Freemasonry provided its own version of the Six Nations when two Provincial rugby teams locked horns for the first time in Wigan, as they competed for the Freemasons Rugby Challenge Cup on 9th February 2019
Leicestershire & Rutland Light Blues RFC accepted an invitation to participate in the inaugural match of the Province of West Lancashire’s new masonic rugby team, with the cup donated by both clubs to encourage the development of provincial masonic rugby teams and a healthy rivalry.
Wigan, a town more familiar with Rugby League, was the battleground and despite stormy conditions throughout the night, the sun was shining in front of a 200-strong crowd and the pitch in excellent condition.
Both sides began the match with enthusiasm and, with ‘brotherly love’ being temporarily put to one side, a true rugby spirit. Despite it being their first match – and for some of their players, the first ever game – West Lancashire were competitive with resilient defence and probing attacks, but the first half finished with Leicestershire & Rutland holding a narrow 13-10 lead.
While West Lancashire Freemasons Rugby Football Club (WLFRFC) fielded an all-masonic team, part of the ethos of Leicestershire Light Blues RFC, who have been established for a number of years, is to work as a recruiting platform and a conduit into Freemasonry. The fresh, and somewhat younger, legs of the Leicestershire & Rutland team proved decisive and, after a hard-fought second half, they were victorious with a 30-10 victory.
The Freemasons Rugby Challenge Cup was presented to the Light Blues RFC Captain Andrew 'Jock' Keenan by the WLFRFC Honorary Patron, Provincial Grand Master of West Lancashire, Tony Harrison for a well-deserved victory.
WLFRFC Honorary President, linesman and Deputy Grand Superintendent from Royal Arch Province of West Lancashire Dr Paul Renton presented man-of-the-match awards to West Lancs’ Hooker Mark Brant and to Leicestershire & Rutland’s Fly Half Ollie Stanley.
Fundraising on the day raised £960 which included a generous donation of £103 by Leicestershire and Rutland members.
WLFRFC Chairman & Founder Garry Hacking praised the generosity and support of all who attended the match from both Provinces and thanked Daniel Quelch and Andrew Keenan for their guidance, advice and help in setting up the West Lancashire team.
Around 200 West Lancashire Freemasons and their partners enjoyed a ‘grand day out’ at a charity event staged at the very top of their Province, in the town of Grange-over-Sands, and raised £2,500
The very appropriately named Cumbria Grand Hotel was taken over for the evening with the ticket price including overnight accommodation, which was supported by the Provincial Grand Master of West Lancashire Tony Harrison, together with his wife Maureen.
The themed ‘Black and White Ball’ started with a ‘Fizz Reception’, followed by a four-course dinner, a spectacular firework display and then dancing into the early hours to the ten-piece band, ‘Soul Survivor’. To keep the party goers on their feet till late, a ‘Lancashire Hot Pot’ supper was served around midnight.
Organiser Richard Wilcock, who is the local charity steward, was delighted with the success of the event and paid tribute to the immense help given to him by his wife, Jackie. He said: ‘We’ve had yet another fantastic night, well supported not only by our local members but also by our friends from across Morecambe Bay in the Lancaster masonic group.
‘This year the event has raised at least £2,500 for charity and has been so popular that we are considering extending it to run over two nights next year.’
The Province of West Lancashire is currently hosting a festival in support of the Masonic Charitable Foundation, ending in 2021.
One of the key figures of the suffragette movement, Annie Besant, was not only a socialist, rights activist, author and orator, but also one of the founders of the society of Co-Freemasonry, which has evolved into the present day The Order of Women Freemasons organisation
This was one of the interesting facts revealed by Geraldene Greenhalgh from The Order of Women Freemasons in an absorbing talk she gave to West Lancashire Freemasons at Barrow-in-Furness Masonic Hall. The host lodge was Lonsdale Lodge of Installed Masters No. 9422.
Geraldine is a Senior Grand Warden in The Order of Women Freemasons and holds responsibility for Lancashire. She further explained how Annie had become head of the Order and had led a public march through the streets of London by her members, dressed in their regalia, during one of the important demonstrations in support of the campaign for universal suffrage.
Previously the lodge had been opened, the business conducted and duly closed before Geraldene was then welcomed into the lodge room to give her talk. She was not the only woman in attendance as the wives and partners of Lonsdale members were also admitted to enjoy the oration. Amongst the attentive onlookers was the Provincial Grand Master of West Lancashire Tony Harrison who was accompanied by his wife Maureen together with Assistant Provincial Grand Master David Grainger and his wife Beryl.
