Tuesday, 08 December 2015 00:00

The history of the four masonic charities

A history of giving

We trace the origins of the four masonic charities that have come together to form the new Masonic Charitable Foundation

The four masonic charities have been integral to the Craft, providing crucial support to Freemasons, their families and the wider community. However, the existence of four separate organisations – each with its own distinct processes for providing support – hindered the development of a truly joined-up and consistent approach. After much consideration it has therefore been decided to launch a major new charity, the Masonic Charitable Foundation (MCF). From 1 April 2016, the Foundation will take over the work of the central masonic charities, providing a wide range of grants to Freemasons and their families who have a financial, health or care need. The Foundation will also award grants to other charities, medical research studies and disaster relief appeals. 

The Foundation will ensure that the masonic charitable support network, which has provided assistance for centuries, remains fit for purpose and able to adapt to the needs of new generations. As we look to the future, it is worth remembering how the current four charities have evolved and how, under the banner of the MCF, cradle-to-grave support will remain in place for Freemasons and their dependants.

The Freemasons’ Grand Charity

Soon after the Grand Master’s installation in 1967, he commissioned a review of the masonic charities. It recommended that a new central charity be established to contribute to society as a whole, befitting the importance and scale of English Freemasonry. In 1980, the Grand Charity was established. It also assumed responsibility for UGLE’s Board of Benevolence, whose origins were found in the first Committee of Charity of Grand Lodge, formed in 1725. 

With grants totalling more than £120 million, the Grand Charity has improved the lives of thousands of masons and their dependants, and has made extensive contributions to wider society, funding the causes that are important to members of the Craft. It has enabled Provinces to demonstrate their commitment to local communities through matched giving schemes, grants to The Scout Association and millions in hospice and Air Ambulance giving. Its multimillion-pound research funding has aided numerous medical breakthroughs. 

The Grand Charity has brought far-reaching benefits to masonic fundraising by establishing the Relief Chest Scheme to promote efficient and tax-effective giving. The Craft has saved thousands of pounds in administration costs and donations have been significantly increased through Gift Aid. The scheme has also enabled members to come together following worldwide disasters, funding recovery projects in devastated areas on behalf of Freemasonry as a whole. Indeed, £1 million was raised following the 2004 Asian tsunami.

Through the Grand Charity’s giving, thousands have felt the positive impact of masonic charity and over the past 35 years in particular, Freemasonry has increasingly been seen publicly as a philanthropic leader, supporting many great causes.

Royal Masonic Trust for Girls and Boys

From its origins as a school for girls, the RMTGB has worked for over 227 years to relieve poverty and advance the education of thousands of children from masonic families across the UK, as well as tens of thousands of children from wider society. The Trust has spent over £130 million on charitable support over the past 15 years alone.

In 1788, Chevalier Bartholomew Ruspini established the Royal Cumberland Freemasons’ School for Female Objects, supporting 15 daughters of distressed or deceased Freemasons. A provision for boys was introduced soon after, and over the next 200 years the institutions’ schools expanded and relocated. Eventually, the boys’ school closed, the girls’ school became independent, and the trustees focused on supporting children at schools near their own homes. 

In 1982, the boys’ and girls’ institutions came together to form the Masonic Trust for Girls and Boys, later the RMTGB. 

Over time, the Trust moved from fixed financial grants to packages of support tailored to each family’s circumstances. Innovative schemes were also introduced for youngsters with specific talents and needs. 

The Trust’s support also extends beyond the masonic community. In 1988, £100,000 was awarded to Great Ormond Street Hospital, with major grants given ever since. Since the launch of the Stepping Stones non-masonic grant-making scheme in 2010, almost £1 million has been awarded to charities that aim to reduce the impact of poverty on education. The Trust also provides premises and support services for Lifelites, which equips children’s hospices across the British Isles with fun, assistive technology. Established as the Trust’s Millennium Project, Lifelites became an independent charity in 2006.

Royal Masonic Benevolent Institution

The RMBI cares for older Freemasons and their families, as well as people in the community. The history of the charity dates back to 1842 when UGLE inaugurated the Royal Masonic Benevolent Annuity Fund for men, followed by the Female Annuity Fund in 1849. The first home was opened the following year and the RMBI was officially established. In the early 1960s, provision was extended to non-annuitants and between 1960 and 1986, a further 13 homes were set up. The RMBI now provides a home for more than 1,000 people across England and Wales, while supporting many more.

