A Hundred Years of Agricola Lodge

As the Lodge has reached its 100th year in existence, we are proud to publish a brief history of some of the founders and brethren who have made a notable contribution to both freemasonry and the community.

The Agricola Lodge was consecrated at the Corn Exchange, Maidstone, on Friday the 26th January 1923 by the RW. Bro. The Provincial Grand Master of Kent, Col. Fiennes Stanley Wykeham Cornwallis, who was subsequently raised to the Peerage under the Title of Baron Cornwallis of Linton, and later appointed as Deputy Grand Master of the United Grand Lodge of England in 1926 and appointed Pro Grand Master in 1935 but unfortunately died before being invested.

It is thought that the desire to form a new Masonic lodge in Kent consisting mainly of farmers and those interested in agriculture, horticulture and /or the land, was conceived by W. Bro James Hillier French (Belvidere Lodge No 503) who was then secretary of the Kent branch of the National Farmers Union and W Bro Philip Champion (Lullingstone Lodge No.1837) who was an auctioneer and sadly died prior to the Consecration, together with a number of prominent Kentish farmers who were Freemasons. Amongst these were W Bros J H Podmore (Camden Place Lodge No. 3042), Walter R Elgar (St Michael’s Lodge No 1273), Robert Batchellor (Robinson Lodge No 2046), Walter P Henley (Robinson Lodge No 2046), Alfred Hinge (St Michael’s Lodge No 1273), James Mitchell (Malling Abbey Lodge No 1063) and Robert Cobb (Mensura Lodge No.3724). Their petition to Grand Lodge for a Warrant was sponsored by the Belvidere Lodge No 503 and the Warrant was granted on 18th December 1922 which is now framed and hung on the wall of temple one in the Maidstone Masonic Centre where it can be viewed for all to see. The Lodge name is Latin for farmer.

The Lodge banner was presented to the Lodge by the Primus Master, W Bro J. H. Podmore, and depicts Ceres, the Roman goddess of the harvest. She is shown holding a sheaf of wheat and a blazing torch and is surrounded by produce of the Garden of England, namely wheat, apples, cob nuts, cherries and hops.

The Lodge badge as seen below, shows Ceres holding a sheaf of wheat and a scythe, with a farmer in the background tilling the land and a lamb at her feet.  The badge is surrounded by hop vines, symbolizing the local produce. Ceres was credited with teaching humans how to grow, preserve, and prepare grain and corn. She was also thought to be responsible for the fertility of the land.

There are two other lodges of the same name under the English Constitution, namely Agricola Lodge No. 1991 which meets at Castlegate, York, (Province of Yorkshire North & east Ridings) and Agricola Lodge No. 7741 which meets at 36 Old Elvet, Durham, Co. Durham (Province of Durham).

Since 2000, the Worshipful Masters and brethren of Agricola Lodges 1991 and 4501 have been invited to visit each other at their Installation meetings and many have experienced the best of fraternal hospitality and warmth of welcome on every occasion. Long may this tradition continue.

Founders of the Lodge

W BroJohn Herbert Podmore, PAGDC, PPJGWW BroDaniel Thomas James Lyle, PPGDC
W BroHenry James BracherW BroGerald Charles Mercer, PPSGD
W BroWilfred James Sharp, PAGDC, PPGWW BroAlbert William Smith, PPJGW
W BroRobert Cobb, PPGRegW BroRobert Batcheller, PAGDC
W BroThe Rev. Gerard Lloyd MorrellW BroWilliam Head Baker
W BroFrancis William Frederick ArnaudW BroWalter Percy Henley
W BroJames Hillier French, PAGDC, PPGWW BroJohn Watson
W BroWalter Robinson ElgarW BroHerbert E Sharp
W BroFrederick Dunbar ThomasW BroJames J Hockett
W BroAlfred HingeW BroHarold Cardwell
W BroEbenezer TaylorW BroGeorge J Miller
W BroJohn Henry HarrisW BroJames Mitchell
W BroAlbert Timothy Epps, PPJGW  

These founder members set and maintained a high standard of Freemasonry. By their whole-hearted interest and devotion to the Lodge they encouraged their successors in Office in their endeavour to continue and maintain the work of the Lodge in the high degree and worthy position in now occupies. For this we owe them a great debt of gratitude.

