The Worlds oldest warranted Chapters

The 22nd July 2016 marked an important milestone as it was the 250th anniversary of the Supreme Order of the Holy Royal Arch which was the Grand Chapter of the Moderns.


Initially, the Grand Chapter met at a private residence in 1765, before moving to the Turk’s Head in Soho, London. The minute book for the Chapter dated 11th June 1766 records that the Grand Master of the Moderns, the Irish Peer Lord Blayney, who had been Grand Master since 1764 was exulted into the Chapter. Lord Blayney is thought to have first been exulted in America when serving with his regiment which has an “Ancient” lodge attached to it.

At the following meeting of the Grand Chapter on the 22nd July 1766, the ‘Charter of Compact’ was signed by 30 senior members of the Grand Chapter, including Lord Blayney, John Allen, Thomas Dunckerley, James Heseltine, James Galloway, Thomas French and the Grand Secretary Samuel Spencer amongst others. Blayney, Duckworth, Allen and Finch attached their seals to the Charter.

Thomas Dunckerley was late on the scene as regards the planning and execution for the Grand and Royal Chapter. His enthusiasm and personality are in no doubt responsible for his booking of the No. 3 Chapter for Portsmouth at the earliest opportunity. However, he seems not to have been a regular attendee at Royal Arch planning meetings and his No. 3 Chapter got off to a relatively late start in September 1769. John Allen, however, was closely involved at all stages and seems to have leapfrogged all the others by getting the artwork and sealing done for Manchester, Burnley and Colne all on the same day in May, two months before London, three months before Portsmouth, warranted on the 11th August 1769.

The signing of the Charter of Compact officially brought the first Grand Chapter of Royal Arch Masons into existence. The Grand Chapter was not just the first in England, but in the world.

It was not until 1769 that the Grand Chapter issued its first eight warrants to Chapters, two from London and one each from the following towns of Manchester; Portsmouth; Burnley; Colne; Bury and Bristol.

It was agreed at the meeting of Grand Chapter on the 13th January 1769 that the first three Chapters were approved. The Chapter’s numbered one, two and three.
Out of the first eight Chapters, only 5 Chapters remain. The three that no longer exist are:
No. 1. was to a Br. Brooks – “in his own house” in London, the Chapter subsequently became the “Restauration Lodge or the Chapter of the Rock & Fountain, Shiloh”, but ceased working about 1823.

No. 2. The “Euphrates Lodge, or the Chapter of the Garden of Eden”, which met in Manchester. This chapter is known to have been revived in 1788 when it was re-numbered as No. 6. Its last return to Grand Chapter was in 1848 and it was finally erased in 1861.

No. 6. “The Most Sacred Lodge or the Chapter of the Universality”, which met in London became extinct in 1797.

burnley-centreOn the 12th May 1769 two more Chapters were approved by Grand Chapter:

No. 4. – The Bethlehem Lodge, or the Chapter of the Nativity who met at Burnley, and has a warrant dated 12th May 1769 making it one of the oldest warranted Chapters in the world.


The Chapter has always been linked with the Lodge of Silent Temple No. 126 which was established in 1763 when it met at the Hall Inn, Blucher Street, Burnley, Lancashire (long since demolished). The lodge was named in 1807 and now meets at the Masonic Hall, Nelson Square, Burnley.

The Chapter of the Nativity has many historical documents and artefacts, they include examples of the old craft aprons with the red circle and triangle and a unique chapter setting mould also with the red circle and triangle motif on it.

Also warranted on the 12th May 1769 is No. 5 Cana Lodge or the Chapter of the First Miracle, meeting in Colne. This Chapter along with its sister Chapter of the Nativity, are jointly the oldest warranted Chapters in the world.cana-chapter-warrant

The warrant is extremely well preserved. It is written on parchment and decorated with nine equilateral triangles in gold and sepia, spaced at regular intervals in three lines. The ribbon of the seal is red and the seal bears the following inscription: SI. IVNGERE. PORRIS. SIT. TIBI. SCIRE. SATIS. TALIA. Translated this means “if you can join these things together you will know enough” and it is the same motto of the old ‘Hell Fire Club’.

