Chapter of Lebanon No 86 History

In 2001, the chapter celebrated its 150th anniversary, making it, like the Lodge of Loyalty No 86, (to which it is attached) the oldest chapter in the St Helens and Prescot Group and ranking ninth in the chronological list of chapters in West Lancashire.

However, many of us have long suspected that the chapter dates from much earlier than that shown on the warrant.

The evidence for our suspicions comes from three sources:

Firstly, the petition to Supreme Grand Chapter in 1851 stated “Whereas it appearing that Royal Arch Masonry has continued in Prescot for some time and whereas it appearing that the original Warrant be lost, we hereby petition … etc.”. A clear statement that meetings had been held for some (unquantifiable) time.

Secondly, the composite Tracing Board owned and used by Loyalty 86 features a crowbar alongside all the more usual lodge symbols – a clear reference to Royal Arch and since this Tracing Board is thought to be at least 200 years old, is another indication of early Royal Arch activity.

Thirdly, a “plate jewel” bearing the name James Hayes and the lodge number 111 Prescot, has an impressive “arch” on the reverse face. Apparently, these plate jewels were very common amongst Freemasons and although the front was fairly well regulated in terms of content, the back was left to the individual. Interestingly, there is also an emblem from The Knights Templar.

Since Loyalty carried the number 111 between 1781 and 1792, this too would indicate very early Royal Arch interest.

These indications prompted a request to the Museum and Library at Grand Lodge who confirmed that on 7 May 1807, a Charter was issued to Chapter of Lebanon No 135 meeting in Prescot. Furthermore, minutes exist in the museum of meetings held as early as 1803 which continued until 1844 but at some stage after this date, the chapter ceased to meet and effectively became defunct.

This ties in very closely with the battle for survival of Loyalty Lodge which was in very serious difficulties during this period and it was only in 1851 when a number of brethren from Liverpool joined the lodge that the membership grew as a result.

It is no surprise that the petitioner for the Chapter Warrant in 1851 was a J Walmsley, one of the Liverpool Masons who rescued Loyalty and an early first principal of the “new” Lebanon.

As a lunar chapter, meetings have always been held on the Wednesday following a full moon since in the early days when there was no street lighting or even proper roads, it was much safer to travel after dark if there was moonlight when there was good chance that approaching highwaymen could be seen and evasive action taken.

It is also somewhat unique in that although it is attached to Lodge of Loyalty No 86 and carries this lodge number, it has a different name since the requirement for chapters to carry the same name as their sponsoring lodge only commenced informally in about 1817 and a requirement in 1843.

Meeting four times a year in the months of October, December, February and April in their premises on High St, Prescot, on the Wednesday after the full moon, the chapter, although small in number, has a thriving membership who take great pride in the quality of their ceremonies and whilst they have embraced some of the new ritual suggested by Supreme Grand Chapter, have managed to hold on to much of their original and rather quirky working thus preserving their identity as a very old member of this Masonic Order.