Brief Historical Sketch of The Operative Lodge of Dumfries, No.140

Freemasonry was first represented in this district by Lodge Kilwinning, which was founded in 1575 and was granted its Charter in 1750.

A Journeyman’s Lodge was formed in Dumfries and received its Charter in 1754, just four years after “Ye Old Lodge” received its Charter but the distinctive Charter of the new Lodge was soon allowed to disappear by the admission of members who were not Journeyman or Tradesman and eventually many of the members joined other lodges. The Lodge was re-organised retaining their old number, but altering the title of the Lodge to Thistle Lodge, in the year 1775, some of the members of the Journeymen Lodge, with the addition of a number of other Brethren who were Operative as well as Speculative Masons, decided to petition the Grand Lodge in Scotland with the view of opening a new Lodge in Dumfries open only to those who could build and hew, under the title of ‘The Operative Lodge of Dumfries’. A handwritten postscript attached to the Charter states ‘Dated 5 Feb. 1776’.

In 1835 the present numbers commenced, with Operative being changed from 138 to 140. It is unfortunate that the minutes of the first meeting of the Lodge are not extant. The first minute book has suffered from damp and is therefore in a very dilapidated state. There is enough to show us that the members of that period conducted the Lodge business in a time honoured manner. The regulations dated 7th June 1776 are 19 in number and these were added to and confirmed by the Justices of the Peace again in 1810. The amendments to these regulations in 1810 are prefaced by these lines :-

Father of light and life! Thou God Supreme!
Oh! Teach me what is good! Teach me thyself
Save me from folly, vanity and vice,
From every low pursuit; and feed my soul
With knowledge, conscious peace,
and virtue pure,
Sacred, substantial, never fading bliss.

On 11th July 1777 “being assembled, they walked in procession from the Trades’ Hall to lay the foundation stone of the Dumfries Infirmary”.

On St John’s Day, 27 December 1780 “went to church and heard sermon”. It was then resolved that from that date the election of Office Bearers should take place on St John’s Day instead of St Andrew’s Day and that resolution has been carried out, more or less, ever since.

Burns's Mausoleum
The Operatives were early at work on the morning of 5th June 1815 for men are informed that they were “called for six o’clock in the morning being the day that the stone of our worthy Brother’s (Robert Burns) Mausoleum to be laid”. The various Lodges on that day met each in there own Lodge Rooms and proceeded to the New Church where they were arranged in due form and proceeded to St Michael’s churchyard and the first stone was laid by the Provincial Grand Master, William Miller, younger, of Dalswinton.

Grand Lodge Dues
The Lodge would seem to have been in arrears with their dues to Grand Lodge in 1823 and it was evident that unless these were paid there was every chance of the Lodge being removed form the roll. These arrears were an accumulation for eleven or twelve years. The Brethren responded to the call, and three months later the Provincial Grand Master intimated that a settlement had been obtained with the Grand Lodge and a clear discharge of any demands against the ‘Operative’ Lodge was given. The Provincial Grand Master on this occasion was presented with the thanks of the Lodge for his obtaining the settlement. In his reply he “gave the Lodge suitable advice to remember the past embarrassment and study to see that their accounts were kept regular with Grand Lodge”.

Carlisle Lodge
Perhaps the most interesting part of the history of this Lodge was the formation of a branch in Carlisle and permission was obtained under Certificate of Sanction, by order of Geo. Blamire Esq., Provincial Grand Master (Signed and Sealed) CHRIST. SPENCER, Provincial Grand Secretary.

The first meeting under this dispensation was held on 28 January 1825 when several Freemasons “were admitted members of our Lodge, being Operative Masons and of good character, well recommended by a member of the Lodge” and on the meeting of the following day several other Masons were Initiated and after this “business was settled, it was suggested by Bro. John Thomson Master, the propriety of establishing a branch of the Operative Lodge of Dumfries in Carlisle which meet with the approbation of all the members present and order given to take the necessary steps for carrying the same into effect”.

