A FREEMASONS lodge has secured a piece of its history after finding it for sale on eBay.

A member of the Marquess of Ripon Lodge No 1379, which meets in Darlington, found one of its first pastmasters' jewels on the internet auction site.

It had been put up for sale by the great grandson of Past Master of the Lodge Thomas Watson, who lives in York.

The jewel, which was awarded to Mr Watson in 1894, was bid for and secured by the current lodge members for £127. They will keep it alongside another 17 such jewels, which are presented to all masters of the lodge after their year in the chair.

One of those is on display in the lodge museum room and six in the William Waples Museum, in Sunderland.

Ian Kirkbride, secretary of the lodge, said: "These days, we expect pastmasters' jewels to be returned to lodge secretaries when their holders get provincial honours - a form of promotion within masonry - and we then re-issue them to current masters.

"We looked up Watson's history via old minute books and a lodge history publication that we have and also turned to old newspaper accounts including the now-defunct Northern Despatch, the Darlington and Stockton Times and The Northern Echo, to find that he was indeed a very high-profile character in the town."

Mr Kirkbride said Watson was born in Darlington in 1840 and lived all his life in the town. He died in 1935.

He was captain of Darlington Cricket Club, including once against an All-England XI, captained Durham County Football Club and captained Durham County Rugby.

During one afternoon he also won the 100 yards, 440 yards and mile events at a Darlington athletics meet and had a best time of 4mins 29secs for the mile.

He was also involved in fell walking and fell running, once covering a distance of 55 miles in less than 20 hours - then a Lake District record.

He was president of Darlington Hare Coursing Club and enjoyed salmon fishing, holding a record at Loch Tay, in Scotland.

Mr Kirkbride added: "He was a colossus of his time and to that end, I quote from the Northern Despatch dated March 14, 1935 on whose front page was his obituary, 'without doubt the greatest sportsman the town ever had'."