The following pages are a direct translation from the book “History of the Lodge S. Nicholas” written by Bro. James Speid Benson who at the time of writing (1919) was the Lodge Secretary and Provincial Grand Secretary, Aberdeen City Provincial Grand Lodge.
odge S. Nicholas, Aberdeen, now No. 93 on the Roll of the Grand Lodge of Scotland, was erected and constituted by Charter from Grand Lodge, dated 8th August, 1763.
At that date there were already in existence two other Lodges in Aberdeen, viz. The Lodge of Aberdeen, the records of which go back to 1670, although it is believed to have existed for nearly two centuries prior, and S. Machar (originally the Lodge of the Old Town), which was in existence in 1749, and is probably of much more ancient date.
Masonry, however, flourished in Aberdeen long before the earliest records of either of these Lodges. Mr. A. M. Munro, in his Notes on the History of Masonry in Aberdeen, states that Bishop Alexander de Kininmund, who succeeded to the Episcopal See in 1357, brought masons from Melrose to rebuild the Cathedral, which was then in a ruinous condition, and that these masons are said to have first introduced S. Johns Masonry into Aberdeen.
Frequent reference is made to the masownys of the Luge in the Council Registers of the Burgh (the earliest being in 1483), and the craftsmen were closely identified with the building of most of the more venerable public buildings in and around Aberdeen.
When speculative Masonry began to be practised is unknown, but the earliest records extant of the Lodge of Aberdeen show that so far back as 1670 the non- operative element had already a strong hold.
The earlier meetings of the Masons for the practice of their secret arts were held at the Bay of Nigg, near the Girdleness, a place which in those days would be sufficiently secluded for the purpose. About the beginning of the eighteenth century, however, the first Lodge house of which authentic information can be got was built on a piece of ground called Futtiesmyre situated between the City and Footdee on a site now occupied by the gasworks. It was a lonely enough spot then, surrounded by sand dunes, the silence broken only by the moan of the sea and the scream of the seagull, and here, free from the interruption of cowans and intruders, the brethren met until in the year 1754 the New Inn, which stood on a site now occupied by the head offices of the North of Scotland and Town and County Bank, was built. The Lodge of Aberdeen met here for over eighty years until 1839, when the property was sold, but an interesting link with those days exists in the well known Lodge Walk, laid out and feued by the Lodge of Aberdeen, who still draw the feu-duties from the properties in the Walk.
Although Lodge S. Nicholas cannot boast of an existence the commencement of which is lost in the mists of antiquity, she can nevertheless present a pretty respectable age. As already stated, her Charter is dated 8th August, 1763. I often wonder how many of the brethren ever avail themselves of the invitation conveyed in the well-known words which have been addressed at some time or other to each one of us: This is our Charter or Warrant from the Grand Lodge of Scotland; it is open for your inspection now or at any other time when the Lodge is open; yet apart from its 140 odd years of age, the parchment is interesting and worthy of perusal. It bears to have been granted on the application of Christopher Fry, James Govier, James Strachan, Robert Williamson, John Nicoll, William Walker, Patrick Williamson, Robert Pirie, Andrew Rogers, Lewis Rogers, John Jackson, all Masters; William Watt, Fellowcraft; Alexander Stewart, David Moncure, Mathew Rea, Apprentices, all free and accepted masons, belonging to or residing in the City of Aberdeen.
Who or what these brethren were does not appear, but as the Charter is granted in respect of the Petitionersâ great distance from their respective mother Lodges,” they were evidently strangers who had come to settle in Aberdeen, many of them, judging from their names, being English men. The number assigned to the Lodge at its erection was 117.
* Note. On 5th August, 1816, the 266 Lodges then on the roll were authorised to assume new numbers in place of the numbers originally held these continued in use until 1835, when the present numbers commenced. The old or original numbers were carried on along with the new enumeration until 1848
On 24th October, 1763, the rules relative to the admission of candidates were adopted. These provided that applicants for initiation should present a written petition, while a similar petition was again required prior to passing and raising. The fees payable were on initiation 10s. 6d. to the Funds, 6d. to each of the Tyler and Clerk, 1s. to the Clerk for a diploma (which was granted by the Lodge), each brother to furnish his own parchment and ribbons, and 2s. 6d. for registration in the Books of Grand Lodge, while on being passed and raised the Candidate had again to pay 10s. 6d. to the Funds and 6d. to the Tyler and Clerk, the total fees payable for the three degrees being thus 6s. 6d. On 1st January, 1789, however, these were raised to £1 11s. 9d.
General meetings were held quarterly, on the 27th of March, June, and September, and on S. John’s Day, when the annual election of office-bearers took place. It is interesting to note that for many years the only office-bearers recorded as elected were the R.W.M., Senior and Junior Wardens, Secretary and Clerk, Treasurer, and two Stewards. At the quarterly communications a collection of 1s. was taken from every member for poor and indigent brethren and 1d. each for the Charity Fund. Special meetings were held as required for the conferring of degrees and the transaction of occasional business.
On 23rd November, 1763, at a general meeting of the brethren, the rules for the government of the Lodge were adopted. These were twelve in number, and as several are of an interesting character, their principal provisions may be briefly given:
- The first provides for the opening and closing of the Lodge with prayer.
- The second regulates the conduct of discussions in Lodge.
- The third forbids a member to hearken to another so as to instruct him during the time of the Lecture, it being the business at that time of the master for to give instructions, nor to use any uncomely gestures.
- The fourth forbids a member to pronounce any manner of oath during the meeting, providing that if he doth not reform that wicked and pernicious practice after being admonished three times he shall be excluded from the society.
The necessity for these two rules would suggest that the meetings of the Lodge must sometimes have been of a lively nature.
