An introduction of our founding members and interesting facts..
History of the Village of Thornhill
The village of Thornhill is situated about midway between Stirling and Aberfoyle, overlooking the fertile carse of Stirling, much of which was cleared of moss in the Eighteenth Century. South Westwards, the uncleared Flanders Moss is now a sanctuary for wildlife, particularly birds. In general, the village is surrounded by good agricultural land.
At one time, most of the cattle from the North and West were walked to the main market towns of Stirling and Falkirk, via Thornhill. This is where the drove roads converged, making an overnight stop here.
The Eastern end and older part of the village, known as Norrieston, spread Westwards, so forming the village of Thornhill. With all the necessary industries appearing, it became a thriving community with a distillery nearby; a tannery; weavers; smiths; building trades and agricultural produce making a near self-sufficient area.
The River Forth being the county boundary between Stirling and Perthshire, it followed that being on the North side, Thornhill is in Perthshire. That changed with the introduction of Regionalisation in the 1970’s. Thornhill was plucked from its native Perthshire into the Stirling District or Central Region. When in Perthshire, the postal address was localized to “by Stirling” to expedite deliveries and since Regionalisation we have been allocated a Falkirk postcode.
The Eastern approach to the village has the church wall, once the United Free Kirk with the then manse alongside. Then the Established or Parish Church, known as Norrieston Parish Church, the only recognised place of worship in Thornhill since the Free Kirk and the Established amalgamated in 1929. This Union is reputed to be the first of its kind in the country. There are also several claims to “firsts or near firsts” such as a piped water supply to the Main Street by gravitation before being advanced to a storage tank and pumping station. One of the first automatic telephone exchanges, used to be housed in the Old Post Office. Another unique factor of the village goes back to the ordination of the Rev. J. Gordon Mitchell on the same day as the laying of the Church’s foundation stone in August 1879, unique also in church history.
From Darkness into Light…
Over a century ago the pace of life matched most other rural areas, with everyday merchandise being available locally. Stirling was within easy reach by horse and carriage, operating from the local hostelries, where the horses could be changed on route from Aberfoyle. Traveling in those far off days took considerably more time, if not effort and inconvenience, for example, after traveling by road to Kippen Station, a train service was available. This railway opened in 1856, was closed for passenger trains in 1934. Goods trains continued to use the line until its only function was the delivery of fresh water and it finally closed in 1959.
The Freemasons in the village had to find their way to neighbouring villages or towns and return at the close of meetings, this was after a days work, an arduous task, frequently undertaken in inclement weather. The nearest Masonic Lodge being in Doune with Callander a close second, most of the local masons were members of Lodge St. James, Doune No. 171, and George Williams served two terms as RWM there, before becoming the first RWM at Blairhoyle. Both churches were active a century ago, the Parish Church, built in 1879 replaced an older building known as the Chapel of Ease which stood on part of the cemetery, now marked only by four corner stones.
The Foundation of Lodge Blairhoyle
The minister of the new Kirk, Rev. J. Gordon Mitchell was ordained on 25th August, 1879, the same date as the foundation stone was laid. The Free Kirk Minister, the Rev. George Williams, a native of Aberdeenshire took over his duties about the same time as his counterpart. Highly thought of in Ecclesiastical circles, Mr. Williams interests were wide and varied and included genealogy, having recorded notes and inscriptions of gravestones, some of which now form a stairway from the road, his information proved useful to the Genealogical Society. As well as being a botanist, author and poet, one of his main interests was Freemasonry. The nearest Masonic Lodges were a few miles distant, so the minister, a likable and go ahead person, along with other local masons, had the idea of forming a Masonic Lodge in Thornhill. It befell their task to put the wheels in motion. The names of the others concerned are listed later and followed by all other members.
The local landowner, Col. Drummond of Blair Drummond, being a Past Provincial Grand Master, thoroughly approved of the idea and scheme and willingly made the plot of land at the crossroads available for the Lodge.
The owner of Blairhoyle Estate nearby, Mr. George Crabbie, an Edinburgh merchant and businessman of Whisky and Green Ginger fame felt that Freemasonry would benefit the Masonic Craft.
