St. John Royal Arch chapter A brief history

St. John Royal Arch chapter No.257 held its first meeting on the 15th June 1885 under the auspices of the supreme grand royal arch chapter of Scotland which means we are exactly one day short of 100 years old and it is very gratifying to have achieved our centenary year with 100 years of unbroken allegiance to the supreme grand royal arch chapter of Scotland.

Of course, those who know anything about the history of St. John also know that we were an Early Grand Chapter and worked under the jurisdiction of the Early Grand Encampment of Scotland, which previously had been warranted by the Early Grand Encampment of Ireland. So, to understand the formation of our Chapter, we must go back two years to the 14th June 1893 exactly 102 years from tonight.

Our first Minute Book records a meeting being held of Early Grand Royal Arch Chapter St. Johns No. 21 in the Parkhead Public Halls, when our Early Grand Chapter was opened by Companion Thomson of Ayr assisted by Companion Buchan of Glasgow No.4 and Phemister of Govan No.20 To elaborate these companions were members of Ayr No.3, St. John Glasgow No.4 which today is recognised as Caledonian of Unity No. 73 and Fairfield Govan No.20 all numbered under the Early Grand Encampment of Scotland, In fact, Companion Thomson held Grand Master ship for four years 1877 – 1881.

Thomson in later years proved to be a controversial character, but during his tenure of office of Early Grand Encampment its fortunes took a turn for the better. He was elected Grand Representative of the Early Grand Encampment of Scotland in 1890 and is shown on our 3rd Minute of Early Grand Chapter as such.

We held our first seven meetings in the Parkhead Public Halls that were on Duke Street at Salamanca Street, and then we moved to the Masonic Hall at 17 Ewing Place, our first meeting there being held on the 9th December 1893. These were the halls of Lodge Shettleston St. John No. 128, and although not recorded it was probably brethren from this lodge who were instrumental in our formation hence the name, although we used the title of St. Johns not St. John in those early years.

At our first four meetings as an Early Grand Chapter, the Chapter was opened by visiting Companions from other Early Grand Chapters who conducted the business and degree work. At the fourth meeting on the 17th August 1893 a candidate named James Hamilton, a magistrate of the City of Glasgow was admitted and instructed in the degrees up to the Royal Arch. At our next meeting on 25 August 1893 he was installed Z. James Hamilton was Z for the next two years as early Grand Chapter and Z for our first year under the Supreme Grand Royal Arch Chapter of Scotland, he is number one on our first roll book.

Our early Grand Chapter joined the Supreme Grand Royal Arch Chapter of Scotland at the amalgamation of both bodies on the 11th May 1895, when the Early Grand Encampment of Scotland swore allegiance to the Supreme Grand Royal Arch Chapter of Scotland. Nine Early Grand Chapters joined supreme Grand Royal Arch Chapter at this time and were given the number 249 to 257, ours being the last Early Grand Chapter working the Royal Arch Degrees to be Chartered by Early Grand Encampment. One month later as already stated we held our first meeting under the Supreme Grand Royal Arch Chapter of Scotland on the 15th of June 1895. Only those nine Early Grand Chapters who joined Supreme at this time were allowed to affix the letters. E. G. to their names after their new supreme Grand Royal Arch Chapter of Scotland numbers.

Of these nine Chapters one did not work after 1896, two amalgamated with other Chapters, which leaves six Early Grand Chapters still active, of which we are the only one in Glasgow the other five being from Ayrshire.

Our Early Grand Chapter held 21 meetings as Early Grand Royal Arch Chapter St. Johns No.21 these meetings were held on the second Thursday of each month until 1899 when our meeting nights were changed to the 2nd Wednesday of the month, ten regular Meetings were held at this time exactly the same as at present.

Our Chapter continued to meet at 17 Ewing Place until the 13th February 1907 when we moved to the newly built Masonic Halls in Quarryknowe Street, which we had partly helped to build through our contributions to the Glasgow Eastern Masonic Halls Association Fund. We also paid £11.8/- to enable a vault to be built within the Halls. Our first meeting, being held there on the 13th March 1907.

We met at these Halls until 12th October 1949 when a dispute with the Lodge Shettleston St. John No.128, resulted in us again moving to our present home at Lodge Tollcross No.1194. The dispute centred on the Lodge allowing outside bodies the use of the large hall on our meeting nights, ourselves using the small hall. Our parent body would not permit this because of the possibility of being overseen. It we agreed to hire the whole suite of halls for 50/- instead of 25/- for small hall, no other bodies would then be present- this was not acceptable to the Chapter.

We held our first regular meeting in Lodge Tollcross on 9th November 1949, which means we are only four years short of half a century of continuous fraternal friendship with 1194.

During our time at Lodge Tollcross No. 1194, as previously with Shettleston St. John No. 128, numerous brethren from these Lodges have joined our Order of Masonry, indeed we have had past Masters and Past Principals of both, which shows the strong ties which have linked St. John with both these Lodges. Our Oldest living member Samuel Goodfellow aged 88 who joined on 11th November 1942 was Master of Lodge Tollcross in 1947 and First Principal in 1955/56. This is not however unusual as a number of our Companions past and present have attained the highest office in both Lodge Tollcross and St. John Chapter James Hamill R.W.M. 1983, First Principal 1986/86; Michael Mc Fadden R. W. M. 1988, First Principal 1986/86, and indeed was also the case with Lodge Shettleston St. John. We also have many Past Masters of Tollcross who although are not Past Principals, are however, members of our Chapter.

