History of the Order, by Companion AB Stephenson, Past Nomarch, President of Garuda Temple No. 3

The history of the Order begins with the deep and abiding interests of one man, Dr Maurice Vidal Portman. In 1924 an In Memoriam book of 200 copies was privately printed by the Order following the death of Dr. Edwards (of whom more will follow). Its historical remarks about the Order puzzle me, and I hope that someone will investigate the life of this originator. The article states he was: "... a learned student of Eastern lore, and Occultist and Politician, who went to India in the train of the late Lord Lytton, when Viceroy of India, in 1876." As he subsequently became Governor of the Anderman Islands in the Indian Ocean, I wonder how he found the time to "make himself familiar with the literature and ritual observances of the Eastern Indian Races, Brahmans, Buddhists, Jains etc. and gained much curious lore from the Fakirs and religious devotees of all creeds..." On the other hand it could be that he that he found among the mix of races and creeds in the Anderman Islands that concentration of religious practices which so fascinated him and which otherwise would have occupied a lifetime's study. Among the papers of another Order is a 'Memo. to Capt.P.G.(Philip) Irwin from John Yarker' dated 13 April 1882 which includes the following paragraph: & quote;The gentleman introduced by me was Maurice Vidal Portman ....... who is a grandson of Viscount Portman. He is Political Superintendent under the Viceroy of India, & a Judge of the Civil Courts; though a very young man. He has gone over to the native faith & is a Priest of Mahadeva & Buddha, an Initiate in almost all of the Occult Societies of India. He has undertaken to get the Sat Bhai ritual revised by native Initiates & Adepts. I agreed with him that (for?) this revision, he could get the Consent of the Dali Llama & we would recognize him as Unseen Sponsor. His address is now M.V.Portman, Esq. The Andamans, Port Blair, Bay of Bengal." It is possible that Bro. Portman did revise The Order of the Sat B'Hai, as its rituals were printed in English. These show a totally strange (to English thinking) structure consisting of interlocking circles each consisting of three, nine or twenty-seven members. Not surprising, this did not 'catch on' in England. However, during the last quarter of the last century, Bro. Portman, taking the Sat B'Hai as his example, founded the Oriental Order of Light for which he wrote some of the rituals. I gather that Bro.John Yarker wrote the others, they having met in Manchester (a letter from Yarker to Dr. Wynn Westcott). Bro. Portman, correspondence suggests, was persuaded by Dr. Westcott to lecture to a Theosophical circle at Bradford and there attempted to introduce his Order - but without success. After his retirement Bro. Portman approached his friends Bro. T. H. Pattinson and Bro. Dr. Bogdan E. J. Edwards, MBE to take over the Order and make whatever alterations they thought necessary to attract Yorkshire Freemasons. This would have been in 1900. Now I have no evidence whatever, but I detect the hand of Dr. Wynn Westcott in the rituals we now work. The three men were friends from the days when Dr. Westcott founded a Temple of his 'Golden Dawn' in Bradford, a Temple which flourished until about 1907. Years previously Dr. Westcott had been ordered by the Home Office to cease all association with the Golden Dawn as they thought it improper from the Coroner for Middlesex and North London 'to be seen dabbling in the Occult'! However he must have kept up his interests in Bradford because, in 1908, he Consecrated the Woodman College of the S.R.I.A. in that city. Anyway full credit for the very extensive revisions to the Order of Light rituals and system of working must be given to Messrs. Pattinson and Edwards.
