Winston Churchill - A Famous Man and a Freemason
Written by Yasha Beresiner, 2012
There are great freemasons and there are great men who were freemasons. Winston Spencer-Churchill belonged to the latter category. As Freemasons we naturally take pride in having men of stature as members of the fraternity. But have we, at times attributed, too much significance to their Masonic association? Maybe more than they themselves have done?
Winston Churchill was the greatest British statesman in recent history. In it he played a unique role as a soldier and a politician, an author and artist and a family man. In 1901 he became a freemason. What induced him to join the fraternity? How active was he as a freemason? What part did Freemasonry play in his life?
Winston Leonard Spencer-Churchill was born 30th November 1874 and educated at Harrow. He was far from being a brilliant student, particularly weak in maths and the classics but excelled in the English language - which was to serve him so well through his life.
Edward Prince of Wales Grand Master
At the time of Winston Churchill's initiation into the Studholme Lodge on 24th May 1901, Freemasonry was a fashionable social pursuit. The election of the Prince of Wales (later King Edward VII) as Grand Master in 1875 gave a huge impetus to Freemasonry. Britain, in this first decade of the 20th Century, was doing exceedingly well. These were Edwardian times and there was a general atmosphere of invincibility in all fields of achievement.
Edward VII, as Prince of Wales, had been an exceedingly popular Royal and Grand Master and brought with him a host of other Royals and aristocrats who gladly joined the Craft. It was not by accident that the promising young Winston was introduced to the Studholme Lodge in London.
Studholme Lodge 1591
R W Bro John Studholme Brownrigg, Provincial Grand Master for Surrey, whose prominent family gave its name to the new Lodge, consecrated the Studholme Lodge on 31st January 1876. In 1881 the Lodge moved from Surbiton, to London and the summonses began to read like a Who's Who of the aristocracy and social elites. The guest list for the 21st Installation Banquet in 1897 has 17 Members of Parliament including the Lord Chancellor, numerous Lords, Earls, Knights and high-ranking members of the Armed Forces dispersed throughout the dinning room.
Within two months of his initiation, Winston was passed to the second degree and on 5th March 1902 he was made a Master Mason, all three ceremonies conducted in the Studholme Lodge. An unfortunate communication in 1955 by the Librarian of our Grand Lodge has led to the erroneous reports that Churchill was raised in Rosemary Lodge No 2851. This occurred because the Studholme Lodge register has the name Geoffrey C Glyn above and Charles Clive Bigham below that of Winston Churchill. Further along the line against both these names is the entry 'Raised in No 2851 11th Nov 1901'. This entry was wrongly also attributed to Churchill. In 1976 the newly named United Studholme Lodge amalgamated for a second time to attain its present name as the Studholme Alliance Lodge No 1591.
The Churchills - Freemasons
Winston will have been aware of the high Masonic standing of his far removed ancestor Lord Henry John Spencer-Churchill (b.1797 d.1840) the 4th son of the 5th Duke of Marlborough. A Captain in the Royal Navy, a member of the household of his Royal Highness the Duke of Sussex at the time when the Duke was Grand Master, Lord Henry was indeed a prominent freemason. He was a member of the prestigious Lodge of Antiquity No 2 and became Deputy Grand Master in 1835 when the Earl of Durham was appointed Ambassador to Russia and was compelled to resign. Lord Henry had already been honoured with the rank of Past Senior Grand Warden in 1832 and served as President of the Board of General Purposes in 1834. On 2nd September 1936 he was appointed Provincial Grand Master for Oxfordshire and served his Province well until his untimely death in action, on board the HMS Dolphin in the China Sea, on 2nd June 1840. A large, well-kept gravestone marks his burial in the rather small and hidden away Protestant cemetery in Macao. His memory was immortalised in the Churchill Lodge No 702 (now number 478), which was founded in 1841 in his honour.
It is only appropriate that Winston's father, Lord Randolph Churchill (1849-1895) and his uncle, Randolph's elder brother, George Charles Spencer-Churchill (1844-1892) the Marquis Blanford, should both be initiated in the Churchill Lodge on the 9th February 1871. The two brothers were excluded on 22nd January 1883 - together with eleven other Brethren, Oscar Wilde amongst them - for non-payment of dues. They were subsequently reinstated as they had been in South Africa on Her Majesty's Service. Some ten years later another member of the Churchill family was to be made a freemason in the Lodge: Charles Richard John Spencer-Churchill (1871-1934) 9th Duke of Marlborough, and first cousin of Winston, was initiated on the 7thof May 1894 aged 21.
