Crabbie’s Green Ginger and Freemasonry

 adapted from the history of Lodge Blairhoyle


Midway between the City of Stirling in Stirlingshire and Aberfoyle the gateway to the Trossochs in Perthshire, sits the village of Thornhill within the area known as the Parish of Kincardine in West Perthshire. The village overlooks the carse of Stirling and the wildlife sanctuary Flanders Moss, the largest area of an intact and unaltered bog in Britain. Flanders Moss is where the legendary outlaw Rob Roy Macgregor hid the cattle he had stolen until a buyer could be found for them. Nearby to the village and to the west is the Lake of Menteith often referred to as the only ‘Lake’ in Scotland. In actual fact the name is a corruption of the lowland Scots ‘Laich’ which means ‘low place’ and over the years the proper name for this body of water which was Laich o' Menteith became known as The Lake of Menteith. There are several small islands in the lake the largest of them being Inchmahome where stands Inchmahome Priory, the monastery where Mary Queen of Scots was hidden in 1547 for a few weeks when she was aged four.


The area surrounding Thornhill has played host over the years to the estates of many famous and well known Scottish families. These landowners were known as ‘lairds’ and included such names as Mentieth (tradition has it that Sir John Menteith betrayed William Wallace to the English, which led to his death), Napier (from the inventor of Logarithms family), Drummond (of Jacobite fame), Orr Ewing (three of whom have been Grand Masters of the Grand Lodge of Scotland), and Crabbie (of green ginger fame) the subject of this article.


The village of Thornhill in the late 19th Century was laid out roughly as it is today, from East to West, the main Street, then called the High Street now named ‘The Main Street’ runs through the full length of the village coming to a crossroad at the ‘West End’, where to the right is the ‘Aberfoyle Road’, to the left the ‘Low Town’ and straight ahead is ‘The Hill’. Many houses along this main thoroughfare were built during this time and most of the local inhabitants earned their living by working for the local lairds on their estates one of which was called ‘Blairhoyle’ owned by the Crabbie family.


Although pretty much isolated in the first half of the 19th century apart from the carriages which operated on a regular basis between Stirling and Aberfoyle and stopped at the Lion and Unicorn to change horses, life in Thornhill was the same as one would expect in many rural areas, slow and for the most part self-sufficient. This however would change with the advent of the railways. Although no railway lines were ever laid to Thornhill, at the nearby Kippen Station the railway opened in 1865, and by 1900 17 trains stopped at the station daily. This opened up the whole area of West Perthshire and Thornhill in particular, commuting between Edinburgh or Glasgow and Thornhill became much quicker and easier. A horse and carriage would take the passenger the 3 miles from Thornhill to Kippen Station where a train could be taken to the major cities and beyond. Thus allowing businessmen who had estates or country houses to visit their property more often, and in all probability use them as escapes at the weekend.


However, travelling in any other direction other than to a local railway station still took time and a lot of inconvenience, which the Freemasons of Thornhill found to their irritation. The masons in Thornhill did not have a meeting place in the village, in fact there was no Lodge in Thornhill. Those men who were Masons had to travel to any neighbouring towns or villages where there was a Lodge, usually on horseback or carriage and in all types of weather, all this after a hard day’s work and returning back to Thornhill sometimes well after dark.


The closest Masonic Lodge, Lodge St. James No.171 was over 4 miles away in the neighbouring village of Doune, the next closest at a distance of 6 miles was Lodge Ben Ledi No.614 in the village of Callander. Most of the Thornhill masons were members of the Lodge at Doune, in all likelihood the reason being they were the oldest Lodge in the nearby vicinity and the fact that the local minister the Reverend George Williams served two terms of office as the R.W.M. there. The Reverend George Williams was the minister of the United Free Church for over 40 years, a remarkable man, he was an archaeologist and antiquarian, and published many books as well as an ardent Freemason. As the nearest Masonic Lodges were a distance away, The Reverend along with some other local Masons mooted the idea of forming a Lodge in the village and soon began the process of turning a suggestion into a reality.


