In determining how to mark the tercentenary of the inception of the United Grand Lodge of England the members of the Dalton-in-Furness Masonic Hall social committee decided to go back to the very roots of Freemasonry in the town.
The hall is the home of two craft lodges, Baldwin Lodge No 1398 and Dalton-in-Furness Lodge No 6828. Dalton is mentioned in the Domesday Book and proudly carries the title of ‘Ancient Capital of Furness’.
As befits a capital, the town has its own castle, albeit a rather small one alternatively known as a Pele Tower. It is thought to have been constructed in the mid-14th century following the devastation of the area by invading Scots under the leadership of Robert the Bruce. With imposing six feet thick walls the prime aim of it was to act as a measure of defence for the local population but its principal use has actually been as a court and prison. The last prisoner was detained within its confines in 1774 whilst the last court leet or manorial court was held in the building more recently in 1925.
On 12 July 1872 the castle, which was then owned by the Duke of Buccleugh, was the setting for the consecration of Baldwin Lodge. Named after its founder and first master Colonel J W A Baldwin, the lodge continued to hold its meetings in those imposing but rather austere surroundings for a period of 75 years. In 1947, the castle, by then being too small to suit the purposes of the buoyant lodge, business was transferred to the Masonic hall in Hall Street, Dalton-in-Furness where it presently meets. This did not go down well with all the members as they were very proud of their claim that it was the only lodge to meet in a castle.
Dalton-in-Furness Lodge was consecrated in 1949 to accommodate the growing number of gentlemen who wished to become Freemasons following the war.
These facts in mind, what more appropriate starting point for the celebration evening than a tour of Dalton Castle which is now in the ownership of the National Trust. Members of the ‘Friends of Dalton Castle’ were on hand to provide an insight into the history of the building.
The main room on the top floor of the building was the original scene of the meetings of Baldwin Lodge. The general layout remains the same although there are several museum pieces on show together with an exhibition about the artist George Romney who was born in the town and whose grave is in the grounds of the adjacent St Mary’s church. The only physical sign that a lodge had ever met in the building is the positioning of a hatch on the door of the upper room to aid communications between the tyler and inner guard.
As in years gone by, after the meeting in the castle there was a trip to a nearby hostelry for refreshment. On this occasion it was the nearby Chequers Hotel for an informal evening of food, music and good company.
The function room at the hotel carries the name of the Castle Suite. The building was originally part of a free school. That part of the school was constructed in 1872, by coincidence the same year as Baldwin Lodge was formed. One of the main driving forces behind the provision of the school was local vicar Rev James ‘Paddy’ Morgan who was one of the founding members of Baldwin Lodge. His details are listed at number 8 in the lodge register which show he was also a member of the First Lodge of Ireland No 1.
Even though the castle had originally been built to repel the hordes from the north of Hadrian’s Wall it did not prevent Mike Ramsay being present in full highland dress to pipe a welcome to everyone as they entered the hotel.
Throughout the evening a screen on the stage displayed a rolling presentation created by hall secretary Carl Hallows which depicted the development of United Grand Lodge and the history of the two Dalton-in-Furness based lodges.
An excellent buffet was enjoyed by all as was the entertainment provided by ‘The Sidecars’, a local group who specialise in 1950’s rock ‘n roll. Many took advantage of the lively music to work off some of the calories devoured from the buffet table.
Being a Masonic event, the evening could not go past without the ubiquitous raffle with the proceeds being shared between the two lodges to go towards the Masonic Charitable Foundation 2021 Festival.
Local Assistant Provincial Grand Master and Dalton-in-Furness lodge member David Grainger afterwards commented: “It was a splendid evening. Secretary Carl Hallows, treasurer Peter Dismore and the other members of the hall social committee are to be congratulated for their work in making it all possible.”