Wednesday, 01 March 2006 13:25

A New Era For London Freemasonry

The streams of Freemasons converging on Kensington for this most momentous of days for English Freemasonry, left leaden-grey skies outside for the glare of the bright lights in the Royal Albert Hall. This historic building last hosted a Grand Lodge gathering in 1967, when the Duke of Kent was first installed as Grand Master. This occasion established another landmark for English Freemasonry – the inauguration of the Metropolitan Grand Lodge and Metropolitan Grand Chapter of London. But even the bright lights inside the Royal Albert Hall were eclipsed by the brightness of the enthusiasm among the thousands of Freemasons gathered there.

The Metropolitan Grand Chapter of London was opened with the aplomb that the Grand Chapter team exhibit on all occasions, and Lord Millet was installed as Metropolitan Grand Superintendent by the First Grand Principal, HRH The Duke of Kent. In his address, Lord Millett laid stress on this as the start of a new era, and the opportunities for many more Companions to serve London Royal Arch Freemasonry and to participate more fully. 
More than anything else, it was the thunderous singing of the opening hymn that set the tone for the afternoon by an attendance which had swelled to over 4,500. If it didn’t actually lift the roof off the Royal Albert Hall, it certainly provided some serious competition for the traditional last night of the proms. The ceremony of inauguration of the Metropolitan Grand Lodge of London was launched by spirited singing of an anthem by the London Masonic Choir, after which the Grand Chaplain delivered an Oration. He spoke of London as a city of contrasts and diversity and said that the same was true of London Freemasonry. In London, as in any masonic community, there were lodges which had allegiance of trade, profession or school. In spite of their diversity, they were all united in the masonic bonds, not only of brotherly love, relief and truth, but also of compassion, so important in Freemasonry, which was not coldly indifferent to the needs of others. He had seen how in Provinces, a Provincial Grand Lodge can add a dimension to the unity of a provincial area, giving it a sense of identity, of its own peculiarity, its own specialness, and so it would be too with London. He finished with two quotations – one from the anthem ‘Behold how good and joyful’ sung earlier, and the other ‘From the foundation laid this evening, may you raise a superstructure perfect in its parts and honourable to the builder’. 
After the Grand Master had installed Lord Millett as Metropolitan Grand Master for London, Lord Millett thanked the Grand Master and his team for the way they had carried out the ceremony. He said how London had always been at the heart of English Freemasonry, and would now face the challenge of developing Freemasonry in London. But there was also a need to adapt to the changed status of London. We had had a tremendous send-off, and it was up to us now, he said. Lord Millett’s first act was to invest and install Russell Race, already well known to many London Freemasons, as Deputy Metropolitan Grand Master.

London Masonry's historic day

In one of the most historic meetings in the history of English Freemasonry, the MW the Grand Master HRH the Duke of Kent inaugurated the Metropolitan Grand Lodge of London and Metropolitan Grand Chapter of London at the Royal Albert Hall on 1st October 2003.

The two glittering ceremonies were attended by a full house that packed the stalls, balconies and galleries of the Royal Albert Hall as the Grand Master installed Lord Millett as both Metropolitan Grand Master for London in the Craft and Metropolitan Grand Superintendent for London in the Royal Arch.

Russell Race was installed as Metropolitan Deputy Grand Master and Deputy Grand Superintendent.

Brian de Neut was installed as Second Metropolitan Grand Principal and Ronald Cox as Third Metropolitan Grand Principal in the Royal Arch.

Ten Group Chairmen and ten Deputies were appointed in both the Craft and Royal Arch.

Rex Thorne, formerly Chairman of London Management, which has now been superseded by the new arrangement, was installed by the Grand Master as Past Metropolitan Grand Master and Past Metropolitan Grand Superintendent.

Royal Arch Ceremony

The First Grand Principal, HRH the Duke of Kent, said:

"Companions, in exercise of the power conferred on me by Royal Arch Regulation 26, I have decided to form a Metropolitan Area of London, to comprise those Chapters which until today have been London Chapters as defined in Rules 128 and 129 of the Book of Constitutions, and I have appointed E Comp. the Rt. Hon. Lord Millett, to be the first Metropolitan Grand Superintendent.

