Where freedom exists, Freemasonry can flourish. Director of Special Projects John Hamill explains why the Craft thrives in democratic societies

In January, National Holocaust Memorial Day passed almost unnoticed in the media, and where it was commented on there was no mention of Freemasonry. It still appears largely unknown outside the Craft that a significant number of Freemasons in Europe disappeared into Nazi labour and concentration camps never to be seen again. Nor had the attacks been confined to the Nazis. Freemasons had been persecuted in Mussolini’s Italy, Franco’s Spain and Stalinist Russia.

Freemasonry under England, Ireland and Scotland has been remarkably free from persecution at home. The closest it came to being closed down by government was in the aftermath of the French Revolution, when the 1799 Unlawful Societies Act was passing through Parliament.

In its original form the Act would have made masonic meetings illegal. Fortunately, the Earl of Moira, Acting Grand Master of the Premier Grand Lodge, and the Duke of Athol, Grand Master of the Antients Grand Lodge, were able to persuade the Prime Minister, William Pitt, of the moral basis of Freemasonry, its support for lawfully constituted authority and its benevolent activities. As a result, clauses were introduced into the Act specifically exempting Freemasonry from its provisions, provided that each year every lodge secretary supplied a full list of the members of his lodge together with their ages, occupations and addresses.

It is not difficult to see why totalitarian regimes hate Freemasonry. Our insistence that candidates believe in a supreme being; our basis in morality; our striving for high standards; our practice of tolerance and respect for others; our belief in equality and freedom of thought; and our caring for others in the community are all anathema to a dictatorship, and things we should jealously guard.

After the Second World War and a short period of freedom, an ‘Iron Curtain’ descended dividing western and eastern Europe. In countries in the Eastern Bloc, Freemasonry had a brief revival but was driven underground when Communism prevailed. It says a great deal about our principles that there were individuals in Eastern Europe who had come into Freemasonry, either in the 1930s or in the brief period after the war, who were willing to put themselves into real danger to keep the spirit of Freemasonry alive in their countries.

The road to freedom

It was because of their courage that when the Iron Curtain finally crumbled in 1989, Freemasonry was brought back into the open. Their road back has not always been easy but Freemasonry is flourishing. A simple statistic shows how much has been achieved: in 1990 England recognised nineteen regular Grand Lodges in Europe, today it recognises forty-three.

Those who were present at the two hundred and seventy-fifth anniversary of the Grand Lodge at Earls Court in 1992 will remember the rather diminutive, elderly figure of the Grand Master of the recently revived Grand Lodge of Hungary. He explained how from the opening of the first lodge in Hungary in 1749, Freemasonry had been regularly persecuted but now ‘in a democratic country, Freemasonry can continue its work’. As one American masonic writer wrote: ‘Where freedom exists Freemasonry can flourish and nurture that freedom.’

We, who in our long masonic history have never suffered persecution, should remember with pride those who so believed in Freemasonry’s importance that they, like that great character in our ritual, were willing to face death rather than betray their principles or the trust reposed in them.

Letters to the editor - No. 24 Winter 2013

In remembrance

Sir,

On Saturday 5 October over twenty thousand bikers from across the country made their annual pilgrimage to the National Memorial Arboretum near Burton upon Trent to pay their respects to members of the armed forces who have lost their lives in the service of their country. Amongst these were more than sixty brethren, most being members of the Widows Sons Masonic Bikers Association, all from lodges across the country. 

They travelled from the north, south, east and west and at 1pm gathered in the Freemasons’ Garden to stand together for a few moments to remember lost friends, relations and brothers who have been lost in the various armed conflicts since the Second World War. The Freemasons’ Garden, which forms an important part of the National Memorial Arboretum, was conceived and established in 2002. It is now in line for a makeover and upgrade during the coming months as part of the multi-million-pound redesign of the Arboretum Visitor Centre.

John Perridge, Compass Lodge, No. 8765, Syston, Leicestershire and Rutland


Sir,

I read with interest the letter of Denis Baker (Autumn 2013) regarding the dilapidated state of the Freemasons’ memorial at the National Memorial Arboretum in Staffordshire. I am a Warwickshire Freemason residing in Staffordshire and have visited the Arboretum on several occasions since it was first formed, including a visit just recently. 

