Celebrating 300 years

Bronze desk and chair unveiled, which has been funded and donated by Freemasons of Warwickshire together with the United Grand Lodge of England, to mark 300 years of English Freemasonry

On Tuesday 5th September, the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust officially opened the newly remodelled Shakespeare’s New Place which is the biggest and most enduring project anywhere in the world to mark the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death. Shakespeare's New Place was his family home from 1597 until he died in the house in 1616. The house was demolished in 1759, a registered garden has been designed to commemorate the importance of the site and allow visitors to make their own personal connection with Shakespeare. When Shakespeare bought New Place he was an established playwright and it is believed that he wrote his later plays there, including The Tempest. Commissioned artworks and displays throughout the site will evoke a sense of family life and hint at Shakespeare's major works that were written during the 19 years he owned New Place.

Specially commissioned sculptures conjure up to the world that influenced Shakespeare and his enduring influence in our world today. A magnificent bronze tree takes centre stage in the heart of the garden surrounded by a circle of pleached hornbeams and a curved oak bench, with Shakespeare’s desk and chair at stage right. The desk and chair gives visitors from around the world a unique opportunity to sit and contemplate a view that has remained unchanged since Shakespeare lived there.

Freemasons in Leicestershire and Rutland are celebrating a magnificent milestone in their charitable donations to the local community during the last five years

As they approach their 300th anniversary, figures released today show that Freemasons based in Leicestershire and Rutland, despite the recent economic downturn, have donated to over 400 different charities to the sum of £800,000.

Just under a third of the money donated went to healthcare charities, whilst those charities supporting children and youth received a quarter of the funding. Other charities were also supported who focus on social welfare, education, disability, elderly, culture, sport, religion, homeless and animals.

Freemasonry is one of the biggest contributors to UK charities, including both masonic and non-masonic causes. It encourages members to take a moral and ethical approach to life, helping them become the best that they can be. It seeks to reinforce the principles of kindness, honesty, fairness, tolerance and integrity.

The donations include those given by the Leicestershire and Rutland Masonic Charity Association, the Royal Arch Masons and Mark Master Masons.

Some of their recent donations include £10,000 to Warning Zone, the Leicester based interactive life skills centre, for an e-Safety zone, £15,000 to Leicester Cathedral for the reinterment of Richard III, £25,000 to the Leicester Children’s Holiday Centre Mablethorpe for play equipment and £50,000 to the new Centre for Medicine at the University of Leicester.

Other major beneficiaries include the Derbyshire, Leicestershire and Rutland Air Ambulance, LOROS Hospice, Rainbows Children's Hospice, and PROSTaid.

David Hagger, Provincial Grand Master of Leicestershire and Rutland said: 'All of our members are encouraged to give to charity but should always be within their means and it is entirely up to each member how much they wish to contribute. The money donated is raised by the members themselves from such events as ladies' nights and other social occasions where family and friends get together.'

He continued: 'I'm incredibly proud and thank all our members for their philanthropy and generosity by contributing this amazing amount of money to local communities reinforcing the role that Freemasonry has always and continues to play in society.'

Leicestershire and Rutland Freemasons are currently in full training getting ready to do a 300-mile cycle ride marking their 300th anniversary and aiming to raise £20,000 for the Rainbows Children's Hospice in Loughborough and the Masonic Charitable Foundation (MCF)

On 24th June 1717, four masonic lodges, which had existed for some time in London, formed the Grand Lodge of England which has since continued to administer the 7,000 lodges and it's 200,000 members across England and Wales.

Leicestershire and Rutland have 3,000 members which meet in the 76 lodges across the two counties. Masonic lodges are based in Leicester, Loughborough, Hinckley, Syston, Uppingham, Melton Mowbray, Lutterworth, Market Harborough, Oakham, Coalville and Ashby de la Zouch.

At least 35 Freemasons, aged between 22 and 70 years old, from over 20 different lodges will be cycling in June 2017 to each of the 11 masonic meeting places within Leicestershire and Rutland. They will then head to the headquarters of the United Grand Lodge of England at Freemasons' Hall, Covent Garden in London. When clocking up the 300 miles they will take a short detour to the site of the former Goose and Gridiron Ale House in St Paul's Churchyard, London where the first Grand Lodge was formed before they head back to Leicester.

