Buckingham Chapter History

150 Celebration.   MEGS,     H Stephen Gill,   MEZ Stan Cochrane,   Ray Cochrane,  J Mel Shah,  Presentation of 50 year Certificates


First the statistics: there have been 528 Convocations with 405 members, 94 left before 1 year, 62 stayed between 1 and 3 years. The remainder stayed sometimes for many years.

Largest number of meetings attended was 132 by Robert Baldwin – the Janitor from 1916 until 1949, attending as a visitor until he died in 1950 ; In recent years George Morris attended 110 between 1954 and 1993, he was also a member of other Chapters, each of which he attended regularly. Stan Cochrane with 126 is catching up, but Robert Baldwin was paid by the Chapter to attend, whereas Stan has discharged his duties to both Chapter and Province with exemplary dedication. The highest membership was 58 subscribing Companions in 1971 – the year after the centenary, there were also 4 honorary.

The Chapter has had members from many Lodges

167 from Buckingham Lodge,

30 from Pegasus Lodge

26 Ferdinand de Rothschild Lodge,

11 from Aylesbury – these are clustered around the early 1930's when William Frith, a builder's merchant, came down from Grimsby to be exalted into the Chapter – he joined Aylesbury Lodge and became secretary in 1937, and

9 from de Bohun.

The rest have been from Lodges as far away as Uganda and there were several military Companions who had been intated overseas.

Foundation of the Chapter

There had been discussions about setting up a Chapter 591, in 1859. On 23rd March that year the foundation stone for the Masonic Hall in Reading was laid by the Provincial Grand Master, The Lord Downshire, who had contributed £200 towards the building cost, for meetings of the Joint Province of Berkshire and Buckinghamshire. At the regular meeting of the Buckingham Lodge held at the White Hart Hotel, onJuly 15thit was moved that the Lodge should without delay adopt measures for the establishment of a Royal Arch Chapter. The motion was carried unanimously, but after some discussion this subject was (on the motion of the Junior Warden the Rev. Oliver James Grace) , adjourned to the next meeting of the Lodge.

A year later on 18th September 1860 at a regular meeting of Buckingham Lodge, W. Bro . Rev. Oliver James Grace, initiated another clergyman, the Curate of Tring the Rev. Alfred Henry Ferris, BA Oxford. After a lengthy discussion, it was unanimously agreed that it was unadvised to petition for a charter, and the subject was shelved.

Lord Downshire had not called a Provincial Grand Lodge meeting and had taken no further interest in Provincial Masonry.

Nine years later at the Provincial Grand Lodge held in Windsor in May 21st, 1869, Sir Daniel Gooch, M.P., was installed by the Grand Secretary (Bro. John Hervey) as Provincial Grand Master of Berkshire and Buckinghamshire. He was to be assisted by the enthusiastic and energetic deputy, Bro. the Rev.J. Studholme Brownrigg. Under them the joint Provinces progressed by leaps and bounds with many new Lodges being formed.At the time there were three Chapters, Union in Reading, St. Barnabas in Linslade (1865) and Windsor Castle (1865) in Windsor. Henry Muggeridge and Joseph Deveraux founded Union 414 and Windsor Castle 771, St. Barnabas 498 was founded by and Joseph Deveraux

