Freemasons - birth of the Seaford lodge

Masonic Medal 1902 - Kevin Gordon
Masonic Medal 1902 - Kevin Gordon

In 1902 the Seaford lodge of the Freemasons was reassembled as “Lodge 2907” (Seaford Lodge) The Consecration meeting was held at 4.15pm on Friday 11th April 1902 in the Queens Hall, Broad Street, with subsequent meetings at the Bay Hotel in Pelham Road. This first meeting was administered by the Reverend E R Currie, the Dean of Battle and the Worshipful Master of the Abbey Freemasons Lodge. He had performed a similar ceremony at the opening of the Hastings Masonic Lodge a few months earlier.

The founders of the new Seaford Lodge were The Rt Hon William Court Gulley KC, F M Harting, Thomas Wakley Junior, J E Lane, W Gates, Philip Stirling Lee, Dr Charles Berkley Gervis, F C Herbert, J F Plaister, Dr William Pringle Morgan, F H Gervis, J Stirling Junior, and G K Meares. Some 91 other men also attended this meeting as visitors, one being William Swaysland, a freemason from Brighton renowned for his expertise as a taxidermist! A Mr V A Wormauld was appointed as the lodge organist.

The Rt Hon William Court Gulley KC, the first name on the list, was a very distinguished man indeed. He was the MP for Carlisle (1886-1905) and Speaker of the House of Commons from 1895 to 1905. He had moved to Seaford in the 1880s and lived in Sutton Place (now Newlands School).

Two other founders, both doctors, deserve mention. Charles Berkeley Gervis (1875-1930) and William Pringle Morgan (1861-1934) both shared a practice at Hurdis House in Broad Street.

Dr Gervis served the town well for many years and was known for attending to his patients, wherever they were and at any time. Dr Gervis was the honorable secretary for the Union Club (where he was renowned as a skilled snooker player). He was also an active tennis player and golfer. He arranged an annual “Pound Day” when all local businesses were asked to donate goods worth a pound to help the Royal Sussex Hospital in Brighton. Dr Gervis was also an active local politician, sitting on the Seaford Urban District Council from 1914 to 1929 and chaired the council on three occasions. He was also a magistrate, sitting at Lewes. A busy man indeed.

Dr Morgan was also a keen golfer and active local politician, serving as the Chairman of Council on two occasions. You will recall that the good doctor is also known as the person responsible for discovering dyslexia.

The Speaker, the two doctors and the other founders of the Seaford Lodge would have received a “Founders Jewel” which was a medal struck to commemorate the event. An example of one is kept at the National Freemasonry Museum in London. The medal includes the crest of the Cinque Ports surmounted by an eagle

In 1902 one of the Seaford masons, Mr W Davies, presented the lodge with an ivory gavel and that same year, the Reverend Henry Goodwin Bonnewell, who had been the vicar of St Leonard’s Church since 1898, became the lodge chaplain and was to remain in the role until his death in 1913.

Due to the large number of members, meetings were transferred from the Bay Hotel to the larger Simmons Institute in Crouch Lane in 1904. The building had been opened on 27th May 1899 by Henry Simmons, one of the last Bailiffs (Mayors) of Seaford. The Simmons Institute was an early ‘Community Hall’ but has since been converted into private apartments.

The Freemasons met at the Simmons Institute until 1940 when they met at the Warwick Rooms, above the building which was later to be Seaford Library. In 1964, Lodge meetings were again returned to the Simmons Institute but in 1975 a decision was made to again move the lodge westwards, this time to the Jerrom Hall in Seaview Road, Peacehaven where they still meet today, sharing the building with other local lodges.

I suppose that like many people I had preconceived ideas about what freemasonry was all about and I am pleased to say that my prejudices were unfounded. The Sussex Freemasons openly publish their newsletter “The Sussex Deacon” on-line and this includes lists of members and details of new members. Masonic temples are regularly open to the public and indeed their headquarters in London runs several guided tours a day. The Masonic building in Queens Road, Brighton, is similarly decorated in an art-deco style although on a smaller scale. Reg Barrow is the curator for Sussex Freemasonry and gave me a friendly welcome and an informative tour around the building. I was fascinated to see the actual bible that was used at the inauguration of the Seaford Freemasons Lodge over two centuries ago.

Freemasons may not be as influential today than they were in the past, but they still have many members. I was surprised to hear that there are 172 lodges in Sussex and indeed a new lodge for motorcyclists was inaugurated just a few weeks ago. It is true to say that in the past the Freemasons mainly raised funds for their own charities but today this is not the case and thousands of pounds have been donated to non-Masonic local charities such as the Sussex Air Ambulance.

For further information about Freemasons in Sussex go to their website at www.sussexmasons.org.uk