Resignation and Petitions
By 1912 Winston Churchill was well on his way to political success and fame. In October 1911 he was appointed First Lord of the Admiralty. In the knowledge that he would no longer be able to take any part whatsoever, he resigned from the Studholme Lodge in July 1912 and continued his membership of the Craft.
In January 1918 a petition was presented to Grand Lodge for the formation of a new Lodge to be named 'Ministry of Munitions Lodge'. An explanatory letter stated that 'members stationed in London away from home..' who had been brought together in the Ministry of Munitions of War, felt the need to meet in a Masonic environment. It also proposed 'Armament Lodge' as an alternative name. A total of 95 Brethren signed the petition and included Sir Laming Worthington-Evans, Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry and Winston Churchill, Minister of Munitions.
The petition was refused in a letter dated 14th January 1918 addressed to Lieut. Alfred Lewis, the Senior Warden designate and signed by the Grand Secretary V W Bro P Colville Smith:
Dear Sir and Brother,
The petition for the proposed Ministry of Munitions Lodge has been carefully considered
& I regret to have to inform you that
the prayer thereof (cannot) be acceded to' on the grounds that 'the policy of the advisors of the Grand Master has always been to decline to recommend the printing of a warrant for a new Lodge where it was intended that the membership thereto be restricted to the members of any particular department of the Civil Service of the crown
On 27th February 1918, at the request of the Master designate W Bro E Allen, an amended proposition was reconsidered and the Armament Lodge No 3898 saw the light of day on 19th November 1918. Winston Churchill, now appointed Secretary of State for War, was not one of the petitioners.
This was not, however, the last of Churchill's involvement with petitions to Grand Lodge. During this period of tension and patriotic fervour that followed the end of the First World War, Clementine Churchill, Winston's energetic and supportive wife, often visited munitions factories through England. In early November 1917 she visited the Rees Roturbo Manufacturing Company known as the Ponder's End Shell Works, near Enfield in North London and prompted by some of the workers she wrote to Churchill's Private Secretary, Eddie Marsh on 5th of November seeking Winston's assistance on their behalf.
The workmen of Ponder's End Shell Work have sent a petition to the Grand Lodge of the Freemasons asking that a local lodge which they are starting may be called after Mr Brindley: they want it to be called the 'Bickerton Brindley Lodge'. The men are afraid that the Grand Lodge may turn down the request as Mr Brindley is not apparently a very important Freemason, and they asked me if it would be possible for Winston to write a line to the Duke of Connaught, who is the Grand Master, to say that he thinks Mr Brindley is a very suitable man and that it will give great pleasure to the men he employs if the Lodge is given his name. The Grand Lodge meets on Friday next when they think that the request will be considered. All the Freemasons in the Works will of course be members of this Lodge.
Please be very kind and see that Winston does this
If you wan't more explanation do ring me up..
Winston Churchill's response and subsequent efforts are quite extraordinary. Within two days, on 7 November 1917, he wrote to the Grand Master, the Duke of Connaught, as follows:
I should be grateful if I might be allowed to call Your Royal Highness' attention to the request which I understand will come before the meeting of the Grand Lodge on the Freemasons on Friday next, that a local Lodge about to be inaugurated at the Ponder's End Shell Works may be named the Bickerton Brindley Lodge' after the Manager of the Factory.
Mr Brindley's energy and ability have proved of the highest value to the Ministry of Munitions, and he has succeeded in a remarkable degree in enlisting the enthusiasm of the workers in the manufacture of shells. If the proposed compliment could be allowed, it would be a source of much gratification to them, and a valuable stimulus to the increase of their output.
It is on these grounds that I venture to ask if Your Royal Highness would feel able to advance the matter
I am Sir
Your Royal Highness' most obedient servant
Winston S Churchill
He also took further and more important action to support the Lodge's application. Firstly he joined the petitioners for the new Lodge, now to be named Ponders End Lodge (aware, no doubt, that a change of name for the intended Lodge will have a far better chance of success). This final petition was submitted on 10 December 1917. Winston Churchill's name appears among the petitioners and his profession is entered as Cabinet Minister. An explanatory typewritten letter accompanying the new petition dated 10 December 1917 is signed by Winston Churchill. The text begins:
We, the undersigned, being regularly registered Master Masons of the Lodge mentioned against our respective names
are desirous of forming a new Lodge.
The name 'Brindley Lodge' has been erased and the name Ponders End Lodge has been inserted instead in manuscript. This is still not the end of Churchill's efforts to promote the application of this particular lodge.