I concur entirely with the comments made by Denis Baker and consider that the state of the Freemasons’ memorial reflects badly on Freemasonry in general and it needs improvement work carried out immediately. 

A notice board at the Freemasons’ memorial plot informs visitors that work is ongoing but this information is over five years old and there is no sign of any such work being carried out. The whole area occupied by the Freemasons’ memorial, together with the information notices, give it an abandoned and uncared for appearance.

John Wileman, Goldieslie Lodge, No. 6174, Sutton Coldfield, Warwickshire


Sir,

May I assure all your readers that the concerns expressed about the Masonic Garden at the National Memorial Arboretum are shared by every member of the Staffordshire Province. For the past ten years we have not been allowed to do anything because it was expected that the new Visitor Centre would be extended over our garden and we would be relocated. The plans for the new Centre have now been agreed and we can now make some progress.

Our first plan was accepted this summer by the Arboretum but the cost of the project, £170,000, was too great and we are now finding out whether our second proposal is affordable. It is all complicated by the ground conditions: the site is a former sand and gravel quarry on a river flood plain with a high water table, and it is essential to build a concrete raft supported by piles. That alone will cost about £18,000.

Plans are already in hand to replace the yew trees with a field maple hedge. When we have an affordable plan we hope that the United Grand Lodge of England will lead our fundraising efforts, supported by all the Provinces in the country, for a National Masonic Memorial in the National Memorial Arboretum to those Freemasons who have died in the service of their country. 

It would also be fortuitous if we can celebrate its completion and opening early in 2017 as part of our national celebration of three hundred years of Freemasonry in England. We are working hard to make this project a success and a credit to all concerned.

Sandy Stewart, Provincial Grand Master, Staffordshire


Letters to the editor - No. 23 Autumn 2013

Service remembered

Sir,

On the theme of Service Remembered (summer 2013 issue), my father James Carroll was in the Royal Navy during World War II aboard the Captain Class Frigates, which carried out convoy duties not only across the Atlantic but to the Arctic on the Russian convoys. After sixty-eight years the government finally recognised the extreme conditions and sacrifices made by those who carried out what Churchill called ‘the worst journey in the world’. 

The Prime Minister, David Cameron, and Russia’s President Putin held a ceremony at Number 10 Downing Street, presenting my father with the Arctic Star and one of the highest naval decorations in Russia, the Ushakov Medal. Some thirty veterans were invited along for tea and the award was made prior to the Prime Minister and President Putin leaving for the G8 conference in Northern Ireland. 

At nearly ninety, my father was very proud, as were we, at being able to receive this long overdue recognition. He was initiated into Freemasonry ten years ago, in May 2003 at the age of eighty.

Alan Carroll, Vicar’s Oak Lodge, No. 4822, London  


Sir,

Having visited the National Memorial Arboretum in Staffordshire at the weekend I was greatly impressed with the many memorials located on the site. 

The memorial to Freemasons who gave their lives in defence of the nation comprises two stone blocks representing the rough and smooth ashlar standing on a chequered pavement surrounded by a yew tree hedge to indicate eternity. I was surprised to see that this memorial is in a dilapidated state, with part of the yew tree hedge having died off leaving an untidy gap.

I felt that this dilapidated memorial creates a poor image of Freemasonry, particularly when compared to those of other organisations, and believe that Grand Lodge should take a lead and ensure that the memorial is repaired as a matter of urgency. The costs involved are likely to be very minor compared to the very large sums that Freemasonry gives to other causes.

I am sure that many of the brethren will agree that in this case charity should begin at home, and I look forward to hearing and seeing that Grand Lodge takes this on board and carries out the remedial work. 

I understand that Staffordshire Province has undertaken work in the past but as this forms part of a national memorial, I consider that it falls more appropriately in the province of Grand Lodge.

Denis J Baker, Ravenshead Lodge, No. 8176, Mansfield, Nottinghamshire 


Letters to the editor - No. 22 Summer 2013

Service remembered

Sir, 

I read with interest John Hamill’s article entitled ‘Free from Persecution’ in the spring 2013 edition of Freemasonry Today. Although the number of Freemasons who perished in the Holocaust is unknown, it is believed to be between eighty thousand and two hundred thousand.