A committee of local Masons was formed and an approach was made to a local landowner Colonel Drummond of Blair Drummond for a plot of land. Col., Drummond was an enthusiastic Mason and had been a Past Provincial Grand Master, he immediately approved of the scheme and made available land at the crossroads at the West End of the Main Street, on the corner junction with Aberfoyle Road. The Masons of Thornhill had the land, now all they needed was the building.


Close to Thornhill was the Blairhoyle Estate owned by Mr. George Crabbie an Edinburgh Merchant and businessman whose family created the famous Crabbie’s Green Ginger Wine in the ancient port of Leith, where the family had been making the ginger wine since 1801 using imported raisins, flavoured with cowslips, elderflowers, cinnamon, cloves, lemons and oranges, blended and fortified with ginger. The recipe used today has not changed in over 200 years. It was during the days of the RAJ in India that it became most popular when a Scot, a Colonel MacDonald added the green ginger to whisky creating a Whisky MacDonald, better known today as a Whisky Mac.


George Crabbie as a local landowner knew and was friends with Colonel Drummond, and although not a Freemason he decided to have a Masonic Hall built on the site gifted by the Colonel at his own expense. Plans for the building similar to the buildings on the Blairhoyle Estate were drawn up after consultations with the local Masonic Committee. These were submitted and approved with the exception of the entrance door being changed to facing South instead of West! The building consisted of a main hall with an open fireplace, a porch and a cloakroom, all timber lined, the main hall was constructed without a ceiling showing the rafters and roof space. The building is built of stone, harled brickwork and exposed red sandstone plinths. It has a tower over the porch consisting of a first floor storage and access to the upper floor with window seats on each of its four sides. These windows in the tower give spectacular views over 360 degrees, from Ben Lomond and the Vale of Menteith to the West, the outer Grampians in the North, the Ochil Hills round Stirling and the Forth Valley, with the Gargunnock and Kippen Hills beyond the Carse.


This structure, reputably the smallest purpose built Masonic Lodge in Scotland is a listed red sandstone building has over its finely sculpted entrance, an intricate carved lintel complete with plaque, inscriptions, date and symbols. The roof of the main hall is local slate, the ridge of red tile to match the tower roof, topped of  on its apex with a Masonic weather vane. The building was built in the ‘arts and craft’ movement style and was and still is widely admired, its position within the village standing as it does at the crossroads has become a landmark to locals and anyone travelling through the village.


Although plans were well in hand for the building of the Masonic Hall, the new Lodge was still not formed, after numerous planning meetings, the Lodge for the Masons of Thornhill was granted its Charter on the 2nd of February 1893. The name of the Lodge was Lodge Blairhoyle, named after the Estate of its generous benefactor Mr. George Crabbie and its number on the role of Lodges  holding under the Grand Lodge of Scotland No.792. The consecration ceremony was held on the 25th March 1893 at which 35 brethren attended, 6 consecrating brethren, 14 visitors and 15 brethren of Lodge Blairhoyle No.792. The founding R.W.M. was The Reverend Brother George Williams who had worked so tirelessly to bring together this moment.


Work on the Hall commenced on the 28th of July 1893 and was completed on the 9th of September that same year, 44 days in all! However the Lodge meetings were held for some time after in the village Public Hall, where they members had been meeting since receiving their Charter. The official Inauguration Service and the Ceremonial of the laying of the foundation stone took place on the 21st of October 1893.


At 2.30pm on Saturday 21st October, a procession of Masons preceded by a piper marched through the village, headed by members of Lodge Blairhoyle 792, followed by deputation’s from Callander 614, St. Vincent, Glasgow 553, Abercromby, Bridge of Allan 531, Maryhill 510, Coldstream 280, Doune 171, Ancient Stirling 30, Stirling Royal Arch 76 and Dunblane No. IX, all followed by the Provincial Grand Lodge. On arriving at the hall, the procession opened up to permit the entrance of Col. Stirling of Kippendavie, Provincial Grand Master of Perthshire West and his deputation of assistants, - Bro. Col. Drummond P.P.G.M.; Bro. Watt, P.G.S.; Graham Stirling of Strowan, acting past P.G. Dep. M.; Bro. Robertson P.G.S.W.; Guthrie P.G.J.W.; P. McNiven Callander P.G.S.D.; J.A. McLean P.G.S.B and Archibald McLaren who conducted the Masonic Ceremonial in connection with the laying of the foundation stone and opening of the Lodge Room.


