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History of the Orange Order in England

In 1798 there was open rebellion against British rule in Ireland. During that year a violent uprising of the United Irishmen – a secret republican society – was supported by the French.  This reinforced the siege mentality of loyal Irish Protestants, and stoked the fears of Protestants on mainland Britain. Significantly, British military regiments were sent to Ireland to put down the revolt. Several regiments from the Manchester area were amongst them, principally Colonel Stanley’s First Regiment of Lancashire Militia; the 2nd Battalion of the Manchester and Salford Volunteer Rifles, Lord Wilton’s Corps of Lancashire Volunteers and Sir Watkin Wynne’s Ancient Britons.

The Lancashire militia officers mixed in Irish Protestant gentry circles and indeed some of them already held land in Ireland. In June 1799, Lieutenant James Radford, Paymaster of the Royal Lancashire Militia wrote from New Ross, county Wexford, that he, Colonel Stanley, and Major Orlando Bridgeman of Wigan breakfasted with a “Col. Tottingham MP”, presumably John or Charles Tottenham, barons Loftus.  His correspondence revealed the close bonds of friendship formed through frequent balls and dinners held by the local gentry for the officers.  And whilst these friendships were established amongst the officers and Protestant gentry, so too were friendships formed amongst the privates and non-commissioned officers, and the local Protestant peasantry. 

This led to many soldiers and militiamen, privates, NCOs and Officers, being initiated into Orange Lodges whilst stationed in Ireland. The Grand Lodge of Ireland issued warrants to individual soldiers and militiamen, who recruited new members from amongst their comrades and formed lodges within their various regiments. When the regiments had completed their tour in Ireland, and returned home, the initiated English Orangemen within their ranks brought their Orange Warrants with them, and so the first lodges were established in England. 

Colonel Stanley’s regiment held warrant 320, which was later converted to English warrant number 43. There was a lodge in the Manchester and Salford Rifle Volunteers, commanded by Colonel John Silvester, which held warrant 1128. Silvester was a magistrate and owned mills in Atherton and Chorley.  His regiment had been raised and financed by a fellow magistrate, Colonel Samuel Taylor of Moston. At age 36, Colonel Taylor became the first Grand Master of the English Orange Lodges. The Deputy Grand Master was Colonel Ralph Fletcher of Bolton, whose family had acquired wealth through the coal industry. Fletcher – a strong Anglican - too was a magistrate, and commanded the Bolton Volunteers. The first Grand Treasurer was W. A. Woodbourne, a solicitor who also acted as legal advisor. When the military units demobbed, the lodges which had existed within them continued to function as civilian lodges.

The first recorded Orange Lodge meeting in England took place in Stockport on the 12th of July 1802, and was noted in the local newspaper. This meeting was clearly respectable, beginning with a service in the parish church, “where an excellent sermon was preached by the Rev. William Harrison, M.A., from the first epistle of St. Peter” – “Love the Brotherhood, Fear God, Honour the King.” Their dinner was held at the Britannia Inn, with Presient Joseph Hearnet in the chair. The toasts included the Grand Master, Sir George Ogle (governor of county Wexford where the regiments had been sent), ad “Major Watson of the late Stockport Volunteers”

Nuttall listed over seventy lodges in existence in England during 1811. All early lodges originated in already fertile ground provided by the military regiments and displayed analogous patterns of transmission of ideology, organisation, and personnel. The first seventeen English warrants were assigned to lodges in Manchester and its satellite towns. Most Orange societies met in pubs as friendly societies, although warrant 14 was held at Grand Master Col. Samuel Taylor’s house in Ashton-under-Lyne and warrant 15 at Shaw Chapel near Oldham. By July 1804, an “Orange Loyal Beneficial Association” had been established in Oldham. An “Orange Society or Orange Boys” was held at the Reed Inn in Rochdale, with the innkeeper in charge of the box.

Magistrates in Manchester and its satellite towns were integral to the organisation of the Orange movement. Reverend William Robert Hay, chairman of the Salford Quarter Sessions, was a prominent suppressor of the “seditious” from 1798 to Peterloo. One of his scrapbooks contains an account of the 12th July dinner in Bury in 1803, and suggests very strongly that he and several of his colleagues were Orangemen. The toast reiterated the common hope that the Duke of York would become Grand Master an congratulated the Bishop of Chester: “may he still continue to support the Protestant interest.” Finally, they thanked Reverend Hay himself and his colleagues on the bench: “R. A. Farington Esq. Of Manchester, Mathew Fletcher Esq. of Bolton, the magistrates of Stockport, Mr. Winter of Oldham.” William Rowbottom’s diary recorded that the first Orange meeting in Oldham occurred on the 12th July 1803, and that they heard a sermon by the Rev. William Winter, “one of the members”. It is therefore reasonable to suggest that all the magistrates and clergy mentioned in the Bury toasts had Orange sympathies at least. 

The event that led to the establishment of initially of a Grant County Lodge, and then the Grand Lodge of England took place on the 12th of July 1807, when an Orange parade was attacked by mobs or Irish Roman Catholics. The Orangemen had just attended worship at the Manchester Collegiate Church when the mob pelted them with bricks and bottles. The mob ran into the Orangemen attacking them with clubs and other make-shift weapons. The fighting escalated to such an extent that the army were called in to bring it to an end. To the eyes of English Orangemen, this was their equivalent to the battle of the diamond. It showed them the need to be better organised for their own defense. This led to the formation of a Grand County Lodge for Lancashire in that year, and the following year the Grand Orange Lodge of England was organised. The new Grand Lodge held its first session at the Star Hotel in Manchester in 1808. One of the individuals who was key in the formation of the new body was the Rev. R. Nixon, who had sort approval from the Grand Lodge of Ireland, and became the first Grand Secretary of the English Grand Lodge.