A sense of loyalty

Secretary of the Grand Charity Richard Camm-Jones has spent forty-seven years working in Freemasons’ Hall, walking its corridors and discovering its grand rooms. He reflects on the people and places that have shaped his career

How did you come to work at Freemasons’ Hall?

I came here when I was seventeen and started work in the Grand Secretary’s office on 10 July 1967. That was four weeks after HRH The Duke of Kent had been installed as Grand Master. James Stubbs was the Grand Secretary then and I was employed as a member of his temporary staff, paid £7 a week. In those early years, I did amateur theatre at Eltham. It was my main interest in life as I had never really enjoyed school, so working at Freemasons’ Hall was just a means to an end – I couldn’t wait to go home and get ready for the next rehearsal or performance.

What did you think of the Hall?

My first impression of working here was that it was like walking into a Dickensian novel. Everyone wore three-piece pinstripe suits and it was all very old-fashioned. There were a lot of other temporary staff members who were in their eighties sitting at slanting desks that had bronze cradles over the top of them to hold boxes of files. It didn’t worry me because there were enough younger people and everyone was interesting. Ted Manning and Albert Bastable, for example, were lovely chaps, both well into their eighties, who filled out the Grand Lodge certificates all day long in beautiful copperplate lettering. 

I didn’t know anything about 1930s architecture when I joined, but I wandered the building in awe during my lunchtimes, exploring wherever I could. In the basement strong rooms were dusty old records belonging to the Charity Committee going back to the time of the Battle of Waterloo, all beautifully handwritten. Up on the roof there are wells on either side of the tower and I remember how some of the staff used them as plunge pools during the summer. Some even played cricket on the roof. 

How did your career progress?

I had the opportunity of going into the Cash department in 1968, where I stayed for three years. In 1971, I was appointed to the Grand Secretary’s permanent staff and moved to the Board of Benevolence department, which administered Grand Lodge’s benevolent fund, known appropriately enough as the Fund of Benevolence. They wanted an assistant and could see I wasn’t enjoying it in finance. Sir John Stebbings was President of Grand Lodge’s Board of Benevolence at the time. A lodge would submit an application, I’d help to prepare the papers, the Board would make a decision, Sir John would sign the cheque I’d written out and that would be sent off to the lodge, which would pass it on to the recipient. That was almost how it had been done since the time of the Battle of Waterloo and it is g still how it happens now within the Grand Charity’s administration, but in a more modern, electronic way. 

‘At the Grand Lodge meetings there’s a magnificent procession and people come from miles away to experience it – there’s a real sense of occasion.’

How did you become a Freemason?

After four years at Freemasons’ Hall, when I was twenty-one, I was expected to join, so I filled in a proposal form and was initiated in February 1972 into the Grand Secretary’s staff lodge, Letchworth, No. 3505. I was initiated by the Deputy Grand Secretary, Dennis Barnard, passed by a junior clerk in the finance department and raised by the then Grand Lodge Librarian and Museum Curator, Terry Haunch. Doing amateur theatre helped when it came to learning the ritual, but I couldn’t say I always understood it. I liked to perform, I liked to show off and dress up, and there is a certain theatricality to the masonic ceremonies. At the Grand Lodge meetings there’s a magnificent procession and people come from miles away to experience it – there is a real sense of occasion. I’m sure many of us try to emulate that in our lodges, too.

How did you become involved in the Grand Charity?

In 1980, Grand Lodge established the Grand Charity and in 1981 moved all of its Fund of Benevolence into the new body. The same staff carried on as before, but working under a new title. Like the Board of Benevolence before it, the Grand Charity helps masons and their dependants, but the charity’s creation enabled greater giving to non-masonic charities as well. The message is always that the money is given on behalf of the Craft as a whole, so in effect it is still Grand Lodge’s benevolent fund. 

I took over as Head of the Grand Charity department in 1991, became Registrar in 1999 and have been Secretary of the Grand Charity since 2004. There were just three members of staff in the office when the charity started. Since then we’ve created our own dedicated finance section, which also operates the Relief Chest Scheme. We have people who deal with publicity, staff to deal with applications from national charities and the Masonic Relief Grants team now operates with five people. We also have more applicants to consider. It used to be just thirty a month; now it’s more like two hundred – maybe that’s because we’ve been more open so more people know about us.

What have you enjoyed most about working at the Hall?

I think it must be the many people I have met, especially the staff. My boss for the first thirteen of the forty-seven years I worked at Freemasons’ Hall was James Stubbs. 

He always referred to the clerks in his office as ‘his loyal staff’. He was a strict and slightly austere boss – he’d been a schoolmaster – but he would have nothing said against his staff and he would back them in every difficult situation if he could.

In 1974, when Ted Heath’s government limited the use of electricity to just three days each week, Sir James (as he became in 1980) asked for temporary lighting to be installed in order to carry on working on the other two days in the already dark offices of Freemasons’ Hall. Unfortunately, it could only be gas lighting, which meant that there were yards of rubber tubing running all over the floors to connect to the large gas cylinders that had been wheeled into the offices. The potential hazards of tripping, gas escaping and explosions would certainly not be allowed these days, but back then the loyal staff sailed on and worked the full week in spite of everything.

I remember Irene Hainworth, who was Sir James’s private secretary. She could be very formal and would always call me Mr Camm-Jones. She would get me to do her photocopying or change her typewriter ribbon while she was at lunch. One day I remember mentioning to Miss Hainworth that I was going to Malta on holiday. She suggested that we should meet up as she was going to be there at the same time. I was rather taken aback by the idea, but we met up together with our respective holiday friends, had lunch, went swimming and even ended up playing with a slightly deflated ball on the beach. I was Richard for a while, but once we were back at Freemasons’ Hall, it was: ‘Mr Camm-Jones, can you change my typewriter ribbon please?’ 

What does Freemasonry mean to you?

I do believe that dignity is important. I remember worrying once when I was Master that I’d got something wrong at a lodge meeting and someone told me that it didn’t matter because I had been dignified. If nothing else, I have tried to be that in all that I do now. There are times when the mistakes are what make a meeting interesting. You’re a human being first and there are many who have family and a day job to think about. 

Then there is the ritual to learn, but as long as you make the candidate feel special, then your work is done. 

After the formal ceremonies there are the dinners at which everyone can relax – the atmosphere and friendliness of people with whom you might not otherwise associate is as much a part of the evening as the ritual. You may not recall much detail two weeks later but you do remember that you want to go back. All these things are part of a learning curve, but then Freemasonry is full of that.

Published in The Grand Charity
Friday, 16 September 2011 15:00

Centenary celebrations

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.

LODGE HISTORY

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.

RAPID EXPANSION

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.

ILLUSTRIOUS MEMBERSHIP

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.

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