Two hundred years ago, there were fewer than forty Freemasons’ lodges in Sussex. Brethren who came to live in the Weald had difficult journeys just to visit established lodges in the major towns of Sussex. The coming of the railways in the late 1840s helped the spread of the Craft, particularly inwards from the Coast.
Now, to set the scene in Pulborough of over a hundred years ago. Poverty was rife; there was a soup kitchen run from the Alms Houses; even the more fortunate parishioners economised wherever they could; two shillings then (ten new pence) had the equivalent buying power of £5 today.
Our Mother Lodge had been consecrated in London in 1736, and transferred to Arundel fifty-three years later, taking the name The Howard Lodge Of Brotherly Love (No. 56) to commemorate the 8th Duke of Norfolk who had been Grand Master in 1723. By 1891, many of their Members were living in Littlehampton, and so, after one hundred and two years at Arundel, the Lodge moved to the Argyle Rooms in River Road, Littlehampton. (It moved to the present Church Street premises in 1937.)
It is the oldest lodge in the Province of Sussex, and its numbering has changed six times. But for the alternate renumbering of the older ‘Modern’ and the newer ‘Antient’ lodges by the newly-formed United Grand Lodge in 1817, the ‘Howard’ would have been numbered 29, and not 56 as now.
It is very evident that there were several dormant subscribing members of distant lodges in the area. We can only speculate as to why a Masonic connection formed with Lodge No. 56 at Arundel and Littlehampton, and not Chichester, Brighton, Worthing or Horsham. In the late 1800’s there were no late night trains. The last up train from Arundel was at 9.00pm. It is recalled that the Pulborough Members of "The Howard" travelled by wagonnette to their Lodge of Instruction meetings held in Arundel. The wagonnette was there, and the horse was free. It is said that they recited ritual on the way down, having to get out and help push up Beacon Hill, Watersfield, and Bury Hill. On the way home, they often played cards by the light of a pole lantern!
Ours was the second lodge under the English Constitution to use the name Pentalpha and from consecration until the 1914 war there was close communication with the Pentalpha Lodge (No. 974) in Bradford. In 1973 the Pentalpha Lodge of East Kent (No. 8535) was consecrated in Canterbury.
The formation of the Lodge was formerly proposed on the 15th February 1906 at the regular meeting of the Howard Lodge of Brotherly Love (56) held at the Argyle Rooms Littlehampton.
The RW Bro. His Grace the Duke of Richmond and Gordon, Provincial Grand Master, counter-signed the Recommendation on 10th March 1906.
The Warrant of Constitution was granted and signed on 4th April 1906 by the Grand Master, MW Bro. His Grace the Duke of Connaught and Strathearn.
On 17th May 1906, The Howard’s Minutes record:
"The Secretary read a notice of a Meeting of the Prov Grand Lodge to be holden at the Railway Hotel, Pulborough, on Wednesday the 23rd day of May 1906 for the purpose of consecrating the Pentalpha Lodge No. 3164."
So, on 23rd May, 1906, this Special Meeting was held in the upper room of the Railway Hotel, for the purpose of Consecrating the Lodge, Installing the Worshipful Master, and investing his Officers Designate. Not counting the officiating Provincial Officers, nor the twenty Founders, there were no less than eighty-eight Visitors present!
The first entry in the Lodge’s first Minute Book, written in the clear copperplate hand of W. Bro. E. H Staffurth, the Founding Secretary, is a copy of the Petition to the United Grand Lodge of England, desiring the formation of a new Lodge to be called ‘The Pentalpha Lodge’. The Warrant of Constitution is the second item copied.
Affixed to the Consecration Minutes is a Dispensation granted by the RW Prov GM to the WM-Designate and Founders of the Pentalpha Lodge No. 3164 to hold the Consecration Meeting at the Railway Hotel, Pulborough.
The Founding Master was W. Bro. Professor Thomas Comyn Woodman, a private tutor living at the Old House (at the top of Church Hill, Pulborough) and a PM of the Clarence Lodge (271) in Brighton. All the Founders lived in Pulborough, or appear to have had some family or business connections.
Harry Smith, a company director,
Newland Tompkins, a surveyor, auctioneer and land agent,
Dr Ernest George Foot, a general medical practitioner,
Louis Nicholas Corden, a chemist and druggist,
JW Parsons, an artist,
Dr Frank Henry Blatchford, a general medical practitioner,
Thomas Cameron, a general draper,
Henry Sandilands, an engineer,
Revd H Louis Newman, a clerk in holy orders
Josiah Lewis, hotel proprietor
Pentalpha Officers and Members 1906
Of the twenty Founders, one was a reigning Master, six Past Masters, five were subscribing members of other lodges, and seven had been Initiated into the Howard Lodge of Brotherly Love (56) within the previous seven years, viz: Bro’s Tompkins, Foot, Corden, Blatchford, Boorer, Sandilands, and Harris.
A full list of the Founders is here.
For almost thirty years the Lodge continued to meet in that same upper room of the now demolished Railway Hotel. The membership rose to around a hundred, and despite a very accommodating hotel management, there was always a wish "to have their own Temple". The Members saved, and bought the vacant parcel of land next to the branch of the then London and Counties Bank. Plans were drawn up by no less a person than the Assistant Provincial Grand Master. A builder living at Lickfold, and Member of the Lodge, Bro. C J Hurst, undertook the building work.