Philip the 1st Duke of Wharton and the 6th Grand Master of the Premier Grand Lodge was a powerful Jacobite politician and for a time a member of the infamous ‘Hell Fire Club’.

Cana’s warrant is signed by Lord Blayney; Rd. Simpkinson (E); Dr. Hughes (N); Jno. Allen (P.S.); Thos. Dixson (S.Or.); Henry Chittick (S.oh); John Brooks (Z); John Macleam (H); Ja. Heseltine (J), and it states’ given under our Hands and the Seal of our Grand and Royal Chapter, this twelfth day of May, A.L., 5773, A.D. 1769.

hole-ith-wallCana Chapter has always been associated with the Royal Lancashire Lodge No. 116, which was established in 1762 and like Cana Chapter met at the Hole in the Wall Inn, Market Street, Colne, Lancashire, until 1797. Incidentally, the Hole in the Wall is still open as a public house.

Cana Chapter’s warrant is signed by Lord Blayney the Grand Master of the Premier Grand Lodge who signed on occasions signed himself the “Grand Master of the Most Excellent Chapter or Fourth Degree”

Royal Lancashire Lodge was named in 1782 and has met at the Masonic Hall, Albert Road, Colne since 1919. The lodge is in possession of several interesting historical documents cana-robesincluding two old York Charges, one dating back to circa 1650 which includes the Apprentices Charge. It also has several Private Lodge Certificates, one dated 24th June 1762, which the Masonic Library in London claims to be the fifth oldest Lodge Certificate in existence.

cana-trracing-boardCana Chapter has many historical documents and artefacts. It has a full set of Principals robes currently on display in the Masonic Hall in Manchester along with aprons with the red circle and
triangle and red pillars and an arch, also old sashes together with headdresses. The traditional crown with Christian symbols around it worn by Joshua, the turban or fez worn by Haggai and the mitre. worn by Zerubbabel. The aprons date from 1783.

cana-principiaCana Chapter has a unique pre-union Tracing Board  and a large seven candle ‘Menorah’ Arch.
Cana Chapter is also in possession of the only Principia outside of Grand Chapter dating back to circa 1769 and thought to have been penned by John Allen.
cana-private-lodge-certificateIn Cana Chapters first minute book there is what may be one of the oldest set of handwritten Royal Arch ‘Rules and Orders’, almost identical to that used by the Ancients.

The following is an extract of the RA Rules and Orders from Cana’s first minute book 1769.
Rules and Orders which are principally to be Observed and Kept by The United Members of the Right Worshipful Society of Royal Arch Masons.

  1. That a Lodge be held in Colne, Each Sunday Six week, or Eight Times in the Year to be completed from next Sunday to Candlemas, May Day, Lammas, and All Saints
  2.  The times of Meeting Shall be precisely at 5.. OClock & Sit till Eight Each Member to spend at Pleasures & put tuppence in the Box for a Fund: & Each Absent Member Shall pay his Dues to the Fund. A Visitor to bear equal Expenses with Members .
  3. The Offices shall be chosen out of the Members On Trinity Sunday which shall be the Festival. Every Person, not Attending who Resides in Town or within 3 miles shall forfeit Sixpence to the Fund – Sichnefs (sickness) Excepted.
  4. Any Person Desirous of Becoming a Member shall Pay for Making Seven shillings & sixpence.

The above rules are almost identical to a set published by the Masonic historian W J Hughan in 1891, which had an additional sentence at the end of the 4th rule ‘For mak’g Ancient 4s. 6d.’. This is thought to have come from the ‘Euphrates Lodge or Chapter of the Garden of Eden’ in 1769 and who met in Manchester.

Cana Chapter carried out the ‘Passing the Veils’ ceremony from 1829 to 1837, although it’s subordinate Chapter “Affability Chapter No. 308” had performed the ceremony from a much earlier date and continued performing the degree up to 1879. In 1837 the staple trade of Colne was going through a difficult transition and many hand-loom weavers were put out of work, poverty and distress were high and the standard of living in the town became very low, so to the fortunes of Cana Chapter mirrored the despair of the town at that time.

