Extracts from the History of Oakley Lodge No.694
1857 – 2007
We celebrate the 150th Anniversary of Oakley Lodge. How did it come about and how has it fared during this period?
In 1857 Basingstoke was an old market town with a close-knit and prosperous community and a population of around 4,000. Freemasonry had been practised in Hampshire and the Isle of Wight since the early part of the 18th Century, but no Lodges were located in the Basingstoke area and travelling out of town at night in those days could be difficult and dangerous.
The Founding Master
The Lodge owes its existence to the energy and wisdom of W.Bro.William Wither Bramston Beach, who was one of the original petitioners and Master for the first two years 1857-59.
The Lodge took its name from his place of residence. He was born in 1826 at Oakley Hall near Basingstoke and educated at Eton and Christ Church College, Oxford.
Whilst at Oxford he was initiated into Apollo Lodge No.357 and thereafter became a very active, enthusiastic and distinguished Freemason in both Oxfordshire and Hampshire, being appointed Prov.S.G.W. For Oxfordshire in 1853 and for Hampshire in 1858. In 1869 he became the first Provincial Grand Master for Hampshire and Isle of Wight and held this high and distinguished office with great distinction for 32 years.
Following a Petition sponsored by Lodge of Economy No.90 and signed by W.Bro.Beach and seven other Brethren, The M.W.Grand Master, the Earl of Zetland, granted a Warrant of Constitution on the 24th January, 1857, authorising Oakley Lodge No.995 to meet at the Black Boy Inn, Church Street, Basingstoke, on the first Monday of every month. (The Lodge number was changed to 694 in 1863).
Black Boy Inn Church Street 1857.
The Lodge was consecrated on the 3rd August, 1857, at the Black Boy Inn by the R.W.Provincial Grand Master, Admiral Sir Lucius Curtis, Bt., K.C.B., before a large gathering of distinguished guests and Brethren, which included the R.W.Provincial Grand Master for the Isle of Wight and the R.W.Grand Master for South Australia. W.Bro.W.W.Bramston Beach was installed as Master by W.Bro. Rankin Stebbing, P.G.D., Provincial Grand Secretary, and after the proceedings the Brethren adjourned to the Town Hall for a Banquet.
The Early Years
With much encouragement from Provincial Grand Lodge and Lodge of Economy, the first year ended with 40 members, having started with only 16. Most of its Initiates were drawn from local townsmen.
The Lodge held its first Ladies’ Festival in 1860 and formed a Royal Arch Chapter in 1877.
In 1885, following a dispute with the Landlord, the Lodge left the Black Boy Inn and moved to the new Hall in Sarum Hill, but the Brethren continued to dine in local hotels, except on Installation Nights, when they adjourned to the Town Hall. (The Lodge moved back to the Black Boy in 1909).
In 1887 the Lodge had 57 subscribing members.
Death of Founding Master
On the 2nd August, 1901, R.W.Bro.Beach was involved in a tragic accident in London when his Handsome Cab overturned and he died the following day from his injuries. When news of his sudden death reached Basingstoke a flag was promptly hoisted at half-mast over the Town Hall. His funeral and interment took place at Deane Church, nr Basingstoke, on the 9th August and the Service was conducted by the Bishop of Winchester. Among the many mourners were representatives from a large number of Masonic Lodges.
During the long period he was Provincial Grand Master, R.W.Bro.Beach attended all but two of the Installation Meetings of the Lodge, on many occasions acting as Installing Master. He continuously demonstrated a great interest in the Lodge and his advice and wise guidance could always be sought in any difficulty. He will forever be remembered as a constant Guardian and Father of the Lodge.
On the 21st October, 1907, the Jubilee Year was celebrated with a procession of Brethren in full regalia to St.Michael’s Church, Basingstoke, where a very large congregation included the R.W. Provincial Grand Master, Sir Augustus Webster, Bt., and the widow of R.W.Bro.Bramston Beach. Evensong was conducted by Bro. the Rev.C.C.Steward and the Sermon was preached by V.W.Bro.the Rev.Canon J.W.Horsley, P.G.Chaplain.
