History of Avalon Chapter

A Brief History of the First 140 years of Avalon Chapter No. 446.

The first recorded intimation that a Royal Arch Chapter be formed in Wells was on September 2nd 1875 when the Worshipful Master of Benevolent Lodge No. 446 of Wells W.Bro. Alfred Thrale Perkins put forward the idea of forming a Royal Arch Chapter. It was agreed, and a Petition was presented to the Supreme Royal Arch Chapter that a Chapter to be known as ‘The Benevolent Chapter’ would  meet at the Town Hall of Wells on the third Tuesday of January, February, July, and October, and nominated
Comp. Richard Charles Else, PM of 291 and Deputy PGM of Somerset to be the first Zerubbabel; Comp. Alfred Thrale Perkins W.M. of Lodge 446 to be the first Haggai; Comp. Edward Bath W.M. of 772 to be the first Joshua of the said Chapter.

As the Chapter was covering the area of Glastonbury already known as the Vale of Avalon it was considered that the name of ‘The Avalon Chapter 446’ be a more appropriate name. Thus taking Benevolent’s number as the sponsoring Lodge and the area name of Avalon. We are talking here of times before Provincial Grand Chapter was formed. Nowadays Chapters usually take the name of their sponsoring Lodge.

The Chapter was consecrated on November 30th 1875, St. Andrew’s day. St. Andrew is the Patron Saint of Wells Cathedral in which premises the meetings were subsequently held, and were continued to be held until Tuesday 17th.2015. As this preceded the formation of The Somerset Provincial Grand Chapter by five years the Chapter was consecrated by Comp.S.G.Homfrey PGM of Monmouth as ‘Z’; Comp. H.J. Gratte P.Z. 471 as ‘H’; and Comp. H, Hellyer P.Z. 471 as ‘J’.

Much of the hard work, organisation and generosity of forming this Chapter was due to the energy of Comp Alfred Perkins who was presented with a ‘handsome Royal Arch Jewel’ by the I.P.Z. E.Comp S.G.Homfrey.
Subsequently he was a guiding light in the running of the Chapter and was treasurer for the next 42 years.

The first regular meeting was held on February 15th 1876 at 2.30pm and the second meeting on 18th. May when 5 Brethren were exalted. The first few years had their high and low moments with sometimes several exaltees and sometimes resignations and exclusions. Meetings were held in the Town Hall with the dinner in local hostelries.

Companion Shadwell Clarke was a founder member of Avalon Chapter and five years later in 1880, having been appointed Grand Scribe Ezra, he came to Taunton as the direct representative of HRH the Prince of Wales, the M.E Grand Principal. There he established the Provincial Grand Chapter of Somerset and Installed Col. Alexander William Adair as the first Grand Superintendent. From petitioner to Grand Principal’s representative in five years must have been a proud moment for Avalon Chapter.

The Town Hall was draughty and not very private, Benevolent Lodge had been having negotiations with the Cathedral authorities and an agreement was reached to meet in the ‘Vicars Hall’ at a rent of £9.12 shillings per annum and at the last regular meeting of the Chapter at the Town Hall on 16th. August 1892 it was agreed to follow Benevolent Lodge at a rent of £3-0-0 per annum to them and a donation of £10-0-0 for repairs to the Vicars Hall. Over the next few years the meeting time varied between 1-30 to 5-30 pm. The Chapter now meets at 6.15pm  in the months of February, May, September, and Installation meetings are in November.

Provincial Grand Chapter have met on several occasions at Wells, the first time being 19th. August 1884 when Col A.W.Adair Provincial Grand Superintendent presided. On August 16th. 1887 the first mention in the minutes of the Symbolical and Mystical lectures appears, and at this meeting E.Comp Perkins was congratulated on his being honoured with the rank of Past Grand Principal Sojourner by H.R.H the Prince of Wales at a Supreme Grand Chapter meeting in London.

At a meeting in 1896 it was noted that after twenty years of use, the surplices should be washed. They have since been replaced and nine years ago the Principal’s robes were also replaced. The February minutes of 1905, record the death of E. Companion R.C Else, the Provincial Grand Superintendent and Founder Member and First Principal of Avalon Chapter.

At the September meeting in 1915 Scribe E read a letter from Grand Chapter to the effect that no Companion of German, Hungarian or Turkish birth was to be admitted to any Chapter during the continuance of the War. Also there was still mention of a candidate’s occupation being classed as ‘Gentleman’.

