Celebrating 300 years

The happy means

We hear a great deal about diversity and inclusivity these days but, as Director of Special Projects John Hamill explains, they are in the foundations of Freemasonry

 There are many theories about the origins of Freemasonry. The one that I favour suggests that it was formed and developed by a group of men who, knowing what divided people, were looking for a means of bringing men of diverse backgrounds together. They wanted to discover what they had in common and find out how to build on that commonality for the good of the community.

The period in which Freemasonry was developing – the late 1500s and 1600s – was one of great religious and political turmoil. Those differences split families, eventually leading to civil war; the execution of the king; a republic under Cromwell; the restoration of the monarchy; and the beginnings of our present system of constitutional monarchy. 

Religion continued to impact people’s lives long after the turmoil. Under the Test Acts, those who were not members of the established church could not take public office or public employment, or enter the universities or Parliament. Roman Catholics and Jews could not even move more than 10 miles from home without a licence from the magistrate.

Once Grand Lodge was formed in 1717 and began keeping central records, evidence emerges of the diverse nature of lodge membership. In 1723, 1725 and 1728, Grand Lodge asked its lodges to submit returns of members, which were copied into the Grand Lodge’s first Minute Book. When the Premier and Antients Grand Lodges began to keep central registers, the horizon expands still further.

In recent years, work has been done relating such membership lists to the poll and rate books, as well as the Huguenot and Jewish archives. It has shown that the London lodges were diverse and inclusive, with significant representation from the Huguenot, Jewish and non-conformist populations in London.  

Having worked at times on a daily basis with the 18th- and 19th-century membership registers during my 28 years at the Library and Museum, I can state unequivocally that the membership of English Freemasonry has always been a microcosm of the society in which it exists. There is a myth that Premier Grand Lodge was mainly an aristocratic and upper-class organisation; while its Grand Masters were noblemen or Royal Princes, its registers show that lodge members were a cross section of the community in which the lodge met.

Nor was race a bar. In 1784 a group led by Prince Hall and describing themselves as ‘free blacks’ from Boston, Massachusetts, applied to Premier Grand Lodge for a warrant, which was granted under the name of African Lodge, No. 459. 

Although the Slave Trade Act of 1807 had abolished the trade in slaves, it was not until the Slavery Abolition Act of 1833 that owning a slave was made illegal in the colonies. In 1840 the English lodges in Barbados petitioned Grand Lodge for a change in its Book of Constitutions. The rules required each candidate to declare that he was ‘free born’. The lodges in Barbados stated that they had a number of educated blacks who would be good Freemasons but had not been born free. Without argument, Grand Lodge simply removed the word ‘born’ from the declaration to enable them to join.

When lodges began to proliferate in India in the 19th century, as well as in Africa and Asia in the early 20th century, they were not expatriate lodges. Rather, they welcomed the local populations and, particularly in India, were the one place that Europeans, Muslims, Sikhs, Hindus and Parsees could meet together and build bridges between their communities.

By being diverse and inclusive, Freemasonry indeed became, in Dr James Anderson’s memorable phrase of 1723, ‘the happy means of conciliating friendship amongst those who must otherwise have stood at a perpetual distance’.

‘There is a myth that Premier Grand Lodge was an upper-class organisation; while its Grand Masters were noblemen, lodge members were a cross section of the community in which they met.’

Published in Features

The silver shortlist

To mark the 25th anniversary of the Masonic Samaritan Fund (MSF), the trustees are making available £1 million in support of medical and care research projects

 The MSF is planning to award grants of up to £100,000 in 10 regions across England and Wales. Its Silver Jubilee Research Fund originally received 62 grant applications, seeking nearly £9 million in support. However, with only £1 million available through the fund, the charity will need to make some difficult decisions.