The petition to establish a Buckinghamshire Royal Arch Chapter, was unanimously sanctioned and formally signed by the presiding Worshipful Master, Ambrose Taylor, on the 21st September 1870 at the regular meeting of the Lodge. It was signed by nine lodge members, 4 of whom were Oxford clergymen and members of the Apollo Lodge in Oxford, as well as the Buckingham Lodge, a solicitor Thomas Horwood, and the local bank manager, John Williams. They were members of St Barnabas Chapter 948, with the exception of John Williams who belonged to the Albert Chapter (840) in Oxford. Tomas Horwood was Chairman of the Poor Law Board of Guardians, before the passing of the Education Act, of 1902. He was therefore instrumental in the setting up and maintaining, not only the Parish workhouses, but the schools and hospitals and the smooth running of them. He was instrumental in revitalising the Bucks Yeomanry Volunteers becoming Lieutenant – Colonel.He lost his eldest son Percival E. Horwood in the Boar War when he was killed at Wepener in April 1900. Private Horwood left England November last, having joined the Cape Mounted Rifles only a short time previously. He was for some years a Lieutenant the local Company of Volunteers, and during that time was very popular with the men.John Williams came to Aylesbury in 1855 to take a clerkship in the Bucks and Oxon Bank, becoming Manager the Branch in 1863, and living in the house attached the Bank. He stayed on as manager for short time after the amalgamation with Lloyds Bank. He was also the treasurer of the Royal Buckinghamshire Hospital.

The petition to form the Chapter was received at usual Quarterly Convocation held on Wednesday, the 2nd November 1870, at Freemasons' Hall when Earl de Grey and Ripon, Grand Z., presided. There were many present at the meeting including Henry Muggeridge PGstB. They reported that they had received a petition from Companions the Rev. Oliver James Grace as Z . ; the Rev . George Sketchly ffinden as H. ; John Williams as J , and six others for a chapter to be attached to the Buckingham Lodge, No . 591, Aylesbury, to be called the '" Buckingham Chapter," and to meet at the George Hotel , Aylesbury.


The Consecration and Installation Convocation was held on Tuesday the 13th December 1870 at the George Hotel, Aylesbury at 3:30pm. The Presiding Officer was Comp. Henry Muggeridge PGStB of England, a London Mason and the third preceptor of the Stability Chapter of Instruction, the first being George Browne. He was assisted by Comp. T. Burdett Yeoman of Mount Sion Chapter No 22 as the Musical Director. It was a grand affair with a surpliced choir and a grand banquet afterwards. This brough the number of Chapters in the Combined Province to 5.

The Second convocation was a Chapter of emergency as it took place a week later than planned on 21st March 1871. The Chapter room was not available as it had been previously booked for the Steeplechases of the 15th March. RedD Oliver James Grace presided as First Principal, RedD George ffinden as second and John Williams as third. Three companions were balloted for as joining members and all three were elected. A further three brethren were then balloted and elected for exaltation which was proceeded with immediately. The companions then formed a committee to frame the by-laws which they were to report on at the next meeting. The Chapter has continued to meet on Thursday evenings ever since.

The next convocation was 13th June 1871 when, as there was no candidate the by-laws were debated. At the September convocation two brethren were elected and exalted – one being John Dover who was to be the Janitor. He was elected by dispensation from the Earl of Rippon as a serving Companion and acted as janitor for 22 convocations until he died in December 1882. He was paid 2/6d for each meeting and acted as the Lodge Tyler. The By-laws were not ready.

The membership was now 14 members.

At the second Installation meeting Companion ffinden was elected as 1st Principal, John Williams as 2nd and Frederick Gotto 3rd Principals.They were all installed by Comp William Watson, assisted by John Boyd. The practice of installations being done by visitors brought in specially to perform the ceremony was an established one until the Principals were fully conversant with the ritual, which at that time was not written down. William Watson was elected a Past Master on the Board of Benevolence in 1852, and one of the respected proprietors of the Freemasons' Tavern.The exaltations done in this first year are simply recorded, there is no note of the lectures being delivered – which may be an oversight. Similarly, there is no record of a Grand Chapter certificate being presented to the new members. The first death of a Chapter member was recorded- that of George Richie who had joined in March 1871. He attended 2 Convocations. George Sketchley ffinden did not attend any of the meetings as Z, he moved to Downe in Kent to replace John Brodie Innes, the vicar of Downe, who had been so influential in his discussions with Charles Darwin. If George ffinden was to convert Charles Darwin the plan failed and the two were rivals in the administration of the Parish, Charles Darwin building the school and renovating the Church.

