Being so long ago, and with scarce records, it is impossible to say with absolute certainty when the formation of Lodge Dumfries Kilwinning No.53 took place. We know from the Lodge minutes that the brethren were celebrating the tri-centenary on 27th December 1815, placing the Lodge's formation at 1515 (making the Lodge now 488 years old). However, there is no evidence to corroborate that this date is the true one. The Lodge charter was granted by The Grand Lodge Of Scotland in 1750 and in it was the text, "the said Lodge of Dumfries having been constitute in a just and perfect Mason Lodge as a pendicle of the Ancient Mother Lodge of Kilwinning about the number one hundred and seventy five years ago". This would place the formation around 1575 (the charter did say "about" 175 years ago). The brethren of 1750 accepted the date of formation to be literally 1575, and this is the date which we now celebrate.
The oldest existing Lodge minute dates from May 1687 and a photograph of it has been reproduced below. It minuted the appointment of Brother James Tod as the new Master of the Lodge. We have no records of who occupied the Master's chair (or, for that matter, anything else that went on in the Lodge) prior to this. The photograph was presented to the Lodge by Bro. Robert Rawson PM, who was Master in 1902 and part of 1903. The original minute book is held at Grand Lodge in Edinburgh.
In 1736, just prior to the formation of The Grand Lodge of Scotland, a letter was received by the Lodge, which, by today's terms could only be seen as canvassing. It read:
Edinr., 9 Nov., 1736
As a great many of the Lodges in Scotland are determined on this Election of a Grand Master to give their vote and interest for William St. Clair now of Rosline, Esqr., to be the first Grand Master whose predecessors for many years enjoyed the same by patent from the King as appears by a Declaration Signed by Several Regular Lodges about 153 years ago in favor of that family, and again Ratified about 50 years after. Furder lest it should Humble any of the Brethren The present Roslin notwithstanding from the face of the Inclosed Declarations he appears to have a hereditary right thereto does not that by electing him the same should be continued to his heirs. On the contrary he is willing upon his being elected the first Grand Master to Declare the same Annual in all time coming. This with the Inclosed you will signify to your Lodge and you will much oblige.
Your affect. Brethren and most humble Servts.,
GEO. FRAZER, Cannongate Kilwinning
WM. MONTGOMERY, Leith Kilwinning
JAMES CARMEHAELL, Lanark
No mention of this communication is made in the minute, and so we are without the expressed opinion of the Brethren at this point. The Grand Lodge of Scotland was formed at this time when William St. Clair of Roslin filled the Throne and demitted office the following year.
In 1742, His Grace Charles Duke of Queensberry and Dover was chosen and elected Master the Lodge; but the appointment was necessarily of an honorary character, and His Grace does not appear to have been able to attend any of the meetings during the years he filled the office.
As previously mentioned, the Lodge was acting under a charter granted from Mother Kilwinning for the first 175 or so years, before one was received from The Grand Lodge Of Scotland in February 1750. The Lodge was originally known as "The Old Lodge" until 1755, when the present title of "Kilwinning" was adopted. Doubtless the formation of the "Journeymen" (now Lodge Thistle No. 62), in 1754 made them desirous of departing from this vague, though in some respects, unique title they had previously held. However, the name "Ye Olde Lodge Of Dumfries" is still in use on letterheads, etc.
One prominent member of the Lodge was Robert Burns, son of the bard. He filled several offices in the Lodge and was Master in 1845. He was a clerk in the Stamp Office, London, and after twenty nine years in this position, he retired to Dumfries (the place of his father's death), on a Superannuation allowance in 1833.
In 1847, the Lodge seemed to be in a fairly prosperous state, with 8 brethren initiated. However, for some inexplicable reason, the meetings ceased and the Lodge slipped into dormancy. Even the minutes give no clue as to the reason. The Lodge was reoponed on 19th March 1874 at a meeting of the Provincial Grand Lodge with members of Lodge Thistle No.62, Lodge St Michael No.63, Lodge Operative No. 140 and Lodge St John's, Thornhill, No. 252.
Since then, the Lodge has gone from strength to strength, passing through two World Wars in the process. Many celebrations have taken place over the years and we are fortunate enough to be able to celebrate two beginnings: the (supposed) birth of the Lodge in 1575 and the granting of our Grand Lodge charter in 1750. We can only hope that this fine old Lodge goes on for many more centuries to come, giving countless men the pleasures of the virtues of Brotherly Love, Relief and Truth.
A number of Lodge papers, documents and books (including the Old Charges) are held in storage at Grand Lodge in Edinburgh. They may be inspected by brethren who avail themselves of prior written consent from Brother Secretary.