At the heart of the RMBI is the commitment to deliver services that uphold an individual’s dignity. Its Experiential Learning training programme requires all new carers to complete a series of practical scenarios in order to better understand residents and has even received national news coverage for its unique approach. The RMBI is also recognised for its excellence in specialist dementia care services, which are increasingly in demand. Nine RMBI homes have been awarded Butterfly Service status, a national quality-of-life ‘kitemark’, by Dementia Care Matters

None of this could be achieved without a dedicated team, and an RMBI staff member recently received the Care Trainer Award at the 2015 Great British Care Awards in recognition of such commitment. The support and time given by each home’s Association of Friends is also a unique part of the RMBI. The associations – volunteer groups of local masons that work to complement resident services – are independently registered charities and their efforts over the years have ranged from fundraising for home minibuses and resident day trips, to sensory gardens and home entertainment.

Masonic Samaritan Fund

The Royal Masonic Hospital and its predecessor, the Freemasons’ Hospital and Nursing Home, had a Samaritan Fund to support masons and their families who could not afford the cost of private medical treatment. In 1990 the MSF was established to take on the role of this fund, and in its early years benefited from many very generous donations, including a grant from the Grand Charity, and the highly successful Cornwallis and London Festival appeals.

Thanks to the support of Freemasons and their families, the MSF has been able to expand the assistance it provides to cater for the evolving health and care needs of its beneficiaries. In addition to funding medical treatment or surgery, grants are available to support respite breaks for carers, to restore dental function, to aid mobility and to provide access to trained counsellors.

Since 2010 the MSF has provided grants to major medical research projects. Notable successes have included enhancing the diagnosis of prostate cancer and Alzheimer’s as well as support for those suffering from macular degeneration.  

Each year the MSF helps more masonic families fund the health and care support they need to live healthy and independent lives. Since 1990 more than 12,000 Freemasons and their family members have been helped at a total cost of over £67 million.

Funded entirely through the generous donations of the masonic community, the Masonic Charitable Foundation will seek to continue the excellent work of the central masonic charities and be able to respond more effectively to the changing needs of masonic families and other charitable organisations. For more information, go to www.mcf.org.uk


Charting the history of the four masonic charities

1725   The premier Grand Lodge sets up the Committee of Charity

1788  The Royal Cumberland Freemasons’ School for Female Objects, named after the Duchess of Cumberland, is founded by Chevalier Bartholomew Ruspini

1789  The first anniversary of the Royal Cumberland Freemasons’ School is celebrated with a church service and dinner. Collections are taken, making this the first fundraising ‘festival’ for a masonic charity

1798  Inspired by Ruspini’s achievements, William Burwood and the United Mariners Lodge establish a fund to support the sons of Freemasons

1814  Soon after the union of the Grand Lodges, the Committee of Charity joins with other committees relieving hardship among masons to become the Board of Benevolence

1850  The Royal Masonic Benevolent Institution (RMBI) is established, and the first RMBI home opens in East Croydon 

1904  ‘Out-relief’ is introduced so that those not admitted to the masonic schools can receive grants to support their education elsewhere

1914  It is decided that the daughters of serving Freemasons who die or are incapacitated during WWI should receive a grant of £25 per year

1920  The Freemasons’ Hospital and Nursing Home opens

1933  The Royal Masonic Hospital opens at Ravenscourt Park

1934  The girls’ school moves to Rickmansworth Park. The school is officially opened by HM Queen Mary with 5,000 ladies and brethren in attendance

1966  Devonshire Court opens in Oadby, Leicestershire 

1967  Scarbrough Court opens in Cramlington, Northumberland

1968  Prince George Duke of Kent Court opens in Chislehurst, Kent

1971  Connaught Court opens in Fulford, York 

1973  The Bagnall Report recommends that the boys’ school is closed and that the girls’ school becomes independent 

1973  Lord Harris Court opens in Sindlesham, Berkshire, and Albert Edward Prince of Wales Court opens in Porthcawl, Mid Glamorgan

