The Military has always made an impact in Suffolk and it was no different during the 18th and 19th centuries. Indeed, in the early 1800’s there were 12 Masonic lodges listed, either as static or travelling, of which 7 were Military.

The early days of Freemasonry in Woodbridge covers the period of Napoleon and Nelson, a time of great disruption and unrest in Europe. Britain renewed its War with France in 1803. Thomas Bruce, 7th Earl of Elgin begins removal of the Elgin Marbles from the Parthenon in Athens, and the Battle of Trafalgar took place in 1805.

During those times Woodbridge was a very important Military station. Woodbridge Barracks, off Barrack Road, was built to accommodate 7000 (Cavalry and Infantry) plus there was an encampment at Bromeswell, on an area now recognised as Woodbridge Golf Club, which supported at least four Regiments.

Records show the Regiment of the 2nd Lancashire Militia arrived in Woodbridge in 1803, bringing with them their Military Lodge called “The Knights of Malta Lodge No 309”. Several civilians of the Town became members.

The deployment of the 2nd Lancashires to Colchester soon after, prompted the civilian members of the Craft to make an early Petition to Grand Lodge, for the formation of a new Lodge.

Grand Lodge promptly agreed, the Warrant issued being “Prince Edwin’s No 249”. This Warrant had previously seen service in St John’s Garrison, Newfoundland. The Petition for the Warrant was backed by the Military Lodge No 309.

Prince Edwin’s Lodge No 249 was opened on 24th May 1804, at the White Hart Inn, White Hart Lane, Woodbridge, subsequently called H. Edwards and Son’s Wine Stores, Brook Street, Woodbridge. In 1804, 19 members were on the roll; in 1805, 26 new admissions were registered, and in 1806, 46 more.

Two Lodges therefore worked in Woodbridge up to the end of 1804, the first, a Military Lodge which accepted civilians and the second, a civilian Lodge, which in turn, admitted the Military.

Prince Edwin’s Lodge was really a nucleus of several Lodges. Among its Members were men from Debenham, Earl Soham and Framlingham.

In 1808 these Brethren, with the aid of their Woodbridge brothers, formed the Abif (or Abifs) Lodge in Framlingham, which transferred to Saxmundham in 1811. I mention this because just one year later in 1812, an off-shoot of the Abif or Abiff Lodge No 73 (C) 79 (erased from the Roll of the Antient’s G.L. in 1832) formed the Pilots Lodge at Aldeburgh No 96 (B) 120, which is very much central to the subsequent formation of Doric Lodge in Woodbridge.

Whilst the civilian Lodge No 249 in Woodbridge was experiencing a decline in numbers, in March 1811, a Military Lodge was set up here, by the Berwickshire Militia, having obtained the Warrant of the 17th Regiment of Foot (Lodge 237 A). They placed in the three principal chairs, Brethren from Prince Edwin Lodge, No 249.

In 1813 Bro Samuel Elvis wrote to Grand Lodge asking permission to relocate Prince Edwin’s Lodge from the “White Hart Inn” to the “Horse and Groom Inn”, Melton. Unfortunately, the transfer did not have the desired effect, and in 1818 the Warrant was transferred to the “White Lion” in Eye. In 1818 this Warrant lapsed altogether.

In those days “Warrants” were transferable. They might be sold or returned to Grand Lodge for reissue. So, when a Lodge was formed, it did not necessarily get a Warrant in numerical order – as is the case today.

Atholl Warrant No 96 was originally issued in 1762 to a London Lodge, name unknown. And it was returned to Grand Lodge in 1765 or 1767. It remained unused until 1812. In 1812 Warrant of Lodge No 96 was issued to “Pilot’s Lodge, Aldborough”, where it was in active service for seven years.

Unfortunately, in 1819 Pilots Lodge became passive and communications with Grand Lodge ceased. The Warrant should then have been returned to Grand Lodge, but for several reasons this did not happen. A notable fact, as you will realise later.

Exactly when the first steps were taken to form “Doric Lodge” is not known, but it must have been early in 1823 when one of the founders Bro Benjamin Gall, who had entered Masonry through “British Union Lodge No 114”, wrote to Grand Lodge on the subject.

The founders of Doric Lodge, having determined to establish a Lodge in the Town, and having what they thought was sufficient permission from the Authorities, looked round for a Warrant. They found the Aldeburgh Freemasons, i.e. Pilots Lodge No 96, “whose Lodge was in a decaying condition”, willing to sell. Eventually a sum of £25 (circa £2000 at today’s value) was agreed for their Warrant No 96, together with furniture and Regalia.

By this time however the Warrant had been officially renumbered 120.

On 1st January 1824 Doric Lodge, with W Bro Benjamin Gall as Master, held its first meeting at the Bull Inn, now the Bull Hotel, Woodbridge.

On 4th May 1825 Warrant No 81 was issued to Royal York Chapter and their first meeting was on 23rd July 1825.

On 1st December 1826 the meeting venue was changed when W. Bro George Thompson of Doric Place, The Thoroughfare, Woodbridge, completed an extension to his house, costing £100, for the sole purposes of making it a meeting room for Doric Lodge. This venue was used for some 80 years.

In 1906 a new Masonic Hall, New Street, Woodbridge, was constructed. It was officially opened on 11th January 1907 by The Right Hon. Earl of Stradbroke. The Hall was extended in 1928 by the additional of a Dining Room and associate rooms.

On 4th December 1946 a Warrant No 6411 was issued to Seckford Lodge and their consecration was on 26th March 1947.

I had earlier mentioned Prince Edwin’s Lodge No 249 being relocation to the Coach and Horses in Melton. During renovation works at this property Masonic symbols were found etched on glazed doors recovered from the roof space. I understand they were kindly donated to Doric Lodge by the Landlord, who fortunately was a local Freemason, and were “rehoused” by W Bro Fred Seagers, the 1st Master of Seckford Lodge No 6411 and are still in use today.

If you are wondering why the official number of Doric Lodge kept changing it is because after the Grand Union in 1813 it became necessary, for obvious reasons, to re-number Lodges. So, Lodge No 96 became 120 in 1814. A second re-numbering in 1832 strangely took it back to 96, and a third in 1864 placed it at its present number of 81.

On 5th January 2012, during a meeting of Adair Lodge No 936 in Saxmundham W Bro Mike Trapp gave a talk on the former Pilots Lodge. During this talk he stated that he had been in communication with the United Grand Lodge of England (UGLE) and on 25th July 2002 he received the following response to his question about a Mother Lodge of Adair Lodge “… examining the original petition from 1862 may point to Doric Lodge No 81 being the Mother Lodge……”

The Provincial Grand Lodge of Suffolk lists, including three “over the border” in Gt Yarmouth, Gorleston & Diss, twenty Masonic Halls or regular meeting places. These provide venues for the 68 Craft Lodges, and other degrees & Orders, as recorded in the Provincial Year Book 2018 - 2019. The Masonic Hall at Woodbridge could justify being re-designated the “Woodbridge Masonic Centre”, because like several others it too accommodates permanent and peripatetic Lodges plus various other Masonic Orders.

Researched by Richard C Carter, PM8354, PM81. Trustee of the Woodbridge Masonic Centre. February 2019.