A History of the Knights Templar in Northumberland
Late Eighteenth Century to 1812: the Joppa and Royal Kent Encampments
In December 1778, the Lodge of Scoon and Perth conferred on the Office Bearers of St. Stephen’s Lodge in Edinburgh “the six sundry steps of Masonry” and these are listed as “Past the Chair; Excellent and Super-excellent Mason; Arch and Royal Arch Mason; and Knights of Malta”.
In October 1779, the Grand Master of Mother Lodge Kilwinning, Archibald, Earl of Eglintoune, issued a Charter for a Lodge in Dublin named “The High Knight Templars of Ireland Lodge”. This body later became known as the “Early Grand Encampment of Ireland” that, two decades later, issued in turn a number of Charters for Knight Templar Encampments in Scotland, some of which are still in existence under the Great Priory of Scotland.
The practice of garrisoning military Regiments in different towns in the United Kingdom encouraged the export of Irish Higher Degrees back to Scotland and thence to England and, in 1805, the Second Battalion, the Royal Lancashire Militia settled in the town of Sunderland, bringing with it the "Knight of Malta Lodge, No 120".
This group warranted an Athol Lodge - St John’s Lodge, No 94 - to be held in Sunderland. Subsequently, the Royal Lancashire Militia left town, taking the Knight of Malta Lodge with it, but the remaining Brethren of St John’s Lodge, under the guidance of Robert Brass, their Secretary, and keen to increase their knowledge of other Degrees, traveled to Edinburgh to receive from St Stephen’s Lodge further light in Masonry in the form of the Red Cross; the Knights Templar; the Knights of Malta and the Rose Croix Degrees including the Ne Plus Ultra.
Calling themselves “The Joppa Encampment” they returned to England and, in 1811, accepted an invitation from HRH, the Duke of Kent, to join the English Grand Conclave. Their Warrant was dated 18th April 1811, naming Brothers George Penn, John Waddell and James Todd as being empowered to meet at the Admiral Lord Nelson’s Head at “Sunderland near the Sea”.
This Warrant is still preserved in the Provincial Grand Lodge Museum in Durham.
Subsequently, a number of Newcastle members of the Joppa Encampment petitioned it to support their application to form a new Encampment in Newcastle, to be known as the "Royal Kent Encampment".
It is recorded in the Minutes of the Grand Conclave of 16th April 1812 that a letter, dated 15th September 1911, had been received from Kt Robert Thompson, late of the “Cross of Christ Encampment” in London, petitioning to hold an Encampment at the Mason’s Hall, Bells Court, Newcastle on the last Friday of every month. The senior officers were to be Robert Thompson, Eminent Commander; Richard Fennings, First Captain and Joseph Harrison, Second Captain. All were Royal Arch Masons under the sanction of the Athol Lodge; Thompson was a member of the Cross of Christ Encampment and Fennings and Harrison were members of the Joppa Encampment.
The first Minute of the Royal Kent Encampment is dated 9th October 1812. In addition to the three principal officers, John Anderson was appointed as First Standard Bearer and Mark Thompson was appointed as Second Standard Bearer.
The intense rivalry at the time prevalent between the Athol Lodge (an Antients Lodge) and St Nicholas’ Lodge (a Moderns Lodge) can be seen by the setting of different subscription levels for members from the different sides – 21 shillings for Royal Arch Masons under the Antients Constitution but 26 shillings if from a Moderns Lodge.
Fortunately their differences were soon set aside, following the creation of the United Grand Lodge in 1813 and, in 1814, they merged to form the Newcastle upon Tyne Lodge, No 26. Seven Antients Masons were proposed for membership; and it was resolved that regalia consisting of aprons and sashes of black velvet should be acquired.
The first meeting of the Royal Kent Encampment pre-dated the issue of their Warrant from Grand Conclave and they met by virtue of a Dispensation, dated 30th September 1812. Their Patent of Constitution was issued the following year and the Warrant was received at the meeting held on 30th July 1813.
Interestingly, apart from the year,1813 (printed at the top and bottom of the Warrant) the exact date was never recorded – where it should have been written is, inexplicably, blank. In the 1890’s, that lack of an exact date on the Warrant caused concern should it ever be necessary to prove its antiquity. Sadly, the original Dispensation by which they met on 9th October 1812 has been lost from the records.
