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Lodge History – The Royal Hospital Chelsea

Every good History begins with a legend and Nisi Dominus has one! It is said that Nell Gwyn used her considerable charms to persuade King Charles 2nd to do something to mitigate the sufferings of the large numbers of sick and wounded ex-soldiers who were at the time begging on the streets of London as a result of the Dutch Wars.  Her appeal to her royal lover must have been a powerful one and the King’s response was a magnificent one.  He set up the Royal Hospital in Chelsea through which he paid pensions to the veterans and provided accommodation to those who could no longer look after themselves.  This Institution and a similar one for the Royal navy at Greenwich served the arms forces of this country for over two hundred years.


Very few changes were made to them throughout that time and it was not until the Boer War in the early years of the last century that it became clear that these ancient foundations would no longer be able to cope with large numbers of casualties which would result from modern warfare.

Word War 1

With a very British reluctance to change, nothing was done in the way of reform util 1914, just prior to the declaration of WW1. The possibility of battlefield slaughter on an industrial scale was about to become a reality.  It was in response to this emergency that the Ministry of Pensions was set up.  It had to be done at great speed, a large number of staff were required who had to be trained from scratch and accommodated together somewhere close to the Royal Hospital where the existing staff were hard at work.

The accommodation problem was solved by requisitioning a large rectangular piece of land in front of the Royal Hospital known then, as it is today as “Burton’s Court”.Photograph-taken-by-Cityscape-Digital-Ltd.

It was quickly covered with large army huts and the novice civil servants moved in.  The work of the new ministry continued throughout the War and according to official papers of the time “The workforce displayed a remarkable spirit of determination and patriotic fervour which despite many sacrifices carried them to a successful completion of their task”.

The man charge with creating the Ministry of Pensions under these desperate wartime conditions was W.Bro Sir Horace Woodbury Kirby who had been called out of retirement for that purpose.  At the end of the the War he went back into retirement and was replaced by his successor W.Bro William Sanger. W.Bro Sanger suggested that the creation of a new lodge, to be called “Burton Court”, would be a fitting memorial to all those that helped achieve the working of the new Pensions Ministry throughout the War. Sir Horace agreed and he was installed as WM of The Grand Masters Lodge No.1 in 1918 it was an opportunity to apply for the sponsorship of that lodge to support the petition to form the new lodge which was duly granted.

Burton Court Lodge 3864

W.Bro Sangar became a leading light in the new lodge and is mainly due to him that the Lodge became known as a forward looking and willing to consider unconventional approaches to any difficulties that arose.  An example of this occurred in the first year when two candidates for initiation were men who had lost their legs in the fighting on the Western Front.  The Lodge was most concerned that the ceremony with its perambulations should cause them as little distress as possible.  Grand Lodge was consulted but they has no suggestion except to repeat the concerns.  An original solution was found which worked very well.  The candidates were seated in the centre of Temple and the lodge revolved around them.  A great deal of rehearsal must have been required but it worked well and was used on other occasions.

The New Lodge (Nisi Dominus)

At the end of 1934 Burton Court Lodge sponsored the petition of a new Lodge, Nisi Dominus 5517

The story continues…….