Simon Oldfield, keen cyclist and organiser said: 'Cycling 300 miles will be a test of all those taking part, everyone is motivated to do the training knowing that we are raising money for two very worthwhile causes as part of our Tercentenary celebrations. It has brought together cyclists of varying age, experience and fitness, building a real team spirit for the challenge ahead.'

The Rainbows Hospice for Children and Young People, based in Lougborough, provides care to those that are affected by life-limiting and life-threatening conditions. Helen Lee-Smith, Head of Individual Giving at Rainbows, said: 'I would like to thank Leicestershire and Rutland Freemasons for organising their 300 mile cycle ride to celebrate 300 years of Freemasonry and for supporting Rainbows. Leicestershire and Rutland Freemasons are doing a wonderful thing raising funds to help us run the hospice – fundraising efforts make such a huge difference to both the children and young people at Rainbows and their families.'

The MCF supports Freemasons, their families and the wider community. David Innes, Chief Executive of the MCF said: 'Our work depends entirely on donations from Freemasons and their families across England and Wales, and we are continually surprised and inspired by the unique and challenging ways that they raise funds for us. We wish all participants in the Leicestershire and Rutland 300 mile bike ride the best of luck and thank them in advance for their hard work and generosity.'

The Provincial Grand Master of the Leicestershire and Rutland Freemasons, David Hagger, added: 'We'll be holding several celebratory events in 2017 and this charity bike ride is a perfect opportunity for our members to raise money for good causes by undertaking this physical challenge. We're keen to shake off our bygone image and this bike ride is a great example of this. Recently we have found that more younger people are attracted to Freemasonry as they seek a social environment with strong values and traditions that also supports the local community.'

He continued: 'During 2017, we'll also be opening the doors to our masonic halls for everyone to see inside and an exhibition on Freemasonry at Newarke House Museum in Leicester highlighting the contribution of Freemasons to our local communities. We hope this will lead to further interest and a better understanding of our historic fraternity.'

Right royal knees-up

The bunting was out as Freemasons' Hall, Leicester dressed to impress with the Union Flag flying high to celebrate the 90th birthday of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II in the style of a street party

The dining halls were packed as Freemasons, family and friends gathered to celebrate the Royal birthday with sandwiches, tea, cakes and songs from the 1920's through to modern day.

The Provincial Grand Master, RW Bro David Hagger kicked off the occasion, before handing over to the microphone to stars of the show, Phillip and Judy Dodd, and Marguerite Beatson, who raised the roof with expert renditions of classic hits from throughout the ages. Songs were selected from each of the decades, with titles such as Somewhere over the Rainbow, (There'll be Bluebirds over) The White cliffs of Dover, and Abba's Thank you for the Music.

The afternoon had something for everyone, for the many children that were present a table had been prepared just for them, with activities such as crown making and colouring, enough to keep them entertained whilst they waited for the cakes to be served! The fun was rounded off with flag waving and singing which had everyone up on their feet.

Treasure trove returned

On May 17th 2016, the Provincial Grand Master, RW Bro David Hagger received, on behalf of the Leicestershire and Rutland Freemasons, a magnificent collection of masonic jewels, regalia and documentary material from the surviving children, Dr Anthony Howe and Mrs Elieen Mann, of W Bro Harry Billson Howe who was part of the vibrant textiles business in Leicester.

Dr Howe discovered the hoard in a case at his home in Poole, Dorset and contacted the Lodge of Gratitude No. 5614 via its website. W Bro Richard Brocklehurst of the lodge subsequently arranged a meeting, with representatives from several lodges and chapters, at Freemasons’ Hall, Leicester so that the collection could be returned.

W Bro Harry Howe was initiated into the Commercial Lodge No. 1391 in 1919 and became the first Junior Warden of the newly consecrated Holmes Lodge No. 4654 in 1924, becoming its third Master in succession to his friends and business colleagues from Leicester's industrial core industries, W Bro George Hunt and W Bro Sir John Corah. 

W Bro Howe was a Lewis and his father also had a distinguished masonic and business career, and has a memorial window in the St Katherine's Chapel at Leicester Cathedral. At a Provincial level, W Bro Howe served for many years as Provincial Director of Ceremonies and was honoured by receiving Grand Rank as PAGDC. W Bro Howe was also heavily involved with the Holy Royal Arch degree and the Ancient and Accepted Rite in both of which he also received Grand Rank.