The rest of the first decade was steady progress with 24 exaltations; Ambrose Taylor, the WM who had signed the petition to form the Chapter was exalted into the Chapter in March 1871 and served all the offices in the Chapter and was installed into the Z chair in December 1877 by Rev. Oliver Grace. He was the first MEZ who had been exalted into the Chapter. There were 2 meetings in 1873, one an emergency meeting when Henry Muggeridge presided. The Installation meeting on 14th December 1875 was abandoned as inquorate as there were only two of the Principles present, and only one in 1894, the year of the General Election.

The Installation Convocation in December 1880 was remarkable in that the election of the Principals did not take place, except for John Williams who was unanimously elected to first Principal.He was secretary of the Lodge at this time and made the important announcement that a site had been offered suitable for building a Masonic Temple. The property was situated in Ripon Street and had been used as a Fives Court. There was a good building on it and the lodge would consider letting the Chapter rent the lodge room for its meetings.

The first 10 years of the Chapter's existence were now behind it. There had been 25 convocations during the decade, but 27 exaltees in total and 3 new joining members. The number of Companions was 34, after 2 deaths. Frederick Gotto had resigned after being declared bankrupt; it was a very sorry episode in the History of the Chapter and Bucks Masonry. There had been input from Supreme Grand Chapter in the form of William Watson and Henry Muggeridge. The Principals, lead by Rev Grace and John Williams, by now were taking on the full ritual of their offices.

Sir Daniel Gooch was installed as First Grand Principal at the Provincial Grand Chapter of Berkshire and Buckinghamshire held at Reading on 11th January 1877. The Revd John Studholme Brownrigg as the Second Provincial Grand Principal and William Biggs was the Third Provincial Grand Principal. Rev. Studholme Brownrigg was Installed as Most Excellent Grand Superintendent in 1891, an office he held for 38 years.

The number of Royal Arch Masons in the joint Province must have been quite small, but Sir Daniel did preside over Provincial Grand Chapter of Berkshire and Buckinghamshire on an annual basis meeting at various Masonic Centres throughout the Joint Province during the period 1877 to 1899. Provincial Officers were appointed at these meetings.

The 1880's saw 24 new members, the dining switched from the George Hotel to the Aylesbury Masonic Hall which proved much more satisfactory as the rooms at thee George were becoming difficult to book, the general election of 1874, had proved particularly difficult. One notable exaltee was Edward Thakar Mackrill. He started in Aylesbury as manager of the Gas works but quickly established the supply of gas to all the wealthy of Aylesbury and its Hotels. He then began a lucrative electrification programme and became very rich. He was however generous to Masonry with his many gifts – he purchased 6 votes for the Girls and Boys schools, and a similar number for his wife. He also installed the town clock.

The first mention of the Mystical lecture being given is March 1884, by John Williams. He gave this lecture to 59 candidates on exaltation until September 1900, the other two lectures being given from the respective chairs.

Formation of the Province of Bucks

In 1891 there was an upsurge of interest in Freemasonry locally Lord Carrington was Installed as Provincial Grand Master of Bucks —the Installing Master being the Duke of Clarence. This was also the year that John Studholme – Brownrigg became MEGS.Many Masons attended the meeting including the aristocracy, about 300 in all. The organising committee was John Williams, Henry Jowett, Alfred Mayne the Rate Collector, John Fowler, a wine and sprit merchant, Levi Simms, a hotelier, Edward Mackrill and John Reader, an auctioneer of the Vale of Aylesbury Fat Stock Show Association and later Chairman of the Aylesbury Permanent Benefit Building Society, all of whom were Chapter members.