Since 2011, the MSF has supported research projects that aim to improve the prevention, detection, diagnosis, treatment and care available for illnesses and disabilities that affect masonic families and the wider community. Nearly £2 million has been awarded to large and small research organisations such as Breakthrough Breast Cancer, Carers UK and the A-T Society

Several research projects funded by the MSF have achieved significant success in their field. A £181,000 grant awarded to Alzheimer’s Research UK has helped to develop a new blood test that, it is hoped, will predict whether someone with early memory problems will develop Alzheimer’s within a year. Two grants totalling £75,000 awarded to RAFT (the Restoration of Appearance and Function Trust) have helped to develop a working prototype of a bionic arm fit for human trials, in a bid to compensate for the loss of a limb. A grant of £34,000, presented to Prostate Cancer UK, has helped Dr Hayley Whitaker and her team to identify that the presence of a specific protein can distinguish prostate cancers that are aggressive from those that may never seriously harm the patient. 

For further details about the Silver Jubilee Research Fund and the research studies shortlisted for a grant in your Province, please visit www.msfund.org.uk/research

Consulting for consolidation

The 2015 MSF members’ meeting was hosted at Freemasons’ Hall in March and marked the start of the formal process of consultation with the charity’s members regarding the proposal to consolidate the four central masonic charities. 

The proposed consolidation seeks to ensure that the full range of support currently provided by the central masonic charities will continue to be available to all eligible applicants and will be delivered in the most cost-effective manner.

Throughout the transition process and beyond, health and care grants will be accessible for eligible beneficiaries seeking treatment, care and support without undue delay or expense. 

Full details of the information provided by the MSF president and CEO are available at www.msfund.org.uk/news.php  

The consultation will conclude at the next members’ meeting on 29 October 2015. For further information on the consolidation of the charities, see www.masoniccharities.org.uk/review 

Published in Masonic Samaritan Fund

Apprenticeship recognition

An RMBI care home in Ecclesholme has received an award for its ongoing work to support students in the local community

Each year for the past five years, the RMBI’s Ecclesholme care home in Manchester has enrolled two students from Salford City College onto its 12-month apprenticeship scheme. During this time the students, who are also completing their National Vocational Qualifications in care, work alongside RMBI staff to gain experience in the sector. They are encouraged to take part in the in-house training, which is mandatory for all RMBI staff, and tutors from the college visit the home to carry out assessments. 

The care home was selected for an award by Salford City College in recognition of its continued support and commitment to the apprenticeship programme. Speaking about the scheme, Beverley Niland, Ecclesholme Home Manager, said: ‘We are delighted to have been selected as the winner of this award. We have found the programme very successful and in most cases the students take up permanent employment with us after completion of their course.’

Staff from Ecclesholme received the award at the Apprenticeship Awards Evening hosted by Mark Jenkins of Channel 4’s The Hotel.

In addition to the scheme with Salford City College, the care home also works closely with two local schools to provide work experience for a couple of students on a weekly basis. The students support the home’s activities coordinator, helping to plan and implement engaging and stimulating activities for residents.

Published in RMBI

Easy as pie

From classic steak and kidney to apple and blackberry, a pie is a symbol of British comfort food at its best. As the nation celebrated British Pie Week in March, RMBI care homes embraced the occasion

RMBI residents across the UK took part in a variety of activities to mark British Pie Week, with tasting, baking and recipe-sharing sessions among the events. The RMBI places great importance on providing its residents with food that they grew up with and enjoy – as well as new dishes they have come to love – and its balanced, nutritious menus include classic pie dishes. 

Recipes and Reminiscences, the RMBI cookbook, contains 50 favourite recipes from residents and staff. Many in the book were national staples in their era, including Woolton Pie, named after one of Churchill’s Cabinet. 

A classic wartime dish, it encouraged people to use whatever vegetables were available to them during the rationing period to create family meals. 

Debra Keeling, RMBI Deputy Director of Care Operations, said: ‘We strive to deliver a high quality of life for our residents, and providing enjoyable food and drink is essential to this. Our residents are encouraged to put their menu ideas forward to ensure we cater to their individual tastes. British Pie Week is a great way of bringing residents together through their mutual love of food.’

