Against the backdrop of WW II, the indomitable British spirit dictated that life must go on as normally as possible and to this end, in the County Town of Guildford, Surrey, a group of Freemasons met to plan a new lodge. The first planning meeting was held at the War Damage Office in Guildford High Street on 2 March 1942. Three names for the Lodge were being considered:“Astolat”, “Conqueror” and “King Arthur”.
Ultimately, the name Astolat was chosen because of its close association with the town – according to Arthurian legend - and because a lodge of that name had formerly been in existence in Guildford.
It was decided, at this meeting,that as far as possible the initial membership of the lodge be drawn from past and present members of the Round Table. This link with Round Table continues to this day and is reflected in the 'badge' of the lodge (see opposite) which depicts St Martha's Church in Chilworth, which is recorded in the Domesday book, enclosed within the chequered circle of the Round Table.
Two weeks later, the meeting dates of the lodge were set as the fourth Thursday in September, November, January March and April (which is still the case today).
The petition was submitted to Grand Lodge with the endorsement of Royal Alfred Lodge No. 777 and the lodge was warranted as Astolat Lodge No. 5848 on 29 April 1942.
The Consecration Meeting was held on Wednesday, 13 May 1942 at Freemasons’ Hall, London. The Provincial Grand Master and other consecrating officers, the 15 Founders and 138 visitors 14 of whom were Grand Officers, 17 Provincial Grand Officers and 5 Holders of London Grand Rank.
Following consecration, the Lodge soon got into its stride and the first meeting was held three weeks later in the Masonic Room of the Lion Hotel in Guildford High Street (roughly where White Lion Walk now is) and was attended by the Provincial Grand Master, all 15 members, and 43 visitors.
At the end of the first two years the Lodge had settled into the pattern which is familiar to us today: A Lodge of Instruction meeting regularly, a Benevolent Association and support for the Masonic Charities and other worthy causes (see Charities page here). The meeting place had changed from the Lion Hotel to the Abbot’s Kitchen Restaurant (located at the top of North Street).
Astolat Logo as depicted on the Lodge Banner
Beside formal meetings, and since its formation in 1944, Astolat Lodge members have got together informally most Monday evenings for Lodge of Instruction, in order to learn about Freemasonry, its history and purpose. It is here that new Masons can get involved and benefit from the knowledge and experience of those members who have held office in the lodge, to enable progression. These offices include Secretary, Treasurer, Almoner, Charity Steward, Mentor, and those managing the work in the Lodge. In this way, Past Masters of the Lodge can assist and help new members to fully enjoy their Freemasonry.
Although meeting to learn, meetings are relaxed and include planning, progressing charitable and social initiatives, and making use of the bar and lounge facilities.
In April 1982 the Lodge of Instruction celebrated its 1,000th meeting with a special evening, when younger Masons took responsibility for the main offices. In 2018, we will celebrate the 2,000th meeting and, again, a special evening is being planned.
The launch of a Masonic Temple Fund was the first step towards a home for Freemasonry in Guildford. It began at a dinner hosted by Royal Edward Lodge in April 1942, held in the Lion Hotel, to which local Lodges and Chapters later contributed on a regular basis for the specific aim of establishing a dedicated Masonic Centre in Guildford.
At the time that Weybourne House in the Portsmouth Road came on the market the Temple Fund was £888:9s:8d (£888.48½p). An appeal for funds was rapidly made and a combination of gifts and interest-free loans brought the Fund to £7,200. The total cost of Weybourne House, including additions, alterations, furniture and fittings and the car park was £11,700 and a bank overdraft of £5,200 at 4% was arranged to cover the difference as well as legal and other costs.
Towards the end of 1947 the purchase of the freehold of Weybourne House was completed and it was made ready for use as a Masonic Centre in September 1948. A Board of Directors for the Centre was formed from representatives of Royal Alfred, Onslow, Royal Edward, Guildford, Castle Keep, Archbishop Abbot and Astolat Lodges, Royal Alfred and Royal Edward Chapters and Percy Lodge of Mark Master Masons, being the subscribing lodges.
Astolat’s first meeting in its new home took place in September 1948 and 41 (of 53) members attended along with 60 guests.
After over 55 years and with many more lodges meeting in these premises, a decision was made to explore ways of improving and extending the facilities to suit today’s requirements. After much work by the Board of Directors it was proposed that Weybourne House and part of the land be sold for redevelopment to flats, and a new Centre be built on remaining land overlooking the river Wey.
The result is a modern building designed to be flexible in its use, with several meeting rooms, storage, kitchen, dining room, bar; and with veranda and direct access to the river tow path. The facilities also allow use for private functions and weddings. The building was complete and opened for the start of the 2005 season.