Geraldene outlined how the Order was founded and its subsequent history. It shares many of the principals of Freemasonry and its ceremonies reflect those performed by their male counterparts. The first head of the order in 1908 had in fact been a man, the Rev Dr. William Cobb. Since 1912, the Grand Masters have all been women and in 1920, it was decided to restrict admission exclusively to females which continues to this day.
One of the principal objects of The Order of Women Freemasons, which is open to all faiths, is charity. It was revealed that the ‘Race for Life’ fundraiser in aid of Cancer UK in 2016 saw the Order raise £100,000 for the campaign. Recent years have also seen donations of £100,000 each to charities in aid of Alzheimer’s disease and breast cancer research. In its centenary year in 2008 donations of £250,000 had been made to Macmillan Cancer Support and Cancer Research UK. Rather than a levy on the members, the Order relies on charitable funds being raised at social events. A Gentleman’s Festival replaces the Ladies Night held by Craft lodges.
The Order, which now boasts 6,000 members in this country and abroad in 350 lodges, is administered from premises in Pembridge Gardens in Notting Hill which were left to them by a member. Their Grand Lodge meetings are held in Birmingham and regularly attract over 1,000 members.
In addition to the Craft, The Order of Women Freemasons also has a degree equivalent to the Holy Royal Arch Chapter as well as several other orders. Geraldine added that women who wished to enjoy Freemasonry could also join The Honourable Fraternity of Ancient Freemasons which also only admits women as members.
The lodge’s Master Bill Edmonds thanked Geraldene for a talk which had proved both informative and interesting and kept everyone enthralled throughout.
A unique event took place on 22nd October 2018, as the Provinces of East and West Lancashire joined forces to create the fourth Chapter of the United Grand Lodge of England’s Universities Scheme
Palatine Chapter No. 2447, which is proud to have as honorary members the Grand Superintendents of both Provinces, Sir David Trippier and Tony Harrison, meets twice a year – once in East Lancashire and once in West Lancashire – and now has over 40 members from both Provinces.
This inaugural meeting of the Chapter worked an Installation Ceremony and then exalted into the Order three members from the Universities Scheme’s Craft lodge Old Mancunians’ with Mount Sinai No. 3140.
Almost £230,000 has been distributed to good causes in 14 years from a trust fund administered by Hindpool lodge no. 1225 in the Province of West Lancashire
The news was publicly announced at its 150th anniversary and installation meeting, with the final total standing at £229,328. Fund chairman Keran Stalker explained: 'George Wood was initiated into Hindpool Lodge in 1929 and served as Worshipful Master in 1940. On his death in 1956 his daughter Dorothy Bird Wood, a well-known local school teacher, inherited his estate. She died in 2004 and the entire estate was bequeathed to the lodge so that a charitable trust could be established in the name of her father.'
Since then the George Wood Memorial Benevolent Fund has quietly made generous donations to various organisations of whom the majority are locally based. Amongst the beneficiaries have been youth, community and sporting groups including scouts, guides and air and sea cadets. An average of £16,500 has been distributed annually without fanfare or publicity.
In attendance at the installation was West Lancashire's Provincial Grand Master Tony Harrison who commented: 'It is wonderful to see the legacy being put to such excellent use in supporting local good causes. The trustees are to be congratulated on the manner in which they have managed the fund.'
To mark the 150th celebration, a further six donations of £1,000 were made to groups within the Hindpool area of the town. The ward of Hindpool is nowadays recognised as one of the most deprived in England. The groups receiving a donation were Furness Homeless Support Group, The Salvation Army, Hindpool Tigers junior rugby league team, Furness Gymnastics Club, Brisbane Park School and St James Church of England School.
Newly installed Master of Hindpool Lodge Paul Musgrave added: 'As part of my role I will be involved with the day to day running of the fund. I am sure that I will find that very rewarding. We act very much under the radar but having passed the £200,000 mark in our donations, we felt now is the time to let the public know about this generous bequest which has helped so many. No doubt George and Dorothy would be pleased to see what has been achieved through their wonderful legacy.'
Hindpool Lodge was the second to be formed in Barrow-in-Furness. It is one of the oldest institutions in the borough. As late as 1843 Barrow boasted only 32 dwellings and two public houses. The discovery of high grade iron ore, and the industries which arose from that, saw the town boom and by 1881 it had grown to a population of 50,000. It became a borough in 1867, one year before Hindpool Lodge was consecrated, and was dubbed 'the little Chicago' because of its rapid expansion.
