The first minuted meeting of the Lodge took place at the Church Room, Hailsham, on Thursday, 17th November 1927 at 6pm. 18 brethren were present who were predominantly from local lodges. Bro. Green (The owner of Greens Factory) took the chair and immediately had the unpleasant task of reporting that Bro. T.G. Shorter, who had promised to be a founder member, had died. A letter of condolence was sent to his widow. A name for the proposed lodge then came under discussion. Among those suggested were Bletchington, Dacre, Conqueror, Hailsham, and Michelham Priory, that latter from Bro. Green. On the ballot, Michelham Priory was selected.
The meeting went on to decide on a meeting place, the Church Room, but only on condition that a building fund was set up with a view to providing a permanent Masonic Hall. Worshipful Brother Green was elected the first Master. He then went on to report that a letter sent to Anderida Lodge No: 2434 asking whether the new lodge at Hailsham could be consecrated under their banner had been cordially received, and Anderida wished God Speed to the proposed new Lodge. Then followed the decision to meet on the 3rd Thursday of each month, the election of Treasurer and Tyler, and the decision to create a Motto and emblem for the Lodge.
The Consecration of Michelham Priory Lodge No 5059 was held on Friday, 21st September 1928 at the Saffrons Room, Eastbourne. It had been hoped to hold it in Michelham Priory itself, but refurbishment work was taking place there and would not been completed in time. The ceremony was carried out by R.W.Bro. Major R.L Thornton, the Provincial Grand Master, The Deputy Pro Grand Master, Bro. Jervis, installed W. Bro. Green as the first Master of the Lodge.
There were 16 founder members of the Lodge who came from all walks of life and included a Factory Owner, Clergyman, Medical Doctor, Solicitor, Architect, Coal Merchant, Superintendent of Police, Labour Exchange Superintendent, Dentist, Ships Chief Steward, and a Gentleman. The Founders fee was 10 guineas. (A guinea is worth £1.05 and today in 2018 allowing for inflation,10 guineas equates to about £480).
After the ceremony a Festive Board was held at the Queens Hotel in Eastbourne to which 118 guests plus Lodge members sat down. The tickets for this dinner were 7/6d (about about £18 today).
The first Regular meeting of the Lodge took place on the 18th October 1928 in the Church Rooms, Hailsham, when seven Master Masons joined, one Candidate was balloted for and Initiated (he was a Lewis), and a further three Candidates were balloted for later admission, two more of them being Lewises. Dinner afterwards was served at the "George", Hailsham, with a Dining Fee of 4 shillings (about £10 today) and it is worth recording that the Lodge met in Evening Dress.
The above dealt with the roots of Michelham Priory Lodge and it will be remembered that at the inaugural meeting, before the Lodge was consecrated, it was decided to use the Church Room pending the foundation of a Masonic Temple in which the Lodge could meet. The following will briefly trace the searching, plans and disappointments which took place in the ensuing years up to and including the time that this Lodge came to 'roost t at Herstmonceux.
The story starts on the 5th March 1930. Bro. Jarvis, described in the register as a Gentleman by profession, had acquired a property in the High Street where he could erect a Garage. How big, or how small is not stated. He offered to build a room over it which he would let on long lease to the Lodge, at a rental calculated to cover his Capital Outlay. Bro. Hewitt, who was not a member of the Lodge, kindly offered to prepare a plan. On 27th May of that same year Bro. Hewitt reported to the Lodge Committee that the space on which a Temple could be built at the proposed garage site was too small, but he had prepared plans which could be put into operation providing the next-door property was purchased. Total cost would be in the region of £2000. This proposal was discussed and rejected, with thanks.
At that same meeting Bro. Chapman, who was a Sanitary Inspector and obviously moved around the Parish, mentioned that suitable sites were for sale in Summerheath Road. A sub-committee was immediately set up and an approach was made to W. Bro. Green. Why that latter move was to be made was not stated, but undoubtedly influence and money played a part.
In March 1931 W. Bro. Canon H. R. White reported that W. Bro. Green had generously offered to present the Lodge with a plot of land in Summerheath Road. Just what happened to that particular piece of land is unrecorded in the Lodge minutes and the subject dies there.
The next mention of a Temple was at a meeting in November of 1931 when W. Bro. Neidermyer, a Solicitor, reported that the purchase of a house which had been offered to the lodge in Summerheath Road was not a practical proposition, the house would cost £1500 and conversion to a Temple a further £1000.
In July 1932 the Secretary read a letter to the Lodge from Messrs Burtenshaw and Son offering a plot of land next to the Church Room in Victoria Road, Hailsham and W. Bro. Neidermyer confirmed to the meeting that he had inspected it and that it was suitable. He recalled the offer of W. Bro. Green to provide a plot of land and a deputation was accordingly sent to him to endeavour to obtain a definite assurance as to his proposed gift.
No mention of that meeting or even the plot of land, is made until May 1935, 3 years later, when W, Bro. Neidermyer called attention to a sale by auction of land in Victoria Road, Hailsham, considered suitable as a Temple site. After discussion it was decided that Bro. J. Dean Faulkner, a solicitor, would deal with the auction. W. Bro. Neidermyer offered to do the conveyancing free, and Bro. Hewitt offered to prepare plans gratuitously. W. Bro. Green offered to provide finance and Bro. Faulkner was authorised to bid up to £475 for the whole plot. It was purchased at the auction, held at "The Crown" in Hailsham, for £425. Three months later the ground was let for 'Garden Purposes' ostensibly a market Garden, to Bro. Cornford, the Lodge Tyler for £3 per annum.
