Old Palace Lodge No.7173

 

Lodge History

When it was announced that Croydon would celebrate its millenary in 1960, the news caused wry amusement among local historians. It was known that the Archbishops of Canterbury had acquired property in the area by 871 AD, and the 960 AD document referred to the local “Elfsies” (Priests), so that an established settlement must have been in place before the adopted millenary date.

Indeed, early Saxon remains had been unearthed in the Edridge Road area, and the name itself derived from ‘CROGDAENE’, a Saxon word meaning “crooked valley” or “saffron valley”, for with several hundred years of development it is difficult to recognise that the town actually lies in a natural bowl, a “U” shaped valley with the open end being the level roadway to the south.

The Romans utilised this feature in building the road from London to their harbour at Portslade. This landscape gives rise to numerous streams, springs and lakes which were an important feature of the area. The wooded slopes led down to lush grass fields around the lakes, notably those in Thornton Heath (Pond), the common land at Mitcham and the plane of Addiscombe, whilst the River Wandle meandered its way to the Thames. The importance of water in Croydon’s history is recognised by the inclusion in the Borough Coat of Arms of blue and white wavy stripes, the heraldic depiction of lakes and rivers.

Since early in the seventh century, Archbishops had travelled from the spiritual centre of Canterbury to London and Winchester, in comfortable stages of fifteen to twenty miles. Suitable houses were established at Charing, Maidstone, Wrotham, Knole and Croydon for the use of the clergy and their attendants. Croydon was a favoured location, with a fine house, well-stocked fish ponds, good hunting and an abundance of fresh local vegetables, all combining to maintain an excellent table.

In 1086 AD the Doomsday Book recorded Croydon as having a mill, church and meadow, together with a local population of around a hundred, most being involved in agriculture and forestry. Within a few years, Croydon had become the largest town near to the Pilgrim’s Way, east of Winchester, and following the example of the clergy, many wealthy merchants built fine houses in the area, delighting in the country pursuits of the valley. This in turn resulted in a regular market being licensed in 1276, and today the Surrey Street market still operates along a length of the original main road from London to the coast.

The Manor itself was used and re-modelled extensively by a succession of Archbishops, and to this day has remnants of a ‘circa’ eleventh century wall and window, whilst the building can display alterations from Norman, Medieval, Tudor and Stuart times.

For the Scottish King James I, the manor became his ‘secure-house’ (prison) while he was under the ‘close protection’ of Archbishop Arundel, but other Monarchs had happier memories of the building. These included the three Henries (6th, 7th and 8th) and Katherine of Aragon stayed here before her ill-fated marriage to the latter in 1509.

Of all the incumbents to spend time and money in Croydon, possibly Archbishop Whitgift was the most influential. In his time as Archbishop of Canterbury (1583-1604) he founded both the Whitgift school and the almshouses. Queen Elizabeth I was so enchanted by the Croydon Manor that Whitgift was allowed to use the word “Palace” in its title, and the Queen gifted the land for the almshouses “in perpetuity”, a phrase that has proved a stumbling block for generations of town planners and developers ever since! However, with the gradual improvement of roads and travel the Croydon Palace was being used less frequently, the result being that Archbishop Herring was the last archbishop to use the Palace, and after his death in 1757 the building fell into disuse.

Meanwhile, the whole structure of Croydon was altering. Originally, the main town centred around the Parish Church and Croydon Palace (“Old Town”) but with the ever increasing use of the main London Road there was a gradual shift of emphasis up the hill (Crown Hill), and more shops and businesses were being established along the main road. This move away from the original town centre left the Palace building in a state of limbo. Although direct connection with the Archbishops had been severed, the Deanery of Croydon was under the diocese of Canterbury and eventually the ruling body gave permission for the building to be sold or pulled down. Following its sale, the house and buildings suffered a period of rebuilds, alterations and refits to encompass a variety of occupations, including a calico and linen works. The industrial revolution was now under way and the chapel became an “industrial school for girls”.

