The following article was written by Brother Jack Greenald in 2009 (a few years after the formation of Medway Martyrs) and a portion of it was published in the Dec 09/Jan 10 edition of the Orange Banner. We would like to thank Brother Greenald for all his help with researching the below article and other 'Kent' based content he has very kindly supplied for our site.
"The September 2010 Grand Orange Lodge of England parade and sessions will take place (DV) in Gillingham in Kent, where in November 2007 Medway Martyrs LOL 652 was established. This lodge has grown remarkably over the few years of its existence. With this in mind we examine some Orange history in Kent, the garden of England.
Earliest recorded lodges
One of the earliest lodges in Kent was LOL 233, which met at Woolwich in 1830. By the end of the eighteenth century there was a Woolwich District No 64 which was made up of eight male and one female lodge. LOL’s 158 and 220 met in Plumstead, LOL 336 met at Dover, LOL 556 met at Sheerness, LOL 606 at Tonbridge, LOL 560 met in Sittingbourne, and the women’s lodge LLOL 23 met in Sheerness. The District also included two lodges which met in South Africa. The District Master was William Harnden who lived in Sheerness.
Many members of the lodges were servicemen. Sons of William LOL 556, (Isle of Sheppey, Sheerness) initiated a candidate John Wills of the Royal Navy, and, at a later meeting, a J J Abbott also of the Royal Navy. The Master of Tonbridge LOL 603 was a Colonel and the Deputy Master was a Captain.
Sons of William LOL 556 passed a resolution: ‘That we the officers and members of LOL 556, do strongly protest against the proposal of Mr Gladstone to open the offices of Lord Lieutenant of Ireland and Lord High Chancellor to Roman Catholics’. The Women’s lodge, Daughters of William, Sheerness, LLOL 23 held a discussion on the subject of mixed lodges and passed a resolution: ‘That mixed lodges would be a source of harm instead of good, and that the work of the Loyal Orange Institution of England can be better carried on by separate male and female lodges, as at present sanctioned by Grand Lodge authority’.
In the early years of the twentieth century Woolwich District was comprised of eight male lodges: LOL 70 met at Woolwich, LOL’s 158, 220, and 557 met in Plumstead, LOL 232 met at Deptford, LOL 336 at Dover, LOL 448 at Chatham, and LOL 556 at Sheerness. At this time there was also a Royal Black District, Sheerness and Chatham No 5, which included Star of the East RBP 127 which met in Plumstead and Mount Carmel RBP 440 which met in Sheerness.
Sons of William LOL 652 reported in 1907 that they had elected Bro Griffiths, a local preacher as their chaplain, and that they were ‘holding splendid meetings, which are well attended’. The lodge attended a church service at Christmas Street Wesleyan Church on 19 May 1907, where the lodge chaplain, Bro Griffiths, conducted the service.
Fraternal socials at the turn of the Century
LOL 556 held an outing a report of which appeared in the Orange newspaper, ‘The Defender’: ‘Lodge 556 Sheerness had a most enjoyable outing on July 13th. Leaving home by brake about 1.30pm, they arrived at Gillingham about five o’clock, where they were received and entertained at Pleeve’s Restaurant by the brethren of 652. After tea an impromptu concert was held. Bro Knights, WDM, presiding. Songs were very ably rendered by Bros Clark, Dennis, Brisco, Constable, Poole, and Hawley of 652, and by Bros Read, Middleton and Copper of 556. Bro Griffiths of 652, gave a very interesting reading entitled ‘No Surrender’. Mr Weaving presided at the piano, and during the evening rendered a fine piccolo solo. Master Weaving also sang two songs, for which he was applauded by all present. Bro Brisco and Middleton received the best wishes of the Brethren, as they are just starting for China, although they will be greatly missed by the Lodge, to which they have rendered excellent service. The pleasant evening closed at 10.30 with the National Anthem, after which the visitors returned to Sheerness by brake’.
At their monthly meeting held at Plewis’s Restaurant, High Street, Gillingham on 11 February, with Bro J H Poole WM in the chair, and Bro G Lowdell in the Deputy Chair, it was resolved ‘That the best thanks of this meeting be accorded to the Rev A Briggs, vicar of St Nicholas, Rochester, for the splendid manner in which, in his pamphlet ‘The Mirfield Manuels and the Doctrine of Ritualism’ recently issued, he has exposed the Romanising teaching, extravagant doctrine, and disloyal churchmanship of the Romanising party in the Church of England’ and ‘that the MP for this constituency be asked to vote for the second reading of the Church Disorders Bill’.