This revised Order made a start in 1902 with those two as Arch -Presidents and the first and second Guardians of Light. Where the Order first met is not known, but within a short time they had set up home in the disused basement of a pub in King Street, Bradford. The daughter of one member, who must have been brought up in India, was a highly gifted artist who painted some superb murals for the Order, obtaining authentic shades of colour which most Western artists find impossible to produce. On the pillars she also painted excellent Egyptian figures and, less successfully, Grecian ones. The Order flourished and is particularly proud of its sixth Guardian of Light, Sir J. Arthur Godwin, who was the first Mayor of Bradford City. If the list of the original subscribers to the Memorial Book were all members of the Order in 1924, then there were at least 43 members, four of whom were living as far away as Constantinople, Cleveland, Sydney and Durban (Dr. Westcott retired there in 1920). It is of interest to us to note that one of the subscribers was Bro. Rudyard Kipling. It is also of interest to see that whilst the title page mentions The August Order of Light (its present title) the Epilogue refers to "This August and Oriental Order of Light". In 1939 the headquarters of the Order leased the two top floors of a warehouse in the re-named Godwin Street. The development of electric lighting had enabled the Order to live up to its title - but it meant that it required its own premises, or at least a room in which it could run electric cables without howls from the owners. In this warehouse they had a free hand, which they used to great effect. Member Henry Williamson was a mill-owner at Shipley and, on the outbreak of the War, was busy securing orders for military uniform cloth - leaving some of his employees rather idle. Several of them were detailed to set up the new Temple, which they did as though it were required to last a thousand years! It was not until the 60s when I made its acquaintance, but perhaps you might appreciate the impressions of this candidate. T'was a miserable November early Saturday evening. My proposer, John Walker, took my arm and walked me from the hotel and along the left-hand side of Godwin Street. Quite a wide street, on the right-hand side were shops brightly lit and with many shoppers. The side we walked along, however, was one of wholesalers, shut and unlit. There was light rain. Suddenly John said "turn left" and we turned into what I thought would be a brick wall. Instead I felt cobbles and we were in a (tunnel?). Then "turn right - and avoid the mat" - so of course I trod on it, and it felt horrid and slimy underfoot. Whilst we waited I realised that we were again in the open. Sounds of key in lock, and then a very dim and fly-blown light came from a doorway. We entered and John pointed left, "a toilet, to be used only if you must". Other lights came on and I saw, directly ahead, a staircase. Bare boards and once-painted walls, it looked pretty grim. However we ascended. At the half-landing there was a door and a window, both with thick steel bars across. The stairs continued but, this time, I noticed that the light was stronger and the paint on the walls less grubby. On the first floor there was another barred door - but the stairs continued. This time the light bulb was bright, the paint clean - and lino on the treads! When we finally stopped climbing I saw a large area, lockers and coat hooks, tables - and a kettle beside a sink. There was also a room off. This was the library and, surprise, well furnished with a large and fine Wilton carpet on the floor, a long table, plenty of chairs as well as wall-seats and many book shelves. There I waited whilst members came in to sign the attendance sheet and left to robe. Finally a robed officer came and led me up the final staircase, brilliantly lit and with best quality pre-war Wilton carpet on the stairs - the carpet now adorning our stairs. And so I entered, a Temple rather dimly-lit due to its size, but having a distinctly Eastern atmosphere - and I was 'sold' on the Order of Light. Later in the Library I picked up a jar containing 'earth used in the Consecration' and asked, "why Bradford?", only to be told bluntly, "the stars said so, although the exact spot is on a hill outside the city and accessible only to an expert climber." I could not think of anything further to say on THAT subject. Many organizations find themselves dominated by those of a particular age-group. This group has so much in common that it tends to discourage the recruitment of younger members. In time the 'old guard' die and the group forms a 'cosy club', forgetting that its members, too, will die and the organization collapse. When I joined it, the Order of Light was approaching the stage of the 'cosy club'; nearly all the 'old guard' had died or no longer attended. A few younger men had been recruited, but most of them had quickly become discouraged. There were, however, four men of vision and determination. One was John Edgar Leach who joined in 1924 and who had become the senior Arch-President. A second was John Edward Nowell Walker, of the 'cosy club' age group but who could see the inherent dangers and who was determined to keep the Order alive. The other two were 'new blood' who refused to be discouraged - and they lived in Bradford. Louis Clark and Fred Scott were able to make themselves very useful in organising the meetings and, with John Leach's encouragement, became members of the Council of Elders - the governing body. Indeed, the appointment of Fred Scott, then in his early 30s, as Secretary to the Council was an inspired choice, as soon became apparent. It was John Walker who saw in me a potential enthusiast. Such was the position when the first rumblings concerning the City Council's plans were discussed in our Library.
