important piece of an intricate, historical puzzle brought about resultantly by the fact that Scottish lodges keep the oldest minute books and ergo keep the oldest records. Due to this we are able to establish a snap shot of different segments in time in varying degrees of detail. So put very briefly Scotland has a rich and proud Freemasonic history contributed to, by all of the lodges, however today we are here to specifically celebrate Girvan St Johns No 237’s shall we say less than meagre contribution to that overall picture.
Normally it is customary to provide a chronological account from the earliest record in the past and then work up to the present day, however as I have done this in 2012 I thought I would try to start from the present day and work back and sort of reverse engineer the history of the lodge. Discussing a number of main periods: namely: The past 36 years, 1979 to WW2, the intermediary period between WW1 and WW2, prior to WW1 (1879 – 1914) and then of course 1810 – 1875.
The past 36 years
During the past 36 years up until the present (so we are looking at the timeframe of 2015 to 1979) this lodge has been upgraded, built up and improved upon by the work of the Brethren. Consulting last year’s toast to the lodge by PM John Shields of Lodge Fraser 267 – “one of the chief architects of the transformation was the RWM Billy Agnew”. As I said 2 years ago - it is very impressive to see the outcome of that effort and workmanship. It’s nice to know that every brother involved has had a historical mark on the lodge and that their marks are in the very stones that are its foundations. It is very important however to observe the greater philosophy that when all is said and done that the Brethren are the essence and the core of Freemasonry and not really the lodge that they practice the craft in regardless of how impressive that lodge becomes as we are but droplets in an ocean of time and inextricably interconnected space. During the past 36 years and I suspect prior to this local charities have been frequently supported which has been documented in the minute books. Such charities include the Friends of Hillcrest. I will focus on the charity at a later point in the toast.
You have in this timeframe the incredible achievement of Brother John Cook who was presented with his 50 year diploma in 2006. Brother Cook is the oldest living PM, he was installed in 1965 by Bro J Cannon – PM of 237 and Bro Jock McCreadie PM of 566 and it is not too far away until he will be presented with his 60 year diploma.
In the millennium year Bro. Billy Agnew W.S.W presented the lodge with a set of mark stones which were from cuttings of tombstone granite.
The lodge also celebrated its bicentenary in 2010 when Robert Laird was the RWM.
1979 to WW2
During WW2 national service was responsible for a great deal of loss to the lodge, however there were accounts of honour, sacrifice and bravery, for example, Bro. P. O. Duncan Campbell Blair being awarded the distinguish service medal for the sinking of the Bismarck and Bro. Edward McCrindle being awarded the British Empire Medal.
By the 1950’s the popularity of the annual installation of the lodge had grown by such a magnitude that the ceremony had to take place in the St. Andrew’s church. In 1961 the lodge celebrated its 150th anniversary. In 1967 a presentation of a mallet and 2 pennants were made through Bro. Hay PM from the Imperial Lodge of Toronto indicating the intercontinental reach of the lodge and Freemasonry in general.
During the earlier to mid-1970s the lodge had to look into a number of options for suitable premises and found they were homeless in 1974 and experienced a relatively unstable and turbulent time however, eventually in 1978 the Gas Board accepted the lodges offer for the purchase of the new premises at Laggenwhilly with the temple being consecrated on the 10th February 1979.
From a personal perspective – I would say that every lodge has its own particular character and I think that Laggenwhilly today is very friendly and welcoming. One part that I particularly like is the fact that in the third degree there is a definite level of realism and immersion.
The intermediary period between WW1 and WW2
When WW1 began in 1914 the brethren supported families who had men called to military service by providing warmth and seasonal gifts sent to all members actively defending their country. 7 members of the lodge ended up making the ultimate sacrifice. The war memorial was unveiled to the town in 1922 and procession attended that unveiling.
In Girvan St John’s history at this particular point in time (despite the fact that the lodge didn’t have a hall of their own), a letter was read out on the 3rd of February 1926 from the landlord offering to sell the hall for an amount of £550. This offer was accepted and after a period of 116 years the lodge had a hall of their own.