This resulted in the procurement of the “Lathom Document” in 1891 whereby the then Very High and Eminent Great Prior of the Order, the Rt Hon Edward, Earl of Lathom, confirmed that documentary evidence in Great Priory proved the date of the Warrant as 16th April 1812, and that the first meeting of the Encampment took place on 9th October 1812 under that Warrant. This confirmatory document is affixed to the 1813 Warrant.
1812 to 1850: the years leading to the development of the Province
Royal Kent Encampment quickly flourished and met frequently – often on Sundays – with men joining directly from their Lodges and Chapters as well as from the Joppa Encampment (the latter usually by being re-obligated and admitted at a reduced fee). By 1818 membership stood at 58.
The Encampment issued its own certificates and even went as far as having its own printing plate cut, with the design still used on Royal Kent Summonses to this day.
The Encampment also conferred Degrees that are now controlled by other Sovereign Grand bodies – especially the “Red Cross Pelican and Eagle” (now the Rose Croix Degree) and the “Ne Plus Ultra”, both of which were conferred regularly on candidates whenever the need arose, from 1822 till 1857, at which time the Degrees were relinquished to the Supreme Council 33rd Degree with the Warranting of the Royal Kent Chapter Rose Croix No 8.
In 1849, after more than three decades of dormancy owing to the failure of the then Grand Master, the Duke of Sussex, to engage with the Order and call meetings of the Grand Conclave, the Encampment re-established working relations with the Templar Headquarters in London. By this time the Joppa Encampment, for reasons unknown, had also gone into decline and, although it remained on the Roll of Grand Conclave for a few more years, it was eventually erased in 1865. According to the late William Waples, Past Curator of the Durham Provincial Museum, “the Encampment had a great many difficulties and, although much was done to keep things going, the pressure of the aftermath of the Napoleonic Wars and the subsequent industrial depression was just too much for the Brethren and the Encampment finally succumbed”.
Unfortunately, the Minutes from the Joppa Encampment have been lost, but many references to its work may be found in old Minutes of St John’s Lodge.
Having succeeded the Duke of Sussex as the Grand Master in 1846, Col. Charles Kemys Kemys Tynte set about re-modelling the Order by dividing it into separate, but accountable, Provinces. A somewhat liberal approach was taken as to what might constitute a Province, with several having only one active Templar Unit within its boundaries and Northumberland was the beneficiary of this policy when it became the “Provincial Priory of Northumberland and Berwick-on-Tweed” in 1850 with just the Royal Kent Encampment on its Roll.
1850 onwards: the early years of the Provincial Priory
It may be for reasons of wishing to see a closer alliance of the Order with the Craft and Royal Arch, but no Provincial Prior (at that time “Provincial Grand Commander”) was appointed in the first nine years of existence, until the Installation of the Reverend Edward Challoner Ogle on 11th November 1859.
He was the Craft Provincial Grand Master of Northumberland from 1848; had been elected a member of the Royal Kent Encampment in July 1851 and the following March was installed as a Knight Companion. In 1853 he was admitted to the Rose Croix Degree and the Ne Plus Ultra, and the following year, he was installed as the Grand Superintendent of the Royal Arch.
He ruled the Province for the next twelve years but, rather unusually, seems only to have presided over one meeting of the Provincial Priory in that time! After his Installation in 1859, the next meeting of Provincial Priory was held on 13th February 1867 to coincide with a Regular Meeting of Royal Kent. In the event, the Provincial Grand Commander failed to turn up and, after waiting over an hour for him, the meeting was eventually conducted by Henry Hotham, 2nd Grand Captain (the Deputy Provincial Grand Commander, G. Hawks, having died in the interim). William Buckle Punshon was recommended for appointment as Deputy Provincial Grand Commander, with Hotham taking on the role of Seneschal as well as Provincial Treasurer.
Ogle was present at the next Provincial meeting on 17th April 1868, at which time he confirmed the Minutes of the last meeting – and the appointments of Provincial Officers that had been made in his absence! - but little other business of consequence was transacted. By the time of the fourth Provincial meeting, on 10th February 1872, Ogle had died and the meeting was conducted by Punshon. He had been approved by Grand Conclave as Ogle’s successor and, after reading out a letter confirming his appointment, he seems to have taken on the role without any other formal Installation procedure being carried out.
