The Liverpool rebels
In December 1823, a group of Masonic rebels met at the
Shakespeare Tavern in Williamson Square, Liverpool to
recreate the Antient Grand Lodge. The group, led by local
tailor Michael Alexander Gage, were rebelling against the
central control of London, and what they saw as the ‘tyranny’
of the Duke of Sussex, Grand Master of the United Grand
Lodge of England (UGLE).
The Liverpool rebellion was the culmination of discontent
within the large Lancashire Province, which seemed to have
been simmering since the Union of the Antients and the
Moderns Grand Lodges in 1813.
Lodge of Friendship No. 277 in Oldham had witnessed
disruption in 1817. Bickering between the brethren split the
Lodge in two, and the rift was only healed the following year
after the direct intervention of the Provincial Grand Master.
Many of the rebels, who were mainly a collective of
Liverpool and Wigan-based tradesmen and merchants, eventually
returned to the UGLE, renouncing their initial grievances
and apologising. But a hard core remained, and under the leadership
of Gage, the rebels created the groundbreaking Magna
Charter of Freemasonry and formed the Grand Lodge of Free
and Accepted Masons of England According to the Old Constitutions,
later to become the Grand Lodge held at Wigan.
Ironically, many of the Liverpool-based Masonic rebels
were originally from outside the city, such as Gage, who
was born in Norfolk, John Robert Goepel, a jeweller who
originated from London, and James Broadhurst, a watchmaker
from Great Sankey near Warrington.
James Broadhurst was baptised on 25th August 1771
at St. Mary’s Church, Great Sankey. He was the son of a
watchmaker, and followed in his father’s footsteps, eventually
moving to Liverpool, where he set himself up in business
and married Christian Litherland at St. Nicholas’ Church
in Liverpool in 1794.
Christian was the sister of Liverpool watchmaker Peter
Litherland, who had also originated from Warrington, and
was famous for inventing the patent lever watch. Litherland
had relocated to Liverpool in 1790, and James seemed to have
been close to this fellow watchmaking family.
With the outbreak of the French wars, Liverpool was rife
with press gangs, and Broadhurst was ‘inrolled’ into the navy in
1795. He served as an able seaman on the Namur, taking part in
the decisive Battle of Cape St. Vincent on 14th February 1797,
an outstanding victory, revealing the brilliance of Nelson.
In December 1800, Broadhurst was transferred to the San
Josef, one of the two captured Spanish ships from the battle,
which Nelson commanded at the time. It would be another
two years before James was released from service, and he
returned to Liverpool back to watchmaking, settling in
In 1847 he received the Naval General Service medal, the
medal only being presented to the veterans still surviving at
the time. In 1817, like many veterans of the Napoleonic Wars,
he entered Freemasonry, joining Merchants’ Lodge No. 442,
and in 1820 he joined Ancient Union Lodge No.348, where
he became Master. Both of these Lodges became involved in
Broadhurst took an active part in Provincial Grand Lodge
meetings, and was quick to join his fellow Masonic tradesmen
in the rebellion, sharing the same grievances, freely giving
his signature to the document which outlined these issues.
The discontent had started a year after Broadhurst had
become a Freemason, and quickly gathered pace, Lancashire
Province suffering in part due to the neglect of its Provincial
Grand Master, Francis Dukinfield Astley, who never took
action in Liverpool or Wigan to diffuse the situation.
Web site created by Mark Griffin