As Letchworth marks its one-hundredth year, John Hamill reports on the centenary of a very special lodge
On 28 March 2011 in Lodge Room No. 10 at Freemasons’ Hall in London, almost 150 brethren gathered for an emergency meeting. Nothing unusual in that – until you look at the signature book and discover that those present included the Pro, Deputy and Assistant Grand Masters, the Metropolitan Grand Master for London, the President and Deputy President of the Board of General Purposes, the Grand Chaplain, Grand Secretary, Grand Director of Ceremonies, Presidents of the Grand Charity and the Masonic Samaritan Fund, and other senior brethren.
What, you might wonder, other than a Quarterly Communication of Grand Lodge, would bring such illustrious company together in one tyled meeting? The reason is a joyous one – to take part in the centenary celebrations of Letchworth Lodge, No. 3505. But why such eminent brethren for a Hertfordshire lodge? The answer, to paraphrase Shakespeare, is all in a name. The ‘Letchworth’ after which the lodge was called is not the delightful Hertfordshire town, but Sir Edward Letchworth who was Grand Secretary from 1892 to 1917. As for why the celebrations were in London, when the membership of the lodge was formed in 1911, it was restricted to the permanent clerks in the Grand Secretary’s Office. And even today is limited to those employed in the capital’s masonic headquarters.
Although a Secretary to the Grand Lodge was appointed in 1723 (becoming Grand Secretary in 1734) and the premier Grand Lodge had a permanent building in Great Queen Street from 1775, it was not until 1838 that the Grand Secretary’s Office came into being. From the of the two Grand Lodges in 1813 until 1838, the Grand Secretaryship was a joint office shared by William White, who had held the same office in the premier Grand Lodge, and Edward Harper, who had been Deputy Grand Secretary of the Antients.
In 1838, Harper ‘retired’ and White was asked to take on the role of Grand Secretary. He agreed but on one condition: that Grand Lodge employed two full-time clerks to assist with paperwork. As a result of the expansion in members and lodges in the Victorian period, by the time Letchworth became Grand Secretary in 1892 the office had grown to seven clerks. As they had to be Master Masons it was suggested they should have a lodge. There was one problem: nine was the minimum number of petitioners and there were only seven clerks.
By 1911, there had been an expansion of the Craft and clerk numbers grew to 15. They approached Letchworth to petition for a lodge, and the consecration took place on 28 March 1911. Sir Edward himself was the Consecrating Officer, assisted by the President of the Board of General Purposes, the President of the Board of Benevolence (now the Grand Charity), the Grand Chaplain and Grand Director of Ceremonies and the Chairman of the Board’s Officers and Clerks Committee.
Sir Edward stated that the lodge’s purpose was ‘to meld the clerks into greater harmony’. It would also assist Grand Lodge by bringing into Freemasonry suitable candidates that might become clerks in the office; and get brethren through the Chair in a reasonable time for additional duties. The latter was important, as many lodges had more than 100 members and it could take 15 or more years to reach the Chair.
The lodge’s first year was a busy one with two candidates and three installations. The Master designate had been installed at the consecration and at the July and November meetings two of the senior clerks were installed. In 1913, the lodge began a practice that was to continue until the 1970s – that of initiating as serving brethren members of the portering and maintenance staff of the Hall. They were to assist the Grand Tyler by laying up the lodge rooms and acting as Assistant Tylers whenever Grand Lodge met.
The First World War halted progress of the lodge and office, as half the staff were on active service. Only one did not return, Ponsonby Cox, and another, Guy Mercer, was awarded the Military Cross. Those too old for military service kept the lodge and office going. To help in the office, the rule requiring clerks to be Master Masons was put into abeyance and three lady clerks and two ‘lady typewriters’ were taken on. The latter, Miss Haigh and Miss Winter, proved far from temporary, spending the rest of their working lives as private secretaries to Grand and Deputy Grand Secretaries.
The huge increase in the Craft four years after the war, and the plan to rebuild Freemasons’ Hall as a permanent war memorial, led to an increase in office size. Between 1925 and 1927, five boy clerks were taken on as ‘temporary’ staff ; each of them eventually becoming members of the lodge. There were similar problems during the Second World War, when again the rule on clerks being Master Masons was set aside and women were taken on. They proved so popular and useful that in 1949 the rule (No. 33 in the current Book of Constitutions) was put into abeyance. The lodge had difficulties meeting and reduced its wartime gatherings to two per year. The only ceremonial work was the annual installation of the Master.
