by BROTHER CHARLES M. NAPIER,
R. W. Master of Lodge St John Operative, No.92, Banff
St John’s Lodge of Operative Masons was founded in Banff in 1764, the first R.W.M. being John Rhind as recorded in the No.1 Minute Book of the Lodge. At that time, and for a number of years to come, it remained a Lodge solely confined to Operative Masons, and besides working the three established Degrees, it worked the Degrees of Royal Arch, Knight Templar and the Knight of Malta. In the early records all these Degrees are recorded in the one Minute Book, and there are two finely wrought brass seals of these Degrees still in existence and preserved within the Lodge, dating from that time.
The records of the Lodge are virtually complete and kept within the building in a cupboard specially made and partitioned for that purpose.
From 1764 until the present day there have been 75 Right Worshipful Masters and to commemorate this a beautiful carved mahogany board has been prepared with all the names painted thereon and sufficient room left to carry the Lodge into the year 2000 and beyond. A perusal of the ancient minute books (No.1 is proudly displayed in a glass case within the Lodge) yields much very interesting information and when one reads of the Brethren marching in full procession to lay the foundation stone of Banff Bridge it is not difficult to picture the scene. There are two original silk banners, beautifully painted and in very good condition, still in existence within the Lodge, and it is quite certain they would have been carried at the head of the procession.
The ancient method of recording votes is used regularly in the earliest minute book; this consists of each vote being represented by a single stroke of the pen and grouped in fives; thus we see three votes are shown II while eighteen votes are shown as IIIII IIIII IIIII III with an oblique line scored through each block of five and the remaining three unscored.*
The neighbouring town of Macduff is referred to by the ancient name of Doune and the town of Aberchirder (the home town of our present Provincial Grand Master) by the old name of Foggieloan. It is interesting to note that this old name for Aberchirder still lives on in 1975. We read in the minutes of Brethren of Lodge St John being given Commissions to visit certain towns and to confer Degrees on Brethren over a wide area of the north of Scotland and one gathers the impression that Lodge St John’s Operative, Banff, must have attained a most important status in those early days of its history.
The colour of the Lodge regalia is pink and the Office-bearers’ jewels are of silver, being the original jewels of the Lodge and most probably manufactured in the town of Banff where a thriving silversmiths’ craft was carried on until quite recent times. Past Grand Master Mason, Brother David Liddell-Grainger, and also Grand Secretary, Brother Stuart Falconer, were very impressed with the ancient jewels and the antique Scots Pine furniture when they visited St John’s in 1972.
There are some valuable articles preserved within the Lodge; valuable and irreplaceable. These include an inscribed gold-mounted horn snuff mill presented by Brother The Earl of Fife in 1836 which has been regularly handed round for use by the Brethren in the Lodge during the meetings and which is today fully charged with fresh snuff ready for any Brother who wishes to partake. A silver punch ladle with a silver coin soldered inside is also treasured in the Lodge, the coin having been tossed into the punch bowl by The Earl of Fife during a Harmony within the Lodge.
The building of the Lodge itself is recorded in full detail, much of which makes quaint reading today especially when one compares the rate of wages, 1/6 per day, and 2 pence per load for gravel to today’s prices. An interesting ceremony, the making and serving of St John’s Punch on Installation nights is also duly recorded with certain Brethren being specially detailed for the duty. Whether one required special qualifications to be eligible for the duty of punch maker is not stated, but the ceremony was noted each year along with such items as “The Brethren of the Lodge did form a Torchlight Procession and proceeded to their Hall to hold their Installation Harmony Celebration.” Incidentally, the original copper flagons, punch ladles and hand-made glasses dating from those far-off times were once more taken into use in January 1975, when the old custom was again revived and St John’s Punch served to the Brethren after the Installation.
Lodge St John celebrated its Bi-Centenary in 1964. The occasion was honoured by a Deputation from Grand Lodge headed by Lord Bruce, M.W. Grand Master Mason. The R.W. Master of St John’s Lodge at that time was Brother Peter Lawrence. A fairly heavy programme of re-decoration has been carried out involving quite considerable expense but this has been met largely by anonymous donations from the members. It is hoped to tackle repairs and improvements to the exterior of the Lodge as soon as funds are available after which the fabric of Lodge St John, No.92, Banff, should be good for many years to come.
*It is noteworthy that this very democratic method of electing Lodge Office-bearers was in use in Masonic Lodges in Scotland a very long time before modern democratic methods were introduced into public life.