Bradford Council proposed to demolish nearly the whole of the city centre to re-build, and started to issue compulsory purchase orders. Our landlords had given us advance warning of notice to quit. It was very sad listening to members of the 'cosy club' resisting all suggestions concerning the finding of new premises. It was decided, finally, to offer the Order to the Allied Masonic Degrees. Fortunately the Allied Grand Master at the time was Arthur Murphy - a member of the Order of Light. He knew that such a move would be its death-knell as the Order could not be worked as an Allied Degree. He told them to think again. John Walker was forthright: "if you close down the Order, I will open it in London." The declaration met with the expected dismay from Yorkshiremen proud of their independence, and those present left determined to think up a practical solution. ...as did John and I on the train journey back to London. Assuming that we could proceed, John and I discussed the practical problems we must face. The hire of a masonic room or public room would be impracticable, whilst obtaining a long lease would be too expensive. Suddenly I thought of my attic which I had just begun to clean up before using it as a private Chapel. It would mean people travelling to a place outside central London, but with a railway station near at hand (although a climb up a steep hill would then face them). Anyway I persuaded John to break his journey home and come with me to see the attic. There were possibilities, if one wall could be moved three feet. No great problem there, and John saw the potential. Curiously, that extra three feet made the width of the room identical to that of the Bradford Temple, although Bradford had much greater length. It was now up to John to persuade the Arch-Presidents. John was a great 'persuader' and his trump card was the prospect of the Order going into limbo. His one weakness was being a 'Southerner'. Memories of the way the Order of St.Lawrence, originally a Lancashire/ Yorkshire Society of journeymen masons, had been taken over by London freemasons were strong and John Leech feared that the Order of Light would go the same way. Perhaps it helped when he overheard me have a 'barney' with Stanley Wilkinson, a particularly abrasive man from Hull. It was nothing to do with our Order, but Stanley kept hurling "you Southerners" at me, whereupon I remarked that where I was born and brought up, we regarded the 'War of the Roses' and its aftermath with contempt. I ended my reply with the local phrase. Stanley had heard that saying and, whilst amazed as I do not, I think, have any trace of the accent, realised that I must have been brought up in Cheshire. Anyway I was quizzed by John Leech and showed that I was more than happy to work under the control of Bradford. He decided to let us proceed and I returned home to start knocking down the wall concerned. Apart from the dust this was no great problem as it had been weakened during the war. Fred Scott came to inspect and I recall him walking through what was left of the studding. He seemed to be satisfied for on our next trip to Bradford, John Leech was most encouraging and gave me much excellent advice, details, etc. He also produced the 'Book of Tau', the Constitutions of the Order, for us to study. A strange document, in parts it suggested a sizeable organization whilst elsewhere it referred to a single Temple. John Walker and I spent most of the Saturday night making an extensive revision. We were thanked for our effort, but I have not seen the Book or its revision since. It soon became clear to us that creating a Temple with its furnishings would take years; this gave us the opportunity to bring into the Order some more men from London. The first of these was Kenneth Bale, an office colleague and lifelong friend of John's. Kenneth had never spent one night away from his wife since they married and, on his first visit to Bradford, rang home twice in the evening and again on Sunday morning. The second was John Jary and the third was that recent arrival in London from Durham, George Duke. In addition we persuaded Hornby Steer to become a Founder, also one of the longest-serving members, 'Pen' Penrose (who proved a very active and invaluable member, and our first Guardian of Light). The room itself owes much to two of my local friends, one of whom is NOT a freemason. Whilst I busied myself laying a network of electric cables, they re-built the wall using hardboard and fibreglass lining. To cover the wall inside the room I managed to buy a full roll of bookcloth, going cheap as it was a discontinued quality. Its shade of green was perfect. The ceiling was painted using six pots of neutral emulsion with different quantities of blue stain added. I recall the scene - my friend standing on a moveable platform painting away whilst a stream of emulsion came off his cap, his nose and his elbow! All our combined old newspapers were used to catch the blue mess on the floor. My friends re-positioned the door, made the pilasters, the pedestal, the two pillars and many other items. Take the pillars for example. One friend was passing a small factory producing fitted kitchen furniture; they were cutting out circles and throwing them away, thick multi-ply discs. He collected quite a number. To these we nailed laths taken from the old wall and secured to ply boxes at each end - again multi-ply offcuts obtained free. To ensure the pillars remain upright cast-iron drain covers (a discontinued line!) were placed in the bottom boxes. The masonic friend insisted that the pillars MUST be surmounted with spherical balls - ball-cock floats. To round the main length of the pillars they were covered with thick softboard then saturated with emulsion. When this was dry bookcloth was glued in position and this received many coats of flat oil paint - as did the pedestal and pilasters.