The immediate post-war years saw an enormous growth in the Craft. This led to expansion of the office and an increase in the membership of the lodge. Much of the work was in making serving brethren, as the portering and maintenance staff had also grown, and many took on additional work as Tylers for lodges meeting at Freemasons’ Hall.
By the late 1960s, however, things were slowing down and doubts were expressed about the future of Letchworth Lodge. Membership had been limited to Permanent Clerks, but in 1977, Grand Secretary James Stubbs was approached about opening the lodge to the full office, to which he agreed. In the early 1980s, under Grand Secretary Michael Higham, the lodge was opened to the whole of the male staff at Freemasons’ Hall and the staff of other masonic headquarters in London. This has resulted in a vibrant lodge with a steady stream of candidates. The changes have also brought the staff of the various masonic offices in London closer together. Sir Edward Letchworth’s hopes at the consecration can truly be said to have been achieved.
As the Grand Secretary’s lodge, Letchworth has had great support from Sir Edward and his successors. Sir Philip Colville Smith became an honorary member when he became Grand Secretary in 1917. (Sir) Sydney White joined the lodge when he was appointed Chief Clerk in 1918, was its Master in 1920, and was a regular attendee even after election as an Honorary Member when he became Grand Secretary in 1937. (Sir) James Stubbs was elected an Honorary Member when he was appointed Assistant Grand Secretary in 1948, while Michael Higham became a joining member when appointed Deputy Grand Secretary in 1978, and is still active. Nigel Brown joined when he was appointed Grand Secretary in 2007 and members are delighted to have him as their Centenary Master. He was thrilled to have been installed by Michael Higham.
Being involved in central masonic administration, the members of the lodge were only too aware of the privilege extended to them to have the Pro Grand Master present the Centenary Warrant. The happy occasion was followed by a reception and banquet in the Grand Temple vestibules.
Travelling with David Williamson, the Assistant Grand Master, to Singapore for the celebrations of the District Grand Lodge of Eastern Archipelago’s 150th anniversary provided a good opportunity to reflect on the Universities Scheme. The Assistant Grand Master is the President of the Universities Scheme, while Eastern Archipelago is the first District in the United Grand Lodge of England to discuss involvement.
10 DECEMBER 2008
An address by the MW The Pro Grand Master The Most Hon The Marquess of Northampton, DL
I have had the great privilege of being Pro Grand Master since March 2001 and before that I was Assistant Grand Master for five years in charge of London. I have decided that the time has come for me to step down in March and give someone else the chance to steer the Craft for the next few years.
These past eight years have continued a process of great change for English Freemasonry, helping it to come through one of the most difficult periods in its history.
As the Grand Master pointed out recently, we are entering a period of consolidation, and if we continue to build on the foundations of openness we have laid for the 21st century there is every chance that we will start to grow again. I welcome an increase in our numbers as long as we continue to maintain the highest standards and concentrate on the quality of our candidates.
I am pleased to tell you that the Grand Master has appointed RW Bro Peter Lowndes, Deputy Grand Master, to succeed me. He will be installed as Pro Grand Master at the Quarterly Communication of Grand Lodge in March. He will be succeeded as Deputy Grand Master by RW Bro Jonathan Spence, Grand Director of Ceremonies, and he in turn by W Bro Oliver Lodge, Past Deputy Grand Director of Ceremonies. I am pleased to say the Assistant Grand Master will be continuing in office. I shall be presiding at Grand Lodge for the last time in December.
I wish Bro Lowndes every success in his new important role and have every confidence that the Craft will be in very capable hands. For my part I shall continue to enjoy my Masonry, albeit at an easier pace and with less direct responsibility.
I look forward to helping in any way I can to ensure the future good health and happiness of English Freemasonry. It has been an honour to serve the Craft.
How the Universities' Scheme is gathering pace explained by Oliver Lodge
In pursuit of its objective, 'to establish and/or enhance the opportunities for undergraduates and other university members to join and enjoy freemasonry', the Universities Scheme Group has, over the past year or more, provided direct support to the nine Lodges that make up the Scheme.
The nature of that support has varied considerably according to the needs of the individual Lodge. In all cases, the Lodges have had notable success in their participation and pursuit of the objective, which they have embraced with great enthusiasm.
I have been not just impressed, but excited by the degree of commitment that has emerged as, in some cases, Lodges have made the decision to bring about quite significant change to their composition and nature.
The nature of the Scheme is such that, while the most important work is indisputably that which takes place in the Scheme Lodges, some elements of the administration of the Scheme are more efficiently centralised.