W Bro Howe was a keen supporter of the Leicester Union Lodge of Instruction and it was through that body that the Lodge of Gratitude came to be formed as a token of thanks from the Union Lodge's preceptors for the fellowship they had enjoyed. W Bro Howe was the 'Primus' Master of the lodge and he was given a particularly fine jewel in token of this. Despite leaving Leicester, he retained his subscribing membership to the Lodge of Gratitude while accepting honorary membership of Holmes Lodge and St Margaret's Rose Croix Chapter No. 92.

W Bro Howe’s regalia, which was generously and thoughtfully returned by the Howe family, include collars and jewels for various Grand Rank appointments, and also a number of highly valuable and precious jewels in connection with his appointment in Holmes Lodge and the Lodge of Gratitude. In addition to the regalia and jewels, W Bro Howe's papers include a considerable number of fascinating items giving insights into the life of freemasonry between 1919 and 1960. 

However, it was not just masonic material which was received. There was a wealth of matter relating to the Howe family business which was situated in Curzon Street and Birstall Street and which ultimately became part of the Curzonia Group. This will be invaluable in the staging of exhibitions to demonstrate the links between Freemasonry and Leicester's industrial heritage. In addition, material relating to his service in the Great War was also received when he was involved in espionage behind the German lines as an agent for what is now known as MI6.

Tuesday, 07 June 2016 01:00

Sharing ideas for success

Annual Briefing

Speaking at Great Queen Street on 26 April, masonic leaders explained how Freemasonry can grasp success if members can learn to share ideas and work together

William Shakespeare, John F Kennedy and even Steve Jobs all managed to find their way into the Gallery Suite at Freemasons’ Hall in a typically entertaining afternoon of speeches at the Pro Grand Master’s Annual Briefing Meeting.

Before an audience made up of Metropolitan, Provincial and District Grand Masters and Grand Superintendents, speakers took their turn at the lectern to review the developments in Freemasonry in 2015 and looked forward to an exciting future for the Craft and Royal Arch.

Understandably, the Tercentenary featured heavily, but there was also much to discuss about the recommendations of the Membership Focus Group (MFG) on how best to attract, recruit and retain members at a time when membership has shown a decline. The overall message was overwhelmingly positive, with several new initiatives announced.

Pro Grand Master Peter Lowndes kicked things off by reporting that a four-part television series on Freemasonry is under way. This will be broadcast to coincide with the Tercentenary celebrations and will include the Pro Grand Master’s fly-fishing technique at the Hampshire and Isle of Wight fishing day.

The Pro Grand Master then reported that commemorative paving stones containing the names of Freemasons who received a Victoria Cross (VC) 

in World War I would be installed at the front of the Peace Memorial, adding that ‘there are 60 such VCs to be commemorated’. He also encouraged brethren to wear a special commemorative tie and jewel for the celebratory period, and announced that a major charitable gift of £3 million would be distributed by the Masonic Charitable Foundation in the form of 300 grants, allocated according to the outcome of votes cast both by masons and the general public.

The Pro Grand Master felt that the celebration of Grand Lodge’s 300th year is a great opportunity for publicity. ‘The Tercentenary gives us all a chance to reflect on the place of Freemasonry today and the role of our lodge and our brethren,’ he said. ‘This is an opportunity not to be missed and it is up to us to ensure that Freemasonry benefits.’

Facts and figures

Next up was Anthony Wilson, President of the Board of General Purposes (BGP), to discuss the 2015 financial accounts and recent BGP initiatives. He revealed a strong yearly surplus generated from investment income, which has supported capital expenditure and the ongoing maintenance required to deal with Regent Street disease (corrosion) at Freemasons’ Hall. Anthony emphasised the importance of the building for filming and events while also being mindful of its core purpose. 

The cost of the Tercentenary celebrations were included in the 2016 forecast for the first time, but ‘there would be no call upon members for funds’, as this would be supported by events and reserves. Anthony asked brethren to spread the word about the benefits of the Masonic Insurance Mutual, and, most importantly of all, noted that Freemasonry Today costs less than £1 per member, per issue.

Second Grand Principal Russell Race discussed the ‘encouraging straws in the wind for membership of the Royal Arch’ before Sir David Wootton gave some thoughts on governance – ‘who does what with what authority’ – based on findings from the MFG.

‘If we can bottle the masonic sizzle from the best lodges and spread it around the rest, we can start to address all the issues.’ Michael Ward

Taking up the theme in more detail, Third Grand Principal Gareth Jones explained how ‘we need to build on the work that has been started, moving from securing evidence to emphasising delivery and implementation’. Gareth also talked about the importance of communication and spreading best practice from the Provinces and Districts.

