A Brief History of the Province

Provincial Masonry took its rise in the mid eighteenth century, a few years after the formation of Grand Lodge in 1717. The original Grand Lodge was based in London and comprised entirely of London lodges. Gradually however, its authority spread throughout the country. For the efficient regulation and administration of the Craft in the provinces, it was necessary for the Grand Master to have local representation. The first Provincial Grand Master was appointed for Cheshire in 1725.

The Masonic Province of Hampshire came into being on February 28th 1767 with the appointment of the man who must surely be the most famous Provincial Grand Master of them all, Thomas Dunckerley. An enterprising and resourceful fellow from his earliest days, he ran away to sea at the age of ten. He saw twenty-six years service in the Royal Navy, and took part in the siege of Quebec in 1759. He left the Royal Navy at the age of 39 in 1763 to become a barrister and was later commissioned into the South Hampshire Militia. Reputed to be the natural son of George II, Dunckerley was eventually granted an allowance from the Privy Purse. This enabled him to devote himself to his great passion in life, Freemasonry. He had been initiated into the Three Tuns Lodge No. 35 (later known as the Lodge of Antiquity No. 28) in Portsmouth at the age of 29 and it was to be only fourteen years later the Grand Master appointed him as the first Provincial Grand Master for the Province of Hampshire.

At the time of his appointment, Dunckerley presided over eight lodges:

  • Three Tuns No. 35, Portsmouth
  • Royal Oak No. 242, Portsmouth Common
  • Red Lion No. 278, Gosport
  • Kings Arms No. 291, Portsmouth
  • Havant No. 298
  • Stubbington No. 302
  • Ringwood No. 318
  • Hilsea No. 323

Of these only Ringwood No. 318 is still working today, as Lodge of Unity No. 132. The first new lodge consecrated by Thomas Dunckerley was New Inn Lodge No. 405 at Christchurch which is known today as Hengist Lodge No. 195.

Observant Hampshire masons may well be asking “But what of our other venerable lodges, Lodge of Economy No. 76 and Royal Gloucester No. 130? Surely they must have been in existence at that time?” The answer is that there were two Grand Lodges established in England in the eighteenth century, the Premier Grand Lodge (sometimes known as the “Moderns”) and the Antients Grand Lodge. It was not until 1813 that unification took place to form the United Grand Lodge of England. Both Economy and Royal Gloucester had been warranted under the Antients and did not initially form part of Dunckerley’s Province of Hampshire.

On the Isle of Wight, old lodges still working are Medina Lodge No. 35, which moved to Cowes from London in 1761, followed a little later by “Antient” lodges Albany No. 151 and East Medina No. 175.

In those days the Isle of Wight was a separate Masonic province in its own right. Thomas Dunckerley became its first Provincial Grand Master in 1772. It remained a separate, if small, Province for almost a hundred years until it was amalgamated with Hampshire on the appointment of W.W. Bramston Beach as Provincial Grand Master in 1869.

Thomas Dunckerley was a tireless promoter of Freemasonry and Grand Lodge, also becoming at one time or other Provincial Grand Master of Essex, Dorset, Wiltshire, Bristol, Gloucester, Somerset and Herefordshire. He was one of the prime architects of the Provincial Grand Lodge system we know today. He died at his home in Portsmouth in 1795.

Dunckerley was followed by a succession of distinguished brethren who have been appointed as Provincial Grand Master for this Province. The complete roll is given below:

Thomas Dunckerley 1767
Lord Charles Montague 1776
Captain Michael Henry Pascal 1784
Thomas Dunckerley 1786
Colonel Sherborne Stewart 1795
Sir William Champion de Crespigny, Bart 1819
John Storey Penlease, M.P. 1832
The Admiral of the Fleet, Sir Lucius Curtis, Bart. K.C.B. 1840
Thomas Dunckerley 1772
Sir Leonard W. Holmes, Bart 1812
Charles, 1st Earl of Yarborough 1826
John Simeon 1847
Thomas Willis Fleming 1852
Rt. Hon. William Wither Bramston Beach, M.P. 1869
Sir Augustus F. Webster, Bart 1901
The Rt. Hon. The Earl of Malmesbury 1923
W. Attenborough, M.B., B.S. 1950
Maj. Gen. R.L. Bond, C.B., C.B.E., D.S.O., M.C., Hon. F.R.A.M. 1964
Rt. Rev. J. L. Phillips, M.A., D.D. 1974
T.B. Langton, M.C. 1978
James E. Bullen 1986
Alan D. Chun, M.B.E. 1991
Ernest F.R. Moss 1998
Brian C. Bellinger 2003
Michael J. Wilks 2010
Jonathan C. Whitaker * 2020

* Assumed control of the Province in May 2020, and installed as Provincial Grand Master in July 2021

The Province has now been in existence for well over two hundred years and much has happened in that time. Brethren who are interested in learning more are recommended to read “Freemasonry in Hampshire and the Isle of Wight” by W. Bro. F.D. Laugharne P.P.S.G.W which was published in 1991. Copies may be purchased at a cost of £6.50, including p & p, from the Provincial Offices, 85 Winchester Road, Chandlers Ford, Hants, SO53 2GG. This web page is based on the information contained in that book.

If you would like to learn more about Provincial and Lodge history, please visit our dedicated website here: http://www.hantsandiowprovincialhistory.co.uk/