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The RWM and Brethren of the Celtic Lodge E & L 291 would like wish everyone the very best in 2017.
The Brethren of the Celtic Lodge 291 would like to wish all who visit our Web Page a Hundred Thousand Welcomes and we encourage all enquiries.
 
 
if your are looking for a Father, Grand Father, or Family Member, who may have been a Member of the Celtic Lodge E & L 291 or if you would like to join the Celtic Lodge 291 or have an interest in  Freemasonry please Email us and we will try to help your enquiry to Bill Boland PM Lodge Historian at johnross651@outlook.com
 
When we will be welcoming all our usual Brethren and Invited Guests and afterwards to a Harmony in our Thistle Room at Brodie's Close Lawnmarket Edinburgh.
 

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Celtic Lodge Brief History

 

THE CELTIC LODGE OF EDINBURGH AND LEITH NO 291

 

Brodie’s Close was a thoroughfare passing from the Lawnmarket to the Cowgate.  It entered between Fisher’s Close and Old Bank of Gourlay’s Close which stood on the site of what is now Melbourne Place.  Brodie’s Close was truncated by the erection of Victoria Street whereby the portion next to the Lawnmarket was contracted into a small courtyard.   The Close took its name from the notorious Deacon Brodie, who lived in the Close, and whose woodyard adjourned the southern end.

 

The Celtic Lodge was conceived in 1821 in the house of Alexander Stewart, 188 Cowgate, Edinburgh.  The petitioners for a charter being actuated by a strong desire, which they trusted was a powerful motive in the breast of every Scotsman, “to promote the manufacture of the tartan of their native land and encourage the wearing of the ancient costume of their country.”

 

For this reason one of the Bye-laws of the Lodge was to be that – “all members should be clothed at their own expense in the Royal Tartan in honour of their Celtic forefathers, who wore their tartan at Church and on the battlefield.”   The expense so caused was no trifle, as the fine display, so often noted in the minutes, appears to have been obtained at an individual cost of £40 or £50.  For many years the kilted Lodge, escorted by its pipers, and headed usually by some of its military members, was a prominent object in every public Masonic ceremonial, and the enthusiasm of its members for everything national was unbounded.   The godmothers of the Celtic Lodge were Lodge Canongate Kilwinning No 2 and Lodge Canongate and Leith No 5, both of whom, notwithstanding the opposition of some other Lodges, recommended the petition, hence the use of Edinburgh and Leith in the title of the Lodge.

 

The first regular meeting took place in the Old Freemason’s Hall, which still exists in the Cowgate.  At that meeting, the first to be entered, passed and raised, in the Lodge, was “Alexander Stewart, Spirit Merchant”, a respectable highlander of the Stewart Clan, who at refreshment “liberally treated his brothers with a plentiful supply of sandwiches, Glenlivet Whiskey, and some bottles of wine.”

 

The regular meeting of the Lodge thereafter took place in the Freemason’s Hall on Tuesdays and Fridays, but Brother Stewart and his house in the Cowgate was also a popular resort as all private and committee meetings were fixed to take place there.   The Bye-laws state that the Celtic Lodge took its rise in the Cowgate, the most ancient place in Edinburgh, except the Castle so it was only right that they should meet there as often as possible, and it helped that Brother Stewart had his house there and that he was so liberal with his Highland Whiskey and good food.

 

For five years during its early history the Lodge met in the Masonic Temple in Brodie’s Close, Lawnmarket.  This was the house once occupied by Deacon Brodie which had been made into a Masonic Temple by the Roman Eagle Lodge.  The Celtic Lodge were very happy in these premises but circumstances made them move on.

 

For the next twenty years the Lodge met in many places, they were quite itinerant in their movements about the town and most of the places they did meet were either inns or hotels until eventually at a suggestion of Grand Lodge in 1891, it moved to George Street.  During this period the buildings in Brodie’s Close became vacant and allowed to fall into a state of disrepair.

 

The Celtic Lodge was always a happy Lodge with a great number of friends both at home and abroad.  They had visited more than most Lodges throughout the length and breadth of Scotland and all Lodges looked forward to a visit by their Celtic Brethren, dressed in their highland outfits and led by pipers.  But being Celts they also had a dour side to their nature.  In 1891 a division arose about the arrangements for the Lodges Annual Ball, neither side could see their way to cede the point and it is recorded that by a majority of four that the Lodge would cease to function and that they would all part as good friends as usual.

 

The Lodge was resuscitated in 1921 and has continued with the same flamboyant spirit as their forefathers and are a welcome and honoured member of the Masonic family in Edinburgh.

 

The Lodge met in the Canongate, their landlord being their old friend, the Lodge Canongate Kilwinning No. 2.  But the brethren wanted premises of their own and were on the lookout for something suitable but their thoughts were forever turning towards the Lawnmarket and Deacon Brodie’s Close.

