The building currently known as Grove House dates from three identifiable periods, the earliest of which is 1752/4 and can be seen in the “square block” at the centre of the building as viewed from the outside. From the inside, at ground floor level, it is bounded by the four stone arches.
The premises were originally built at the time when Harrogate was developing as a spa town because of the health giving properties of the water found in a large number of springs and wells. Grove House was built as a small hostelry or guest house and was originally called “The World’s End.”
There is some evidence to show that for a while it served as a staging post for passengers and mail from London to York.
Around 1805 it was acquired and used as a boarding school by a Mrs. Holland. Barbara Hoole, a well-known Yorkshire authoress of the time, later purchased it. She used it as a Ladies Finishing School, and perhaps was a forerunner to what is now the Harrogate College.
In 1822 (the year the Order is reputed to have been founded), the Reverend T.T. Wildsmith obtained ownership and used the premises as a School for boys. Much later it was unoccupied for a number of years and it is alleged to have been haunted, although this was proven to be a trick of light, when a Captain Heneby purchased the building. In 1850 Mr. Sam-son Fox, a Civil Engineer from Leeds bought the property and is responsible for much of the splendid building we have today.
Mr. Fox, a direct ancestor of Edward Fox, the actor, and his brother was a great Victorian industrialist and benefactor to the nation and the local community. In 1870 he donated sufficient monies to build the present Royal College of Music in London. He provided Harrogate with its first Fire Service, public street lighting and built Grove Road School, almost opposite our front gates. Eventually he became Mayor of Harrogate for three successive years, a feat never equalled since.
Samson Fox built the extensions to Grove House, being the present east and west wings, together with the Royal Stables with ornate clock which can been seen from the small rose garden at the side of the house. By purchasing small or tiny portions of land in the immediate locality, the estate eventually increased to some forty acres. For example the land that accommodated the gatehouse at the entrance to the estate, where the present bungalow is situated cost a mere £160. It is amusing to note that the patch of grass outside the gate was intended to allow the farmers on their way to Knaresborough market to graze their sheep. The grounds accommodated a private gas works, science laboratory and observatory.
Most of the stained glass and oak paneling came from the old Dragon Hotel on the opposite side of Skipton Road, and just over the bridge. The clock tower for the stables, together with most of the stone used in building the east wing, tower and stables also came from the Dragon Hotel. If you examine, closely, the glass screen by the present dining room, you will find dragons encompassed in the design of the glasswork.
The house was the first in Yorkshire to be equipped with gas lighting and central heating, generated from gas plant within the grounds. The stables are thought to have been the first in the country to provide Turkish Baths for horses. At a time when they were not too well known for humans. (Can this really have been the 1870s?).
The west wing which currently provides bedrooms 3, 4, 5, and 6, the first floor TV lounge and the Grand Secretary’s office and Lodge room was originally built to provide a suite of rooms for the Prince of Wales (later King Edward VII) and his entourage when visiting Yorkshire, dates from 1880, and included a library, billiard room and small gallery.
The east wing, on the site of the former Grove House Winter Gardens was built to provide a music and ballroom (at present bedrooms 1, 2, the annex and library) together with an art gallery on the first floor (now bedrooms 7 to 16) and dates from 1898/02.
A special souvenir Christmas card of 1902 from Mr. Samson Fox, CE., JP measuring almost four feet across depicting the picture gallery is held in the custody of the Grand Secretary as is a photograph album showing Grove House as a residence before the east wing was built. It was discovered in a dustbin by a refuse collector who was a member of the Order. Both may be seen by anybody requesting to do so. They are not on permanent display, simply to retain and preserve their current state of preservation.
Fox died in 1903 at Walsall and so for a number of years the house lay empty, although staff were retained to administer the estate and keep the house clean. During the Great War (1914-1918) Grove House, along with a number of houses in the area, was used as a Hospital for troops from the Somme and Flanders.
The Order purchased the premises in 1926 for £10,000 for use as an orphanage, because of the prolonged arguments at Grand Lodge over the question of the legal ownership of the R.A.O.B. Orphanage at Aldridge (Walsall). These latter premises being paid for, but not owned by the Order. Grove House Orphanage was opened at Easter 1927 and the parade of members took three hours to march from Harrogate Railway Station with four brass bands. To raise funds for the purchase of Grove House, and more importantly to furnish the Orphanage, members were urged to “buy” a brick or yard of turf at a cost of One shilling 1/- (or 5p) and were presented with a certificate, which was not intended as a deed of ownership. Since Grove House is built of stone and not bricks.
Occasionally these certificates are produced by descendants of members in the hope that there may be of some monetary value to the estate of the member.
The Grand Lodges offices moved to Grove House in 1926, having previously occupied the living room of Wilson-Marsh in Sheffield. At first they were accommodated in a room which now provides bedroom 3, a filing room and the room where the typist to the Grand Secretary is employed
Grove House Orphanage operated from 1926 until Christmas 1947 even though some army units were stationed here during World War II (1939-1945). With the introduction of the new “welfare state” that would look after the population from the ‘cradle to the grave’, widows and other guardians were, understandably, reluctant to be parted from their children. The Order changed its policy by returning the children to their families and provided cash benefits to enable the children to be looked after at their home.
