Prof Aubrey Newman gave an online talk via Zoom to members of the Lodge of Research No.2429 on the 25th January 2021 on a paper that explored “The Place of the Province in Regular Freemasonry”.
The emergence of the Province within the structure of English Freemasonry was to prove one of the most significant features of English regular Freemasonry. Within ten years of the initial appearance of a Grand Lodge in London Lodges outside London were acknowledging the pre-eminence of London and seeking its recognition, while groups of local gentry were seeking to play a more prominent part in the organisation. At the same time London recognised that these lodges were too far away for the exercise of an effective control over them. The answer was the recognition of an intermediate level of administration, the Province. In England the medieval shires had become important units in national politics and administration, and it a natural step therefore for the County to absorb yet another function and to become a Masonic Province.
W Bro Newman has looked at the way in which during the nineteenth century the Province was to become an important element in the development of Grand Lodge itself. He will show how the enormous growth in the number of Freemasons and the increasing costs of the Grand Charities and the running of Grand Lodge itself meant that the Provinces were to become responsible for the raising of large sums of money through Festivals which became increasingly a regular part of the general structure. Inevitably there were tensions between those who ran the central administration and those who felt that the Provinces were being milked for the benefit of the Londoners.
When Scotland and Ireland set up their own Grand Lodges they quickly saw the need for an element of devolved administration, but they lacked an effective system of counties and their Provinces had extremely fluid boundaries. The Minutes of their Grand Lodges show regular changes in their Masonic geography. France and Italy have also developed their own Grand Lodges, but without an autonomous Provincial organisation. In America each individual State has created its own Grand Lodge and in general there has evolved a structure of small districts within each State each supervised by a locally appointed Inspector.
Only England has created a system whereby each Province has its own locally administered structure of government and finance, supervised but not controlled by Grand Lodge. And although there have been signs of a growing impatience with the existence of these ‘city-states’ the Province remains vital to the life of English regular Freemasonry.
This talk can be viewed using the link below. Thank you to Prof Newman for allowing this to post his talk.