Ophthalmos Lodge Masonic jewel

The founding fathers of the optometry profession were heavily involved in freemasonry.

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Masonic jewel from the Ophthalmos Lodge

The Secretary of the BOA (and founder of this museum) John H. Sutcliffe would first become a member of a masonic lodge in March 1901 whilst his friend William Barker, the driving force behind the development of optometric training in Manchester, was invested as a freemason in April 1910. They were far from alone in developing these fraternal connections which must have contributed in large part to the sense of camaraderie essential in steering a fledgling professional body from nothing in the 1890s to the influential organisation that existed by the start of the First World War.

In February 1924 some eighteen masons, mainly ophthalmic opticians, petitioned the Grand Lodge to establish their own lodge in London. This petition is preserved in the archive at one of our neighbouring heritage attractions, the Library and Museum of Freemasonry in Covent Garden. Part of the idea was to establish a setting within the metropolis where provincial masons with interests in optics, refraction, ophthalmic surgery and physics could gather, for example whilst visiting the capital to attend academic conferences. Another motivating factor, however, was the restriction on membership enforced by many provincial lodges as demands to join grew from ex-servicemen. In granting the petition that April the Grand Lodge confirmed that the new lodge would be for men 'interested in optics and to relieve the general congestion'.

The first Worshipful Master was to be the manufacturing optician Bulford Henry James, operating alongside the eye surgeon Joseph Leopold Meynell and the ophthalmic optician William Henry Nichols. Also on the list were Barker, Sutcliffe (who cited his then role at the Ministry of Pensions), Samuel and David Cowan who described themselves as 'optologists' but who were destined to fail in their mission to popularise that job title, Hermon Courlander of Richmond, A. E. King the wholesale optician, Owen Aves, John Frederick Hunt from Hull, Alfred John Rawling, Harry Newbold the manufacturer, John Glenning the wholesaler, F. G. Huntley, Robert Aaron Rider, Ernest Aves and Alfred Henry Emerson. Altogether that list comprises no fewer than seven past or future Presidents of the British Optical Association.

In choosing a name for their new lodge the petitioners had wanted to name it after Thomas Young the celebrated English physicist whose name was already attached to the prestigious Thomas Young Oration, held under the auspices of the Optical Society. This was refused and the name 'Ophthalmos' was chosen by the officials at the Grand Lodge from a list of alternative titles which also included 'Lumen', 'Light in Darkness', 'Gallilean', 'Spectrum' and 'Roger Bacon'. In notifying the secretary Mr Courlander of their decision these officials must clearly have misspelt 'ophthalmos' making the common mistake of missing out the first 'h' because Mr Courlander wrote back to them to correct their spelling....on pre-printed stationery that had already been adorned with the new lodge name and badge.

The Ophthalmos Lodge (no 4633) is notable because its jewel looks so 'masonic', the symbol of the eye obviously proving relevant on two accounts in this instance. On the shield it repeats the words from the Book of Genesis LET THERE BE LIGHT. The bar is marked with the word 'Founder' so this jewel was used by one of the original eighteen petitioners and probably belonged to either Sutcliffe or Barker. The Lodge continued in existence until 2015 but archival records of its subsequent history are scant. The Museum of Freemasonry possesses a solitary meeting programme from 1984 whilst we here at the BOA Museum have two menu cards from the Lodge's Ladies Festivals of 1950 and 1952, bequeathed by David Mitchell - another BOA President as well as the Lodge Bible, a lectern cover, Master's collar and gauntlets, all donated when the Ophthalmos Lodge returned its warrant.