Held at the end of 2013, the University Lodges’ Ball not only harks back to a bygone era of masonic tradition but also shows the modern face of Freemasonry
Recalling a time when the masonic lodges of the universities of Oxford and Cambridge staged lavish social events, the University Lodges’ Ball, sponsored by Aerice, was held on 23 November in the glamorous surroundings of the Honourable Artillery Company’s Armoury House. Hosted by the university lodges in conjunction with Freemasons from across London, the night proved to be a glittering celebration of masonic social tradition.
In the autumn of 2012, the Secretaries of Apollo University Lodge, No. 357, and Isaac Newton University Lodge, No. 859, Chris Noon and Alistair Townsend, both – independently – had the idea of reviving the ball tradition. ‘We used to hold balls every year or two in the nineteenth century and we realised that 2013 would be the one hundred and fiftieth anniversary of the greatest ball that we ever held: the Grand Ball, which was in commemoration of the wedding of the Prince of Wales and Princess Alexandra of Denmark, both of whom attended the event,’ explains Chris.
Held by Apollo in 1863 at Christ Church, attendance at the Grand Ball was large and the catering was lavish. After World War II, however, Freemasonry followed the rest of the country into austerity and the balls fell into abeyance. Chris and Alistair decided to plan a grand event so that the masonic ball might regain its rightful place as the highlight of the social calendar.
With five hundred and fifty guests attending, the ball featured the best of British music, entertainment and hospitality, and also raised money for military charity Combat Stress and the Royal College of Surgeons. ‘We are delighted to be able to benefit from this amazing event,’ says Uta Hope, director of fundraising and communications at Combat Stress.
The sesquicentenary University Lodges' Ball will take place on Saturday 23rd November 2013, at Armoury House, London, the headquarters of the Honourable Artillery Company
For more information and to buy your tickets, visit the University Lodges' Ball website.
About the Ball
At the first meeting of the Ball Committee, it was agreed that there were three central reasons to hold this ball. The first, simply, was to have fun - to organise a large event that could be enjoyed by friends, partners, and family, and hopefully repeated in years to come. The second was to do it for a good cause - to raise money for two very worthy charities. And the third was to resurrect and commemorate the great tradition of the masonic ball, of which can be found below.
It is hoped that this event will not only give guests an opportunity to meet and enjoy a lavish and unique celebratory evening, but will also give non-masonic guests the opportunity to learn more about Freemasonry by meeting members, asking questions, and finding out more about what we get up to!
The particulars for the event are still being confirmed, but it is possible at this stage to provide an outline. The ball will be preceded by a number of (optional) banquets, information about which can be found here. Guests will have the option to book places at these dinners once they have purchased their ball tickets.
The champagne reception will commence in the Prince Consort Rooms at 8.30, after which all guests will assemble in the Prince Consort Rooms to watch the opening ceremony at 9.15.
Once the opening ceremony has finished, Armoury House will be opened and the evening will really begin! The events programme is still being finalised, so check back soon for updates, but the night will feature:
- Dancing - traditional ballroom dancing in the Prince Consort Rooms, and more informal throughout Armoury House
- Live music of a variety of genres
- Magicians, acrobats, and other visual performers
There will also be a wide selection of food and drinks available on the night, all of which is included in your ticket price, so the only time you will have to open your wallet is to donate to charity!
Frequently asked questions
Do I have to be a Freemason to buy tickets?
No! The original University Masonic Balls were the highlight of the social calendars in both Oxford and Cambridge. Now, as then, anyone can attend - so if you have always been curious about what Freemasons get up to, you now have a chance to find out...
Why are there multiple banquets beforehand?
As is the case with almost all society Balls, it would be logistically impossible to have a seated banquet for 900 guests, then have the same rooms immediately available for the evening's entertainments. Traditionally, several parallel dinners have taken place before such events (in Clubs, nearby restaurants, and even in guests' houses), which end in time for guests to come to the Ball in time for the opening ceremony.
You can view details of these banquets here, and will be able to book places at them when you buy your tickets. However, please remember that it is not compulsory to dine beforehand - a variety of food and drink will be available throughout the night at no extra cost, so guests who have not dined will certainly not go hungry!
Can I sponsor the University Lodges' Ball?
What is the dress code?
Evening Dress. This means white tie and tails for gentlemen (although black tie and tuxedo are acceptable), and long gowns for ladies. Formal military Mess Dress and National Dress are also encouraged. To hire or buy Evening Dress, please visit our formalwear sponsor, Clermont Direct, who are kindly extending discounts to Ball guests.
There is a long history of Apollo and Isaac Newton University Lodges holding balls, garden parties, and other festive events at the end of the academic year at Oxford and Cambridge. The balls started early in both lodges' histories, and carried on well into the twentieth century, being considered one of the highlights of the social calendar in both universities.
The best known of these balls was the Grand Ball held by Apollo in 1863 at Christ Church to celebrate the wedding of the Prince of Wales (later Grand Master and King Edward VII) and Alexandra of Denmark, who both attended. The ball cost £2,046 (the equivalent of around £220,000 now). Luckily, half the cost was borne by the college!
Attendances were large - in 1866, 750 attended the ball and over 3,200 attended the garden party - and, as you can see from the menu from an Isaac Newton University Lodge ball in the early twentieth century (in the gallery above), the refreshments were lavish. Unfortunately, after World War II, Freemasonry became less ostentatious, and the balls fell into abeyance.
In the late autumn of 2012, the Secretaries of Apollo and INUL, Chris Noon and Alistair Townsend, met for an ale or two, having both, independently, had the idea of resurrecting the ball tradition, noting that no equivalent existed for Freemasons today. They agreed that it would be difficult to achieve for either lodge on its own, but that, if resources were combined, and the ball were to be held for masonry as a whole, it could be a success.
It was also decided that, despite the short notice, 2013 would be an auspicious year to hold the event - marking the 150th anniversary of Apollo's Grand Ball, and the 200th year of Supreme Grand Chapter (the charitable appeal of which it therefore seemed sensible to support). The obvious location was London - neutral territory - and, after considerable investigation, Armoury House was chosen, as an outstanding venue with a suitable capacity.
It remains to be seen whether this sesquicentenary ball will be a one-off, whether it will be repeated in another 150 years, or whether it will become a regular event in the Masonic calendar. It all depends on how many tickets are sold...