by Jim Phillips

Bellringers and freemasons have mingled together over many centuries and indeed many ringers have become freemasons. An example of this mixing occurred during the civil war when in 1643 a well known ringer and Royalist of his day, William, the Second Lord Brereton, fled with his family to the garrisoned Biddulph Hall, Staffordshire following his defeat at the battle of Nantwich. Also holed up in Biddulph Hall was a budding young lawyer and fellow Royalist Elias Ashmole (born Lichfield 1617) who later became the most well known freemason of all. Biddulph Hall was thought to be a centre for freemasons in those days. The Hall was under siege from the Parliamentarian forces led by Lord Brereton’s cousin Sir William Brereton of the Malpas family line. The siege lasted some three months before the Parliamentarian forces brought up ‘Roaring Meg’ a mighty cannon from Stafford that reduced the Hall to ruins and brought about the surrender of the Royalists. The holes made by this huge cannon can be seen to this day punched into the walls of the ruined Hall. In 1682 Elias Ashmole attended a meeting At Masons Hall, London that stood in Masons Avenue off Basinghall Street opposite Ye Old Dr Butlers Head a favourite watering hole for ringers in recent years.

The ‘Goose and Gridiron’, St Paul’s Churchyard in the City of London was also a well-known meeting place for freemasons and ringers. This alehouse was the home of the first of the four old lodges that met to establish The Grand Lodge of England in June 1717. A set of handbells was kept at the alehouse in Victorian times and handbell peals were rung there.

The first peal with a band consisting entirely of freemasons was rung at St Clement Danes, London on December 4th 1919 to celebrate Peace and the conclusion of the Great War. A handsome peal board at Colerne, Wiltshire records another Masonic peal in which the Rev. F Llewellyn Edwards took part. All the Masonic peals rung are recorded in a peal book held at the headquarters of freemasonry in Great Queen Street, London. This magnificent art deco building is freely open to the public as is the library and museum. There are five tours a day to show you around the building.


First peal ever rung by Freemasons was rung at St Clement Danes on December 4th 1919.
5003 Grandsire Caters.
Ringers left to right Canon G.F.Coleridge, Rev C.W.O.Jenkyn, W.H.Hollier, J.H.B.Hesse, E.Bishop, A.A.Hughes, J.H.Shepherd, G.R.Fardon (cond), W.H.Judd, H.Argyle.

There were attempts in the 1920s and 1930s to form a Lodge of and for bellringers but these had been unsuccessful, and it was not until 1973 that further attempts were made to form such a Lodge. These were successful and so the late Lord Rathcreedan consecrated The Clavis Lodge at Oxford on October 12th 1974. The founding members of Clavis came from all corners of the country, so it was necessary to have a central location to make travelling easier for the members. The Lodge was founded by, and is intended primarily as a Lodge for Campanologists. The name Clavis was chosen as it means key (“Clavis Campanalogia” is a book on change ringing first published in 1788) and the name also occurs on a Masonic jewel. The Lodge meets twice a year at Oxford in April and October, whilst the June meeting is usually held in the area from whence the Master of the year originates.


Freemasons gather at Oxford for the Consecration of the Clavis Lodge. The spectacled gentleman in the centre without regalia is the late Lord Rathcreeden who consecrated the Lodge.

The Lodge Banner is quite remarkable and was beautifully executed by Pamela Jones with the Oxford skyline being worked in thousands of individual stitches taking well over 100 hours to complete. The gold embroidery is of Jap gold thread, which itself is of gold leaf over a silk base. The five small bells hung from the bottom of the banner are tuned and were the gift of Bill Theobald the first Junior Warden of the Lodge. The bell depicted on the banner was copied from an original photograph of Great Tom of Oxford as it appeared before re-hanging, complete with its massive wooden headstock and wrought iron fittings. The border on the left of the banner is Oxfordshire Surprise Major that on the right being Oxford Treble Bob Major and that across the base is Kent Treble Bob Major

Freemasons practise charity and care for others. By way of example, last year the Grand Charity agreed a grant of one million pounds to Ovarian Cancer Action to fund research relating to the treatment of this distressing illness. There were numerous grants to other organisations.

I have spent many happy hours with the Clavis Lodge whose membership ranges from those who have just learned to handle a rope, call change ringers and method ringers from doubles and minor to surprise maximus and everything else in between. I have also attended meetings of other lodges countrywide and have always received a hearty welcome. Those who would like more information regarding freemasonry should go the web site of The United Grand Lodge Of England www.ugle.org.uk.