A brief History of the District Grand Lodge of Gibraltar




In 1717 four London Lodges took the unprecedented step to form a Grand Lodge and thereby uniting masonry under one sole authoritative body. Freemasonry arrived in Gibraltar some ten years later when a number of military Brethren congregated to form the first Masonic Lodge in the Garrison. The earliest recorded evidence of their Masonic activities can be found in the Grand Lodge Minutes for the 10th May 1727 which records:


‘His Grace the Duke of Richmond proposed health and success to our brethren of the lodge of Gibraltar, which was drank accordingly.’


 It was appropriate for the Grand Master to have proposed ‘health and success’ to the brethren at Gibraltar for the Garrison was effectively under siege during the founding of this Lodge, the first to be formed outside the British Isles. The distinction however has been credited to the Three Fleur de Luces Lodge formed in Madrid on the 15th February 1728 by the exiled Jacobite the Duke of Wharton almost a year after the first recorded acknowledgement of the Gibraltar Lodge. The delays in communications as a result of the siege and the fact that the Charles Labelle, Worshipful Master of the Spanish Lodge had personally attended Grand Lodge to present a petition on behalf of his Lodge meant that the Madrid brethren literally jumped the queue. The Three Fleur de Luces Lodge received the number 50 whilst the Gibraltar Lodge, which had by then adopted the name the Lodge of St. John of Jerusalem, was issued a Warrant bearing the number 51 in the roll of Lodges under the Grand Lodge of England. According to the famous Masonic historian Robert Freke Gould, the Lodge of St. John of Jerusalem became the first purely military Lodge in existence within the English Constitution although it is not traditionally viewed as such because of the stationary nature of its Warrant. The Lodge would affectionately become known as ‘Mother’ Lodge in recognition of its prominence and prestige amongst both civilian and military Lodges within the Garrison.


Even before the Lodge of St. John of Jerusalem had been officially recognized there is circumstantial evidence that a Mr. Lewes had been appointed Provincial Grand Master by Grand Lodge in 1727. His name appears in the Historical Supplement (1969 edition) published under the Authority of the United Grand Lodge of England but few historical sources have survived confirming his appointment to office. Captain James Cummerford succeeded Lewes as Provincial Grand Master in 1732. His patent included the provision ‘places adjacent’ and for the first time the province of Andalusia came under the jurisdiction of the Grand Master in Gibraltar. Colonel J.G Montresor a founder member of the Lodge of St. John of Jerusalem No. 51 became the third Provincial Grand Master for Andalusia in 1752. His patent of office now included provision for the establishment of a District Grand Lodge in Gibraltar and it is from this year that the District Grand Lodge of Gibraltar now celebrates its 250th Anniversary. Montresor’s appointment coincides with the great schism of 1751, which resulted in the formation of rival Grand Lodge under the Ancients. In due time this division would seriously test the harmony of the Brethren arranged under the banners of the two Constitutions, particularly with the arrival of numerous military Lodges holding warrants issued by the Ancients Grand Lodge.


The Provincial Grand Lodge remaining loyal to the Moderns was responsible for the establishment of the first civilian Lodge in Gibraltar, the Inhabitants Lodge No. 285 to cater for the British mercantile Brethren who settled on the Rock. In 1774 the St. John’s Lodge, which had taken over the duties of Provincial Grand Lodge in the absence of a Grand Master constituted the Hiram’s Lodge under local Warrant. This Lodge was comprised almost entirely of Jewish Brethren who were no doubt wholeheartedly sponsored by members of the Inhabitants Lodge No. 285 with whom the established entrepot trade with the Barbary Coast almost exclusively depended. In 1786 a few years after the end of the Great Siege the members of Hiram’s Lodge officially applied for a Warrant from the Grand Lodge in England, this was accepted and a new Warrant and number 490 was allocated to the Lodge. So far the language and social barrier had prevented any native Roman Catholic inhabitants from joining the local Craft on the Rock. However, in by 1789 enough influential Roman Catholics had been initiated into Hiram’s Lodge and they in turn applied for a Warrant to form a third civilian Lodge under the Moderns. The Lodge of Friendship was constituted in 1789 and became the first Lodge credited with the distinction of carrying out their ceremonies in at least three languages, English, Spanish and Italian. The Minutes between 1799 and 1813 are written in Spanish, whilst for the year 1807 the Secretary, being of Genoese origin recorded the proceedings in Italian. This was truly a most cosmopolitan Lodge.


