Besides other pointers to their existence, the presence of the “Operative” Templars within the County Palatine of Durham can be seen by the discerning eye in the graveyard of St Mary’s Parish Church in Barnard Castle. By 1790 however, it was necessary for a Mr Murray, desiring to become a Knight Templar in Glasgow, to sail to Belfast to bring back to Glasgow the brothers Martin who were empowered by the Grand Mother Encampment of Ireland to confer the Royal Arch and Templar Degrees. The Martins remained in Scotland and several encampments were opened between 1790 and 1800. The Charles James Manuscripts, written in Edinburgh in 1879, tell us that “between 1790 & 1800 several regiments, returning from Ireland, (which country had been flooded with the so-called Higher Masonic Degrees, manufactured in France by Ramsay and other adherents to the House of Stuart, and assiduously propagated in Ireland for the purpose of spreading Jacobite principles) brought with them into Scotland the Royal Arch and Temple Degrees. It was one of these, a Regiment of English Militia, that first introduced and afterwards established the degrees in Edinburgh under an Irish Early Grand Warrant.”
Besides the references to the Templar Degrees being worked in Craft lodges in the late Eighteenth Century, the first clear evidence of movement towards the modern Templars comes with the arrival in Sunderland, as the militia garrison of the town, of the Second Battalion Royal Lancashire Militia in 1805, and their attendant lodge, no 120 the Knight of Malta. On 1st January 1806 a sermon was preached by Rev Birkett Dawson before an Athol Lodge of Freemasons belonging to the 2nd Royal Lancashire Regiment of Militia and three days later, the Knight of Malta 120 opened a Masters’ Lodge with WM Edward Hicken, SW Thomas Bever, JW John Cross, SD Thomas Wilde, Tyler Nathaniel English. They presented a warrant under the title of St John’s Lodge number 94, to be held in the town of Sunderland.
The Knight of Malta and the Lancashire Militia shortly afterwards left the town, but on 20th February 1807 seventeen brethren of St John’s Lodge 94 travelled to Edinburgh to receive from the members of the Arch and Temple of St Stephen’s Lodge no 145 a series of High Degrees, up to the Plus Ultra. These included the usual Red Cross Degrees, Rose Croix, Templars, Malta and the Plus Ultra. Thus Modern Templarism was brought into the county, under the banner of the Joppa Encampment. In 1811 this encampment received the circular addressed to all such Lodges by HRH the Duke of Kent, offering the Brethren a warrant under the new English Grand Conclave. This warrant was accepted and dated 18th April for the Joppa Encampment no 37, naming George Penn, John Waddell & James Todd, Anno Lucis 5811, Anno Domini 1811, Anno Ordinis 693 (i.e. from 1118) & Anno Caedis 497 (from 1304), to meet at the Admiral Lord Nelson’s Head, at “Sunderland near the sea.” It is this warrant which is preserved in the Provincial Museum at the Esplanade, Sunderland. Later the Newcastle Brethren of the Joppa petitioned of their mother encampment to support an application to be known as the Royal Kent.
Sadly all the Minutes of the Joppa Encampment are lost, but references to the working of the Joppa can be gleaned from the records of St John’s Lodge.
In 1845 The Templar Order formally agreed to discontinue working the Rose Croix, Kadosh & Ne Plus Ultra Degrees, which now formed part of the system of the newly formed Supreme Council 33 Degree, at which time the Joppa was still in existence. However, according to the notes of the late William Waples, one time Curator of the Provincial Museum, “The Encampment had a great many difficulties and although much was done to keep things going, the pressure of the aftermath of the Napoleonic Wars and the subsequent industrial depression was just too much for the brethren, and the encampment finally succumbed. It was erased in 1865.”
The seeds however had been sown, and with the daughter Royal Kent Encampment continuing to flourish north of the Tyne, in 1872 the warranting of Mount Grace Encampment to meet at Stockton brought the Templars back into County Durham, which was then called the Province of Northumberland and Durham.
Thenceforward such steady progress was made, with the establishment of the current Preceptories listed in the Durham Masonic Year Book, that the Provincial Priory of Durham was formed in its own right in 1975, having separated from Northumberland.