Sir David then announced a proposal to take forward the work of the MFG: this would be a new body of a dozen members who would represent all ‘the talents, geographies and constituent parts of the Craft and Royal Arch’. The hope was to get this up and running by the end of 2017 to ‘develop and embed systems, ensuring that the necessary steps will be taken to continue and enhance Freemasonry’.

Looking after initiates

John Roscoe, an industrial psychologist, then presented the MFG’s findings on the negative effect of un-masonic conduct in lodges. John cited ‘the greatest cause for early dissatisfaction with initiates’ as being a perception of senior members dominating the lodge. He read out a number of testimonies in which masons recounted incidents of brethren being overzealous or overbearing.

John then asked those present to think of three ways to deal with behaviour that is not in keeping with the spirit of Freemasonry. Each table put their heads together to engage with this issue, and there was much debate as solutions were considered.

After a coffee break, PGM for Warwickshire David Macey led a commendation of ADelphi 2, showing some of the possibilities of the new membership database. ‘It’s now working well and is generally very stable. We are continuing to improve performance and security,’ he said. David gave a demonstration 

of its promising new dashboard system. ‘The MFG gave us a very clear list of what PGMs and Grand Superintendents need,’ he said, showing how a simple dashboard will allow users to find a summary of every lodge in their Province, showing the 10 best and worst performing lodges, comparisons of members’ ages and contact information.

Deputy Metropolitan Grand Master Michael Ward then gave a careful analysis of the findings of an MFG survey that explored why so many initiates drop out soon after joining and what could be done to counteract this. It was vital, he said, to capitalise on work already done in the Provinces on these issues rather than try to ‘reinvent the wheel’.

Michael discussed what could be done to help lodges that were struggling to attract new members and finished by exhorting that, ‘success is within our grasp. If we can bottle the masonic sizzle from the best lodges and spread it around the rest, we can start to address all the issues. It’s in our hands.’

PGM for East Kent Geoffrey Dearing spoke about the importance of data protection and compliance before Malcolm Aish, President of the Committee of General Purposes, presented the annual report and statistics for the Royal Arch. Malcolm noted the enthusiasm for charitable contributions and also thanked brethren for completing the survey. 

Chairman of the MFG and Deputy President of the BGP Ray Reed then gave highlights from the Craft annual report, showing that new initiates were rising and resignations declining, with the annual membership loss down to 1.65 per cent. Lodges reported an 83 per cent reduction in resignations, while 69 per cent reported increasing initiate figures. Ray singled out areas for improvement, including a willingness to engage with ‘local press, business, civic and religious leaders’ and the importance of attracting and mentoring quality initiates. 

Emphasising the need for Provinces to share ideas, Ray concluded by thanking brethren for their ‘support, energy, creativity, hard work and, most importantly, belief in helping make things happen’. 

Published in UGLE
Tuesday, 07 June 2016 01:00

Community support on the streets

At the vanguard

When Ezra McGowan started handing out crisis packs to the homeless from a burger van, he knew he had found his calling. Imogen Beecroft discovers how it complements his Freemasonry

At 10pm on a cold February evening, a biting wind is rattling the windows of Ezra McGowan’s house. But while most of us would keep warm inside on a night like this, Ezra zips up his fleece and heads out to work. 

By day, Ezra runs a waste disposal company, but he spends his free time handing out food and other necessities to homeless people in London, Peterborough and Manchester. 

Ezra, who is a member of Hand and Heart Lodge, No. 4109, started The Forget Me Not Trust two years ago with his brother Nathan because, ‘We were seeing homeless people everywhere we went in these major cities. We realised this was an epidemic problem, so we thought we should try to do something about it. We’ve been blessed in our own way with business, so we’re in a fortunate position and wanted to give something back.’

The brothers acquired an old burger van, pitched up in Manchester city centre, and started giving out food and hot drinks to the local homeless population. Ezra and Nathan are both self-employed, which gives them a certain degree of flexibility with their working hours. However, Ezra explains, ‘If we finish work at 3pm, then we’ll go out for a few hours, but usually we like to go out late in the evening. Those are the hours when we’re really needed.’