The Masonic Life of Robert Burns
The Masonic life of Robert Burns began on July 4, 1781 when he received the first Masonic degree. He received the next two degrees in October 1781, thus becoming a full member of the Fraternal order through St. David's Lodge in Tarbolton. With few exceptíons, almost all of his close male friends were to be members of the Craft. He was elected Deputy Master on July 27, 1784. This is a very short time for anyone to advance in a Masonic lodge. That could happen onIy to a very active member that was well liked.
Burns wrote The Farewell when he thought he was leaving the Lodge to emigrate to Jamaica. However, when his path led to Edinburgh instead, he became an honorary member of St. John Lodge #22; this lodge was the first to admit an honorary member. On February 1, 1787, he became a member of Canongate Kilwinning #2, that met in the oldest Masonic lodge room in the world. On March 1, 1787, he was made Poet Laureate of this lodge2. On May 19, 1787, he became a member of the Consistory or a 32nd Degree Mason. On December 27, 1788, he moved his membership to the St. Andrew Lodge #179 in Dumfries.
Burns' membership in Masonic lodges and his devotion to Masonry enabled him to meet people normally out of reach to a poor Scottish farmer in the eighteenth century. Friends he made as a result of his Masonic activities were a great influence on him. Two of these men were: Dr. John MacKenzie, who wrote Origin of Morals and Common Sense, and Sir James Hunter Blair, grand master of Scotland, after whom Hunter Street and Blair Street are named.
Another of Burns' Masonic friends was the Rev. Dr. Mathew Stewart, a noted geometrician and Professor of Mathematics at the University of Edinburgh; in 1785, he became a Professor of Moral Philosophy at that same institution. Gavin Turnbull, another Masonic Friend, wrote a poem to Burns, To Mr. R. B.
When Burns became friends with the Masons of his time, he found himself in a rare company of men. Major William Parker was a banker and the Master of Kilmarnock Kilwinning Lodge. He knew Sir John Whiteford, Master of Lodge St. James, who in 1766 became Senior Grand Warden of Scotland. He was friends with John, Duke of Atholl, 32nd Grand Master of Scotland and Sir William Forbes, Grand Master of Scotland from 1776 to 1778. The 34th Grand Master of Scotland, the Earl of Buchan, was another friend.
It is impossible to assume that these men had no influence on Robert Burns, who found the most educated men in Scotland associating with him at meetings and social events. It was a challenging and vibrant society.
It is also interesting to see how the men he met in the lodge changed the course of his life and brought his work to the notice of the world. Henry MacKenzie, author of Man of Feeling, was a member of Canongate Kilwinning Lodge and one of the first to extend to Burns kindness on his arrival in Edinburgh. Later, Burns was to say that, after the Bible, MacKenzie's book had the most influence on him and that he wore out two copies carrying them in his pocket. Captain Francis Grose did a drawing of Burns' father's grave; in return, Burns wrote Tam O'Shanter for him. Gavin Hamilton, a Master of St James Lodge, suggested Burns collect and publish his poetry. James Earl of Glencairn introduced Burns to William Creech, who became his publisher. Later Burns said of James of Glencairn, He is a stronger proof of immortality of the soul than any philosophy ever produced. A mind like thal can never die. Professor Dugald Stewart and Dr. George Lawrie introduced Rev. Thomas Blacklock to Burns' work. The Reverend gave Burns the money for paper to make the second edition of his poems.
Even after Robert Burns' death, it was Masons who helped keep alive the memory of Burns' life and works. John Ballantine, Master of Ayr Kilwinning Lodge in 1801, instituted the Alloway Club to celebrate annually the anniversary of the poet's death. On the 25th of January, 1820, a monument was erected in Alloway to the honor and genius of Robert Burns. This effort was led by Alexander Boswell, son of Samuel Johnson's biographer.
Not only was Robert Burns attracted by the Masonic works but his brother Gilbert also became a Mason on March 1, 1786, and in 1845 Burns' son, also named Robert Burns, became the R.W.M of Lodge Dumfries Kilwinning.
In light of this information, it is not out of place to say that the Masonic Brotherhood had a strong lasting effect on Robert Burns. Hís membership in the Masons brought him in contact with people he would not otherwise have met, and the efforts of his fellow Masons hastened the acceptance and recognition that Robert Burns so well deserved
Bro.Robert Burns PM
Robert Burns junior was the eldest of a family of five surviving children. He was educated at Dumfries Grammar School and at Glasgow and Edinburgh University. He obtained a position in the Stamp Office in London offered to him by the Prime Minister and retired to Dumfries in 1833.
In 1845 Robert Burns Jr., became RWM of Dumfries Kilwinning Lodge no.53
© Lodge Dumfries Kilwinning No.53