A month later it is recorded that the Lodge met (in Dumfries) to receive the authority of the Provincial Grand Master for this step and a number of Carlisle Brethren were deputed to open and hold a Lodge according to the disposition granted, Bro. David Dunbar being elected Master. The branch, for a few years regularly sent a statement of the doings in that city and in the first year some 24 Entrants are recorded. The second year was not so successful, only 10 Entrants being recorded and no further mention is made of the doings of the Branch, so we may presume that it either became defunct or was merged in some other Lodge. The very nature of the disposition was against the venture being more than tentative, but the Craftsmen of the period are to be commended on their effort to extend the usefulness of the Fraternity to their fellows over the Border.

Dormant Lodge
The ‘Operative’ Lodge continued in a fairly prosperous condition for several years, but the transactions of the Brethren are not on record for a period from 1834 to 1837 and again from 1837 to 1858, although from memorandum it would seem that a meeting was held in 1847 to elect Office Bearers. A Marginal note stated—Lodge Colours in 1848 Dark Blue and Light Blue. The Lodge having become dormant during these years, an application was made to Grand Lodge for permission to re-open it, and on St John’s Day 1858, the Brethren resumed labour and were convened for the purpose of electing Office Bearers and arrange for the carrying on of the work of Masonry. Bro. William Coupland was elected Master and the continuity of the Lodge has been since maintained.

The Brethren took an active part in the proceedings at Burns’ Centenary. On that day, the foundation stone of the Mechanics’ Hall was laid with Masonic Honours and while public dinners were held, the Operatives met together and celebrated the anniversary with true Masonic ceremony.

On 11 May 1866, the foundation stone of the New Greyfriars’ Church was laid by Bro. Henry Inglis, Sub Grand Master, and a deputation from Grand Lodge of Scotland, in compliance with a request made by the Magistrates of Dumfries. Lodges from all areas were represented. Fellowcrafts from Operative Lodge were used.

The Operatives were again at duty on 30 July 1867, when they assisted the Provincial Grand Master, Bro. Lauderdale Maitland, to lay the foundation stone of a new church being erected in Penpont.

The Provincial Grand Lodge visitation in 1867 appears to have been a noteworthy one.

In 1869 previous to the ceremony of laying the foundation stone of the Infirmary, the following request being made, which is of considerable interest as setting forth the claim of the Operatives to certain rights in connection with such functions. “The Master stated that he had been at a meeting of the Provincial Committee, when they asked him as a matter of courtesy if the Operative Lodge would oblige Bro. Riddick by allowing him to carry the silver trowel that was to be presented to the Provincial Grand Master on the occasion of laying the foundation stone of the Infirmary, and that at all times henceforth the Operative Lodge should still hold their power to carry the tools and should not be asked again for such a favour.

Minutes to that effect have been entered in their books, when, after consideration, it was agreed to grant the request”. The ceremony referred to was duly performed on the 16 September 1869 with the customary services.

This record, imperfect in some points perhaps, is one that the Operative Lodge may well be proud of. Times of trial and periods of depression there have been, but whether in prosperity or in the cold shade of dark days there has been the broad spirit of charity in the doings of the members.

In a town like this, with the building trade fluctuating as it does, there must always be a difficulty in obtaining members to a purely Operative Lodge. The advantages to be reaped are so many that it is a pity that all Operative Masons should not come under the banner of the Craft, as it would often be of the greatest service and assistance to them.

So far as I can glean from scanning the lists of Lodges in England, Ireland and abroad, the name of ‘Operative’ is peculiar to Scottish Lodges.

No Other Trades?
On several occasions, suggestions have been made that the Lodge Charter of No 140 might be amended or broken, so that craftsmen of kindred trades could be eligible for membership. But in the face of the testimony shadowed forth in this chronicle, I for one, would be sorry to see the distinctive character of the Lodge Destroyed; and I have never heard any valid reasons advanced which would make me desirous of seeing a change. Let the Brethren take heart and show by their doings that Masonry makes them better men and citizens; and I make bold to say that the example of good lives will do much to revive the Lodge and raise it to a greater state of usefulness and beneficence than it has ever reached before. The nobility and aims of Masonry have stood the ordeal of years and it is to be hoped, and is desired by all Brethren of Sister Lodges, that the future of this Lodge and it’s destiny may be one of service to the Craft and a continued blessing to its members.
The Operative Lodge again officiated at the laying of the foundation stone of the new Post Office in Dumfries on 15 October 1887 and we again find them performing their particular duty at the laying of the foundation stone of the Masonic Hall in George Street on 23 November 1889, the hall was Consecrated on 28 November 1890 by Brother F. C. Villiers Provincial Grand Master.