Masonic ritual and custom has very much changed in the ensuing 250 years since the formation of our District Grand Lodge. Installations, for example were carried bi-annually to coincide with the festivities of two saints bearing the name St. John; December 27th dedicated to St. John the Evangelist and June 24th dedicated to St. John the Baptist. On both days the Brethren of the various Lodges of all Constitutions would early in the morning arrange themselves under their respective banners and march in procession wearing their full regalia for a church service. After the service the Brethren retired to their respective Lodge venues (usually in taverns such as the Three Anchors, Freemasons Arms and Kings Arms among others) to conduct their private ceremony of Installation followed by a Festive Board. As all Lodges installed their various Officers at the same time, visitations were normally carried out during the Festive Board when each Lodge would as a sign of courtesy send representatives to each other to convey Fraternal Salutations and congratulate the newly installed Master of each particular Lodge.


 The Ancients had for the first twenty years of its existence made relatively slow progress in Gibraltar. A small number of warrants had been issued to Brethren in Gibraltar, but these had either lapsed soon afterwards or left the Garrison. In 1772 Lodge No. 148 attached to members of the Royal Artillery arrived in Gibraltar from Perth. Their presence immediately caused consternation amongst the Modern Lodges and attempts were made to prevent the Royal Artillery Lodge to partake of the St. John’s day public procession of the 27th December 1773 on account of their Warrant having been issued by the Ancients. The Artillery Lodge was however supported by the four Irish Military Lodges in the Garrison and the matter was referred to the Governor the Hon. Edward Cornwallis himself a Modern Mason for arbitration. Captain Murray R.N an Irish Mason proved the authenticity of the Warrant when he pointed out the warrant had been signed by Cornwallis’s own uncle, the Earl of Moira.


In 1779 the Great Siege of Gibraltar resulted in a vast increase of reinforcements for the Rock. The new Regiments stationed in the Garrison also included a substantial increase in the number of Military Warrants under the Irish, Ancients and Scottish Constitutions whilst the Modern civilian Lodges disappeared for the duration of the siege, its members being dispersed after fleeing the town. The Military Lodge of St. John of Jerusalem being the senior Lodge in the Province attempted to exert its influence over the new Lodges working in Gibraltar but were rebuffed by the fellow officers for working under the Moderns to whom the Ancients and Irish owed no allegiance. Despite applying for and obtaining a Provincial Grand Lodge Warrant no Lodge in the Garrison accepted their authority and it was as a result of this that the members of the Lodge of St. John then applied for a Provincial Grand Lodge Warrant under the Ancients. This was granted in 1786 and the Lodge was now given the No. 220.


The new Provincial Grand Lodge of Andalusia now held by the former members of the Lodge of St. John of Jerusalem had under its authority the Artillery Lodge No.148 (now St. John no. 115), Ordnance Lodge No.202 (now Inhabitants’ no.153), and another lodge bearing the number 230. The Ordnance Lodge had been constituted in 1777 and became the first inhabitants Lodge under the Ancients. Lodge 230 was constituted in 1785 to several military Brethren in the 1st Battalion Royal Artillery. This latter Lodge returned to Woolwich, England in 1792 and eventually united with Lodges No. 13 and 418 to become Union Waterloo Lodge No. 13 on the 1st December 1826.