I had been privileged to give a reading on behalf of the Freemasons at a well-attended Holocaust Remembrance Day Service in Portsmouth last year when later the same day my wife and I attended the reception preceding the masonic province of Hampshire’s Thanksgiving Service. At that reception I was approached by the Mayor of Havant. Among the guests were many dignitaries from local authorities within the Province but I had known the mayor for many years and he asked whether the Province would like to send representatives to attend the Havant Holocaust Remembrance Service. He is not a Freemason, but he is Jewish, like myself.

It was a cold January afternoon when the Provincial Grand Master, the Deputy Provincial Grand Master, an Assistant Provincial Grand Master (who had been invited to wear their chains of office), our Provincial Information Officer, our wives and I attended the sombre and fitting service. About a hundred people attended and wreaths were laid. There were readings by civic dignitaries, school children and a member of the travelling community.

At the reception that followed we were invited to give a reading and lay a wreath on behalf of Freemasons within the Province at future Holocaust Remembrance Day Services. I hope other local authorities will follow the example of Havant Borough Council and Portsmouth City Council. Both these services were extremely moving and a fitting tribute to those who perished under Nazi persecution.

Philip Alan Berman, Old Portmuthian Lodge, No. 8285, Portsmouth, Hampshire and Isle of Wight


Sir, 

I enjoyed John Hamill’s article ‘Free from Persecution’ in the recent edition of Freemasonry Today. However, there is always an exception to the rule. I was rather surprised on a visit to Cuba two years ago, to find that Freemasonry was well in the public domain. Our tour guide organised for me a visit to one of the temples to meet up with a few Freemasons – but alas time did not permit attendance at their meeting.

Garth Ezekiel, Richmond Hill Lodge, No. 6698, Twickenham, Middlesex 

Published in Features

Following treatment for a stroke, Michael Johnson, an Assistant Provincial Grand Principal in Essex Royal Arch, noted that the stroke unit at Colchester Hospital had only one QuickMove hoist. Michael asked if the chapters for which he was responsible could donate towards the supply of a second hoist; the money was raised and Michael was at the Colchester Hospital presentation. The Province bought two further hoists – about £1,700 each – and presented these to the Southend and Basildon Hospital stroke units.

After Michael passed away, it came to the attention of local Freemasons that the rehabilitation kitchen used by patients in the Colchester unit was in a poor state. Thanks to local masonic donations, including a sizeable amount from Essex Provincial Grand Stewards Lodge, No. 8665, the kitchen was refurbished at a cost of £7,390. The handover of donations was made by Grand Superintendent John Webb in the presence of Michael’s widow, Vikki, and his two sons. A plaque was placed in the kitchen in Michael’s memory.

From The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy to Spooks, the stunning corridors, Grand Temple and distinctive exteriors of Freemasons’ Hall have played a crucial supporting role on screen. Ellie Fazan goes behind the scenes

In 2009 a member of the public, concerned by the presence of American soldiers loitering on the steps of Freemasons’ Hall, phoned the police in panic. Had the relationship between the UK and US broken down? Were the soldiers about to declare the Hall a forward operations base?

‘We were filming with Matt Damon for Green Zone,’ remembers Karen Haigh, Head of Events, who has overseen the film career of Freemasons’ Hall thus far. While things can get surreal, her first priority is to ensure filming does not obstruct the Hall’s primary function. So while Matt Damon was saving the world downstairs, meetings were going on upstairs as usual.

Karen has been working with Jenny Cooper from Film London to promote Freemasons’ Hall as a location. Funded by the Mayor of London and The National Lottery through the British Film Institute, and supported by the Arts Council England and Creative Skillset, Film London operates as the city’s film agency. It works to promote London as a major international production centre, attracting investment from Hollywood and beyond.

The agency looks after the capital’s most iconic backdrops, including The Savoy hotel and King’s Cross St Pancras station, but the Hall has also become a star, playing MI5’s base, gentlemen’s clubs and even Buckingham Palace. ‘Its versatile nature and flexible, friendly management, as well as the unique and lavish interior and central London location, have made it a firm favourite over the past ten years,’ says Cooper.

