History of East Kent Freemasonry
The History of Freemasonry in Kent reaches back into the early 18th Century. Few of the earliest Lodges have survived. Many were military Lodges which travelled with the regiment and ceased to exist when the regiment was disbanded, although some were civilianised and survived e.g. the Fortitude Lodge, attached to the 67th Regiment of Foot, was formed in Chatham in 1772. Just before its departure to the West Indies in 1807 the Lodge warrant was transferred to the Royal Regiment of Cornish Miners, when both regiments were stationed in Dover. Upon their return to Cornwall, in 1814, the regiment was disbanded but the Lodge survived and now flourishes in Perranporth.
Freemasonry in Kent did not, as one might suppose, spread out from London. It was strongest in naval and military towns such as Dover, Sheerness and the Medway towns of Chatham and Gillingham, before expanding into the larger inland towns, such as Canterbury, Maidstone and Ashford. Some of the oldest surviving Lodges, the oldest of which is the Royal Kent Lodge of Antiquity, No. 20, meeting in Chatham, moved from London.
The Province of Kent was formed by the Grand Lodge of the Moderns in 1770, with the Hon. Robert Boyle Walsingham as its first Provincial Grand Master. The Moderns amalgamated with the Grand Lodge of the Antients in 1813 to form the United Grand Lodge of England.
The increase in the number of Lodges meeting in Kent was quite slow until the mid 19th century. Originally Woolwich, Greenwich, Deptford and Old Charlton were in the Kent Province, but these areas were taken into London in 1815. By 1973 there were so many Lodges that the decision was taken to divide the Province into two, East Kent and West Kent. This was intended to set an example to other large Provinces: the example has not been followed. The two new Provinces flourished and retain a firm friendship and interchange of membership. The boundary between the two new Provinces was drawn so that East Kent lies approximately east of a line, between Greenhithe and Gravesend, from Dartford via Wrotham to Tunbridge Wells. By 2006 there were about 185 Lodges meeting in East Kent and nearly 200 in West Kent, with about 8000 and 7000 members respectively.
Five of the Lodges meeting in East Kent antedate the formation of the original Province in 1770. The Lodges meet in 32 towns in 35 different places. The largest group, of 16 Lodges, meets in Gravesend, where Freedom Lodge No 77, dating from 1751, is probably the oldest surviving Lodge to have been consecrated within the Province. Click here for further information on the Lodges and where they meet.
Provinces serve two main functions, principally that of administration but also as a focus of identity being based, as they are, upon historic counties. There are too many Lodges and brethren meeting under the United Grand Lodge of England to be readily administered from its headquarters in London.
Some of the administration, powers and responsibilities are delegated to Provincial Grand Masters, who are appointed and hold office under a patent granted by the Grand Master.
The Lodges in each Province are regulated under bylaws approved by the Province, whilst the Provincial Grand Master, his Deputy, Assistants and administrative team, all appointed by him, lead and conduct the business of the Province. Until 2008 East Kent was administered from its office at Canterbury, where the Kent Museum of Freemasonry is still located. The Provincial Office is now at Whitstable.
Some of the first Provincial Grand Masters hardly ever visited their Provinces: some never did so! The modern Provincial Grand Master is a very hard working and proactive leader. Kent has long been very fortunate in its leadership. The 11th and first effective Provincial Grand Master, Viscount Holmesdale/Earl Amherst served for 45 years. He was succeeded by Col. Fiennes Stanley Wykeham, afterwards Baron Cornwallis, who served for 30 years until 1935, when he was succeeded by his son, the 2nd Baron, who held the Office until the Province divided in 1973. He then continued as Provincial Grand Master in East Kent until 1981, a record of service which will never be equalled. His son, the 3rd Lord Cornwallis, was Pro Grand Master of The United Grand Lodge of England from 1982-1992. He was a member of Douglas Lodge No 1725, meeting in Maidstone.
John Andrew Porter TD JP DL, from Gravesend, was appointed as Provincial Grand Master in 1981 and served until 1992, carrying the Province forward into the modern era, when John Bonomy OBE JP, from Folkestone, was appointed. He led the Province, with great distinction, until 2004, meeting the many challenges which emerged during his time in office. He was succeeded by Michael Robin Bailey from Rochester who served until 2011 and drove the Province forward through a period of innovation and change.
Michael was succeeded as the Provincial Grand Master and Grand Superintendent by Geoffrey Gordon Dearing who served from 2011 until 2018 when he was promoted to the high office of President of the Board of General Purposes in the United Grand Lodge of England. Geoffrey’s successor, Neil Hamilton Johnstone, will be invested as the Provincial Grand Master and Grand Superintendent on 3rd October 2018.
The Freemasons of East Kent are determined that when the manner in which they have met the challenges of today becomes history, it will be one in which pride will be taken.
Further information upon the history of Freemasonry in Kent can be obtained from The Kent Museum of Freemasonry at Canterbury.