Under date 2nd May, 1770, there occurs in the Minute Book the following entry, which I quote without comment:
Our worthy brother, William Howat, gave in a present to the Lodge of S. Nicholas a few prints exhibiting the whole three steps of Masonry: they cost our said worthy brother half-a-crown in the City of Paris in France, the donor having the honour of giving the first compliment to the said Lodge.”
During the Spring of 1770 there seems to have been some trouble in the Lodge regarding certain alleged irregularities on the part of the R.W.M., Bro. William Young. There occurs the following entry in the Minute of Meeting of 30th March, 1770
There was also a remonstrance and grievance presented by certain of the brethren in writing against the R.W.M. of the said Lodge, the particulars thereof I forbear to mention here at present: the debate came to that height when a proposal was made whether the said Master should be continued till the said S. Johns Day or not. On a vote being taken 25 voted for dismissing the Master and 24 for keeping him.
This drastic step was not taken, however, but the matter was carried to Grand Lodge by P.M. Bro. Christopher Fry and others, when the appeal was dismissed, Grand Lodge expressing the opinion that the Master and Office-bearers had done nothing amiss. Bro. Young was re-elected R.W.M. at S. Johns Day, 1770, and again on S. Johns Day, 1771. He seems, however, to have been in difficulties, for on 22nd July, 1771, a special meeting of the brethren was held to appoint a Master to rule and act until S. Johns Day in place of William Young who hath absconded the place for the time, and so late as 1773 it was discovered that he had borrowed a sum of £4 from Grand Secretary under the guise of charity and appropriated it to his own uses.
In the minute of the quarterly meeting of the Lodge held on 28th September, 1770, there occurs the following entry, from which it appears that the office of Secretary, like that of R.W.M., was no sinecure:-
Bro. Adam Frain was complained off for abusing the office-bearers of the said Lodge in the house of Wm. Duthie, Vintner in Aberdeen, on the 3rd of August last, at which meeting he greatly injured myself with very impudent and provoking words, he being at the same time drunk, swore that he would resign his office of being Tyler any more for the Lodge, which office lays vacant till S. Johns Day next. The said meeting gave no declaratory sentence against him, more especially as he was not personally present himself.
This meeting held in the house of Wm.Duthie, Vintner, was for the initiation of a candidate, and evidently the Tyler, wearied no doubt of the monotony of his office, had found the temptations of the place too much for him, the result being that he got obstreperous. At a subsequent meeting he acknowledged his fault and tabled his 1s. for swearing.
The annual general meeting on S. Johns Day, 1770, was held in Trinity Hall at ten o’clock forenoon, when the office- bearers for the ensuing year were appointed. At one o’clock in the afternoon the members ranked themselves in proper and due order when they walked in procession through the principal streets of this city with drums and other instruments of music, where they returned to the said hall to dinner, and after the usual business was over, they spent the evening with the greatest harmony, unanimity, and quietness imaginable: they also went in good hours in decent procession home with their Master and other office-bearers, and after which every one of the members went home peaceably to their respective places of abode without the least noise or disturbance, but the whole of the brethren observing to spend the night in good and decent behaviour, being the true characteristics of Masonry, from all which one is apt to conclude that our ancient brethren did not always go home from a S. Johns supper in good hours and peaceably.
On 8th February, 1771, a meeting of the brethren was held to make arrangements for the funeral of Bro. James MacLean, who had died that morning. It was resolved that the Lodge in a body should attend the funeral, which was fixed for the afternoon of the next day at three o’clock, and that they should be dressed in black cloaths, black stockings, gloves and aprons. The funeral duly took place to the Old Town Churchyard, after which the brethren returned to Trinity Hall (where they met) and dispatched some particular business, thereafter the office- bearers adjourned to the house of Wm. Duthie, Vintner, where they passed and raised John Prott.
