Over one hundred years ago, a Mr Hawkes left his home at Deal and moved to Ramsgate to become the licensee of the Hope and Anchor Inn in Brunswick Street. He left behind him, something that had become part of his life, his Druidic friends of Earl Godwin Lodge No.409. He resolved that with the help of these friends and four local gentlemen, he would bring Druidism to Ramsgate and on February 4th 1874, St Aethelbyrht Lodge No. 425 held its first Lodge meeting at the Hope and Anchor Inn.
It is recorded in the minutes of the Lodge that Mr G.E. Hawkes paid for all the furniture and expenses involved in opening the Lodge personally and this involved a considerable sum of money for those days.
The first Chairman was a Mr Robert Cramp, but nothing is known of this gentleman. It is obvious from the minutes of those early years that the Chairmen of those days trod a very thorny path and it is not until the Lodge removed to the Woodman Inn, Hardres Street, that any real progress was made. This happened in 1877.
The next ten years saw a large number of gentlemen joining the Order and although a number of them are recorded simply as “businessmen”; or “gentlemen”; they were obviously quite influential men.
A few of the obvious ones were Mr G. Home, Mr N.A. Dunn, Mr G. Danten, Mr J. Sackett, Mr J. Hodgeman, Mr R. Adams, Mr F. Nixon, Mr G. Beer, Mr W. Child and Mr Maxted. All of these names will be remembered by the older people of the town as highly respected townsmen, some of whose descendants are still in business in the town.
In 1877, a Mr Jo Barnett was introduced into the Order, a name much respected in the town through his namesake who in later years was a popular and energetic mayor of the town. Unfortunately, the records are not too clear as to whether there is any relationship between these two gentlemen, but we would like to think so.
The year 1889 saw the attendance of the Mayor at the fifteenth anniversary of the Lodge, which gives some indication of the social standing of the Druids of the day. It is significant that the week following the dinner brought no fewer than nineteen applications for initiation. Almost all of these were the “upper crust” of Victorian Ramsgate and would still be remembered by many townsfolk. The Mayor, Captain L.W. Voile also became a Druid and it is recorded that he made a donation of £1, but in spite of this, the dinner made a loss of 8/6d.
The Great Gale of 1881 caused the foundering of six fishing smacks from Ramsgate with the loss of thirty lives and once again the Druids were to the fore in helping the widows and orphans of this disaster, donations being received not only from the local Lodges, but from as far away as Maidstone and Rochester.
The year 1883 was the one in which tribute was paid to Sir Moses Montefiore and the address presented to him on behalf of the Lodge can still be seen in the public library.
In 1886, St. Aethelbyrht Lodge was again on the move, this time to the Lodge House, though exactly where these premises were is not known. It would appear to be to the benefit of the Lodge as at this time there had been some 186 gentlemen recorded as members. So keen were these Brothers that in 1888 when Boxing Day and the Lodge meeting clashed, the meeting came first and the Lodge opened as usual.
The Mayor of 1892, Mr Blackburn, was initiated into the Order, but alas it would appear that his followers were not as numerous as his predecessor and there was no large upsurge of members following his joining our ranks. Through all these years, money was being raised in various ways to help the poor of the town and regular contributions were made to the Soup Kitchens, Penny Dinner and Penny Breakfast funds and the Sailors' Dispensary, later the local Hospital.
A concert was arranged at Sanger's Theatre, now a supermarket, and much local talent recruited at great expense. The Harpist was paid 7/6d for her nights work and a soloist received the princely sum of 3/0d. However the sum of £10 was made and handed to the Benevolent Fund for local charities. In addition to all this work by the Brothers of the Lodge, they were involved in other activities and were instrumental in opening new Lodges the first being in Margate, followed by Westgate and Broadstairs.
When one thinks of the lack of public transport in those days and that most of these journeys were made in an open pony and trap, it says much for the enthusiasm and fortitude of these gentlemen. In fact it is reported that on one occasion the weather was so bad and the roads so ice-bound that one poor horse fell and broke its leg, costing the Lodge the sum of £2 by way of compensation to its owner.
From the turn of the century up to the beginning of the Great War of 1914-1918, the Lodge made steady if not spectacular progress. In spite of the many difficulties of this period, the Members continued to meet and help the many needy families whose husbands and fathers were with the armed forces. The losses of our Brothers were considerable but they are not forgotten for each week in every Lodge all over the country, they are remembered by their Brothers. Those that survived four years of war came home with a determination to make a better life than the one they had left behind them, and from the large number that joined our Order in these years, it proved that Druidism had the things to offer them to help achieve their aims. The principles of Friendship, Philanthropy and Brotherly Love are the finest principles to build any world on.
So much for the past, what of the future? With its own headquarters at Unity House, Percy Road, Cliftonville and a Social Club at the same address, Thanet is fast becoming the centre of Druidism in all England.
So if you have had the patience to read this article, then tear yourself away from the “goggle box” for one evening a week, join us at Unity House, and become a Druid so that we can keep our proud record for another hundred years. You will make new friends from all over the country and know more pleasure than any 54” curved screen TV will ever give you.