It was a double night of celebration at the installation ceremony of Minerva Lodge No 4002 at Liverpool Masonic Hall. Not only was it the installation of Jack Poller as WM of Minerva Lodge, but it also gave those remaining brethren who had been members of the now defunct Marlborough Lodge No 1620, a chance to come together and discuss old times. When Marlborough Lodge had returned its warrant in 2014, it was a sad and disappointing period for all those concerned, but through the goodwill and accord of the brethren of Minerva Lodge, a new home was offered. Those who chose to move into Minerva Lodge found a ready-made abode and as events have proved, a very happy and successful one.
Marlborough Lodge had its warrant issued on 20th May 1876 and consecrated on the 13th September of that year. The first meetings were held in Marlborough Terrace, Tuebrook, from whence the lodge took its name, before moving into nearby Derby Hall and then eventually to Liverpool Masonic Hall, Hope Street in 1904. 10 years later saw the outbreak of World War I and it is known at least eight members of the lodge paid the ultimate sacrifice, but the lodge also had a ‘Titanic’ connection of a very unusual nature.
This story begins with Oswald George James, a seafarer, who had been the master of Marlborough Lodge in 1899. Travelling on the Atlantic route, he was a frequent visitor to the eastern seaboard and at the beginning of 1912 had been visiting a number of lodges in Boston, a town in the state of Massachusetts, USA. During his visit, he was presented with a gavel by the Grand Master of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts Everett Benton, for use by Marlborough Lodge and when returning to England was accompanied by several members from lodges within Massachusetts.
The Grand Master, in placing the gavel in the hands of Oswald James, accompanied the presentation with the following remarks: “The wood from which this gavel was made was brought down from the Forest of Lebanon, by members of the lodge in Beirut, Syria. Briefly, the history of these logs is as follows. In 1910, when I had the privilege of being at the head of Massachusetts Consistory, it seemed to be appropriate in the degree work to have some cedar logs from the Forest of Lebanon. Herbert Austin, whom some of you brethren know, had charge of the details of this degree and I spoke to him about it and told him if it was possible he would secure some logs from that far off country. He immediately set to work to find some company – if there was such in Boston – to obtain these, and he found there was a concern on Kneeland Street that dealt with an importing company in Beirut, Syria, which is the nearest city to Mount Lebanon. This Boston concern wrote a letter asking them to get some logs from Mount Lebanon and ship them to Boston, giving them the dimensions of the logs.
When this letter was received, they thought there must be some mistake in asking for cedar logs, but fortunately enough, the company in Boston stated in their letter that the logs were wanted for Masonic purposes, so one of the men in Beirut inquired if there were any Masons in that town, and they found there were. These Masons were consulted and the brethren informed the company that they themselves would procure the logs and have them ready for the first boat going to America. The matter was brought to the attention of the members of the lodge at the next communication, which was held on the following Sunday afternoon – lodges in foreign countries usually holding their meetings Sunday afternoons. A committee or delegation of the brethren of the lodge was formed and they went back on the side of the mountain and secured seven logs about six and a half feet in length and about nine or 10 inches in diameter. They took them down to their Masonic apartments, wrapped them in burlap, placed proper tags on them and then took them down and put them on board the boat, which sailed to some place in Italy. They placed them in the hands of Masons on the boat, the transfer in Italy was made by Masons and the logs were put in charge of Masons on the boat sailing for New York. When they arrived in New York, they were taken out and sent to Boston on the Metropolitan Line – also in charge of Masons.
Now I come down to the part of the story I really know about. Word was received that the logs were coming, and a delegation was ready to receive them. Brother Ansey had his crowd ready and the logs were taken in charge as soon as they could be unloaded. They were so very careful that they should not get burned up that they divided these logs into parties of three. Now how you can divide seven logs into parties of three is more than I can understand. The logs were taken from the warehouse and sent up to the temple by expressmen who were Masons and the custom house part was put through by a brother Mason. There never was a cent of expense incurred outside of the account with the Kneeland Street concern. There never was any freight paid, or any custom house duties paid, or any expressage paid. The gavel was made by a Mason; it never cost me a cent, and it never yet was handled by any other person except he be a Mason. I take pleasure in leaving it in your charge.”
At the next regular meeting of the lodge in Liverpool, the gavel was handed to the then WM Arthur Theodore Hoak, by Oswald James and the Massachusetts brethren. After their stay in Liverpool, the visitors returned to their native land in April and took with them the fond wishes of the members of Marlborough Lodge and a letter of thanks from the lodge to the Grand Lodge of Massachusetts for the gift of the gavel – sad to say, in the ill-fated Titanic. Due to the loss of the Titanic on 15 April 1912 another letter of thanks had to be sent, the reply to which was as follows.
The Grand Lodge of ancient free and accepted Masons of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts Masonic Temple
BOSTON 25 September 1912
Mr Arthur Theodore Hook,
Master, Marlborough Lodge No 1620
Everett Benton, Grand Master, requests me in his absence to answer your letter and to say that he appreciates your acknowledgement of the gift of a gavel, which Oswald George James transmitted to you. I take pleasure in sending you a condensed history of the travels of the logs from which this and several other gavels are made, and will say in addition that I wish both your country and ours, might have been spared that great loss, in which your first letter of acknowledgement seems to have disappeared. We in Massachusetts have had occasion to regret the untimely death of a number of well-beloved brothers, who, almost in sight of friends at home, were unable to greet them. I remain,
Thomas Davis, Recording Grand Secretary.
Although never having actually been on the Titanic, the gavel was always associated with the ill-fated liner and hence has acquired the name. Sadly, Oswald James lost his life in another maritime tragedy, when working as a first-class steward aboard the Cunard liner ‘Lusitania’. He was one of a number of Liverpool Freemasons who were killed when the vessel was torpedoed on 7 May 1915. However, for the majority of the time the lodge did prosper and held a long history of happier stories to relate, up until the closure in 2014. These fond memories now live on in Minerva Lodge, as the brothers of Marlborough Lodge take their history and memories with them.
So, it was that at the latest installation, that the members of Marlborough Lodge politely requested if they could have a photograph taken for posterity. They particularly insisted that Gary Smith be included, who though never a subscribing member of the lodge was a regular attender in the run-up to closure, always willing and able to help out in whatever position needed filling. Gary, who hails from across the Mersey, has just completed his term as the WM of Buckingham and Chandos Lodge No 2667, which meets at Birkenhead. Also present on the evening was Bill Skinner, who is to be appointed to the position of Past Provincial Senior Grand Deacon at Blackpool this May. Bill still wears his past master’s jewel presented to him by Marlborough Lodge with great pride. Jack Poller, a stalwart of Marlborough Lodge, had at the installation, become the WM of Minerva Lodge, while Les Moore, as a grand officer, keeps a fatherly eye on all. Roger Kilshaw is serving as the charity steward of Minerva Lodged, while Ted Lewis has come into Minerva Lodge to keep his son Justin company. Marlborough Lodge still lives and breathes within Minerva, and these Marlborough old boys are affectionately known to all simply as ‘the mob’.