 

In 1945 their long search came to an end and they were able to purchase Deacon Brodie’s Close from the Town and Gown Society who were unable to make use of the premises because of the cost of refurbishing them.  The fight was now on to raise funds to restore the building to its former glory, to reclaim all the artistic treasures that the building contained and to make a permanent home for the Lodge that would make the brethren proud of their heritage and a joy for visiting brethren to visit and be entertained and primarily to restore to what has been acclaimed as “a bright jewel in the Crown of the Royal Mile”.

 

For many years the Brethren, their ladies and their friends held dances, whist drives, jumble sales, coffee nights, get togethers and raffles to raise funds for the restoration work.   Eventually work started and soon they saw the fruitation of all their labours.  On Tuesday 15th January, 1963 the Celtic Lodge were back in Brodie’s Close, to the premises they last used a hundred and forty years previously.

 

The restored building consists of the east and west properties in Brodie’s Close and the arched properties linking them.  The new Lodge premises were part of a group of properties purchased by the Celtic Lodge in 1945.  As the whole properties were more than the Lodge required, it was decided to gift to the City of Edinburgh the buildings fronting the Lawnmarket, now transformed into the Carnegie Central Library and what were the Lothian and Peebles Police Headquarters but is now part of the Regional Council.  The Edinburgh Evening News of Wednesday 9th January, 1963 printed the following:-

 

BRODIE’S CLOSE SEES VAST CHANGES

RESTORED HOME IN LAWNMARKET FOR MASONS

 

A superb piece of restoration work has been completed in the Lawnmarket, Edinburgh, to provide a new home for the Celtic Lodge No. 291.  The Lodge rooms in Brodie’s Close, contains some priceless and historic features which include ornate sixteenth and seventeenth century ceilings and a priceless hand-carved fireplace surround.

 

Eighteen months ago restoration work started in the property which included the Brodie family workshops where the renowned notoriety, the Deacon himself was brought after his execution in 1788 in a vain attempt to revive him.   When the Celtic Lodge purchased the property in 1945, from the Town and Gown Society they also obtained property in excess of their own needs.  The building fronting the Lawnmarket was gifted to Edinburgh Corporation and has since been transformed into the Carnegie Central Library and the Lothian and Peebles Police Headquarters.

 

CONSECRATION

 

Next Tuesday, the new Lodge Rooms will be consecrated in the presence of Lord Bruce, Grand Master Mason of Scotland, and the Celtic Lodge members will be back in premises where the Lodge once met over a hundred years ago.  The Lodge was founded in the Cowgate in 1821 to encourage the weaving and wearing of the tartan and from 1827 until 1832 they met in the room now known as the Thistle Room or Refectory.  In the transformed premises, the former caretaker’s house above the Thistle Room has been converted into a magnificent chapel linked with the downstairs room by a winding staircase.  The oldest part of the building is on ground level in the lower hall, where a part of the original stone vaulted roof, which is believed to date back possibly as far as 1300 when the Hospice of the Cambuskenneth Monks was on the site, has been preserved.  The Refectory contains one of the most magnificent ceilings in old Edinburgh – an ornate plasterwork which has been restored to its former beauty, and which still retains the gold paint applied by craftsmen in 1645 and 1646.  One third of the ceiling in the Refectory is even older – authorities place the date around 1575.  That section is wooden with hand-carved decoration.  Regarded by experts as perhaps the most interesting feature of all is a hand-carved wooden surround to a fireplace in the Master’s Room.  The sixteenth century craftsmanship is one of the finest examples of this kind in Scotland.

 

OLD LIGHTS

 

Many of the furnishings have been donated by the Lodge members, Flamboux lights of the type used to light closes and streets many years ago have been fitted in the lower hall, the former oil torch being replaced by an electric bulb.  In the Chapel, the music is provided by French organ-piano which is a collector’s piece.   Their new home has given the Lodge an opportunity to display many of their old records.

 

Shortly after the reconstitution of the Lodge an old box was found and this contained many old relics of the Lodge.  These have now been given places of honour in the Lodge and consist among other things, the original Master’s Apron, a Diploma belonging to Brother William Hyde picked up by Captain Thomson on the battle-field, after the action at Cawnpore in 1857 and also a chair which belonged to the Duke of Sussex and used by King George IV at the Peer’s ball in 1822 when he visited Scotland, and “received at his levies the Celtic Thanes and Chiefs of the Highland and Lowland Clans”.

 

To celebrate their new home the Celtic Brethren held a Celebration Ball and the Evening Dispatch of Thursday 30th April 1964 printed the following:-

 

YES, THEY WERE ALL THE STYLE

 

A bit of Edinburgh history was re-enacted in the Royal Mile last night when three horse drawn landaus drove up the High Street with passengers dressed in the style of 134 years ago. 

 

Those taking part had taken immense care to ensure as much as possible, the authenticity of their costumes.  They wore colourful brocades, ringlets caressing bare shoulders, and jewellery restricted by their sense of period to cameos, lockets and long ear-rings.

