Celebrating 300 years

Arriving in style

Second Grand Principal George Francis made a dramatic entrance when he arrived in a DeLorean car for the installation of Charles Cunnington as Grand Superintendent of the Royal Arch Province of Derbyshire. Charles took over from Thomas Briggs, who had held the role for 12 years. Among those at the masonic hall in Littleover, Derby were 11 Grand Superintendents, three Past Grand Superintendents and 190 Companions. The DeLorean is owned by Provincial Grand Sword Bearer Chris Parnham.

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Regular Convocation 

12 November 2014 
An address by the ME Pro First Grand Principal Peter Lowndes 

Companions, the Second Grand Principal has just completed a series of meetings with Grand Superintendents. One of the topics of conversation was the relationship between the Royal Arch and the Craft – specifically covering two issues. First, the selection of Royal Arch representatives in Craft Lodges and secondly, the taking of wine with Royal Arch members at Craft Festive Boards.

The appointment and monitoring of the Royal Arch Representative in a Craft Lodge needs careful consideration. There has been debate as to who is responsible for this important appointment. In Provinces where the Provincial Grand Master and Grand Superintendent are the same, there should be no issue. However, where the heads of the two orders are different I believe it essential that the Provincial Grand Master and Grand Superintendent liaise. The appointment should never be a ‘tick in the box’ exercise.

As a member of the Royal Arch, the Representative will need to know sufficient about the merits of joining the Order and be able to work closely with the Lodge Mentor. In many instances it could be best judged that a member should be approached at the same time that he receives his Grand Lodge Certificate. I know from experience that there is a balance between judging whether someone will enjoy the Royal Arch with the right time for that individual to join. This timing is also pressurised by the concern that an individual will be approached to join one of the side orders first if there is any delay in recruitment. I continue to believe that there is a good stage to brief Master Masons on the merits of the Royal Arch, but that the actual timing of joining should be linked to each individual’s appetite for Masonic advancement and personal circumstances.

For those of you who are very involved with the side orders, please do not think that I am in any way against Craft members joining them, far from it. However I do firmly believe that the Royal Arch should be the first priority. 

As for wine taking with Royal Arch members at Craft Festive Boards – I believe that this custom should be treated sensitively – if ever used. I will also be mentioning this at the Craft Quarterly Communication in December. In any event the decision should lie in the hands of each Provincial Grand Master. I can see a case for this where a Chapter is linked to a Craft Lodge – but, even so, it is recommended that this wine taking is conducted with everyone sitting down so that those who are not members of the Order are not embarrassed or – worst still – pounced on with a joining form!

Companions you will have read in the last issue of Freemasonry Today about the Membership Focus Group and their mission to stop the bleed in membership. It is clearly of the greatest importance to Royal Arch recruitment that this bleed is halted whilst recruiting and retaining men of quality and integrity. You will have read that members were asked to participate in a series of short surveys so that the Membership Focus Group could seek grass roots’ ideas about the future of Freemasonry. I would ask as many of you as possible to take this opportunity and register and so be able to give your views.


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Surgeon support from Devon Royal Arch

At the Riviera International Centre in Torquay, Second Grand Principal George Francis attended the Holy Royal Arch Masons of Devonshire Annual Provincial Grand Chapter. To a packed auditorium including more than 100 distinguished guests from the Provinces, Grand Superintendent Simon Rowe announced that Provincial Grand Chapter had contributed more than £75,000 to the Supreme Grand Chapter Royal College of Surgeons 2013 Appeal.

The Royal Arch Province of Hampshire and Isle of Wight has taken an innovative approach to its fundraising for the Bicentenary Appeal for the Royal College of Surgeons Research Fellowship

The Province invited chapters to nominate an individual who has undergone major surgery, showing exceptional fortitude and bravery, to qualify for a Badge of Courage Award (BOCA). 

Chapters were invited to sponsor individuals by pledging a donation of £1,000, of which £500 would be donated to the appeal with the £500 balance going to a non-masonic charity nominated by the award recipient. A gala BOCA ball was held at HMS Collingwood in Gosport, at which Grand Superintendent Alan Berman presented Second Grand Principal George Francis (pictured above) with a cheque for £80,000 for the appeal.

Eight donations of £500 each were also made to the charities nominated by the BOCA winners.

