Founded 23rd July 1889
The concept of an Auxiliary Forces Lodge was first conceived in the Officers Mess of the 5th (V) Battalion the Manchester Regiment during their annual camp at Southport.
Several prominent Freemasons were among the Battalion’s Officers and Masonic affairs were often discussed and formed part of the after dinner conversation.
Their Commanding Officer, founder and first Master, was the Right Worshipful Brother Col Le Gendre Nicholas Starkie and at that time the reigning Provincial Grand Master of the Province of Lancashire (Eastern Division) who had a Masonic career spanning 40 years – 29 years (1870-1899) of which was spent as the Provincial Grand Master, proposed the formation of the Lodge and stipulated the Members must have held a Commission in HM’s Naval or Military services (there was no RAF at the time).
It is that criteria which lies at the root of one of the Lodge’s traditions not to dine with its Tyler. This came about as the first Tyler namely, one Sgt Major Thomas Hardy, of the Duke of Lancaster’s Own Yeomanry, resigned because certain Members strongly objected to dining with a Non- Commissioned Officer. Since that day the Tyler has never joined the Members at the dining table, however, the price of his meal being included in his fee.
Another one of the traditions stems from the same roots. White gloves are not to be worn as it is only other ranks who wear white gloves.
An important tradition , most strictly observed, and given every time the Lodge meets is its unique toast to Fallen Brethren. It is proposed by the Senior Member present and given as near to nine o’clock pm as possible. It is:
To the Pious and Glorious memory of those Members of this Lodge who paid the Supreme Sacrifice in two World Wars and other fields of conflict
It is received and honoured in Silence.
The Lodge was consecrated on Friday, the 15th November 1889 at the Headquarters of the 5th Volunteer Bn the Manchester Regiment at Ardwick Green.
In his consecration address the Padre, Bro E Bigoe-Bagot, said:
The occasion of the consecration of Centurion Lodge is one of the unusual and interesting History of Freemasonry’. It commemorates the union between the peaceful tenets of the Craft and the sterner aspects of Military Service i.e. between the bonds of brotherly love. Union and the antagonism of warfare and contentions. How can we reconcile the two? Can the two walk together unless they be agreed? The idea of warfare, we are told, is irreconcilable with modern progress. We look forward to the period when:
The war drums will throb no longer
And the battle flag be furled,
In the parliament of men
The Federation of the World
The occasion was reported in ‘The Freemason’ issue dated 23rd November 1889 in the following terms:
The large assembly of Brethren and brilliant uniforms of the Military Officers mingled with evening dress and handsome Regalia of the Grand Provincial Clothing, formed; we venture to say, one of the finest and most unique sights ever seen in a Masonic Lodge on such an occasion.
The consecrating officer was one Bro Col Shadwell Clerke and Secretary of the United Grand Lodge of England.
Immediately after the consecration, those present repaired to the Queens Hotel Manchester by – carriage, chaise and waggonette to partake of a sumptuous banquet to equal the occasion.
The Lodge was named the ‘Centurion’ not because of any Military connection but because it was the one hundredth lodge to be consecrated in the East Lancashire Province. Indeed the consecration was held up so that it would be the hundredth lodge to be admitted into the Province.
Coincidentally the very next day a Lodge was consecrated in London for the convenience of members of the London Irish Rifles Volunteer Corps with HRH the Duke of Con nought, Hon Col of the Regiment, Provincial Grand Master of Sussex and District Grand Master of Bombay, as Worshipful Master.
Centurion Lodge initially met at the Freemasons’ Hall in Cooper Street, Manchester, and in those days the annual subscription was the princely sum of one guinea. In January 1890 it moved to the Victoria Hotel. During the Great War of 1914 -18 the Lodge generally met in the mornings on Change Days in Manchester, bringing along other Brethren, who were Masons but not members of the Lodge, to make up a quorum so that the Lodge could be opened, worked and closed.
After WW1 a Masonic Temple was erected as a memorial to the fallen on a site in Bridge Street, Manchester. Centurion was one of the first move into the Temple, in April 1929 following some disquiet over the price of cigars at the Victoria Hotel.
The Lodge kept working continuously during WW2 despite the Manchester blitz, meeting in the morning and enjoying a meal at the social board, subject to the rationing restrictions at that time. As members returned from active service, the Lodge gradually returned to normality.
With the reformation of the TA and other Reserve Forces in 1947, candidates for admission began to come forward.
The criteria that the Lodge members be commissioned were altered to allow the Sons of Masons who had held a commission to join the Lodge. Three sons of Members joined the Lodge, two subsequently resigned and one, Bro Eric Taylor, paid the Supreme Sacrifice in the bomb outrage at the Grand Hotel, Brighton in Oct 1984.
A character of the 1960,s was W Bro Lt Col Harry Stephenson TD, Master in 1921 and a Veteran of the Boer War. He was noted form his habit of regularly falling asleep and snoring loudly during the Ceremonies, much to the consternation of the Officers conducting the Ceremony. He was always left undisturbed because if woken he was apt to declare loudly ‘Hasn’t he finished yet’.
The Lodge motto Patriae amicisque fidelis – to be faithful to Country and friends – is in the traditions of both the Craft and the Armed Forces.