There aren’t very many Lodges that can claim to have been founded due to the machinations of international business interests, however, Mersey Lodge is one of the few.
The history of Mersey Lodge is necessarily, well at least initially, entwined with that of Lever Brothers Ltd and its founder William Hesketh Lever (1851 – 1925) later to become Viscount Leverhulme. Lord Leverhulme became involved with Freemasonry through his business. In 1902 he was the first Initiate of the William Hesketh Lever Lodge No. 2916, a Lodge founded by some of his own employees. He went on to become a co-Founder of a number of Lodges and gained Masonic recognition including appointment as Senior Grand Warden of the Grand Lodge of Mark Master Masons of England in 1919.
Leverhulme saw Freemasonry as a useful tool to promote social cohesion and high standards of personal conduct and actively encouraged membership amongst his workforce. He established a Masonic network at Port Sunlight which deliberately reinforced the existing hierarchy within Lever Brothers. Separate Lodges were created for managers, supervisors and workers. Freemasonry was an important instrument in his paternalistic policy for the welfare of his workers.
The birth of Mersey Lodge was a direct result of the merger of Lever Brothers Ltd and Margarine Unie in 1930 and was caused by the relocation of the Lever Brothers Ltd Headquarters in Liverpool to the newly built Unilever House in London. This resulted in many of the staff of Lever Brothers moving as well and this included a group of Freemasons mainly from the Masonic province of West Lancashire who found themselves in London and having difficulty attending meetings of their Mother Lodges
Although they had quickly made some new Masonic contacts in London, the decision was taken to form a new Lodge centred around Unilever employees thereby making it easier for these misplaced Freemasons to continue to meet.
The first official approach to form a new Lodge was made to the United Grand Lodge of England on 24th May 1933 and preparations began in earnest. The first meeting of the 14 Founders of Mersey took place on 11th August 1933 and those present were:
- Herbert Coppen of Royal Alfred Lodge No. 780,
- Bert Griffiths of King’s Friend Lodge No. 293,
- Joseph Blawking of Canonbury Lodge No. 657,
- Hubert Chapman of Sukkur Lodge No.1508,
- Richard Harrison of Stanley Lodge No. 1325,
- Henry McFail of Blundellsands Lodge No. 2289,
- William Ball of Lodge of Unions No.256,
- Charles Sixsmith of Knowsley Lodge No. 3581,
- Leonard Roper of Liverpool Dramatic Lodge No. 1609,
- Ernest Wilkins of Anfield Priory Lodge No. 4039,
- Frederick Dapp of Polytechnic Lodge No. 2847,
- Robert Ottaway of Bon Accord Lodge No. 3750,
- Matthew Hawksworth of Minerva Lodge No. 4002
- Luke Beaumont of St Helens Lodge No. 4121.
At that meeting several decisions were made that were to shape the future and feel of Mersey Lodge amongst which were: the choice of the Lodge Crest, a Liver bird, which is always a subject of interest to visitors of the Lodge as Mersey is a London Lodge and always has been. However, the Crest as with the name is a reminder of where the Lodge founders originated. There is also the “Mersey” Ritual which was originally described as “Emulation with possibly slight variations”. The best way to describe Mersey ritual would be that it is akin to Emulation with the added attraction of Taylor’s movements.
Mersey’s Sponsoring or Parent Lodge was the Royal Alfred Lodge No.780 and due to this fact Mersey has 7 older “sister” Lodges, these being: Ranelagh Lodge No. 834, Dalhousie Lodge No. 865, Rose of Denmark Lodge No. 975, Lodge Loyalty and Charity No. 1584, West Middlesex Lodge No. 1612, Gunnersbury Lodge No. 3268 and Kayhough Lodge No. 3576.
The Petition to form Mersey Lodge was voted approved and signed by the Master and Wardens of Royal Alfred Lodge on the 8th September 1933. As a result Mersey Lodge was Consecrated on 19th January 1934, by the Grand Secretary W. Bro. Sir Colville Smith, CVO, PGW assisted by five Grand Officers who were supported by a further four more Grand Officers. In addition there were 46 visitors. What a night that must have been!
Mersey began its existence being very closely associated with Unilever and in the beginning was actually considered to be the “official” Lodge amongst Unilever employees, sadly this is no longer the case. There was also a contingent of members employed by the East Africa Company which was a division of Unilever. Possibly as a result of this small catchment area it has always been (and remains) a numerically small Lodge, this has contributed to some difficult times in its history, most particularly during the 1960s and 70s.
The difficulties that beset the Lodge in these decades were due in part to bad-luck and personal tragedies amongst the members of the Lodge. In 1958 the reigning Master died whilst in Office, in 1961 the Master Elect died prior to his Installation and no less than five of the Lodge’s most prominent members died between 1967 and 1969. These events marked a bad time for Mersey’s fortunes generally.
This was partly balanced by the arrival of a Policeman, Maurice Wells, who came to Mersey as a Joining member in 1964 and proceeded to bring in several fellow “Officers of the Law”.
