A Biography of his life and work

Taken from the Short Story by Brother John Agnew Past Secretary Lodge Leven St John, ©1966 Lodge Leven St John

 

Many say Brother A. S. MacBride was the greatest figure in Scottish Masonry, But who was the man and what made him this great figure?

Brother MacBride was a Justice of the Peace, he was initiated into Lodge Leven St John No 170, Renton. Became the Provincial Depute Grand Master of Dunbartonshire and was a Past Master of Lodge Leven St John, Renton and Lodge Progress, Glasgow. He was a higher thinker who compiled "the MacBride Ritual" and author of "Speculative Masonry" a literary masterpiece.

A. S. MacBride was born Andrew Somerville MacBride in December 1843 at Stirling Street, Renton, the son of John MacBride a cooper at Dalquhurn Works, Renton and Catherine Douglas a native of Bonawe, Argyllshire. Unfortunately John died in a cholera epidemic when Andrew was just 3 and it was undoubtedly his mother who influenced the boy's developing mind. Catherine was born a Gaelic speaker, and like many highlanders of that time she was a veritable mine of knowledge and mellifluous native tongue, better suited to the poet's art than is English. No doubt James, Andrew's older brother was the main income of the household, helping to support Catherine, Andrew and several sisters.

On summer evenings Andrew (the small boy) would seat himself near the old worthies of the then small village of Renton who used to range themselves on the seat round the oak tree which stood in front of the Old Tree tavern. He would listen to their anecdotes and reminiscences of tales of smugglers and illicit stills in the Poachy Glen. Another of his haunts was Murdoch's smiddy, James Murdock (the blacksmith) was said to be the younger brother of the celebrated William Murdock who introduced gas lighting to the world, James also had another brother in the Royal Navy who served at the siege of Sevastopol, so the young Andrew would hear stories of inventors, inventions, sailors and life on the high seas.

As far as can be ascertained the only schooling Andrew received was at the old school in Dalmonach Hall, which stands on the left hand side of the entrance to those works, and this is where after its foundation in 1834 the Mechanics' Institute met. Andrew was not content with being merely able to read and write words, nor did he believe in unlettered instinct. Over his lifetime we find Andrew amassing a considerable library in which could be found influential literary works from Butler, Milton, Shakespeare, Burns', as well as Young's "Night Thoughts" all of which he did not merely read but studied greatly, all of which influenced the future MacBride ritual. It was not only literacy Andrew was aiming at; it was literary culture. Alongside science he was also attracted to religious controversies of the end of last century which raged around the works of Darwin, Huxley and others.

 Andrew (now aged 8), would have been classed as a half-timer working part of the day at school and the other as clerk with the North British Railway Company which ran between Balloch and Bowling in the early 1850's. He then became a bricklayer, however not content with learning that trade alone, he also studied building construction and drawing, which would come in very useful in later years for Lodge Leven St John in the construction of a purpose built Lodge room. At eighteen Andrew came to the attention of Mr John Matheson of Cordale, Renton the sole partner of William Stirling and Sons, and for a time Mr Matheson was the chairman of the Glasgow Chamber of Commerce. Eventually Andrew was made salesman for cloth at the Dalquhurn Works.  During the 1860's the dyeing and bleaching industry in Renton and the surrounding areas were in their hey-day. At this time there were no business colleges, trained selling staff or modern advertising techniques, so for Mr Matheson to select MacBride as his successor as salesman showed an absolute faith in Andrew's potential abilities.

Like many a Scot (especially those with Celtic blood coursing in their veins) he loved his country and this is reflected in his literary works. During his life Andrew was the President of the Vale of Leven Liberal Association and to understand the man and his political beliefs a study of his works is required for which a large volume would be necessary and for which this short story can not do justice. Many outside circumstances influenced the mind of A. S. MacBride, but he could vividly express in words the feelings and thoughts these circumstances evoked and so eloquently arranged as to leave us in no doubt about his meaning - A gift granted to few.

MacBride's activities were not entirely confined to writing for in 1875 - 1876 only two years after its inception we find him the 2nd president of the Scottish Football Association. It's then secretary described him as "one of the ablest and most respected gentlemen who ever adorned the position" and in 1901 we also find Andrew elected president of the An Comunn Gaidhealach - the society for the preservation of Gaelic culture and literature

On the 13th July 1866, A. S. MacBride was proposed by Brother John Donald and seconded by Brother Thomas Sutherland as a "fit and proper person to become a Mason and member of Lodge Leven St John, Renton, he was initiated that same evening in the old Black Bull Inn which was situated within the area now occupied by the playground of Renton School. When Catherine, Andrews mother heard he was joining the Masons she wept bitterly, and thought her son was on the straight road to ruin, this being a typical and natural thought of a highlander who were more concerned with the straight and narrow path than their lowland Scot cousins

At the time of his introduction to Masonry there was scarcely a lodge in Scotland, outside of cities, which did not hold it meetings in licensed premises with Masonic work being rushed through so as to get to the refreshment tables as soon as possible and no doubt as MacBride himself said "The beauty and truths of Masonry were drowned in a Bacchanalian flood" adding that "As a man is an intellectual and moral as well as a social being, the social aspect must be kept in place. It was not so kept at that table, and that is why my mother was upset"

On Friday 9th Nov 1866, MacBride was elected secretary of Lodge Leven St John, and on 27th Dec he attended his first Masonic ball with the lady who two and a half years later would become his wife. The conferring of the office of secretary at such an early stage in his Masonic career demonstrates his abilities were quickly recognised. On the 8th Nov 1867 Brother MacBride along with several other brother left the meeting protesting that the chair degree being conferred on a Brother was contrary to Grand Lodge Law. These protesting Brothers were, of course, conforming to Grand Lodge Law as the Lodge was not authorised to hold meetings other than the first 3 degrees of Masonry. It was later evident that the Brethren realise MacBride was correct as they elected him Master of the lodge no more than two weeks after leaving the lodge under protest.