At the November 1917 meeting it was resolved that as Benevolent Lodge had moved downstairs to No.10 Cathedral Green which was underneath Vicars Hall, the Chapter should at the next meeting hold its convocation there. Meetings were held there for the next 80 years. In 1997 the Cathedral authorities wanted 10. Cathedral Green for offices and offered the use of a room upstairs in The West Cloister so at the time of writing this, October 2015, the Avalon Chapter has met continuously in the Cathedral precincts for exactly 123 years.

By 1918 E.Comp. Col. Perkins intimated that because of continued ill health he be allowed to relinquish the office of Treasurer. It was then unanimously resolved that a hearty vote of thanks be tendered to E.Comp Perkins for the ‘Splendid and unique services he had rendered to the Chapter since its consecration 42 years ago’. E.Comp. Perkins presented to the Chapter the Collar and Jewel to be worn by his successors E.Comp E.A.Crosse. His immediate successor then presented a ‘Glastonbury Chair’ to the Chapter in recognition of the services that E.Comp Perkins had rendered. The chair to be for the specific use of the treasurer to perpetuate the memory of the first treasurer.

It seems that from the end of the 1914/18 War candidates for Exaltation were spasmodic with some years no candidates at all. However at the first meeting in 1927 there were four candidates for exaltation and since then most meetings have had a candidate for exaltation with many double ceremonies and in September 1928 three candidates were exalted.

Fashions seem to go in circles for in May 1929 it was suggested that a ‘Chapter of Improvement’ be formed but somehow nothing seemed to have come of it. However in May 2011 at the instigation of a joining member E.Comp. Brian Crome a Chapter of Improvement has finally got off the ground, some 82 years later!

In 1934 a veil was purchased ‘according to instructions’. As there is no mention of a ceremony of passing of the veil one can assume that it covered the face of the Altar. This veil lasted well as it was replaced at the September meeting in 2011.

A minute in the May 1935 meeting referred to the death of E.Comp. Alfred Thrale Perkins aged 93 years, now an Honorary member, the last surviving Founding member of the Chapter had died. He had been a member of the Chapter for 59 years and a Freemason for 70 years.

In 1935 Provincial Grand Chapter was again held in Wells. The September 1939 meeting was cancelled due to the outbreak of the second World War when all Masonic meetings were cancelled by decree of Grand Chapter. From then on understandably candidates were a little sparse until about 1948. For instance, at the May meeting in 1946 there was a lecture entitled ‘The Background and Historical Characters of the Royal Arch Degree’ and another one entitled ‘Standards and Banners of the Twelve Tribes of Israel’.

In February 1953 the companions dined at the George and Pilgrims Glastonbury and not the Star Hotel Wells as was the usual custom.
September 1955 the installation of electric light was commented upon favourably by the Companions particular reference being made by the treasurer Comp. F. A. George who commented on the credit being due to Comp. Anderson for the time and thought that he had put into the installation. It was proposed that the Chapter presents a sum of £65-0-0d towards the cost of the renovations etc. that had been carried out.
E Comp. A.L.Coles presented to the Chapter three bound volumes of Prayers used by the Principals during the Ceremony of Installation. It was minuted ‘that at last it appears that all equipment that is now used in the Chapter is complete’. The fact that the Chapter did not have a set of ‘Platonic Bodies’ remained unnoticed until May 2002 when a joining member, E. Comp. Charles Grisdale made and presented a set.

Ladies were first mentioned in the Chapter minutes when they provided refreshments at a Provincial Grand Chapter meeting held in Avalon Chapter in Wells in June 1963.  1964 saw a new Lodge being dedicated at Glastonbury called St. Dunstan’s Lodge No.7973. Many members of this Lodge have joined Avalon Chapter and it is good to have another source for the membership. The Chapter is pleased to have members of several other Craft Lodges besides Benevolent, Pilgrims and St. Dunstan’s.

E.Comp. R.L.Lukins presented to the Chapter three new Sojourners Collars in May 1979, and a new Scroll was presented by Comp. P.J.Lovell in November 1980. In 1982 E.Comp J.L. Harris presented a glass fronted Display Cabinet made by his son, for Masonic Jewels. In 1986 the treasurer indented for a new cash book as the previous one had been purchased in 1875.

In June 1988 changes to the Royal Arch Ritual book were received. The Ritual book has been amended several times since. The Chapter has now adopted the latest version and recently the duties of the Principal Sojourner have been shared. By November 1988 the membership was down to 45 members.