Out of the shadows

As the Royal Arch marks two hundred years of recognition, Second Grand Principal George Francis explains its evolution and sometimes complex relationship with the Craft

What is the Royal Arch?

It’s a difficult concept to explain, even to a mason. Part of the problem is that the Royal Arch developed in a way that has been forgotten. The main idea goes back to the sixteenth century, if not before. Around the Tudor period there was Freemasonry which had come from the stonemasons, and the Royal Arch was the first attempt to branch off and do something extra. We have to be careful not to call the Royal Arch the ‘Fourth Degree’; that’s just one way to explain it to an outsider, but it is a completion of the Three Degrees. It gives you new insights and is the culmination of the first lessons and meanings – it completes the journey.

The Royal Arch dates back to the 1700s. Why is the bicentenary in 2013?

The people who started Grand Lodge in 1717 decided they were not going to include the Royal Arch and were going to stick to the main idea, or trunk. That’s really the start of the story, before then it’s all speculative. By 1750, another group who were also part of the main trunk said this isn’t quite how Freemasonry ought to be, that the Royal Arch was absolutely essential, so they were going to split off and do things differently. Suddenly two Grand Lodges were operating side by side and they gave one another inappropriate nicknames. The newer Grand Lodge members called themselves ‘the Antients’ (as they felt they were the real keepers of the flame) and called the other Grand Lodge ‘the Moderns’ – even though the Moderns had actually been established earlier. So you had this slight friction between them and they trundled along rather uneasily side by side.

How did the happen?

Eventually both lodges decided the situation was counter-productive and that they should join up. The Duke of Sussex was the main mover in this, heading up the Moderns, and the leader of the Antients was his brother, the Duke of Kent, who insisted that the combined organisation must have the Royal Arch as part of the journey. It wasn’t until 1813 that the Royal Arch became a formal part of the structure.

What else did the Duke of Sussex do?

One point the Duke of Sussex stipulated at the was that we should all wear the same regalia, and also that we were to use the same rituals and words. The second part never quite happened, so there are still differences in the rituals and wording used by different lodges. However, we’re greatly indebted to the Duke of Sussex; he was an interesting person and very left wing for a royal prince – he was anti-slavery, pro-Catholic (although not one himself) and pro-Jewish. These things were rather unfashionable at the time. He was very much a figurehead for the Whigs and people who wanted change. The Duke of Sussex was the one who said we are not going to be just Christian in the Freemasons, we’ll allow everybody in as long as they believe in God.

What’s the difference between the Craft and the Royal Arch?

We call the three main degrees, which have adopted the colour blue, the ‘Craft’ and we call members ‘brothers’ and ‘brethren’. Even the female masons call one another brother. In the Royal Arch, you become ‘companions’. You’ve made that additional step, you’re taking it a bit more seriously, so there’s a different atmosphere – it’s more intimate, you’re more closely linked. We meet up in chapters and have adopted the colour red as well as blue. It’s very much an eighteenth-century idea of a harmonious society.

Is the Royal Arch more complicated?

I try to get people to realise that you don’t have to understand everything that’s going on, you just have to enjoy it. There are interesting ideas and stories – some of it’s quite deep – but you don’t have to comprehend every single part. It’s quite fun exploring and finding out these things slowly. You’ve got to enjoy time with people, enjoy doing a bit of acting, listening to stories and maybe understanding something you didn’t understand before. That’s what it’s about really, doing things together.

Are more Freemasons coming to the Royal Arch?

Around forty per cent of Craft masons are in the Royal Arch and it’s a shame that it isn’t more.

Clearly there are some who really don’t want to go into the deeper meanings, which is fine because Freemasonry should appeal on different levels. But what I’m trying to express to the Craft is that you should really complete the journey, it’s not that much more time or expense and you’ll really enjoy it.

It completes the circle of understanding and the basic journey. This way of thinking is having some effect and our proportion of Craft masons is gradually rising.

How can you improve recruitment?

The problem is that when you come to Freemasonry, the Royal Arch is not explained because it’s difficult to describe. It sometimes doesn’t get mentioned until quite late on – someone might have been in masonry a couple of years before they come across it. We’re trying to change the perception that it’s just an optional extra and make sure that it’s explained at the outset. We thought at one stage we might go back to a Fourth Degree idea so everyone would be involved. It would be free of charge and there wouldn’t be any reason for not doing it. But the Royal Arch is slightly different so it shouldn’t really be an automatic stage; people ought to think about it, and we’re hoping the bicentenary will help to explain that.