After refreshment in Church Cottage the Brethren proceeded to the Hall for a Regular Meeting. The R.W. Provincial Grand Master thanked the W.M. and Brethren for the Honorary Membership which had been conferred on him and his Officers and congratulated the Lodge on its 50 year’s existence and expressed the hope that it would continue for time immemorial. Bro. John Hall was presented with a Jewel in recognition of his 50 year’s service as Lodge Tyler. (Bro.Hall died in 1915, but his Jewel is still worn on the Tyler’s collar).
A memorable day ended with a Banquet at the Town Hall.
The First World War
The outbreak of the war in 1914 put a great strain and heavy responsibility on the Brethren who were not called up or who were involved in reserved occupations elsewhere. Initially, attendance at Lodge Meetings was very sparse with few Candidates, but by 1916 numbers started to increase appreciably, largely due to the presence of Servicemen from abroad. Men from the 4th Canadian General Hospital stationed at Park Prewett, Basingstoke, often had to leave at short notice to proceed overseas and between May and October 1918 no less than 12 Emergency Meetings were held in order to Initiate, Pass and Raise Canadian and New Zealand Candidates before their departure.
Fortunately, considering the terrible number of casualties suffered during the war, the Minute Books record only two deaths from enemy action, those of Bro. Major de Luze Simons, D.S.O., R.G.A., and Bro. Captain Frank Worthy Simmonds, both of whom were killed in 1917. Bro. Major Simons left the Lodge a legacy of £50 which was subsequently donated to the Royal Institution for Aged Freemasons, and on the wall near the entrance to the Lodge one will find a suitably inscribed Tablet perpetuating the memory of a distinguished and worthy Brother.
A New Home
In 1924 the Lodge purchased a piece of land in Victoria Street for £350 with a view to building a permanent home, but it was not until 1926 that £1,816 was available and work could begin. The Lodge Hall was finally completed and Consecrated on the 5th May, 1927, by the Provincial Grand Master, the Earl of Malmesbury, but there were still no dining facilities and the Brethren continued to use the Town Hall and local Hotels until 1939, when, after many delays, a Dining Room was finally added at a cost of £2,250 and the Brethren dined there for the first time in January 1940.
First ‘Daughter’ Lodge
In 1934 the Lodge was pleased to sponsor a new Lodge and Basing No.5500 was Consecrated on the 10th December 1934 by the R.W. Provincial Grand Master, thus becoming the first of the three ‘daughters’ of Oakley Lodge. Vyne No. 7612 being Consecrated in 1958 and Loddon No.8223 in 1968 to meet the growing needs of local residents and people moving from London under the GLC overspill scheme. (The town population has continued to grow and today stands at around 95,000).
Second World War
As in the First World War the Lodge continued to meet at regular intervals, with a number of Emergency Meetings being held to meet the needs of Brethren from Overseas. Seventy six members of the Lodge joined the Armed Forces or undertook other forms of National Service, but there is no record of any Brother being killed on active service, although one was wounded on two occasions. Decorations were awarded to two Brethren, one serving in the Royal Air Force and one in the Merchant Navy.
Centenary Year 1957
The Centenary of the Lodge was celebrated on the 7th October, 1957, by a Thanksgiving Service at St.Michael’s Church, which was attended by the Provincial Grand Master, R.W.Bro. W. Attenborough, M.A., B.S., and a large congregation of Freemasons, their families and friends. The Service was conducted by W.Bro.the Rev.A.W.Badger, M.A., P.P.G.Chap. Following tea in Church Cottage, the Brethren proceeded to the Lodge for a Regular Meeting, which included a reading of the Centenary Warrant. R.W.Bro.W.Attenborough was elected an Honorary Member of the Lodge and addressed the Brethren.