The friends and colleagues of Tom Jackson gathered at Chorley Masonic Hall, in the Province of West Lancashire, for a meeting of St George’s Lodge of Chorley No. 7161 to celebrate Tom's 50 years in the Craft
Tom has been a very well-known figure in Masonic circles nationally for many years, not least because of his current status as Grand Master of the Order of the Allied Masonic Degrees.
Indeed, in this Masonic Order, Tom has a ‘Council’ (the equivalent of a Craft lodge) named after him. It was a tribute to the regard in which Tom is held, that saw so many leaders of other Masonic Orders join him at his celebration.
As expected, the turnout was high with 105 lodge members and guests. The lodge was opened by Worshipful Master Paul Greenway who welcomed Tony Harrison, Provincial Grand Master of West Lancashire, into the lodge. On this occasion, Tony retained the gavel of the lodge to lead the celebrations.
Tom was initiated into St George’s Lodge of Chorley 50 years ago, being installed as Master in 1982. Since then he has found his way into Royal Arch, Mark Masons and many more Masonic Orders.
In UGLE, he was given Grand Rank of Past Assistant Grand Director of Ceremonies from 2000-2012 and appointed Past Senior Grand Deacon in 2012.
In summarising Tom’s achievements and service, Tony Harrison said: 'Tom is a fine example to the members of this lodge and indeed to us all. Now, having served as a Freemason for a period of 50 years, may I offer you my heartiest congratulations on this marvellous achievement and great milestone in your life.
'As the head of this great Province of West Lancashire, I have issued a certificate to commemorate this special day.'
The certificate of appreciation was then read and shortly afterwards, the celebrant and his many friends enjoyed a meal and the opportunity to reflect on 50 eventful years.
‘Suicide is the major cause of death in all people under 35 years of age’. That alarming statistic is one that will probably come as a major shock to many people. It certainly was to the group of West Lancashire Freemasons who were visiting the Warrington headquarters of the charity Papyrus, who have received a grant from the Masonic Charitable Foundation (MCF) of £65,342
The MCF has made the grant on behalf of the Province of West Lancashire, but on this occasion the Provincial Grand Master Tony Harrison was accompanied by his colleague from the neighbouring Province of Cheshire, Stephen Blank.
Papyrus, which was formed in 1997 in Lancashire, has three simple aims: provide confidential help and advice to young people and anyone worried about a young person; help others to prevent young suicide by working with and training professionals; and campaign and influence national policy. They summarise this as: Support, Equip and Influence.
The visitors were welcomed by CEO Ged Flynn, who explained the work that the charity does and also outlined the problems that are being faced nationally, as they try to de-stigmatise suicide and raise awareness of this tragic loss of young people. Ged stressed that the charity has values that it strongly promotes.
He said: 'We believe that many young suicides are preventable, and that no young person should suffer alone with thoughts or feelings of hopelessness. We believe that everyone can play a role in preventing young suicide.'
Stephen Habgood, who is the Chairman of Papyrus, then very movingly related his own story of the loss of his only child, Christopher 26, to suicide in 2009. Sarah Fitchett, a trustee of the charity, also shared her own tragic experience in speaking of the death of her 14-year-old son, Ben by suicide in 2013.
Their openness in speaking so frankly about their emotional experiences was a very moving revelation to the visitors but also cause for admiration, as they explained how they are working to try and prevent others having to experience the same trauma.
The £65,000 grant will enable the charity to engage another advisor to work on their HOPELineUK helpline (0800 068 4141), which is there to provide confidential support and advice to young people struggling with thoughts of suicide, and anyone worried about a young person.
Enough is Enough
With the misconceptions surrounding the nature of Freemasonry commonplace, one particular news story in 2018 proved the catalyst for a nationwide campaign that would confront these beliefs head on, as Dean Simmons discovers
The doors to Freemasons’ Hall in London may be open to the public, but this hasn’t stopped rumours, myths and conspiracy theories from grabbing the headlines over the decades. However, it was a news story in The Guardian at the beginning of 2018, which was subsequently covered by other national newspapers, accusing the Freemasons of blocking policing reforms, that proved to be a turning point for the United Grand Lodge of England (UGLE).
Dr David Staples, Chief Executive Officer of UGLE, rejected the claims as laughable in a letter to the newspapers. With the accusations following a well-trodden path of inaccurate and misleading information about Freemasonry, he called for an end to the discrimination against its members, citing the 2001 and 2007 European Court of Human Rights rulings that Freemasonry was not a secret or unlawful organisation.
