Eardulph was the last Bishop of Lindisfarne Northumbria, reigning from 796 to 806. For a brief time, he made Chester le Street the centre of Christianity in Northern England, when the body of St Cuthbert resided in the local Church. On Friday 9th June 2023, Eardulph Lodge No. 6645, which took its name from the legendary King, became the centre of Freemasonry in Durham, as the Lodge played host to a full Provincial Team visit to celebrate its 75th anniversary.
In the Lodge room, the members and visitors were treated to a wonderful review of the Lodge’s history, with selected members of the Lodge and visitors recounting their recollections of each decade of the Lodge’s existence.
Kenneth Howe opened the proceedings by reading the words of his great friend, the late Peter Usher, that had been provided for the Lodge’s 50 th Anniversary. Peter recalled how in the 50s & 60s Eardulph was known as the musical lodge. At the festive board, they could call upon a number of pianists, singers and all-around entertainers. He recalled how there was often an early morning retirement from labour, encouraged by exotic festive board menus and some alcoholic consumption. With members including butchers, bakers, hoteliers and gamekeepers – the table was kept well supplied. Discipline was strictly enforced, attendances were high, membership waiting lists were impressive, loyalty was mandatory and morale was unbeatable.
Danny Pollock took us into the 60s and 70s, recalling how he had joined the Lodge after moving to the town from Glasgow. In those days, each Lodge looked after themselves, running their own bar on meeting nights and each had a spot in the cellar for their own stock which was locked away after each meeting. In those days the Master got a discount on his bar bill to compensate for buying all of the drinks for the visitors and Past Masters. Eardulph was still awash with singers and musicians and it was unusual to get home the same day as the meeting started. The Stewards of the Lodge were very busy at the festive boards and ate their meals afterwards, all together in the room under the stairs. Whilst sounding strange, it helped the newer members bond with the older members and the camaraderie amongst the stewards was tremendous.
Taking us into the 80s and 90s, WBro Ian Heaviside, read the words of Ken Beck who could not attend. Ken is the son of Joe Beck, who had been renowned for his harmony. Ken recalled that in those days, prior to the introduction of the smoking ban, the dining room had a cloud of smoke hanging over it by 10 O’clock and you could see the nicotine running down the walls. The cigarette box would be passed up and down the top table and visitors would grab handfuls to be smoked over the rest of the night. Ken also recalled the wonderful entertainers who provided Harmony at the Festive Board but paid particular tribute to Eddie “Keyboard” Kerr, recalling that when Eddie provided harmony, it didn’t matter what song Eddie sang, his keyboard always seemed to play the same tune! Festive boards were always full with between 115 and 120 in attendance. The atmosphere was great and if the meals ran out, the stewards popped to the local chippy.
The Lodge DC, Rob Thompson joined the Lodge after leaving the Royal Marines. He confirmed that in the 90s the Lodge reminded him of the Mess in his marine years, with a contingent of ex-Durham Light Infantrymen, who became known as the “Dessert” Rats for their love of the sweet treats on offer. Rob became a Steward to best serve the Lodge and held that role for around 10 years. The Stewards dining continued to be under the stairs after the tables had been cleared which meant he missed a lot of the goings-on. It was not until he proposed his first candidate and attended his initiation that he enjoyed attending the festive board so much that he decided it was time to come off the Stewards list. Rob confirmed, in true DC style that with the fellowship and friendship, ritual is a very satisfying part of Freemasonry for him and warned that he is looking out for his successor.
WBro David Battensby recalled the “noughties”. Brought up in a household where freemasonry and Eardulph Lodge were frequently mentioned, he had attended the Hall Christmas parties and only ever associated Freemasonry and Eardulph Lodge with fun and enjoyment. He recalled that the quality of the ritual work was inspiring and there was a particularly active social side, especially with Eardulph being a Friday Lodge. Some partners would wait in the lounge until the meetings were finished and would head off to the local Weatherspoons, Chicago Rock which became known to them as The Lodge of Chicago Rock. Several times we were walking home when the sun was coming up and birds were tweeting!! He confirmed that to him Eardulph is more like a family, a second family, giving support and strong companionship.
Bro Scott Butler took us into the 2010s. He recalled sitting on a table with an ex-royal marine, a 70 years old ex-postmaster/come street magician, a painter and decorator, and an ex-policeman. Whilst from different backgrounds, ages, life experiences etc. it felt so natural and he was made to feel incredibly welcome in such an eclectic mix. He confirmed that since joining he had experienced so much, including Dragon boat racing, manning a beer pump at the local jazz festival and buildings Beer Festivals and Gintasias, carrying the haggis at Eardulph’s Burn’s night, visiting a lodge in Scotland, the Chinese new year at Oriental Lodge in the next province over, being part of the contingent of Freemasons of Chester le street at remembrance Sunday and not forgetting snapping his hamstring whilst trying to play cricket for the Masonic team. In such a small space of time, he has made so many fantastic memories. Whilst Covid lockdowns have featured heavily in his Masonic journey, Scott was grateful for the way in which the lodge managed to stay in touch, via WhatsApp and Skype meetings, providing the opportunity to ‘meet’, albeit virtually, have a laugh, check in on each other, keep up to date with goings on and enjoying the odd quiz.
Our final Contributor was Chris Cullen, the latest initiate into Eardulph Lodge, having joined in January 2023. Chris confirmed that he is one of six initiates this year and having asked them all how things are going he confirmed that the feedback is overwhelmingly positive. They are all enjoying making new friends and have been made to feel incredibly welcome. They have already visited other local Lodges and have been out socially with their wives and girlfriends, although never at the same time! The lodge Whatsapp group has helped the “newbies” keep informed and be a part of the lodge discussions, as well as inflicting various brethren’s attempts at humour. On behalf of all of the Brethren, Chris thanked Eardulph Lodge for the past 75 years and wished it a long and successful future.
At the Festive Board, John was presented with a cheque for £750 to go towards the next Festival in 2032. He paid tribute to the Lodge and thanked all of the contributors for the wonderful recollections they had shared of the history and camaraderie of the Lodge. The packed festive board were then treated to the return of spectacular harmony to Eardulph when they were entertained by Jada, the Granddaughter of Alan Jenkins, who had been supported in with her recent scholarship travels by Durham Benevolence, who treated the Lodge to a wonderful medley of songs as a thank you for the support of Durham Freemasons.
This was a truly memorable evening and one that will live long in the memory of all of those present, even those who ended up leaving the day after the event began!