A Centenary Dinner was enjoyed by 69 Members and 39 Visitors.
In 1976 the Lodge enjoyed a particularly successful period with 1 Honorary Member and 136 Subscribing Members.
Masonic Hall Management Committee
In 1976 a survey revealed serious defects with the building which required immediate attention, but the cost of repairs eventually proved too much of a burden for the Lodge and in 1977 the other three Craft Lodges using the premises (Basing, Vyne and Loddon) were invited to a special meeting to discuss the situation.. At this meeting the four Lodges agreed to form a Masonic Hall Management Committee consisting of two nominees from each Craft Lodge, plus the three Oakley Lodge Trustees. A Oakley Lodge Member was elected Chairman of the new committee, which assumed full responsibility for the management and maintenance of the building in 1978. The new committee proved very successful and considerable improvements have been made to the building over the years. All the Degrees meeting at the Centre are now represented on the Committee. The current President of The Basingstoke Masonic Club Management Committee (as the Committee is now called) is a member of (Loddon 8223) and the Chairman of (Vyne 7612).
Freemasons in Basingstoke now have a Centre of which they can be justifiably proud and a considerable debt of gratitude is owed to Members, past and present, who over the years have generously devoted so much of their time, energy, personal skills and money to make this possible.
Visit by the M.W.Grand Master
During its long history the Lodge has had many distinguished visitors and on the 6th February, 1984, it was accorded the very rare honour of an informal visit by the M.W. Grand Master, H.R.H. the Duke of Kent, accompanied by the Provincial Grand Master and other distinguished guests to witness the Initiation of a new member by the Worshipful Master, of Oakley Lodge No.694.
New Lodge Banner
In 1998 the original Banner was found to be in a somewhat dilapidated condition and beyond repair. Following an appeal for funds a new Banner was purchased for approximately £2,200 and Dedicated on the 4th February 2002 by the Assistant Provincial Grand Master, W.Bro.G.Davies, P.S.G.D. The Worshipful Master thanked Bro. Chaplain, and Bro. Secretary, for their excellent work in helping to replace the Banner and for planning the Dedication Ceremony.
Charity has always been close to the hearts of members of Oakley Lodge, and to this end they and their families and friends have never hesitated to contribute generously to both Masonic and non-Masonic charities. During the 2005 Festival nearly £36,000 was contributed to the New Masonic Samaritan Fund and the Lodge was delighted and honoured to be awarded a 2005 Festival Gold Certificate by the Provincial Grand Master.
The Celebrations were centred on two main events:
This was held on the evening of the 18th August 2007, at Oakley Hall, the former home of the Founding Master. Approximately 300 Freemasons, their families and friends attended, including a number of Brethren from other Lodges in the Town. The Guests of Honour were the Provincial Grand Master, and his wife. During a very successful and enjoyable evening the Worshipful Master, presented cheques to the value of £6,000 to representatives from St.Michael’s Hospice and Naomi House Children’s Hospice. A bumper raffle raised another £1,700 for local charities.
Provincial Official Visit on 5th November 2007
The Provincial Grand Master, R.W.Bro. Brian C. Bellinger attended accompanied by Officers of Provincial Grand Lodge.
The Way Ahead
The Lodge has now completed 150 years of uninterrupted existence, and during this period it has provided a local meeting place for men of goodwill, where they have met on 1,306 occasions in congenial company, without regard of rank, race, colour or creed to carry out faithfully the aims of its Founders to propagate the teachings and ideals of the Craft. It can be justly proud of its achievements and confident that it will continue to grow in strength and significance throughout the centuries that lie ahead, for the foundations laid by those who have gone before us, and the principles and precepts of Freemasonry, have stood the test of time and are as valid today as ever.
HAPPY HAVE WE MET
HAPPY HAVE WE BEEN
HAPPY MAY WE PART
AND HAPPY MEET AGAIN