During the course of the ceremony of the laying of the foundation stone, the R.W.M. of Lodge Blairhoyle Bro. the Reverend George Williams addressed Mr. George Crabbie of Blairhoyle who was present with these words;


“It would be base ingratitude on our part to let this opportunity slip of publicly offering you the thanks of  “Lodge Blairhoyle” for your splendid gift.  This Hall, so snug and quaint does credit to your head as well as to your heart.  With gratitude we accept your gift.  I am hopeful it may yet be my duty to put into your hand our symbol of command and welcome you on this floor, not only as a brother but as our Master.  In the meantime, I have the address which I have just read to you and I ask you to accept it as a very humble but grateful and genuine expression of our feelings to you, our benefactor.  In connection with the establishment of the Lodge, many good friends have done virtuously; but we can surely say of you what is said of the good woman of scripture, “Thou excellest all”.”


Mr Crabbie replied in these terms:-


“I really do not know what to say and I can only thank you for the kind and flattering way in which you have responded to remarks made by Mr. Williams in presenting me with this address.  I assure you, words completely fail me.  The address is beautiful and perfect as work of art, but one thing is wanting, and that is that I feel I do not deserve it.  YOU DO.  Be that is it may, I accept it as a bond of union between Thornhill and Blairhoyle which I hope no future generation will to efface.”


The P.G.M walked to the East of the stone, the R.W.M on his right, preceded by the Wardens, who go to the West with Level and Plumb respectively.


The P.G.M says, “W.J. P.G.W., what is the proper jewel of your office? - The Plumb.”

P.G.M. - Have you applied the plumb to the several edges of the stone? - “I have Most Worshipful P.G.M.”

P.G.M - “W.S.P.G.M. What is the proper jewel of your office? - The Level.”

P.G.M - “Have you applied the level to the top of the stone? - I have, Most W.P.G.M.”

P.G.M - R.W.P.G. Deputy Master, what is the proper jewel of your office? - The Square.”

P.G.M - “Have you applied the square to those parts of the stone that are square? - I have M.W.P.G.M.”

P.G.M - “Having, my R.W. Brn, full confidence in your skill in Our Royal Art, it remains with me to finish this, our work.”


He gave the stone three knocks and said “May the Almighty Architect of the Universe look down with benignity upon our present undertaking and crown it with every success.”


The Cornucopia was delivered to the P.G.M. The Vase with Wine to the P.G.S.W and the Vase of Oil to the P.G.J.W.

 This delivery took place during and after the singing of “Behold how good a thing it is.”


With the completion of the three verses, the Cornucopia was delivered to the P.G.M to the Acting G.M who threw its contents upon the stone.  The same procedures followed with Vase of Oil.


 The P.G.M delivered the following prayer:


“Praise be to the Lord Immortal and Eternal who formed the Heavens, laid the foundation of the Earth and extended the waters beyond it, - Who supports the Pillars of Nations, and maintains in order and harmony, surrounding worlds.  We implore Thy aid and may the continued blessings of an All Bounteous Providence be the lot of these, our native shores, and may the Almighty Ruler of Events deign to direct the hand of our gracious Sovereign so that she may pour down blessings upon her people; and may that people, living under sage laws, in a free government ever feel grateful for the blessings they enjoy.”


The ceremony and meeting was then closed in due and ancient form after which the celebrations continued in the Public Hall during which Mr. Crabbie of Blairhoyle addressed the gathering with these words;


“I assure you the pleasure I had in giving this Lodge-room to the Freemasons of Blairhoyle cannot be equaled by their satisfaction in receiving it.  In handing over this Lodge to the Freemasons I ask them not only to accept the Lodge but also for the well being of the whole village.”


