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Brief History of Royal Arch Masonry in Renfrewshire to 1918

 The first hint of Royal Arch Masonry was in King Street, Greenock in 1789 in the Gardeners’ Hall.  However, it would take another 65 years before the idea of a province would take shape.  In 1812, Greenock Encampment No.20 was consecrated by the Royal Grand Conclave in the Masons’ Arms Tavern, and this body also conferred the Royal Arch degree prior to the formation of the SGRAC in 1817.  Of the first 10 officer-bearers, 8 were Past Principals of Greenock RAC.

Due to new chapters forming and the difficulties of travel, SGRAC granted its first Commission to constitute a Provincial Grand Chapter in December, 1865 with MEC George Walker-Arnott being installed as Grand Superintendent (GS) of the Provincial Grand Chapter of the Western Districts the following year.  He was the well known professor at Glasgow University who was First Grand Principal 1856 – 59, DPGM of Glasgow and acting Depute GM of the Royal Order.

At this time, the province consisted of 10 chapters with 1 in Greenock, 3 in Ayr, 5 in Glasgow and 1 in Stirling so still quite a wide area.  Another chapter, Paisley RAC No.76, was added in 1856.  Without going into details, following a dispute with two Ayr chapters, MEC Walker-Arnott resigned as GS in 1862 and this effectively killed off the idea of a province.

As a result of the rift, a number of chapters including Paisley broke away from SGRAC to form The General Grand Chapter of Scotland (and the Colonies) who then formed 3 chapters in 1865 including Sir William Wallace No.14 (now No.109), Paisley No.112 and Baron of Renfrew (now No.114).  Renfrewshire now had 5 chapters and was the largest area excluding Glasgow.

In the 1890s, the Provincial Grand Chapter of the Lower Ward of Lanarkshire (which included Glasgow and Renfrewshire) was formed under Maj. F. W. Allan GS who became the PGMRE in 1903.  This prompted moves to start a province for Renfrewshire which eventually came into being in 1906 in the Paisley Masonic Hall. In the High Street.

The ceremony was carried out by the Depute First Grand Principal Alfred Arbuthnot Murray, later Grand Scribe E, who famously stated:

Our Royal Arch Degree is founded upon a story as old as the hills, but as new as every day on which the sun rises.

He installed the first set of Provincial Grand Office Bearers:

·       Capt. Tom Ross (289 & 67))                                    GC

·       Col. Charles Scott (17, famous ship builder)            Depute

·       William Goudie (76)                                                 PG H

·       Robert Blair (109)                                                    PG J

·       Robert Hall (76)                                                       PG Scribe E

·       Peter Fletcher (109)                                                 PG Scribe N

·       Charles Bradbury (76)                                              PG Treasurer

·       James Graham (17)                                                  PG Chancellor

·       Alexander Jack (289)                                               PG 1st Soj

·       Fred Tulloch (17)                                                     PG 2nd Soj

·       Norman McKean (76, well known author)                PG 3rd Soj.

Strangely no one from Baron of Renfrew RAC.  The OB’s had to provide their own jewels (as shown below) and this might be the reason why some jewels have never existed although in 2022 we hope all OBs will have jewels while the GS and Depute provided robes, aprons and collars.

The following year Provincial Grand Chapter (PGC) consecrated Rockmount No.367 with Col. Z. H. Hays as First Principal and assumed supervision of Royal Ark Masonry which worked under a chapter’s charter.  One of the first duties for the GS was to visit chapters with copies of the standard ritual – interesting to see how that went down with old chapters who had been working for a while.

Prior to 1908, all degrees were conferred in one night (common until about 1990s), it was called the Holy Royal Arch (as in England), it was agreed that June & July meetings would stop and the Mark was conferred rather than an affiliation although this became common a few years later.  It is unclear, even from the agreement between Grand Lodge and SGRAC whether it was necessary for a candidate who had already received his Mark in the lodge whether he could go straight to the EM degree.  Variations in this was common!

The war years were not uneventful for RA Masonry – Greenock No.17 had 89 candidates in 1915 and 184 in 1918, numbers which are unlikely to be repeated.  In 1917, Port Glasgow General Chapter was consecrated in Brown Street in the Port as No. 407.

To conclude as a point of interest.  The following was taken from the minutes of 109 in 1867 and was standard workings in the chapter until SGRAC changed the Constitution & Laws:

  • ·           Opened as a lodge of Mark Masters with master and wardens to conduct the business
  • ·           Candidate received the Past Master degree (defunct by 1870) & presided in the Chair as master for ~5 minutes
  • ·           EM lodge opened and candidate acknowledged as a Most Excellent Master
  • ·           Chapter then opened and RA degree conferred.