The history of the Telephone Chapter naturally starts with its sponsoring Lodge: Telephone Lodge No 3301, which had been founded in 1908 by a group of masons almost all of whom worked for the National Telephone Company, the proud but doomed competitor to the GPO. Doomed, as the government was determined to remove what they saw as ‘wasteful competition’ and consequently the NTC was nationalised and combined with the GPO in 1912. The resulting state monopoly lasted for 70 years until Mrs Thatcher’s government decided that competition and privatisation were by then the right approach. The NTC’s fate had been known since 1905, when they were given notice that their licence would not be renewed beyond 1911. It seems likely that the Lodge was founded out of a sense of maintaining the spirit of the NTC, though the formation of such closed professional lodges was a notable feature of the late Victorian and Edwardian eras. Telephone Lodge was very popular and grew rapidly, so it is not surprising that those in the lodge who were already Royal Arch Companions would at some point consider starting their own Chapter. The prime mover in the formation of the Chapter was E. Comp. Percival Kipping who had also been one of the key drivers in the founding of the Lodge.
Our minutes show that, prior to the consecration meeting, three meetings of our founders were held in the Midland Bank Chambers in Queen Victoria Street. At the first of these meetings a petition for the formation of this Chapter was signed by the founders and subsequently was presented to our sponsoring Lodge at their regular meeting on May 16th, 1914. This petition, countersigned by the Master and Wardens of Telephone Lodge, was presented to the Committee of General Purposes of Supreme Grand Chapter, by the Grand Scribe E., at their meeting on July 15th, 1914, at which a recommendation was made that a Charter be granted. This recommendation was approved at the Quarterly Convocation of Supreme Grand Chapter held on August 5th, 1914.
Here are two images of the petition, thanks to the Library & Museum of Freemasonry:
The Consecration Meeting was held at the Café Royal, Regent Street, London on 30th November 1914, with the Consecrating Officer being E. Comp. Sir Edward Letchworth, F.S.A., the Grand Scribe E. assisted by:
|E. Comp. W.J. Songhurst, PAGSoj||H|
|E. Comp. The Rev. Dr. Oliver C. Cockram, PGStdB||J|
|E. Comp. T.A. Bullock, PAGDC||SN|
|E. Comp. B. Marr-Johnson, PDepGDC||DC|
|E. Comp. W. Yeo||Grand Janitor|
The Founders and First Officers were:-
|E. Comp.||F.O. Harke, PZ 1339||MEZ|
|E. Comp.||P.P. Kipping, MEZ 28||H|
|E. Comp.||F.A.B. Lord, MEZ 55||J|
|E. Comp.||T. Taylor, PGSwdB||Acting IPZ|
|E. Comp.||L.W.H. Fischer, PZ 5, MEZ 33||Scribe E|
|Comp.||E.W. Wainwright, 214||Scribe N|
|Comp.||Capt. A.E. Willmott, 552||Treasurer|
|Comp.||W.V. Pegden, 3077||PS|
|Comp.||W.M. France, 3077||1st AS|
|Comp.||H.G. Fisher, 2697||2nd AS|
|E. Comp.||J. Russell, PZ 28 and 33||DC|
|E. Comp.||E.J. Reid, MEZ 826||Steward|
|Comp.||A.F. Paddon, 3077||Steward|
|E. Comp.||R. Stoneman||Janitor|
As can be seen, Companions came from 9 different Chapters, but this perhaps obscures the key point that most were members of Telephone Lodge. Companions Harke, Kipping, Lord, Taylor, France and Paddon had been Founders of Telephone Lodge in 1908, while Companions Pegden and Reid were also members of the Lodge. Companion Wainwright was the Preceptor of the Telephone Lodge of Instruction. Down the years, many Past Masters of Telephone Lodge have gone on to become First Principals of the Chapter. Photographs of many of these can be found on the Telephone Lodge website.
A report on the consecration ceremony and after proceedings appeared in “The Freemasons’ Chronicle” of the 5th December, 1914.
The Chapter adopted as its badge a similar emblem to that used by the Lodge, namely an earpiece from a Candlestick Telephone as commonly used in that era, surmounting a triangle, plus the Triple Tau. You can see this on our Founder’s Jewel, shown above.
The Founders each paid a fee of 5 guineas, while annual subscriptions were set at 3 guineas – not cheap as this is equivalent to about £270 today.
The Chapter started life during the Great War, but this does not seem to have caused any interruption in the regular meetings. In 1915, a tradition started of organising summer outings for Chapter members and their ladies. Except for a gap in 1917-18, these were held every summer until 1933. They seem to have been very popular and included river trips, visits to places of interest, hotel lunches and teas. The Chapter stood the cost of Members’ attendance while the cost for the Ladies was just 25s per head from 1920 to 1933, but in those days that provided a quite luxurious day out (25s being about £70 today). A typical event was that in 1927 when a Thames river trip from Windsor called at Maidenhead for lunch, followed by a visit to Viscount Astor’s Cliveden Estate at Taplow in the afternoon. That event was captured on camera and this is a copy of the photograph from the Minute Book, with several leading members identified from lodge photos.