In 1785 soon after the end of the Great Siege the five Modern Lodges gradually re-established their Lodges only to find to their horror that their position of influence had shifted decisively in favour of their arch rivals the Ancients. They also found themselves without a Provincial Grand Master to direct the Lodges through such difficult times. The remnants of the Lodge of Jerusalem Lodge (now No. 24), Inhabitants, (No. 159), Hiram’s Lodge (No.400), Calpean No. 465 (now Royal Lodge of Friendship) and the Lodge of Friendship No.486 now found themselves not only outnumbered but also alienated from the numerous Ancient and Irish Lodges that had established themselves on the Rock since the start of the Great Siege. Although the majority of the brethren from ‘Mother’ Lodge defected to form themselves into a rival Provincial Grand Lodge, the Modern Lodges including a handful of members from ‘Mother’ Lodge remained loyal to the authority of the Moderns and soon under the drive and determination of Reverend William Leake the Governor’s own Chaplain re-established the authority of the Premier Grand Lodge of England primarily amongst the civilian population. For his fervency and zeal Leake was appointed with the support and thanks of the other Modern Lodges as Provincial Grand Master in 1788.  However, Leakes arrogance and determination to impose his totalitarian authority as Provincial Grand Master not only antagonized the Ancient brethren but also caused great alarm and concern amongst his own subordinates. As a result the officers of the newly revived Provincial Grand Lodge offended by certain remarks allegedly made by Leake against the sister of a Brother of the Inhabitants Lodge convened and suspended Leake from his duties as Provincial Grand Master. Grand Lodge finally settled the escalating row with the appointment of HRH Prince Edward, Duke of Kent as Provincial Grand Master for Gibraltar and Andalusia in 1790, which effectively superseded Leakes Patent of Appointment. The imminent arrival of the Duke of Kent to take up his duties as Governor of Gibraltar allowed the Grand Master to finally eliminate the embarrassing situation between the Provincial Grand Master WBro. Leake and his Lodge Officers. The Duke of Kent however remained away from Gibraltar for most of his term of office and his brief stay was overshadowed by mutiny amongst the ranks and resentment from his Officers for his pedantic attention to petty detail. On pure speculation one must wonder what influence would the Prince have enjoyed had he been Provincial Grand Master of the Antients under whose authority the bulk of the military Freemasons pledged allegiance rather than the Moderns mainly composed of civilians. His recall to London by his brother, the Duke of York no doubt relieved the Garrison but a petition signed by over a hundred of the leading citizens of the Rock prayed for his early return. His absence prompted the ‘Modern’ Lodges attempting to retain the initiative by securing the appointment of RWBro. John Sweetland as Acting Provincial Grand Master of Andalusia in 1801. This move had been interpreted by VWBro. J.W.V Cumming in his essay ‘The first two hundred years of the Craft’ as an attempt by four of the Modern Lodges to apparently steal a march on their Ancient brethren. This was not the case as the Antients in Gibraltar enjoyed its own Provincial Grand Lodge and elected its own Grand Master. Cummings is also wrong in suggesting that the lapse of the Modern Lodges at the same time around the turn of the century may well have been due to ‘the influence of the Duke of Kent, an enthusiastic Antient Mason who was Governor and Commander in Chief of a community of mainly military Masons.’ Nothing could be further from the truth, by the time these Lodges lapsed the Duke had already been recalled to London and never returned to Gibraltar. Nevertheless, whilst the Duke of Kent did become an Antient Mason a few years later he did so not by conviction but by necessity in order to succeed the Duke of Atholl as Grand Master of the Antients whilst still actively negotiating the amalgamation of the Antients Grand Lodge with the Premier Grand Lodge (Moderns) headed by his own brother the Duke of Sussex. It was his personal influence that finally led to the Union of these rival Grand Lodges in 1813.


From 1788 to the time of the Union in 1813, Gibraltar was under the jurisdiction of two separate Grand Lodges. The Modern Provincial Grand Lodge comprised almost exclusively of civilians whilst the Ancients Provincial Grand Lodge exercised its authority over the numerous Military Lodges stationed for any length of time on the Rock. This Provincial Grand Lodge also took under its authority many traveling Lodges stationed in the Garrison regardless of whether they belonged to the Irish or Scottish Constitution. It is known that the Grand Lodge of Ireland that had by far warranted the greatest number of army lodges of the three Constitutions ordered its lodges to submit to the local authority of Provincial Grand Lodge whilst working in Gibraltar.