Although Mr. Crabbie was not himself a Freemason he decided in his wisdom to have a hall built at his own expense, suitable for the requirements of the local Freemasons. Several plans, similar to buildings on the Blairhoyle Estate were submitted and approved, subject to minor changes such as having the entrance door facing South instead of West.
The building consisted of a main hall with an open fireplace, a porch and cloakroom, all timber lined; the main hall without a ceiling, showing the rafters and roof space. The building, of stone, harled brickwork and exposed red sandstone plinths has a tower over the porch consisting of first floor storage and access to the upper floor with window seats on each of its four sides.
Over the finely sculpted entrance is an intricately carved lintel of red sandstone, complete with plaque, inscriptions, date and symbols. The roof of the main hall is of local slate, the ridge of red tile to match the tower roof whilst an enblemed weather vane adorns the apex.
The Lodge Charter was granted on the Second day of February, Eighteen Hundred and Ninety Three and the year of light 5897. The original receipt for the Charter is dated 24th January, 1893 to the value of ten guineas – ten pounds, ten shillings or in modern currency £10.50.
Work on the hall started on 28th July, 1893 by James Slater, Building Contractor with Mr. S. Henbest Capper M.A A.R.I.B.A., the Edinburgh Architect in charge.
Although the work was completed on 9th September, the meetings were held for some time after in the Public Hall. Meetings were also held in the Public Hall prior to the erection of the Hall.
A Consecration service was held on 25th March, 1893 in the Public Hall, 35 brethren attended – 6 consecrating brethren, 14 visiting brethren and 15 of Lodge Blairhoyle 792 brethren. The official Inauguration Service and Ceremonial of laying the foundation stone took place on 21st October, 1893.
The Charter is signed by:
The Rt. Hon. George Arden, Earl of Haddington .||. most Worshipful Grand Master Mason of Scotland
Rt. Hon. Lord Blythswood .||. Right Worshipful Provincial Grand Master
Sir Charles Dalrymple of Newhails, Bart. .||. M.P. R.W.G.M. Depute;
Rt. Hon. Lord Saltoun .||. Right Worshipful Substitute Grand Master
D. Murray Lyon Esq. .||. Right Worshipful Grand Secretary
J Dalrymple Duncan .||. Senior Grand Warden
John Campbell .||. Junior Grand Warden
James Barry, .||. acting G.M.
J. Middleton acting .||. G.W.M.
Patrick Stirling acting Substitute .||. Grand Master
At 2.30pm on Saturday 21st October, 1893 under Provincial Grand Marshal, Bro. Gray, led by a piper and a procession marched through the village, headed by members of Lodge Blairhoyle 792, followed by deputation’s from Callander Ben Ledi 614, St. Vincent, Glasgow 553, Abercromby, Bridge of Allan 531, Maryhill 510, Coldstream 280, Doune 171, Ancient Stirling 30, Stirling Royal Arch 76 and Dunblane No. IX, all followed by the Provincial Grand Lodge.
On arriving at the hall, the procession opened up to permit the entrance of Col. Stirling of Kippendavie, Provincial Grand Master of Perthshire West and his deputation of assistants, – Bro. Col. Drummond P.P.G.M.; Bro. Watt, P.G.S.; Graham Stirling of Strowan, acting past P.G. Dep. M.; Bro. Robertson P.G.S.W.; Guthrie P.G.J.W.; P. McNiven Callander P.G.S.D.; J.A. McLean P.G.S.B and Archibald McLaren who conducted the Masonic Ceremonial in connection with the laying of the foundation stone and opening of the Lodge Room.
It would be base ingratitude on our part to let this opportunity of publicly offering you the thanks of “Lodge Blairhoyle” for your splendid gift. This Hall, so snug and quaint does credit to your head as well as to your heart. With gratitude we accept your gift. I am hopeful it may yet be my duty to put into your hand our symbol of command and welcome you on this floor, not only as a brother but as our Master. In the meantime, I have the address which I have just read to you and I ask you to accept it as a very humble but grateful and genuine expression of our feelings to you, our benefactor. In connection with the establishment of the Lodge, many good friends have done virtuously; but we can surely say of you what is said of the good woman of scripture, “Thou excellest all”.
