The beginnings of organised Knight Templar masonry in England suffered something of a disjointed start.
Although the exact date of the arrival of the masonic Templar Order in England is not precisely known, we have written evidence of its existence in the 1770s. It was however not until 1791 that some form of cohesive structure was to evolve. That year Thomas Dunckerley was petitioned by a number of Encampments ranging from London to Bath, Colchester, York, Dorchester (1st Dragoon Guards) and Bideford to form the first Grand Conclave of masonic Knights Templar and to be its first Grand Master. This he did on 24th June 1791, the Feast Day of St John the Baptist.
One of Dunckerley’s first acts was to dispatch one Thomas Dixon, an officer in the 1st Dragoon Guards, to be the Acting Grand Master for North England, comprehending the counties of York, Westmoreland, Cumberland, Durham and Northumberland – though not including Cheshire!
Sadly the initial enthusiasm for organised KT failed to take off and Dunckerley himself and indeed Dixon both having died, the activities of the initial Grand Conclave fell dormant until 1807 when HRH Duke of Kent accepted to be the Royal Grand Patron of the Order and Walter Rodwell Wright was appointed Grand Master. Rodwell Wright only remained Grand Master for two years until, in 1812, the Grand Mastership was taken over by HRH Duke of Sussex.
The Duke was of course one of the key players in the formation of United Grand Lodge in 1813 and although the terms of the Union permitted the continuance of Knight Templary, it, being a solely Christian Order, left the Duke in something of a quandary. Whilst some activity continued “in the background” the Order did not start to re-emerge until the death of the Duke in 1843, when the Grand Mastership of the Order was passed, on a temporary basis, to the Deputy Burckhardt. In 1846 the Grand Mastership passed to Colonel Charles Kemeys Kemeys Tynte and it was under his leadership that the Province of Cheshire was formally constituted.
Prior to that date however there is clear evidence of Templar activity in the County. The earliest reference to KT seems to be around 1780 in the Minutes of Royal Chester Lodge No 180 when one of its members recorded “took RA and Knight Templar – no fees”.
In 1793 Dunckerley appointed John Schofield, the then Provincial Grand Master for Lancashire, as Grand Superintendent for a KT Province consisting of the counties of Lancashire, Yorkshire and Cheshire.
The first Encampment, as such, in Cheshire was the Stockport Loyal Volunteers, warranted in 1796, followed in 1806 by Royal Edward and by St Salem in 1808, with Love and Friendship being formed in 1809.
The first petition for Provincial status was submitted in 1809 and followed up in 1810 but any decision by Grand Conclave was postponed several times, to some extent due to the change in Grand Master. Nothing further is known about the following few years, in large part because all central records were lost in a disastrous fire in the house of the Grand Chancellor in 1820.
Knight Templary having re-emerged from its “quiet period”, the Grand Master appointed William Courtenay Cruttenden as Provincial Grand Commander for Cheshire in 1849.
In 1850 twenty-seven knights from the three Cheshire Encampments: Royal Edward, St Salem and Love and Friendship came together at the Vernon Arms Inn at Stockport to form the Provincial Grand Encampment of Cheshire.
Starting with Cruttenden, there have only been 12 Provincial Grand Commanders/Provincial Priors, the latest of whom, Dr Anthony George Mathie, has written and published a most interesting history of the Province from 1850 to 2000, covering not only the history of the Province itself but also the detailed history of the individual Preceptories forming the Province.
A brief summary of the Provincial Priors;
When W C Cruttenden 1850-1867 was appointed a mere 27 Knights attended and neither of the two Preceptories which still exist have anything in their records to mark the formation of the Provincial Grand Encampment or the appointment of the first Provincial Grand Commander. No Provincial meetings at all are recorded for the years 1852, 1853, 1857, 1858,1864 or 1865.
Major G Cornwall Legh MP succeeded and ruled from 1867-1878. It was however only at Knutsford in 1877 that he appeared for the first time after his Installation.