In 2012 Film London launched a tiered membership scheme, of which Freemasons’ Hall is a Gold Member, but the relationship goes back much further. Cooper explains: ‘Around seven years ago we got organisations, including the United Grand Lodge of England, to agree to work with Film London in promoting the city as a film-friendly destination.’

The response has been ‘tremendous’ with a notable rise in filming in London, where seventy-five per cent of the UK industry is now based, making it the third busiest production city behind New York and LA.

So expect sightings of US soldiers and alien landings to become more common on Great Queen Street.

‘Its unique and lavish interior and central london location have made Freemasons’ Hall a firm favourite’ Jenny Cooper

Take five: These days you’re almost as likely to see Robert Downey Jr in Freemasons’ Hall as another Freemason. Karen Haigh picks her top five films and TV shows at the Hall over the past ten years

1. Green Zone (2010)

The high-octane war thriller starring Matt Damon used the Hall as a bombed-out palace in Baghdad. For this role the building had a bit of a make-under, with debris everywhere and blown-out wires hanging from walls. ‘It was a great example of how even when a huge Hollywood production is here, our first priority is that the Hall can function for its members,’ says Karen. ‘So while Matt Damon was running around saving the world downstairs, there was a big provincial meeting going on upstairs.’

‘Johnny English was such a fun film. It was the first time I thought, This could really work’ Karen Haigh

2. Spooks (2002-2011)

Freemasons’ Hall played MI5 headquarters Thames House in this clever and compelling spy drama, focusing on the undercover work of a team of super spies. ‘It was amazing to have a starring role in such a groundbreaking TV show.

It showcased the Hall in such a fabulous way,’ recalls Karen. The only downside of being so involved in the production of the show, she says, was that the traditional end-of-series cliffhanger never had quite the same impact for her.

3. Johnny English (2003)

Peter Howitt’s action comedy parodies the James Bond franchise, with Rowan Atkinson playing an inept spy. The opening credits take a veritable tour of the building. ‘It was such a fun film and there was a lovely atmosphere. Rowan Atkinson is a British institution, and for many of our members he is the most exciting actor that we have had here,’ says Karen. ‘I think it was the first time I thought, this could really work. Film London gave us lots of support, because they knew we had potential as a film location.’

4. Sherlock Holmes (2009)

Some of the exhilarating scenes of the first Sherlock Holmes movie, directed by Guy Ritchie and starring Robert Downey Jr, were filmed in the Hall. ‘Guy Ritchie had been to the Grand Lodge before and really wanted to use it as a location,’ Karen reminisces. ‘You could see during filming that it was going to be really good.’ Karen and her team built such a strong relationship with the film-makers during shooting that the star-studded press conference was held at the Hall on the day of the premiere.

5. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (2005)

Douglas Adams’ comedy tells the story of hapless Arthur Dent after aliens destroy Earth. The Grand Temple took on its first starring role, as the Nose, the base for John Malkovich’s character. ‘I carefully pick the films that shoot here,’ says Karen. ‘This film is very tongue-in-cheek and seemed a wonderful way of saying that we can laugh at what people say about us. We built a great relationship with Disney, so they held the premiere party here.’

 

Published in More News

A career set in stone

Emily Draper, twenty-six, is Worcester Cathedral’s first female stonemason apprentice. Tabby Kinder finds out how Freemason support has helped Emily to carve out a dream career

Perched on a dusty block of stone, Emily is fresh-faced and buoyed from the morning’s assessment with her tutor from City of Bath College. It’s just a few degrees above freezing in the drafty workshop that leans against the south-east side of Worcester Cathedral, but Emily doesn’t seem to mind. Clasping a chisel in her gloved hand, she absent-mindedly smudges dust on her fleece with the other. ‘I didn’t know whether to dress up or not for the photos,’ she says, ‘so I just wore my normal work stuff.’

Chatting to a colleague, a man about twenty years her senior, Emily is charming and sincere. Her youthful presence and the jovial atmosphere of the workshop contrast with the dignified serenity of the cathedral. ‘It’s my dream job,’ she enthuses later, now in the warmth of the on-site office. Her face flushes with the pride she has in her newfound career; it’s her passion for the trade that won her the position as Worcester Cathedral’s first female stonemason apprentice.

