About Lodge Canongate Kilwinning
On the 6th December 1677 Masons from Canongate petitioned The Lodge at Kilwinning by letter requesting the latter’s permission to enter and pass persons in its name and on its behalf. This permission, in the form of a Charter was duly granted on 20th December 1677 and is the first known example in the world of a Lodge being granted a Charter by an existing Lodge.
In the middle to late 18th Century, Canongate was home to a great number of the nobility and prosperous merchants of Scotland, a fact that was indicated by the membership of the Lodge at that time. (See “About The Canongate”) An indication of its rise was the fact that it was able to have built for its own use a very fine building known as the Chapel of St John. This makes it the oldest purpose-built Masonic meeting room in the world. It exists today largely as it was built and is still used by the Lodge for its meetings. (See “About The Chapel of St John”)
Reflecting the increase in interest in Freemasonry at the time, 1735 saw the initial attempts to establish a Grand Lodge of Scotland. The initiative in forming Grand Lodge was taken by Lodge Canongate Kilwinning and this was duly established in 1736. One of our members, William St. Clair of Roslin (Rosslyn), became the first Grand Master of The Grand Lodge of Scotland and his portrait adorns the wall of The Chapel of St John to this day. A quarterly meeting of the lodge took place on the 29th September 1735 and, as the Minute furnishes the earliest information of the election of a Grand Master for Scotland, it is here transcribed in full:-
"Cannongate, the 29th Septemr. 1735. 5735-
"The Lodge having mett according to adjournment being duely
form'd, this being a quarterly meeting, continued the Committee for
the Laws, admitted William Montgomery, Master Mason, who pay'd
as usual, and appointed David Home, William Robertson, Thomas
Trotter, Robert Blissett, William Montgomery, George Crawford, &
such other Members as think fitt to attend, as a Committee for
framing proposals to be lay'd before the several Lodges in order to
the chusing a Grand Master for Scotland, the Committee to meet to-
morrow's night at 6 o' th' clock, & to report against Wednesday', to
which time the Lodge stands adjourned."
During the eighteenth century, Edinburgh was at the centre of the world of philosophical thought as the Scottish Enlightenment gathered pace. Lodge Canongate Kilwinning attracted a large number of men of learning, many of whom are recognised Enlightenment figures through their published works.
Perhaps the most famous is Robert Burns, who affiliated to Lodge Canongate Kilwinning on 1st February 1787, as recorded in our minutes (See Robert Burns and The Lodge). While this is a well reported fact by biographers, what is less known about is the large number of members of Lodge Canongate Kilwinning who had a significant influence on encouraging Burns to come to Edinburgh and publish a second edition. (See The Inauguration Painting Who's Who)
Throughout the years, Lodge Canongate Kilwinning has played an important part in Scottish Freemasonry and continues to do so. The Immediate Past Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of Scotland, Brother Sir Archibald Donald Orr Ewing was initiated into Freemasonry in Lodge Canongate Kilwinning in 1972. The Chapel of St John has become known around the world through the painting "The Inauguration of Robert Burns as Poet Laureate of Lodge Canongate Kilwinning, 1st March 1787". The painting has doubtless caused controversy much of which was instigated by the late David Murray Lyon, the then Grand Secretary, when he embarked on his second edition of the “History of The Lodge of Edinburgh (Mary's Chapel) No.1” circa 1894. (To find out more see "About the Inauguration Painting")
The Lodge continues to meet eight times a year in The Chapel of St John, and practises Freemasonry under The Grand Lodge of Antient Free and Accepted Masons of Scotland. The membership has seen a steady increase over the past decade and is drawn from all ages and walks of life.
It is impossible not to be moved by the atmosphere that exists in the Chapel of St John and the spirit of many famous members pervades the place. The meetings have a timeless quality and the following description of a meeting is as applicable today as it was when it was written: "Having spent the evening in a very social, affectionate and Brotherly manner as the meetings of this Lodge always have been it was adjourned till the next monthly meeting" (Minute Book of Lodge Canongate Kilwinning 1st February 1787, the night on which Robert Burns was assumed a member).
The earliest Minute book of the Lodge in preservation dates from 1735. Reading through the sometimes faded and blotted paper, a fascinating story of a central part of Scotland's history emerges. Robert Burns was perhaps the most famous of our members who graced The Chapel of St John but there are many others whose stories deserve to be retold from the perspective of their membership of Lodge Canongate Kilwinning.