THE ERSKINES OF MAR AND FREEMASONRY

from The History of The Lodge of Alloa No.69.

 

No family in Scotland played a greater a part in the nationís history during the troublous times of the Bruces and Stuarts than that of the Erskines of Mar, and none suffered more for allegiance to the Sovereigns of their native land During the 400 years of the dynasty of the Stuarts, the Erskines of Mar held high office in the State and at Court and were for a time entrusted with the custody, care and education of the royal children. As the art and craft of Masonry assumed increasing importance in the national life of Scotland, the Erskines were inevitably brought into official contact with it and it is not surprising that members of the family should become Freemasons and attain to high office.

When the Old Parish Church in Kirkgate, Alloa, was ordered to be repaired and enlarged in 1680, Charles, 5th Earl of Mar, appointed John Keirie of Gogar to represent the heritors and to engage the workmen. The masons called and sworn at the meeting of heritors were John Buchanan and Tobias Baak, both of Alloa. The latter was one of the foremost craftsmen of his time in Scotland. He was architect and contractor for Dumfries Town Hall, did the restoration and renovation of Kinross House, and supervised a goodly portion of the extension of the town of Alloa. He house on the north side of Kirkgate, afterwards known as Clyde House, then with an uninterrupted view of the river Forth. On the south aspect he placed a picturesque sundial projecting on corbels with the date 1695, and his initials, T. B., and those of his wife, M. L. This house is still existent, is in use as a lodging house, and was requisitioned as a billet for the military forces in 1939.

John, 6th Earl of Mar (1675 to 1732) was an able and far≠seeing statesman, much in advance of his time. His studies were embracing architecture, landscape gardening, transport and political economy. Alloa, in his day, consisted of a few narrow streets, near the Tower and on both sides of the Brathie Burn. The Earl bought up all the houses on the south-east side of the burn, demolished them, and made a public green. Disliking the narrow streets, he built a new street leading to the shore, first called John Street after him, but soon named Broad, to show how broad a street should be. Present-day inhabitants will applaud his vision and foresight. He also built a new highway to Clackmannan, on which in after years rose the buildings of Mill Street and Shillinghill. His progressive improve≠ments attracted attention, and he was persuaded to take office in the Scottish Parliament, and restarted the Chairs of Humanity and Medicine in Glasgow University. He instituted a policy of rebuilding in Edinburgh and engaged a famous Scottish architect in James Gib to supervise. He was appointed one of the Comrnissioners for the Union of Parliaments effected in 1707. He has been much criticised for his part in that Union, but at the time he saw no hope of prosperity in Scotland until the trade barriers and the rate of exchange between the Scottish and English £ were removed. After the Union he was appointed Secretary of State for Scotland in the Government of Queen Anne.

When Parliament passed the renowned legislative measure by which London was to be made religious by the erection of fifty new churches, the Earl of Mar added the name of James Gib to the list of eminent architects who were to put the vast plan into execution. Gib's notable works in London were St. Martin's in the Fields and St. Mary's-le-Strand, and the Bodleian Library at Oxford. The publication of a folio volume of designs in 1728 brought Gib the considerable sum of £1,900. Gib himself was a Roman Catholic and not a Freemason. He died in London in1754.

The Earl of Mar was a Whig in politics and on the death of Queen Anne and the accession of George I he was dismissed through the intrigues of the Tories. He requested an audience of the King, but was refused, and he was advised to retire to his estates. After this churlish treatment he returned to Alloa Tower, but was soon entreated to take up the cause of the Old Pretender, on 13th November following fought with great personal courage at the much-disputed battle of Sheriffinuir. For this he was attainted, deprived of his estates and title and outlawed. He escaped to the Continent and lived afterwards in Rome, Paris and Belgium. Even in exile he could not forget his native country. He had many projects for its improvement in his fertile brain. He whiled away the time by writing these down. He drew plans for the new city of Edinburgh to be built on the heights north of the Castle, including Princes Street and St Andrew Square. To link the old city with the new he proposed the North Bridge over the Nor' Loch where Waverley Station is now built in the basin. He proposed the Forth and Clyde Canal, steam haulage in collieries, and many other improvements. He sent these papers to his son Thomas, Lord Erskine, at Alloa House, under the title "These are my Jewels," an expression taken from Malachi, Chapter 3, verse 17, the text which provides the inspiration for the hymn "When He cometh to make up His Jewels." His estates, land and houses had been confiscated on his attainder and were sold by Parliament to various persons. His brother, Lord Grange, afterwards bought the Alloa Estate and settled it on the heirs of the line. By a cruel kind of irony the money accrued from the sale of the estates was used to build the Forth and Clyde Canal, which he himself proposed. There is no record of his having been made a Freemason, but he held the office of Grand Master of the Temple in Scotland in succession to Lord Dundee.

Thomas, Lord Erskine, only son of John, 6th Earl of Mar was initiated in Lodge Kilwinning Scots Arms, Edinburgh, No.3, in 1736. His name is second on the list of registrations in Grand Lodge made by Kilwinning Scots Arms in 1739. This Lodge had large military personnel and is now defunct. Lord Erskine, being under the shadow of his father's attainder. and being denied succession to the tide of Earl of Mar, led the quiet life of a country gentleman and had more time to devote himself to the study of Freemasonry. He was elected Grand Master Mason of Scotland in 1749. This undoubtedly led to a quickening of interest in the Craft in Alloa. Thereafter stray names of Alloa men begin to appear in the minutes of the Lodge of Stirling. Within five years a Depute Lodge was regularly meeting in Alloa.

Alexander Erskine, 6th Earl of Kellie, who was Grand Master Mason in 1763-4, was a celebrated musician. John Francis Erskine of Mar, who became 7th Earl when the title was restored in 1824, was initiated in the Lodge of Alloa, No.69, but did not seek office in the Craft.

Walter Henry, 11th Earl of Mar and 13th Earl of Kellie, was Grand Master Mason in 1882-84 and Provincial Grand Master of Stirlingshire in 1885-89. He was also a First Principal of St. John's RA. Chapter, No.92, Alloa, in 1878-79; Grand Superintendent of Stirlingshire in 1886-88, and First Grand Principal of Scotland in 1885-88. He was initiated under the English Constitution. His appointment as Junior Grand Deacon in Grand Lodge was quite irregular because he was not then a member of any Scottish Lodge. He afterwards affiliated to the Lodge of Edinburgh (Mary's Chapel), No.1. He identified himself later with many Masonic activities in Alloa. Walter John Francis, who succeeded him as 12th Earl of Mar and 14th Earl of Kellie, was a member of the Lodge of Alloa No.69, having been initiated on 28th September, 1888.

Another branch of the Erskines, the Earls of Buchan, kins≠men of the Erskines of Mar, claim honourable connection with the Craft. Henry David, 10th Earl of Buchan, was Grand Master in 1745, and at that time Lord Lieutenant of Stirling and Clackmannan. David Stewart, 11th Earl, was Grand Master Mason in 1782-83, and Henry David, 12th Earl, held that office in 1832. His son, David Stuart Erskine, afterwards 13th Earl, was initiated Lodge of Alloa in 1857. A third branch of the Erskines, the Rosslyn, also interested themselves in Freemasonry, James, 2nd Earl, being Grand Master Mason in 1810-11 and Francis Robert, 4th Earl, in 1870-72.

The above article has been reproduced from the book, 'A History of The Lodge of Alloa No.69. 1757 - 1957.'  by Bro. James W. Saunders and Bro. Robert Wright past masters. Chapter 2, pages 9-11.

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