1977  Ecclesholme opens in Eccles, Manchester, and  The Tithebarn opens in Great Crosby, Liverpool

1979  Queen Elizabeth Court opens in Llandudno, Conwy

1980  The Grand Charity is established

1980  James Terry Court opens in Croydon, Surrey 

1981  Cornwallis Court opens in Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk

1982  The masonic institutions for girls and boys merge their activities to form the Masonic Trust for Girls and Boys 

1983  Zetland Court opens in Bournemouth, Dorset 

1984  Grand Charity hospice support begins

1986  The Grand Charity establishes the Relief Chest Scheme

1986  Cadogan Court opens in Exeter, South Devon 

1990  The Masonic Samaritan Fund (MSF) is established, assisted by a £1.2 million grant from the Grand Charity  

1992  275th anniversary of Grand Lodge 

1992  The Grand Charity awards more than £2 million to charities that care for people with learning difficulties

1994  UGLE recommends that all masonic organisations adopt the Relief Chest Scheme

1994  Prince Michael of Kent Court opens in Watford, Hertfordshire

1994  The Cornwallis Appeal raises £3.2 million for the MSF

1995  Shannon Court opens in Hindhead, Surrey 

1996  Barford Court opens in Hove, East Sussex

1997  Total annual expenditure for Masonic Relief Grants exceeds £2 million for the first time

1998  Prince Edward Duke of Kent Court opens in Braintree, Essex

1999  To commemorate the millennium, the Grand Charity donates more than £2 million to good causes

1999  Lifelites is established by the Masonic Trust for Girls and Boys as a Millennium Project to provide assistive and educational technology packages for children’s hospices across the British Isles

1999  The London Festival Appeal for the MSF raises £10.6 million

2000  Following the abolition of Local Authority student grants, the Trust establishes an undergraduate aid scheme to support disadvantaged young people at university. Almost 500 students are assisted during the first year of the scheme, rising to almost 1,000 by 2003

2001  The TalentAid scheme is introduced by the Trust to support young people with an exceptional talent in music, sport or the arts, with 75 supported in the first year

2003  The Masonic Trust for Girls and Boys becomes the Royal Masonic Trust for Girls and Boys (RMTGB)

2004  The Grand Charity donates £1 million for research into testicular and prostate cancers

2005  More than £1 million is donated by Freemasons and the Grand Charity to help with recovery efforts following the Asian tsunami

2006  Lifelites becomes a registered charity

2007  Special funding for Air Ambulances begins

2008  All four central masonic charities move into shared office space in Freemasons’ Hall, London

2008  The Grand Charity donates £500,000 to The Scout Association, enabling more than 23,000 young people to join, and £1 million to Ovarian Cancer Action

2008  Scarbrough Court reopens in Cramlington,  Northumberland (rebuilt on its original site)

2008  The MSF makes its first grant in support of medical research, and respite care grants are introduced

2010  Stepping Stones, the RMTGB’s non-masonic grant-making scheme, is introduced to support disadvantaged youngsters 

2010  MSF dental care grants are introduced

2013  James Terry Court reopens in Croydon, Surrey (rebuilt on its original site)

2013  The MSF Counselling Careline service launches

2015  Following a 30-year partnership, the Grand Charity’s grants to the British Red Cross now exceed £2 million

2015  The MSF marks its 25th anniversary by awarding over £1 million for medical research 

2016  The four masonic charities join together to form the Masonic Charitable Foundation

Letters to the Editor - No. Spring 2016


I was surprised and delighted to see a photo in the winter 2015 edition of Freemasonry Today of a group of nurses at the Royal Masonic Hospital taken in 1958. The group includes my wife on the right at the end of the patient’s bed. I can still name several of the other nurses.

At the time, I was an undergraduate at Cambridge and I frequently travelled to see her at the hospital nurses’ home at Ravenscourt Park. I am pleased to say that we are still happily married after 53 years.

Tony Kallend, Isaac Newton University Lodge, No. 859, Cambridge, Cambridgeshire

Published in Freemasonry Cares

RMTGB honours founder Ruspini

On 5 March, the Royal Masonic Trust for Girls and Boys (RMTGB) held a church service to dedicate a memorial tablet in honour of its founder, Chevalier Bartholomew Ruspini, at his burial place, St James’s Church, Piccadilly. The service was attended by more than 100 people, including current and former trustees, staff from the masonic charities, and staff and pupils from the Royal Masonic School (RMS), established by Ruspini in 1788. 

David Williamson – at his final formal engagement as Assistant Grand Master – delivered the first of two readings, the other being read by RMS Headmistress Diana Rose. The main address was delivered by RMTGB President Mike Woodcock, who spoke about the world in which Ruspini lived and his pioneering contributions to dentistry and philanthropy.

Letters to the editor - No. 26 Summer 2014

Helping out


While I was at the University of Surrey I spent a year working as an intern at publishing companies in London. It was thanks to the Freemasons and to Freemasonry Today that this was possible. My ambition is to work in the field of publishing, but as almost all publishing houses are in London and I live in Dorset, I was becoming despondent. 