In 1804 a devastating epidemic of Yellow Fever caused the deaths of thousands with the civilian population bearing the brunt of the fatalities. It was generally thought that this epidemic had been the cause of the disappearance of a number of civilian Lodges in Gibraltar, however, Freemasonry amongst the civilian Lodges had been more or less suspended since 1801 due to a general order issued by the Governor O’Hara prohibiting any society from meeting in the Garrison. The epidemic a few years later again certainly ensured that many of these Lodges, which lay dormant, were never able to successfully revive their Lodges as many of the civilian Brethren from Gibraltar dispersed to other shores. The emigration of so many civilian members led to the lapse of the popular Modern Lodges including the venerable Lodge of St. John of Jerusalem No. 24, Inhabitants Lodge No. 159 and Hiram’s Lodge No. 400. Only the Lodge of Friendship No. 465 and Calpean Lodge No. 480 survived the Union and Calpean in particular only survived after amalgamating with the Lodge of Friendship in 1813. Today evidence of this fusion of Lodges is still evident in the Warrant of the present day Lodge of Friendship No. 278, which meets under the Warrant and Lodge number of the Calpean Lodge No. 480.


Following the Union and the end of the Napoleonic War Freemasonry entered a period of decline mainly as a result of the reduction of military personnel and the bleak economic situation now facing Gibraltar following the boom years when the port of Gibraltar became the transit point for the running of British manufactured goods into European ports in neutral ships in return for European products in direct defiance of Napoleon’s notorious ‘Continental System’. The end of the war naturally resulted in the return of many traders to their habitual trading routes and many previous subscribing brethren quite literally vanished from Lodge rolls as they quickly returned to their countries of origin. The end of the Napoleonic War also resulted in a steady reduction of British Regiments of the Line and the law of 1815 forbidding the initiation of civilians and military persons below the rank of corporal also brought about a further reduction of military Lodges who on finding their hitherto plentiful supply of initiates virtually cut off became stationary and applied for civilian warrants. Such was the case with the Lodge of St. John No.132 (later 115) that were forced to take this road rather than face extinction in 1826. Another important reason for the decline of Military Lodges was the establishment of Orange Order Lodges in British Regiments, which forced Military Chiefs to introduce new orders and regulations between 1822 and 1847 prohibiting the formation of secret meetings and societies in Regiments. Freemasonry in Gibraltar was therefore forced to quite literally evolve and adapt to fast changing social, military and economic circumstances. These issues are regularly omitted from Lodge histories but are of vital importance to the development of many of our older Lodges. The present Lodge of St. John was the first to adapt to new circumstances, indeed by 1832 only six years after returning their military warrant, the new civilian members applied for permission to conduct the business of the Lodge in Spanish! This privilege has been maintained ever since except for a brief period between 1944 and 1956. The Lodges of Inhabitants’ 153 and Friendship 278 were also affected by the decline of military Lodges, indeed both Lodges might not have survived the 19th Century, the Inhabitants’ Lodge in particular had it not been for the involvement of military brethren in these Lodges. The Lodge of Friendship became a popular Lodge among the Military Officers of the Garrison whilst the Inhabitants’ Lodge despite two periods of dormancy spanning some seventeen years were revived at least twice by military brethren stationed on the Rock and became a popular Lodge for the rank and file for over a century after being successfully revived in 1858.