"I am confident that he possesses both the ability and the vision required to lead the Metropolitan Grand Chapter as well as its Companions during what will be its formative years.

"Companion Millett is distinguished in public life as well as in the Craft. He was called to the Bar in 1955, took silk in 1973 and was appointed a High Court Judge in the Chancery Division in 1986, receiving the customary knighthood.

"Thereafter he became a Lord Justice of Appeal and Privy Councillor in 1994 and a Lord of Appeal in Ordinary (or Law Lord) in 1998.

"In the Craft, he was made a Mason in the Chancery Bar Lodge No. 2456 in 1968 and in 1977 was exalted into the Royal Arch in the Chapter of Felicity No. 58, becoming its First Principal in 1985.

"He served as Grand Scribe Nehemiah in 1999. He has also found time to be a Member of the Panel of the Commission for Appeals Courts since 1991".

E. Comp Lord Millett, Grand Superintendent in and over London said:

"Companions, this ceremony marks the start of a new era for the Royal Arch in London.

"It is incumbent upon all of us who are Companions of the Metropolitan Area to play our part in taking this Order forward under the new structure, while at the same time preserving and maintaining London's long established and valued traditions.

"I am confident that under the new Metropolitan Grand Chapter, there will be opportunities for many more Companions, as well as the Metropolitan Grand Officers I have invested today, to serve London Royal Arch Masonry and to participate more fully in its future government and direction.

"I know, Companions, that I have your goodwill and support. I know that I have the enthusiastic commitment of the members of my team. I pledge myself to maintaining and promoting the interests of Royal Arch Masonry in London".

Luncheon speeches

In reply to the toast "The MW The Grand Master" and proposing the toast "The Metropolitan Grand Lodge of London and the Metropolitan Grand Master," the Grand Master said:

"This is an historic occasion as we meet today to constitute the first - and perhaps it will be the only - Metropolitan Grand Lodge and Metropolitan Grand Chapter in the history of English Freemasonry.

"How fitting it is that we should be meeting today at the Royal Albert Hall, which has been the venue over the years for so many Especial Meetings of Grand Lodge, and has therefore a very special place in the hearts and affections of English Freemasons.

"It has a particular resonance for me because the last time Grand Lodge met in this building was the occasion, in 1967, of the 250th anniversary of the formation of the Premier Grand Lodge, when I was also installed as Grand Master.

"In 1967 we celebrated a quarter of a millennium since the beginning of organised Masonry in London and indeed in the world. Today we mark the beginning of a new era for London - an era of separate existence: still an essential part of the English Craft, but no longer directly administered under my direction.

"Today London is 'leaving the nest' and taking wing on its own. The event is bound to be accompanied by feelings of trepidation, but I know that it is also accompanied by the sincerest good wishes of all those who are gathered here to witness it.

"In its new existence London will be better able to respond to the views of its members, who will thus acquire a greater say in their own Masonic affairs than it had been possible for them to enjoy until now.

"I congratulate Brother Lord Millett on taking over the controls from the Assistant Grand Master, RW Brother David Williamson, who will now be free to devote more of his time in future to the affairs of Grand Lodge and the whole of English Craft Masonry.

"For many years it has been the custom to present each new Provincial or District Grand Master or Grand Superintendent with what has come to be known as 'the Kent Cube'.

"It is a paperweight consisting of a gilt medallion, which was first struck in 1967 for my Installation, set in a cube of clear plastic. On one side of the medallion are the arms of the United Grand Lodge of England in low relief, on the other side is my signature.

"Brother Lord Millett, I am delighted to present you with your own Kent Cube - and I say "your own" deliberately: it is my personal gift to you as the first Metropolitan Grand Master.

"Brother Lord Millett has, I know, the understanding and the vision to enable him to lead London at this critical time so that it will flourish and prosper under his direction".

Lord Millett, replying to the Toast, said:

"Most Worshipful Grand Master, thank you for so kindly proposing the toast to my health and to the success of the Metropolitan Grand Lodge of London.

"I am proud that the second Masonic gathering you have attended at the Royal Albert Hall should be the Inauguration of London and my own Installation.