Ezra is modest about what they can provide. ‘It’s not à la carte. We try to serve food that we can make go a long way – soup, coffee, tea, biscuits, sandwiches. If we can, we serve hot food, but it’s really about how far we can make it go.’ A meal or hot drink isn’t the only necessity on the menu, however. To those in particularly desperate circumstances, the brothers also provide vital crisis packs, which contain hats, gloves, socks, toothpaste, a toothbrush, toilet paper and sanitary products for women. 

‘We’ve been blessed in business, so we’re in a fortunate position and wanted to give something back.’ Ezra McGowan

Nowhere to turn

The Forget Me Not Trust mainly operates in Manchester, where Ezra lives, and Peterborough, where he owns property, but the brothers also travel down to London for weekends when they’ve raised enough money to do so. 

In London the van pitches up at Lincoln’s Inn Fields, just a stone’s throw from Freemasons’ Hall. 

Revisiting the same areas means Ezra has a few regulars who he gets to know over time, and he’s even met some people who have masonic connections in their families. 

He stresses that the homeless people he meets come from all walks of life. ‘Some people have been very successful businessmen and have just fallen on hard times. Maybe they’ve missed mortgage payments and things have got on top of them so they’ve been reduced to homelessness. It could be anyone. It could happen to each and every one of us.’

Just last month Ezra met a boy from Ireland who was living on the streets of Manchester with his dog. When Ezra spoke to him, the boy explained that he’d had an argument with his parents and, with no money and nowhere to turn, ended up homeless. 

‘We gave him some hot food and a crisis pack, but he had no one to turn to. I’m not an angel; I fell out with my parents as a child, but we always had family members I could have turned to,’ explains Ezra. ‘Some of the people we work with have no family at all. Others might have mental health problems, which makes it so much harder to get help.’ 

Luckily, he says, some people do get rehoused, but all too often these stories don’t have happy endings. ‘A few months ago a man was killed. He was beaten up by some youths because he was homeless and they burned him to death. The people we try to help are often neglected, abused and forgotten. That’s how we chose the name for the charity: we wanted to show them that they haven’t been forgotten by everyone.’

Ezra finds it particularly difficult when he encounters young women living on the street. ‘While the homeless population is mainly male, there are usually about three or four women for every 25 men coming to us for help. Women on the street are in a very vulnerable position and it’s heartbreaking to see. I have daughters myself and I’d like to think that if anything like this ever happened to them, there would be someone looking out for them.’

Ezra sees his work with the homeless as his calling, explaining: ‘Some people are blessed to be doctors or psychiatrists. My brother and I haven’t been able to do that, but we’ve always been hard workers and can help people by offering them food and support. We’re everyday lads, not multimillionaires, but this is what we were meant to do. It’s very satisfying and is a breath of fresh air.’

While helping people in this way is undoubtedly rewarding, it isn’t an easy ride. He says: ‘We do get some abuse, particularly on a Friday or Saturday night, when it’s busy in town. Some people call us “do-gooders” and “churchgoers” or swear at us. It’s not all rosy on the street.’

Despite these challenges, Ezra estimates that they can help 60-70 people every night. However, providing everyday essentials, food and drinks to this many people is a costly business, and he can only do so much of it on his own. 

Initially, Ezra and Nathan funded the project themselves, buying supplies in bulk from wholesalers. When it started to grow in scale and ambition, however, Ezra turned to his lodge for extra support. 

Tony Harrison, the Provincial Grand Master for West Lancashire, emphasises that the ideals behind The Forget Me Not Trust coincide wholly with those of Freemasonry. ‘Ezra told me of the work they do to support these individuals in need by providing warm food and clothing. This is a wonderful example of members of our fraternity working in the community to support others less fortunate than themselves.’

‘We’re everyday lads, not multimillionaires, but this is what we were meant to do.’ Ezra McGowan

Spreading the word

Since reaching out to other Freemasons, the response has been excellent. ‘The feedback we’re getting from brethren has been fantastic,’ says Ezra. ‘Hand on Heart Lodge has been wonderful – the brethren have given donations and arranged a raffle to raise money for The Forget Me Not Trust. I don’t think anything like this has really been heard of in Freemasonry before and now other lodges have started donating, which is great.’

In return, Ezra proudly displays the square and compasses wherever he can. He explains that he’d been a mason for 15 years when he had an accident and was offered help through the fraternity. ‘It was a wonderful, unexpected thing to have people knocking on your door offering to help you. I thought it would be nice to give something back, so now we try to promote Freemasonry in the community.’