At the same time, the progress of Croydon was becoming encased in the development of movement and transport. Just a few years after the death of Archbishop Herring, the increasing knowledge and use of iron and foundry working resulted in 1790 of a scheme to lay an iron-rail way to improve specific journeys. This led to the Surrey Iron Rail Way of 1803 being built, the world’s first public horse drawn railway. The scheme was a great success, the first line running from the River Thames at Wandsworth to Croydon’s Pit Lake. Other plans were being made at this time, however, for the improvement of the river and canal system in the area, and in 1809 the final section of canal from London to Croydon was opened. The canal ran parallel to South Norwood High Street and can be plotted from the names of the local public houses - e.g. The Ship, The Jolly Sailor, and others.

With a bold move, the growing railway bought out the canal company, drained the level route ways and laid railway lines along the former canal beds! In 1840, an interesting addition to the traditional rail service was a privately funded “atmospheric railway”, a wheeled railcar with no attached engine, being propelled by a vacuum tube and piston. Reaching speeds up to seventy miles per hour, partly above and partly below ground, the journey from West Croydon to London could take as little as eleven minutes! The system failed for various reasons, but one of the original ‘vacuum pumping’ stations can still be seen, a church-like building alongside Surrey Street car park, where it is now operated as a pumphouse by the Water Board.

With the centre of interest now by-passing Old Town, the Old Palace, as it had come to be known, was managing to survive. The Seventh Duke of Newcastle was sad to see such a fine house become the victim of disinterest, so in 1887 he bought the buildings and presented them to The Sisters of the Church to operate as a school, originally mixed, but latterly for girls only, a function it performs admirably to this day.

An aerial view of the site of Old Palace, taken from Google EarthGradually, Old Town assumed a less important role, the Palace building began to be overshadowed by neighbouring shops and offices whilst in its enclosed ground, trees and lawns helped create that individual character that old seats of learning wear like a cloak. The Sisters meanwhile had continued to work tirelessly maintaining and repairing the fabric of their girls’ school, and in 1908 the Chapel was re-opened and re-dedicated.

Elsewhere, the march of science continued, and over the channel in 1900 the first field trial of the German Zeppelin airship took place. Three years later in America, Orville and Wilbur Wright successfully flew a powered aeroplane. Few could have realised the effect of these events, so far apart, would have on the future of Croydon.

The motor car was being rapidly evolved and the London to south coast road links were becoming increasingly busy, and with Croydon now within such easy reach of London, more businesses became established in the area. Then came the “Great War” in 1914. This spawned yet another military revolution - flight! The first Zeppelin attack on London in 1915 brought home to the country the vulnerability of our cities to this new method of bombardment, and as part of a programme for the “Air Defence of London” fields around Plough Lane were taken over to form the basis of a Training and Defence Aerodrome. From here, fragile bi-plane fighters of the Royal Flying Corps sought to protect the capital city from the varied attacks of both powered aircraft and the huge airships. At the cessation of hostilities in 1918, the newly formed Royal Air Force continued its flying activities from the officially named ‘Croydon Airport’, leaving in 1920, never dreaming the squadrons would return less than two decades later.

The end of the war left stockpiles of serviceable aircraft and an excess of trained pilots. It was inevitable that the two factors would combine and numerous private airlines attempted to profit from the huge public interest in aviation. Croydon became known as the London Airport and the world’s first purpose-built terminal was opened in 1928, serving as the model for terminals the world over.

Meanwhile, the Girls’ School at Old Palace had continued to flourish, earning itself an enviable reputation for the high quality of its pupils. However, as the Fiftieth Jubilee of the school drew closer, more storm clouds were gathering over Europe with the continuing growth of the German Nazi Party, and its undisguised aim of national expansion. After drawn-out negotiations between Adolf Hitler and Neville Chamberlain, the Munich Agreement of 1938 was signed, to be broken within a year by the German invasion of Poland. The Old Palace Jubilee was held in the shadow of a second “World War” and the Sisters and pupils prayed fervently for peace but their prayers on this occasion went unanswered.