"I wish to thank those Brethren who have contributed - in many cases behind the scenes - to the arrangements for today. In particular I wish to mention:

"RW Bro. Rex Thorne, Chairman of London Management, his Deputy, VW Bro. Brian de Neut, and W Bro. Andrew Henderson and the staff of London Management for the work they have done in bringing London to this stage in its development;

"W Bro. John Wright, who has acted as "Project Manager" for today and VW Bro. Andrew Wigram who has organised the Masonic Stewards;

"VW Bro. Jonathan Spence, Grand Director of Ceremonies, and his Deputies for overseeing the splendid ceremonial;

"VW Bro. Graham Redman, Assistant Grand Secretary, for co-ordinating the necessary changes to the Book of Constitutions as well as Grand Lodge's ceremonial and other arrangements for this meeting;

"VW Bro. Andrew Pearmain, the Craft and Royal Arch Grand Organists and the Choir, for providing the music which adds so much to our enjoyment of today's meetings;

"VW Bro. Russell Race, my Deputy, for his quiet and effective support over the last few months;

"and not least the MW Pro Grand Master, the Marquess of Northampton, for being the guiding inspiration behind the formation of the Metropolitan Grand Lodge and Chapter.

"I should also like to express my thanks to all those individuals and Lodges who have contributed to the Lodge and Chapter furniture and regalia, which have helped to make this such a splendid occasion.

"These, and all who are here at the Royal Albert Hall have seen to it that we receive a rousing send-off. Our task is now to carry forward the work into the future, and that I and my team will endeavour to the best of our ability to do".

The Grand Master said:

"Brethren, in exercise of the power conferred on me by Rule 60 of the Book of Constitutions, I have decided to form a Metropolitan Area of London, to comprise all but five of those Lodges which until today have been London Lodges as defined in Rules 128 and 129, and I have appointed RW Bro. the Rt. Hon. Lord Millett to be the first Metropolitan Grand Master.

"The Lodges which I have decided should not be included in the new Metropolitan Area are the Grand Stewards' Lodge, Lodge of Antiquity No. 2, Royal Somerset House and Inverness Lodge No. 4, Lodge of Fortitude and Old Cumberland No. 12 and Royal Alpha Lodge No. 16.

"This is a singular and most important occasion, because the formation of a Metropolitan Grand Lodge of London is unique and represents a departure from the way that Freemasonry in London has been organised for over 280 years.

"I know that those chosen to lead the new Metropolitan Grand Lodge are united in determination that the enterprise shall thrive and prosper, and I know that you will support them today with your good wishes and, at the appropriate times, with your voices".

Lord Millett, Metropolitan Grand Master, said:

"Most Worshipful Grand Master, I am deeply conscious of the honour you have done me by appointing me as the first Metropolitan Grand Master for London, and I thank you not only for that appointment but also for finding time in your very busy schedule to install me today.

"My thanks extend also to your team of Grand Officers - and in particular the Grand Director of Ceremonies - who have supported you so ably and helped to make today an occasion which I, and I am sure all here for this and for this morning's ceremony, will remember for the rest of our lives.

"We have many other visitors from England and Wales as well as overseas, and they are far too numerous for me to be able to welcome them individually.

"But I should like to express my personal appreciation to the District Grand Lodge of Hong Kong, who have shown me such great hospitality on my annual visits to the territory and have made me an Honorary Member of a local lodge.

"London has always been at the very heart of English Freemasonry, and as a London Mason for some 35 years I am very conscious of the trust that has been laid upon me to preserve and maintain it in that position along with its long-established and valued traditions.

"To that trust has been added the challenge of developing Freemasonry in London, to ensure that it fits comfortably in this 21st century both with the whole of the English Craft and also with society at large in London. "The greatest challenge will be to open up the Craft so that it is no longer seen by outsiders as a secret and sinister society. We should be proud to acknowledge that we are Masons - and London Masons at that.

"The establishment of this Metropolitan Grand Lodge will, I am confident, give opportunities not only to me, my Deputy and the ten Metropolitan Group Chairmen, but to many others as well - not least the Metropolitan Grand Officers I have invested today - to serve London Masonry and to participate more fully in its future government and direction.