The Scheme Group have attempted to serve the Lodges involved by offering advice drawn on experience of university Masonry and by seeking to ensure that as many as possible in the Craft are fully aware of the Scheme’s existence and the scope for undergraduates to join the Craft, without having to wait to attain the grand old age of 21 years. Before too long we will have to declare ourselves as failures if there are Masons left in this country who have not heard this message!
Our early efforts at raising awareness have had profound effects. The marvellous advent of the internet has assisted our efforts formidably. The very simple expedient of establishing a presence in a small corner of the UGLE website, with an appropriate mail box for contact, has produced enquiries of all sorts, some anticipated, other less so.
Having deliberately raised awareness in order to support the objective – ensuring that no one is missing out through want of information – the most welcome surprise of all has been the level of interest and enthusiasm that the Scheme has attracted from all corners of the Craft.
Most striking of all is the desire among a number of Lodges to participate in the Scheme. While it has always been intended that we should expand the Scheme to a wider range of Lodges, our timeframe on this has been driven by demand.
Recognising that it is no longer feasible to provide all support from the Scheme Group itself, the Assistant Grand Master (AGM), RW Bro David Williamson, the Scheme’s Founding President, has asked Provinces where there are Lodges that want to participate in the Scheme to look at providing the necessary support from within their own ranks.
This step, with all its appearance of being purely administrative, has the fundamental impact of enabling the widening of the Scheme to meet the enthusiastic demand that is surfacing. This is the most welcome challenge faced by the Group to date – the sensation of pushing at an open door.
As well as driving the timing, this development has obliged the Group to be more explicit about the necessary criteria, indeed the essential qualifications, for any Lodge wishing to participate (see table opposite). Some of these are marvellous in their blatancy; others may not be so obvious; all are vital. Supporting the objectives of the Scheme goes, in one sense, without saying.
But an unequivocal statement from the Lodge to that effect is essential.
The agreement of the Provincial Grand Master and AGM are also necessary steps. This will ensure that the Lodge has fully understood the implications of its participation, as well as providing a degree of co-ordination and the avoidance of overcrowding – too many Lodges in one location – which could lead to the dissipation of undergraduates where what is needed is critical mass.
The question of passing on to young members the reduction in dues to Grand Lodge and the Grand Charity, now available to all Masons under 25, is important to ensure the avoidance of financial exclusion.
It is, of course, essential that Lodges joining the Scheme should fully understand the implications of doing so and commit themselves in open Lodge. They will need to consider some difficult questions about their own structure, including practicalities relating to meeting dates and time, the cost of dining and regalia and their style and dress code.
They will also need to look at the more challenging questions of how best to involve undergraduates during their probably all too-short time in the area and how they help those same members, when they graduate and move on, to join convivial Lodges in their new location.
For Lodges in the Scheme, this is the steep and rugged pathway. Those looking for soft options will have to look elsewhere; those looking to re-invigorate not just their own lodge but the Craft as a whole, should look no further.
A scheme to encourage undergraduates into Freemasonry is outlined by Oliver Lodge
It is said that young men have no interest in Freemasonry, that such formality is alien to youth and that the minimum age for initiation is ‘the full age of 21 years’. The trouble with generalisations such as these is that, generally, they are misleading.
We need to challenge the mantra; if we don’t, we are ignoring our own history and missing an important opportunity.
My hypothesis is that young men come in all shapes and sizes and that, perhaps surprisingly, large numbers are indeed interested in Freemasonry.
Those Masons lucky enough to have come across either Apollo University Lodge or Isaac Newton University Lodge will know very well that these two hugely successful Lodges attract substantial numbers of initiates every year from undergraduates at their two great universities. Both Apollo at Oxford and Isaac Newton at Cambridge have, in their own very different ways, proved to the Masonic world that young men can and do make exceptional Freemasons, producing many of the leaders of the English Craft today. And there is nothing hypothetical about that.
Likewise, age itself is not a barrier. Provincial Grand Masters have the authority to dispense with the traditional minimum age for initiation, as they have been doing for many years. This is no longer the rarity that it once was, and may well one day beg the question of the need for the continued existence of the regulation.
That may make clear why the Assistant Grand Master, David Williamson, has set up the Universities Scheme. That, and the fact that at present less than 800 of the many thousands of English Masons are under 25.
We live in a time of an aging population, but in the Craft our population is aging faster than most.
While one might be tempted to suppose that this arises because we Masons live life to the full and survive well, in reality it has rather more to do with our reluctance to make Freemasonry properly accessible to those who have not yet established their professional careers. The Universities Scheme is about to change all that.
