Every Royal Arch Chapter must be attached to a Craft Lodge, and take the same Number as that Lodge; in this respect Stuart is no different. Hence we have ‘Stuart Chapter No. 540’.
Over time the rules for ‘exalting’ new Master Masons into a Chapter have changed considerably, to the current requirement of a period of four weeks or upwards. About one Master Mason in three becomes a Companion of the Royal Arch.
So for any Master Mason seeking more information on this lovely and informative degree (which completes the Craft degree, and gives the ‘missing’ information to the Master Mason), then please see the ‘Contacts’ page here on our website.
Meetings of Royal Arch Chapters are called Convocations. A Chapter is ruled collectively by three Principals, elected for the year. Most other Officers have different titles and functions from Craft Lodges. The regalia is totally different from Craft, consisting of an Apron with a red and blue surround, a red and blue sash and a special Breast Jewel. Companions also wear their Breast Jewel in their Craft Lodges to show the close bond which exists between Craft and Royal Arch.
The Royal Arch ceremony deals with the period after King Solomon’s Temple had been destroyed and was about to be re-built. The ritual is allegorical and, without trespassing on religion, leads the candidate, whatever his religion, to contemplate the nature of, and his relationship with God.
Founders and First Officers of Stuart Chapter
First Principal William Stuart
Second Principal John Bull
Third Principal Alfred Cookson
Chaplain Rev. William Tebbs
Scribe E. John Colburne
Scribe N. Capt. Polhill-Turner
Treasurer John Trapp
Principal Sojourner John Cuthbert
Janitor George Reynolds
The Chapter was consecrated on 14th December 1875, with E. Comp. Col. William Stuart as MEZ Elect, and the Secretary (pro tem.) was John Cuthbert. The Consecration ceremony took place at The Swan Hotel Bedford, with Comp. Robert Wentworth Little, Prov. Grand H. of Middlesex conducting the ceremonies of Consecration and Installation. The Three Principals Designate were Comp. Col. W. Stuart, MEZ, Comp. J. Bull, H, and Comp. A. Cookson, J. It seems from the information available that the musical arrangements for the day were also under the direction of A. Cookson too. Regular meetings were then being held in March (Installation), June, September and December. However, the last June meeting was to be held in 1884, and in 1893 the March meeting was moved to April.
The meeting held on the 13th September 1881 appears to be the last one held at The Swan Hotel, as the next meeting on the 13th December 1881 shows it was held at the Assembly Rooms, and the summons for the day has as an item of business ‘To determine where the Chapter should be held’. Then in March 1882 the decision was taken to change the meeting day from a Tuesday to Wednesday. Perhaps this reflects the times, as half-day closing was now happening, albeit in an unregulated way, and perhaps it suited the Chapter members of the day to go on a Wednesday as it was less disruptive for their business? Speculation on my part, but a possibility. It also seems the original Scribe E John Colburne, remained in office continually until stepping down in March 1884, when at the same time the Chapter switched back to holding its meetings at The Swan Hotel again, and this continued until 1904.
Finally, in December 1891 Henry Stuart (the first Master of the Stuart Lodge) was exalted into the Chapter. But it is interesting to note that there is no record that he ever held office at all in the Chapter.
In May 1898 it was agreed to form a committee made up of members from Sir William Harpur Lodge, Stuart Lodge, Stuart Chapter and Stuart Mark, together with others, ‘to secure a permanent home for Freemasonry in Bedford’. Then in April 1904 the Chapter held its first meeting at The Stuart Rooms, St. Cuthbert’s Street, Bedford. But in 1909 the meetings changed again to form what we currently run today, of January, March and November.
Then on 13th December 1975 a Centenary Warrant was granted to the Chapter.
Like Stuart Craft, the members of Stuart Chapter were many local and well known businessmen and dignitaries, whose names adorn shops, businesses and roads in Bedford to this very day.