Praise for local masons over Somerset floods help

The dramatic floods on the Somerset Levels early last year continue to affect the local community, with some residents still living in temporary accommodation – many in caravans or some distance from their home. 

The Somerset Community Foundation (SCF) has distributed more than £1 million to help alleviate financial hardship, with local masons raising over £200,000 to establish the Somerset Masonic Flood Recovery Fund for the Foundation.

SCF chief executive Justin Sargent praised local masons for their work: ‘It was with the support of the Freemasons that we were able to swiftly provide the necessary funding to increase the number of Somerset Village Agents to work in flood-affected areas. 

At a time when many communities were ripped apart, they have been providing an essential signposting and support service, providing reliable and independent eyes and ears on the ground for us.’

Letters to the Editor - No. 30 Summer 2015

Charitable support


I was pleased to see the article in the spring issue of Freemasonry Today referring to the fantastic support from Freemasons for those affected by the floods in Somerset. Your article stated that some £200,000 was raised by local masons, but I should point out that more than £89,000 of that total came from Essex Freemasons in response to an appeal by our Provincial Grand Master, John Webb.

This in no way detracts from the massive support given by Somerset for such an unparalleled disaster and I should emphasise that Essex masons were delighted to be part of such an incredible initiative, which has clearly made such a difference. 

Colin Felton, Leigh-on-Sea Lodge, No. 4708, Southend-on-Sea, Essex

The Midlands Air Ambulance charity invited officers of the Shropshire Masonic Charitable Association and their ladies to view the new helicopter and crew centre at Cosford Airfield

The Air Ambulance has received very generous support in recent years from the nearby Provinces, from The Freemasons' Grand Charity and from the Mark Province of Staffordshire and Shropshire.

Luckily, the aircraft had not been called away on duty and the twelve visitors were able to benefit from a very informative session presented by a paramedic, a doctor and a pilot each of whom explained the important tasks they carry out in the vital business of treating and transferring patients.

Midlands Air Ambulance Fundraising Director, Jason Levy, in being presented with a cheque for £2,000.00 by WBro John Williamson, President of the SMCA, praised the masonic community in Shropshire and the West Midlands for being such important contributors.

Jason was accompanied by Shropshire Fundraising Manager, Maria Jones and by Midlands Air Ambulance Operations Manager, Becky Tinsdale.   

Those in the SMCA party were:

RW Bro Peter Alan Taylor, Provincial Grand Master and Mrs Pat Taylor
VW Bro Roger Pemberton, Deputy Provincial Grand Master and Monica Pemberton (Roger is a Trustee of the Midlands Air Ambulance Charity)
W Bro John Williamson, President of the SMCA and Mrs Anne Williamson
W Bro Les Oakley, Secretary of the SMCA and Judy Oakley
W Bro Dennis Hill, Treasurer of the SMCA and Mrs Valerie Hill
W Bro Simon Aucott, Provincial Grand Charity Steward and Mrs Lynn Aucott

An invited tour of the extensive new £8 million build at St Michael’s Hospice on the last day of 2014 by Herefordshire Freemasons, reflected the extent of appreciation for their committed support

In the presence of Ruth Denison, Fundraising Manager at the hospice, the RW Bro the Rev David Bowen, Provincial Grand Master for Herefordshire, accompanied by fellow Freemasons, was informed that the new building would be the most advanced and highly specified in the country.

The new facilities, including the imaginative and highly technical five clusters of four bedded areas for in-patients, representing a significant increase in capacity, will enable the hospice to sustain its excellent national reputation.

The visiting local Freemasons were also told that the projected £3.2 million refurbishment of the thirty-year-old part of the existing hospice will take place during the coming twelve months, thus completing a challenging period of development.

The Rev David Bowen presented a donation of £2,804 on behalf of The Freemasons’ Grand Charity – since 1984, the charity has donated more than £11 million to hospices in England and Wales – and David Hudson, Worshipful Master of Coningsby Lodge presented an additional £500 on behalf of the members.