Ezra is hoping to increase his fellow masons’ involvement with the charity, and has big plans for the future. ‘We’ve started small, but once we’ve got everything running perfectly in Manchester we’d like to branch out to other major cities. It’s our ambition to reach a point where we can advise other Provinces how best to run these events. Ultimately, we’d like to have one event a week run by Freemasons in every major city in the UK.’

Ezra enjoys engaging people in lively discussions about Freemasonry and challenging their existing preconceptions about the fraternity. ‘Lots of members of the public come over and talk to us when they see the badge displayed. Sometimes they might have a negative impression of Freemasonry, but we’re finding that we can open their eyes and change their perspective. Often we have people saying, “Oh, that’s fantastic – I never knew that about Freemasonry.” ’

Find out more about the charity’s work and how to lend your support at www.theforgetmenottrust.org.uk 

Never stumped

When a group of lodges in Kidderminster wanted to relocate from the cellar of a hotel, joining a local cricket club proved to be the perfect solution

In December 2015 the Membership Focus Group launched a strategic paper that identified masonic centres as a key area for improvement in the organisational development of Freemasonry. With many centres not considered fit for purpose by the members who meet in them, the challenge for lodges is how to turn a legacy problem into an opportunity. 

‘It is not uncommon for lodges to find that their existing premises become unsustainable owing to lack of critical mass if membership levels fall, or simply because of the structural integrity of the building itself,’ explains Provincial Grand Master for Yorkshire, North and East Ridings, Jeff Gillyon, who heads up the Masonic Centres Study Group.

For a group of lodges in Kidderminster, Worcestershire, this was particularly true when their 44-year tenure at The Briars pub came to an abrupt end. With the brewery selling up, the lodges moved to a local hotel’s cellar for four years while considering a new meeting place. 

‘It certainly wasn’t ideal,’ says Peter Ricketts, a Past Master of Lodge of Hope and Charity, No. 377, which was among those affected. ‘The cellar was small and the walls were covered in mirrors because it was planned as a nightclub. But for four years it was home to three lodges, a chapter and a Knights Templar unit.’

With so many members under one roof, amalgamating with a lodge in another property was out of the question, so the board considered buying a property of its own. ‘Then somebody suggested partnering with the local cricket club,’ says Peter. ‘It was perfect really, because the cricket season starts in summer just as the masonic season ends.’

With two bars and a large car park, the Chester Road Sports and Social Club easily catered to the social aspect of Freemasonry, but it clearly couldn’t provide a masonic temple. 

So, after prolonged talks, it was agreed that the Freemasons could build one adjoining the club.

Work started on the new temple in September 2011 under the careful watch of Mike Langdon of Old Carolian Lodge, No. 7599. As the retired owner of a construction company, Mike drew on his industry contacts to source supplies at cost. Mike, together with fellow Old Carolian Mick Insull and Martin Lawrence of Lodge of Hope and Charity, completed most of the building work themselves over six months. 

‘Until that point, my construction credentials extended to the wooden shed in my back garden, and that was a bit rickety,’ says Martin, a retired police officer from Aldridge. ‘But within a couple of months we’d laid the foundations and completed most of the brickwork.’ 

Progress was so quick, in fact, that by 3 April 2012 the first lodge meeting had been held in the custom-built premises. Staggeringly, the entire project cost just £150,000 – with key savings being made by Martin, Mike and Mick providing labour at no cost. ‘While quality was paramount, we made savings wherever possible and brethren helped tremendously,’ says Martin. ‘When we said we needed to insulate the loft, one brother went to B&Q and emptied the store of fibreglass rolls using his pensioner’s discount.’ 

A willingness to adapt traditional ideas of how a temple room should look, while not compromising on quality, also helped to keep the project on budget. For instance, Martin explains, ‘It would have cost £15,000 to have a masonic carpet woven, but a brother footed the bill for a magnificent marble and granite floor, which was a fraction of the price.’

The project is a great example of the flexible approach lodges need to start adopting to meet the changing landscape of Freemasonry. As the Masonic Centres Study Group’s Jeff Gillyon remarks: ‘This is a good example of how innovative thinking can solve the problem, but it is only one solution.’

For John Pagella, Grand Superintendent of Works, while the history and familiarity of a lodge room is important, ‘what’s essential is that Freemasons can still meet, regardless of where that may be’.

