The Lodge History

The History of the Southsea Lodge No. 4071 

Researched and written by W.Bro Alan Milling P.P.Dep.G.Reg

I must inform you that the contents have been taken from a number of sources, some of them containing conflicting information, mainly consisting of dates and Lodge numbers, with a few mysteries thrown in. Consequently I’ve drawn on what I consider to be the most logical story to tell, with apologies to what may be proven to be facts. You may also find some of my interpretations somewhat literary regarding other aspects!!

The Origins of Southsea Lodge and the Places where we meet.

The original idea to form Southsea Lodge was made by W.Bro John Adams at a General Purposes Committee meeting of the Portsmouth Lodge No 487 in June 1919.

A meeting was then called on August 5th 1919 at the Masonic Centre in Highbury Street, which resulted in a list of brethren invited to be Founders, and a provisional list of officer was drawn up. There were a total of 35 Founders, of whom 19 were PM’s of other Lodges, and 16 Brothers. The senior Past Master was invited to be the first WM and was duly elected as WM designate. That was W. Bro Jas Jenkins PPSGD. Draft bye-laws were also drawn up which limited the membership to 100.

Fees of Honour were also agreed, with all senior officers required to pay. When I tell you that the first Ladies night was held in 1921 at a cost of 15s.00p. per person, and that the WM was required to pay £25 as his fees of honour, you will see it was not a particularly cheap ‘honour’. Incidentally for that first Ladies night each member could bring two ladies.

A petition for the Lodge was sent to Grand Lodge on 20 th December 1919 with Phoenix Lodge No 257 acting as sponsors, and on February 12 th 1920 the MW Grand Master sent a letter stating that he had been pleased to accede to the Prayer of the Petition and the number of the new Lodge would be 4071. 

The Consecration ceremony took place on 21 st May 1920 at the Masonic Hall in Highbury Street by the RW Provincial Grand Master Sir Augustus FWE Webster, BART. Now this suffix BART has had me thinking for a while what it meant, was it an academic award or what. It’s simply a shortened version of Baronet, and it was used to distinguish hereditary knights from those who were given the honour in recognition of services rendered. Sir Augustus Webster was the eighth and final Baronet of that particular line, and he died in 1923.

Several other distinguished guests were also present, including the Deputy PGM, two knighted MPs and further two knights of the realm. Sir John Brickwood being one name we will probably all recognise from the pleasure or pain his company has brought us in the past.

There were originally nine meetings a year but in 1922 it was agreed to remove the June meeting and change the Installation evening from May to November. Hence the mis-match with our dates, and why we celebrate our birthday in May, but carry out the Installation in November.

The Portsmouth Lodge, where the concept of our Lodge was first raised, has its warrant dating back to 1843 and its first meeting place was the Quebec Hotel in Broad Street. After two or three moves, to different taverns, as Lodges did then, in 1861 they came into possession of the hall of the declining Portsmouth and Portsea Literary and Philsophical Society, which was built in Highbury Street in 1829.

They had their first meeting there in 1861, and in 1926, six years after we started our meetings, it was modernised and an extension built. Southsea Lodge made many  donations to the Portsmouth Lodge for the upkeep and repair of the building.

An air raid shelter was constructed next to the Lodge in 1940, but only held 50, which might have been a little worrying on Installation Night when the average attendance was in the hundreds. The building suffered from blast damage during WW2 but was subsequently repaired.

In 1956 it closed, two reasons are given, one because of financial reasons and the other because of re-development of the area when an electricity substation was planned. The truth is probably a combination of both. The Hall was sold at public auction but was not demolished until 1965, and there is an electricity sub station in Highbury street now, although whether it’s in the same location is not clear.

The building itself was an imposing structure with four Ionic pillars at its front, and it made no secret of the fact that it was a Masonic hall as it had Masonic Hall’ engraved on its front in huge letters. Having met there since the Consecration in 1920 Southsea Lodge had to find new premises, and were fortunate enough to find favour with the Phoenix Group, who you may recall sponsored our Warrant.

Consequently along with United Brothers Lodge and Domus Dei Lodge, we took up tenancy here. Royal Sussex Lodge moved here later, in 1975. United Brother’s Lodge was sadly erased in 2011, but their spirit lives on, as we now used their Tracing Boards when we explain the Second and Third degree.

Except for minor modernisations the building hasn’t changed since 1956, but when the Phoenix Group acquired its tenancy to it in 1841, it was quite a different place.

Phoenix Lodge was consecrated in May 1786 , the engineer Thomas Telford, who was Superintendent of Building in the dockyard at the time, was a Founding member, and they met in various Inns around the area. The George Tavern was the first, probably because the vintner, Samuel Palmer, was also a founder. This was followed by The Blue Anchor, Fountain, George Hotel ( formerly Tavern), The Kings Arms and the Crown Inn, all of which were in this area except the Kings Arms, which was in Grand Parade. The George Hotel, and the place where Nelson spent his last night on English soil, was bombed in 1941, and never rebuilt, is now marked by two lamposts on the opposite side of the road, now George’s Court.

