The red aprons
Director of Special Projects John Hamill explores the history behind the Grand Stewards, the lodge without a number
Like many membership organisations, Freemasonry relies on volunteers to run smoothly. One of the longest-serving groups of volunteers is the Grand Stewards, whose members, because of their privilege of wearing crimson collars and edging to their aprons, can cause confusion when they visit outside London.
The Grand Stewards’ prime function is to organise the Grand Festival, which immediately follows the annual investiture of Grand Officers on the last Wednesday in April each year. That has its origins in the famous meeting that took place on 24 June 1717 when the first Grand Lodge was formed. Indeed, for the first few years the annual feast and election of the new Grand Master appears to have been all that Grand Lodge did.
As the 1720s advanced and the number of lodges and members increased, organising the Grand Feast became more complex, so a number of individuals volunteered as stewards for the event.
In 1728, to formalise the arrangement, Grand Lodge invited 12 individuals to form a team to take on the preparations. This proved successful and the stewards became Grand Stewards, with their own jewel of office to be suspended from a crimson ribbon and the privilege of having their aprons lined and edged in the same colour. The original jewel was said to have been designed by William Hogarth, himself a Grand Steward in 1735.
The Grand Stewards received a further privilege in the same year when they were given a warrant as the Stewards Lodge. Originally they also carried a number but, in 1792, the Grand Stewards Lodge was formed, which was permitted to meet ‘without number, but first on the list of regular lodges’. Like the three time immemorial lodges, which formed the original 1717 Grand Lodge, the Grand Stewards Lodge meets without a warrant.
The Grand Stewards grew into a powerful body, with 12 representatives of the lodge entitled to attend and vote in Grand Lodge (usually only the Master and Wardens represented a lodge). The Grand Officers, for much of the 18th century, were chosen from among their number. Both these practices were lost after the Union of the two Grand Lodges in 1813, although the Grand Stewards retained the right to occupy the front rows on the north and south areas of the Grand Temple.
Up until the Union, the outgoing Grand Stewards had the right of nominating their successors, which naturally led to the office becoming associated with a small group of London lodges. Although the Antients Grand Lodge used stewards occasionally and had a Stewards Lodge (in effect, their Committee of Charity), they did not have a similar system of Grand Stewards.
After the Union in 1813, the Grand Master, HRH The Duke of Sussex, began to formalise many of the pre-Union practices. In 1815, 18 London lodges were given the privilege of each year nominating one of their members for appointment by the Grand Master as a Grand Steward. Many of these lodges had previously provided Grand Stewards for the premier Grand Lodge.
The Grand Stewards were to assist at great ceremonials and the Quarterly Communication. In addition to organising the Grand Festival, they were to bear its cost. This later proved to be problematic and the present system was evolved, whereby Grand Lodge sets the ticket price for the Grand Festival and the Board of Grand Stewards makes its plans in the full knowledge that any costs exceeding those funds will fall on the board itself.
In making the new arrangements in 1815, the Duke of Sussex set up a curious anomaly. During their year of office, the Grand Stewards are Grand Officers. At the end of their year they become Past Grand Stewards and retain the right to wear their distinctive regalia but cease being Grand Officers – unless they are promoted or already hold Grand Rank.
On a number of occasions, I have seen consternation cross the brow of a lodge Director of Ceremonies when a Past Grand Steward visits his lodge. He does not fit into any of the conventional groups, so where does he go in the procession?
Is he saluted? And where does he fit in on the toast list…?
‘A Past Grand Steward does not fit into any of the conventional groups, so where does he go in the procession?’
The Grand Master, HRH The Duke of Kent, has opened the RMBI’s fully refurbished, state-of-the-art care home at James Terry Court in Croydon
Also at the ceremony were the Mayor, Cllr Yvette Hopley, residents of the home, and guests and volunteers from the masonic community.
The Duke toured the home, joined by Surrey Provincial Grand Master Eric Stuart-Bamford and Deputy PGM Derek Barr. Also present were RMBI President James Newman, former President Willie Shackell, who presided during the rebuild, and Chief Executive David Innes.
Following the £10 million refurbishment, James Terry Court can now house 76 residents and has 13 apartments for independent living. Surrey masons have generously supported the redevelopment: Springfield Lodge, No. 6052, donated £75,000; a local ‘Buy a Brick’ campaign raised more than £25,000; and The Grand Stewards’ Lodge donated £20,000. The Association of Friends of James Terry Court also provides substantial support each year.
Phase 1 of the re-build at RMBI care home James Terry Court, Croydon has been officially opened.
The event was attended by over 40 representatives from the Province of Surrey, the Association of Friends and the RMBI.
RMBI President Willie Shackell opened the event and welcomed all attendees. Willie spoke about the history of the RMBI which started in East Croydon with its first Home named ‘Asylum for Worthy, Aged and Decayed Freemasons’ in 1850. He went on to explain why the re-build of James Terry Court was necessary as the original Home was looking tired and needed to adapt to the ever changing needs of older people.