What are you trying to achieve with the bicentenary appeal?

The Bicentenary Appeal is about three things: formal recognition, an appeal and an excuse for a party.

We added the appeal idea so we would have a legacy of our celebration, one that adds to the Fund we created in 1967 for the benefit of the Royal College of Surgeons. We’ve ninety thousand members in England and Wales and ten thousand abroad, and it is important when you’ve got such a big organisation to continue to show members what can be done, to not just sit back and do more of the same.

What do you do as the Second Grand Principal?

My role was traditionally carried out by the Deputy Grand Master but for various reasons the roles got split a number of years ago. It means that I can concentrate on the Royal Arch. I try to visit all forty-six Provinces as well as the Metropolitan Area of London and explain what’s happening at the centre, what the challenges are for the future and encourage our members generally. It’s an opportunity to speak to the Provinces on a different level and not just go through the motions.

Is the Royal Arch changing?

We try to alter the ritual as little as possible because it’s something that people have to learn by heart – you can’t keep changing it all the time. But part of my job is to find the things that we can improve to make it more enjoyable and exciting. My job is to also get the message out there that this is for younger chaps, too, and that we can add a bit more colour and a little less formality.

Find out about the discovery of an old manuscript that could reveal crucial elements about Royal Arch ritual here.

Published in SGC
Thursday, 07 March 2013 00:00

Socking it to the Wigton chapter

The special Bicentennial Convocation of the Chapter of St John, No. 327, which meets at Wigton, Province of Cumberland and Westmorland, was attended by the Second Grand Principal, George Francis, and a deputation from the Supreme Grand Chapter in celebration of its 200th year.

Bob Aird gave a brief history of the chapter’s origins in the town as well as a flavour of the local industry and notable people of the time, John Hamill read the bicentenary charter, and Third Provincial Grand Principal, the Reverend Robert Roeschlaub, gave an oration.

At the Festive Board, George Francis had special gifts for Grand Superintendent Norman Thompson and the Principals of the Chapter. The Second Grand Principal is renowned for wearing red socks to chapter convocations and so presented the Grand Superintendent and Principals with their own stylish pairs.

At the April meeting of the Essex First Principals Chapter No.3256, over 200 members and guests went on to see a demonstation of the 'Ceremony of the Veils' given by the Essex Provincial Stewards Chapter No 8665. The chapter was particularly honoured by the presence of many distinguished Royal Arch masons which included: ME Comp George Pipon Francis, 2nd Grand Principal, ME Comp David Kenneth Williamson, 3rd Grand Principal and our own ME Comp John Michael Webb, Grand Superintendant.

This Ceremony had been authorised by the Committee of General Purposes of Supreme Grand Chapter solely for demonstrations at a Provincial or District level held under the authority of the respective Grand Superintendent.

The basis of the current Royal Arch ceremonies worked in England was established and agreed by Supreme Grand Chapter in 1834. There is some evidence that before the 1834 changes the ceremony of Passing the Veils was practised as a preliminary to the Exaltation ceremony. This was particularly true in Lodges under the former Antients Grand Lodge which worked the Royal Arch within the Lodge, but there is little evidence of it being worked in Chapters under the original Excellent Grand and Royal Chapter.

Today in England the ceremony is solely authorised for use in Chapters in Bristol but it is still very much part of the Royal Arch system in Ireland, the United States of America and in Scotland - where it is known as the Excellent Master Degree. For those wishing to see the Bristol ceremony, the Province and its Chapters are always delighted to receive visitors.

This demonstration is not the ceremony as practised in Bristol, Ireland, Scotland or the USA but necessarily includes material which appears in the ceremonies worked in those countries. It has been compiled from manuscripts in the Library and Museum of Freemasonry and published sources such as Carlile and Claret.

Following the demonstation the 1st Principal, E. Comp Edward A Hilburn, PGStB, presented a cheque on behalf of the Chapter to E Comp Keith Huddlestone, PGStB, PAPrGP, the Essex Provincial Stewards Chapter 'Demonstation Team' represntative, who announced that the very generous donation of £500 would be going to the The Royal Arch Masons 2013 Bicentenary Appeal for 'The Royal College of Surgeons of England'.