 

Rather to their disappointment, they learned they were too early to wear the crinoline cage which dominated fashion in later decades of the century, however, they stiffened petticoats to give some substance to the full skirts of their ground length dresses, and when they had to negotiate the narrow turnpike stair to the Thistle Room of the Celtic Lodge in Brodie’s Close, Lawnmarket, they were secretly rather glad not to have crinolines to manoeuvre up the spiralling staircase.

 

The occasion was designed by the Lodge to recapture something of the romantic spirit of long ago.  On this day in 1830 the Celtic brethren held their first ball, and only recently, when they took over the restored premises in Brodie’s Close, did they find from old minute books which had lain in vaults untouched for nearly a hundred years that their Thistle Room has been the scene of that first ball.

 

The costume party drove to the ball from Lodge Canongate Kilwinning No. 2 in St. John Street where the Celtic Lodge had met during many of the intervening years.

 

In the first coach rode Mr. William Mitchell, a past master and Mr T K Francis, secretary with their ladies.  Mrs Mitchell wore a gown of gleaming gold and red brocade, with puffed sleeves and v-necked back and front, and over it, a black taffeta stole.   Apart from long ear-rings her only ornament was an angling medal won by her grandfather, which she wore as a locket.  Mrs. Francis was in white, her full skirted gown trimmed with silver at the neck and lace on the sleeves.  Both wore their hair in the style of the period, piled high on the crown and with long ringlets to the shoulder.

 

In the other coaches were Messrs John and Graham Lilly, Stanley Smith and Robert Milne with their ladies, striking in gowns of blue, green, heliotrope and floral brocade.

 

As a foil to the bright colours of the ladies’ gowns, the men were more sombrely attired in black drain pipe trousers and square cut tail-coats, their touch of finery coming in brocade waistcoats, frilled jabots and cravats surrounding inches high collars.  Sideboards and moustaches completed their guise.

 

The men also wore the original Masonic sashes, which like the minute books had been carefully stored and preserved in excellent condition.   The tartan of the sashes was a reminder that one of the purposes of founding the Lodge was to promote the manufacture of the tartan of their native land.

 

For the last one hundred yards of their journey they were escorted by the Lodge piper, Mr Andrew Ross, wearing the tartan outfit he used when he appeared in the Royal Command performance of “Rob Roy” in the Lyceum Theatre for King Olav of Norway, and playing pipes made in 1840 by one of his ancestors, Thomas Glen, founder of J & J Glen, which are still in business opposite the Lodge.

 

The guests were received at the arched entrance to the close by the Right Worshipful Master, Brother Alex Bade and Mrs Bade – just as the company were greeted by the reigning master in 1830.   There, however, the resemblance ended.  A receipt from 1830 shows the bill for four gallons of whiskey, ales and porter was £1.10s.0d. – little more than the cost of a round today.

 

Today, 1981, the Lodge continues to flourish and its members still travel the length and breadth of Scotland and into England visiting other Lodges and are still welcomed and received as they were back in the eighteen hundreds.  The brother still in the kilt and the Lodge piper still accompanies the Master when he goes visiting.  Traditions die hard and there are still some which the Lodge will never give up bearing in mind the purpose of their being raised.

 

The Lodge is still a haven for other masons and brethren from all over the world come to the Celtic Chapel to see the kilted Lodge at work and to enjoy the hospitality which the Lodge is famous.

 

The Lodge was made famous by its many characters and is known today by the many men of humour and integrity who attend its meetings.

 

The Lodge like many others who have their own building are finding it more difficult each year to meet the escalating costs in running their building, it is here that we have to be thankful of the great support we get from the ladies of the Lodge who give their invaluable support in running the Celtic Café during the Edinburgh International Festival.   The Café which is held in the Banner Hall is open during the Festival from 10.00 am to 10.00p.m. with the exceptions of Thursday afternoons and Sundays.  It is hard work for those who take part as hundreds of sandwiches, cakes, pies, scones and biscuits are consumed every day and hundreds of cups, saucers and plates are washed in a constant cycle, a great deal of preparation is necessary and at ten o’clock when the doors are closed, the ladies are thankful to be able to sit down, relax with a refreshing cup of tea before they start and prepare for the following morning.  All agree it is hard work but very rewarding as they meet so many people from overseas.   Visitors, who are thankful to rest for a moment in the peace of the old building and enjoy home made fare, while the ladies behind the tartan canopy make tea, butter scones and wash cups and saucers in the vault of the old hospice of the Cambuskenneth Monks.

 

Without the Celtic Café there would be no Lodge as the costs are escalating all the time.  The money made by the Café helps meet our rate bill and also for the fabric and upkeep of the building.   I am sure the ladies realise this and do not mind the time and effort that goes into this labour of love.

 

The Celtic Lodge is home to Stay!