Special Interest Lodge News: Dogs and Dinner: the elegance of the Connaught Lodge

Some riddles with which to open. Why might the Connaught Lodge No 3270 have a claim to the title of the oldest Special Interest Lodge?

And why does the Royal Kennel Club – arbiter of all things canine in the UK, including the legendary Crufts – have a Masonic Lodge?  Well, inevitably many of the founding fathers of the Kennel Club in 1873 were Masons as well as dog lovers, and Freemasons were therefore instrumental in the creation and evolution of the Kennel Club.

Fresh from celebrating its 150-year anniversary, W Bro Tony Allcock OBE, Kennel Club Chairman and Worshipful Master of the Connaught Lodge, takes up the story. “In the 1870s, dogs were the pinnacle of social etiquette, and the thriving dog culture was unsurprisingly matched by plenty of corruption in dog exhibitions. To eliminate the irregularities, Mr Sewallis Evelyn Shirley MP, along with twelve other gentlemen, founded The Kennel Club, laying down the world’s first consistent rules for dog shows and field trials. Many of these gentlemen were Freemasons, to the extent that by the time the Connaught Lodge was consecrated in 1907, the General Committee meetings of the Kennel Club were arranged for the day before Connaught Lodge meetings. I suspect the day after would have led to too many sore heads…”

The prescience and diligence of those Masonic forefathers of the Kennel Club has also led to its financial success. By the 1950s, the Club had purchased land on Clarges Street in Mayfair, opposite the Ritz hotel; at one stage being the only private freeholder in the block. The Club has moved a few yards since, but smart decisions mean it now has this property in London, a 7,500 acre moorland estate in Northumberland, administrative offices in Aylesbury and an activities Centre near Leamington Spa.

Today, the Connaught Lodge is thriving to the point of having a backlog of new members and giving work to other Lodges. As well as the canine connection and its magnificent premises, this may be down to the Lodge’s high profile: in 1873, His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales became patron to the Kennel Club and by association the Lodge, and both have enjoyed royal patronage ever since. A frequent visitor is Mark Grand Master, Prince Michael of Kent, also President of the Kennel Club.

Lodge members are requested to be members of the Kennel Club, but visitors are always welcome, and like the Club, the Lodge welcomes anyone with an interest in dogs, from field trials to flyball or just a love of pooches. “Our heritage may smack of eliteness”, says W Bro Tony, “but let me scotch that myth. A love of dogs is the most inclusive hobby I can think of. As a Lodge, we are incredibly welcoming no matter who you are. In my year as Master, I even had the pleasure of initiating my Civil Partner at a ceremony which featured a sea of gold from the number of dignitaries present. And that’s not about my role in the Kennel Club or the nature of the Lodge; it was testament to the openness of the Craft. There are no closed doors: if you support the health and welfare of dogs, you’ll be welcome here.”. 

The Lodge also offers great value dining inside the Kennel Club itself, maintaining inclusivity by ensuring that costs are not prohibitive.  Dining is a big part of the Connaught Lodge’s culture. Members of the Kennel Club can enjoy the Friday Fellowship, a monthly dining experience which is Club-oriented and in turn there are the Ladies who Lunch, also monthly.  Of course, the Kennel Club is open for lunch to its members and their guests every weekday.  It’s also worth noting that – particularly to accommodate the Lodge’s far-flung UK wide members and international visitors who fly in for the day – the Connaught Lodge meets at 2pm and dines at 4.30. This continues to work very well, being particularly convenient for today’s “work from home” culture and serves to keep Freemasons together and richly sociable.

And what next? “It’s been an extraordinary privilege to serve as Chairman of the Kennel Club in its 150th year and to take the Chair in the Connaught Lodge, too”, says W Bro Tony. “We enjoyed a fabulous garden party at Buckingham Palace for the Club’s 150th year – which in itself was reliant entirely on the stalwart support of Prince Michael of Kent. It very nearly never happened, due to the untimely passing of our then Patron, Her Majesty the Queen; but was a great success. Shortly after this, we were granted the ‘Royal’ prefix by HM King Charles and became The Royal Kennel Club”

“Looking forward, I’m interested in a challenge faced by both the dog community and Freemasonry, which is perception. Read the press today, and there are many challenging stories about dogs. Freemasonry faces a similar challenge, so that exercises my mind. Then, there’s our charity work. The Lodge is understandably a stalwart supporter of dog charities every year, including charities such as the Medical Detection Dogs that played a great part during COVID; our own KC Education and Charity Trusts, Bark and Read Foundation (dogs helping in schools) and this year we have also turned our attention to the London’s Air Ambulance appeal.”

The Royal Kennel Club was founded on the styles of Victorian high society, and today the Connaught Lodge remains – literally – in the heart of London society. If you would like to dine as a guest in style with other enthusiasts of our four-legged friends, do get in touch with the Lodge Secretary.

This article is part of the Arena Magazine, Issue 53 December 2023 edition.
Arena Magazine is the official magazine of the London Freemasons – Metropolitan Grand Lodge and Metropolitan Grand Chapter of London.

Read more articles in the Arena Issue 53 here.