In January 1936 the will of the late W. Bro. Green was read and it was discovered he had left a legacy for the Temple Building Fund of £350. A most generous man and one to whom this Lodge owes much. From there on little is heard about the land, which was still cultivated. At a later date Bro. Cornford complained about the state of the Greenhouses on the land. After long and protracted arguments, he was told, quite bluntly, to repair them himself.
Eventually World War Two came along in 1939 and this put paid to all thoughts of building.
An entry in the records states that Mr Rich, a builder, wished to purchase the land in 1946 but was turned down. It was 1948 that saw the beginning of the end of the Temple site in Victoria Road. W. Bro. Neidermyer reported in committee that a letter had been received from the Ministry of Works stating interest in the land on behalf of the Ministry of Food. One gathers from various entries that there was a hint from the Ministry of Compulsory Purchase if necessary. The deal was completed with the Ministry on 14th February 1951 for the sum of £490.
A Temple Investigating Committee was formed on 25th January 1960 and in April of the following year it called an Emergency Meeting. It appointed as Secretary a young, enthusiastic and aspiring young brother by the name of Tom Valiant. At that meeting three possible sites were discussed. One was a disused Chapel at Golden Cross. This was rejected due to its condition and distance from Hailsham. Next, a site at Hackhurst Lane offered by Bros, Bell and Pearson, was also was rejected because of its position. Finally, a piece of land adjoining 'The Thwaite' in Gordon Road was discussed, owned by Bro. Donald Jarvis, a founder member of the lodge. It was decided this be investigated together with Territorial Drill Hall belonging to the Star brewery at the rear of The Terminus Hotel in Hailsham.
A later meeting revealed that Bro. Jarvis was already in negotiations over the land discussed and that the Brewery did not, as a rule, sell its properties. A special meeting of the Temple Investigating Committee was held on 6th June 1961 where it was disclosed that the Castle Cinema at Herstmonceux was for sale and it was decided to investigate its potential. An emergency meeting of the Committee was held on 30th June and a motion approved to purchase the Cinema for a price of £4375, subject to contract.
Certainly a Temple had been purchased 33 years after the foundation of the lodge, but from that moment on real work began, It was necessary to pay the mortgage, repair and adapt the premises for use together with the hundred and one other things that come with property ownership. To this day the Centre Management Committee, now called the Temple Management Committee, is still struggling with them.
Before finishing there is that period of history which the Lodge came through, fortunately unscathed. That, of course, was World War Two.
With the outbreak of War in 1939 came an edict from the Grand Master banning all Masonic Meetings. This, of course, did not merely apply to Masonry for all congregations of people in any numbers were barred. This was because we, or rather the government, in its wisdom, expected an immediate blitzkrieg which would kill people in their thousands. By reducing numbers gathered together it was anticipated that the death toll could be reduced. Its main effect, as far as Michelham Priory was concerned, was to cancel the Installation Meeting which should have been held in September 1939.
However on 4th October a letter from the Grand Master was read at a Committee Meeting allowing meetings to be resumed. It was forthwith decided to hold the Installation Meeting that November at Hailsham and not in Eastbourne, as was then normal. Such was the state of indecision following the outbreak of war that a meal was not organised, brethren were advised to bring a sufficient supply of refreshment.
The Church Rooms where the Lodge had always met was taken over by the Civil Defence as a Control Room manned 24 hours a day, Obviously meetings could not carry on there, too many Cowans and Intruders, so they were transferred to the "Grenadier Hotel" in Hailsham for the duration. On two occasions during the war meetings were held in the front room of a private house belonging to W. Bro Dr Stansfield, who Lived in North Street. No reason was recorded for this.
A number of Lodge members served in the Armed Forces during the war. The 115th general meeting of the lodge records under the Risings that six members were on War Duty, including Bros Glendenning, Manning, Ratley, Atkins, J. Crow and F. Isted, the latter in North Africa.
Cigarettes and small comforts were sent to them each Xmas. The Secretary reported that Bro. C. Isted (whose brother was serving abroad), injured in a recent Hailsham air raid was still in hospital but progressing favourably. The incident was a hit and run raid at Hailsham which is described as a raider 'bounced' a bomb from the yard of the Post Office across the town to land on the new Fire Station built beside the Church. The Fire Station was destroyed. Bro. Isted happily recovered and by coincidence his regalia came into possession of this Lodge through the kindness of his widow in 1995.
By complete contrast is an entry dated 12th January 1947. Headed 'Freemasonry and the War it lists 46 brethren of the lodge who took part in the defence of the country. It shows they served in the Home Guard, Civil Defence, Merchant Navy, Army, Royal Observer Corps, RAF, N.F.S., and the Special Constabulary. The entry finishes "We are pleased to record that all the brethren came though the war. No meetings were cancelled owing to enemy action and although air raids occurred in the district, none disturbed our meetings. Meetings were well attended considering the lack of transport and we had the pleasure of welcoming many overseas visitors who were stationed in the district. This is born out by looking at the Attendance Books, among the most frequent visitors were members of the Canadian Army.
Bro. Swift closes with the following.
However, I will close with these few statistics: the Lodge has been in existence for 67 years. During that time there have been 537 meetings which have involved some 1608 hours spent in Lodge. There have been a total of 314 members, of whom 107 have been joining members from other Lodges as far apart as New Zealand, Malta, Hong Kong and India. Truly, a proud and noble history.