The lodge reported that they had moved to more convenient Lodge Rooms at the Alexandra Hall, King Street, Gillingham and they met on the first Tuesday of each month at 7.30pm. Lodge secretary was Bro J T Scutt of 3 Lincoln Road, Gillingham. Around this time, Sons of Hiram RBP 174 was re-opened in Gillingham. A report said: ‘The above preceptory was re-opened at the Alexandra Hall, King Street, Gillingham, on the 16th, by the RWDM Sir Kt B Knights, assisted by the RWDR Sir Kt W Brown. There were also present Sir Kt Childs and Sir Kt Davies, both of Preceptory 440. After the usual formalities had been completed, the RWDM conducted the installation ceremony of the following officers to their respective positions, viz., Sir Kt J T Scutt RWM, Sir Kt J H Poole, DM; Sir Kt H Griffiths, Chaplain; Sir Kt J G Styles, Treasurer; Sir Kt E Abram, Registrar; Sir Kt J Constable, Tyler; Sir Kt W T Ayres, First Comm, Sir Kt C Addley, Second Comm.’ This period also saw the re-opening of the Dover lodge, LOL 336.
To celebrate the 5th November, LOL 652 held a dinner and social evening at the Alexandra Hall in Gillingham, where their guests were the Brethren of LOL 556, Sheerness. At the dinner the chairman gave an account of the lodge and its increasing membership.
A report of the meeting of LOL 652 Bro Moran said that ‘There must be many Protestants in Kent who rejoice to know that such a flourishing and powerful Lodge exists in Gillingham’, Bro Griffiths ‘gave a detailed account of the splendid progress of the Lodge, stating he had watched it grow from a very small beginning until now, he was pleased to say, it was the strongest in the District. He congratulated all who had worked so strenuously to attain this end, and he said it was no flattery to say that Bro Moran was deserving of the thanks of the Lodge for the grand work he had done in the past, and was still engaged in’.
LOL 652 move to the Forresters' Hall
Prior to the outbreak of the First World War, Sons of William LOL 652 met at the Forresters’ Hall, King Street Gillingham with three meetings a month on the first, third and fourth Thursdays and Royal Black Preceptory 174 meeting on the second and fifth Thursdays of the month. Woolwich District at this time compromised LOL 220 Plumstead, LOL 336 Dover, LOL 556 Sheerness and LOL 652 at Gillingham. The District also included a military lodge LOL 108A which was based in the Royal Enniskillen Fusiliers, LOL 801 meeting in Lagos Nigeria, LOL 802 meeting in Hong Kong and a Women’s Lodge, LLOL 51 meeting in Capetown, South Africa.
During the First World War, Sons of William LOL 652, struggled to meet as one hundred and sixty members of the lodge were serving in the war and the remaining nine members were working late and doing night work. Two members of the lodge, Bros Goodwin and Brown, were aboard the HMS Hermes when it was sunk, but were both rescued and returned to action in the North Sea. The secretary of the lodge, Bro Henry Griffiths reported that seventeen members had been killed in the war, including Bro Leahy of the Royal Engineers. The widows and orphans of the members killed were given financial help by the lodge. Bro Griffiths wrote of the brethren who had lost their lives: ‘they have given their lives in the cause of righteousness and justice and I trust to meet them in the Grand Lodge above’.
In 1915 Bro Griffiths had to report that ‘the latest loss of LOL 652 is my own dear son – I received a letter from the Admiralty stating that HMS Clan McNaughten was lost with all on board – He was a bright fellow, and lived a consistent Godly life, and it is that that gives me a great amount of comfort even at this time to know that he has joined the Grand Lodge above and sooner or later will give me a welcome home. Truly the Lord is good and I can rely on his giving us all the necessary grace to sustain us in this our time of bereavement’. Bro Griffiths also reported that Bro William Woodbridge, 54th Company Royal Engineers, had been killed in action in France aged just 22. He is buried in the Sailly-Sur-La-Lys Churchyard, France.
Other Kent lodges also had members serving in the First World War. Sheerness LOL 556 had three members serving in the Royal Navy and Dover LOL 838 had eighteen members serving with the colours. In March 1917 it was reported that Bro Dr Adams of the Dover lodge, serving with the Royal Army Medical Corps, had been awarded the Military Cross and had been promoted to a Captain.
It seems that the Kent lodges did not survive the losses in the First and Second World War but the re-establishment and growth of Orangeism in Kent has been very encouraging. We wish the lodge every success in hosting the Grand Orange Lodge of England and for the future."