On Saturday, 22nd July, 1933, a Provincial Grand Lodge was opened in the Lodge Room of the Railway Hotel. The Provincial Grand Master, RW Bro. Major Lawrence Thornton, CBE, DL, his Deputy, and his Assistant Provincial Grand Master, with twenty-nine Officers of Provincial Grand Lodge, together with forty-two Members of the Lodge and forty-seven Visitors, marched in full regalia along Station Road to the site of the new Temple, where Provincial Grand Master well and truly laid the Foundation Stone. (There are photographs of this event in the Entrance of the building.)
The Foundation Stone of Pulborough Masonic Hall
The original plans clearly show the stairway having three, five and seven treads – numbers with a particular significance to Freemasons. Unfortunately, the carpenter appears to have been a craftsman of his trade, but not of the Craft, as he had the stairway constructed and in place with only two treads at the bottom before the error could be brought to Masonic notice.
The first Meeting in this building was on Wednesday, 13th December 1933, in the presence of the Assistant Provincial Grand Master, W. Bro. Lt. Colonel CRB Godman, TD, PGD, the architect who designed the building.
W. Bro. Jack Rapley recalls his father, W.Bro. SEC Rapley, telling him that Colonel Godman was extremely annoyed when he saw the ‘error’ of the stairs. Unfortunately the mistake has never been corrected.
At the first Meeting in the new Masonic Hall, apart from all the congratulations and expressions of thanks, there were also favourable ballots for two Candidates, Mr Lawrence Kingslake Fisher, and Mr Jack Edward Robert Rapley.
The Secretary, W.Bro. Louis Corden, reported that two Candidates were present. Mr John Owen Moss (balloted for at an earlier Meeting) and Mr Jack Edward Robert Rapley.
The WM, W. Bro. EA Graham, vacated the Chair in favour of W. Bro. SEC Rapley, the father of Jack and because Mr Jack Rapley was a Lewis he took precedence over the earlier balloted Mr Moss. Both were duly admitted according to custom, and initiated into the Mysteries and Privileges of Antient Freemasonry. The Working Tools were presented and explained, and the Charge after Initiation, were given by the Acting WM .
Pentalpha Officers & Members 1933
At the same meeting Bro. Tilling explained the Second Degree Tracing Board, and W. Bro. Newland Tompkins proposed that in order to raise sufficient money to pay all liabilities on the new Temple, the Lodge should issue debentures bearing interest of 5% pa. By the late 1940s, all the debentures had been redeemed.
At the Regular Lodge meeting in December 2003 the same W. Bro. Jack Edward Robert Rapley,TD, PPrJGW, SLGR, received a certificate to celebrate 70 years in Freemasonry.
In 1908 the Sinai Chapter (No. 3164) of Royal Arch Masons was consecrated.
By the end of the World War 2, in keeping with other Lodges in the Province of Sussex, Pentalpha Lodge had so many members that it would be many years before Brethren could achieve the higher offices, and ultimately the Chair of the Worshipful Master in the Lodge. In order to help resolve this problem a daughter Lodge was sponsored, and their founders decided on ‘Chanctonbury’ for the name. Subsequently the Chanctonbury Lodge (No. 6296) was consecrated in 1946.
In the 1960s Mark and Royal Ark Mariners’ Lodges were introduced into Pulborough, and the Polberge Chapter Rose Croix was founded in 1989.
In 2006, the Lodge celebrated its Centenary Year, and was presented with its Centenary Warrant by R W Bro. Ian Homan Lay, Provincial Grand Master.
Pentalpha Officers and Members 2006
Centenary Plaque, presented by W.Bro John Mitchell
Notable Brethren of Pentalpha Lodge
Professor Thomas Comyn Woodman was the Founding Master, he was a private tutor living at the Old House at the top of Church Hill in Pulborough.
Newland Tomkins was also one of the founders, he was a land agent, surveyor and estate agent in partnership with Arthur Whittaker who was at one time the Mayor of Arundel. Newland Tomkins was also the chairman of the Pulborough Cattle Market and he was the proprietor of the original No 1 bus route to Worthing.
Henry Sandilands emigrated to Canada in 1913, at what he thought would be his last Pentalpha meeting he donated a Masters Pedestal. A motor engineer he lived in the building which is now the business centre in Lower Street bringing up a family of four children.
He and his son returned to England as part of the Canadian expeditionary force during the 1914-18 war. Although they were based at Shorncliffe which is seventy miles away he attended Pentalpha Lodge on many occasions and in fact initiated his son at the regular meeting on 14th July 1917.
Gilbert Rice formed the main Ford dealership in Horsham which is still in operation today under the new ownership of LifeStyle Ford.
J. W. Pugsley was the last master of the Petworth Workhouse.
Stephen (SEC) Rapley was a Past Master and an untiring Director of Ceremonies who took the chair at the first meeting to be held in the new Masonic Hall in Pulborough in 1933 to initiate his eldest son Jack. Brother Jim was also initiated into Pentalpha in later years and Jim’s son Roderick became the third generation of the Rapley family to be represented in Lodge.
Louis Corden initiated his eldest son Tom in 1912 and the third generation of the Corden family was represented tod by Dennis, another Chemist, who was initiated in 1972 and passed to the Grand Lodge Above in 2016.
Tony (RAJ) Fowler had three sons, Michael, Tony and David. Michael and David became members of Pentalpha but Tony joined our daughter lodge Chanctonbury (6296) at his father's suggestion.
Other father and son combinations were Jack Lisher and his son ‘Young’ Jack, Reg Daniels and his son Jeffrey, and Rex Charman and his son Jason. Jeffrey and Rex are still active members today.
Other brothers who were members were the identical Turner twins who followed each other into the chair in 1948-49.
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