Thanks were given by Willie Shackell to Dennis Vine who had overseen the development of the Home in his role as Co-opted Trustee, to the residents of the Home for their patience with the building works and to the staff for providing high quality care during the re-build. Julian Birch, Regional Property Operations Manager who sadly passed away in October was remembered for all his efforts in the re-build of the Home
The Association of Friends and the Province of Surrey, Metropolitan Grand Lodge and the Province of Hampshire & Isle of Wight were also thanked for their generous and continued support of the Home and the RMBI.
Eric Stuart-Bamford, PGM of the Province of Surrey went on to speak about his appreciation and gratitude to Home Manager Di Collins and the staff at the Home for the services they provide to the residents. Mr Stuart-Bamford also recognised the support that the Association of Friends provide to the Home.
The event saw the official opening of the Lounge and Library by Eric Stuart-Bamford and also of the Therapy Room by Libby Stuart-Bamford. The Therapy Room was built using the generous donation provided by The Grand Stewards’ Lodge as part of their 275th anniversary celebrations.
Those present were given a tour of the new building and ended with canapés and refreshments.
With a quiet dignity and impish sense of humour, Reverend Canon Richard Tydeman, MA, OSM, PSGW, came into Freemasonry in 1937. John Hamill celebrates his considerable achievements
Richard Tydeman, who died aged 94, had a great love of the English language and its proper usage. A highly regarded preacher and after-dinner speaker, he also compiled crosswords for the Church Times, produced verse and plays, and wrote a column for Freemasonry Today under the heading Reflection.
A Suffolk man through-and-through, Tydeman was born in Stowmarket and educated at Woodbridge School, before attending St John’s College Oxford (BA in 1939, MA in 1943). He trained for the priesthood at Ripon Hall, Oxford, and was ordained in 1943. After a brief curacy in Staffordshire he returned to Suffolk first as a curate and then as a priest in charge of Ipswich and Woodbridge. He was an Honorary Canon of St Edmundsbury Cathedral from 1959 to 1963.
In 1963, Tydeman moved to London as Rector of St Sepulchre-Without-Newgate and a Deputy Minor Canon of St Paul’s Cathedral. He was preacher of Lincoln’s Inn from 1973 until his London retirement in 1981. He then returned to Suffolk before moving to Cornwallis Court in Bury St Edmunds.
Tydeman’s long life was supported by three pillars: family, faith and Freemasonry. He was proud that his daughters – Reverend Rose Williams and Deaconess Sue Pierson – followed this path. He also protested as elements of the Church attacked the Craft. When the General Synod in 1986 announced it was to investigate the compatibility of Freemasonry and Christianity, he wrote to the Church Times asking what right the Synod had to speak for Christianity.
He came into Freemasonry in 1937 in the Phoenix Lodge No. 516, at Stowmarket. He was Provincial Grand Chaplain for Suffolk in 1957 and Grand Chaplain in 1966 and 1967. He was later promoted to Past Junior Grand Warden in 1989 and Past Senior Grand Warden in 2004 of the Grand Lodge. In 1988, he was appointed a member of the Grand Master’s Order of Service to Masonry.
In 1941, Tydeman came into the Royal Arch in the Lewisham Chapter No. 2582, at Warley in Staffordshire. He later joined two chapters in Suffolk, was Grand Scribe N in 1971 and from 1980 to 1987 was Grand Superintendent in and over the area. In a debate in Grand Chapter on changes to the Royal Arch ritual in the late 1980s, he announced that he was privileged to be Grand Superintendent in a small province of 17 chapters that worked 18 rituals.
Tydeman’s three addresses – ‘A New Approach to Mystical Hebrew’ (the ‘bumble bee’ lecture) of November 1979; ‘The Words on the Triangle – An Alternative View’ of November 1985; and ‘History, Mystery and Geometry’ of November 1987 – added to the revision of the Royal Arch in the 1980s.
His contribution to Masonic thought was acknowledged in 1971 when he was appointed Prestonian Lecturer, his subject being ‘Masters and Master Masons’, while his explanation of how the Grand Stewards gained their red apron – given as the response to the Visitor’s Toast at the 1978 Installation Banquet of the Grand Stewards Lodge – has become part of Grand Stewards folklore.
He also held high office in many of the additional degrees, including the highest in two of them: from 1980 to 1996 he was Grand Sovereign of the Red Cross of Constantine, and from 1994 to 2002 he was Sovereign Grand Commander of the Ancient and Accepted Rite of Freemasonry. In both of those capacities, he travelled extensively, impressing many of the members with his dignity and impish humour.
Even in these days of increasing longevity, 94 years of life, 74 years of Freemasonry and 70 years as a priest are achievements worthy of celebration. Those of us who were privileged to know him will mourn his loss but raise a glass to many happy memories.