Speaking about the donations, David Bowen said: 'Freemasons in Herefordshire are pleased that The Freemasons’ Grand Charity has continued to provide this vital funding for our local hospice. The care, compassion and support the hospice provides to the community is outstanding and we are delighted that we are able to show our continuing dedication to their cause.'

Time to deliver

Pro Grand Master Peter Lowndes explains why masonic ritual needs to involve a proper understanding of what’s being said rather than simply reciting the words on a page

Over the past year or two there has been a certain amount of correspondence in the various masonic magazines regarding the pros and cons of reading, rather than reciting, our ritual.

One correspondent suggested that, as ritual was read throughout European Grand Lodges, we should follow. I am not sure all our politicians would agree with that. Certainly, it is true that reading ritual is prevalent in many European Grand Lodges. However, it’s not universally so and, in any event, there is no good reason for us to follow their example. Indeed, I have many friends in European Lodges who envy the way we deliver our ritual.

You will note that I said that they are envious of the way we ‘deliver’ our ritual. In my experience, ritual that is recited has much greater meaning to the candidate than ritual that is read, although I am pleased to say that I have not been present on many occasions that it has been read.

I entirely accept that learning ritual is time consuming. But how often is it true that the busiest people are those who find the time to learn it?

I am not going to pretend that I have ever found ritual learning easy, and, as time goes by, I find learning new ritual more difficult. Nonetheless, I shall never forget the satisfaction of carrying out a Second Degree ceremony at the first meeting that I was in the chair of my mother lodge. To be told by an extremely demanding Director of Ceremonies that it had been adequate was as good as it gets! This was a great deal more complimentary than anything he ever said to me during the year that he taught me classics.

‘Our ritual is to be treasured, and there are few better experiences than seeing and hearing a really well-conducted masonic ceremony.’

By definition, reading means looking at the book. If the deliverer is looking at the book, he is not looking at the candidate or the brethren to whom he is speaking. To read a text well is a skill that not everyone has. Good reading needs preparation and unless our ritual is understood by the deliverer, what chance is there that it will be understood by the recipient? For the reader to have a good understanding of what he is saying, he will need to have read through the text on several occasions. 

Our ritual is to be treasured, and there are few better experiences than seeing and hearing a really well-conducted masonic ceremony. One of the prime reasons that lodges are being encouraged to share the workload is so that members can spend time really learning and understanding what they are delivering and not just reciting ritual parrot fashion.

It is inevitable that some members will find ritual easier than others, and it is incumbent on all of us to ensure that as much help as possible is given to those who need it.

I don’t expect what I have said here to be universally accepted, but I would be surprised if the majority of our members do not agree with at least part of it.

Letters to the Editor - No. 30 Summer 2015

Reading matters


I read with interest John Salisbury’s letter in the last issue of Freemasonry Today. 

I have to say I disagree with his view, in that over the past few years I have seen increasing numbers of masons reading ritual during ceremonies. I have to say on a number of these occasions they have been read extremely badly.

I never like to see people read ritual. 

I have been through the chair and will do so again next year. I also hold down an extremely busy and complicated professional working career. However, I have adapted to find regular daily time to learn ritual, in the car to and from work.

Even coming out of the chair I have continued to learn other new ritual pieces and am thus progressing my daily advancement in masonic knowledge. Freemasons need to be aware of the responsibility of taking on roles in the lodge and the responsibility to learn for these roles. If they struggle then maybe we should be assisting them to learn a small part well and getting other members of the lodge who don’t struggle to do the longer, more complicated pieces.

We should resist a radical move to reading ritual and focus on ways to help those who struggle to undertake small pieces well. 

Rhys Maybrey, St Cuthbert Lodge, No. 3417, Darlington, Durham


As much as I enjoy the challenge of learning and delivering our ‘plays’ (for that is truly what they could be called), I have to bear in mind the time it takes to learn them. Though not an actor, I apply many of their methods to line learning and also have the privilege of having access to a space where I can build a set when required. Despite having all these tools at my disposal, I still take several months – often involving 12-hour days – to learn my lines. 

