Belvidere Lodge was consecrated, with the lodge number 741, on 3rd December 1844. The consecrating team was led by the Deputy Provincial Grand Master of Kent, Brother J. Ashley and the first Installed Master was Brother Charles Gustavas Whittaker. There were eleven Founders, the majority of whom were members of The Lodge of Antiquity No 20 in Chatham (now the Royal Kent Lodge of Antiquity No 20). Two other names appear on the list of Petitioners for the new lodge, but they are not listed in the Grand Lodge Register as Founders.
The lodge was named after Belvidere House in Erith, then the home of the Provincial Grand Master for Kent, the Lord of Saye and Sele, who gave his permission for the name to be used. (The house was demolished in 1978.)
For three weeks in November 1844, and to prepare for the consecration, fifteen Lodges of Instruction were held under the direction of Worshipful Brother William Leith (Lodge 20) who was paid £15 for his services as “Instructor”. The Brethren voted to extend his appointment for a further six calendar months, to help the lodge get underway, for which services he was paid forty guineas.
The cost of being a Freemason in those early days was as follows:- Initiation Fee: £5-5-0 (£5.25); Joining Fee: 10 shillings (50p); Quarterly subscriptions: 7s 6d (37.5p).
Some of the landmarks that stand out at stages in the lodge’s history are as follows:-
- 9th December 1856: a Mr John Monkton was initiated, who subsequently “builded well and truly on the foundation laid that evening”. Later, as Sir John Monkton, he became Town Clerk of London in 1871, was appointed Senior Grand Deacon of England in 1872 and, from 1874 to 1883, was President of the Board of General Purposes.
- 11th February 1862: the lodge presented a silver cup to Worshipful Brother John Savage, Past Senior Grand Deacon, and a member of the Robert Burns Lodge, for his valuable services as Installing Master over a period of sixteen years. John wasn’t a member of Belvidere Lodge but a professional Installing Master. The “Savage Cup” is used by present day Masters at the Festive Board.
- 1863: Grand Lodge decided to resolve the problem of the growing number of gaps between lodge numbers. In what became known as the “closing up”, the lodge was renumbered to Belvidere Lodge No 503.
- 8th March 1864: Earl Amherst, the Provincial Grand Master for Kent, joined the lodge as a subscribing member.
- 1977: A committee meeting minute shows that there was a waiting time to join the lodge of twelve to eighteen months.
1844: The lodge was consecrated at and subsequently met at the former Star Hotel in Maidstone.
1881: The Presbyterian Chapel in Brewer Street, Maidstone, was purchased for the sum of £850 and conveyed to seven members of the Belvidere Lodge as Trustees.
1920: Having just sold their meeting place in Brewer Street (for £1,680), and pending the acquisition of a permanent housing of Freemasonry in Maidstone, the lodge agreed to move to the Old Palace in Mill Street. This became their home for two years.
1922: In conjunction with Robinson Lodge No 2046, the premises at Nos 5 and 6 Bower Terrace were purchased for the sum of £3,150.
1958: With the growing number of members and lodges, it was agreed that the lodge room was too small and a new one was built at the rear of the premises in Bower Terrace and dedicated in 1959. 1975: Pending the acquisition of its next permanent home, dispensation was received to meet at Greenways in West Malling.
1977: The management committee of the owning lodges voted to purchase Linton Park, on Linton Hill – formerly the home of Lord Cornwallis, the Provincial Grand Master of East Kent. However the cost of running and maintaining the building soon became unaffordable and it was sold in 1979.
1979: The lodge returned to Greenways while the trustees searched for a permanent meeting place. 103 possible sites were investigated before purchasing the building now known as the Cornwallis Suite. It was formerly the Work’s Canteen of Reed’s Paper Mill in Tovil, it being of no further use to them as the mill was closing. Though not large enough to begin with, there was ground available which made room for expansion, and the lodge’s present home was opened in 1983.
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The Editor would like to thank the members of The Belvidere Lodge No 503 for agreeing to share their lodge’s history and Brother Derek Warren for researching and supplying the detailed information.
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