I knew I could not afford to take up offers of unpaid internships in London, but then my Grandad read, in his Freemasonry Today magazine, an article about Ruspini House and about the help given to the children and grandchildren of Freemasons. 

I was given a grant and accommodation in Ruspini House several times during that year whilst completing internships at different publishing companies. 

I was so grateful for the help of the Freemasons and went on to complete my course and gain a BA Hons in English Literature. How surprised and delighted I was to be given my degree by HRH The Duke of Kent, who I know is also Grand Master of the United Grand Lodge of England. So, thank you Grandad and Freemasons everywhere.

Hollie Graham


The RMTGB’s Ruspini House in central London provides accommodation for students

Published in RMTGB

Regency celebrations honour Ruspini: The Royal Masonic School for Girls held a Regency day in honour of Chevalier Ruspini, the founder of the school and the Royal Masonic Trust for Girls and Boys (RMTGB)

The organisations date back to 1788, when Ruspini established a small orphanage school in London, supporting just 15 girls. Today, his legacy continues with a flourishing independent school and a national masonic charity, which last year supported more than 12,000 children and young people.

The 225th anniversary celebrations saw staff and pupils dress up in Regency-style clothing, enjoy an 18th-century lunch menu and take part in period activities. RMTGB staff joined in the festivities.

To find out more about the work of the Royal Masonic Trust for Girls and Boys visit their website

Published in RMTGB

Continuing Ruspini’s legacy

In March, the Royal Masonic Trust for Girls and Boys (RMTGB) celebrated its 225th anniversary at its annual Ruspini Luncheon, an event commemorating the vision and legacy of the trust’s founder, Chevalier Bartholomew Ruspini (pictured above). Today, the RMTGB supports more than 2,000 girls and boys and continues to build on Ruspini’s legacy with grants to help alleviate financial distress, enhancing educational opportunity by providing computers and other necessary items, as well as practical welfare assistance. The setting for the event was the Royal Masonic School for Girls in Hertfordshire.

Published in RMTGB
Wednesday, 14 December 2011 09:08

Blaze Porter is a rising star thanks to the RMTGB

Reach for the sky

Balancing the demands of homework while performing in a West End show, Blaze and his mother Sarah have their work cut out for them. Sophie Radice finds out how Case Almoner Humphrey Ball is helping the 11-year-old fulfil his dreams

Arriving at the South London home of Sarah Porter, I find her deep in conversation with Freemason Humphrey Ball. Since he was appointed the Royal Masonic Trust for Girls and Boys’ (RMTGB) Case Almoner for Sarah and her son Blaze just over a year ago, Humphrey has developed a strong relationship with this small family. Today, he has spent an hour talking over 11-year-old Blaze’s educational progress, working out the best approach to allay Sarah’s worries, even offering to go with her to visit his school to discuss concerns with his teachers.

‘What’s the point of just doing the bare minimum?’ asks Humphrey. ‘You might as well not do the job at all if you are just going to do a little bit here and there. I’d rather help Sarah and Blaze as much as I possibly can, even if it is just acting as a sounding board. At the moment we are working out the best plan of action to try and really improve Blaze’s weakest subjects at school.’

Foundations of the Trust

The primary aim of the RMTGB is to help children and young people with a masonic connection to overcome the barriers of poverty and to support their education when their family has suffered distress resulting in financial hardship. 

The origins of the RMTGB go back as far as 1788 when Chevalier Ruspini established a school for the daughters of deceased and distressed Freemasons. A scheme for clothing and educating the sons of indigent Freemasons was introduced 10 years later in 1798. In 1982, the separate girls’ and boys’ charities were merged together into the Trust to create a single entity.

Sarah’s son Blaze is the grandson of a Freemason, and his father left home when he was a small baby. Last year he was awarded a full scholarship by a prestigious performing arts school. While this was an amazing feat for Blaze to accomplish, his mother, who suffers from ill health and is unable to work, was concerned that she wouldn’t be able to afford the additional costs, including his daily travel and school uniform.

The RMTGB therefore provided the extra support needed to cover these costs as well as an additional maintenance allowance. This allowance can pay for things such as school trips, extra lessons, sports equipment, travel costs and telephone and internet charges – all of which will help to benefit and improve the child’s or children’s daily lives.


