While I may not be a member of the mystical fraternity as Robert Burns referred to his masonic peers, I’ve had the privilege of attending the yearly celebrations in his name at every masonic lodge in the Falkirk district. To my count, there are nine distinct lodges, each boasting unique architectural designs and masonic symbols. Each lodge has its own name and registration number, indicating when they joined the Grand Lodge of Scotland. Although masonry doesn’t have the same public prominence it once did, its philanthropic efforts and social events remain integral to our local communities.
The Masonic Order often traces its roots back to the biblical era, particularly the builders of Solomon’s temple. However, its contemporary form emerged in the 17th century. The inaugural Falkirk Lodge was established before 1736 and was assigned the number 14. One of its early leaders was the notorious Earl of Kilmarnock, a resident of Callendar House. Despite his execution post the Battle of Culloden in 1746, the Lodge persisted and expanded. Historical records indicate that early members held quarterly gatherings, marked by abundant fine wine and joviality. Notably, local baker Robert Balderston held the unique title of “pie-maker to the lodge.”
Initially, members convened at locations like the Red Lion Inn on High Street. By 1762, they constructed their first dedicated lodge at the intersection of Silver Row and Manor Street, fondly remembered by some as the Masonic Arms. However, by the 1830s, membership had declined, and financial challenges loomed. The Lodge went dormant around 1838 but was rejuvenated by local entrepreneurs in 1864. They adopted the name St John, in honor of freemasonry’s patron saint, and were assigned the new number 16, as 14 had been reassigned.
The Lodge saw a resurgence, and in 1879, they relocated to a grand building on Newmarket Street, adjacent to the then-new Town Hall. Both structures were inaugurated with full masonic ceremonies, a customary practice in Scotland for new edifices. The Lodge thrived in subsequent years. However, the 1968 demolition of the old Town Hall prompted another move, this time to the former Co-operative building in Grahamston. Here, visitors can view the Silver Row building’s coat-of-arms and a portrait of the ill-fated Earl of Kilmarnock.
During the Edwardian era in Falkirk, as business and industry boomed, St John’s saw a surge in membership applications. This led to the establishment of a new lodge: Lodge Callendar, numbered 588. This unique Masonic Temple, the sole one in Stirlingshire, opened its doors in 1906. Its exterior and interior designs are striking, particularly the beautifully painted windows.