The Historical Background

The reasons for the foundation of the Lodge in Horsham in 1927 need to be viewed against the events of early 1920's Britain which was experiencing a period of great political and economic change. Britain was still struggling to re-establish herself after the dreadful events of the 1914-1918 hostilities which had left her economically weakened and socially divided. It is difficult to see how anyone alive in the 1920's could not have been affected in some way by The Great War. The traditional Tory/Liberal monopoly on political power was now challenged by the rise of the Labour movement and the continuance of the class system was to be severely tested. During the 1920's there were to be several changes of Government as each political party sought to achieve supremacy over its rivals but it seemed no party could establish a clear sustainable majority in power. There was a willingness among many politicians across the political spectrum to work together for the greater good of the Country, but there were of course others who were being attracted either by the influences of Communism which was spreading in the wake of the Russian Revolution or by the increasing influences of Fascism which was beginning to manifest itself in Germany and Italy. Overseas the political dominance hitherto enjoyed by Britain was also beginning to be challenged and her economic fortunes, already in a state of exhaustion post Great War, became more susceptible to international pressures and competition. This was to manifest itself directly in the General Strike of 1926 and the economic slump which hit Britain's industrial foundations hard.     

All of these events had encouraged a questioning of the way things had been done in the past and of traditional values and in a time of such great change and uncertainty there was created in the minds of many, a strong desire to cling to traditional values as well as a greater sense of community and a need for mutual support. Horsham and its people had, in common with all towns throughout the land, been affected by recent events but, being essentially still a rural market town with no dependence on heavy industry or manufacturing, its fortunes were less adversely affected by the political and economic events of the period. It was slowly changing to become a commuter town with increasing numbers of people travelling daily the 37 miles to work in London by means of the Southern Railway but in many respects life was able to continue much as before and the town retained an air of affluence and confidence. Socially, life was changing as the popularity of the cinema and the dance halls provided new outlets for people to enjoy themselves and the recently founded institution of the BBC was able to bring news and entertainment directly and instantaneously into the home. The phenomenon of the motor car was also making an increasing impact on commercial and private activities. Looking back it perhaps seems bizarre to think that Collyer's boys were once given a half-day's holiday to see the first motor car enter Horsham!

One of the many beneficiaries of the social changes post Great War was Freemasonry. Already firmly rooted in British life since the 18th Century, there was a national resurgence of interest in Freemasonry as was evidenced by the significant increase in new lodges being founded throughout the Country. During the period from 1919 to 1927 1100 new lodges were formed. In the Masonic Province of Sussex (which encompasses both East and West Sussex) there was a 57% increase in the number of lodges from 42 in 1918 to 66 in 1927 with a 70% increase in the number of masons from 2625 to 4460. It is particularly interesting to note that between 1919 and 1927 of the 24 new Sussex lodges created, 5 were "School" lodges - In Deo Fidemus No. 3951 (1919), Old Brightonian No. 4104 (1920), Richard Collyer No. 4905 (1927), Hurst Johnian No. 4937 and Old Eastbournian No. 4946 (both also 1927). These were formed by former pupils and staff of Varndean, Brighton College, Collyer's, Hurstpierpoint School and Eastbourne College respectively. Nationally there were during this period at least 36 school lodges founded from both grammar and public schools. The contention of this book is that this surge of interest was the direct result of that strong desire to cling to traditional values as well as to encourage a greater sense of community and provide for mutual support (as has been suggested earlier). Indeed it is also no coincidence that many school Old Boys' associations were also formed during this period, including of course the Old Collyerians' Association formed in 1922. In all cases people seemed to want to "belong" to an organization that sought to preserve values and standards from what may have been regarded by some as "a golden age" and also sought to find a degree of purpose, security and comraderie in a time of change and uncertainty. Freemasonry which had changed little in terms of its core values for over 200 years was perhaps an ideal vehicle in which to fulfil such needs.  

