Susan Snell, Archivist and Records Manager for the Library and Museum of Freemasonry, reveals connections between the Craft and the Olympics
The London 2012 organisers revealed in 2011 that they received applications for more than 20 million tickets from 1.8 million people for the Olympic Games – more than three times the 6.6 million tickets available to UK sports fans. Compared with this mad scramble for tickets, attendances at the first London Games were low according to The Times on 18 July 1908. Expensive ticket prices, ranging from five shillings to a Guinea (£45 to £60 in today’s money) were blamed for poor sales.
Thankfully, visits by the Royal Family boosted gate returns to the 1908 Games, with over 20,000 people attending the White City Stadium, constructed by the entrepreneur and Freemason, Imre Kiralfy. The masonic connections do not stop there. A keen sportsman and Freemason, Lord Desborough fenced at the unofficial Athens Games of 1906 and served as a member of the International Olympic Committee until 1913. Desborough was initiated in Apollo University Lodge, No. 357, Oxford, on 23 February 1875, the same day as Oscar Wilde.
THE GAMES BEGIN
The 500 British athletes at the opening of the Olympic Games wore caps and blazer badges manufactured by the masonic regalia company, George Kenning & Son. Britons achieved sporting success in real tennis (jeu de paume), athletics, swimming, boxing, tug of war and cycling, with several masonic participants, including Richard Wheldon Barnett of St Alban’s Lodge, No. 29, London, who represented Great Britain in the rifle, military pistol class competition.
This was just the beginning of the 1908 success stories. A Great Britain team won the gold medal in the Olympic football competition, with Vivian John Woodward, an amateur player at Chelsea and Tottenham Hotspur football clubs, scoring the second of two goals. Woodward, from Clacton, Essex, worked as an architect with his father and later designed the Antwerp stadium for the 1920 Olympics. Four years after his Olympic triumph, he was initiated in Kent Lodge No. 15, London.
Sir John Edward Kynaston Studd carried the British team flag and most track and field events were organised by the Regent Street Polytechnic, founded by Quintin Hogg. Studd became honorary secretary of the Polytechnic from 1885 and after Hogg’s death, president. Many sportsmen, including Studd, joined Polytechnic Lodge, No. 2847, after it was consecrated in 1901.
Studd and others formed Athlon Lodge, No. 4674, in 1924, the year Harold Abrahams won an Olympic gold medal in the 100 metres, as featured in the film Chariots Of Fire, beating an American, Charley Paddock, and another British athlete, the New Zealand-born Freemason, Sir Arthur Espie Porritt. Bronze medal winner Porritt, who later served as Governor-General of New Zealand, became a consultant surgeon and then chairman at the Royal Masonic Hospital from 1974 to 1982. Athlon Lodge member Abrahams and Porritt dined together on 7 July at 7pm every year to celebrate the anniversary of their double medal success in 1924, until the former died in 1978.
BRITISH SPORTING SUCCESS
With the 1908 Games encouraging participation in competitive sports, Britons excelled at subsequent Olympic competitions. The Thames-based rower, Jack Beresford, won a silver medal in the single sculls at the 1920 Olympics and then won medals for rowing at each of the four subsequent Games. He carried the British flag at the opening and closing ceremonies of the controversial 1936 Berlin Olympics, where he won a gold medal in the double sculls. He was initiated as a Freemason in Argonauts Lodge, No. 2243, London, in 1944.
Forty years after its first visit to UK shores, the Olympics came to London again. Ernest James Henry ‘Billy’ Holt, who was initiated in Black Horse of Lombard Street Lodge, No. 4155, in 1922, served as director of organisation for the 1948 London Games. Holt, Master of Athlon Lodge in 1938, had coached the long-distance athlete, Gordon Pirie.
Cycling Freemasons, Gordon ‘Tiny’ Thomas, formerly of Lodge of Equity, No. 6119, Yorkshire West Riding, won a silver medal in the team road race and Tommy Godwin, formerly of Lodge of St Oswald, No. 5094, Worcestershire, won bronzes in the 1km time trial and in the team pursuit. Godwin coached the British cycling squad at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics and will be an Olympic torchbearer in Solihull in July, aged 91. This blend of local and national interests, where Olympic and masonic aspirations combine, points to a time when members and non-members can enjoy the pleasure of a game well played, and a race well run.