Evidently the Secretary had enemies in the Lodge, for at a meeting of the brethren held on 1st March, a complaint against him of criticising too freely the R.W.M. was heard, and this is how he records what took place:
Aberdeen, 1st March, 1771: This day, William Glass, having got himself intoxicate with drink, carried an ill-natured aspersion to the R.W.M. against me, the same word being innocently and inadvertently said by me about a twenty days or rather more before; he was so litigious as to call three men of Mr. John Dingwalls, Senior, his combshop, two of the said men being members, one of which was a member of the Lodge of S. Andrews, the other one of our own Lodge and the other was not, for to vindicate the truth of what I said, but when I was called before the above meeting, and being examined by the R.W.M., having confessed what I had innocently let slip out of my mouth, and having acknowledged my rashness in what I said, he freely and frankly forgave me in presence of the brethren then present; he would not have said anything about it that night had he not been urged to it by my antagonist, as he nor I had no ill will nor grudge at one another, so that matters were amicably made up that night, and I believe if I had not been prudently stopt by a certain wise office-bearer I would have vented several of William Glasses failings but was happily prevented. May the Lord keep me and everyone from bearing malice or hatred at one another seeing our time is but very short and uncertain in this vain, sinful, and transitory world.
In spite of this pious conclusion, however, I am afraid we cannot approve of the means Bro. Secretary took to revenge himself, by abusing the privileges of his office and placing on record for the information of posterity the fact that Bro. Glass had failings.
At a meeting of the Lodge held on 19th March, 1771, in Wm. Duthie the Vintners house, concerning the affair of James Shand, Barber, relating to the coat that was challenged in his custody where he was present himself. Bro. Shand explained that he bought the coat, but evidently he was not believed, for, after discussion, he was given to the next quarterly communication âto see if he could procure two men of veracity to prove if there was such in this place as the man he mentioned he bought the coat off. Unfortunately for the sake of his reputation, Bro. Shand was unable to comply with this requirement, for at the quarterly communication held ten days later it is recorded that âit was determined and agreed upon by the brethren that the said James Shand should not be admitted again as a member until such time as he can find the person he said he bought the coat off.
At this same quarterly communication (29th March, 1771) the following four new rules were agreed to:
1st, No Pensioners or Chelsea men are to be received as members into S. Nicholas Lodge upon any pretext whatever. As the Lodge at this time was mainly a sick benefit society, these men were refused admission presumably as being a class of society who did not require such assistance, being already provided for. It is not to be assumed that, they were unworthy of being Masons.
Rule 2 provides that all candidates for admission shall get one or more members of the Lodge to sign a minute along with him guaranteeing the bye-past character of such candidate, and that if any flagrant crime shall afterwards be found out against said candidate, the member or members who signed the minute along with him shall be expelled from the Lodge.
Rule 3 provides that âany member or members who shall wilfully absent them- selves from a funeral or burial of any one deceased of the members belonging to the foresaid Lodge, when legally warned, without a very reasonable and lawful excuse, shall be fined one shilling.
This rule does not seem to have increased the attendance of brethren at funerals, for at the annual meeting on 28th December, 1772, it was resolved that âabsence from Aberdeen at the time of getting the warning for the burial and till it is over, and sickness in the same manner, should only be accepted as excuses for non-attendance. This rule was, however, abolished on 27th December, 1780.
Rule 4 forbids the admission of apprentices to membership until they have become journeymen in their particular trades, so that at no time hereafter no bondman whatsoever shall in no wise be admitted as members into said Lodge.
The above-mentioned quarterly meeting is recorded as having been held âin the house that I rent that is, the Secretarys dwelling-house. Up to this time the Lodge had no regular place for holding its meetings. These were held sometimes in a tavern and sometimes in the private houses of various brethren, the quarterly communications being held in the Trinity Hall, which then stood at the foot of the Shiprow on ground now covered by Market Street and Guild Street.
It may not be out of place if a digression is made here to remind the reader of what Aberdeen was like at this period of its history. The whole of the City practically lay clustered round an eminence known as S. Catherines Hill, the summit of which was situated near where the Adelphi now is. There was no King Street, Union Street, nor Market Street then. S. Catherines Hill was surrounded by an irregular circle of streets which ran along its base, consisting of Netherkirkgate (which connected with the Castlegate by S. Catherines Wynd and the Narrow Wynd), Putachieside, which was the rough quarter of the town, and which ran where Carnegies Brae and the Dark Bridge at present are, round the east side of the Green (there was, of course, no New Market; Hadden Street, Exchange Street, and Stirling Street had no existence) and down to Trinity Corner, near where the foot of Market Street now is, where it connected with the Shiprow, leading back by Exchequer Row to the Castle Street.