Our Primus Master, W Bro John Herbert Podmore, a Past Master of The Camden Place Lodge No. 3042, was noted for his generosity, most notably for turning over his private residence, in 1941, Moatlands at Paddock Wood, to the British Hospital for Mothers and Babies at Woolwich, after the hospital was destroyed by bombing in 1940. His residence provided 36 beds for patients and the house was eventually purchased by the Hospital due to the extensive damage caused by the bombing.

Our first Senior Warden, W Bro Wilfred James Sharp, together with his brother, W Bro Herbert Edward Sharp, became Managing Directors of Sharp & Sons Toffee factory in St Peters Street, later to become Trebor Sharp famous for its ‘Kreemy Toffee’. In 1933 Edward Sharp & Sons was the largest toffee manufacturer in the world.

First Secretary, W Bro James Hillier French was very much the driving force at the beginning and continued as Secretary for many years until 1943. He was the County Secretary for the National Farmers Union and twice served as Mayor of Maidstone

Meeting Places of the Lodge

As can be seen from the Warrant, the Lodge was to meet at the Freemasons Hall, Bower Terrace, Tonbridge Road, Maidstone, which at the time was jointly owned by the Belvidere and Robinson Lodges and for a number of years we were only tenants only of that building. Later however, Agricola and certain other Lodges were asked and subsequently agreed to become Joint owners, sharing the cost of maintenance on a proportionate basis, the management of the building being undertaken by a Joint Committee composed of representatives of all the owner Lodges.

The Lodge continued to meet at Freemasons Hall at Bower Terrace for 52 years until May 1975 when we moved to Greenways Hotel at Addington, with the first meeting there occurred on the 24th October 1975. The Lodge continued to meet here until April 1977 when it moved again to the Cornwallis Masonic Centre Linton with the last meeting being held there on 27th April 1979. The Lodge then moved back to Greenways where meetings were held between October 1979 and April 1983.

In 1983, when the Reeds Paper Mill at Tovil closed, plans to convert the old canteen site into a new Masonic Centre were made at a cost of £30,000. On 22nd April 1983, the Lodge voted to move to the new Masonic Centre at Tovil and the first meeting was held here on 28th October 1983, and we have met here ever since.


During its 100 years the Lodge has been successful in obtaining suitable Joining Members and Initiates and since its consecration the Lodge has elected 353 Members but for a variety of reasons the number of active subscribing Members has declined from a peak of 91 in 1953 to 25 in the centenary year.

Within this time there have been 93 members who have had an association with agriculture and farming. The next biggest group of members appear to have been 23 engineers, chartered or otherwise, and 18 Company Directors.

Other professions of note are and have been Police Officers (9), Prison Officers (8), Doctor/Surgeons (5), Accountants (5), Auctioneers (5), Butchers (5), Clerks in Holy Orders (4), Architects (4), Solicitors (4) and Veterinary Surgeons (2).

Sadly, there are no Farmers left in the membership, the last being W Bro Trevor William Kemsley, who passed away in May 2022, aged 96.

Noted Past Members of the Lodge

There is insufficient room on this site to describe in detail the lives and achievements of the past members of the Lodge many of whom led colourful and successful lives and it has proved very difficult to choose just a few to illustrate the range of members. There is no intention to elevate the members described below above those dedicated members not mentioned. History and future members will judge those of us here for the Centenary.

Rt Hon Fiennes Neil Wykeham, 3rd Baron Cornwallis, OBE, DL,(1921–2010)

MW Bro Fiennes Neil Wykeham Cornwallis was a joining member of the Lodge in 1964 and remained a subscribing member until he was made Assistant Grand Master in 1971, when he was elected an Honorary Member of the Lodge.