And please too, dear reader, remember that while, for example, the Third Degree Master’s part is ‘only’ 163 lines long, many of those lines are 100 or more words long and form speeches that are over 1,000 words in length. Compare this to the longest individual speech in a Shakespeare play, which is only 495 words long, and one sees the task masons are up against. Small wonder, then, that many masons shy away from performing in them. 

Therefore, I see circumstances where reading would be the better option as there is nothing worse than some poor fellow who is stumbling over his lines and being corrected by several people at once, with at least half of those ‘corrections’ being wrong. Better to read them then, than to have that happen. 

Shaun Joynson, Torch Lodge, No. 7236, London

Letters to the Editor - No. 29 Spring 2015


I enjoyed the article, ‘Time to Deliver’, by the Pro Grand Master Peter Lowndes in the autumn edition of Freemasonry Today, in which he indicated his concern regarding our masonic ritual. 

It typifies what can be seen or heard in some lodges today with the advent of modern technological equipment enabling some members to read rather than recite their ritual, and I believe this has come about for three reasons. First, the lack of knowledge about our Freemasonry; second, the little time given or available to instruct brethren as to where, when or how our ritual has developed; and thirdly, perhaps, to the ever-increasing call from various charities.

To alleviate some of this problem the late Gloucestershire Deputy Provincial Grand Master John Edward Churches formed a group of interested members and launched a team under the title of Provincial Road Shows in which I was fortunate enough to be included. Many lodges perform the First, Second and Third degrees and an Installation during the year, but from time to time, when there is a shortage of candidates, they arrange talks or perform rehearsals. 

We offered our services to entertain members by pointing out what our ritual means and where it originates. It was surprising to find that few members realised how and when the two Grand Lodges joined together, thus enabling the title United Grand Lodge of England to be used. 

It is clear at the beginning of one’s membership of the Craft one is taught – not least by the ritual itself – that charity is important. I recall when I first became a Freemason over forty-five years ago being told by the Charity Steward that charity was important but that one should only give what one can afford, and that the main reason for Freemasonry was to make good men even better.

Bernard Norton, Earl Bathurst Lodge, No. 6313, Cirencester, Gloucestershire


Some years ago I wrote to the editor saying that consideration should be given to reading obligations where the candidate is not blindfolded. The response indicated that my letter was not read properly as the replies, to a brother, were against! They thought I said all ritual to be read. This was not so. I suggested obligations as a starting point, accuracy being critical, in much the same way that prayers are read to ensure they are accurate. If reading obligations proves helpful to our members who are 

hard-pressed at work or who find learning not easy, it might then, where practical, help for other parts to be read. 

I will always prefer reading to endless prompts, which can embarrass all concerned. Freemasonry must adapt to survive. We pay lip service to change, and some things have changed, but change will, I think, have to be radical. The fundamentals of Freemasonry are immutable! Change to survive is possible without impinging on these wonderful principles and reading a little ritual may help.

John Salisbury, Vellum Lodge, No. 5845, Solihull, Warwickshire

Published in UGLE

Pipe dream

The restoration of the Grand Temple pipe organ at Freemasons’ Hall is helping to preserve a vital piece of this Art Deco building’s history. Charles Grace tells Sarah Holmes how the project came about

With a firm grip on the scaffolding in front of him, Charles Grace takes a moment to appreciate the elevated view over the Grand Temple. Behind him, a golden wall of freshly gilded organ pipes stand caged in a rigid rig of steel rods and orderly wooden planks. 

It’s been a particularly busy year for the senior Freemason, who has been overseeing the restoration of the Grand Temple’s pipe organ. Although the work has been progressing steadily since January 2014, few masons will have noticed anything different going on at Great Queen Street. For Charles, this is a good thing. Despite the size of the project, he has gone to great lengths to make sure that the renovation work doesn’t disrupt the normal running of Freemasons’ Hall.

As a long-serving member of the Committee of General Purposes, Charles played a central role in the decision to renovate, rather than replace, the Grand Temple’s eighty-one-year-old organ. ‘It’s part of the heritage of Freemasons’ Hall, so we have a duty to protect it,’ he says. ‘This building pays tribute to more than 3,000 Freemasons who lost their lives in World War I, so it’s apt that the organ is being restored during the centenary year of that terrible conflict.’ 