In 1975 one of the younger members of the Lodge managed to argue the reinstatement of Mersey’s Lodge of Instruction (closed in 1965) and for a short while it looked as if things were on the up. However, this buoyancy did not last, as between 1976 and 1977 a further four highly esteemed brethren were called from Labour to eternal refreshment.
Things came to a head in 1978, when a Resolution to reduce meetings from 5 to 4 was passed, albeit by a slim majority. The Lodge also passed a Resolution to move its meeting place from Freemasons’ Hall in Great Queen Street (due to rising costs) to Mark Masons’ Hall in St James’ in order to reduce Lodge overheads. The move after 44 years at GQS was not well received. To top things off, the Master Elect that year failed to be Installed due to an overseas posting at short notice.
However, after two, not very happy, years, 1980 was to prove yet another turning point in Mersey’s history. At the October meeting the Secretary, with no warning to the Lodge, gave Notice of Motion to close the Lodge and surrender its Warrant! Luckily a member of the Lodge was so upset by the idea that he passed the news around his contacts, within Mark Masons’ Hall, of the impending closure of Mersey and as a result there was an influx of proposed joining members headed by a Mr Charles Haslar. So when the Motion was voted on, at the November meeting, it was defeated due to the fact that there were 8 prospective joining members waiting to come into the Lodge. The Secretary summarily resigned from the Lodge and has not been seen since.
This led to another reinvigoration of the Lodge along with a new optimism resulting in the subsequent acquisition of a Lodge Banner, which was dedicated on 20th January 1984 in commemoration of the Lodge’s Golden Jubilee and the next 15 years were good ones for Mersey’s fortunes. Despite a small membership the majority were regular attendees and meetings were always excellent occasions.
However, Mersey greeted the turn of the 21st Century in a similar predicament as in the 1980s. In the late 1990s the Lodge membership had fallen below 30, with only a core of around 10 -14 active members attending meetings regularly. This was due to a mixture of ill-health, deaths and indolence amongst some of the members. Meetings were being so poorly attended that, even the sparse amount of Visitors to the Lodge were being routinely approached to fill-in for the Officers of the Lodge.
In 2004, talk was once again turning to the future of the Lodge and the ideas of reducing meetings, amalgamation and even dissolving the Lodge were all discussed. No doubt this was enhanced by the recent deaths of Ray Lee and Tony Croxford both well respected and long-standing members of the Lodge and several resignations. However, after some debate the prospect of the erasure of Mersey Lodge seemed to inflame the passions of the nucleus of the active members and the idea was surprisingly shot down in open Lodge and a new determination to reinvigorate our Lodge emerged.
In 2005, although it was hard to see, Mersey’s fortunes were beginning to turn around, despite, once again, losing yet another of its members, Alan Preddy to the Grand Lodge Above. Mersey welcomed back two members (Mike Martin and Bob Bateman) who had been country members for some time and a new joining member Paul Davison, who was to help with recruitment.
The improvement continued and 2006 saw the Lodge welcoming our first new Initiate, J Moden, since 2002 into the Lodge and this combined with a bit of the “Mersey spirit” returning to the meetings saw us go through quite a happy year.
2007 began with a shake down of the Lodge membership which unfortunately resulted in an exclusion and 2 resignations. However, this was more than balanced by the pleasure of welcoming three new Initiates (Peter Dora, Paul French & Simon Cathcart) into the Lodge and more non-active members coming to meetings (most notably Paul Fabb). We also had the pleasure of celebrating the 40th anniversary of the Initiation of Geoffrey Stokell into Mersey Lodge.
2008 was a mixed year for Mersey we were pleased to welcome back Sam Mchale who had resigned some years earlier and a new Initiate (David Mitchell) unfortunately by the end of the year our re-joining member had to resign again due to ill-health. Jason Moden, our new Initiate from 2006 also resigned as he had to return to Australia and couldn’t really be expected to attend meetings in London. We also lost Peter Doherty, who was the intended Master for 2010, due to personal issues. This brought the membership down to 23.
However and despite this we went into 2009, our 75th Anniversary year, determined to mark well the 75th Installation meeting. It is a proud fact that we did, the meeting was 45 strong, including several of our Country members (Harold Bowley, Peter Kennard, Nick Suther and Chris Pascoe) and guests who it must be admitted outnumbered the members. Ian Monroe was Installed into the Chair in abbreviated form due to him being the Master incumbent. The Lodge meeting was also graced with music from an organ for the first time in several years, we were accompanied by the Honorary organist for the night Roger Freeman. Also in attendance was the Metropolitan Grand Inspector Peter Lewin (along with Metropolitan DC C Bateman) who gave a very interesting presentation to Peter Dora of his Grand Lodge certificate. Mike Martin read this very history to the Lodge, unfortunately some had to be dropped due to the Secretary Ken Rose having read the minutes of the first Mersey Committee meeting. The Festive Board was indeed Festive and enjoyed by all present. The Master’s Song was ably performed by Bob Bateman accompanied by Roger Freeman.