History of the Royal Arch in Warwickshire
The earliest reference to a meeting of a Lodge in English Freemasonry is contained in the diary of a man called Elias Ashmole. He was born in Lichfield in 1617, Lichfield being no more than twenty miles from Birmingham itself. In his diary he records his Initiation at Warrington on the 16 October 1646. The first Grand Lodge was however not formed until 1717 at the Goose & Grid Iron Tavern in London.
No records were kept at the meetings of Premier Grand Lodge until 1723 and at the Annual Festival on the 24 June that year the Reverend Dr J T Desaguliers, a former pupil of Bishop Vesey Grammar School in Sutton Coldfield, Warwickshire was elected Deputy Grand Master.
A manuscript dated the 27 November 1723 gives the names of 77 Lodges and the 56th states that there is a Lodge Meeting at The Woolpack in the town of Warwick. The entry shows the names of the Master Wardens and Brethren and the name James Prescott Esq Provincial Grand Master. So Warwickshire was in at the very beginning.
But what of the Royal Arch. It seems pretty certain that the Chapter that we know today as the Chapter of Fortitude No. 43 was founded on the 6 April 1783. But their first return to Grand Chapter gives a list of the members at the 9 May 1783 the following month and from this list it is possible to deduce who were the founders and their occupations, toy makers, button makers, bucket makers, platers and brass founders. It shows how important Birmingham was even then as an industrial centre.
Also in the Grand Chapter Minute Book there is an entry dated the 11 April 1783 which read “Most excellent Companion Dunckerley by letter informed the Chapter i.e.. Grand Chapter that he had granted a Dispensation for a Chapter to be held in Birmingham by the name of the Chapter of Fortitude and had appointed Richard Jescott, John Lloyd and John Hallan to act as Principals bearing the date of the 6th instant and requesting that a warrant be made out from that date which was accordingly ordered”.
It is said that Thomas Dunckerley was the illegitimate son of George II and his biographers say that he was Provincial Grand Master of 6 Provinces and Grand Superintendent of a host more including Warwickshire from 1793 to 1795. He was the first Grand Superintendent although because he was issuing warrants as early as the 11 April 1783 he was clearly in charge for a period considerably longer than 1793 to 1795.
From these early beginnings the Royal Arch Province of Warwickshire has grown to one of the largest in the English constitution. It now has 63 Chapters meeting at 19 separate locations. John Saint is the current Grand Superintendent, the 14th since Thomas Dunckerley and there are approximately 1500 Royal Arch Companions in the Province.