Royal Arch Investiture 

28 April 2011 
An address by the ME Pro First Grand Principal Peter Lowndes 

Companions, this is a special day for those of you who have been appointed to Grand Rank or have been promoted. Grand rank is sparingly awarded and I congratulate you on your achievement. In recognising that the Royal Arch is the completion of pure ancient masonry, exaltation into the Order should neither be hurried nor obligatory, as not all Craft Brethren will wish to take this final step immediately upon being raised. However, it is hoped that you as Grand Officers will be able to communicate something of the colour, enjoyment and essence of the Royal Arch to committed members of the Craft.

As we move towards the bi-centenary of the Order in 2013 we have taken the opportunity to further ensure the long term future of the Royal Arch. In raising the profile to achieve this, it is important to make sure we are seen as appealing, inspiring and relevant.

To that end, a strategic working party, under the chairmanship of the Second Grand Principal, reported their nine recommendations to me in March. The first of these recommendations in their Report was that the strap line ‘initiation to exaltation’ be adopted to promote the Order.

The working party looked at mentoring and how it should align to the work being done on this in the Craft. Here it was suggested that the Craft Personal Mentor and the Royal Arch Representative actively guide a new Master Mason towards membership of the Royal Arch at an appropriate point in his Masonic journey. Also that once exalted the new Companion has a knowledgeable Royal Arch Mason to help him better understand the ceremony and meaning of the Royal Arch and how best to become involved in the Chapter.

The role of the Lodge Royal Arch Representative is fundamental to the promotion of the Order and it is recommended that Metropolitan, Provincial and District Grand Lodges continue to encourage Craft Lodges to make this appointment and to develop the role. It is also considered important that the adoption of the permitted ritual variations, introduced by the 2004 Royal Arch Strategic Working Party be encouraged in Chapters.

I am aware that the Metropolitan Grand Lodge and several Provinces and Districts are already presenting a letter to the newly made Master Mason on the merits of the Royal Arch. This practice is highly recommended by the Working Party. Efforts to improve the profile of the Order in all website contexts is underway and will help the potential exaltee to have a better understanding of the Order he is about to join.

Two clear outward ways to promote the Order are emphasised. First, the taking of wine with Royal Arch members at selected Craft Festive Boards and secondly, that the wearing of the official Royal Arch tie be further encouraged. The final recommendation is that Chapters be encouraged to re-engage with Lodges from which they have traditionally derived members.

In order to encourage a greater participation amongst all Companions, as well as lending clarity to the Royal Arch teachings, the Working Party looked at the layout of the ritual books so that the Revised and Permitted Alternative variations adopted in 2004 be encouraged as the standard. I emphasise that nothing is now being suggested which in any way enforces or changes what was introduced by Supreme Grand Chapter in 2004.

A wider participation in the ritual is clearly beneficial in encouraging a deeper understanding of the teaching and by giving the permitted variations of 2004 a greater prominence in the various printed and authorised rituals – for example, Aldersgate, Domatic, Perfect and Metropolitan – I trust more Chapters will be encouraged to adopt them and benefit accordingly. For your interest, all these are likely to be reprinted in the next eighteen months.

The celebration of the bi-centenary next year will be held on Wednesday 16 October. This earlier date will replace the November Convocation – for that year only. The planned events of the day will begin with a demonstration by the Metropolitan Grand Stewards’ Chapter Demonstration Team – in the Grand Temple – to encourage the use of the Permitted Alternative Variation that I have just referred to. This will be followed by lunch in the Grand Connaught Rooms. The main celebration will take place in the afternoon - again in the Grand Temple, followed by a dinner at the Savoy. You will appreciate that these events will be restricted by numbers. The Grand Scribe Ezra will be briefing Grand Superintendents and Provincial Scribes Ezra on the detail in good time.

The 2013 Royal Arch Appeal for the Royal College of Surgeons is progressing well – with over half a million recorded so far. This means that we are well on our way to exceeding our target, so that we can then further help the research fellowship scheme, run by the College, by financially supporting additional fellowships. I encourage you to keep up your efforts.