Cana Chapter as you can expect has a fairly distinctive and some would say ‘unique’ ritual for both its exultation ceremony and that of its installation, which is quite Christian in flavour.
No. 7. The Lodge of Intercourse or the Chapter of Unanimity linked to the friendly Lodge of Relief No. 42, in Bury, who had to first send three of its Past Masters to the Anchor and Hope Lodge, Bolton in December 1768 were they were “crafted and raised”.” These same three Past Masters “were made Royal Arch Masons” in the following month. All three Bury brethren, Ralph Holt, Elijah Lomax, and James Wood had gone through the chair of their ‘Moderns’ Lodge of Relief, in the neighbouring town of Bury, and yet they had to submit to re-initiation in another ‘Moderns’ lodge’, before they could receive the ‘Arch’ degree.
In November 1769 the same three Brethren were granted a Royal Arch warrant (number 6b issued by the new Grand Chapter) for the Lodge of Intercourse, or Unanimity Chapter.

Two more Chapters were approved by Grand Chapter on the 22nd July 1769. They are:

No. 8. The Lodge of Hospitality or Chapter of Charity meeting in Bristol, now attached to the Royal Sussex Lodge of Hospitality No. 187.
The Bristol Craft Lodge of Hospitality was warranted by the Premier Grand Lodge under a dispensation of 22nd July 1769, which was confirmed by a warrant of 12th August 1769. This is now the Royal Sussex Lodge of Hospitality No. 187 and still meets in Bristol. The Chapter of Charity was given its charter from the Grand Chapter on the 8th December 1769 and bears the same name as the Bristol Craft Lodge to which it is still associated with (Lodge No. 187). Interestingly the Royal Arch Charter authorised the chapter “by the Title of the Lodge of Hospitality or Chapter of Charity,” which was quite strange as it has the same name as the Craft Lodge.

No. 3. The Lodge of Tranquility, or the Chapter of Friendship at Portsmouth. The Chapter was approved by Grand Chapter on the 13th January 1769, but it was not warranted until the 11th August 1769. The Chapter also had to wait until 1st September 1769 to receive their warrant from the Pro. Grand Master Thomas Dunckerley. Dunckerley was always associated with Lodge No. 31, which met at the Three Tuns, Portsmouth.

The above list of Chapters shows that No. 3 was the first of today’s active Chapters to be approved, but Nos. 4 and 5 are the two oldest warranted Chapters.

John Allen was Superintendent in Lancashire and played a significant role in the promotion of the Royal Arch, hence so many Chapters in Lancashire. It must also be acknowledged that some Chapters must have worked under the authority of a dispensation until granted a proper warrant. Whilst the Ancients and some ‘Traditioner’ Craft Lodges attached to the Premier Grand Lodge continued to work the Arch degree in their Lodges.

It is an undoubted fact that Lancashire was the stronghold of Royal Arch Masonry long before the Union of 1813. In the Royal Arch Laws and Regulations of 1796 shows that John Allen was Superintendent over 16 Chapters in Lancashire, whereas London only had 5 Chapters. By 1813 one hundred and twenty Chapters had been chartered to meet in England, Wales and territories overseas. The Royal Arch list of 1823 shows that Lancashire had 38 Chapters to London’s 17.

To stimulate the growth of the Royal Arch the office of Grand Superintendent in and over a Province was introduced in 1778. Thomas Dunckerley was among the first to be appointed, not just to one Province but to eighteen Provinces, from Durham in the North to Cornwall in the South West. John Allen looked after Lancashire and Cheshire and spent up to half his time in the County Palatine of Lancashire. He was entrusted with the legal business of Grand Lodge for over 10 years. Allen also did the conveyance for the land on which Grand Lodge now stands.

Allen was also a very active freemason in the Capital; he was a member of five prestigious London lodges and became the first Lancashire mason to be recorded as having attended Grand Lodge. He went on to attend every Quarterly Communication at Grand Lodge for an unbroken 34 years and acted as the Deputy Grand Master on several occasions.