In 1926, Telephone Lodge sponsored a daughter lodge, Faraday Lodge 4798 and this has been a regular feeder lodge to this Chapter ever since. More recently, members of Chivalry Lodge 6372 and Deltaic Lodge 5640 have also provided new Exaltees.
During its 100 year life, the Chapter has exalted 120 companions, with a further 10 Joining Members. E. Comp France was the first member to receive London Chapter Rank in 1928 and many more have subsequently been honoured with what is now LGCR, also SLGCR. Several have become Grand Officers.
A particular feature that has assisted maintaining high standards in the Chapter has been the longevity of tenure of some Companions in the key offices of Scribe E and Treasurer. E. Comps F.E. Sims, L. Pinder and A.S. Walker were Scribes E for 17, 24 and 31 years respectively. E. Comps W.M. France and F. Martin were Treasurers for 15 and 12 years respectively. Of course, such lengthy tenures are frowned on today.
The Chapter has a good record in charitable giving. In particular, it was a Founding Chapter of the Freemason’s Hospital in 1927 with a donation of 100 guineas, equivalent to £5700 in today’s money.
Like many London Lodges and Chapters, the size and attendance at meetings has fluctuated over the years, reflecting the size of the feeder lodges and the social and economic conditions of the times. The following numerical analysis has been made largely drawing on attendances at the Installation Meetings. The Consecration Meeting was attended by 6 Consecrating Officers, 10 Founders and 10 visitors. But more typically, those early war-time meetings attracted about 9-10 members and few visitors. The 1920s were a time of expansion and membership climbed steadily. The Installation meeting for 1928 was attended by 22 members and 5 visitors. It was probably the economic slump that then caused numbers to drop back to around 15 in the early 1930s and several meetings started to feature no visitors. Indeed, the early 30s seemed to be a low point for the Chapter. In 1932, the Scribe E suggested that sections of the RA Lectures might be given at meetings. Aside from the annual Installations, no ritual work had been for the last 2 years and the previous Exaltation had been 4 years before. Conditions later improved and the highest ever attendance at a Chapter meeting was for the Installation Meeting in 1938 when 27 members and 3 visitors were present. The Second War caused numbers to fall back to around 17 members present, as many were on war work. In 1939 the Chapter considered whether it should suspend meetings for the duration, but decided to carry on. The question was put again a year later, at the height of the blitz, but again the Chapter continued, despite many privations. The Café Royal was bombed at the height of the blitz and in 1942 it announced that it was no longer able to supply meals. The Scribe E reported difficulties in the supply of regalia and the manufacture of PZ jewels.
After the war, numbers increased again and the Installation Meeting of 1948 had 22 members and 5 visitors. Throughout the 1950s, the average attendance was 18.3 members and 2.5 visitors. The Installation Meeting of 1957 also featured an Exaltation and attracted 19 members and no less than 9 visitors, including two from Wessex Chapter. This of course was around the time that the Telephone LOI became the Telephone & Hampshire LOI.
Attendances held up in the 1960s with Installation Meetings having an average of 17 members and 3.3 visitors. In November 1964, the Chapter celebrated its 50th anniversary attended by 20 members and 12 visitors. At that time, the total Chapter membership was 36, though 12 were non-dining.
In the 1970s the comparable attendances at Installation Meetings were 18.1 members and 2.6 visitors, so again, numbers remained broadly stable. The Installation Meeting of 1979 featured a post-war record attendance of 23 members and 5 visitors. This level held up to 1985, but by the late 1980s, average attendance at Installation Meetings was just 13.
In the 1990s, there was a further slow decline, averaging 11.2 members and 1.4 visitors attending. Sadly, we recorded our first single figure attendance at an Installation in 1996.
With the formation of London Management and subsequently Metropolitan Grand Chapter, we had our first visit from E. Comp Ken Ackrill, our Visiting Grand Officer, in 2000 and we have been pleased to see our Metropolitan team on a regular basis since then.
To conclude the numerical analysis, since 2000, our average attendances at Installation Meetings have been 10.8 members and 1.3 visitors. Our current membership is 18 full and 1 honorary member, but age, health and distance preclude the attendance of at least 6 of these. While this level is challenging at times, the quality of the ceremonies has been remained very good, thanks to the flexibility shown by our experienced PZs.
I will finish with two extracts from the GPC minutes of 1932 which brought a smile to my face; one because times have clearly changed and on the other because they haven’t:-
“E. Comp. Scribe E submitted a recommendation from Comp. Jewson that when possible the time for commencing the regular convocations of the Chapter should be fixed for as late an hour as possible to meet the convenience of companions engaged in business. This was agreed to.”
So no change there then!
“The question of wearing Morning or Evening Dress at the convocations was also discussed, several companions having indicated their preference for the former. It was agreed that, except on special occasions, Morning Dress should be worn in future.”
So passed the era of white tie and tailcoats for regular meetings: little did they know that within 10 years, war-time austerity would make dark lounge suits with plain black ties the norm for masonic meetings.
In conclusion, we trust that our Founders of 100 years ago would consider that we have maintained a superstructure ‘perfect in its parts and honourable to the builder’.