Reflecting on the decision to respond, David says, ‘It’s something that has been building up over the past 20 years, as we haven’t argued our case or countered the increasingly ridiculous claims of our critics. I think the trouble, as we’ve seen in the past, is that if we don’t answer those critics, the vacuum is then filled by further ludicrous accusations.’
More was to come. In February 2018, The Guardian alleged that two masonic lodges were operating secretly at Westminster. ‘This was on the front page of an award-winning national newspaper and it was complete nonsense,’ David says. ‘Every aspect of that story was deliberately designed to give a false impression of Freemasonry and its influence.’ David again wrote to the newspaper, drawing attention to several inaccuracies, including the fact that the lodges did not operate in Westminster and that their existence is not secret – all of which could have been verified by a quick search on Wikipedia. While the letter led to corrections being made, there was clearly an appetite for these types of stories, and therefore a pressing need for Freemasonry to debunk the myths.
ON THE OFFENSIVE
‘In light of a new approach towards how we manage the media and how we represent ourselves and our members, we needed to go on the offensive – it was a good one to put the gloves on for,’ says David.
Contesting accusations is one thing, putting a stop to them in the first place is another. It was to this end that UGLE responded with a letter from David, titled ‘Enough is Enough’, which ran as a full-page advert in both The Times and Daily Telegraph newspapers. The letter called for an end to the ongoing gross misrepresentation of its 200,000-plus members.
‘We need to open up and talk about what we do; we needn’t be afraid of being both proud of who we are and our membership,’ David says. ‘We are the only organisation that faces repeated calls to publish our membership lists. We are the only organisation linked to a whole host of rumours and conspiracy theories, despite there being no substantial evidence to any of it. It’s important to not allow these myths to perpetuate in the public eye, and take on the critics with the facts.’
In the spirit of transparency, David embarked on a series of interviews with the press. Whether it was laying to rest myths, highlighting community work and charity fundraising or outlining what it means to be a Freemason, no stone was left unturned. ‘I did 24 interviews in one day,’ he recalls. ‘But if you’re portraying yourselves as an open organisation, you need to make yourself available in order to demonstrate that openness.’
With Freemasonry thrust into the spotlight, David believes the ‘Enough is Enough’ campaign provides a strong communication platform going forward. ‘We need to be out there, as we have been for the last few months, taking journalists around our masonic centres, introducing journalists to Freemasons and letting them make their own minds up, according to what they see and what they find.
‘The Open Days being held in our Provinces are also important, as they allow us to engage not just with potential members, but also with our critics,’ continues David. ‘We shouldn’t shy away from that – we won’t convince everybody and we certainly won’t change everybody’s mind, but we want to give a true impression of who we are and what we do, and allow people to make up their own minds. Ultimately, we need to be in the public space for the things we should be known for.’
Opening up, inviting in
Freemasons’ Hall in London may have initially taken centre stage, but Provinces up and down the country have now embraced the campaign. Open evenings and interactive Q&A events have been taking place in masonic halls, inviting members of the public to find out more about Freemasonry and ask any questions.
Demonstrating the effectiveness of the campaign, there has been a rise in membership enquiries as people seek to find out more. Philip Bullock, Wiltshire Provincial Grand Master, says, ‘It’s had an effect in raising our profile, which has had a positive effect on the number of enquiries made to our Provincial office and website. Our Sarsen Club for younger members is also proving extremely popular and is growing in terms of membership and activities.’
‘Enough is Enough’ has been an opportunity to further highlight the ongoing efforts of many Provinces. ‘For the past four years we’ve taken a very proactive approach in making ourselves more visible,’ says Philip. ‘At the end of last year, we acquired a new display trailer that will be out and about appearing at county fairs, shows and marketplaces. This will allow us to expand our visible presence in the community.’
Further north, in West Lancashire, the Province has been busy giving the media guided tours of its masonic halls. ‘The reaction across the Province has been positive,’ says Tony Harrison, West Lancashire Provincial Grand Master, ‘and most agree that it’s about time we answered back.’
Cheshire Provincial Grand Master Stephen Blank, who also faced the cameras in an interview with the BBC, echoes those sentiments: ‘The reaction from my members has been overwhelmingly positive,’ he says. ‘We’ve always been proactive with our open evenings at masonic halls. We’ll continue to publicise these across the county, alongside our charitable and community activities. I think it’s very important that we continue to react swiftly and positively to any future attacks on Freemasonry.’