The houses faced this circle of streets, and their gardens sloped up behind to the summit of the hill. The Broadgate led from the Narrow Wynd northwards to the Porthill by way of the Gallowgate, but there was no Queen Street, and all to the east of Broad Street was open ground, on which stood the meal and poultry markets. Behind Broad Street on the west was the Guestrow, where many of the best houses in the City stood, the gardens at the back of which ran down and marched almost with the churchyard, whence the name Guestrow (Ghaist-rue, or Street of Ghosts).
The Upper and Nether kirk gates led from the town to the Great Church of S, Nicholas, which was outside the City boundary, S. Nicholas Street, George Street, S. Andrew Street, Loch Street, and John Street had not been laid out ; the site of these last-named streets being occupied by a large loch with marshy banks. This necessarily brief sketch of the City boundaries in the eighteenth century will assist the reader to understand several of the references which follow.
The meeting of 10th May, 1771, was held in a room in â the large house or hall known as Douglas old dancing school, which was situated â in the Double dykes, and âfronting the new intended street (now known as Queen Street) that goes from Broadgate to the North Street. This house stood on the site of the present 34 Queen Street, and must not be confounded with the well-known 41 Queen Street, which was built by S. Machar Lodge about the same time, and which became the common meeting-place of nearly all the Lodges in Aberdeen in 1865.
The brethren evidently began to feel the necessity for a regular meeting-place, as being more in conformity with the dignity of the Lodge, and therefore resolved to rent this room from Mr. Douglas, who held the whole place on lease from Convener Duncan, Wright in Aberdeen, who was proprietor. It was also resolved that the brethren contribute 6d. each yearly to meet the rent. The room did not prove altogether a success, for it is recorded on 27th September, 1771, that
there was several holes found in the upper loft of the hall, where some one or other was espied to spit down on the table upon one of the sashes.
The proprietor was immediately called in, and promised to prevent such misdemeanours in future. It was ultimately resolved, however, that the Lodge should become the proprietors of the whole building, and on 22nd June, 1772, they acquired it from Convener Duncan at the price of £160.
The building was evidently old, and as the Town Council wanted a bit off the end, to enable them to straighten the new street which was being laid out from Broad Street to West North Street, it was resolved in 1775 to pull the whole building down and rebuild it. At a meeting of the Lodge held on 20th February, 1775, it was intimated that eight feet had been given off the end of the hall to the Town Council for £60, Provost Jopp giving his bill at four months in exchange.
At this same meeting it was remitted to Bros. Alexander, Sutherland, John Lamb, and James Pittendrich to draw out a plan of our house, including our whole ground in the said plan, and to present the same with proper estimates thereof within fourteen days after the above date ; at subsequent meetings it was resolved that the house should be built 26 feet wide, being 3 feet wider than what it is at present, and that the dressed stones were to be done according to the pattern of that house in the Broad gate presently possessed by William Coutts and others.
The contracts were duly arranged and given out, and on Wednesday, 26th July, 1775, the foundation stone of the new Hall was laid with great éclat. This auspicious event was made the occasion of a solemn ceremonial. The brethren met at the Trinity Hall at 10 in the forenoon, and âbetwixt 12 and 1 o’clock they walked in solemn procession alongst the principal streets of this City accompany’d with several brethren of different Lodges attended by a band of music playing the usual tunes upon such solemn occasions, four of which were composed by Rogerino (Bro. Thomas Rogers), one whereof was entitled S. Nicholas March,â and then came in due order to lay the foundation stone of our new Lodge in the new intended street that goes from the middle of the Broadgate to the North Street or Mealmarket Street.
The foundation stone was well and truly laid by the R.W.M., Bro. William Smith, who on the occasion delivered an elegant oration, in the course of which he remarked that âwe have the pleasure in general as well as the honour in particular to be the first that has commenced building in this new intended street.