The idea for restoring the organ first came about in 2009 when an inspection by the organ consultant, Ian Bell, revealed the need for extensive repairs. With most organs requiring a professional overhaul every twenty-five years, the Grand Temple’s organ had survived three times longer than that thanks to the constant temperature and humidity levels as well as its dedicated maintenance. Nevertheless, eighty years of accumulated wear threatened to irreparably damage the tonal accuracy of its pipes. 

But now, thanks to funding from the Supreme Grand Chapter’s reserves, the organ will be restored to its former glory with roughly half of the money being spent on cleaning, repairing and re-voicing the existing mechanisms, which include an astounding 2,220 pipes and forty-three stops. The remainder of the funding will be spent on mounting a new case of some four hundred pipes on the east wall of the Grand Temple. 

Rousing quality

The result of all the renovation work will be a clearer, louder sound, and a focal point from which the organist can lead the Grand Temple’s 1,700-strong congregation in song. It’s a rousing quality that the present organ peculiarly lacks.

‘This is quite an unusual design,’ explains Charles. ‘Most organs have a focal point, but the present instrument comprises two cases of pipes that shout at each other across the dais. When the Grand Temple is full and everyone’s singing lustily, it’s difficult for those in the west to hear the organ, so the new case will make a huge difference, as well as giving the Grand Temple an extra visual wow factor.’

The craftsmen undertaking the restoration are from Durham-based organ builders Harrison & Harrison – a company responsible for rebuilding and maintaining some of the UK’s most famous organs, including those at the Royal Festival Hall and Westminster Abbey. Their experience of working with traditional organs is reassuring to Charles, who is eager that the new section remains consistent with the look and sound of the original. The new pipes will be made from a tin-and-lead alloy in keeping with the design of Brother Henry Willis, who built the organ in 1933. 

‘I’d love to get a series of subscription concerts going as we’re transforming a good organ into a magnificent one.’ Charles Grace

Musical chairs

It’s an extensive undertaking for Harrison & Harrison, who also face the added challenge of working around the Grand Temple’s busy schedule of events.

‘It’s been quite a juggling act to make sure we don’t interfere with the day-to-day running of the Grand Temple,’ explains Charles. ‘We’ve relied on the occasional spare periods of time to carry out some of the work. But from mid-December, when the Temple is quietest, we’ll be able to get the bulk of the work done.’

Fortunately, much of the early work has been completed in Durham, where the existing organ and console were moved for cleaning and repairing in January. ‘It’s a vitally important part of the renovation process,’ explains Andy Scott, head voicer at Harrison & Harrison. ‘As soon as the dirt starts to build up, it can dull the pitch and sound quality of the pipes, and adds to the deterioration of the worn mechanism, causing notes to stick on or not play at all.’

The length of the pipes, as well as the material they’re constructed from, both play a fundamental role in determining their pitch – so it’s important that the correct techniques are used to clean them. 

The longer, wooden pipes, which create the deeper notes, can reach up to sixteen feet in length, and have to be vacuumed and varnished. Meanwhile, the shorter metallic pipes, which create the higher notes, and can be as short as a few inches, have to be soaked and scrubbed in soapy water. 

The pipes will then be returned to the Grand Temple and divided between chambers hidden in the opposite walls of the eastern dais. The case containing all the new pipes will be mounted on the east wall above the console, facing directly down the Grand Temple.

Like the other two cases, the new case will be decorated with the same elaborately carved Art Deco motifs and poly-resin embellishments. A grille of eighteen pipes, all gilded in gold leaf, will be visible at the front. ‘It takes three different crafts alone to build its case,’ explains Charles. ‘That’s how complex a pipe organ is. It’s more than just an instrument – it’s an actual fixture of the building.’ 

Tone control

As well as the pipes, Harrison & Harrison must also refurbish the whole mechanical structure, including the enormous wind chests that sit underneath the pipes. By driving pressurised air through the pipes, the wind chests help to produce the organ’s distinctive, multi-tonal sound. Electric blowers located underneath the Grand Temple supply the wind chests with air.