1872 also saw an occasion of huge importance to the Province, when the “Mount Grace Encampment” was Warranted to meet in Stockton, at a stroke doubling the number of Encampments in the Province, which thereby became the “Province of Northumberland, Durham and Berwick-on-Tweed”.
The first meeting of the newly enlarged Provincial Priory, on 10th January 1873, was under the Banner of the Royal Kent Encampment and attracted 15 members. At this meeting, William Buckle Punshon was installed as Provincial Prior by E Kt C. Banister, who in turn was appointed and invested as Sub-Prior. The Statutes pertaining to the newly formed Convent General were received and noted and the Royal Kent tradition of “pledging” the Prior and Sub-Prior brought the meeting to a conclusion. This was the last Provincial Priory meeting held within a regular Encampment and the last to be Minuted in the Royal Kent records. The meeting in Newcastle on 17th April 1874 was the first to be recorded in the Minute Book of the Provincial Priory. Twelve Knights were present.
The third meeting, in Stockton-on-Tees on 5th February 1875, attracted fifteen members. The whole country was up in arms about certain changes to the Statutes of Great Priory that had been introduced without any discussion with the Provinces. The Province of Northumberland & Durham “joyously joined in the battle” with a “Respectful Memorial” complaining about the speed with which the new Statutes had been rushed into adoption; the dropping of the word “Masonic” from the title of the Great Priory (for fear of bringing Templar meetings into the unsavoury purvue of the Provisions of the Secret Societies Act); and the proposal to change titles of Templar officers (Preceptor, instead of Commander; Constable, instead of Captain, etc.) and to abolish all “Past” Great Priory ranks, meaning an Officer of Great Priory, moving on from that rank, would revert to the rank of “Knight”, with no badge or other indication to show that he had served in high office.
It took several years for Great Priory to relent over these contentious issues and it is reported that “it was several years before relations with Headquarters became amicable again”. The meeting of Provincial Priory, in Stockton-on-Tees on 26th February 1878, was preceded by the Consecration of the third Preceptory on the Provincial Roll, St. Cuthbert’s No 139. Afterwards, E Kt C. J. Banister was Installed as Provincial Prior (Punshon having died three months earlier) by the Great Sub-Prior, E Kt Col. Shadwell Henry Clerke.
Later that year, the Priory approved of a “Scale of Fines” for Knights absent from Provincial Priory without just cause:- 5/- for Provincial Officers below the rank of Registrar and 10/- for the more senior officers!
At the meeting on 18th November 1884, the Provincial Prior expressed (and not for the first time) his hope that the Joppa Encampment might be revived but, sadly, those hopes never came to fruition.
On 11th April 1888, Province elected to purchase Collars and Jewels for the use by Provincial Officers and eight were procured from Messrs Caney in London for the sum of £14 17s 6d and distributed at the meeting on 28th February 1890. Three years later, Province voted an additional sum to complete the purchase of additional collars and jewels. In 1894, Province resolved to procure a Seal for the Provincial Priory, but it is not known if this was effected, nor what became of the Seal subsequently.
1895 saw the “entirely unlamented” demise of the Convent General, with the constituent countries – England & Wales, Ireland and Canada – resuming absolute and Sovereign Independence for their particular territories. Great Priory dropped the word “National” from its title and the next ten years saw a gradual settling into its responsible role with no hint of opposition from its Provincial Priories.
In 1901, Great Priory expressed the wish that Provincial Priories adopt the uniform, shortened method of Opening and Closing that is, to this day, used in the Annual Meeting of Great Priory. Further suggestions aimed at directing Preceptory meetings towards uniformity came in 1908, when the Provincial Prior (Canon Walker) expressed his hope that all Preceptories would conform to the recommendation from Great Priory, that they should provide an altar for their meetings. This was reinforced three years later, when the Provincial Prior (now C.W. Napier Clavering) reiterated the request.
On 10th October 1912, the RE Provincial Prior celebrated 100 years of continuous meetings of the Royal Kent Preceptory with the presentation of the Centenary Warrant.