He later became Deputy Grand Master in 1976 and was Pro Grand Master from 1982 to 1991.

Sir Leslie Doubleday PPJGW (1890 – 1975) WM 1929

Knight, JP, County Councillor, farmer, and public figure who owned the land formerly Detling airfield and presented it as a gift to the Kent Agricultural Society to provide a home for the Kent County Show. He became a joining member of the Lodge in February 1923 (St Michael’s Lodge No 1723).

Alan David Burr, PPGReg (1919 – 1991)Initiated 1947 WM 1958

During WWII, David was a Second Lieutenant in Royal Regiment of Artillery and was captured by Japanese when they overran Singapore in February 1942. Initially he was imprisoned in the infamous Changi prison and then moved north to work on Burma Railway.

His last action before capture was to “spike” his gun and render it useless to the enemy. He explained this was particularly traumatic as to a Gunner their Guns are held in the same regard other regiments regard their Colours.

After the war he married and reverted to farming ultimately becoming the Chief hop grower for John Courage living at Burston Manor Farm, Hunton.

In retirement David was employed as a consultant to evaluate the European Hop Market and to arrange the future supply from that source for Courage. After his retirement he was awarded the Prestigious Award of the Order of the Hop which was presented to him in Czechoslovakia.

David was a man of steely resolve with a military bearing. A classic DC of that generation and served in that role at Agricola for many years. He was described by John Hinge as the best PGDC the Province never had, and to this day it remains a mystery why he was not appointed to active rank in Province. His presence in the Lodge was impressive, and he required everything to done to as near to perfection as could be achieved.

John Charles Squire PJGD PProvJGW (1923 – 2012) WM 1973

John was the first brother to hold the Collared office of Charity Steward in our Lodge. He was a fervent supporter of Masonic Charities and with good reason. He was brought up in Great Yarmouth, and at the age of 15 his father died leaving a widow and three children. Both he, his elder sister, and younger brother were supported by Masonic charities whilst finishing their respective educations.

During WWII, he served in First Battalion Royal Norfolk Reg No. 295872. Commissioned Second Lieutenant. Took part in D Day Landings and after several weeks was evacuated after being wounded by shrapnel. At that time all other Second Lieutenants in his Battalion had either been killed or evacuated so he was the last of those who had landed. He recorded some of his memories of those times and they can be seen online at – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DcSQ9wutU24

At his Memorial Service John’s youngest son Simon described his father as “the most decent man I have ever known”. This describes John admirably.

John was a joining member in 1962.

Richard Hinge PAGDC PProvJGW (1934 – 2018) WM 1978

Richard was the 5th Hinge to be Worshipful Master of the Lodge and the third generation of his family to have been a member. His Grandfather Alfred Hinge (1880 – 1951) was a founder and Master in 1926. His father John Archdall Hinge (1906 – 1979) was Master in 1941. There were also four relatives initiated into the Lodge, Harold Richard Hinge (WM in 1950), Norman Hinge (WM in 1956), John Hinge and Michael Filmer Hinge. A local fruit Farmer and Company Director of A. Hinge & Sons Ltd., Oad Street, Borden, Richard served the Lodge in many ways over the years; but is perhaps most remembered for his years as Lodge Secretary, and for his rendition of the “Address to the Brethren” which was a regular and much loved feature of our Installation Meetings for longer than most of us can remember.

Edward Leonard Whiting PPSGW (1922 – 2014) WM 1979

Ted was a Company Director of Linton Service Station Ltd and CM Coachworks at Hartnup Street Maidstone.

He was a brilliant ritualist and introduced the long version of the First Degree Working Tools to the Lodge, which is now only given at Installation meetings, and of course his delivery of such was very special.

He was the Organist for the Lodge from April 1982 until his death in 2014.