This evening we are very pleased to have with us the Master of Lodge Tollcross No. 1194 James McCutcheon Who was our First Principal in 1983/84, and has been a stalwart in both Lodge and Chapter for many years. James led a deputation of 1194 to Lodge Edzell Castle No 870 on Saturday 27th May 95, where Brother William Gray Burns a retired Minister received his fifty-year diploma; his late father Peter C. Burns was First Principal of St John 257 in 1910 and R. W. M. of 1194 in 1923.

Over the years, many Companions of St. John have attained high rank and distinction both within and without St. John Royal Arch Chapter, like Companion David Wilcox who did three terms of office between 1899 and 1902 and was very well known in and around Parkhead at this time as he was a J. P., a Baillie and the local historian. He wrote many books and articles most of which were never published, but because of the fascinating content of his work it is now held by the Mitchell Library, and our tanks go to Robert Stevenson P.Z. who reproduced his work at the Mitchell Library which enabled us to include articles of his work in two previous issues of our Chapter Magazine.

Another Companion of note at this time was William P. Thorley who again served three terms of Office as First Principal between 1903 and 1906 and who for 22 years at least between 1910 and 1932 was the Provincial Grand Scribe E.

In more recent times, our Chapter has had the honour of one of our past Principals Robert Dougan 1957/58 becoming a Depute Grand Superintendent of Glasgow. Also James Johnstone First Principal 1975/76 who attained the highest elected position in Provincial Grand Royal Arch Chapter of Glasgow as Past Recorder, the youngest Past Recorder ever.

We have had many Companions who have left their mark on St. John throughout the year, and although having ascended to that Grand Chapter above, and unable to name them all, here are a few worthy of mention.

William G. White M. E. Z 1951/52, who was Master of 1194, in 1955, and was an example to all who knew him due to the hard work he did for both chapter and Lodge. Peter Strange M. E. Z. 1958/59 an inspiration to all degree workers. Alex ashwood M. E. Z. 1972/73, and 1979/80, a real character in the truest and nicest sense. William Dickson M. E. Z. 1992/93 always a real story to tell. All remembered with great affection by St. John.

Over the years St. John has played its part in the various competitions run by the Province going back to the Kirkwood Shooting Trophy that we played for and won in 1904. An interesting point to note is that the Chapter paid 7/6d to enter a team and paid 4/- for ammo.

We also took part in the Brown Royal Arch Bowling Trophy which we won for the first time in 1909, and since then have won the Glasgow Province Royal Arch Bowling Trophy several times, the last occasion being 1988/89 when we won both the Glasgow competition and the inter Provincial competition, which is held between the provinces of Glasgow, Renfrewshire and the Middle Ward of Lanarkshire.

A Whist competition between St. John and Dennistoun Royal Arch Chapters has also taken place since 1913, and on August 19th 1931 M. E. C. Andrew Ballantyne P. Z. 1927/28 presented the Ballantyne Whist Cup to the Chapter, This competition is still played to the present day as a Games Night between ourselves, Dennistoun and Rhinsdale Chapters.

Right from the early days of our Chapter we have visited and been Visited by other Chapters from the Province and beyond, especially Dennistoun 266. It is recorded in our Minute Book of 8th April 1897 that our chapter was invited to their consecration and installation. It is not known if anyone from our chapter attended at this time but certainly since then our two chapters have continued to visit each other regularly.

On 11th February 1903, David McArthur Tobertson, P. Z. of Dennistoun was made an honorary member of our Chapter and on 2nd July 1903 he was acting 1st Sojourner in St. John and Conferred the E. M. Degree. He subsequently continued to support and perform degree work on behalf of St. John R. A. C.

The same applies to Chapter Rhinsdale 690 who were consecrated in 1939 and whose First Principal Rob Dowse visited us with two other companions of Rhinsdale, that same year, and we have kept up a long and harmonious relationship with chapter Rhinsdale over these many years.

Also, Chapter Torrie 447 whom we have been friends with for 25 years since 11th March 1970 at least, when four companions from Torrie visited St. John the companions being John Philips Z, J. McKellar I. P. Z., George McKay J, and W. Malcolmson P.Z.

The first three are also honorary members of our Chapter, as indeed are Companions of Dennistoun and Rhinsdale.

Over the years our Chapter has had very close relationships with many other chapters including Caledonian of Unity 73, New Monkland 201 and Clydesdale 489. We hope over the next one Hundred years these friendships will continue.

Our chapter as well as fostering relationships with other chapters, has itself its own family connections, Robert Osborne M.E.Z. 1946/47 and James W. Osborne M. E. Z, 1948/49, brothers; George J. Stevenson M. E.Z. 1947/48 and Robert R Stevenson. M. E. Z. 1987/88, father and son; Robert Currie M. E. Z. 1954/55, William Currie M. E. Z. 1968/69, father and son; James Mc Lean M. E. Z. 1962/63 and Alex McLean. M. E. Z. 1965/66, brothers; Myles Johnstone. M. E. Z. 1969/70, James Johnstone M. E. Z. 1975/76, and John Johnstone M. E. Z. 1980/81 father and sons; Charles Donnelly I. P. Z. and John McMillan M. E. H. Father and son-in-law.

Space does not allow us to include in this brief history every thing we would wish, and in these few pages it would be impossible to include a full and concise biography of our Chapter, but we hope you will have found something of interest. In future issues of our Chapter Magazine we will endeavour to include more of the history of our Chapter, which has been omitted.

Let us ever remember our earlier Companions who laid the foundations of our present structure, they lived and laboured in the environment of their time, and to them we owe our gratitude and respect. May we enter into our second century with a firm resolve to maintain the principals of our order, and by extending the hand of true Fellowship may we retain not only the goodwill and respect of all Royal Arch Masons, but also of our fellow men.

Robert Stevenson P. Z. and Andrew Downie P. Z have compiled the information contained within this sketch.