The Harrogate Convalescent Home in Valley Gardens was sold and Grove House was converted to become a Convalescent Home to provide rest, recuperation and a change of air. In 1966 to mark the centenary of the Grand Lodge of England, Grove House was adapted to provide permanent residential care for aged members without family or dependants. In 1980 female dependants of members were admitted as convalescent patients.
In 1988 joint husband and wife convalescent patients were admitted for rest and recuperation. Later that year fee paying holiday guests were admitted to help offset the huge costs of maintaining the premises.
During major repair work to the roof on the east wing in 1998/9 it became necessary to remove a considerable amount of weight from the roof and to re-build much of the parapet wall. When the roof void was opened a number of ornate plaster panels in deep relief were discovered from the ceiling of the former art gallery. Rather than be destroyed, they were carefully removed and re-sited in the Lesser Hall, the Grand Staircase and first floor landing.
Closer examination of the four oblong panels in the Lesser Hall reveals the form of further dragons, not too different from the glass screen at the east entrance.. It is possible, even remotely, that these panels also came from the Dragon Hotel? And therefore much older than 1890 when the east wing was built?
The Harrogate Museum has put a conservative value on these panels of £40,000 in their present condition.
The most recent alterations have been to convert the ten single rooms in the east wing to twin bedded “en suite” at a cost of around a £180,000 and it now means that every room apart from three are twin bedded and “en suite.”
Future plans are to increase the size of the dining room, so that everyone can dine at one sitting.
Grove House is a building which is part of the country’s heritage, as well as that of the Order, and can confidently meet all of our requirements of our members and dependants well into the 21st. Century.
In a period of less than 247 years the role of Grove House has come full circle.- an establishment for the sick and infirm to rest and recuperate, to an establishment for the needs of children. As an Army Hospital, to an Orphanage, to a Convalescent Home, a holiday centre and a place for our aged members or widows with no family or other connections can live out their final years.
In so far as surviving records can prove, the earliest known traceable date of a Lodge of the Royal Antediluvian Order of Buffaloes is 1822 at the Harp Tavern, Great Russell Street near Drury Lane Theatre and was created by stage hands and theatre technicians who had been denied a long held privilege extended to them by the actors and artists of the day.
An Order known as the City of Lushington existed in the late 1700s to the 1800s which consisted almost exclusively of actors or variety artists and held its meetings, mostly for entertainment and social recreation in the Inns and Taverns close to the well populated theatres of the day. In order to be members of the Lushington’s one was required to be either an actor or artist who actually earned their living ‘treading the boards’. Selected guests of members were invited to attend these gatherings, and many stage hands obviously availed themselves of this privilege for a number of years. At some point in time not easily identified the Lushington’s became a ‘closed shop’ presumably because meeting rooms in the Inn or Tavern were not big enough to accommodate everyone (member and visitor alike). Whatever the reason the Lushington’s would only allow members to attend their meetings.
The meeting room was organised in the form of a City with four or more wards and so the Master or chief officer was referred to as Mayor, and the senior officers were Aldermen. Lesser officers carried the prefix ‘City’ in their title, for example City Taster, City Barber, City Physician. The City Taster had a most important roll in the evening’s proceedings. It was his duty before the Lodge opened to ceremoniously taste the ale on sale at the Inn. If it was found to be ‘wanting’ the host or landlord was ‘fined’ two gallons of ale which was consumed by all in attendance at the meeting without payment You can imagine(?) that there would be few occasions when the ale was not found wanting.
Being prevented from attending meetings of the Lushington’s after a number of years enjoyment of that privilege, the stage hands and theatre staff starting holding their own exclusive meetings that had ’nuffin to do wit them acter fellas’.
As the theatre staff moved around the country in pursuance of their profession, Lodges would have been founded in the various cities, towns and villages.
Pearce Egan, a well known London Theatre critic of the period attributes the founders as being Joseph Lisle, a well known eccentric and William Sinnett. In his book ‘The History of Tom and Jerry’ he cites one of the aims as being the promotion of an hitherto neglected ballad ‘We’ll chase the Buffalo’.
It is a matter of pure conjecture as to what remarks may have been made by patrons in the public rooms of the Tavern upon hearing the song being sung by members in the club or concert room. Certainly the ballad was sung with a considerable amount of enthusiasm at R.A.O.B Lodge meetings as recently as the mid 1950s by many of our more long serving members.
Why Antediluvian? The Order was founded in 1822, which certainly was not before the flood, and no satisfactory answer can be found in the records that have survived the ravages of time. We must remember that the bulk of our members at that time were involved in one of the theatre professions, and skilled orators would have written their own ceremonies, often designed to impress the unenlightened with the great antiquity of the Order. Similarities were deduced to the rights of bull worship at the time of the Pharaohs in ancient Egypt. The Knights of St. John of Jerusalem, and other nations of Christendom, Peter the Hermit and the Saracenic wars were also quoted.