After the petition was submitted his hand written note personally addressed to the Grand Secretary, J Colville Smith, states:
My dear Sir,
As I am much interested in the application which has been made by the workers at Ponders End Shell Factory for permission to call their Lodge the 'Ponders End Lodge of Freemasons', I should be really obliged if you could let me know whether it has been granted.
Yours very faithfully
The reply will have followed soon after receipt of Churchill's letter. It is dated February 23 1918:
My dear Sir,
The application for the proposed Ponders End Lodge has recently been carefully considered by the advisers of the Grand Master, who with great regret came to the decision that they were unable to recommend the granting of the petition.
J Colville Smith G. Sec.
Winston's considerable efforts, beyond the call of his immediate interests, can only be attributed to his eagerness to fulfil his wife's innocent request. How much more could he have done than write to the Grand Master, join the petitioners, sign the covering letter and chase the Grand Secretary for results! His efforts came to nothing. The petition had been refused on 8 February 1918. Was Churchill peeved? Maybe frustrated and disconcerted by this refusal to his repeated, almost formal, personal requests? Did he, as a result, have a pique against freemasonry? There is no evidence to indicate any such emotions on his part.
Churchill's only other recorded Masonic visit was to the Royal Naval Lodge No 59 on 10th December 1928, as the guest of the Worshipful Master W H Bernau, his insurance broker. He signed the attendance book as a member of the Studholme Lodge. The next day Bro Bernau wrote to Churchill, in rather naïve terms:
Dear Mr Churchill,
I wish to thank you again for so kindly coming to the dinner last night. I only hope you were not bored stiff.
Masonry might have as powerful an effect as the League of Nations if it could be properly worked with a central meeting ground for representations of all the Grand Lodges in the World
W H Bernau
An annotation on the letter in Winston handwriting curtly states:
a line of thanks - say I enjoyed it.
This was not the end of Churchill's Masonic contacts. On 6th October 1943 W Bro E E Natty on behalf of 'a number of Loyal Freemasons residing in this City (Belfast)' wrote to Winston Churchill 'desirous of forming a Lodge to be called . . . The Churchill Masonic Lodge' and requested his permission to do so. This led to an internal exchange of memoranda between Churchill's Private Secretary, Edward Marsh and his Personal Secretary, Mrs R E K Hill. Edward Marsh effectively instructed Mrs Hill to decline the request which is reflected in Mrs Hill's response to Mr E E Natty on 9th October: '
.Mr Churchill would be complimented by your request
. (and) would prefer that his name should not be used in this way, since he is unable to take a personal part in the Lodge's activities.'
What are the conclusions to be reached, then, of Winston Churchill's Masonic career?
Clearly Winston, in becoming a freemason, complied with the fashion of the time. His respect and affection for his father, Lord Randolph and the distinguished line of Freemasons in his family will have played a part in his joining the craft. It will also have fulfilled Winston's own curious interest in this and other fraternities. In November 1904 he accepted honorary membership in the Hawthorn Lodge of the British Order of Ancient Free Gardeners in Glasgow. He is recorded as a member of the Loyal Waterloo Lodge of the National Independent Order of Odd Fellows in Manchester in April of 1907 and of the Albion Lodge, Oxford of the Ancient Order of Druids in September 1908 (his father, was also a member of the Woodstock Lodge of Independent Order of Foresters). Winston Churchill's association with freemasonry must be placed within this context of his membership, and almost certain equal inactivity, in all these various organisations.
To state that freemasonry will not have made an impression on Churchill would be belittling the depth of our fraternity. On the other hand, to imply that his life or actions were in any way fundamentality influenced by his having been a mason is unreasonable at best. Had freemasonry had any significance of consequence to Churchill we would have known it. He was a prolific orator and author and has written extensively and in detail about his youth and his life. So have umpteen other authors and biographers. Nowhere is there to be found a mention of freemasonry in any context at all.
These facts, however, do not detract from the pride we as freemasons derive in the knowledge that Winston Churchill was a freemason, descended from a long line of active and distinguished Brethren of the Craft.
CREDITS AND BIBLIOGRAPHY
Natalie Adams, Archivist, Churchill Archives Centre, Churchill College, Cambridge
John D Forster, Education Officer at Blenheim Palace, Woodstock
Robert Good, author of the 150th Anniversary History and Past Secretary of the Churchill Lodge No 478
Staff of the Library and Museum of Freemasonry, Great Queen Street London
by W. Bro. Yasha Beresiner