Freemasonry in Leicestershire has been in existence since the Eighteenth Century and in 2019 celebrated it's 150th anniversary. It must, however, be remembered that at that time there was no unified governing body for what we call “the Craft.”
There were two principal contending organisations; the “Premier Grand Lodge” which dated from 1717 when it was set up in London, and which was nicknamed “the Moderns” because it had introduced certain innovations into Masonic ritual, and the “Athol Grand Lodge” which, although younger, being founded in 1751, was called “the Antients” because it rejected the innovations and claimed to practice an older and purer form of ritual. We have descendants of both traditions within our Province today.
The earliest Lodge in Leicester was warranted by “the Moderns” in 1739, though it seems to have ceased to function by 1744. Another “Modern” Lodge was warranted in 1754, but this too seems to have ceased to work by 1768. In 1761 “the Antients” warranted a Lodge to work in Leicester which seems to have been closely associated with the local militia, but this also foundered, though a second “Antient” Lodge warranted in the same year continued to meet and was in regular existence until 1790, when there was a disagreement with the Athol Grand Lodge and some members petitioned the “Moderns” for a new warrant, and that led to the birth of the oldest Lodge in the Province, St John`s, which now bears the number 279. Thus one stream of our tradition came into being. The original Lodge under the Antients carried on in Leicester until around 1814, when it seems to have finally ceased to meet.
Meanwhile in Hinckley another tradition began. Various members of the Leicester Lodge which had met under “the Antient” jurisdiction in 1803 obtained a warrant then numbered 47 and dating from 1756, which had at one time belonged to a Lodge in Macclesfield.
This was a necessary step at the time because both Grand Lodges could only re-issue dormant Warrants because of the law regarding clandestine societies which prohibited new Lodges or meetings other than existing Masonic Lodges. Therefore the Hinckley Lodge, now known as “Knights of Malta” and numbered No.50, still traces its roots back to “the Antients” and thus when the two rival Grand Lodges merged in 1813, we had representatives of both traditions in our Province. The practice of appointing a Provincial Grand Master for a Province was, however, very much a feature of the work of “the Moderns” and we now turn to the way in which the appointment of Provincial Grand Masters has led to the knitting together of our two counties of Leicestershire and Rutland into one Masonic Province.
Col. Sir Thomas Fowke was the First Provincial Grand Master of Leicestershire and was succeeded in 1789 by Thomas Boothby Parkyns (1st Lord Rancliffe in 1795). Following his death on 17th November 1800, the Province of Leicestershire was without a Grand Master until in 1812 his son, George, the 2nd Lord Rancliffe took the appointment. In 1850 Sir Fredrick Gustavus Fowke was appointed the fourth Provincial Grand Master and he was succeeded in 1856 by Richard William Penn, 1st Earl Howe, until in 1869 the Craft Provinces of Leicestershire and Rutland were combined.
The announcement of this Union appears to stem from a letter from William Kelly to Earl Howe dated 1st October 1869 which read, “My Lord, I have now to make my usual report to your Lordship of the proceedings at our annual Meeting yesterday, when the union of the two Provinces of Leicestershire and Rutland became an accomplished fact by the Consecration of the new Lodge (Vale of Catmos) at Oakham and the Installation of its Worshipful Master.” This was done despite a letter from the Grand Secretary, John Hervey, stating that the Grand Master had granted the prayer of the petition conditionally that the Lodge be placed under the jurisdiction of the Provincial Grand Master of Leicestershire.
Later that year on 31st December 1869 the Grand Secretary wrote to William Kelly confirming that the Grand Master had nominated him as the Provincial Grand Master of Leicestershire. William Kelly in his acknowledgement on 2nd January 1870 wrote “Please note on preparing the patent that the County of Rutland has been added to the Province, as you only mentioned Leicestershire.” His patent of appointment as Provincial Grand Master for the Province of Leicestershire and Rutlandshire is dated 3rd January 1870 and really this was the birth of the combined Province of Leicestershire and Rutland as has continued from that date.