 Nevertheless despite the difficulties in maintaining the Masonic Light shining on the Rock, the Provincial Grand Lodge was given the honour in 1838 of laying the Foundation Stone for the Light-House which was to be situated at Europa Point. There were six private Lodges in Gibraltar at the time, St. John No. 132, Inhabitants’ No. 178, Calpe No. 325, Friendship No. 345, Calpean No. 482 and the Oxford Light Infantry Lodge No. 582, held by members of the 52nd Regiment, a far cry from the early 1800’s when dozens of Lodges arranged their banners in procession for the St. John’s Day festivities. It would not be until 1876 when a similar ceremony to lay the Foundation Stone at the New Market by the then Grand Master HRH the Prince of Wales (later King Edward VII) became the scene of another public spectacle. By then the District consisted of four Lodges: St. John’s, No. 115, Inhabitants’ Lodge, No. 153, Friendship Lodge, No. 278 and Meridian Lodge, No. 743 (attached to 31st Regt. And the only Lodge still under a travelling warrant). Calpean Lodge No. 482 which had been formed by members of the original Friendship Lodge in 1822 lapsed in 1863. Of particular interest to us is that this Lodge also conducted their ceremonies in the Spanish language and may account as to why it was unable to assimilate military brethren into its ranks and survive extinction.


In the 1880’s and 1890’s Freemasonry again enjoyed a new lease of life, as Gibraltar became an important Naval base of operations for the Home and Mediterranean Fleets. The construction of the Naval Dockyard towards the end of the century brought a substantial number of Military personnel back to the Rock. By this time Military Lodges were for all intents and purposes a thing of the past and so the local Lodges by now almost barren of civilians virtually became stationary military Lodges in all but in name.


By 1901 Inhabitants’ Lodge had 208 members, of whom 120 were actually resident or stationed in Gibraltar. The Lodge had been revived in 1858 after a period of dormancy with the help of a young officer in the 31st Foot, who had until that time expressed little interest in masonry. Robert Freke Gould later became famous for his Masonic literature including his ‘Concise History of Freemasonry’ a publication in seven volumes. When Inhabitants’ decided to form a new Lodge to relieve the workload of its officers and afford further opportunities of advancement for its members it was resolved to honour Robert Freke Gould with the new Lodge bearing his name and subsequently numbered 2874. Last year the Robert Freke Gould Lodge No. 2784 celebrated its centenary and has maintained its close links with its ‘mother’ Lodge for each year at the Installation meeting the Master and Wardens of the Inhabitants’ Lodge are invited to sit close to their respective counterparts at the ceremony and later at the Festive Board.


In 1902 Connaught Lodge No. 2915 named after the then Grand Master the Duke of Connaught was constituted as a Lodge for Officers, Warrant Officers and Civil Officials or relative rank in the army or navy. A similar Lodge for Officers was founded by members of the Royal Lodge of Friendship in 1911, and named Letchworth Lodge No. 3503 in memory to the Grand Secretary of the United Grand Lodge of England who had passed away the previous year. In 1923 United Services Lodge No. 3813 was founded for members of all ranks in the three armed services stationed on the Rock. These new Lodges became essentially military Lodges in character until after the end of the Second World War when military personnel on the Rock gradually dwindled to such an extent that membership to these exclusively military lodges was inevitably opened to civilians in order to ensure its survival. The pendulum of time has since then swung back towards civilian brethren who have now taken on the responsibility to ensure the survival of our Ancient Order into the new Millennium. Today we take up this responsibility with the same conviction and determination as our past brethren. The United Services Lodge for example, which has declined so rapidly since the withdrawal of so many military personnel in the 1980’s has remained buoyant thanks to brethren from up the coast and is now once again increasing its numbers thanks to the recruitment of local brethren similarly concerned at the dwindling numbers of this Lodge. It is thanks to this kind of initiative that our weaker Lodges as far as numbers are concerned will be able to survive well into the new millennium.


Today, only the historic links to its military past remain, yet the brethren who comprise the District Grand Lodge of Gibraltar and its lodges continue with the finest traditions of the Craft as extolled in the Ancient Charges, Regulations and Landmarks of the Order. For over 250 years the Craft has remained an integral part of Gibraltar’s culture and heritage.


WBro. K. Sheriff, PM of Inhabitant’s Lodge No. 153