So many brethren wanted to join the Chapter that a special Chapter of Instruction was started, and emergency convocations arranged to accommodate them. 44 Convocations of the Chapter were held in the 1890's and 37 new members exalted. In March 1895 death of Henry Jowett was received with sadness; he was Past Master and Treasurer of Buckingham Lodge and PPGrand Senior Warden of the Province of Berks and Bucks. He was also a Vice-President of the Girls' School and the Masonic Benevolent Institution and held the active rank of Provincial Grand Registrar of Berks and Bucks. He had been a member of the Chapter for 12 years and had attended 30 convocations during that time, being installed as first Principal in 1887 and again in 1891.He had entered an extensive exchange of letters with John Ruskin concerning the publication of the 7 lamps of Architecture as manager of the Printing works.

The silver jubilee meeting in December 1895 was attended by 22 members and Edward Mackrill presided as MEZ, installing his successor and receiving his gold PZ jewel, a tradition in the chapter . A telegram was read out from the Rev. Studholme Brownrigg expressing his regret at not being able to attend.

In 1898 It was proposed that a bar to the PZ jewel be presented to John Williams to celebrate his fifth year as MEZ.

In 1901 the Grand Superintendent John Studholme-Brownrigg attended the convocation and himself conducted the election of the Principals for the following year. There were 42 convocations during the decade but only 10 exaltations. The Chapter, in common with the whole body of Masonry in the British Empire, went into mourning for 3 months on the death of Queen Victoria. The summons were to edged with a black margin and 4 crepe rosettes were ordered to be worn on each Companion's regalia.

James Shaw, the local doctor was exalted in 1903, he distinguished himself when he was called to attend King Edward VII, then Prince of Wales, who was a guest of Baron de Rothschild at Waddesdon Manor and dislocated his knee, being presented him with beautiful scarf pin designed in the Prince of Wales' feathers in diamonds and emeralds for putting the knee back. He later obtained Grand Rank in both Craft and the Royal Arch. Also exalted in this decade was George Sampson, who came to Aylesbury as secretary or the Aylesbury Brewery Company and presided over of the Market Ordinary dinners at the Bull's Head Hotel for many years. – particularly the Christmas dinner which was remarkable for its jolliness. He became the chairman and managing director of the Brewing company.

First World War

10th August, 1915, to show the extent of patriotic feeling throughout the nation, the Supreme Grand Chapter of England issued an edict that "in order to prevent the peace and harmony of Royal Arch Masonry being disturbed, it is necessary that all Companions of German, Austrian, Hungarian, or Turkish birth, should not during the continuance of the War attend any meeting of Grand Chapter." A further enactment excused such Companions from paying any fees.

The accounts show that the Chapter was regularly contributing a guinea each to the Boy's and Girl's schools as well as the Benevolent Institution which was the fund inaugurated by Lord Addington in 1901 to relieve necessitous Freemasons in Buckinghamshire.In essence this was the fund started by Edward Mackrill, it is now the Bucks Masonic Benevolent Fund. This giving remained a feature of the accounts for many years. In 1917 an additional purchase was made of an Exchequer Bond for £50. For the war effort and in 1918 an additional £10 was paid through Lloyds Bank for a War certificate.

During the war years there were 19 convocations but only 9 exaltations, one being the son of Edward Mackrill, also called Edward. In 1918 Victor Whitechurch, joined the chapter, a canon of the Anglican Church, living and working for many years in the country rather than in towns and cities. In 1913 he became Chaplain to the Bishop of Oxford, and in 1918 he became Rural Dean of Aylesbury. For one year in 1914 he was a vicar and chaplain in the Royal Buckinghamshire Hospital. He was MEZ of Buckingham Chapter in 1921 and dedicated the War Memorial during that year. The war memorial has the name of one of the Companions- Albert Whiskin.He was a colour-sergeant in the Bucks Volunteer Defence Corps. He died in 1917, 48 years of age, was single, and lived with his sister. He was never posted overseas but committed suicide by cutting his throat with his razor for reasons only he knew. Victor Whitechurch was also was a novelist of international repute and wrote many novels, one each year, on different themes. He is probably best known for his detective stories featuring Thorpe Hazell a vegetarian railway detective, whom the author intended to be as far from Sherlock Holmes as possible. His stories were admired by Ellery Queen and Dorothy L. Sayers for their "immaculate plotting and factual accuracy: he was one of the first writers to submit his manuscripts to Scotland Yard for vetting as to police procedure. His work endures and is available as electronic downloads and each is a model of deductive reasoning based on evidence.