Finally Companions, on your behalf I congratulate the Grand Director of Ceremonies and his Deputies for the excellent way in which today’s meeting has been conducted and the Grand Scribe Ezra and his staff for their hard work in ensuring a successful Investiture.

Published in Speeches

The long-standing association of the United Grand Lodge of England with the Royal College of Surgeons has taken another step, this time through the Royal Arch. Full information was provided by George Francis, Second Grand Principal at Grand Chapter in November.

The Royal Arch has launched an appeal through a Relief Chest with the Grand Charity into which all donations will go. The aim over the next three years or so is to raise a minimum of £10, plus Gift Aid from every companion.

Published in SGC
Wednesday, 01 December 2010 15:31

In Conversation with the Second Grand Principal

Matthew Scanlan talks to George Francis about the Royal Arch

For the last five years George Francis has been Second Grand Principal of the Supreme Grand Chapter, the governing body of the Royal Arch. And at the Supreme Grand Chapter meeting held on 10 November at Freemasons’ Hall, London, he officiated as Acting First Grand Principal and spoke about the order’s upcoming bicentennial celebrations as well as the creation of a bicentenary research fund appeal for The Royal College of Surgeons. Consequently, Freemasonry Today decided to catch up with him to discuss his involvement with the Order at an interesting moment in its history.

George Francis was born in March 1947 and was educated at Eton College and the Universities of Aix-en-Provence and Birmingham. A solicitor by profession, he joined Freemasonry in April 1992 and rose quickly through the ranks. And after serving as both Deputy Grand Director of Ceremonies (2001-4) and Senior Grand Warden (2006-2008) in the Craft, he was installed as Second Grand Principal in November 2005 by the then Pro Grand Master, Lord Northampton.
     Five years on, almost to the day, I sat down with him in one of the spacious offices at Freemasons’ Hall, London, and it quickly became apparent that he clearly enjoys his role as one of the rulers of the Order, despite the not inconsiderable demands on his time; for as he explained, he has visited no fewer than forty-six provinces during his five years in office.
     I began by asking, what motivated him to become a Freemason in the first place?
     ‘I was always vaguely curious about Freemasonry’, he replied, ‘my grandfather was a mason, but my father was quite anti’.
     Therefore, I queried, what made you make that final leap of faith?
     ‘It was a personal thing and my involvement began through my school connection. I was always interested in deeper stuff and I was interested to know if Freemasonry held any answers to the meaning of life. As soon as I was initiated I felt comfortable and I liked the language; I have always found the thought provoking side of it most alluring’.
     Do you remember your initiation?
     ‘Yes, very well. I was initiated in Old Etonian Lodge, No. 4500 in a ceremony held in the chapel at Castle Ashby, the ancestral home of the former Pro Grand Master, Lord Northampton. It was interesting because the Wardens were in the West of the lodge as they once used to be. It was a very impressive ceremony and Lord Northampton was in the Chair’.
     He was subsequently passed in Lancing Lodge, No. 6352, raised in Old Etonian Lodge, and, two and a half years later, exalted in United Studholme Chapter, No. 1591, a chapter that was once the haunt of Edward VIII when he was Prince of Wales (latterly the Duke of Windsor).
     What was your initial impression of the Royal Arch?
     ‘Well, I first heard about the order after I had taken my second degree and someone mentioned said there was a sort of optional bolt-on degree at the end of the three Craft degrees. But I didn’t hear about it properly until I was relatively far down the track, as it were. When I was finally exalted I found the ceremony very impressive, although since that time I have often felt that the beginning could be a little more dramatic as I don’t remember much about it. Perhaps it could be held in the dark, but that’s just a personal view.’
     Did the degree make any sense to you?
     ‘Well, the Royal Arch is not an easy concept to understand. It has been described as the keystone of masonry because it emphasises the existence of a higher power, i.e. God. And whereas the Name of God is more implicit in the Craft, in the Royal Arch it is more explicit. You are thus made to realise that there is an all-powerful Supreme Being, a power larger than yourself, and this should hopefully remind the candidate to be humble and not let one’s personal ego obscure or obstruct one’s relationship with this omnipresent force.’
     It was evident from talking to Companion Francis that he is keenly interested in the Order’s history, most especially its enigmatic origins and its true relationship with the three Craft degrees, two key aspects of the Royal Arch which are still hotly debated by historians of Freemasonry today.