- Rule five provides for the expulsion of members of immoral character.
- The sixth rule requires office-bearers to be unblameable and be an example of virtue to the fraternity.
- The seventh reads: No member is to get drunk or to stay too late at drink after the Lodge is closed.
- Rule eight requires the brethren when met to behave themselves as in the presence of Almighty God.
- The ninth rule enjoins the brethren to remember to keep the Sabbath day holy.
- The tenth forbids the raising or spreading of slander concerning brethren.
- The eleventh enjoins the brethren to walk by that Golden Rule of Morality to do unto others as we would that others should do unto us and
- Rule twelve forbids the brethren to speak evil of the King or of any in authority under him whether in Church or State.
These rules are engrossed in the Great Book, and are followed by a lengthy charge and exhortation to the brethren to promote love, harmony, unity, and concord in the Order, and to lead upright and virtuous lives.
The first office-bearers were chosen from the original fifteen, and were: R.W.M., Christopher Fry; S.W., Robert Williamson; J.W. James Williamson; Treasurer, Robert Morrison; and last but not least the Secretary, John Nicoll.
This is how the Aberdeen Journal of the time records the first annual general meeting of the Lodge:
On Thursday, being S. John’s Day, the Freemasons of the newly erected Lodge of S. Nicholas met at the house of T. Kinaird, when they unanimously made choice of the following office-bearers for the year ensuing,viz.: The Right Worshipful Mr. C. F. Fry, Master; Robert Williamson, Senior Warden; James Williamson, Junior Warden; Robert Morrison, Treasurer; John Nicoll, Secretary. They then marched in procession through the principal streets of the city, and after dinner they gave to the Treasurer of the infirmary One pound for the benefit of that useful charity; and through the whole day conducted themselves with that decent cheerfulness and unanimity, which are the characteristics of the fraternity.
Thanks to the assiduity and originality of Brother Nicoll, the first Secretary, the earlier records of the Lodge, from which these notes are compiled, prove very entertaining reading.
On a cursory examination of the Minute books what strikes one first is the curious nature of the callings of most of the brethren initiated. As the result of the great growth and development of mechanical power during the last century, many of the trades followed by the brethren are now unknown, while in other cases the name of the calling is changed. We have, for instance, woolcombers, flaxdressers, maltsters, vintners, weavers, twist millers, lax fishers, cloth merchants, dysters, hookmakers, mariners, threed makers, porters at the shore, and soldiers, for even at this early date in her history S. Nicholas was the military Lodge, a title of which she has always been justly proud.
On 27th December, 1764, three additional rules for the government of the Lodge were passed. The first provides that on all occasions when the Lodge is met for business no member shall speak but in his order, and by permission of the Master, and shall not give unmannerly or impertinent language to our R.W.M., etc. Neither is any member to curse or swear within the Lodge under fine of 1s. That this rule was not only necessary but rigorously enforced is evidenced by recurring entries in the cash and minute books, of which the following are examples:
1770, October 30, To 1s. for Adam Frain’s fine for swearing on 3 Aug. last.
1771, May 11, Alexr. Cooper fined 1s. for swearing of an oath; Alexr. Gray fined 2s. for swearing 2 oaths.
1771, December 27, Two members were fined 2s. each for swearing. Another member was taken notice of for swearing also, and is ordered to be fined.
1775, March 27, Wm. Merchant fined 1s. for cursing.
I do not know what distinction there is between swearing and cursing, but it is evident that both were luxuries to be indulged in only by the wealthier brethren.
Rules two and three provided for inflicting a similar penalty on brethren who talked of Lodge business outside, and on brethren who, hearing a brother talking Lodge business outside, failed to report it.
These three rules are signed by all the brethren, 48 in number, which shows that during the sixteen months of its existence the Lodge had been fairly successful.
At the annual general meeting held on S. John’s Day, 1766, three articles were adopted regulating the payment of sick and funeral benefit. These were briefly:
- Brethren who have paid into the Charity Stock for two years and are free on the books to get 3s. a week should they be sick or meet with accident. This sum was varied from time to time, however, according to the amount of funds in hand to meet the claims. Sometimes it fell as low as is. 6d. a week.
- Similarly, £2 was to be paid for funeral expenses of brethren dying; and
- Widows of brethren were to get an annuity of £1.
These provisions seem to have been abused, for on 27th December, 1767, a new article was added providing that relief is not to be given to brethren unless they are in real necessity, nor where an accident happens to any member through the bad effects of drink, fighting, or quarrelling.
At the quarterly communication of 29th September, 1769, a rule was adopted, the reading of which brings to the mind’s eye a vivid picture of a meeting of the Lodge in those days. It provides that members entering Lodge without their aprons shall be fined 4d., and a similar fine is inflicted on brethren who have his or their head or heads shaven and come into the Lodge without having his or their wigg or wiggs on his or their head or heads, but shall, on the contrary, be found to have cape or capes on his or their head or heads. This quaint rule, which has fallen into desuetude no doubt from the fact that the brethren of the present day are only too anxious to keep his or their wig or wigs on his or their head or heads, without being compelled to do so, concludes by stating that it is expected that every member should come as clean and decent into the Lodge as possible, from which one infers that cleanliness was not always one of the virtues practised by our predecessors.
The funds of the Lodge had now reached so healthy a condition that the brethren purchased on 20th June, 1769, a croft or ridge of land 011 the east side of the Old Town of Aberdeen for the price of £98. The feu-duty was only 2s. 2½ d., and the croft was let to James Cantlie at a rental of £2 a year, truly not a large return for the money. This croft was sold in 1773, however, to the Shoemakers Incorporation for £106, the money being required to pay off the debt on the new hull after referred to.
Continuation of our history can be found here.