At the outbreak of the Second World War in 1939, the proximity of three major airfields, Biggin Hill, Kenley and Croydon, emphasised the point that south London would become a major target for bombing raids.

Plans were made by the local education department to evacuate the busy Girls School to Eastbourne, a strange decision in view of the very real possibility of an imminent invasion!
After a false start, the staff and girls returned to the School building which was suitably strengthened in places to provide a reasonable air-raid shelter.

A view of Croydon Parish Church (on the site of The Old Palace)The advent of the initial Blitz in 1940 brought relatively cosmetic damage to the building, mainly glass and rendering, but the academic work continued unabated. Worse physical damage was to occur when the pilotless flying bombs began to fall in 1944. Many of these, aimed at London, fell short of their intended target, resulting in severe damage and loss of life in Croydon and district. With several very close detonations the main structure of Old Palace was beginning to suffer. The main roof collapsed and many window frames and arches blown away from the body of the main hall. Amazingly, despite the majority of the glass areas having been demolished and many of the frames damaged, the stained glass window in the Chapel remained intact, a flash of colour in a grey world. The Sisters themselves cleared much of the rubble and classes continued up to the end of hostilities. With the coming of Peace, examinations recommenced and the girls showed their resilience by achieving a 100% pass rate, a tribute to the Sisters whose dedication carried the Old Palace School through one of its darkest hours.

Following the end of the Second World War in 1945 the nation awoke with an air of expectation and excitement. The many bombsite areas in Croydon were cleared and in a short time the skyline began to develop the silhouette of the first high-rise office blocks. The rapid growth in size and numbers of civilian aircraft served to emphasise the restrictions of the old Croydon Airport and there were rumours of its closing. In the Old Town area, the Parish church and the Old Palace began to be overshadowed by their neighbours, but the Girls School continued to flourish in quality if not in numbers. A rather austere XIIth Olympic Games were held in London in 1948, and to foster the post war morale of the populace, a ‘Festival of London’ was proposed for 1951. In this atmosphere of regeneration, several of the Parish Church regulars, members of the Waddon and Chantry Lodges, decided that the time was appropriate for the formation of a new Lodge.

The first meeting of the steering committee was held on 20th March 1951, when fifteen petitioning masons set out to lay the foundations of the prospective Lodge.

With assistance from Chantry Lodge, No. 5063, of which the majority of Founders were members, the new Lodge Petition was forwarded to Grand Lodge for approval. At the second meeting, the group was joined by three more master-masons and a discussion ensued concerning the names Braithwaite Lodge, Duppas Lodge or Old Palace Lodge. Agreement was reached and the embryonic “Old Palace Lodge” was conceived, possibly carried by the long association of that name with the Borough in general and the Parish Church in particular.

With the assistance of the Rt Rev Bardsley, Bishop of Croydon, and himself a prospective Founding Officer of the new Lodge, for the use of the Badge and Mitre was obtained from the Vunerable Archdeacon.

At the third meeting, the details of the Consecration were finalised and the Founders returned to their homes. Just a few hours later, in the early hours of February 6th 1952, His Majesty King George VI passed away. A popular and much admired monarch, the nation was shocked and saddened by his death, but it was felt that the Consecration, in a few weeks, should continue. The printers of the Summons were instructed to overprint two black lines on its cover, to symbolize the grief and distress felt by the members of the new Lodge.

It was thus in an air of national mourning that R W/Bro. Lieut-Col H A Mann, OBE, MC, Provincial Grand Master, together with his consecrating officers, conducted the ceremony to form the new Lodge and appoint its officers.

W/Bro Birtie Bruce Brown, the Founding Worshipful Master, led his team of First Officers on to the floor, and the meeting continued along the well laid lines of Masonic gatherings throughout the world. Two master masons, although numbered among the original founding committee, were disallowed by the three year rule from becoming Founder Members. Bros Howard and Martin were thus elected to become the Lodge’s first Joining Members at the October meeting. Following the Closing, one hundred and twenty two brethren enjoyed the Festive Board, and the evening drew to its close.

