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A short history of the Sir Thomas White Lodge

Portrait of Sir Thomas White by “Sampson the paynter”
The collection of the City of Oxford.

The Old Merchant Taylors’ Lodge was consecrated at the London Masonic Club in June 1879 and was named after Sir Thomas White who, it was then believed, was the founder of the School in 1561.  As has since been realised Sir Thomas, while being a Past Master of the Worshipful Company of Merchant Taylors when the School was founded, was actually Master of St John’s College, Oxford at that time. Nonetheless the Lodge has proudly borne the name for the last 125 years.

From the Minutes it is clear that the Consecration Meeting was a truly grand affair being presided over, as Consecrating Officer, by V W Bro J Harvey the incumbent Grand Secretary and an Old Merchant Taylor. He was supported by 38 visiting brethren including 1 Past Grand Chaplain and 4 Past Grand Deacons together with 9 Founder Petitioners. Proposals were made and agreed for the election of a further 4 Joining members, including the then Worshipful Master of Grand Master’s Lodge No 1 and the then Deputy Provincial Grand Master for Middlesex. At the same meeting proposals were also made and agreed for no less than 5 Initiates all described as “Gentlemen” which today’s brethren of the Lodge would find distinctly flattering.

During the remainder of 1879 the Lodge held 10 meetings at which 16 new masons were initiated and 13 masons joined, nearly all of whom were also termed “Gentlemen” other than an Architect, a Surgeon, a Law Student and a School Assistant – clearly an indication of what lowly professions they were considered by the Secretary. By June 1880, after only 12 months of existence, the Lodge membership had grown to 42. However some lean years seem to have followed as, by the end of 1885, there were only 31 members but which should really have been 32 had it not been that 1 brother had “joined under a misunderstanding” and his membership was revoked.

In those days there seems to have been some dissatisfaction with the meeting venue which, late in 1880, was changed to the Holborn Viaduct Hotel and in 1889 to the Holborn Restaurant (unless that was merely a name change) both of which must have been very close to the School which was then in Charterhouse Square. In March 1895 the venue changed again when the Lodge went West to the Cafe Royal where it remained for 102 years until rising prices and lowering standards brought about a move to the present venue at Mark Mason’s Hall.

Reference to the list of member lodges of the Public School Lodges’ Council suggests that “Tommy White Lodge”, as it is affectionately known to its members, is the oldest Old Boys Lodge. However, while it is true that Tommy White was founded earlier than any other PSLC member lodge, it is not in fact the oldest OB lodge as, at least, the Old Cholmeleian (Highgate School) Lodge was founded some 5 years sooner.

The Public School Lodges’ Council, as it is now called, was formed in 1910 but the first reference to it in the minutes of Tommy White Lodge is in 1926 when the Secretary read a letter from the Secretary of the Public School Lodges’ Committee (as it was then named) announcing that “the Sir Thomas White Lodge No 1820 had been elected to the Public School Lodges’ Union”.     It is thought that the principal reason for the relatively late admission may have been due to the acceptance of fathers and other relatives of Old Boys of Merchant Taylors School as members of 1820 although there is absolutely no reference in the minutes to any qualification for membership of the lodge either before or after its admission into the Council. However it may just have been that Westminster, Charterhouse, Cheltenham and the other Founders were scared of having a load of rowdy OMT reprobates sully the serene proceedings of the Union.

Whatever may have been the reason for the delay Sir Thomas White Lodge has, since its admission, played a full part in the affairs of the Council having supplied a number of Officers over the years notably W Bro Fenn Kidson PGD who was the Council Secretary for some 30 years, around one-third of the Council’s life so far, and W Bro Drummond Blowfield LGR who was also Secretary for 5 years until his untimely death in 1999. The Lodge has hosted three PSLC Festivals. The first in 1960 when, without ladies and non-masonic guests, there were 310 present then again in 1979, our centenary year, when some 570 sat for lunch including, curiously, again 310 masons and latterly in 2004 in recognition of our 125th anniversary when again well over 300 masons and their guests were in attendance. Our fourth hosting will take place in 2029 in celebration of our 150thbirthday.

Since its inception the Lodge has welcomed 380 members among whom many have risen to high masonic office and many have remained members for very many years.  The First Master, W Bro Robert Grey rose to the rank of Past Grand Deacon and remained a member until his death in 1914. Among other distinguished members have been 2 Lords Mayor and 1 City Chamberlain of the City of London, several leaders of industry and a number who have served as members and Officers in the Lodge for over half a century notably the already mentioned W Bro Fenn Kidson, who was initiated in 1895 and remained a member until his death 70 years later, W Bro W Hunter Johnston, who was initiated at the 2nd meeting in July 1879 and maintained his membership until his death in 1947 and Bro Edmund Double who was a full member for 68 years until he died in 1995. Currently the Father of the Lodge is W Bro Peter Parr-Head who was initiated in 1960.

There are various curiosities recorded in the minutes including the initiation in 1885 of one Gordon Brown though, happily, he does not appear to have subsequently acted as Treasurer. In 1952 the Lodge was honoured with a visit from the High Commissioner for Australia one Sir Thomas White. In 1903 the minutes record that a letter from the Grand secretary was read instructing the Lodge that “no alcohol be permitted in the Lodge” – what effect that had upon the brethren at the time is not recorded. Proudly and notably, the Lodge was able to continue its activities throughout both of the World Wars of the last century.

Happily the membership of the Lodge has always been strong although it has decreased from the heady days of the 1960’s when we averaged around 85 members to today’s 40ish. As with all lodges, recruitment is now more difficult than it used to be but we have kept up a steady intake of young OMT’s and remain confident for our future.