The main painter proved to be an artist, too. Working from transparencies made just before we started to dismantle the Temple in Godwin Street, he produced the several paintings which adorn the walls -all except the 'Sun setting in the West'. That was done by a local sign-writer in emulsion on a sheet of hardboard. He begged me to let him include a few ships, but I held out with the result you see. I wanted at least a glimpse of the sun, but was grateful to get it away from him without 'Sails in the sunset'. Later Bro. Maurice Barnes-Oake intended to paint in the sun, but he was taken ill before he could start. Incidentally Maurice's wife once came to prepare our High Tea - and regarded it as 'fun'. A truly remarkable lady who seemed to think nothing of rustling up delicious 'bangers' after some rehearsal or other at the 'Camden Head'. Did I mention that my two friends were in the ironmongery trade? Well, one was in wholesale and the other in retail. Between them I saved considerable sums through never paying more than tradesmen's prices, and frequently far less for 'discontinued lines'. The electrical equipment, on the other hand, cost full retail price. I found the outgoings a severe strain on my income and wondered if we should have to delay completion. Sooner or later the lady making the drapes at the East would complete her task and need paying ..... John, too, was finding the finance a problem. He had been very fortunate in finding a lady in Dorking willing to make the robes, and a young barber rising to the challenge of making the floor-cloth with the zodiacal figures. An amateur wood-carver produced the lotus heads for the wands. But the figurines of Osiris must be expertly cast and sprayed - and the expert insisted on turning out more than we needed. (One of the extra was handed to Temple No.1 when they mis-laid theirs). The ring of brass around the sun was easy, but the sun itself ... One day John spotted a display of large ball-bearings in a shop window. He went inside and insisted on buying the largest - then asked the surprised shopkeeper to have it plated in gold! One evening we met here and figuratively pulled out our empty trouser pockets. With bills looming for my drapes and the two snake-of-time jewels ordered by him, we discussed how we could contain the costs. We were so near, and yet.... Besides, I had a storage problem. At the very last meeting at Godwin Street, Fred Scott called for volunteers to help him and Louis, who could store things temporarily at his Mill, dismantle the Temple. Mine was the only hand to be raised. Soon after I arrived at Fred's home on a Friday night in a hired Transit van. On Saturday and Sunday we three worked hard, discovering the years of dirt disguised by the artificial lighting. It had been agreed that I could take much of the equipment and we spent the Sunday afternoon carrying it down the stairs and loading the van. Chairs in particular take up much space; nevertheless the van was sufficiently loaded to struggle climbing uphill. It took me two hours to unload here, placing everything in what is now the dining room. As the months went by there were other calls to use that room. The Temple MUST be finished and ready to take the furniture. John and I reduced our masonic activities to the absolute minimum - a temporary measure, we hoped. And I received an unexpected refund from the Inland Revenue!
I learnt of a chair-restorer working in a small place behind Liverpool Street station and, a mason himself, agreed to restore the five arm-chairs at modest charge - provided I delivered them both ways. My car took them on Saturdays, one chair at a time. But they were beautifully restored and are very comfortable. If our Temple has to close down they are to be returned to No.1, please note! The other chairs had to be restored and/or repaired by me wielding a powerful screwdriver. I obtained more chairs from a local church which had decided to buy stack chairs, and those cost me £1 apiece. In addition there was a supply of crockery and cutlery from Godwin street - most useful. Finally the day came when we were able to furnish the Temple. John and I threw a champagne party there for the long-suffering wives of my two friends. John's charm worked wonders - and they later helped prepare our High Teas! Two jobs remained to be done: prepare a ritual for a Dedication and Consecration, which John did to the satisfaction of John Leech, and the collar jewels for the three main officers, my task. Whilst painting the wands I decided to produce trials of the jewels on bakelite cups for chairs (I happened to have three of a set of four). To my surprise and delight they were good enough to use so I carefully drilled holes in the sides. I recall that, on the day of the Consecration, Kenneth Bale threaded ribbons on them, so it was very much a last-minute job. The Consecrating team was headed by Will Vernon, the second Arch President. The Dedication and Consecration ceremonies were performed during the Saturday morning, after which we drank some champagne and adjourned to a local hotel for a luncheon. In the afternoon the first item was the Investing of 'Pen' as Guardian of Light. Then I was appointed President of Garuda - with a homily from Will Vernon to the effect that I was to keep a sharp eye on John Walker and ensure that he made no 'innovations' in the ceremonies! The Arch Presidents did not trust our John! Then our first Candidate, Bill Gallifent, was admitted, after which he gave the first Paper Wine-making through the Ages - with samples of modern wines for members to taste. It was enthusiastically received!