James Alan Sankey PPDGReg (1928 – 2017) WM 1986

Alan was a traditional schoolmaster and an excellent carpenter who taught woodwork at Cornwallis School. It is impossible to write any history of the lodge without mentioning the working tools, gavels and other wooden furniture used in the lodge all lovingly made by Alan.

He was initiated into the lodge on 23rd February 1979 and remained a subscribing member until his death.

The Lodge Bible

The Volume of Sacred Law has been used continuously since it was donated by a grieving father, for his son, both of whom were members of the lodge. The inscription on the inside of the fly cover reads – ‘To the Glory of the Great Architect of the Universe and in the loving and grateful memory of Brother Guy Thornton Skinner who as a result of an aeroplane accident at Lympne on Saturday the 13th day of October 1928, was suddenly called to the Grand Lodge above. This Volume of the Sacred Law was presented to the Agricola Lodge No 4501 by his Sorrowing Father, Brother Thornton Skinner. 22nd March 1929.’

The accident was reported in Flight magazine of 18 October 1928 as follows: ‘On Saturday, the 13th inst., Mr. G. T. Skinner, of Boughton Monchelsea, near Maidstone, who recently passed his flying tests for the Air Ministry “A” licence, took off in de Havilland DH.60 Moth, G-EBSS, for a solo flight, immediately after having 15 minutes’ dual instruction with Major Travers. He climbed to a considerable height above Romney Marsh and proceeded to do two excellent loops, after which he successfully did a half-roll. In attempting a full roll immediately afterwards he allowed the nose to drop, and the roll developed into a spin. He was still at a perfectly safe height, but it appears that he came out of the spin with a jerk and was thrown forward on to his belt, which broke near the starboard fastening. Mr. Skinner was thrown out of the machine, and of course, instantly killed. The machine continued in a vertical dive and landed on Selby Farm close to Mr. Skinner, being reduced to a complete wreck. The Club deeply regrets this most unfortunate accident to a very promising pupil, and the Board of Directors and Committee offer their sincere sympathy to Mr. Skinner’s relations and friends in their great loss.’

World War II

Research of the minutes has found that there are no recorded deaths of members fighting in WWII.  This is not surprising as most members tended to be beyond fighting age. But there are too many members to mention who lost sons, daughters and relatives during the conflict.

During the 2nd World War, although the dates of meetings were regularly arranged, it was often doubtful whether they would be interrupted by enemy action.

War-time food rationing regulations had the effect of reducing the festive board menu cards to a statement that ‘A lunch within the requirements of the Ministry of Food will be served’.

There are many members who joined the Lodge after 1945 who served their King and Country, and like so many of that age who kept the terror of war to themselves, and knowledge of their service was not known until after hearing the eulogy at their funeral.


This Lodge has always gone the extra mile in supporting the Masonic Festivals and many non-masonic as well as masonic charities. In 1950 the lodge was presented with a Silver Rose Bowl – (noted in the Lodge minutes for 27th October 1950.)

This was the gift of VW Bro William Frederick Blay, Deputy PGM, at the time “in recognition of the efforts of the Lodge on behalf of the Royal Masonic Benevolent Institution 1950 Festival.” The meeting was attended by RW Bro Lord Cornwallis, PGM, who presented the Rose Bowl to the Lodge. William Blay was supposed to accompany the PGM but was too ill to attend, sadly he died the following year in Warwickshire.

Gifts of silverware were not uncommon in those times, but something the size of our Rose Bowl was very unusual. In 1980 it was valued on more than one basis. The highest basis was to rebuild which cost well over £1200, and the lowest was value of metal which was somewhere in the region of £700 or £800.

The lodge supports on a regular basis, Demelza House, Hospice Care for Children, at Sittingbourne; as well as Teddies for Loving Care (East Kent); The Masonic Fishing Charity; Cornwallis East Kent Freemasons Charity and the Masonic Museum and Library Trust. During their year in office, the Masters of the Lodge have supported many charitable organisations, such as the British Heart Foundation, Marie Curie, Alzheimer’s Society, RMBI, Dementia UK as well as many local charities and worthy causes.