There is an important role for women in Freemasonry as one Cheshire group has shown
Bridgegate Lodge No. 5961 in the Province of Cheshire was consecrated in 1944, meets at the Masonic Hall, Cheshire View, Christleton, Chester and continues to attract candidates at the rate of about two a year.
Until 1993, Bridgegate, like so many other Lodges, held Ladies Nights, looked after their widows and supported the Provincial Festivals and local charities.
Then, in 1993, Mrs. Sheila Cowell decided that if the men could go out and enjoy themselves, then so could the Ladies and, what is more, they could challenge their men’s charitable donations with donations of their own, so she founded the Bridgegate Ladies Circle.
At first, the Circle met at Sheila’s home, but as the interest grew, and space became restricted, they had to move to the new Masonic Hall at Christleton.
Starting a Ladies Circle has been done many times before, but Bridgegate Lodge’s Ladies Circle quickly became friends and discovered they had lots of fun doing their own thing, while at the same time fundraising for the charities, both local and Masonic, by arranging a variety of activities to suit all tastes.
In a surprisingly short period, membership had grown to around 40 and has remained about this level ever since. The membership comprises not just the wives of Bridgegate Lodge members, but also their friends, ladies of the brethren of other Lodges visiting Bridgegate and their friends.
It says a lot that such a disparate group should survive for so long and their programme of dining, fashion shows, jewellery displays, speakers, discussions and other social functions is obviously so well pitched that they neither become bored with it, nor feel themselves to be in any sort of a rut.
Each year since 1993, the ladies have donated between £800 and £1,200, usually to the Lodge Charity Steward on the occasion of the annual Ladies Evening. While the Lodge is the final arbiter of what happens to the money, the ladies have been given the opportunity by the Charity Steward to have their say in making donations.
The unique thing about all this is that this Ladies Circle are well aware that there is no mechanism from within the Masonic organisation for any formal recognition of their efforts and achievements, but they do it anyway and deserve a great big “well done and thank you” from us all.
After 13 years, Sheila has decided to retire from the Chair of the Ladies Circle and has handed the tiller over to Anne Reynolds and Diane Crank. Both Anne and Diane have been part of the development of the Ladies Circle for many years and there is no doubt that they are well able to carry on the good work started by Sheila. Both Anne and Diane have a vested interest in raising money because both their husbands are the current Master and Charity Steward of the Lodge.
Perhaps it is time for Freemasonry to be more inclusive of its women for, as Bridgegate Lodge have seen to their advantage, fund-raising of this sort has kept them up to the mark and helped the task of the Charity Steward.