In Horsham in the early 1920's there was but one Masonic lodge - No 1141, March & Darnley (consecrated in 1867 originally as the Mid Sussex Lodge), which since 1894 had met in a Masonic temple incorporated within The Black Horse Hotel (the facilities being rented from Trust Houses Ltd) which used to stand at the bottom of West Street (meetings had originally been held in the Hotel Ballroom - with the Billiard Room being used as a robing room, but in 1896 a new permanent lodge room was built for Masonic meetings). It is more than likely that March & Darnley also benefited from the increased interest in freemasonry at this time with an enlargement of its own membership and indeed it is stated in the Petition submitted for the founding of Richard Collyer Lodge that the membership of March & Darnley at this time was in excess of 100. With such a large membership and an increase in the number of people wishing to become Masons there was certainly now a clear case for Horsham having a second lodge, to act as an overflow for March & Darnley, to accommodate more members and to reduce what would have been a long lead-time for a new entrant from joining to reaching the crowning achievement for a freemason namely gaining the Mastership of his lodge. Given the organization of a Masonic lodge it will usually take a minimum of 7 years to progress up the Masonic ladder from the first rung to the Mastership. Nowadays it is not uncommon for new members to go straight onto the officers' ladder after completion of their third degree. In the 1920's there was a waiting list of 3 years or more from completion of the third to reaching that first rung. This wait inevitably created frustration among new masons and hence assisted the momentum to found more lodges not just to cope with the significant increase in membership but also to speed up the process of reaching the foot of the Masonic ladder. It also gave die-hard masons an opportunity for a second chance to become a master.

The seeds of Richard Collyer Lodge were probably sown following the appointment at Collyer's School in 1922 of a new headmaster, the Reverend Wilfred Peacock. His predecessor, William Major, who had assumed the headship in 1917 had been very instrumental in steering the School through the very difficult post-war years with all its attendant financial and social difficulties and had significantly raised the morale and profile of Collyer's. The Reverend Peacock built on this foundation and helped the School to gain further success. At this time the School only had 232 pupils and a teaching staff of 10. Its annual intake of new boys was around 40 per year. It was during his headmastership that various measures (many copied from the Public School system) for creating a spirit of belonging were introduced, namely the house system, the establishment of the Old Collyerians' Association (1922), the establishment of an annual Founder's Day (first held in 1924) and the publication of "The Collyerian" school magazine (1922). Peacock was a firm believer in the value of the contribution Old Boys could make as evidenced by this extract from an address made in July 1924:

" …What the presence of a large and vigorous Old Boys' Association means to a School only those who have experienced it can really understand".

By extension of thought it could be seen that a Masonic lodge formed of Old Boys would further add to the creation of a strong supporting presence for the School and an important rallying point for its former members. 

Peacock appointed to the teaching staff one John Robert Dawson ("Bob") Greenop, himself a former pupil and a keen freemason, who was to become a leading figure in the founding of the Lodge and its continuance right up to the time of his death in 1973. Peacock, himself fully intending to become a freemason, clearly would have been very supportive of the formation of a School lodge. The idea took a major leap forward to becoming a reality with the appointment of a new headmaster in 1926, Philip Anthony ("Pat") Tharp, a scholar of St. Paul's School London. In conjunction with two other Collyer's masters, Bob Greenop and W. Stanley Sutton (who wrote the School Song), Tharp and 15 other local masons (former pupils, masters or governors), most of whom were already members of March & Darnley or who attended its meetings, decided to proceed to found the Richard Collyer Lodge for the benefit of former pupils, masters and governors of Collyer's School. Membership was restricted to anyone who fulfilled those criteria (ordinarily there is a minimum entry age of 21 years for people wishing to join Freemasonry which precluded any pupils from being able to join) but of course freemasons from any lodge in the Country or indeed the World (provided it was recognized by the United Grand Lodge of England) were able to attend its meetings by invitation. A special close relationship existed from the very start with the membership of March & Darnley, as any Old Collyerian freemason in Horsham wishing to pursue his interest in Freemasonry would invariably have joined or at least visited March & Darnley prior to the founding of the Richard Collyer Lodge. Notwithstanding the fact that this new lodge might reduce the number of new members joining its own ranks, the brethren of March & Darnley Lodge gave their approval and full support for the formation of the Richard Collyer Lodge as its "daughter" lodge.

In accordance with Masonic custom, it was necessary for those 18 freemasons to submit a Petition, with the approval of The Provincial Grand Lodge of Sussex, to The United Grand Lodge of England, which, when granted, gave permission for the Lodge to be founded. In further adherence to Masonic custom, a special ceremony of Consecration was necessary for the founding and opening of the Lodge and this was scheduled to be held on Friday, 22 April 1927 at the Town Hall in Horsham.  P. A. Tharp commenting on this achievement noted:

"many keen Masonic Old Collyerians have been working for some years to form a Lodge of Freemasons for Old Collyerians. The Consecration of the Lodge in Horsham Town Hall on April 22nd 1927 crowns their labours."