If that means relocating to a more affordable property, John says the first port of call should be a qualified adviser to get an idea of the full value of the property being vacated: ‘Consider the property’s potential as a commercial building. As a masonic hall, it may no longer have value, but as a hotel or a restaurant it could have enormous potential.’

Should lodges decide to capitalise on the commercial possibilities themselves, John advises taking a serious look at the standard of competition, and considering how commercial facilities would sit alongside masonic purposes. ‘Only then should you consider any refurbishment works. You need to approach the running of your centre like a business – balance cost against income.’

For those staying where they are, John says looking after the fabric of the property should be the priority. ‘Keep an eye on the building’s condition to avoid any major expenditure further down the line, and consider establishing a contingency fund,’ he says.

Ultimately, every lodge is individual – what may work for one may not work for another. The key is to take a proactive approach, says John, and to think practically about future-proofing your lodge. It’s a sentiment Martin agrees with. ‘Looking back, I can’t believe we stayed in our room at the pub for so long. There was no heating, no space and no funding to maintain it. Now we have a custom-built temple with the lowest capitation costs in the Province.’

While Martin appreciates the prospect of change can be daunting, it is necessary to ensure that Freemasonry keeps pushing into the future. 

‘If there’s one thing I’ve learnt from this experience it’s that when it comes to the crunch, Freemasons pull together. We didn’t make it through the past 300 years without adapting.’

‘It was perfect, because the cricket season starts in summer just as the masonic season ends.’ Peter Ricketts

Building blocks

PLAN AHEAD: If your building is rented, start thinking now about alternative meeting places and set up a contingency fund by adding an extra £1 to capitation.

REACH OUT: Invest in your connections with the local community to keep your options open. 

SCALE BACK: Charity starts at home, so if you’re struggling to cover costs consider reducing your charitable giving for a short while until the lodge is back on a stable footing.

Published in Features

A Canterbury tale

The links between Freemasonry and Canterbury Cathedral have helped preserve this iconic building. Glyn Brown gets to the foundations of a historic relationship that was only renewed 10 years ago

Canterbury Cathedral is a place of strange and majestic beauty, from the echoing cloisters and soaring Bell Harry Tower to the dazzling stained-glass windows and vaulted ceilings. 

Founded in AD597, rebuilt and enlarged, it seems to sanctify and protect Canterbury. With the pale Caen-stone grandeur of this UNESCO World Heritage Site dwarfing the modern buildings around it, the Cathedral has been a place of pilgrimage for centuries. Chaucer’s motley crew are perhaps the best known of those travelling to its sanctuary to worship at the seat of the Anglican church and the shrine of St Thomas Becket. 

The sense of peace and the knowledge of the sheer human endeavour that went into its construction make the Cathedral a deeply moving place. Added to which, there are ties between Freemasonry and the very fabric of the Cathedral that go far back in time.

The building has survived all sorts of trauma, from the civil war to damage during World War II, and so requires ongoing restoration. And this, in part, is where Freemasonry comes in today. Not only does the Grand Charity donate regularly, but Kent Freemasons and their neighbouring Provinces have pledged to raise a substantial sum for a particularly urgent project. 

Launched by Provincial Grand Master of East Kent Geoffrey Dearing, the 2017 Canterbury Cathedral Appeal is being coordinated by Roger Odd (pictured), Past Deputy Provincial Grand Master of East Kent: ‘For a long time, I had no idea there had been links between the Cathedral and Freemasons,’ Roger admits. ‘Then I realised Archbishops of Canterbury had been Freemasons – people like Geoffrey Fisher, who crowned our current Queen. I also saw a picture of Past Provincial Grand Master of Kent Lord Cornwallis at a service in 1936. There had been connections, but the relationship hadn’t been re-established for some time.’

It was 10 years ago, when Roger was asked to find out if Freemasons could attend a Cathedral Evensong service, that this all changed. ‘I made an approach, met someone from the Cathedral Trust, which was about to launch an appeal for restoration work funding, and our relationship started again. It was really just us asking what Freemasons could do to help.’

The relationship has since blossomed and Roger now visits the Cathedral several times a month, often going behind the scenes. ‘It is such a privilege. You see the actual construction of this glorious, iconic building, how it’s survived, how bits haven’t survived – and why it needs such tender loving care.’