Following his installation as master he remained in office for some 7 year (until 1874), he was re-elected Master again in 1879 holding office until 1884 and finally elected as master once more in 1887 occupying the chair until 1896, so that in all Brother MacBride was Master of Lodge Leven St John for 21 years. In addition to his service to Lodge Leven St John, Brother MacBride affiliated to Lodge Progress, Glasgow on the 13th April 1900 and he was elected Master of that lodge on the 9th Nov 1900 and he was eventually installed into that office by the provincial Grand Master of Dunbartonshire on the 14th Dec, he held this officer until the following year. Brother MacBride also played his part in the Provincial Lodge of Dunbartonshire holding successively the offices of PG Secretary, PG Junior Warden, PG Senior Warden and Depute PG Master, he was asked to have his name put forward for office in the Provincial Grand Lodge of Glasgow. This he refused as he thought his energies would be of better service in his lodge, but he served on their committee for a number of years. He was also a member of the Lodge of Research or the Quartuor Coronati Lodge

In Nov 1892 Lodge Leven St John met in a well equipped lodge room in the house of Brother William Murray, but greater and more suitable accommodation was found to be necessary, with the members expressing their desire to have a hall of their own. Brother MacBride inaugurated a shares scheme to be paid up in twelve instalments. To assist in keeping costs down Brother MacBride used his skills acquired during his earlier studies of building construction to draw out plans and specifications for the lodge building, thereby saving the cost of an architect and master of works. Brother MacBride superintended the construction of this lodge room and he was also responsible for its interior decorations. In efforts to raise the spirits of the workers Brother MacBride could be found marching around the worksite playing his 'baggies' ably assisted by Brothers Robert Watt and Brother William Sinclair. The foundation stone of this lodge building was laid in Nov 1892 with the completed hall being consecrated in Dec 1893.  Some 21 years later it was found necessary once more to extend the original hall and in 1914 further construction work was started, the first meeting in the larger premises took place on 22nd Nov 1915 and whilst the reconstruction was underway from Oct 1914 till July 1915 lodge meetings were conducted in the Masonic hall, Dumbarton.

Until approximately 1870 the ritual enacted in Lodge Leven St John was based on "Preston's Illustrations of Freemasonry" originally published around the middle of the 18th Century. This ritual had been copied down in a large note book approximately three quarters of an inch thick and which had been handed down over the generations. It probably came to the hands of Brother MacBride when he first became master in 1867. In this ritual our illustrious brother found much to criticise with course and vulgar methods creeping in due to the previous owners failing to study the symbolism deeply enough, and them having but small conception of its real beauty and meaning. This criticism of the ritual brought Brother MacBride into conflict with his fellow Brothers, but by his tact and patience he was able to modify and influence those views adverse to his conception and so gain the respect and admiration of those who initially opposed him. In revising the ritual Brother MacBride could be found wandering Carmen hill for many an hour pondering the best way of presenting the ideas it contained, rejecting tautologies and interpolations which had become embedded in it over the ensuing years. Brother MacBride's revised a ritual that would teach what it was meant to teach, without ever departing from the spirit and truth of Masonry.

In revising the ritual his "first care and attention" was directed to the officer-bearers under him, for he quickly realised they had to be leaders, as was "fit and proper" and together they studied the ritual, the symbols and the ceremonies of the craft. In later years this teaching was extended to other members of the lodge and over thirty or so years Lodge Leven St John, Renton and Lodge Progress, Glasgow were renowned for their high standard of work and knowledge of Masonry. In 1899 it was suggested the honour of Most Excellent Instructor be conferred on those members who had shown satisfactory knowledge of the craft, however this was abandoned as such was deemed "to be a violation of the charter". Brother MacBride then published his "Masonic Instructor", which Grand Secretary Brother D. Murray Lyon highly commended; additionally the secretary of Quatuor Coronati Lodge compared it with those used in England, stating "In all respects yours is superior". Next MacBride's "specification" books for the various masonic degrees were published, these enabled not only his own, but other lodges to "beautify and adorn" their work. These books of Specification have ever since been known as the "MacBride Ritual" and are used by McBride lodges worldwide to teach it members and new entrants the beauty and symbolism of masonry. Finally the series of lectures A.S. MacBride gave at the Lodges of Instruction were revised, compiled and published in the form of a small innocuous book titled "Speculative Masonry", this was "his last and greatest" literary work and which has found ready sale worldwide (mainly in North America, India, Australia and New Zealand).

On 21st Oct 1916 PM MacBride celebrated fifty years of Masonry, Lodge Progress presented him and his wife with a silver cake and fruit stand and diamond ring and on the 9th Dec 1916 Leven St John celebrated this momentous occasion presenting Brother MacBride with solid silver loving cups and to his wife a diamond brooch.

A. S. MacBride a true son of Renton sadly passed to the Great Lodge above in Dec 1923 aged 78 and his loss was a distinct bereavement to his family, The village of his birth and the craft.

I hope this in-sight into the life and times of A. S. MacBride goes some way to demonstrate why he deserves the title of

 

"the greatest figure in Scottish Masonry"