American Move?
On 12 March 1888 a meeting was called to enable Alex Kirk to be proposed, balloted and seconded and he was then initiated, passed to the second and raised to the third all at the same meeting. The reason for this being that Brother Kirk was due to leave for America on 15 March. However, later in our history we discover that Bro. Kirk did not go to America and indeed was installed as Master in 1894.

On 26 May 1894, ten Operative members carried the tools at the laying of the foundation stone of the new Public School in Annan. Brother Johnston Douglas Provincial Grand Master performing the ceremony.

On 1 April 1895 the first By-Laws of the Lodge were formed which were approved by Grand Lodge on 30 April. The initiation fee being £2.2’s.0d (£2.10), Test fees were 4\- (20p) per year. Brother Johnston Douglas laid the foundation stone of Dumfries Academy on 21 September 1895 and on 11 July 1896 he laid the foundation stone of the present Greyfriars Parish Church.

Other Trades
1st June 1904, a new law was passed to include operatives from sister building trades—Joiners, Slaters, Plumbers, Plasterers, Painters and Architects now eligible to join.

On 10 February 1906 The Operative Brethren attended and carried tools at laying of stone at Castledykes to commemorate the taking of Dumfries Castle by Robert the Bruce in 1306.

On 18 September 1912 the foundation stone at the County Buildings, English Street was laid by Marquis of Tullibardine, Grand Master Mason.

The trowel used by him was presented to Operative Lodge, which is still preserved in it’s case.

On 28 October 1918 new By-Laws were submitted to and approved by Provincial Grand Lodge. The By-Laws admitted Glaziers, Heating Engineers, Lathers, Tile layers, Stone Planers, Electrical Engineers and Quarrymen.

On 27 June 1925 there was the laying of the foundation stone of the New Post Office. This was laid with full Masonic Rites. The working tools were carried by Operative members.

In 1925 the Lodge decided to purchase new Regalia for the Tri-Jubilee, which would take place the following year. They purchased 27 Dress Aprons for Office Bearers, Gauntlets for the Master and Wardens with name of Lodge and Emblems of Office, 3 sash’s for the Master and Wardens and 5 Cornucopia Jewels and Collarettes.

The Tri-Jubilee (150 years) was celebrated with a banquet in the Imperial Restaurant to which there was a good turnout.

Lodge 1289
On 11 January 1928 the Master intimated that one of our members, Bro. Hamilton Jackson had been installed as Master of Lodge 1289, Kirkmuirhill, of which he was a founder member. There is still a very strong relationship with Lodge 1289 today. In 1923 the Operative Lodge took part on the occasion of the first Guid Nychburris (Good Neighbours) Festival to be held in the town.

The Operative members took part in a historical pageant depicting various historical events in the history of Dumfries.

Robert Burns 200 Years
In honour of the Burns Bi-centenary celebrations in June 1995, there was a Town Lodges Meeting held which was attended by Brother The Right Honourable The Lord Burton, Grand Master Mason, Grand Lodge of Scotland, Provincial Grand Lodge, and all the Town Lodges.

The Robert Burns Bi-Centenary took place, with Masons from all over the world congregating on Dumfries to take part in a procession, which went through the streets of Dumfries. After the Procession which was led by Brother The Right Honourable The Lord Burton, Grand Master Mason, and a large deputation from Grand Lodge, which culminated in the laying of wreaths at Burns Mausoleum, the Brethren, reported at numbering more than 600, assembled back at the Masonic Hall for Harmony, which was enjoyed by all.

225th Anniversary
In 1999 The Operative Lodge. 140 was visited by a deputation from several German Lodges. This visitation was then reciprocated in 2000 with members of Operative Lodge 140 and other Town Lodges travelling to Germany.

On Saturday 10th February 2001 we celebrated our 225th anniversary. this meeting was very well attended with 150 Brethren attending, including a large Deputation from the German lodges and a small deputation from Grand Lodge