|Sport by all|
|The Paralympic Games, which began at Stoke Mandeville Hospital in 1948 also have masonic ties. Professor Guttman, director of the National Spinal Injuries Centre at the hospital, encouraged WW2 veterans to play sport for rehabilitation. The Middlesex Masonic Sports Association has supported Paralympians, including Tracy Lewis, basketball, and Anthony Peddle, weightlifting, at the 1992 Barcelona Games, while the Grand Charity contributes to WheelPower (formerly the British Wheelchair Sports Foundation).|
|Game, Set and Lodge: Freemasons and Sport exhibition at the Library and Museum on Great Queen Street runs from 2 July-21 December 2012|
Specialist lodges offer the opportunity for members to combine their personal interests while learning about the principles of Freemasonry, as Terry Draycott shows in his history of the Royal Life Saving Lodge
At first glance you might be forgiven for thinking that ‘Quemcunque Miserum Videris Hominem Scias’ is a quote from a Roman Emperor’s tomb. However, you would be wrong. It is actually the motto of the Royal Life Saving Society (RLSS), which was formed in 1891 by, among others, William Henry and Archibald Sinclair, and translates to: ‘Whomsoever you see in distress, see in him a fellow Man.’
Originally called the Swimmer’s Life Saving Society, the aims of the society were to try to reduce the significant numbers of fatalities caused by drowning, through teaching self-preservation and rescue skills. The title was subsequently changed to The Life Saving Society with members delivering lectures and demonstrations on life-saving techniques around not only the United Kingdom, but also the world. It is rumoured that William Henry visited almost every swimming pool in the UK, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Finland, Sweden and several other countries, lecturing, teaching and promoting the work of the society. As a result, several life-saving organisations were formed within these countries.
In 1904, King Edward VI granted royal patronage and the Royal Life Saving Society was born. The society continued to flourish both within the UK and globally, and today there are RLSS clubs throughout the country. Its network of volunteers deliver instruction on water safety, life support and rescue. The society is a registered charity and a member of the RLSS Commonwealth as well as the International Life Saving Federation.
You may be asking, where is all this leading? Well, back in 1908, a group of RLSS members, finding themselves to also be masons, conceived the idea of forming their own lodge, which would be affiliated to the RLSS. Plans were made and a petition submitted to the Grand Master, and on 9 November 1908 a warrant was granted to the Royal Life Saving Lodge. The lodge was consecrated on 19 February 1909 at the Frascati restaurant on Oxford Street in London. The Grand Secretary, Sir Edward Letchworth, conducted the consecration, acting as Worshipful Master, assisted by Charles F Quicke, Senior Warden; James Stephen, Junior Warden; Rev H W Turner, Chaplain; Charles W Cole, Director of Ceremonies; and W J Songhurst, Inner Guard.
All these worthy brothers were elected honorary members of the lodge after the ceremony. The First Worshipful Master was Herbert Grimwade with Lord Desborough the first Immediate Past Master. All of the founders were active members of the RLSS, and included within the annual subscription was annual membership of the RLSS. William Henry became the first initiate into the lodge in April 1909 and rose to become Worshipful Master in 1917.
two societies, one bond
The connection between the lodge and the society remained strong for many years. When the society moved into premises in Devonshire Street, London, it immediately became Desborough House, with rehearsals and meetings regularly held there. Indeed, chairs for the Worshipful Master, Senior Warden and Junior Warden were still in use up to the move to the society’s present headquarters in Broom. The Master’s Collar is adorned with several enamelled pictures of early life-saving scenes and the loose chain box is wrought in the form of a lifebelt.
Until a few years ago, a toast was taken by the Worshipful Master to all holders of RLSS awards. However, the connection with the RLSS has been reinforced recently, with several members becoming joining members and no doubt the toast will soon be reintroduced. Some of you might remember being taught rescue skills and might have gone on to take the society’s flagship award, The Bronze Medallion, or indeed may still be members of the RLSS but never knew of its own lodge.
I have been a member of the RLSS for over forty years and a Freemason for seventeen but only discovered the existence of the lodge thanks to the wonders of modern technology – the internet, and more specifically, eBay. Back in 1992, while surfing (the dry type), I saw a founder’s jewel for sale for the Royal Life Saving Lodge, No. 3339. I investigated and subsequently made contact with the secretary – and the rest, as they say, is history.
I believe that the principles of Freemasonry are compatible with the aims of a great number of other organisations. The creation of a specialist lodge means we can discuss Freemasonry and share common interests and values. The union of two worthy causes helps to keep the memory of William Henry alive and encourages the next generation of Freemasons.
Letters to the Editor - FreemasonryToday No.18 - SUMMER 2012