History of Freemasonry in Guernsey
The Province of Guernsey and Alderney in the Channel Islands is one of the smallest Provinces of the United Grand Lodge of England, supporting just eleven Lodges. However the Channel Islands are not within the United Kingdom, having been a possession of the Duke of Normandy long before 1066.
Today they still remain British Crown Dependencies in a unique relationship under the British Monarchy.
The Channel Islands lie just a few miles off the French coast in the English Channel. There are essentially five populated Islands. The Province of Guernsey and Alderney also includes the smaller Islands of Sark and Herm, whilst the Island of Jersey is a separate Province.
Freemasonry came to Guernsey, the second largest Island in the Channel Islands, in 1753 in the reign of King George II. The Grand Master of the Ancient & Honourable Society of Free and Accepted Masons was John Proby Baron of Carysfort in the County of Wicklow, Ireland, and Freemasonry was spreading fast across the length and breadth of the land.
New Masonic Lodges were being formed as travelling merchantmen, scholars, seafarers and servicemen carried the principles and tenets of the Fraternity far and wide.
Guernsey, however, was yet to be enlightened and would probably have remained as such for many years to come had it not been for the thriving fishing, knitting industries and commerce of the main town of St. Peter Port. Not to mention a little bit of Privateering and Smuggling.
In those early days, Masonic Lodges took their name from the place in which they regularly met.
May 10th 1753 witnessed the birth of the first Lodge in Guernsey, the Lily Tavern Lodge No. 228 in St. Peter Port by the Moderns Grand Lodge.
Later in the year on the 22nd December 1753, saw the appointment of Thomas Dobrée as the first Provincial Grand Master of the several Islands of Guernsey, Jersey, Alderney, Sark and Arme (now known as Herm) in the English Channel formerly part of the Inheritance of King William the first, Duke of Normandy and now annexed to the Kingdom of Great Britain.
It was not until 1802 that a Lodge was formed in Alderney when the Olive Lodge No. 328 was warranted on the 13th July of that year.
Over the following years several Lodges were formed which unhappily do not exist today.
However Mariners’ Lodge first warranted as the Ship and Castle Lodge No. 222 on 10th March, 1784, changed it’s name to Mariners’ Lodge in 1804 and was subsequently renumbered No.168, has flourished for over 220 years and is the oldest surviving Lodge in the Province and indeed in the Channel Islands.
Prior to the formation of the Province of Guernsey and Alderney there had existed for the Channel Islands three Provinces. The first established in 1753 under Thomas Dobrée, the second in 1807 under General Sir John Doyle, G.C.B. and the third in 1848 under James John Hammond, but with his resignation in 1868, ceased as a Province.
By 1892, there was much activity passing between the Islands and Grand Lodge in the form of correspondence between W.Bro. James Balfour Cockburn and other distinguished Brethren as a great majority of the local brethren supported petitions within their Lodges to form a Province to cover the Islands of Guernsey and Alderney.
Unfortunately, in the November of 1893 there was a set back, when a few dissenting Brethren wrote to the Grand Secretary, the then W.Bro. E. Letchworth, protesting that the establishment of a separate Province was not necessary.
However at length, the weight of opinion increased very considerably in favour of the formation of a separate Province for Guernsey and Alderney, and on the 9 April, 1894, it pleased H.R.H. the Prince of Wales, the Most Worshipful Grand Master, to grant a patent, appointing Brigade-Surgeon James Balfour Cockburn, M.D. as the first Provincial Grand Master for the Masonic Province of Guernsey and Alderney.
He was installed as the Right Worshipful Provincial Grand Master at the inauguration meeting of the Province of Guernsey and Alderney on 23rd July, 1894.
During it’s history the Province has survived two World Wars, both so very different. For during the 1914 to 1918 War meetings of the Lodges continued without interruption throughout, but it was not without it’s toll for it is recorded in the Masonic Roll of Honour at the United Grand Lodge of England that eighteen Brethren of the Province fell in the service of their King and country.
In contrast, it must be recorded that the Province suffered grievously in World War II when the Channel Islands were occupied by the German Forces. Guernsey was occupied from Sunday 30th June, 1940 until the British Forces liberated the Island on 9th May, 1945. On the Island of Alderney the residents did not return to their Island until December, 1945 as it had been used as a Concentration Camp.
The German Authorities banned Freemasonry in the Islands and both the Masonic Temples in Guernsey and the Masonic Temple in Alderney were sacked and pillaged by the German Forces.
When the German Occupation ended, Masonic activity in the Province soon resumed and the ravages of War began to be made good. This was assisted greatly by the generosity of the United Grand Lodge of England in donating £5,000 to this Province and also £5,000 to the Province of Jersey, for which we are eternally grateful.
Soon after the Liberation, two of the Lodges namely Mariners’ Lodge No. 168 and Loyalty Lodge No. 243 received food parcels for the relief of needy Brethren and their families. These were sent by the Brethren of two Lodges in the New Zealand constitution bearing the same numbers as the local Lodges, namely Lodge Maungawhao No. 168 and Lodge Island Bay No. 243. This act of fraternal friendship still remains in our memories to this day.
In a letter of thanks to Lodge Island Bay, New Zealand, in September, 1946, a former Provincial Grand Master, then Assistant Secretary of Loyalty Lodge wrote.
“the greatest tragedy of all was that by reason of the Occupation we lost five years of our Masonic lives and moreover, our Temple was looted, badly damaged and desecrated by the enemy. The Temple has now happily been almost restored and our work on the square is fast returning to normal”.
In Guernsey today, the main town of St. Peter Port has needlessly to say, changed dramatically since those far off days. Today it is a busy International Financial Centre with world famous names trading in the Island. Cruise Ships visit on a regular basis bringing visiting tourists of all nationalities to our shores.
It is against this background that Freemasonry is still flourishing in the Province. The new purpose built Masonic Centre in Guernsey was dedicated on the 25th July, 1998. All ten Guernsey Lodges of the Province meet in this building, together with the Lodges and Chapters of the other orders in Freemasonry. In Alderney, St Ann’s Lodge No. 593 meets in their own Masonic Temple as does the other orders active on the Island.
In May 2003 the Province marked the “250th Anniversary of the Founding of the first Freemasons’ Lodge in Guernsey” with a special meeting held at the Masonic Centre in Guernsey, recognising the long history of Freemasonry in the Province, and it’s contribution to the Islands, and looking forward to many more chapters in the future.