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Albert Hudson Royds: the Freemason behind Church of St Edmund in Rochdale

Rochdale’s temple to Freemasonry

The Church of St Edmund is the only known church building in England overtly dedicated to symbolism. John Hamill profiles Albert Hudson Royds, the Rochdale Freemason who made this possible

The growing industrialisation of the nineteenth century allowed many men to make fortunes. Some then looked for ways of putting something back into their communities, taking on voluntary positions and involving themselves in charities. 

One such individual was Albert Hudson Royds (1811-1890).

The Royds family traced their ancestry back to the Halifax area of West Yorkshire in the 1300s. They developed as yeoman farmers, became involved in the wool industry, and had comfortable livings. In the 1780s Albert’s grandfather, James, moved to Rochdale in Lancashire where he bought the Brownhill estate and later built his own house, Mount Falinge, with an eighteen-acre park, on the outskirts of Rochdale. 

James became involved in the planning and financing of the Rochdale canal and the family prospered to the extent that in 1827 Albert’s father, Clement Royds, was able to buy the Rawson & Co. banking house, also known as the Rochdale Bank.

Albert Royds was born at Mount Falinge in 1811 and educated in Rochdale and London. His long connection with Freemasonry began in 1847, when he was initiated in Lodge of Benevolence, No. 226, meeting at Littleborough. Promotion was rapid and he became Master in 1849, serving for two years. Promotion in the Province of East Lancashire was equally swift as he served as Provincial Junior Grand Warden from 1850 to 1856, then Deputy Provincial Grand Master from 1856 to 1866. 

On moving to Worcestershire in 1856, Royds joined Worcester Lodge, No. 280, and in 1857 was appointed Deputy Provincial Grand Master for Worcestershire, holding office until 1866 when he was appointed both Provincial Grand Master and Grand Superintendent in the Royal Arch. 

In 1878, Royds had to resign his high offices in Worcestershire after he became incapacitated as a result of losing the use of his legs. This was the long-term result of an attack he and his brother suffered when returning on horseback to Rochdale late one evening. Both sustained serious injuries, resulting in their attackers being transported to a penal colony. A combination of this and the death of his daughter caused Royds’ removal back to the family in Rochdale.

A monument to morals

It is clear from his diaries and letters, along with comments from those who knew him, that Royds was a man of great faith and high moral standards. His monument is the Church of St Edmund at Falinge, a memorial to his parents and described by art critic Sir Nikolaus Pevsner as ‘Rochdale’s temple to Freemasonry, a total concept as exotic as Rosslyn Chapel in Scotland’.

Built between 1870 and 1873 in the Gothic Revival style to designs by Manchester architects James Medland and Henry Taylor, St Edmund is replete with masonic symbolism. No expense was spared in the building, which cost Royds about £25,000 at a time when the average cost of a church was £4,000. Built at a crossroads on the highest point in Rochdale, it dominated the town. 

The exterior stonework, capitals of the interior supporting pillars and hammer-beam roof all have masonic symbols, but the glory is the stained glass. The windows on the south side are dedicated to building and Freemasonry, culminating in the east window, a depiction of the building of King Solomon’s temple at Jerusalem. 

The central panel shows the three Grand Masters studying the plan of the temple, the head of Hiram Abiff, its chief architect, being a portrait of Royds himself. The side panels show operative stone masons preparing the stone for the temple and the dedication of the completed building. In the Royds Chapel, windows show the scribes Ezra and Nehemiah and a lodge Tyler.

Royds’ two sons had followed him into Freemasonry and presented the font and lectern, both carved with masonic symbols, to the church. The lectern is formed of three brass pillars of the Doric, Ionic and Corinthian Orders, the bases of which are decorated with the jewels of the Master and Wardens of a lodge: the square, level and plumb rule. The Bible is supported on a large square and compasses enclosing a five-pointed star.

Sadly, the congregation of the Church of St Edmund declined and it was closed in 2007. Originally a Grade II* listed building, its importance was recognised when it was raised to Grade I status in 2011. There was considerable concern as to its future but that became assured when the building was acquired by The Churches Conservation Trust. With a major restoration project now under way, the church can be visited on the first and third Saturday of the month.

To support the restoration, please go to www.visitchurches.org.uk/savestedmunds

 ‘Rochdale’s temple to Freemasonry, a total concept as exotic as Rosslyn Chapel in Scotland.’ Sir Nikolaus Pevsner

Royds of Rochdale

1827: Aged sixteen, Albert Hudson Royds joined the family bank and, as his father’s public and political career took off, gradually took over its management. He became part of the Rochdale Development Commission and used his own and the bank’s resources to invest in roads, waterways and the early railways. 

1839: Married Susan Eliza, heiress to Robert and Susan Nuttall of Kempsey House near Worcester. 

1844: Joined the Duke of Lancaster’s Own Yeomanry, raising its Rochdale troop and commanding them for seven years. He founded the Lyceum, an educational establishment in Rochdale.

1853: Became a Justice of the Peace for the County Palatine. 

1855: Left the bank and bought an estate, Crown East, near Worcester, and began life as a landowner and gentleman farmer. He rebuilt the house and provided cottages and a church for the estate workers. 

1856: Petitioned for Rochdale to be incorporated and was elected the first representative for the Spotland Ward, as well as  one of the first Aldermen. He narrowly missed out on being elected the first mayor.

1865: Became High Sheriff of Worcestershire. 

1869: Sold Crown East and moved to another estate, Ellerslie, near Malvern. 

1878: Moved back to Rochdale where he remained until his death, except for a period in the 1880s when he moved to Lytham for health reasons.

Letters to the Editor – No. 30 Summer 2015

A temple to Freemasonry

Sir,

Readers who enjoyed John Hamill’s article on St Edmund’s might be interested in some additional background. After long conversations when The Churches Conservation Trust first took over St Edmund’s, we were able to visit it. 

At this time the trust was not aware of the depth of masonic overtones in the fabric and history of the building.

When we pointed some of these out they were very interested and allowed us to take photographs. Dawn Lancaster from the trust was impressed with our work and paid for us to go to London to give a talk at one of their events. We later received a letter from Loyd Grossman, chairman of the trust, thanking us for our work.

We decided to do an event for the church and after delivering our lecture four times in one day, we were amazed to note from the visitors’ book that all the locals, including many from the Muslim community of the area, had shown interest in what the church is about. The local interest, with the help of the parishioners, meant artefacts and banners that had been missing started to reappear and the church is now beautiful.

We have since promoted the church throughout Cheshire, Lancashire, Yorkshire, Scotland and elsewhere with the support of the Provincial Grand Master and Assistant Provincial Grand Master in both Craft and Mark Degrees.

A Friends of St Edmund’s Church group has also been formed, attracting interest from around the world, and on open days we give our lecture. At Christmas we delivered our lecture to a full church with a 21-piece brass band.  

Albert Blurton, Lodge of Peace, No. 322, Stockport, Cheshire; and  Bernard Rourke, Lewis Lodge, No. 4371, Stockport, Cheshire