The stone bore the inscription: W.S. : M. St. N.L.; A.D. 1775; A.M. 5779. At the conclusion of the ceremony the brethren âmarched off in their former proper order up the Lodge walk and alongst the South Side of the Castlegate and down the Shiprow and so returned to the ‘Trinity Hall where they spent the night in festivity mirth and joy. The brethren behaved with the greatest decency harmony and brotherly love.
The new house consisted of three flats and cellars, which were let for £23, with the hall or Lodge room in the roof, the whole being insured against fire at the modest sum of £300.
At a meeting held on 5th April, 1771, Bro. James Beverly was examined, âwhen he was found guilty of ridiculing the whole Office Bearers of the said Lodge flatly against the obligation he received,â and fined 2s.
On 1st May a special meeting was held at 12 o’clock in the house of Wm. Duthie, Vintner, concerning Bro. Alexander Anderson, of what had happened on Saturday the 27th ultimo in the house of John Hay, Gardiner, at Hilton, our said Brother being in company with John Morrice belonging to S. Andrews Lodge and two Blacksmiths who were not freemasons and also the landlord …. the said two brethren were judged to have been too
free with the secrets of Masonry beyond the bounds of what they were answerable for : having therefore examined our said Brother in regard of what words or signs has passed betwixt him and them in the said company, when he denied the most part of what the members who were in the blacksmiths company related unto him : it was therefore advised upon that whereas S. Andrews Lodge had a meeting of their officebearers with a select number of their members on the same affair at 3 o’clock in the house of John Walkers, Vintner in the Bank Closs, Castle Street, that we thought proper for to attend the said meeting likewise, that thereby the two brethren aforesaid might answer for themselves in presence of each other, which was accordingly done.
The result of the examination was that the two brethren were fined a crown each, and our brother was suspended from his office of Steward until next quarterly meeting. At a subsequent meeting, however, Bro. Anderson was able to produce proof clearing himself of the charge of divulging Masonic secrets, and was acquitted and reinstated.
The minute of meeting of 13th December, 1771, gives details of the arrangements for the ensuing S. Johns dinner, and as these are interesting when compared with our more modern dinners, I give the extract in full.
It was agreed that a list should immediately be made out and given to the Tyler to be sent round the members to ascertain who would be for dinner and who not, every member thus signifying that he or they is for dinner being obliged to pay is. for dinner and drink, Bro. John Gordon being agreed to provide dinner for 6d. each member, and to take what drink shall be necessary from the brethren who deals in that article.
No one surely could accuse our brethren of extravagance in their refreshment when 1s. a head covered everything.
At the annual meeting held on S. Johns Day, 1771, Bro. Alexander Trail was called in question and examined upon
the account of leaving his masters service and at the same time his demanding of a diploma from the Lodge and abusing and making a bad use of it by his travelling through the most of the Lodges in Scotland begging and demanding money from them as he had been a brother in distress and had received a considerable sum of money from them, and it appeared he had made a bad use of it. For which reason his diploma was demanded from him, otherwise to be excluded the Lodge as an unworthy member.
The Quarterly Communication of 25th September, 1772, was kept lively through the outrageous conduct of Bro. John Marr,
who was so very much intoxicate with drink being thereby in such a passion that he swore a great many times and greatly abused the R.W.M. and also the society then present, expressing himself in the most opprobrious and provoking language imaginable, going out of the Lodge several times and returning back again, making such a horrid noise and disturbance at the door of the Lodge which was sufficient to raise a moab (sic) or alarum the neighbourhood fighting and quarrelling at the same time, all which being an abomination and hateful in the sight of God and good men and hurtful to society in general and to the said Lodge in particular, the said John Marr having thrown down one shilling for the first oath he swore agreeable to our articles thereanent but upon the adding up of our books we found the said shilling wanting being occasioned probably by the said noise and disturbance.
At a subsequent meeting held in the house of William M’Kay, Vintner, for the purpose of considering Bro. Marrs misdemeanours, he was fined 30s. and reprimanded. This sum represents 30 curses, but the minute is silent as to whether this was the full extent of Bro. Marrs delinquencies, or whether he was allowed a liberal discount on taking a quantity. I have no doubt, however, that Bro. Marr took good care to get full value for his money.