The oldest known Royal Arch Chapter:
The Chapter of Nativity and Cana Chapter do not claim to be the oldest Royal Arch Chapters, just the oldest Royal Arch Warranted Chapters. The distinction as to the oldest Chapter currently lies with Stirling Rock Royal Arch, which recorded in 1743, that “Mungo Nicol, shoemaker and brother James McEwan, Student of Divinity at Stirling, and being found qualified, they were admitted Royal Arch Masons”. The original records of this event have in the passage of time been lost, however, the committee of the Supreme Grand Royal Arch Chapter of Scotland are of the opinion that the date 1743 was supported by written evidence in 1817.

Even before this we know that in 1732 the Rev. Dr. Desaguliers, the then Deputy Grand Master of the Moderns, introduced three noblemen to the further secrets of the Super Excellent Master at the Duke of Montagu’s home in Surrey, and according to Cryer, “it was the completion of the 3rd Degree”.

The Royal Lancashire Lodge and the Lodge of the Silent Temple worked the Arch degree in their Lodges for many years before they received their Chapter warrants. Just how many years we will never know as records were not kept. What we do know is that many lodges attached to the Premier Grand Lodge in Lancashire and Yorkshire carried on working the ‘Arch’ and other degrees in their lodges, even though Grand Chapter was issuing warrants. Towns such as Bolton, Warrington, Halifax, Wakefield, Sheffield, Darlington and Howarth all worked the Arch Degree in the 1760’s.

Some interesting statistics from Cana Chapter’s archives:

 Between 1781 and 1836 the average age of the 137 Brethren who were Exalted in Cana Chapter was just under 31 years.
 Some 66 Companions were in their 20’s, one was only 20 years of age and there was no Exultees over the age of 50.

On the 18th April 1822, Cana Chapter registered four Companions, they were:

 Robert Riding aged 34 a Manufacturer from Colne
 John Uttley aged 26 a Surgeon from Colne
 William Welding aged 26 a Servant from Towneley Hall
 James Barritt aged 24 a Cotton Spinner, from Holm Mill.

This was typical of the diversity of the Chapters members then and now.

After the union of the Craft Lodges in 1813, the Royal Arch was to some extent, left in limbo. The Royal Arch of the Ancients and that of the Moderns officially amalgamated in 1817 but continued to work their own Arch Degrees without any interference or guidance from the ruling bodies.

Cana Chapter was an integral part of the Royal Lancashire Lodge. The Lodge only received its warrant in 1762, however in 1768 its Master and ultimately Founding First Principle of Cana Chapter, wrote to Secretary of Grand Lodge, stating that the Lodge were pretty well satisfied with the progress made in the first and 2nd steps, but were at a loss to know how we should attain proficient Instruction in the third Step. One might think it a little surprising that in the following year (1769), the Chapter had 14 founding members, all of whom had received the ‘Arch Step’, in the Royal Lancashire Lodge. Yet this lodge had a Private Lodge Certificate dated 24th June 1762, for the 1st and 2nd Degree and the Sublime Degree. One can only assume that the Sublime Degree must have been the Royal Arch.

Interestingly, Nativity Chapter has copies of similar certificates.

Author -Eddie Forkgen
Author -Eddie Forkgen

This paper has been written by Ex. Comp. Eddie Forkgen 17th August 2016 a member of Cana Chapter and Royal Lancashire Lodge.


7 thoughts on “The Worlds oldest warranted Chapters

  1. Can any one help me trace details of my family connections to I think Pendle Lodge in Nelson ?
    My father was Haydn Boothman and his brother was Wilkinson Boothman ( past Worshipful master ?)
    Understand so Lodge May haven amalgamated with other maybe Colne all around late 50 s 60 s ?
    Any help appreciated
    Daughter of Haydn Boothman


  2. Cana chapter now have 5 prospective candidates!
    it has more members than many craft lodges.
    it is a splendid happy chapter to be a member of.
    Jack the janitor.


  3. Congratulations Eddie, interesting stuff as usual. I’m always amazed at the history we find not only on our doorstep but in the drawers and cupboards of Colne Masonic Hall. It’s a joy to be amongst it and to have the opportunity to learn more. Thanks for making it that little bit easier.


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