Sarah first heard about the Trust through her father, and was thrilled when she found out that the RMTGB was willing to help support Blaze through secondary school. ‘It was very touching to me that my father wanted Blaze to benefit from the Freemasons because I know that it is something that has always been an important part of his life. I wouldn’t have known about this charitable side of the Freemasons if my dad hadn’t told me about it and it has made our relationship as father and daughter closer. The support and generosity of the Freemasons and the RMTGB has really brought us together as a family because we both have the same goal – wanting the very best for Blaze. I didn’t want him to miss out because of our circumstances.’

Sarah and Humphrey are extremely proud of Blaze and it is not hard to understand why. Blaze’s raw talent and passion for performing saw him winning his first West End role in 2009, initially playing a member of Fagin’s gang and then the Artful Dodger in Oliver! at the Theatre Royal in Drury Lane. Earlier this year he featured in a short film called The Adopted Child, which is to be shown at Cannes Film Festival and he also performed alongside boy band The Wanted and singer Leona Lewis at the launch of Kinect – Microsoft’s motion-sensing game controller – at the Natural History Museum.


Blaze is currently one of the stars of the West End show Thriller Live touring the UK, playing the young Michael Jackson. With his talent attracting attention, Blaze was recently asked to partake in a short interview on a Dublin radio station and perform two Michael Jackson songs. As Sarah and Humphrey proudly replay a recording of the radio show, it is  clear that Blaze is a complete natural, answering questions with ease, cracking jokes and singing beautifully. Blaze’s real interest is in dance, although his acting and singing skills make him perfect for musical theatre. Humphrey smiles as he listens to the interview and describes him as a ‘real rising star’.

Humphrey was initiated into the St Botolph’s Lodge, No. 2020, in 1984, and became Master in 1991. He was also Master in Honor Deo Lodge, No. 3562, in London in 1999, Master in Temple Manor Lodge, No. 8397, in Bromley in 2001 and 2003, and Master in John Carpenter Lodge, No. 1997, in London in 2005. He is additionally an Almoner in a number of lodges and chapters and is a visiting brother in London.

Humphrey had a serious stroke on 10 October 2008 and had to relearn walking, talking, speaking, reading and writing. However, he has been so determined to regain all of these skills that if he hadn’t mentioned the stroke, it would be hard to spot. His speech is full of the easy banter and wit that reveals his background as an export manager, salesman and businessman. When he was nominated to be a Case Almoner by the local lodge just over a year ago, because Sarah and Blaze lived relatively near to him, he jumped at the chance.


Elaborating on his decision to become a Case Almoner, Humphrey explains, ‘My work used to involve interacting with people all day and was a very sociable, lively and self-motivated sort of profession. I have a great deal of energy and am always out and about with the other charitable work I do for the Freemasons, but there was something about being personally involved with a family and being able to liaise between Sarah and the RMTGB that really appealed to me. I enjoy seeing first-hand the positive effects and benefits of this kind of Freemasons’ charitable support.’

Sarah is feeling anxious about the prospect of being a single mother in Blaze’s teenage years. She is very grateful for what she sees as the steadying influence of Humphrey and the RMTGB. ‘Just knowing that there are people who care about what he does and the way he responds to his opportunities is very important, rather than it just being me who is telling him what to do. This past year has far exceeded my expectations and it has been such a help to me to have Humphrey to talk to about Blaze’s progress. Humphrey has had a lot of life experience and met so many people and seen so many situations that his opinion and support is very valuable. I feel it is like having a second father.’

What does a Case Almoner do?
The role of Case Almoner is particularly sensitive and it is important that they are both patient and good listeners. By the very nature of the RMTGB’s work, family circumstances will often be distressing and difficult and there may have been a recent bereavement, marriage break-up or illness that the family is coming to terms with. The Almoner’s relationship with the family will last until the child finishes their education or until their circumstances improve.

The Almoner acts as a link between the RMTGB and the family. They will not only help the family complete the necessary forms and assist the RMTGB in making the right decisions regarding how to best support each child but will also highlight proposed changes to the educational circumstances that might affect  their eligibility for support or the level at which support should be provided.

Each year there is a Statement of Financial Position form sent directly to the family. One of the Almoner’s duties will be to visit the family to collect the form and to check that it has been completed correctly and to forward it to the RMTGB. This is vital to make sure that the RMTGB can calculate what support, if any, the family is eligible for during the next academic year and ensures the children or child receive the correct level of support to suit their needs. The Almoners will also regularly communicate with the RMTGB about beneficiaries’ academic or personal achievements and other good news stories.

Published in RMTGB

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