Published in RMBI

Skye pushes the limits with a smile

Skye, the granddaughter of a Freemason, is 14 years old. She has Turner syndrome, a condition that affects growth and development, as well as mild autism and global development delay, which makes reading and writing difficult

 Skye’s parents introduced her to judo when she was seven years old as a positive channel for the frustration she experiences as a result of her condition. She has since become highly skilled in the sport, excelling in both mainstream competitions and those for people with disabilities.

One of Skye’s ambitions is to compete in the Special Olympics. To qualify, she must compete internationally, but her family were struggling to meet the cost of travelling overseas. Through its TalentAid scheme, the RMTGB has contributed to Skye’s competition, accommodation and travel costs. In 2012, she was selected for the GB Special Needs International squad and has since achieved two gold and two silver medals in international competitions.

For Skye, judo isn’t just about competing. She struggles to interact with other children, so the sport gives her the chance to socialise as well. Funding from the RMTGB scheme enables her to go on trips that are not only essential for the development of her talent, but also for her confidence and happiness.

Published in RMTGB

In appreciation…

The RMTGB has received the following letter from Graham, a Freemason from Surrey. The Trust has provided support for him and his family since January 2014:

‘I was made redundant in 2012, and then while looking for a new job I suffered a heart attack. It has been a long road back to health and it has been difficult to secure another job. To make matters worse, in January of this year my wife was also made redundant. We expected our misfortune to have a detrimental effect on the well-being of our daughters, but the immeasurable support of the RMTGB means both children have had access to everything that they would have if my wife and I were working.

‘We are so grateful for the RMTGB’s help. The Trust doesn’t just offer financial assistance; they are there to empathise, and to discuss possible solutions to problems. Without the RMTGB, our daughters’ story may have been rather different.’

Published in RMTGB

Middlesex 2020 Festival launch

In March, the Province of Middlesex launched the 2020 Festival Appeal for the RMTGB. Alastair Mason, Pro Provincial Grand Master for Middlesex, said, ‘What better cause can there be than to make a difference to a young life that might otherwise have been deprived of opportunities?’ The Province raised more than £4 million in its 2009 Festival for the RMBI. All donations are being received via the Relief Chest.

To support the appeal, visit www.the2020festival.co.uk 

Published in RMTGB

Chapter support for surgical research

Established with £587,629 in 1967, the Grand Lodge 250th Anniversary Fund is a registered charity supporting the Royal College of Surgeons of England (RCS). By the end of 2013, the fund’s capital was £3.7 million, despite providing more than £4.3 million in grants during the previous 45 years. 

However, with lower returns and the increased cost of financing Fellows to undertake surgical research, fulfilling the fund’s aspirations was becoming difficult. Supreme Grand Chapter therefore decided to launch an appeal to support the RCS in recognition of the 200th anniversary of the Royal Arch, and £2.5 million was raised. From this year, two Royal Arch Fellows in every five fellowships will be supported. 

To reflect these changes, the fund was renamed The Freemasons’ Fund for Surgical Research (FFSR) on 1 January 2015.

Published in More News

Chelsea pensioner takes the chair

Former Coldstream Guardsman John Gledhill added a dash of distinctive colour in his Chelsea Pensioner’s uniform at his installation as Worshipful Master of Symphony Lodge, No. 4924, which meets in Blackpool. Donations to charities on the night included £1,400 to the West Lancashire Freemasons’ Charity, £200 each to Prostate Cancer and the Blackpool Group Sponsored Walk, and £100 each to Violet’s Light and the Children’s Hearing Service.

Vanuatu disaster relief 

The Freemasons’ Grand Charity has donated £20,000 in emergency aid via the British Red Cross following the severe tropical cyclone that hit Vanuatu in the South Pacific in March. The donation helped to deliver emergency assistance in the areas of water, sanitation, healthcare and shelter. 

The cyclone caused widespread destruction to one of the world’s least developed countries. Vanuatu’s president, Baldwin Lonsdale, appealed for immediate help, saying the storm had wiped out all development of recent years. Thousands of people were made homeless and left in need of food and water, with infrastructure severely affected as buildings, roads and bridges were destroyed. Communications were seriously impacted, with power, telephone lines and internet affected across much of the country.

Published in The Grand Charity
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