Rev C W Spencer Stanhope 1878-1894 then took over. His Installation was at short notice because Grand Officers of England happened to be passing through Chester. Membership in 1880 numbered 72. No meetings of Provincial Priory were held in 1883, 1886,1887 or 1888. In 1889 only St Salem and Grosvenor Preceptories were working.
Things improved when in 1895 The Hon Allan de Tatton MP took charge, ruling until 1918. His appointment broadly coincided with the demise of the unpopular and divisive Convent General. The standing of this Prior can be seen in that in 1900 he accompanied HRH Prince of Wales on a deputation to Berlin. In 1904 the Provincial Prior presented jewels for nearly all the acting Provincial Officers. These jewels still exist today though they are no longer permitted to be worn. Strangely the jewels for the Prior and Sub Prior are from a different date and of somewhat inferior quality. Sadly because of failing health he had been unable to attend Provincial meetings after 1912.
After a year’s vacancy Major C Leicester Warren took over in 1920, ruling until 1949. Membership of the Province in 1920 was 132, rising in 1922 to 177, the total having doubled over the previous decade. In 1926 he received the appointment of KCT. In 1948 the first Provincial Bodyguard was announced. In 1949, the year of the Provincial Prior’s resignation on the grounds of ill health there were 14 Preceptories in the Province, with a membership of 360.
E Barlow 1950-1954 then took over at the time of the Province’s centenary. Sadly he died after a mere 4 years in charge.
He was succeeded by Lt Col J L B Leicester Warren who ruled from 1955-1972. By 1957 membership exceeded 400 for the first time. The work and dedication applied to his duties resulted in the very significant appointment to Great Seneschal, a post he held 1971/2. In 1973 he received the ultimate accolade of being appointed Most Excellent and Supreme Grand Master of the Order.
In March 1973 Leicester Warren, who had resigned the post of Provincial Prior, installed his successor, Dr H Ingram who reigned until his retirement in 1986. At the Provincial Meeting in 1979 over 200 Knights were present for the first time.
Rev K C White then took charge until 1991. During his reign Preceptory banners were paraded for the first time. The Provincial Priory presented two hassocks, one with the Templar arms and one with the arms of Malta, to the Diocese of Chester to mark their 450th anniversary.
On announcing his retirement the direction of the Province passed to J F Hibbert, solicitor and HM Coroner, who reigned 1991-2002.
By 1995 membership of the Order in the Province exceeded 500. In November 2000 the Provincial Priory met at Christleton in the presence of the Most Excellent and Supreme Grand Master.
Hibbert was succeeded by S Clayton Barker, who, until he resigned after two “terms”, reigned until 2013. During his tenure mantel badges worn by Provincial Officers bore the wording “Province of Cheshire and North Wales” for the first time, reflecting the proper name of the Province. Also during his reign the reformed requirements for the Cheshire Bodyguard were promulgated.
The Province became “Cheshire and North Wales” on 18th November 2011, formally recognising the fact the Province of “Cheshire” had had Preceptories located in the Principality but under Cheshire jurisdiction since 1924.
In 2013 Dr A G Mathie was appointed Provincial Prior by the Most Excellent and Supreme Grand Master at a meeting at Christleton.
Following his sad death whilst in Office, the Provincial Sub-Prior, V. Em. Kt. Alan Pierce, JP, was appointed and invested as Provincial Prior for Cheshire and North Wales by the Most Eminent and Supreme Grand Master Paul Clement, GCT, at an especial meeting of the Province at Cheshire View, Christleton on Saturday 16 October 2021.
The following publications may also be on interest.
“The Provincial Priory of Cheshire 1850-2000“,
obtainable from the Provincial Vice Chancellor, at £5.00 per copy.
“The Origin and History of the United Orders” by RM Handfield Jones,
obtainable from Metropolis Masonic, at £2.20 per copy.
“Understanding More About The Knights Templar and Malta Degrees“,
obtainable from Lewis Masonic, at £9.99 per copy.