 

2002 – 2007 

As the First Fifty years was being put to bed in late 2001 one of our stalwarts, W Bro Derek Barr who had worked hard in building Old Palace and The Province of Surrey was made an Asst Provincial Grand Master in September 2001. The Lodge felt very honoured as he continued to be a very regular attendee and played an active role. About this time plans were being made to celebrate our 50th anniversary in May 2002. A special summons was produced for the occasion which coincided with Queen Elizabeth and Prince Phillip’s Golden Jubilee. All the Country members were invited to attend as guests of the Lodge and a total of 130 attended the Meeting and Festive Board. We were honoured with the presence of The Grand Master Mason of Scotland the V W Bro Sir Archibald Orr Ewing, The Grand Secretary for Grand Lodge of Scotland as well as many members of the Surrey Provincial Executive. The Grand Master Mason of Scotland presented a fine bottle of McAllan’s malt whisky which is in the safe hands of W. Bro Nick Barnes who was Worshipful Master during our jubilee year. It was agreed we would drink this at our 100th Anniversary.

January 2003 saw the first issue of our newsletter under the guidance of W. Bro Phillip Powell and aptly named On The Palace Square. In April Bros Andy Fox and Eric Allen completed a sponsored walk from Great Queen Street to Sutton raising £465 for charity. May saw an installation we had all been waiting for when Geoff Bird was installed as Worshipful Master. Geoff was a sufferer of multiple sclerosis and wheelchair bound but notwithstanding this he had a tremendous year and was an example to us all and raised several thousand pounds for his charity.

In 2003 Bro Andy Fox was awarded the Provincial Grand Masters Merit Award. This year saw this award introduced and the Lodge were very pleased he was one of five recipients to receive this prestigious award for his progress in Masonry.

In 2004 we were in the aftermath of the war in Iraq and Bro James Nattrass was seconded from the Metropolitan police to teach the Iraqis to police their own country. Thankfully he returned unharmed. We also provided the kit for Addiscombe raiders which was light blue and bore the sponsorship of Surrey Masons 7173. From this the Province became involved in sponsoring the Tandridge league. This event proved very successful attracting some 5000 visitors over the 2 days involving over 1000 players aged 7 to 14. In 2005 The Lodge was presented with the bronze award for its charitable contribution to the 2008 Festival for the Royal Masonic Trust for Girls and Boys.

Bro Bob Whittaker attained 50 years of service in Masonry and Old Palace in 2006 and received his certificate from the Deputy Provincial Grand Master. In January of this year we had the pleasure of interviewing 4 successful candidates. This caused a back log of ceremonies and we were ably assisted by Mitcham Lodge, Croydon Chantry and Millenary Lodges to facilitate the extra work. W Bro Derek was reappointed Asst Provincial Grand Master in May 2006 on the occasion of a new Provincial Grand Master being installed.

2008

Old Palace Lodge donated the magnificent sum of over £30,000 to the 2008 Royal Masonic Trust for Girls and Boys as part of the Surrey Masons Provincial Grand Lodge Festival as well as supporting many non masonic local Charities within this period.  The Provincial Grand Master presented the Gold Award May 2008 as well as a Silver goblet which is used by the W M at the festive board.

2009-2011

 

W Bro Peter Ashton spent a great deal of time in investigating the various items we had acquired as a Lodge and put created an inventory. He found the plans for our Lodge jewel designed by W Bro Cyril Spackman of Hallstone Jewel fame, albeit they were in a poor condition. With the assistance of a grant from the UGLE these plans have been restored and can know be viewed in the Croydon Halls. Jeff Bywater was our 100th initiate on 8th December 2010 – we presented him with glassware and a small plaque. 2011 also saw our membership count climb to 46.

 

2012

 

We had the great honour of seeing one of our members namely W Bro Derek Barr appointed as Deputy Provincial Grand Master. We supported the Engage with the Public initiative by donating a set of football shirts to Selsdon Junior F C. These shirts carried the sponsorship of Surrey Masons.