Sandy Matheson cemented his reputation as the leading authority on Stornoway’s history with a magisterial address in the Town Hall last night (Friday June 2), showing how the modern town was established and grew from the late 16th Century onwards – and how the town’s connection with Free Masonry grew and changed with it.
Lodge Fortrose marks its 250th year this year – and the Town Hall was packed after the public was invited to find out more about the history of Stornoway's Masonic Lodge and its links with the town from Sandy, who along with his many former public offices over 50 years, was also formerly a Master of the Lodge.
Entitled 'The Lodge & Lewis – 250 years in Amity', Mr Matheson's talk was built around the history of Stornoway's oldest surviving local organisation, as the Lodge has been in existence since November 1767.
It was officially formed on 16th August 1769, the date on which its Charter was actually received in Stornoway but Lodge Fortrose No.108 had existed for almost two years longer as the Brethren carried on the principles and tenants of the Craft, knowing their Charter was due.
The foundation stone of the present home of Lodge Fortrose, on Kenneth Street, Stornoway, was laid with due ceremony on May 28th 1819 having been originally based in Cromwell Street.
Mr Matheson demonstrated how during its lifetime the building has been used by many of the town's organisations for public meetings, dance classes and public dinners, and also for educational purposes. Until the Town Hall was completed in 1906 – and again between 1918 and 1928 after the Town Hall burned down – the Lodge was main large hall available to the public in Stornoway.
Mr Matheson showed how the records and activities of the Lodge reflected the developments of the town over the centuries – and how the development of the Lodge gave insights into the developments in the community and society around it.
And – listing members family after family who had gone on to have impacts nationally and internationally – he laid out a strong case for the discipline and organisational skills learned from running this organisation having been the basis of successful careers, even where relatives and descendants were not themselves members of the Lodge.
He showed how the cosmopolitan membership of the Lodge reflected the ebb and flow of the business of Stornoway – with the existence of the Customs House and the fish-curing business bringing in people from outside the Island. Between 1767 and 1867, only 24 out of the total of 750 members were from rural areas – including three from Harris – whereas at least 60 were originally from off the Island.
During the 19th century the work of the Ordnance Suvery, the development of the Ross Mountain Battery, and the establishment of the Royal Naval Reserve base were all reflected in the membershop of the Lodge – while the road-building of the era of Sir James Matheson – not himself a Lodge member – enabled a great growth of rural membership.
From the start, the Lodge was involved in Benevolence and Charity work – starting with individuals within a couple of years of being established; playing a major role in the establishment of the Lewis Hospital in the 1890s; and carrying on today with more than £40,000 raised in recent times and work in Malawi and with the victims of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster playing a major part of their work.