The Portsmouth District – A Brief History
The date on the warrant of Portsmouth Loyal Orange Lodge District No. 65 is 16th May 1877, but Orange lodges existed in the area covered by the District for many years before that – how and when did they arrive?
The founding of Orange lodges in militia regiments serving in Ireland in the closing years of the eighteenth century provided the means by which the Orange Order in its current form was extended to England. However, various Orange societies existed in England prior to that time, among the first being the Association of the Gentlemen of Devon which was formed in Exeter Cathedral on 12th November 1688 shortly after the arrival of the Prince of Orange at Brixham. The members wished to associate themselves with the Prince’s mission which was ‘The Protestant Religion and the liberties of England I will maintain’.
It also appears possible that a society called the Loyal and Friendly Society of Blew and Orange, which was formed in the 4th Regiment of Foot in 1727, had a significant influence in shaping the structure and character of the Orange Order when it was established in County Armagh in 1795. Officers from that regiment who were serving in Ireland at that time and who were members of the Society are believed to have acted as advisors to the founding fathers of Irish Orangeism.
The first record of an authorised Orange Order warrant being carried to England from Ireland was in 1798 when Colonel Stanley’s Regiment of Lancashire Militia brought warrant No. 220 back to Manchester. This was the first of many warrants to cross the Irish Sea and these military soon transferred Orangeism to the civilian population. From then the growth of the Orange Order in northern England was rapid - particularly in the Lancashire cotton belt. In 1807 the Orange lodges in Manchester and other Lancashire towns became organised under the County Grand Lodge of Lancashire. The following year the Grand Lodge of England was established with Colonel Samuel Taylor JP of Moston as the first Grand Master.
Southern England Lodges
Orange lodges soon spread to the south of England and the 1811 Grand Lodge of England Directory includes lodges in London, Exeter, Plymouth, Bristol and Portsmouth. The Portsmouth lodge held warrant No. 47 and met at the Bull’s Head, Queen Street, Portsea. This was the start of a continuous Orange presence in Portsmouth until the present day.
By 1830 the following lodges were active in what is now the Portsmouth District area: Warrant No. 28 at Winchester, Warrant No. 47 at Portsmouth, Warrant no. 128 at Southampton, and Warrant No. 229 at St. Hellier, Jersey.
In 1836 the Orange Institution in England was dissolved by the Grand Master, the Duke of Cumberland, brother of King William IV. However, the Order continued to exist and indeed two rival Orders were formed – The Grand Protestant Association of Loyal Orangemen and the Orange Institution of Great Britain. It was not until 1876 that these two Orange fraternities were amalgamated and the Portsmouth District was granted their warrant under the new Grand Orange Lodge of England the following year.
The Portsmouth District
In the early years of the 20th century there were a dozen lodges in the District. However the heyday for the District was during the late 1920’s and 1930’s when there were over 20 lodges including 4 ladies and 4 juvenile lodes. By the late 1940’s the District was down to 3 male lodges, 4 ladies lodges and 1 juvenile lodge. In 1960 there were 3 male lodges - King William III LOL 11 (Portsmouth), Lord Carson Memorial LOL 20 (Farnham), Martin Luther LOL 212 (Portsmouth) and 1 Ladies lodge - LOL 130 Perseverance (Portsmouth).
Throughout the years lodges have existed at various locations under the jurisdiction of the Portsmouth District including: Portsmouth, Southampton, Bournemouth, Oxford, Farnham, Aldershot, Petersfield, Emsworth, Salisbury, Plymouth, Sunbury, Newbury, Eastleigh and even Malta. Being the home of the Royal Navy a number of the lodges were attached to naval vessels and met on board ship.
On board HMS Benbow
For the past 30 years the lodges which form the District have been the King William III LOL 11 (Portsmouth), the Lord Carson Memorial LOL 20 (Ash), the Mary Rose LLOL 65 (Portsmouth), the Martyrs Memorial LOL 213 (Oxford) and Silver Jubilee LOL 1977 (Southampton). The oldest lodge is the King William III LOL 11 which was founded on 16th February 1927. However on 18th May 2013 the Martin Luther Junior LOL 501 was opened in Ash, Surrey and so revived this junior warrant which ceased to operate in Portsmouth over fifty years ago.
Two distinguished brethren in recent times were the late Brother Ron Magee and the late Brother John Monan - both were members of LOL 20 and both achieved the high office of Deputy Grand Master of England.
The Portsmouth District has had the honour of hosting the annual sessions of the Grand Lodge of England in1878, 1898, 1807, 1931, 1997, (at Portsmouth), 1890 (at Newport, Isle of Wight) and 1976 (at Newbury, Berkshire).