E. Comp. E.E.Frampton was made an Honorary member to commemorate 40 years as a member of the Chapter. Similarly Comp. Arthur Rice was made an Honorary member in September 1991 to commemorate the long and distinguished service he had given the Chapter as Janitor for 20 years.
The Chapter has been honoured by having in recent memory two ‘Second Provincial Grand Principals’ E. Comp. Doctor R.M.Ainsworth and E. Comp Keith Fisher both exaltees of the Chapter and E.Comp. Clive Hennessy as 3rd.Prov.Grand Principal in 2013 (a Joining member).

In November 1993 a new tessellated carpet with a Chapter Border was purchased. At the May meeting in 1994 the Chapter was honoured by the presence of E. Comp. Tom Hughes who was retiring as The Grand Superintendent of Somerset at the end of the month. As this was his last official engagement as Grand Superintendent the MEZ. E. Comp. M.G.Vearncombe welcomed him to the Lodge and offered him the Sceptre which was accepted and the meeting was conducted by him. Avalon Chapter had 64 members at the November meeting.

The Chapter met in the West Cloister for the first time in February 1997 and Dinner was still being held in the Star Hotel but in September 2000 the Star was sold and ceased to be a Hotel, which brought to an end a very close relationship of over a hundred years of dining at this hostelry. By this time the Vicars Hall had become a restaurant so Avalon Chapter once again returned to their old meeting place of the 19th. century not for the ceremonies but for dining.

At the Installation meeting of November 2002 the candles which by then had been converted to oil were lit but unfortunately the wicks had not been trimmed and by 1850 hrs the smoke had caused the fire alarm to react in the Cathedral, much to the consternation of the Dean and Chapter, and without the knowledge of the Companions who carried on until interrupted by a very vexed fireman and even more vexed verger. Eventually the all clear was given and the companions returned to resume the ceremony.

The steps up to the Vicars Hall are very worn and from May 2005 it was agreed to discontinue dining there but go to the White Hart in Sadler Street instead, this arrangement continued until February 2009. At the May 2007 meeting E.Comp. Denis Calderley the Provincial Grand Superintendent and the Provincial team dedicated a new Chapter Banner. Avalon has had a Banner for 132 years which is unusual as most Chapters are without one.

The Installation meeting of November 2007 was quite different to any previous meeting, owing to a power failure at the Cathedral it was not possible to hold the meeting there. As the Provincial Grand Superintendent E.Comp. Denis Calderley was in attendance he was able to give an instant dispensation to hold an impromptu meeting at the White Hart Hotel. With some ingenious and improvised props a very memorable meeting took place.

Owing to major building renovations to the entrance of the Cathedral and the building of a new restaurant which took some time to complete. An alternative venue had to be found for the convocations so for a year Avalon met at the Bruton Masonic Hall by courtesy of Royal Cyrus Chapter No. 285, from February 2008 until February 2009. A presentation of a Masonic cushion and Platonic bodies to Royal Cyrus in thanks for the use of their facilities, was made By E. Comp. Keith Fisher on behalf of Avalon Chapter at their meeting on April 27th. 2010.

The Companions returned to the Cathedral again for the May 2009 meeting and, until the move to Wedmore, dined in the new restaurant, called ‘Chapter 2’. under the same roof as they meet.

The ‘Somerset Sceptre’ (a travelling Sceptre passing from Chapter to Chapter) was received from Tyntesfield Chapter No.4494 on February 15th. 2011 and delivered to Parrott and Axe Chapter No 874 on March 23rd 2011. On September 20th. 2011 Avalon Chapter was honoured by a visit of the Provincial team who performed an exaltation ceremony and exalted Comp. David Greig. A new Altar veil was used for the first time replacing the one purchased in 1934.

The Cathedral have not renewed the lease for the use of building for Masonic meetings, consequently it has been decided to leave Wells and hold Avalon Chapter meetings at the Masonic Hall at Wedmore as from February 16th.2016. The last meeting of Avalon Chapter at Wells was held on November 17th. 2015. I am pleased to record that as at October 2015 after 140 years the Chapter is in sound heart with a membership of 55 plus 3 Honorary members, and participating well in the activities of the Province.

M.G.Vearncombe

With acknowledgements to the late E.Comp. Eric Fernley and E.Comp. Roland Bisgrove for the papers they produced for the centenary and one hundred and twenty fifth anniversaries respectively.