Secret society has rich history in Falkirk

The interior of Falkirk's masonic temple
The interior of Falkirk's masonic temple

One of the three interesting buildings open to the public this weekend as part of Open Doors is the fascinating Masonic Temple in Lint Riggs, the home of Lodge Callendar 588.

Although I am not a ‘brother of the mystic tie’ as Robert Burns described his fellow masons, the annual celebrations in his honour have brought me at different times to every masonic lodge in Falkirk district.

If my arithmetic is correct there are nine of them, each full of interesting architectural features and symbols of the craft and each with a different name and number which tells us when they were registered with the Grand Lodge of Scotland.

Today the craft has a much less formal public role than it once did but the charitable work and social activities continue to play a part in the life of our communities.

The Masonic Order likes to trace its origins to Biblical times and the men who built Solomon’s temple, but the modern form dates only to the 17th century. The first Falkirk Lodge was formed sometime before 1736 when it was given the number 14. One of the first masters was the infamous Earl of Kilmarnock who lived in Callendar House. He lost his head following the Battle of Culloden in 1746 but the Lodge survived and grew in numbers.

Early records show the members met quarterly and that the evenings were most convivial. Fine wine was in plentiful supply and among the office bearers was local baker, Robert Balderston - “pie-maker to the lodge”!

Members met in places like the Red Lion Inn in High Street until they could secure a place of their own. In 1762 they built their first lodge on the corner of Silver Row and Manor Street, which those of us old enough remember as the Masonic Arms.

By the 1830s the membership had dwindled and the lodge was facing severe financial difficulties. Around 1838 it seems to have gone into abeyance and it was not until the widespread upsurge in interest in masonic activity that a group of local businessmen revived the lodge in 1864.

Adopting the name of St John, the patron saint of freemasonry, they were given a new number, 16, since 14 had been reallocated elsewhere. From then on the lodge flourished and in 1879 moved into Newmarket Street, next door to the new Town Hall.

Both buildings were opened with “full Masonic honours” which was the normal procedure when any new building was dedicated in Scotland at the time. The lodge prospered in the following years until the demolition of the old Town Hall in 1968 and the brothers moved again to their present home in the old Co-operative building in Grahamston.

On display there are the coat-of-arms from the Silver Row building and a portrait of the Earl of Kilmarnock, their ill-fated early master. Back in Edwardian Falkirk, as industry and commerce expanded, there was a steady rise in requests for admission to St John’s and the decision was taken to create a completely new lodge. The result was Lodge Callander, given the number 588, which was designed as a Masonic Temple, the only one of its kind in Stirlingshire.

It opened in 1906 and both the outside and inside decoration is magnificent. Go see for yourself this weekend.