Each year the District holds its annual Parade and Service in Petersfield, Hampshire. Wreaths are laid at the statue of King William III in the town square and at the War Memorial en route to an open air service on the Heath. The District is delighted to have Portsmouth Accordion Band lead the parade to and from the Heath. The band was formed in 1973 by members of the King William III LOL 11 in Portsmouth and has led Orange parades throughout the south of England and in Ulster. It has also attended Orange ceremonies at the Somme in northern France.
Portsmouth Band leading District Parade
Other annual events in the District include the Portsmouth Orange weekend in September when King William III lodge hosts a dinner and Church parade and service. Silver Jubilee LOL 1977 in Southampton hold a Church parade and service in June and the Aldershot and Oxford lodges hold Church Services.
There are usually other events, for example, last year LOL 20 and LOL 213 held dinners to mark their 50th and 40th anniversaries respectively. Members of the District attended the commemorations to mark the 90th anniversary of the Battle of the Somme in Northern France where thousands of Orangemen lost their lives.
The Perkins-Bull Cup
For over 70 years the William Perkins-Bull Cup has been awarded to the lodge in Portsmouth District with the most initiations. Born in 1870 at Downsview, Ontario, Canada, William Perkins-Bull had a remarkable life filled with many firsts. He practised law successfully and in 1908 becoming the youngest King’s Counsel in the British Empire. He was also an astute businessman. He was President of the Okanagan Lumber Company, founder and Director of the Canadian Oil Company (which proved to be one of the most successful ventures in the Canadian petroleum industry); President of the Sterling Oil Company; founder of Red Deer Investments, which controlled 500,000 acres in Alberta.
During the First World War he was in London and established an open house for Canadian officers, and that led to the opening of the Perkins-Bull Convalescent Hospital in 1916.
William Perkins-Bull The District Cup
The son of a Wesleyan preacher he was a committed Protestant. He was also a staunch Orangeman and when he was London he was a member of LOL 1688 and Legal Adviser to the Grand Lodge of England.
In 1931 he had a serious car accident but during his convalescence he decided to try his hand at writing a brief family history to help pass the time. It was then that the Perkins-Bull Historical Series of books was born. The modest project grew into a massive undertaking comprising more than a dozen books on various aspects of Canadian history.
His donation of a cup to the District is an enduring reminder of the dedication of this remarkable man to the Orange Cause.
The Primrose League
The lodges in Portsmouth had a major influence in forming an organisation that grew to almost 2 million members – that organisation was the Primrose League. The Primrose League was founded in honour of Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli (Lord Beaconsfield). Disraeli died on 19th April 1881 and his statue in Parliament Square, Westminster, was unveiled on 19th April 1883. The following narrative takes up the story:
‘The Primrose League sprang from the unveiling of Lord Beaconsfield’s statue. Sir Henry Wolff did not attend to hear Sir Stafford Northcote’s speech and Lord Salisbury’s vote of thanks, and he arrived at the House of Commons late in the afternoon. The well known superintendent of the members cloak room, Mr. Cove, said to him, ‘You must have a primrose’ and gave him one. Thus adorned, Sir Henry entered the Chamber and found the whole Conservative party similarly decorated with Lord Beaconsfield’s favourite flower. The fact impressed him vividly and he said to Lord Randolph Churchill as they walked home together ‘What a show of Primroses! Why not start a ‘Primrose League’?’’. Lord Randolph was instantly interested. ‘Draw up a plan ‘he said ‘to carry out your idea and we will see what can be done’.
Sir Henry Wolff set to work at once. He looked for his model to the Orange Society which was influential in his Portsmouth constituency’
So it was that the Portsmouth lodges provided the model for the Primrose League whose declaration was: ’I will devote my best ability to the maintenance of religion, of the Estates of the Realm and of the Imperial Ascendancy of the British Empire, and that, consistently with my allegiance to the Sovereign of these Realms, I will promote with discretion and fidelity the above objectives, being those of the Primrose League’.
The Primrose League was a mass membership Tory organisation for men, women and juveniles of all religions. By the time of the 1st World War it claimed a membership of almost 2 million. Instead of ‘Lodges’ the Primrose League had ‘Habitations’ and Past Masters have included Prime Ministers Stanley Baldwin, Winston Churchill and Alex Douglas-Home.
After a long period of decline the Primrose League was wound up in 2004 but, because of the historical association, there are still Orange Lodges today in England and elsewhere with ‘Primrose’ and ‘Beaconsfield’ in their name.
Orange lodges have existed in the Portsmouth District for 200 years now. The cause they uphold of civil and religious liberty for all remains as valid today as it was when the Gentlemen of Devon gathered in Exeter Cathedral in 1688 to bind themselves together in the Orange Cause. The Portsmouth District lodges today are proud to carry forward the values and traditions of that same Orange Cause.