The R.W.M. Rev. Williams next addressed a few words to Col. C. Home Graham Stirling the P.G.M of West Perthshire and asked him to accept as a gift from the Brethren of Lodge Blairhoyle, the silver trowel with which he had performed the ceremony.  He was confident that whatever the intrinsic worth of the article, he would place a high value on it as a memento of this occasion.  It was not often that a Provincial Grand Master had the good fortune of establishing a Lodge during the tenure of office, but whatever honours came to Perthshire West he hoped it would fall to their esteemed Grand Master Col. Stirling.


Col. Stirling said he should look upon the trowel with very much appreciation as a gift from the Masons of Thornhill.  He had experienced great pleasure in laying the foundation stone that day.


He was well aware of the difficulties that attended the Thornhill Masons in their labours, but now that they could labour at home he hoped they would always labour with success.


Rev. Williams proposed three hearty cheers in honour of Mr. Capper for his work in connection with the erection of the Lodge and a vote of thanks to Mr. Slater for the workmanlike manner in which he had finished the building. Mr. Capper acknowledged this himself and on behalf of Mr. Slater.


After the impressive open ceremonial, the public were requested to retire, when the Lodge was raised to the Third Degree.  Thereafter, an adjournment was made to the Public Hall where Col. Drummond presided over a banquet.  The usual Loyal and Masonic and other toasts were given and a pleasant evening was spent in harmony.


With the Public retired and the Lodge in the Third Degree the P.G.M called for his Secretary, Treasurer and Architect to bring forward the necessary workmen.  During the singing of the 100th Psalm to the tune of “Old Hundred”, “All people that on earth do dwell.”


The Rev. Williams wish that Mr. Crabbie become a member of the craft did not materialise.  However, his son John Edward Crabbie became a Freemason in Edinburgh and later affiliated to Lodge Blairhoyle.  He was installed as R.W.M of 792 in the year 1913 a post which he held until 1922.  He also held the position of Provincial Grand Master of Perthshire West for twenty years. Brother Crabbie also had the distinction of playing Rugby for Edinburgh Academicals, Oxford and Scotland,


J.E. Crabbie’s two sons John Patrick Crabbie and George Monteath Crabbie became members of Lodge Blairhoyle, in 1933. 


Lodge Blairhoyle No.792 in Thornhill.Lodge Blairhoyle No.792 has always enjoyed the reputation of being the smallest purpose built Lodge in the country with passing tourists being advised of this by their drivers and couriers.  It is also recorded on films of Lodge of Interests and has been shown in many Lodges.  It is now a “listed building” of Historic and Architectural interest, British Telecom featured the Lodge in a television commercial advert. So ever you happen to be in that neck of the woods, drop by the little village of Thornhill, and drive along its picturesque Main Street with its painted cottages on either side to the crossroads at the West End, where this wonderful landmark stands, it really is something to see and even to pay a visit if you happen along the right night.


Now over 100 years has past since Mr. George Crabbie unselfishly paid for the building of the Lodge Blairhoyle’s meeting hall, a truly wonderful and magnificent gesture to the Masons and villagers of Thornhill, and all this from a man who was not a Member of our Craft, and had no real connection with Freemasonry. He thought that as a local landowner and employer he would give something back to the community, and this handsome gift from a non-mason must surely be something unique in the annals of Scottish Freemasonry, and all from a drink blended in Leith, Crabbie’s Green Ginger Wine. So the next time you see a bottle lurking on the top shelf of a bar, spare a moment and remember its connection with Scottish Freemasonry in general, and Lodge Blairhoyle No.792 in particular.



In the preparation of this article, I have relied heavily on the History of Lodge Blairhoyle No. 792 by the late Bro., John Crowbrough PM who is recognized as the author. I am especially grateful to the Members of the Lodge for their permission to use their history in this piece, from which vast portions of text have been used. The photograph of the Lodge building is the copyright of the Lodge, again many thanks for that. Also in the preparation I have quoted from the book 'Thornhill and its Environs' by Stuart McCulloch.

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