‘It takes three different crafts to build the case. That’s how complex a pipe organ is. It’s more than an instrument – it’s an actual fixture of the building.’ Charles Grace

‘Each pipe produces a single note,’ explains Charles. ‘All pipes are arranged in ranks of common sound and pitch, and when the organist wants to play a particular rank, he selects the corresponding stop. This releases air from the wind chest to a particular rank of pipes. The keys on the main console then control which pipes the air passes through.’ 

It’s a thoroughly complicated system, and one that has taken Charles hours of surfing the web and scouring YouTube videos to understand. As part of the renovation, a new electronic feature will be fitted that allows the organ to store digital recordings of the music played on the keyboard. This means that a wide range of pre-recorded music will be able to be played on the organ at the touch of a button.

It’s something that will add impact to the public tours of the Grand Temple, and is a key example of the way in which the latest renovations not only safeguard the heritage of the Freemasons’ Hall, but also enhance it.   

With all things going to plan, the restoration work is due to be completed by March 2015 and Charles hopes that the new organ will become a symbol of celebration not just for United Grand Lodge’s approaching tercentenary, but for everyone who visits the Hall. 

‘I’d love to get a series of subscription concerts going, as we’re transforming a good organ into a magnificent one – so I’d hope a few great organists would play here,’ says Charles.

In keeping with this vision, Charles hopes to establish a partnership with the Royal College of Organists to give aspiring musicians an opportunity to rehearse and perform on the Grand Temple’s amazing instrument. 

‘It’s a fantastic opportunity to open ourselves up to the public, and to get this incredible organ being played more than ever,’ says Charles. ‘We need to make the most of it.’ 

The original surround sound

A pipe organ produces music through a vast array of real pipes placed in different locations around the room, effectively making it one of the first surround sound systems. In contrast, electronic organs only simulate the sound of the pipes from a central loudspeaker. The result is noticeably flatter and lacks the true fullness of many individual pitches blending together. 

Letters for the Editor - No. Summer 2016

Exchanging notes


The spring issue of Freemasonry Today contained letters from two brethren asking about the specification of the splendid refurbished Willis III organ in the Grand Temple at Freemasons’ Hall, London. A downloadable colour leaflet containing this is available under ‘H&H specifications’ from the website of Harrison & Harrison (, the firm that carried out the work, and more information can be found online in the National Pipe Organ Register.

Carl Jackson, Grand Organist from April 2016, St Cecilia Lodge, No. 6190, London


In the spring issue there were two letters relating to the specification of the organ at Great Queen Street. 

May I suggest they go to the National Pipe Organ Register at, which has the details your correspondents want – although it has not been updated to the new rebuild. The site has details of thousands of organs in the UK, which can be searched for by name or postcode or reference number (Great Queen Street is N16533).

Peter Edwards, Sutton Coldfield Lodge, No. 8960, Sutton Coldfield, Warwickshire



Letters for the Editor - No. Spring 2016


I would like to congratulate all those involved in the refurbishment of the pipe organ in the Grand Temple at Freemasons’ Hall and the excellent write-up in Freemasonry Today. I am 86 years of age and partially disabled. I joined the John Compton Organ Company, London as an apprentice in 1944, and trained as a voicer and tuner under John Degens, a former Walkers employee. After two years’ national service I then spent the next few years as a voicer and tuner for Nicholson of Worcester. I would very much appreciate knowing the specifications of the magnificent organ.

Doug Litchfield, Zetland Lodge, No. 1005, Gloucester, Gloucestershire


Recent articles in Freemasonry Today about the organ refurbishment are much appreciated. Lodge organists and organists in general would, I feel sure, appreciate even more to see the full specifications, old and new: that is, names of stops to each department, list of accessories, etc, so as to get a sense of the full tonal architecture and its possibilities, past and present.

Malcolm Dilley, Warton Lodge, No. 8411, Carnforth, West Lancashire

Letters to the Editor - No. 30 Summer 2015

Grand music


I read the articles by both Charles Grace and Ian Bell regarding the Grand Temple Willis pipe organ restoration with great interest. I am a masonic organist in the South Wales Province, where most masonic centres are furnished with electronic or digital organs.