In essence, the scheme is setting out to enable specified Lodges to appeal to undergraduates. More formally, the scheme’s objective is 'To establish and/or enhance arrangements and opportunities for undergraduates and other university members to join and enjoy freemasonry.'
To this end, the AGM has established a group of Masons, well below average age, but with vast experience of university Masonry, to promote the scheme. With the enthusiastic support of the Provinces in question, as well as the members of the scheme group, he has visited Lodges in Bath, Birmingham, Bristol, Cambridge, Durham, Exeter, Oxford and Sheffield to invite them to participate in the scheme.
He also plans to visit Manchester in the autumn. Each of these visits has resulted in a Lodge devoted to becoming or firmly remaining open to undergraduates from that city’s university. In some cases that is a commitment amounting to a very real challenge for the Lodge in question.
It would, however, be a mistake to give the impression that Apollo and Isaac Newton are the only undergraduate Lodges in the country. At Durham, the Universities Lodge has been actively welcoming undergraduates to its fold over recent years. Likewise, St Vincent Lodge in Bristol and, to varying degrees, in other universities too. On all of this, the scheme intends to build.
Who can doubt that momentum is a wonderful thing? Apollo has been fortunate to have existed for nearly 200 years (indeed, there existed, even in the 18th century, a University Lodge in Oxford). Blessed with critical mass, established undergraduate Lodges just free-wheel, picking up initiates effortlessly as they go. Or so it seems.
In fact, while they may appear on the surface to glide like swans, they achieve it by paddling like fury under the surface.
Nevertheless, there can be no doubt that their existing undergraduate membership exerts a gravitational pull, reinforcing their daily efforts to ensure a healthy future. For those setting out on this path for the first time, the biggest hurdle is the first one. How are the first few undergraduates to be found?
A typical initiation path is that a chum will suggest that Masonry might interest the individual; he will be introduced early-on to other young members; he will meet the secretary and be given a fairly frank outline of what he can expect and what is expected of him. Very few do not proceed to initiation.
In seeking to answer that question more broadly, each participating Lodge is setting up a committee to determine its own unique approach. If that looks like successive wheel re-inventions, it is not quite so. The function of the scheme group is to provide to participating Lodges the benefit of the group’s collective experience and ideas.
But, more importantly, it is fundamental that each Lodge should resolve the question in the way that suits its own circumstances and customs. The AGM’s scheme has no intention of seeking to create clones across the country; rather the focus is that the objective should be achieved in a range of different ways, further enriching the diversity of Freemasonry and fully respecting the individuality of each Lodge.
Let me nevertheless offer a little of the thinking of the group. Recent experience has shown that a fair proportion of young initiates first made contact with Freemasonry through the internet. To some that will come as quite a surprise; others will have known or guessed that it was so.
But the conclusion must be that a website is a valuable thing. University Lodges must be prepared to be fairly public affairs; they must advertise without shame, to freshmen each year, using opportunities to promote Masonry in general. University Lodges should support undergraduate charities and ensure that such benevolence is known to the public. Another, probably unsurprising, feature of successful experience is the opportunity for undergraduates to meet the Lodge either over drinks or dinner, in order to acquire an impression of the people and, even more importantly, of Freemasonry itself.
The avoidance of un-undergraduatefriendly features is also significant. Careful consideration has to be given to costs, to dates and times, to early involvement of new joiners and many similar details of the Lodge’s administration.
In addition to all of this activity within the university Lodges, a valuable contribution to this theme is the recent pair of reductions in dues agreed by Grand Lodge, both for its own levy and for that of the Grand Charity.
All costs for undergraduates and other young men are magnified in their significance, whether they be subscriptions, dining fees or the price of regalia. With initiative and determination, ways can be found to ameliorate the burden.
It is also to be hoped that the profile of the scheme itself will result in an enhancement to the usual paternal or family-based encouragement. Where such suggestion might typically have awaited the initiate’s 30th birthday, it might now instead relate to establishing contact with the Lodge of an undergraduate’s university, ten years earlier.
Although the focus of the scheme is squarely on universities, everyone involved is very well aware of the relevance of it to young men outside university life. To them, Freemasonry should extend a similar welcome whenever and wherever the opportunity arises. Universities may represent merely the start to the process of Masonic involvement of a materially wider age-group.
There is no doubt that the scheme represents a project that will take many years to achieve its full potential. The challenge will be to continue to innovate, to continue to drive the programme in the face of occasional set-back and disappointment.
But with momentum, the scheme will deliver.
Oliver Lodge is chairman of The Universities Scheme Group