‘I’ve got the chance to do something that is not only personally fulfilling but also makes my family proud. It’s a career close to my heart’

The right fit

Funded by local Freemasons and the Grand Charity, Emily currently splits her time between the cathedral, where she is learning the intricacies of sculpting stone under the tutorage of master mason Darren Steele, and City of Bath College, where she studies the theoretical methods of stonemasonry two days a week. When asked about her decision to pursue an apprenticeship in stonemasonry, Emily says: ‘I think it just arrived in my consciousness one day. I’ve always been interested in history, and Worcester Cathedral has always been in the back of my mind because I was brought up near here.’

Emily’s professional journey began after she completed a degree in Fine Art from The Arts University College at Bournemouth. She enrolled in the stonemasonry diploma at City of Bath College, balancing work and college while driving the seventy-five miles between the two. ‘It was a lot to deal with, especially when you don’t know whether you’ll end up with a job,’ she says. ‘It was a risk, but definitely a calculated risk. I hoped that if I worked really hard it would make me employable.’ 

The risk paid off when, in August last year, Emily beat forty-five other applicants to win the apprenticeship at Worcester Cathedral. ‘The head of my course recommended I went for it, but I didn’t think I’d hear back. It was nerve-wracking. When I found out I had been shortlisted, I was over the moon.’

For Darren, Emily stood out as a strong candidate: ‘We had a tremendous amount of interest in the apprenticeship, but Emily came out on top as she showed the passion and enthusiasm in stonemasonry as a career that I was looking for.’

Preserving history

Although Emily’s grandfather died when she was just twelve, she credits him as the main influence in her career path. ‘He was a mechanical engineer and an illustrator, so his trade was very hands-on and creative – but also industrious. It’s clear I get a lot of my passion for stonemasonry from him,’ she says. Coincidentally, Emily’s grandfather was also a Freemason at a chapter in Devon.

For Emily, the fact that Freemasons are providing the funding for her apprenticeship proves she is on the right track: ‘I’ve got the chance to do something that is not only personally fulfilling but also makes my family proud. I only have memories of my granddad from when I was a child, but my work brings me very close to him as I feel like it’s something that he would have liked me to do. It’s a career that’s very close to my heart.’

Restoring a cathedral as grand in size and splendour as Worcester is an endless task. ‘By the time you’ve gone half way round, the bit behind you has started falling apart again,’ says Darren. The work being carried out is particularly impressive because the conservation team at Worcester Cathedral does not use power tools at any stage of the restoration process. Even for the stonemason industry, Emily says, this is rare: ‘It’s sometimes frustrating, but very fulfilling creating something that matters using your hands.’

Using traditional techniques means that achieving something as straightforward as a flat surface becomes an art form in itself for Emily and her team. ‘In order to actually work something by hand and make something that is technically perfect, you have to have respect for the building,’ she says. ‘There’s an argument that you can get the same job done twice as fast by using power tools, but I think it’s important to keep traditional hand skills alive. In a building like this you benefit from having a hands-on approach as you respect the stone more. You want to make it perfect.’

Lofty ambitions

In 2010, Darren and his counterparts founded the Cathedral Workshop Fellowship, a partnership of eight Anglican cathedrals – Worcester, Gloucester, Lincoln, Canterbury, York Minster, Winchester, Salisbury and Durham – created to develop the professional training of new and experienced stonemasons. This unique community, of which Prince Charles is patron, has developed a qualification championing traditional hand crafts, as well as an exchange programme to allow apprentices to move between the country’s cathedrals to try working on different types of stone. Darren has arranged for Emily to spend a fortnight at Salisbury Cathedral in the spring to hone her carving, a skill in which she has shown promise.

For the past twenty years, the Provincial Grand Lodge of Worcestershire has aimed to ensure that Worcester Cathedral always has an apprentice stonemason in training. It’s a worthy ambition but also costly – £25,000 over five years.

Provincial Grand Master of Worcestershire Richard Goddard says: ‘I think it’s very important that we support our heritage and also our roots. We have had a close relationship with the cathedral for more than one hundred and fifty years and it’s something we should continue to support.’

