A jewel of the Ancient Order of Druids
Sheffield Masonic library
The Sheffield Masonic Library Scheme started life in 1876, and in 1910 all the
books, property and funds of the library were handed over to the newly formed Hallamshire College No.8 of the Societas Rosicruciana in Anglia.
The collection of books has gradually been built up over the years, mainly by bequests from distinguished and learned Freemasons. Among these was William Watson, whose MS copy of a Knights Templar and a Royal Arch ritual of about 1800 is one of the gems held by the library, and was the foundation of J.R. Clarke’s book Early Sheffield Rituals. Another notable item is a copy of Robert Fludd’s Utriusque Cosmi Maiores, published in 1619.
There is a full set of AQC, and other well-known research Lodges’ transactions are well represented. In addition to the
usual English Masonic books, there are respectable sections of Scottish, Irish, American, French and German publications.
While all aspects of Freemasonry are represented in the collection, the emphasis
is on the esoteric. This no doubt reflects the intense interest that the founding secretary of the College, David Flather had in such matters. He was a great collector of books and artefacts and, apart from a few items
still held by his family, they were left to
the library and museum.
Subsequently he was appointed Senior-Substitute Magus of the Society, and was later asked to assume the role of Supreme Magus, which he turned down because of age and ill-health. He was also a Grand Officer, a Past Master of Quatuor Coronati Lodge and a Master Cutler for Sheffield.
The museum has a collection of more than 70 items of glassware, from flasks and firing glasses to 18th century rummers and glasses with die in the base. There is also
a small collection of Masonic and other ceramics vessels decorated with Masonic
and quasi-Masonic symbols.
In 1970, valuable additions to the library came from the transfer of many books, certificates, letters, jewels and aprons from the West Yorkshire Provincial Library.
In 1973, a valuable collection of Masonic aprons belonging to Brooke Lodge No. 3608, which had to vacate it premises, was transferred to the College library.
There are more than 100 Masonic aprons, dating from 1760 onwards. Some of the aprons are from friendly societies such as the Free Gardeners, the Order of Druids and the Loyal United Free Mechanics, with a song book compiled in 1834 by the Master of The LUF Mechanics Lodge No. 25, Todmorden. There are also over 1,000 jewels, some of which come from friendly societies.
The archive section contains about 4,000 documents of every description, including original French summonses, print and MS, dating from 1781. There is a box containing an unusual set of handwritten and illustrated rituals for the Order of the Golden Dawn.
Apart from David Flather, the College also had as members J.R. Clarke, also a
Past master of QC Lodge and a Prestonian Lecturer, and most notably Professor Douglas Knoop, the foremost Masonic scholar of the last century. The present Celebrant of the College is Mark Flather, grandson of David.
A recent improvement of the finances
of the library has permitted more recently published books to be purchased, of both general and esoteric Masonic subjects. All the collections have now been catalogued, and conservation work is proceeding on the aprons and books, using techniques obtained from the textiles conservation department
of the Royal Armoury in Leeds.
The library and museum is gradually emerging from its former state of splendid isolation and joining in the private and public activities of Sheffield Freemasons. We are pleased to have been of some assistance to
the Centre for Research into Freemasonry
at the nearby University of Sheffield.
Tony Lever is secretary of
Hallamshire College No. 8