I don’t know whether our Worthy Secretary was himself in the habit of getting â intoxicate with drink, but one would be excused for thinking so, judging from the following curiously involved entry in the minute-book under date 12th October, 1772, which I give without comment, leaving it to the reader to extract the sense if he can.
A meeting was called of the Officebearers to consult upon having a funeral procession on the corps of William Duthie who died yesterday: when it was unanimously agreed that the Body should meet the morrow being the 13th inst. in the hall at 2 o’clock in the afternoon for to attend in purpose to walk in funeral procession with the said corps to the Towns Churchyard in the usual order, and being clear on the books upon application received two pounds sterling for to defray his funeral charges. The said meeting was in the house of the deceased William Duthie.
As this is apparently William Duthie, Vintner, to whom reference has already been made, it is possible that the Secretary, having made several calls at the house of the corps in connection with the funeral arrangements, had been assuaging his grief by sampling the deceaseds stock-in-trade, and had consequently got hopelessly mixed in his minutes.
In case it may have appeared to the reader that the chief occupations of the Lodge consisted in squabbling and feasting, and that the main objects of Masonry were overlooked, I quote the following entry from a minute of 1st February, 1773, which shows that, although some of 6 them were somewhat free with their tongues, our brethren had nevertheless Sympathetic hearts, and were never appealed to in vain when a deserving case was presented to them :
The R.W.M. called a meeting of the Officebearers of St. Nicholas Lodge to his own house, to take into consideration the case of James Donald, lawful son of Patrick Donald, late member of the said Lodge, a poor destitute boy, having no master nor any person to take notice of him, having very bad stockings and shoes; it was therefore condescended upon by the said officebearers that there should be allowed to the said boy about five or six shillings sterling for to buy shoes and stockings to him : and the remainder was ordered to be laid out upon a box with a few small goods in purpose that he should travel the country by way of a chapman, being judged an act of great charity to encourage the poor boy, being an orphan not having father or mother alive nor yet any other person for the present to take notice of the said poor boy.
We shall see from a subsequent minute how the Secretary attempted to use the power of the Lodge over its members to compel the payment of outstanding debts between brethren, and how his motion was defeated and himself subjected to abuse. That the Lodge did, however, on occasion act the part of judge and jury in the settlement of disputes between brethren is well shown by the following entry :
Aberdeen 13th February 1773: the old grievance was made up and agreed at the said meeting betwixt George Gordon and James Thomson both members of the said Lodge which were as follows vizt. : We George Gordon and James Thomson both Woolcombers in Aberdeen and members of the said Lodge do hereby bind and oblige ourselves to submit fully to the determination of the officebearers of the said Lodge St. Nicholas in regard of the present strife and misunderstanding that is betwixt us that the same may be amicably agreed and made up in our favours, whereunto we subscribe names day and date above written, so signed, George Gordon, James Thomson.
The reference was duly accepted by the office-bearers, and after enquiry the following judgment was delivered :
It is therefore the determination of the Office Bearers of the said Lodge that whereas James Thomson being the first offender that he should first satisfy and pay his own Lawyer and also to pay what remains unpaid of George Gordons Lawyer ; and also that none of the bye-past quarrel or strife should at any time hereafter be thrown up to each other.
This decision was cheerfully accepted by Bros. Gordon and Thomson, and it is recorded that
they frankly forgave each âother, they did shake hands and also drank to each others welfare so that they were congratulated upon the occasion by the whole of the above meeting.
The poor Secretary seems to have had a knack of getting himself into hot water, for we find that at the Quarterly Communication on 25th June, 1773,
James Thomson abused the Secretary with very opprobrious and abusive language by calling him impudent and such like uncivil terms without the least provocation for such bad usage.