It must be appreciated that we were very small in number, and unable to work without assistance from the North. For the first year we only worked the First Degree, but admitted enough members to make up our own team. At the start of the second year Louis and Fred came to set us up for the Passing Degree. They generously gave us the Cone used in that ceremony. I recall the problem over producing the four Lectures. For some reason unknown to me, these must never be seen other than during the ceremony. I was loaned the originals which I typed (many re-typings ensued) to make the versions we use. I have never felt the urge to examine them between times, so they come fresh to me as they do to everyone else. The following year a number came from the North to work the Second Degree with us, and we were fully 'in business'. Meanwhile Temple No.1 had found a new home, at Castlegate House in York. I went there frequently with George Duke and we stayed with the Tyler in the top-floor Flat. It was bitterly cold there in winter. On our first visit we were sitting in the lounge sipping cocoa late at night when in burst the Tyler's wife wearing a beautiful gown. "Matt", she exclaimed, "I have been made a Steward". Such was my first introduction to the Lady Masons. The following morning, after breakfast, I was ordered to read two copies of The Gavel, the ladies' magazine. "Note just what WE raise for charities!" I had to admit that the Lady Masons put us men to shame over charity. In fairness, however, ladies are very skilled at organising coffee mornings, bring-and-buy mornings, etc. After each Meeting in York, John Leech would quiz me thoroughly over the work here. Eventually he realised that we could be trusted, although he had always been free with help and advice, often sought. John and I foresaw a problem over recruitment to our London Temple. When there was only the Temple at Bradford, London members were hand-picked by a senior member and very few Freemasons were aware of the existence of the Order. Once we were 'in business' however, the news would bring all the 'gong-hunters' demanding to join. There is, of course, the added problem over the size of our Temple and the load-bearing of the floor. Although the maximum number of persons in that room is 30, we have found that 25 is as many as can be present in comfort (fewer still in the warmer months). Attracted to the practice in Bradford of making a new recruit deliver a Paper after his entrance, we decided to demand a Paper from a prospective recruit, i.e. that he would present himself immediately after our meeting and produce his Paper so that we could decided whether or not he would 'fit in' with us. The Paper could be on any subject except Freemasonry. It is surprising how many have found that an obstacle too great and so dropped the idea of joining! There is, moreover, another hurdle in that the two Arch-Presidents have the right of veto over any candidate. In practice a name is first submitted to them for approval, then, if approved, he is invited to give his Paper. Only if he is then approved by the members will he be invited to 'join the Perfect Circle.' Has anyone been vetoed by the Arch-Presidents? The answer is 'Yes' on two occasions to my knowledge. None have been rejected by the members although two were accepted with strong reservations by one or two members. Happily those reservations proved to be groundless. It was John Leech, Arch-President, who wished to 'see our recruits for himself'. As he was unable to come here, it was decided that every prospective Guardian of Light must have attended previously the two Equinox ceremonies, those ceremonies not being worked here. Strangely, on the two occasions when I obtained a dispensation for those unable to travel to York, the members died before they could be installed and past Guardians had to replace them. For those of you who have not known Northern practices, High Tea is a revered institution. It consists of a substantial meal of sandwiches followed by a salad with a generous slice of pork pie, then a pudding with lashings of custard, and all washed down with endless cups of strong tea. Whilst I welcomed the idea of introducing this tradition to you, John Walker had other ideas. So we enjoy our Southern dinner but under the Northern title. The success of this lies in the informality forced upon us by the size of the dining room. Conversation is not restricted to those sitting next to us but can flow and involve everyone. Finally I must mention the organisation of our Temple. In charge is the Nomarch, an Egyptian title for the ruler of a Province or Nome. The Administration is in the hands of the President of Garuda, whilst five other members form the advisory committee, all being the 'seven companions of Garuda'. All such appointments have to be approved by the Arch-Presidents. As all are well-known in York (now Halifax), and private discussions take place first, official approval is always forthcoming. The belts of Arch-Presidents are pale blue, so John - having claimed for himself the title of Deputy President - decided to have a dark blue belt. I wear the dark blue belt, but do not claim the title, which I consider was personal to John. Presidents of Garuda wear a red belt and are installed in a private ceremony. The ceremony is short, but the homily, at least in my case from Will Vernon, is long! I hope this paper has answered many questions about this quasi-masonic Order. I believe it is a story of success and has brought much pleasure as well as an insight into the ways of Eastern peoples without the culture shock occasioned by a different idea of life. The continuation of that success, however, rests upon the positive contributions of the members and the careful selection of candidates who will fit in and add their 'two-penn'oth' as you do.
Andrew 1992
P.S. 2001: The Order continues to produce papers on a wide variety of esoteric subjects and its library contains many rare and valuable works.