Mr Crabbie replied in these terms:-
“I really do not know what to say and I can only thank you for the kind and flattering way in which you have responded to remarks made by Mr. Williams in presenting me with this address. I assure you, words completely fail me. The address is beautiful and perfect as work of art, but one thing is wanting, and that is that I feel I do not deserve it. YOU DO. Be that is it may, I accept it as a bond of union between Thornhill and Blairhoyle which I hope no future generation will to efface.” (APPLAUSE)
“The Ceremony of Consecration Was Carried Out”
The ceremony and meeting was then closed in due and ancient form. The celebrations continued in the Public Hall. The tickets for this part were 2/- each (10p).
After the impressive open ceremonial, the public were requested to retire, when the Lodge was raised to the Third Degree. Thereafter, an adjournment was made to the Public Hall where Col. Drummond presided over a banquet. The usual Loyal and Masonic and other toasts were given and a pleasant evening was spent in harmony.
With the Public retired and the Lodge in the Third Degree the P.G.M called for his Secretary, Treasurer and Architect to bring forward the necessary workmen. During the singing of the 100th Psalm to the tune of “Old Hundred”, “All people that on earth do dwell.”
The Rev. Williams wish that Mr. Crabbie become a member of the craft did not materialise. However, his son John Edward Crabbie became a Freemason in Edinburgh and later affiliated to Lodge Blairhoyle. He was installed as R.W.M of 792 in the year 1913 a post which he held until 1922. He also held the position of Provincial Grand Master of Perthshire West for twenty years.
J.E. Crabbie’s two sons John Patrick Crabbie and George Monteath Crabbie became members of Lodge Blairhoyle, in 1933. Their application forms were dated 11th January. Mr. Williams passed on to the Grand Lodge above in August 1929 at the age of 84 and was interred in the local cemetery, the Pall Bearers all being lodge members.
One of the record holders of the Lodge must surely be that of Bro. James Taylor, initiated in 1894 and held the office of Tyler for forty three years until his passing in December 1937.
The early meetings were not set pattern, frequently Fridays, Saturdays, and on four occasions Sundays.
Among some of the original documents are notes by the Rev. G. Williams, Ceremonial Sheets, five of the First Annual Certificates from the Grand Lodge, seven Grand Lodge Receipts for dues, certificates, initiates etc., the receipt for the Charter £10 – 10/- (ten guineas, or in modern currency £10.50), fire insurance bill and receipt from West of Scotland Fire Office Ltd dated 29.9.1894 for 5/6 amount £350.00. Rates receipts 15.5.94-95 for 5/7½ ; 95-96 for 5/- ½d receipts, Parish of Kincardine 22.10.1894 for Relief of Poor 1/1, Relief of Poor ½, School 1/7 Reg. 1d Total 2/10 and a Property Duty Receipt for 2/8.
There are also receipted bills from McEwan Bros, Branton Place, Stirling and other local traders. McEwans shows provisions of liquid refreshments for the opening ceremony banquet in the Public Hall for soft drinks at 1/- per dozen bottles of beer 1/9 dozen, Port Wine 1/- per bottle and a gallon of Whisky at 18/-, total £1.16.6.
Charles S. Moir post office supplies and stationary for 3/11½, Mr. Moir was also the local watch and clock maker and Lodge Secretary, John Duncanson, fuel bills for coal at 6d per half hunderweight, oil for paraffin lamps at 6d and 7d per gallon and 1½ per bottle in 1894. The bill for 6/9½ included 3/- paid to Carting Firms, John Doig, Joiners materials supplied on 26th December 1894, 2 panes glass 1/- each, total 4/9, there appears to be a handsome discount of 2/6 leaving a balance of 2/3, settled on 5.3.1895 by John Doig. Another bill from John Duncanson shows that in November and December 1893, par oil 5d, ½ cwt., coal 6½d; fire shovels 6d; 2 candles 2d and one hair brush at 3/6, 1 gall oil 7d, ½ cwt., coal 7d; ¼ cwt coal 3½d.