It seems, however, that the Secretary made a motion to the effect that if any member should have a claim against any other brother in respect of any just and lawful debt, he should have liberty to lodge the claim in the hands of the Secretary, and the debtor should have no benefit from the Lodge until he settled with his creditor. This motion was not carried, and Bro. Thomson seems to have fallen foul of the proposer, for which he was fined one shilling. Probably he was owing the Secretary an account, in which case Bro. Thomson has our sympathy in resenting the Secretarys underhand attempt to compel payment. Bro. Thomson paid his shilling at the following S. Johns Day, and made satisfaction to the Secretary, but it is recorded that he âwas so very condescending that his fine was returned to him again.
In the minute of 11th December, 1773, there occurs the following entry:
There is no occasion for uniformity in regard of stockings on the ensuing St. Johnâs Day,
which reminds us that at this time breeches were worn, trousers not having yet reached Aberdeen.
On 27th December, 1774, it was resolved that there
should be six chairs made for the office-bearers, with a writing table or desk for the Secretary and Clerk, Bro. John Lamb our present senior warden is ordered to make them. The Masters chair is ordered to have the Masons coat of arms upon it and including the two Wardens chairs with that of the Masters are to be bowed or armed with some distinctions, the other three are to be plain with some distinctions also.
The six chairs were duly furnished, and cost the modest sum of £2 1s. 6d. Bro. Lamb also made two candlesticks of wood, with brass mountings, for the sum of 7s.
In the month of September, 1775, Bro. John Nicoll, who was one of the original members of the Lodge, and had acted as Secretary since its inception, died, and was succeeded by Bro. William Duncan, schoolmaster in Aberdeen. Although the minutes were better kept by the new Secretary, and are much more orthodox in their wording, they do not prove so interesting reading, nor are they so entertaining as those of Bro. Nicoll.
At a meeting held on 9th September, 1777, it was reported by the R.W.M.
that Duncan Reid, mason in Aberdeen, the last member who was admitted into this Lodge, was not free born, and that he had called upon the said person, who had acknowledged to him that his father and mother were never married together.
The two brethren who recommended Bro. Reid were accordingly fined 2s. 6d. each for recommending him without being satisfied that he was free born.
At the meeting of 20th September, Bro. William Walker, the Depute Master, reported that he had
in his custody and keeping a bed belonging to the Lodge consisting of a bound head and foot with breast and folding shutters, which was in the old house belonging to the Lodge.
As to what use the Lodge had for a bed history is silent.
At this period of the Lodgeâs history, Britain was engaged in a life and death struggle with her American colonies, which terminated in the acknowledgment of the constitution of the United States as an independent republic in 1782. King George III., in his futile attempt to reduce the rebellious colonies to subjugation, received a great deal of sympathy inÂ this country, and a wave of patriotic fervour passed over the country, which left its tidemark on Lodge S. Nicholas, as the following extract from a minute of 15th January, 1778, shows:
The R.W.M. reports that the magistrates of Aberdeen had set on foot a subscription for raising a sum of money in order to enable them to raise a regiment or large body of men for his Majestys service in order to enable his Majesty to subdue his rebellious subjects in North America and to restore peace good order and legal government in the American colonies. The R.W.M. and brethren taking the above under their consideration were unanimously of opinion that it was for the honour and interest of this country to use their utmost efforts to quel the said Rebellion and that Freemasons in particular should show themselves zealous in the support of good order and legal government; therefore the R.W.M. and brethren aforesaid did and hereby do unanimously agree to contribute the sum of £15 sterling to enable the Honble. Magistrates of this City to raise a regiment or large body of men for His Majestys service under the name of the Aberdeen Vollanteers (sic).
The offer of the magistrates was not accepted by the Government, however, who would not agree to the raising of any more new regiments until the old regiments were filled up.
At the Quarterly Communication held on 27th March, 1778, it was resolved that the eldest sons of members should be admitted Masons on paying 5s. “as a treat or entertainment to the office-bearers, together with the Grand Lodge dues and the dues payable to the Clerk and Officer, and that younger sons and sons-in-law should be admitted on paying one-half the entry money and the foresaid sum for entertainment, together with the above- mentioned dues. From this it will be seen that while the sweets of office had sometimes a bitter taste, there were occasionally compensating circumstances which made them not altogether to be despised.