"I do not pretend that the task before us will always be an easy one, and I know that all of us will need to adapt and adjust to our changed status under the United Grand Lodge of England, and that will take time, and perhaps patience as well.

"We have been given a tremendous send-off today in this great gathering; it is now for us ourselves to build upon that sure foundation, to carry forward the work and to produce an edifice of which we may be justly proud.

"I know, Brethren, that I have your goodwill and support. I know that I have the enthusiastic commitment of the members of my team. I pledge myself to see that the work be duly and faithfully executed".

Monday, 01 December 2003 13:22

Sir Alfred Robbins's Greatest Defeat

Andrew Prescott Looks at the First Attempt to Form a Metropolitan Grand Lodge

The inauguration on 1 October 2003 of a Metropolitan Grand Lodge will mark the end of over 200 years of debate about the organisation of London Freemasonry. It will also, after nearly 90 years, bring to fruition a project close to the heart of Sir Alfred Robbins (1856-1931), who as President of the Board of General Purposes from 1913 until his death, was described as ‘the Prime Minister of English Freemasonry’, and who suffered one of the few reverses of his Masonic career in his attempt to reorganise London Freemasonry.

London Freemasonry remained outside the Provincial Grand Lodge structure which evolved during the 18th and 19th centuries, being administered directly by Grand Lodge. In 1992, Lord Eglinton and Winton, the Assistant Grand Master, declared that ‘London is not a province and, masonically speaking, a geographical accident: many meet there because it is equally inconvenient for all’. This view of London Freemasonry as anomalous has a long pedigree, dating back to the 18th century. As early as 1767- 8, Premier Grand Lodge attempted to appoint General Inspectors or Provincial Grand Masters for London Freemasonry, but was prevented by the opposition of London lodges. 

In the revised Book of Constitutions issued in 1815, two years after the Union, London lodges were defined as those meeting within ten miles of Freemasons’ Hall. This included places like Wandsworth, Chelsea and Putney at a time when they were still country villages. The ten mile radius can be seen as administratively forward-looking, allowing Grand Lodge to cope with the growth of London, but the reason for its adoption was more prosaic. London lodges paid higher subscriptions and the ten mile radius maximised subscription income from London lodges. Between 1851 and 1911, the population within the ten mile radius increased from more than two and a half million to over seven million. Like many other institutions, Freemasonry struggled to cope with the problems created by this rapid growth. As the city’s suburbs grew, there was a demand for new masonic lodges. However, Lord Zetland, Grand Master from 1844 to 1870, routinely vetoed proposals for new London lodges because he thought there were already sufficient. 
While Zetland’s successors accepted the need for more London lodges, they were slow in coming to terms with the challenges posed by the growth of London Freemasonry. As the number of lodges increased, Grand Lodge became larger and more unwieldy. Freemasons’ Hall was unable to accommodate all those entitled to attend Grand Lodge, and provincial brethren frequently travelled to London for quarterly communications, only to be turned away because the hall was already full. There were complaints that London masons used Grand Lodge to pursue local disputes. London masons themselves were disgruntled about the lack of an honours system for London lodges. 