This building was built in1827 in the gardens at the rear of 109 and 110 High Street and started life as the Royal Marine Artillery Officers Mess. 109 and 110 being acquired by the Admiralty as the RMA HQ buildings two years earlier in 1825. Next door at 111 was the Government House, and next door to that were three shops, an ironmonger/ undertaker, a bookseller and a general store. Those observant of you will notice that the numbers ran consecutively and not in the modern method of odds on one side and evens on the other. 

When reorganisation transferred the RMA to the ‘new’ Eastney Barracks, Numbers 109 and110 came under the ownership of Mr Francis Sharpe, a landowner and proprietor of a salt works at the eastern side of Portsea Island, now the Municipal Golf course, and later Mr Edward Janvorin whose private residence was Great Salterns House on the Eastern Road, which became the Golf clubhouse and is now The Great Salterns Mansion restaurant, a part of the Harvester Group, and eventually
Bro.Gieves (another well known name in Portsmouth) who owned the property at the turn of the century when some modifications were made.

Phoenix Lodge, as I mentioned, gained the tenancy of the former mess rooms in 1841 from Mr Sharpe at a cost of £25 per annum. Access was by way of a long covered passageway (tunnel) through No 110. The rooms then consisted of the dining room, which it still is, a kitchen on the north-east side, and the entrance hall. This entrance hall had a winding staircase which led to two anterooms upstairs, and then into the Lodge rooms. The footprint of the building then was basically what we have here, with the South wall extended to the front of the hall.

Those two rooms are in fact the storage rooms behind the Master’s chair, and served as robing and tyling rooms, the entrance to the Lodge rooms being the door behind his chair. The WM sat in what is now the West, with the Secretary and Treasurer sitting between the fireplaces, and the JW where they now sit. All places of Divine worship are orientated East/West, and as we are not all operative masons but rather free, accepted or speculative, that speculation was put into the orientation of the room. Essentially the true orientation is North/South, and the WM sat in the North, but we refer to it as the EAST.

The budget to convert the mess hall to the Lodge rooms was limited, but there were some benefactors who provided furnishings to the Lodge, possibly most notably, was W. Bro Major Ferris Robb, died 23 Jan 1856 who had joined the Lodge in 1842 and donated this grand ormulu chandelier, believed to be from an auction of fittings from the Government House next door, which eventually closed in 1882.

In 1888 Thomas Bramsden, a joining member of the Lodge, a coroner of Portsmouth, JP and MP, along with the trustees arranged the purchase of the Lodge rooms, 110 High Street, and later in the year, Number 46 St Thomas Street –at a cost of £250. Alterations were then carried out consisting of a new kitchen, the present one, and the toilets at the rear, and were completed in 1900. No 46 then became the caretakers cottage.

In 1910, 109 High street was purchased and became the permanent Provincial Office.

In 1930 the caretakers cottage was declared unfit for further preservation and after additional land to the side of this building was obtained, the cottage was demolished and rebuilt, and this building was updated to the way we see it today, and the way it was when Southsea Lodge first moved in.

You can see how large the rebuild was, the winding staircase removed and the one we now use erected, a cloakroom/robing room and Secretary’s office on the ground floor, and on the upper floor a Tylers room, ante room and another secretary office- the small room where we host VIPs. Additionally a passage was built at the rear of the first floor, over part of the kitchen lobby and toilets, and a door inserted in what was then the back of the Lodge room. This is when the original seating was reversed and the old entrance door became the ‘EAST’.

The length of the tunnel was also reduced, which would suggest that the building that was 110 High Street ceased to exist, and this old officer’s mess built in its garden became number 110.

Now on to the Lodge room itself. All of the memoribilia here belongs to the Phoenix Group. The tracing boards which hang on the wall were painted by a Mr James Calcutt, who ran an Artists School at 138 High Street. They were painted in 1854 at a cost of 10 guineas, and were renovated about five or six years ago.

The shields on the west wall refer to the Eminent Preceptors of the Royal Naval Preceptory No2 who were entitled to have personal Coats of Arms and therefore permitted to hang them on the wall after their year in office. The last one hung was for Brian Olive, a mason well known to some of us. The previous two were Sir Thomas Bransdon, mentioned earlier in assisting to acquire the building, in 1934, and Dr Beaton in 1941. The names of the owners appear on the back of the shields. The two crossed banners are the Standards carried by the Provincial Standard Bearers forming part of the official entourage supporting the heads of the Order. They represent the War Banner (Vexillum Belli) of the Ancient Templars and their war flag (Beauseant) which was also their war cry.

The panels on the East and West walls and were installed in the early 1960’s as a donation in memory of W. Bro PH Childs, who was WM of the Lodge in 1913 and again in 1945 – a 32 year gap. He has a connection to Southsea Lodge as he held the office of SW during the Consecration ceremony.

The banner to the right of the WM probably dates from the 1860s, when it was decided that the numbering system was becoming outdated as some lodges had ceased to exist, and a new register was introduced and Phoenix became 257 as they are to this day.

The banner to the left of the WM shows the Phoenix Lodge emblem with four other numbers crossed out, all of them numbers held by Phoenix Lodge.

485 -1781, 395 -1792, 484 -1814, 319 -1832 and finally 257 – 1863,