Emily’s first major contribution to the restoration of the cathedral is a large restorative phase on the library parapet wall. She took a sixteenth-century weather-worn coping stone and reworked and replaced it. Emily’s still coming to terms with the sheer scale of work her job entails, but the rewards of contributing to a piece of history make it more than worthwhile. ‘I thrive on the pressure of working with the knowledge that whatever I add could be there for another thousand years.’

Securing the future of the cathedral

Over the past twenty-three years, the entire exterior of Worcester Cathedral, including the chapter house and cloisters, has been systematically restored. The huge project, which began in 1988, first focused on strengthening the tower, then the cathedral’s Works Department moved in a clockwise direction around the rest of the building. The last major restoration project finished in 1874, so the task had to ensure the building could face the next hundred years. A special thanksgiving service was held in September 2011 to commemorate the completion of the work, which cost £10m in total. More than £7m was raised by public appeal and around £3m was received in grants from English Heritage, the Wolfson Foundation, the Provincial Grand Lodge of Worcester and other grant-making bodies.

Published in Features
Thursday, 07 March 2013 00:00

BBC's Flog It! visits Bath Masonic Hall

Bath Masonic Hall opened its doors to BBC’s popular Flog It! programme. In the search for hidden treasures, the public are invited to bring along up to three antiques and collectables to the Flog It! valuation days. Once valued, the owner and team of experts decide whether an item should go forward for auction. If the item is chosen, it is sold a few weeks later – often with the owner making a tidy sum.

When Folkestone mason Mike Lawrence’s wife joined the Shorncliffe Military Wives Choir, Mike set out to raise £1,250 for a PA system to enhance their performances, arranging 14 lectures in both the East and West Kent Provinces to achieve the target.

The choir is part of the Military Wives Choirs Foundation, a subsidiary charity of SSAFA Forces Help. There are now more than 30 choirs across UK military bases both at home and abroad.

Choir members at the Masonic Centre, Grace Hill, packed 113 boxes of presents for the Royal Gurkha Rifles – normally based at Shorncliffe Camp, but currently on active duty in Afghanistan.

The Freemasonry in the Community diesel 12-seat Renault Master minibus has been handed over to the Weston and District Community Transport group. It has air conditioning and a power-operated wheelchair lift located at its rear. The minibus was acquired by Somerset Freemasons in 2010 and has since completed 130 respite day trips, carrying about 1,250 people in total.

The handover was made by Somerset Provincial Grand Master Stuart Hadler to Weston and District Community Transport trustees chairman David Ray in the presence of the Mayor and Mayoress of Weston, Cllr David Hitchins and Mrs Carol Hitchins. Somerset lodges have contributed to the running costs and the vehicle will be driven by a team of masonic volunteer drivers.

Bucks mason David Peck has been honoured for his essay exploration of the Nazi threat to British Freemasons in World War II, receiving the Norman B Spencer Prize from the world’s pre-eminent masonic research group, Quatuor Coronati Lodge, No. 2076

David won £100, which he donated to the Freemasons’ Hall Library and Museum, and has been invited to join the research group. ‘Possibly the biggest threat Freemasonry has seen in the last century was that of the Nazis. There is every reason to believe that we would have suffered persecution in England if Operation Sealion – Hitler’s plan to invade England – had gone ahead.’

Chairman of the Bucks Association for Masonic Research, David’s previous projects include investigating the Order’s origins and development in Malta.

Pensioners in Milton Keynes were treated to a charity Christmas lunch by local masons when representatives of 14 groups laid on traditional fare for around 100 people who live in sheltered housing near the Masonic Centre at Bletchley.

The guests included Valentine Eggleton, 82, who was awarded the British Empire Medal for his voluntary work in disabled sport in 1991.

The 2012 Classic Motor Show at Birmingham’s NEC was the biggest in its history, with a record visitor attendance of more than 60,000 over the 3 days. For the 7th consecutive year the Masonic Classic Vehicle Club had a stand at the event, resulting in the recruitment of a record 30 new members. The Club also held its annual meeting, chaired by Club President and former Essex PGM Sir Neil Thorne, in a private room provided by the show organisers.

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