Your articles reveal that there are two other Willis pipers in the Great Queen Street building but that they are not in working order. I visited Great Queen Street last November to play the organ for the installation ceremony of the American Lodge. The ceremony was allocated to Lodge Room No. 8 where I was horrified to find that the organ was little more than a squawk box. I looked into several of the other lodge rooms to discover similar disappointing instruments.

Whilst the Grand Temple organ restoration and necessary enhancement is to be applauded, I wish to have the Great Queen Street management reminded that if ceremony’s musical accompaniment and enhancement is really desirable, then it is absolutely necessary to encourage masonic brethren to aspire to be a lodge organist by furnishing the best tool for the purpose, and that a pillar of attainment as a lodge organist might be to eventually play the Grand Temple organ. 

Michael Hayes, Venables Llewelyn Lodge, No. 3756, Porthcawl, South Wales

Charles Grace, Project Manager for the Grand Temple organ restoration, responds:

We have recently evaluated two one-manual organs and decided on the Viscount Cadet, 10 of which are being delivered in mid May and 10 in September, funded by UGLE from the normal charges made to lodges and chapters for room hire and storage. 

The organs, which are versatile enough to be played by all masonic organists, will be installed in most of the lodge/chapter rooms. The choice of organ in No. 10, where a larger instrument is required, is under consideration.

Letters to the Editor – No. 29 Spring 2015

Direction in the Temple


You published two letters in the last issue on the subject of the square and compasses being upside down on the organ cases in the Grand Temple. I too made enquiries of those who might know the answer, but regrettably it remains a masonic mystery. On the bright side, I can reveal that, in the same position on the new case being erected on the east wall above the organ console, there will be a Royal Arch triple tau – and I will ensure that it is the right way up!

Charles Grace, Project Coordinator, Grand Temple organ restoration


‘The earth constantly revolving on its axis in its orbit round the sun, and Freemasonry being universally spread over its surface, it necessarily follows that the sun must always be at its meridian with respect to Freemasonry.’ 

Similarly, the square and compasses will always be the right way up with respect to Freemasonry. Given that the building was built as a memorial to those Freemasons who died in the First World War, and that some may have been from other parts of the Commonwealth, it is perhaps possible that the square and compasses was positioned accordingly.

Mark Northway, Suffield Lodge, No. 1808, Aylsham, Norfolk

Letters to the Editor - No. 28 Winter 2014

Compass and square


I am a young Master Mason. However, in your otherwise interesting and informative account of the restoration of the pipe organ in the Grand Temple of Freemasons’ Hall, the square and compasses adorning the organ case (while beautifully gilded) are clearly upside down. Does this pertain to some ancient and mysterious side order, of which I am neither a member nor even aware, or perhaps has it just been affixed the wrong way up?

Tim Myatt, Apollo University Lodge, No. 537, Oxfordshire


In discussion with a number of brethren in my lodge, we are curious to know why the square and compasses visible behind the left shoulder of Charles Grace are upside down. The popular view among us all is that they are positioned to face in the direction of the Great Architect, in whose glory the beautiful music that emanates from this magnificent instrument is played. None of us considers it to be an error of any kind – knowing as we do that no such fundamental mistakes are likely to have been made by those who either commissioned or made the instrument. We look forward with great interest to any information you are able to provide.

Guy R Purser, Pagham Lodge, No. 8280, Sussex

Note from the Editor

Having received several queries about the compass and square visible in the picture of the Grand Temple organ in the autumn issue of Freemasonry Today (page 29), we enquired of our best in-house historians. Unfortunately, nobody seems to know of any reason why, on the Grand Lodge organ, the square and compasses should be orientated in the opposite way to how they are normally depicted.

There was in the past a tradition among some craftsmen to incorporate a deliberate mistake as an act of humility so as not to vainly compete with the perfection of God’s creations, but we have no idea whether this was the intention in this case. We do know from an original photograph, however, that it has been that way since the organ was installed. We will be pleased to hear from readers of any theories on this mystery.

Published in Features
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