The intermediary period between WW1 and WW2 saw the lodge prospering aggressively with many new members joining. August 5th 1932 saw the lodge holding its first meeting with the using electric lights and was highly active in Girvan in terms of investment in housing stock. According to the Third Statistical Account of Scotland Ayrshire edition quoted a membership of 450 indicating Girvan’s Freemasonic prominence.
Prior to WW1 – 1879 – 1914
Freemasonry was held in high regard during this time frame and the lodge was invited to lay foundation stones for more prominent projects including: Maybole gas works, the new docks in Ayr and the new post office in Paisley. In 1879, the lodge was invited to attend the unveiling of a statue to Robert Burns in Kay Park Kilmarnock which was burned down in 2004 but has been rebuilt with a new visitor centre for Robert Burns who was himself a member at lodge Tarbolton (Kilwinning) St.James and of course the depute master for 4 years.
At the beginning of the 20th century the brethren began investigating the possibility of premises for themselves and on the 20th of May 1910 there was an emergency meeting for a memorial service for King Edward the sevenths death.
Also in 1910 the lodge celebrated its centenary and in the Union Hall 96 Brethren attended the celebration.
1810 - 1875
At the inception of the 19th century, Freemasonry in Girvan was incredibly vigorous and there was a petition made to the Grand Lodge of Scotland for granting of a charter for St. Johns No 312 in 1815 which subsequently never started resulting in the minute book being unutilised. Charters were granted for the Royal Arch chapter and a Conclave assembly in 1818 by Grand Lodge. During the turn of the century a plot in Old Street cemetery was purchased by St Andrews 171 with the intention of ensuring that no mason would be buried as a pauper. The existing records (which may be slightly inaccurate) indicate that this was utilised 4 times. The plot can still be used today as it was gifted to the lodge by Bro. Dickie in 1988 who was the last surviving member of Lodge St. Andrews 171.
Prior to 1810 two lodges operated under the Kilwinning Charter (Lodge St Andrews No 129 and St Andrews No 171). These lodges subsequently folded in 1815 and no records were retained. The only remnant of that particular period is a tapestry which currently hangs in the lodge room from 129.
Girvan was originally numbered 240 when it was granted a charter from the Grand Lodge of Scotland on the 11th of November 205 years ago and got its number changed in the lodge restructuring of 1826 to 237.
Girvan town council in 1825 passed that a new jail be built and due to the fact that its name is derived from the Gaelic translated as the circle of justice and it is situated upon Knockcushan Street meaning the knoll of justice. It was considered appropriate in an allegorical sense that the foundation stones be laid by Freemasons due to their strong, fine upstanding, moral character and lodge Girvan St. John’s 237 was one of the lodges to lay the foundation stone.
The lodge experienced a turbulent time in the 1840’s due to a cholera epidemic and mass unemployment being rife as a consequence of industrialisation but was fortunately able to endure. During this time the lodge was meeting in the town chambers in Knockcushan Street.
So we have looked at the various different time frames: the past 36 years, 1979 to WW2, the intermediary period between WW1 and WW2, prior to WW1 (1879 – 1914) and then of course 1810 – 1875.
In terms of the lodges charity work - Lodge Girvan St. John’s No 237 has an active charitable history and future.
Charity degrees - On the 10th May 2014, RWM Bro. William Agnew welcomed 5 other reigning Masters from lodges in the Province of Ayrshire to carry out a FCD. They were RWM Bro. Barry Crate of Wallace St Hugh No 1212, Crosshill, who headed the deputation, RWM Bro. Stephen Clark of St John No 11, Maybole, RWM Bro. George Ferguson of St Thomas Kilwinning No 433, Dalmellington, and RWM Bro. Murray Hunter of Stinchar Valley No 1705, Ballantrae and myself. Bro. Peter J Ogg of St John No 11, Maybole, was the volunteer candidate. The money raised (£700) was split between two charities: Friends of Hillcrest Committee who assist in the comfort of the residents of Hillcrest Residential Care Home and Girvan Nursery who provide two PEEP (Parents as Early Education Partners) sessions each week for babies and toddlers. The monies will be present in the near future.