The donation was in response to an appeal by North West Blood Bikes for help in replacing their ageing fleet of motorbikes, which led to two new bikes being purchased and equipped by the Freemasons at a cost of £40,000.
The Provincial Grand Master of West Lancashire Tony Harrison, along with two of his Assistant Provincial Grand Masters Kevin Poynton and David Winder, and Steve Kayne, the CEO of the West Lancashire Freemasons’ Charity, formally handed over two new liveried BMW R1200RT-P motorbikes to the North West Blood Bikes team.
North West Blood Bikes Fleet Manager Simon Hanson said: 'Since my appointment I have been working with Honda, BMW and multiple charities and local businesses to replace the fleet of 12 liveried motorbikes, as they had mostly done over 80,000 miles and in some cases were over eight years old.
'This very generous donation by the Freemasons in West Lancashire completes my renewal plan and they, along with the other new motorbikes, will greatly reduce the number of breakdowns we have been having with our old fleet. It will also increase our ability to support the NHS out of normal hours (7pm to 2am) in the week and 24/7 at weekends.'
The motorbikes have been built to a specification that is, effectively, the same as that for police vehicles. The only difference is the blood bikes are fitted with a special carrying rack to transport medical items and the police blue paintwork is replaced with orange.
In officially handing over the two vehicles, Tony Harrison said: 'I am delighted to be able to present these motorbikes on behalf of the Freemasons in West Lancashire to North West Blood Bikes, as they will help them in the vital role they play in supporting the NHS in their work.'
On average, North West Blood Bikes respond to over 1,000 calls a month, which their 350 volunteers action using their own motorbikes and cars, and the liveried motorbikes. The 12 liveried motorbikes are used for calls that involve motorway journeys and long distances, as well as during rush hour and moving urgent blood samples and other lifesaving items.
The Province of West Lancashire was anxious to ensure that it celebrated the Tercentenary in style and with that in mind, two gala dinners took place within a few weeks of each other
At the main event, held at the Hilton Hotel, Blackpool, over 400 brethren and their partners gathered to attend the Provincial Tercentenary Gala Dinner. The evening began with the entrance of the Provincial Grand Master Tony Harrison and his wife Maureen, who were accompanied by the principal guest, Assistant Grand Master Sir David Hugh Wootton. Also joining them was the chairman of the West Lancashire Tercentenary committee, Assistant Provincial Grand Master Tony Bent and his wife Lynda.
Following the dinner, the entertainment began in dramatic style when a waiter dropped a large tray of cutlery, apparently accidentally on to the dance floor. This got everyone’s attention but rather than a mishap, this was the start of a performance in which several theatrical ‘waiters’ performed a set of popular operatic arias to the delight of the audience.
As the customary toasts were made, Tony Harrison proposed the toast to the ‘Premier Grand Lodge’ on the occasion of its Tercentenary and then, following a brief synopsis of Sir David’s professional and Masonic career, offered a toast to the Assistant Grand Master. To further mark Sir David’s visit, Tony presented him with a cheque for £5,000 from the West Lancashire Freemasons’ Charity to pass on to the Lifelites charity, of which he is a patron.
He was also presented with a ‘Rail Atlas of Great Britain and Ireland’ and a special bottle of Martell Cognac which commemorated the 300th anniversary of the founding of the Martell Distillery. Sir David thanked Tony for his kind words and very generous gifts.
The evening’s raffle, which raised £1,920 in favour of the West Lancashire 2021 Masonic Charitable Foundation Festival, saw the lucky winners claiming a variety of prizes, including a coach holiday in the UK, flying lessons and a widescreen television.
At another event, held earlier in the north of the Province, over 200 Masons and their partners gathered at the Cumbria Grand Hotel to celebrate what was billed as ‘A Spectacular Banquet and Ball’, organised jointly by the Furness and Lancaster Masonic Groups. Once again, the revellers were joined by Tony and Maureen Harrison at a wonderful event that combined great food, marvellous entertainment and a spectacular firework finale.
Speeches were kept to a minimum with the emphasis firmly on having a relaxed and fun filled evening. The speech and double toast given by Assistant Provincial Grand Master David Grainger was so uncharacteristically short that it earned him rapturous applause!
Everyone pronounced both evenings to be a great success and a fitting way to celebrate such a memorable Masonic milestone in true West Lancashire style.