Chapter of Fortitude No. 43 - PJW Comments on History

Chapter of Fortitude No. 43, 2nd Bi-Centenary 18th May 2021

MEGS, E Comps & Comps.

I will be delighted to offer comments on the history of this fine old Chapter, but before I do so will give just a little of the raison d’etre behind todays celebration.

This largely for the benefit of our 2nd Provincial Principal as recently every time I see  him his ever present smile widens even further as he gleefully announces how much he is looking forward to our 200th celebration, as he thoroughly enjoyed our 225th in February 2009, and still has the souvenir clock from that event!

That was of course the 225th anniversary of the original Dispensation and Warrant of Constitution granted on 6th April 1783, a perfect opportunity for a celebration, following on from our previous Bi-Centenary celebration held in 1983.

The thought process for today’s event started in August 2019 when Supreme Grand Chapter contacted our ProvGSE noting that the Chapter was approaching the 200th Anniversary of its existence and asking if we would be applying for a Bi-Centenary Charter. It transpired, not surprisingly, that SGC subsequently checked its records and advised that the Chapter was not entitled to a Bi-Centenary Charter as it’s Centenary Charter had been granted in 1962, following a break in its workings between 1858 and 1862, despite an old Treasurer’s book which turned up just a few years ago showing a payment made to Supreme Grand Chapter in 1861. So, in accordance with the Chapter’s tradition we decided to go ahead and not miss the opportunity. In the words of Woody Allen, why ruin a good story with the truth!

Interestingly, with our history being as it is, the next opportunities to celebrate will be 2033, the 250th anniversary of our original warrant, 2039, which is another Bi-Centenary, this time of the re-constitution of the Chapter in 1839, 2046, being another 225th 25 years on from today and the official Bi-Centenary in 2062 by which time it is anybody’s guess what format or shape our meetings will be in! I certainly won’t be around for all of them but let’s hope the gregarious traditions of the Chapter continue to flourish, and you are all invited!

So, in the hope that hasn’t completely confused everyone with mental arithmetic, I now turn to the actual history which began on 6th April 1783 with the granting of a warrant by the then ubiquitous Most Excellent Companion Thomas Dunkerley, as recorded in the minutes of the then Grand Chapter of England meeting held the following week. Fortitude was further mentioned in the “List of Chapters on the Roll of the Supreme Grand and Royal Chapter 1813-1817, as having been founded in 1783, following the 1813 Union and formation of SGC in 1817. Sadly, in 1820 there was a fire at the Theatre Royal and adjacent Shakespeare Tavern, in Birmingham, where the Chapter met, resulting in the Warrant and furniture being destroyed. This is most likely the reason behind a request for the issue of the Confirmatory Charter dated 7th November 1821 from the new ruling body, and which our Deputy G Supt will shortly read. So, this all more than adequately confirms our provenance and claim to legitimacy for this special occasion and I rest my case!

Needless to say, the Chapter has had a long and varied journey since its formation in 1783, but you will be pleased to hear I am in no way going to attempt to detail all 239 years of it! We are so fortunate in having counted the late E Comp Robert Giles  Russell as one of our members, and celebrated his 60th Anniversary of joining the Chapter just before lockdown occurred. Incredibly, that means his membership spanned just over a quarter of the Chapter’s whole existence, so who better to chronicle its ebbs and flows since its beginning? For the Craft, Bob wrote the “History of Freemasonry in Warwickshire 1728-1978 for the Province’s 250th anniversary, and a sequel covering the following 25 years for the 275th celebration, in both of which we are frequently mentioned. He also compiled the complete history of the Chapter to coincide with our “Official” Centenary meeting in 1962, running to 100 pages and showing a list of all of the members, including the founders, complete with their titles and professions, with a much shorter 8 page update produced for our first Bi-Centenary celebration held in 1983.  Copies will be presented to our MEGS today.

Bob’s inimitable style is so accurately and philosophically recorded in his preface to the first edition, and remains so apposite to this day. It reads:


The historic events and illustrations included in the printed histories give a complete “feel” to the record of masonic events which have taken place within the Chapter in particular, and society in general, and that was without any help at all from Google! They include several critical times in its history, shortage of cash, indifference of the Companions causing it to go into recess several times in early days, but due to the abiding faith and energy of the early members, it had survived wars and insurrections including two great World Wars, and was set to continue in strength through the 21st century, which it has certainly done. Further research by E Comp Handley, this time with the assistance of Google, has also revealed various articles in historical contemporary masonic publications, such as “The Freemasons’ Magazine”, “Masonic Intelligence”,Freemasons Magazine and Masonic Mirror” and “the Masonic Press”, which are included in the printed history. One such remarkable achievement was the consecration of a canal tunnel, which still stands today. READ

The history of this wonderful Chapter does need updating, to cover events since 1983 and hopefully technology might assist here, with voice recognition helping to transcribe the formal written and digital records since 1983. This will include many further anecdotal stories which have taken place during my membership of the Chapter since I was proposed at the 1983 celebration meeting, including happy, sad and “interesting” times, of which there are many. Particularly memorable ones include when a new PGM rode into town, never having progressed in the Royal Arch. He quickly became a joining member of our Chapter, appointed 2nd Asst Soj at the next Installation qualifying him to progress to the chairs, then the following year going through all three chairs on the same night! His Provincial appointment took place at the following Annual meeting, followed shortly thereafter to appointment in Grand Rank! How to make friends and influence people?
Also, the anguish created before deciding to donate our magnificent candlesticks to the Province when hard times determined we couldn’t afford the insurance premiums.
It was a particularly sad day when unexpected black balls appeared on the night of a candidate’s Elevation not very long ago, but as Bob Russell observes, men are only human and how sad we must feel for some of them following incidents such as this. His 60th celebration will go down as one of the highlights in our recent history, but of course Covid and its worldwide impact must also be recorded. So, budding historians please step forward!

So here we now are Companions, despite all the vicissitudes of the past, and over the years world shattering events appearing to have had little effect on the tranquillity of the Chapter, never being mentioned in the Minutes except when the impact of such events caused some minor disruption or inconvenience.

Today we meet to celebrate yet another milestone in our long and chequered history, resolved to go forward into the future, with happiness, confidence, hope and Fortitude.


Peter Wellings 18th May 2022

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