The lodge has performed a number of charity degrees. One charity degree was in May where Lodge Tarbolton (Kilwinning) St. James No 135 carried out a mark degree resulting in the presentation of 2 cheques for the sum of £250 presented by Rev. Ian Benzie, Honorary Member of Girvan St Johns' and Provincial Grand Chaplain of Ayrshire.
The first cheque was presented to a senior project worker at Stepping Stones for Families, Girvan Family Connections Project (Nikki Pitt) based in Girvan Primary School and they deliver curriculum based childcare and family support, They also work to encourage income maximisation to support routes out of poverty, for the vulnerable and indigent and generally support Girvan to sustain young people in education. That particular donation funded stimulating, motivational, engaging, play equipment for children or for family outings to facilitate quality familial harmony.
The second cheque was presented to Trisha Watts of Age Concern, Girvan, based in the Duff Street Hall. Age Concern as we know is a registered charity to challenge ageist prejudice.
Another special MMM degree was conferred by Prestwick 1060 on the 28th of May 2011. A sum of £331.48 was raised for the lodge’s annual charities. The lodge topped up this fund to a sum of £400 and was presented by the RWM Kevin Gibson and some of the Brethren of to the Davidson Ward of the new Girvan community hospital on the 29th of July. The money was used to purchase audio books for the visually impaired.
Another special meeting held in the temple on the 8th of May in 2010 was lodge St Thomas Kilwinning Dalmellington No 433 conferring the business for the evening. A sum of £400 was raised and donated to the Friends of Hillcrest.
The lodge is a particularly strong supporter of the RNLI. An example of this from the website is Lodge St Bryde, Uddingston No. 579 conferring the Masonic business on Saturday the 9th of May. The culmination of the efforts resulted in the RWM at that time Bro. Robert Laird presenting the RNLI Girvan Crew a sum of £400 with members in attendance.
Another charitable example when Bro Billy Agnew (WSW) managed to raise £400 for prostate cancer which was made possible in no small part due to work colleagues, Brethren of and visitors to Girvan St John’s No 237.
Lodge Girvan St John’s has a reputation for being a friendly lodge where all visitors regardless of geographical origin are made welcome. I stated two years ago that it has a close relationship with a number of lodges within and out with the province. I can say that my own mother lodge Fergusson St James No. 566 greatly appreciates the support and friendship that we receive from the Brethren of Girvan St. John’s No 237 and without their regular attendance – the meetings on a Thursday night and on special occasions would not be the same. Lodge Fergusson St. James has bestowed honorary membership upon a number of the Brethren of Girvan St. John’s 237 including Robert E. Laird, Kevin Gibson, James Gibson. I’ve noticed during my own time as RWM that Robert and Kevin frequently fill in for office bearers notably the secretary and the treasurer.
It would be incredibly remiss of me at this stage not to mention our departed brother, Bro. Bill Smallwood PM who sadly ascended to the Grand lodge above before he could receive his honorary membership. Bro. Bill was always a welcomed figure in the lodge and an exemplary Freemason. I’m sure I speak not only on behalf of myself but most of the BRN in this room when I say he will never be forgotten and will always be fondly, warmly remembered.
In conclusion - for the past 205 years, this lodge has not always had the smoothest of experiences or the best of times. But in all cases in life we need to take the rough with the smooth. This lodge has endured and remained a constant, carrying on its proud traditions and providing younger generations with the benefits of Freemasonry. If the 205 years that we have just had a fleeting glimpse of have axiomatically demonstrably accentuated anything is that the future of this lodge is a glorious certainty.
May the best of your past be the worst of your future! Brethren please be upstanding – to Girvan St. John’s No 237!
IPM Bro Thomas Hainey
Lodge Fergusson St James No 566