Historical background

The precise origins of the Royal Arch, rather like the Craft itself, remain something of a mystery. Nevertheless, several pieces of evidence strongly suggest that either it, or something like it, was being worked by the second quarter of the eighteenth century.
     And somewhat intriguingly, the most important early references to the Royal Arch all appear to point toward Ireland.
     Therefore it is not entirely surprising to discover that when, on 17 July 1751, five lodges assembled at the Turk’s Head Tavern in Greek Street, Soho, and founded a new organising body called The Grand Lodge of England according to its Old Institutions, they were almost entirely composed of Irishmen. Styled the ‘Antients’ they quickly became rivals to the premier Grand Lodge (who they successfully dubbed the ‘Moderns’) and attacked them for several alleged changes and non-observances, most particularly for not practising the Royal Arch which they considered to be ‘the root, heart, and marrow of masonry’.
     For the next sixty years or more an uneasy relationship existed between the two grand lodges as the Antients continued to promulgate the Royal Arch much to the chagrin of the premier Grand Lodge, who steadfastly refused to recognise the degree despite the widespread interest of many of their own members in its mysteries.
     However, their rivalry came to an end in 1813 when a union of the two grand lodges was achieved under the leadership of the Duke of Sussex in 1813, a move that saw the creation of the United Grand Lodge of England. And within four years of this celebrated union, the Royal Arch was recognised as an integral part of pure ancient Freemasonry, and ever since its chapters have been attached to Craft lodges in both England and Wales.

The Royal Arch today

History aside, I asked George Francis about the current state of the Royal Arch; was the Order in good health after more than two centuries?
     ‘Overall, the decline in our membership has slowed and the number of exaltations is rising in some places. Across the country about forty percent of Craft Freemasons join the Royal Arch, around 100,000 members, and that figure may hopefully rise to around fifty percent In Lincolnshire, where there is a much more ingrained tradition of Royal Arch masonry, the percentage of Craft masons joining is high at around fifty-five percent and West Lancashire is another very strong province in this respect, whereas in London only about thirty-two percent of masons are exalted.’
     ‘However, the Order is currently doing well in most rural areas and the decline in membership has flattened out and we are now building a good new base of many new exaltees. Therefore I am confident about the future provided that we all keep working on the retention of existing members as well as bringing in new and younger members. With that in mind, I would like to see that every new initiate is informed about the existence of the Royal Arch at a much earlier stage, so that the newly initiated candidate clearly appreciates both its place in importance within the whole ritual schema’.

Bicentennial celebrations

The focus of our conversation then turned to the coming bicentenary of the Royal Arch in 2013, a date which marks the official recognition of the Royal Arch as ‘the completion of pure and ancient Freemasonry’. ‘We will then celebrate our official birthday’, he said, ‘or to put it another way, the full emergence of the Royal Arch as we know it, 200 years ago.’
     As he explained, the Supreme Grand Chapter is planning to hold a lunch at the Connaught Rooms next to Grand Lodge on 16 October 2013, and this will be followed by a celebratory convocation in the grand temple and an evening dinner at The Savoy, both hosted by the First Grand Principal, HRH the Duke of Kent.
     Another important element of this milestone event will be a fund-raising exercise which will take place over the next three years, which is intended to provide a permanent memorial of the anniversary. The sum raised will be used to create a Research Fund for the benefit of the Royal College of Surgeons which will be administered at no extra cost alongside the Craft’s 250th Anniversary Fund for the purposes of research by the Royal College.
     ‘Grand Lodge has supported the Royal College since its foundation in 1800 and, more specifically, since the 250th Fund was set up in 1967 to provide support for the Fellowship Scheme. And as the Royal College is a registered charity and receives no direct funding from the NHS, it relies heavily on private donations and therefore our appeal will help reinforce our support for this highly important work’, he said.
     To help to meet this goal the Supreme Grand Chapter has recently opened a Relief Chest with the Grand Charity into which all donations will go, and, as George Francis enthusiastically explained, ‘the aim is for every Companion to give a minimum of £10 plus Gift Aid, i.e. little over £3 a year, and this will hopefully raise more than one million pounds, although it would be fantastic if we could exceed that amount, as this is a unique fund-raising event for the Royal Arch and it would be wonderful to mark the Order’s bicentenary with a generous contribution to a really deserving cause’.
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