Moving onwards to more modern history the Lodge had busy spells in the 1920’s with several candidates being balloted for and initiated at the same time. In 1925 the R.W.P.G.M. Bro. J.E. Crabbie installed Bro. G. Dickson into the Chair of King Solomon, George Dickson being estate overseer on Blairhoyle Estate. 1929, records the passing of Rev. Williams and Bro. James Taylor, Tyler, in 1934.
A carved chair was presented by Bro. C.E. Featherstone, Lodge Blythswood 817 who at that time stayed locally.
In 1935 there were provincial bicentenary celebrations and on 11th December of that year, proceedings were broadcast on radio from Halls in Stirling and Perth.
A provincial bicentenary jewel was presented by Bro. J. Rennie, Secretary, for services rendered as a bicentenary steward. Presentation was carried out by P.M. Dickson on behalf of Grand Lodge.
A new paraffin lamp was presented in 1939 but the outbreak of the War in September was to bring many changes.
The Wardens Chairs, presented to the Lodge are believed to be the original chairs from the Free Kirk.
Many of the members had gone to serve in the forces and in March 1940 as there was no important business, the Lodge was closed in due and ancient form.
The building was taken over by the Local Defence Volunteers, later renamed the Home Guard. This was their meeting place at least twice a week, and was their headquarters; training and instruction took place and the tower was used on a rota basis as an overnight look out post for enemy invaders and parachutists.
In the spring of 1944 the Lodge was reopened by kind permission of I.P.M. Bro. Lieutenant James Forrester. The Secretary, still being in the forces, records were not available. Another attempt to gather interest was made in December but attendance was poor so there was no election of office bearers.
Later that month a special meeting was held and a nomination was approved. By January 1945, interest was rekindled and once again the Lodge was in full swing. The improvements continued with a ceiling erected in the Main Hall at total cost of £20. The paraffin lamps later gave way to electric lighting. Wall heaters were fitted in due course and the coal fire disused. A small toilet was installed.
Furnishings improved, the forms were replaced by metal tubular chairs. These were eventually replaced by PVC ones and padded upholstery benches. The columns on either side of the Masters Chair were formed from parts of disused pipe organ from Blairhoyle House and appropriately also the keystone and archway from parts of the pulpit dismantled from the U.F Kirk where George Williams had preached for many years.
As organ donated pre-war and in poor condition was removed and replaced at least twice. The interior and exterior of the Lodge has been decorated by members of the Lodge for many years. A very fine Summer Ice Table was also donated to the Lodge. Although the property of the Masons it was for the use of the villagers and is now used and stored in Church Hall for convenience. In 1953 an electric clock was presented to the village (not the Masons) with cash raised during the Coronation Celebrations. This handsome clock adorns the South Edifice of the Tower. The trustees of the clock had a protective clear sheet fitted several years ago.
The Lodge has always enjoyed the reputation of being the smallest purpose built Lodge in the country with passing tourists being advised of this by their drivers and couriers. It is also recorded on films of Lodge of Interests and has been shown in many Lodges. It is now a “listed building” of Historic and Architectural interest, British Telecom featured the Lodge in a television commercial advert.
The Rating System proved to be a millstone some years ago, so by emptying the Lodge and storing the furnishings elsewhere during the close season, a rate of debate was obtained. After a very few years, however, the system changed and full rates had again to be paid.
Over the past forty years, possibly another record, although not an actual office, is that of Key Holder and Hallkeeper, the title holder being Bro. Cliff Ashton P.M. who is a son-in-law of McLay, a founder member.
The Lodge meetings are held on the second and fourth Wednesday of each month from September to April at 8pm.
For many years the Lodge has given Christmas Presents to the widows of the Lodge members as well as to a variety of charities, including the local WRI for the senior citizens outing.
Whilst the Lodge is not licensed we cordially invite our own members to attend and visiting brethren will always be made more than welcome. On receiving the Mark Degree, brethren are presented with a Mark Penny each of which is cast with an engraving of the picture of Lodge Blairhoyle.