The history of Metropolitan College is directly linked to the founding of the Societas Rosicruciana in Anglia (originally known without Latinisation as the Rosicrucian Society of England) and indeed, for the opening years of the Society, the two cannot be separated.
The non-masonic Scottish Rosicrucian Society of Edinburgh had existed since at least 1857. Their Magus Maximus, Anthony Oneal Haye admitted and advanced Robert Wentworth Little and William James Hughan and several others into that Scottish Society on 31st December 1866.
They progressed through the grades on several return trips and the first recorded meeting of Scottish branch, called the ‘Rosicrucian Society of England or Brethren of the Rosy Cross’, was held as on Saturday 1st June 1867 at the George Hotel, Aldermanbury, near the Guild Hall in the City of London with R.W. Little as Master General.
The Scottish rituals were rejected in London during 1867 and plans were made for a Rosicrucian Society whose members were exclusively Master Masons in amity with U.G.L.E. According to the archives, R.W. Little only became the Supreme Magus of the new English society on the 14th January 1869 using rituals he had found in Freemasons Hall. The early years of the Society and its activities in London were closely tied to the Red Cross of Constantine masonic order that Little played a central role in establishing.
In regards to Metropolitan College No. 1, it wasn’t until 1874 that the college was formally split as a separate entity from the High Council of the Society and thus began a history of its own. Before this date the name Metropolitan College was used on some records such as minute books, which shows the blurring of the role between High Council and the College, but it wasn’t until this time that a distinct entity was formed.
The first recorded meeting of Metropolitan College, London, took place on the 16th April 1874 and held its convocations at the Regent Masonic Hall, Regent Street. From there we see a continuous stream of activity including a large number of presented papers, many of which were published in the Metropolitan College Transactions and solidifying the college’s reputation as the pre-eminent source of Rosicrucian research and commentary. Being the premier college of the society it (until recently) hosted the Triennial Assembly of the S.R.I.A.
There are many notable periods in the history of Metropolitan College, particularly in the early decades which saw prominent members such as Robert Wentworth Little (who was only 27 at the time of founding the S.R.I.A.), William Woodman, W. W. Westcott, Frederick Hockley, A. E. Waite and others take primary roles in both the running of the College and its output of esoteric research and learning.
In 1875 it is noted that 40 people attended the April convocation, at which the resignation of the prominent Freemason, Kenneth Mackenzie, was ‘accepted reluctantly’. Thankfully Mackenzie’s role as an esoteric researcher was soon filled by the erudite Frederick Hockley, with his joining Metropolitan College (from Bristol College) that same year.
A letter from R.W. Little, dated 18th March 1878, declares William G. R. Woodman his successor as Supreme Magus of the order and the following month Little would pass away on the 12th April 1878 aged just 40 years old and buried at ‘Honour Oak’ cemetery in Camberwell.
William Wynn Westcott was admitted into the Society on the 15th April 1880 and then made Secretary of Metropolitan College in 1884. During his time as Secretary, the name ‘Rosicrucian Society of England’ would cease use in relation to Metropolitan College and be replaced with the Latinised ‘Societas Rosicruciana in Anglia’ that was used for the first time in July 1885.
Westcott would become Secretary General of the S.R.I.A. in 1887; Master of the Temple (or Celebrant) of Metropolitan College in 1889; and go on to play a vital role in reinvigorating the Society, which had been languishing since R.W. Little’s death, and would eventually go on to become Supreme Magus in 1892 to great success and impact.
During Westcott’s year as Celebrant of Metropolitan College, in April 1889, he would initiate William John Songhurst, who would go on to serve as Secretary of the college from 1904 and then Celebrant in 1911. Songhurst would also rise through the ranks of High Council, eventually serving as Supreme Magus from 1925-1939.
The Metropolitan College Transactions for 1897 have the first ‘Catalogue of the Library of the Societas Rosicruciana in Anglia’ that contained 75 books including the 1652 translation of the Fama and Confessio Fraternitatis as translated by Eugenius Philalethes (Thomas Vaughan).
The ‘First Report of the Study Group’ is found in the Transactions for January 1902, explaining the purpose of the Metropolitan Study Group and its topics of research. This would begin a long history of the study group meeting on a monthly basis that continues through to today. This was also the year that A. E. Waite was admitted into Metropolitan College at the convocation held on 10th April 1902; and would become Chairman of the Metropolitan Study Group in 1903.
Perhaps the most famous (or infamous, depending on your view) aspect of the history of Metropolitan College is the involvement of some of its members in the formation of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn.
The history of this order and its numerous successors is too complex to briefly include here, but includes the infamous schisms in 1900 with the likes of Dr Robert Felkin (who became a Freemason to be admitted as a Zelator into Metropolitan College in 1907; and was Celebrant for a grand total of five minutes on 13th April 1916, to give him more authority as Chief Adept of Australia) and Brodie-Innes heading down a Continental Rosicrucian route with the Stella Matutina, of which Westcott would soon be admitted and involved in the Secret College in 1916; while A. E. Waite would pursue a mystical path with the Independent and Rectified Order R.R. et A.C. in 1903 (and subsequently the Fellowship of the Rosy Cross in 1915); and those loyal to Mathers would take on the name Alpha et Omega in Paris.
These notes from the past give just a brief glimpse into the rich history of Metropolitan College, which we will be exploring in more detail on this website with different pieces of historical interest from our archives.
Since its founding the college has had several venues for its meetings, including No 10 Duke Street, St James; The Bonnington Hotel, Southampton Row; and Mark Masons’ Hall, Great Queen Street (before it moved to its current location today).
In 2020 the Province of Greater London was created as a separate devolved entity, installing a new Chief Adept and Suffragan to oversee the direction of the Province and ensure its wellbeing (interestingly, there had been an unsuccessful attempt to do this in 1879 by W.G.R. Woodman - with the appointment of H. C. Levander who held the post of Chief Adept until his death in 1885).