The years between the wars saw 80 convocations and the exaltation of 53 members. Amongst these was Giacomo Gargini – the owner of the Bull's Head Hotel was admitted and exalted in 1921. The lower story of the Masonic Hall had been taken over by the war department and was unavailable for dining and the Chapter moved to the Bull's Head for the festive board. Comp Gargini was Mayor of Aylesbury for the three years from 1932 to 1935. An ardent Freemason he donated the Mayoral chain to the town and incorporated masonic symbols into it.

Also amongst those exalted was Viscount Stopford, later known as The Earl Courtdown, exalted in 1931. He was Mayor of Aylesbury 1927-28. He served all the offices of the Chapter but is better known as the Most Excellent Grand Superintendent of Bedfordshire. He was a great supporter of the Royal Buckinghamshire Hospital, and the Chapter made a regular annual donation. He died in the Hospital in January 1957 after falling from a train from London at Wendover.

Percy Black was exalted in 1932; he was a Christian Scientist who hired the ground floor of the Hall for his meetings each Sunday. On becoming the Secretary of Pegasus Lodge he proved to be source of candidates for the Chapter.

In the minutes of March 1936, the profound sorrow of the Chapter members following the sad death of His Royal Highness King George Vth, together with their deepest sympathy to King Edward VIIIth and Queen Mary his widow. No mention was made subsequently of the abdication or the Coronation of King George VIth, although he had been a diligent freemason and became the Past Grand Master on his accession to the throne. The first recorded grant to the Royal Masonic Hospital is in 1938 when £1.5s.6d was awarded from the Benevolent Fund.

Second World War

There were 26 Convocations during the years of the second world war when 19 new members were exalted. The attendance at these meetings was high; often 20 or more, except at Christmas 1940 andSpring 1941 when there were single figure numbers present. War-time inflation took effect and in March, 1945, it was found necessary to double the annual subscription to one guinea, and the cost of supper to 10/6d. The generous giving to the Masonic Charities, the Royal Bucks Hospital and the Royal Masonic Hospital continued. Although there is no mention of this in the minutes of the meeting immediately following the cessation of hostilities there must have been relief and thanksgiving, especially as not one of the members was called upon to make the Supreme Sacrifice.

The Installation meeting in December 1945 was however, attended by the Most Excellent Grand Superintendent Major A.G Smith accompanied by a very large Provincial Team and was a celebration of returning to normal. A special grant was given to the Royal Masonic hospital.

At this Convocation the Chapter members gave addresses to the Principals, the officers and the Companions at Large. This so impressed the Grand Superintendent that he told the Chapter that the addresses would be given at all future Buckinghamshire Installation Convocations. Maj General Lord Burnham who had been exalted into the Chapter at the September 1945 meeting and was acting Scribe N. at this meeting, on assuming the office of Grand Superintendent ensured that this continued.

At the March 1952 Convocation the death of King George VIth was marked by a moving address by the MEZ, Simon Robinson who had been exalted at the immediate pre-war meeting in 1938. The next year was marked by the joining of Alexander Stuart de Frere CBE, He was an English publisher who was highly influential in the interwar and post-Second World War period. He was chairman of the board of William Heinemann Ltd and helped guide some of the century's most significant authors to worldwide prominence. He became the Grand Superintendent in 1955 and went on to become President of the Board of General Purposes of the United Grand Lodge of England from 1959 to 1972.

In September 1969 the Chapter stood to order at the death of the Earl of Scarborough who had been First Grand Principal from 1951 to 1967 and Provincial First Grand Principal until 26th June. This was the last meeting followed by a festive board at the Bull's Head as the Hotel was demolished and the dining was moved to the King's head for the next two years.