‘It is such a privilege to see the actual construction of this glorious, iconic building.’ Roger Odd

Investing in craft

One of the more resonant things to have come out of the relationship is the grant of £22,000, given for the past three years by the Grand Charity towards funding an apprentice stonemason. ‘The trainees are passionate about what they’re doing, and it’s lovely to see some of them now becoming master masons and trainers themselves,’ says Roger.

The Kent Museum of Freemasonry is currently mounting a timely exhibition to explain the bond between Freemasons and the Cathedral building. A video features a stonemason at work: ‘He’s a young stonemason who we supported and he’s so dedicated, so enthusiastic, and only too pleased to show you how to try the job yourself – he let me handle the tools so I understood it.’ 

How did that feel? ‘I was scared, first of all! It’s the skill of being able to chip stone away at an angle, to use that heavy maul and chisel correctly. Some of these tools are years old, but the masons know exactly how to make the right groove and create the perfect figure or moulding.’

Heather Newton, stonemason and the Cathedral’s head of conservation, sees the Freemasons’ support as nothing less than a blessing. ‘We’re desperately in need of funds,’ she says. ‘It’s a huge building, and there’s always something that needs doing. The Freemasons have been immensely generous, but the fact that they’ve given much of their donation specifically for training apprentices is particularly helpful. It’s proper, practical help, and in many cases it’s been a lifeline for some very talented people. You see them develop over the course of the apprenticeship – the experience enriches them.’

For Newton, the stonemasons are the ‘guardians’ of the Cathedral. It’s almost as if the building is a living, breathing thing that holds people’s hopes and beliefs within it. ‘It’s exactly like that, an extraordinary place.’ But like any living thing, it needs support. ‘The weather throws everything at the Cathedral. The south side gets lashed by rain and wind, then hot sun in summer. The north side is attacked by cold.’ 

Does it cause you pain when you see it start to crumble? 

‘It does sometimes, when you see really old little bits of detail just hanging on by a whisker. If something precious is on the brink we take it out and put it in a safe place, replacing it with as accurate a copy as we can. After all, the original will still bear that first stonemason’s marks.’

The most pressing issue is the deterioration of the north-west transept and its pinnacles. One of the oldest parts of the building, dating back to the 11th century, it supports the area of the Martyrdom, the small altar to St Thomas Becket, as well as one of the breathtaking stained-glass windows Freemasons of the past helped provide, dating from 1954. 

With the Cathedral in need of support, it was a happy coincidence that Roger was considering how best to mark the Freemasons’ Tercentenary. The result is that the Provinces of East and West Kent, Sussex and Surrey have pledged to raise £200,000 by the end of the year to enable restoration work already underway to be completed.

‘The Freemasons have been immensely generous. They’ve given proper, practical help.’ Heather Newton

Masonic foundations

And so to the Kent Museum of Freemasonry, where you will discover – if you don’t already know – that Freemasonry is thought to have origins in English stonemasons who built the great cathedrals and churches of the Middle Ages. 

Tony Eldridge, a museum trustee and volunteer, says visitor numbers have risen notably since its refurbishment in 2012: ‘We’ve had 9,000 visitors in the past 12 months, over 5,000 of those non-masons.’ From the interactive children’s area to the surprising list of masons (including George Washington and ‘Buzz’ Aldrin), the museum opens a door on Freemasonry, particularly through the current exhibition tracing modern – and ancient – bonds with the Cathedral. 

A semi-professional singer, Tony often sings at Canterbury Cathedral and knows it well: ‘A Canon, Tom Pritchard, once said to me, “If you think of the prayers that have soaked into the walls, it’s no wonder people feel so uplifted here.”’ Or as Roger says, ‘The more I get involved with the Cathedral, the more I feel, “Aren’t I lucky to be a part of this?” ’ 

Find out more about the Kent Museum of Freemasonry at www.kentmuseumoffreemasonry.org.uk 

Published in Features

Independent lives for veterans

Representatives from the Provincial Grand Lodge of North Wales visited the Blind Veterans UK centre in Llandudno to award the charity a £100,000 donation from The Freemasons’ Grand Charity. Provincial Grand Master Ieuan Redvers Jones presented the cheque to Blind Veterans UK chief executive Major General Nick Caplin. 

The money will help in the refurbishment of buildings being turned into residential units for Blind Veterans UK’s Life Skills for Independent Living project in Llandudno. Delivering tailored, specialised training programmes to young, blind or limbless veterans at risk of homelessness, the project will focus on ensuring the most vulnerable ex-servicemen and women can live as independently as possible.

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