A Grand Lodge for London

Alfred Robbins was the London correspondent of the Birmingham Daily Post. He was initiated in 1888 in Gallery Lodge No. 1928, which catered for members of the Press Gallery of the House of Commons, and in 1901 became Master of that lodge. Robbins was dismayed by the failure to tackle the problems of London Freemasonry. He tried to bring a motion in Grand Lodge for the creation of a London Grand Lodge, but was ruled out of order. 
This snub to Robbins prompted a distinguished group of London masons to form a committee to investigate the best form of administration for London Freemasonry. The committee took a poll of London lodges, held a public meeting of London masons, and organised a petition calling for a London Grand Lodge. To head off this discontent, the Duke of Connaught as Grand Master announced in December 1907 the creation of London Rank, the first time that London was recognised masonically as an entity. 
Much of the opposition to a London Grand Lodge came from the Pro Grand Master, Lord Amherst, who resigned in 1908. Amherst was succeeded by the youthful Lord Ampthill, who felt that Grand Lodge needed a thorough overhaul. In 1910 Ampthill circulated Provincial and District Grand Masters with proposals for reform of Grand Lodge, and a special committee of the Board of General Purposes was established to consider the matter. Robbins was a member of this committee, and he made such an impression on Ampthill that in 1913 he was appointed President of the Board of General Purposes. Ampthill and Robbins were a formidable partnership. 
Robbins presented the report of the Board of General Purposes on the future government of the craft to Grand Lodge in December 1913. The report recommended the establishment of a Grand Council, consisting of a mixture of Grand Officers, elected members and members nominated by the Grand Master, to ‘exercise all the administrative, legislative and judicial duties at present exercised by Grand Lodge’. 
The main problem in establishing the Grand Council was London. Since London did not have a provincial structure, it was difficult to organise elections there. The use of electoral colleges was considered, but it was feared that these would increase factionalism. Organising the London lodges geographically was impossible, since two thirds of the London lodges met at or within a mile of Freemasons’ Hall. Another problem was that, in order to ensure that London masons had the same chance of achieving honours as their provincial brethren, it was necessary to create not just one, but a number of Grand Lodges for London. The report proposed the creation of ten Metropolitan Grand Lodges for London. Each Metropolitan Grand Lodge would be designated by a roman numeral, and lodges would be assigned to that Metropolitan Grand Lodge whose number corresponded to the last digit of the lodge number. Grand Lodge decided that lodges should be allowed three months to put forward their views on these proposals. 
The report triggered an enormous debate within Freemasonry. When the consultation was complete, it was found that voting by lodges and by individuals was respectively 57% and 60% in favour of the changes. However, while the Provinces and Districts supported the proposals, the London lodges mainly voted against them. This made the proposed reform no longer viable, since the creation of the Grand Council depended on the establishment of the Metropolitan Grand Lodges. Robbins hoped that the scheme could be rescued, and a committee of Grand Lodge was formed to arrange consultative conferences with London lodges. However, as Robbins himself wrote, ‘By this time, it was June 1914; and, before a single conference could be arranged, the Great War had broken out. In accordance with the general feeling that that was not a time in which to engage in a large plan of constitutional change, ... the task was set aside by common consent.’ 
Thus this scheme to create Metropolitan Grand Lodges foundered. No attempt was made to return to the issue after the First World War, although Robbins, still smarting from his earlier experiences, bravely declared shortly before his death that ‘all who closely watch the work of Grand Lodge know that the subject, though dormant, is far from dead’. 
When on 1 October the Metropolitan Grand Lodge is constituted at the Royal Albert Hall, we can be sure that Sir Alfred Robbins will be there in spirit, and will feel that his greatest defeat has finally been reversed. 

Professor Andrew Prescott is Director of the Centre for Research into Freemasonry at the University of Sheffield. A fuller version of this paper was given to a joint meeting of the Manchester Association for Masonic Research and the Sheffield Masonic Study Circle, May 2002.

Wednesday, 11 June 2003 01:00

Pro Grand Master's address - June 2003

11 June 2003


At this time last year we were preparing for our Freemasonry in the Community week. This involved opening the doors of our meeting places to the general public and taking the opportunity of explaining what we do. Although it is too soon to repeat the exercise again this year, nevertheless I hope that Brethren will continue to hold open days as they undoubtedly have a positive effect and add greatly to our public relations.

There is some confusion among Brethren that this alternative tie [indicated the Craft tie] can only be worn in Grand Lodge and not on other occasions. This is not the case; the tie can be worn by any member of a Lodge under the United Grand Lodge of England on any Masonic or non-Masonic occasion.

I am told that the tickets for the Constitution by the Grand Master of the new Metropolitan Grand Lodge of London on October 1st in the Royal Albert Hall are going very well, and a good number of Brethren and Lodges are becoming founder members. This will be a truly historic occasion, and if you wish to be present I recommend you apply for tickets as soon as possible to avoid disappointment.

Finally, Brethren, I wish you all a very happy summer break with your families and I look forward to seeing you again in September at the start of another busy Masonic year.

Published in Speeches
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