Centenary Convocation

Preparations for the Centenary Meeting in December 1970 were started. It was expected that the patten would follow the Lodge Centenary celebrations which were held in London. The Earl of Scarborough and Lord Burnham had both played a major role in that meeting, but both were now dead. Arrangements were well in hand but the subscriptions for the meeting were slow. Dispensations were obtained for the meeting to be held in the Indian Temple at Great Queen Street and a menu was settled on. The Grand Superintendent was Sir Ralph Verney, installed in 1966, took the view that the meeting should be celebrated in Aylesbury. On 27th September the Scribe E received notice from the Provincial Scribe E, Robert Weatherhead, who was an honorary chapter member, that the Grand Superintendent requested the dispensations be returned.

The Centenary meeting was honoured by the Most Excellent Grand Superintendent and a large number of the Provincial Officers and visitors. The Grand Superintendent sanctioned the reading of the inaugural minutes and after Installation of Nigel (Pip) Piper as MEZ and the other two Principals, an explanation of the robes and sceptres and the installation of the officers the Centenary Charter was presented. As a preliminary the foundation Charter was read by Scribe E., Ken Edwards. Sir Ralph then presented the Centenary Charter expressing the importance of the occasion. On receiving the Charter, the MEZ replied: "We receive it with Gratitude, Hope, Pride and Affection. With Gratitude to the Most High, the Founders and all who have worked to keep our Chapter alive for a Century. With Hope that our dear Old Chapter will continue to live for many more centuries, and with Pride and Affection because it is from your hands, we receive it"

The first 5 years of the 1970's the dining moved to the Bucks Yeoman and subsequently the next ten years at the White Swan. The next 5 meetings were catered at the Hop Poles before moving permanently to the Aylesbury Masonic Hall for the Installation meeting in December 1988, the ground floor having been renovated and converted from a Chapter room to being a dining room. In 1983 the number of Convocations each year was reduced to three, the June meeting being dropped.

In the 160 Convocations since the Centenary meeting 74 Exaltations have taken place, in the 64 since the Millenium there have been 26 new members each of whom has received an experience to remember for the rest of their days. Of course the Pandemic has put a halt to the meetings since 2019 and we will never know how the Chapter would have fared during that time. Until the standstill the chapter met regularly and was able to fill the offices.

The Buckingham Chapter was formed by High Churchmen to serve a high purpose. To further this aim they developed a culture of admirable ritual, of learning and teaching, to gain an understanding of the complex ceremonies by memorisation and constant repetition. By their lives as recorded in the minutes we can see that dedication to the Principals laid down in supposedly simple allegorical messages concerning uprightness in moral character, the Royal Arch in particular showing examples of how that character can be translated into a guide through life. Over 400 men have filled their lives freely with the work of this Chapter because they found satisfaction, took pride and found fun and enjoyment in doing so. It must be up to us to echo Pip Piper's words of hope, which were themselves an echo from Henry Muggridge's exhortation at the consecration meeting and which have been most consciously followed:

This spreading of our Order, is , I sincerely trust , a step further towards the spread of those sublime precepts taught to us within these sacred walls , leading us to glorify our Heavenly Father and Creator , and to magnify and Bless His Most Holy and Sacred Name , and calling on us for greater exertions in affording consolation and assistance , and to impart happiness to our brother man , especially to the distressed , the widow , the aged , and the orphan thus to obey that divine command of our all merciful and loving God , " to do good unto all men ,for , bear in mind , that in every degree in Masonry we are taught to love our God with all our heart , and our neighbour as ourselves . In this degree you are most earnestly implored to honour and adore His sacred name, and never to mention His name lightly nor irreverently. —Let us not forget these solemn truths, Companions, —We have much to do, so I will no longer detain you. 

Stephens Chapter History

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