The desires of mankind to relieve the poverty of ones fellow have been around since the earliest ages, and if that is not antediluvian, what is? Certainly the word has a better ring to it than ‘ancient’. So! Antediluvian we became!
As in Masonry the Seditious and Riotous Assembly Acts of the late 1800s had a profound effect on Buffalo meetings, as it will have done on many clubs, societies and other bodies of the day.
In order to show to the authorities that the Buffaloes were not subversive to the interest of the state, the Order decided to describe itself as the Loyal Order of Buffaloes. It only needs a slip of the tongue for ‘loyal’ to become ‘royal’ and in a very short time Joe Public accepted that the Order was indeed Royal.
A Royal Charter has never been issued to the Buffaloes. Indeed, under the current regulations it is unlikely that one will. Over the years there have been a number of internal differences of opinion leading to break away formations operating under the same principles and still using the name of the Buffaloes. These groups or ‘constitutions’ are generally referred to as Banners. The Royal Warrants Act requires the applicant to be the one and only representative body.
The introduction of the Royal Warrant Act, in the early 1900s, required anyone using the ‘Royal’ prefix to register with the Lord Chancellors Office and to stop using the title if permission to continue doing so was not granted. Since the Buffaloes had been using the title from the 1840s the Lord Chancellor agreed that no objection would be raised on the our continued use of the title on the grounds of long usage, provided no act by the Order arose which would disgrace its use.
In the early days, the first lodge to be opened in an area became known as the Mother Lodge, from which subsequent Lodges would be opened. Advice was frequently sought from the ‘Mother’ Lodge in the interpretation of rule or other matters, although it would continue to be a private or Minor Lodge in its own right. From these Mother Lodges the concept was developed for a body responsible for administration and organisation, alone. Thus we acquired Governing Authorities which became District Grand Lodges and latter Provincial Grand Lodges.
1n April 1866 the then known Lodges formulated a Grand Primo Lodge to control the movement, to set laws, to establish procedures and administration. This body later became known as the Grand Lodge of England.
The Order, today, is structured on similar Lodge to all Masonic Orders in that it is a three tiered system of Minor (Private) Lodges, Provincial Grand Lodges and Grand Lodge.
The R.A.O.B. has four degrees of membership = First Degree, known as a Kangaroo (don’t ask why), Second Degree or Certified Primo, Third Degree or Knight Order of Merit and Fourth Degree or Roll of Honour. The Second Degree is awarded as result of a mixture of time, attendance and an examination on the ability to take the chair of a Lodge while third and fourth degrees based on length of membership and a proven attendance record. Provincial and Grand Lodge honours are not the gift of the Chief Officer of the Province or Grand Lodge. To gain such honour the member must have represented his Lodge as delegate to P.G.L. or represented his Province as a delegate to Grand Lodge, and again after length of service and attendance qualifications, he must have been elected by popular vote to the Office.
In the early days of the R.A.O.B. it is clear that there must have been members who were also members of the various Masonic Orders since there is much in R.A.O.B. ritual and regalia which can be identified as being Masonic in origin as well as from other societies.
Today there are many who enjoy membership both as a Mason and as a Buffalo. Some holding quite senior and important positions of Office in both Orders
The R.A.O.B. is a Philanthropic and Charitable body, Lodges and Provinces are at liberty to undertake whatever activity they consider appropriate for the needs of the community in which they work and live.
Charitable funds exist at Lodge, Province and Grand Lodge levels to assist members of the Order and/or their dependants who are in necessitous circumstances.
Grand Lodge owns and operates two convalescent homes to provide rest and recuperation facilities for members, their wives or widows recovering from illness or medical treatment
The costs of running these two properties, as well as the benevolent grants for our aged and necessitous members or widows, and the education grants for dependant children are all funded from the Grand Lodge portion of the membership fees, voluntary donations and the proceeds from the investment portfolio.
Much more can be said of the Royal Antediluvian Order of Buffaloes as operated by the Grand Lodge of England, but the foregoing is considered sufficient at this stage to give some insight into our activities. In doing so we hope to create a better under-standing of our Order.
Our basic desire – Is to defend the weak, to help the unfortunate and render assistance to those in difficulty or need’. These honorable principles have existed in man since the earliest ages and in this respect our Order may be regarded as “ancient – or Antediluvian.”
The keywords or hallmarks of our Order are:
JUSTICE, TRUTH and PHILANTHROPY.
These are noble sentiments and we strive to work towards a better understanding of the needs of our community. By encouraging our members to lead active and useful lives we believe we can influence others and show that, by following our philosophy, society can grow and improve.
The principal aims of the Royal Antediluvian Order of Buffalo’s are ;
So, you’ve had a look at what we do at the R.A.O.B., and you’re interested in getting involved somehow?
The first thing you can do is find out where your nearest meeting place is. You can do this by using our Lodge Finder, or you can phone the head office: 01423 502438 or send us an email at
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