After some lean years, the Allied Arts Lodge is now regrouping with a diverse membership. Tim Arnold explains how his lodge has survived by embracing the fundamental tenets of Freemasonry
Started just after the Second World War by theatre technicians, the Allied Arts Lodge, No. 6269, is the lodge that refused to die.
A decade ago, the group was at risk of folding. Like many London lodges, its membership had been declining for a variety of reasons – deaths and resignations, for example – and the regular Lodge of Instruction had fallen into disuse, not least because of the logistical difficulties in getting members from all over London and the Home Counties to attend every week.
Many people would have bowed to the apparent reality of the situation, but a hard core of members, including Treasurer Chris Fogarty and his life-long friend Secretary Paul Ostwind, refused to give up. They believed that attracting more guests was part of the answer.
Most of the ceremonies were arranged on a scratch basis, so were not as polished as they might have liked. The committee therefore invited some hard-core ritualists from other lodges to become honorary members. One of them was John Stonely, who in turn offered to take younger members under his wing at the Lodge of Instruction he organised for the Logic Ritual Association. Festive Boards were held at Trattoria Verdi, a walk away from Great Queen Street, where Dining Secretary Richard Limebear managed to negotiate a bulk-buy deal of £30 per head – a considerable discount.
‘It’s not been easy. But in a few years’ time, we will have a strong group of initiates ready to progress’
The lodge’s Festive Boards held anonymous charity collections, rather than a public raffle, so visitors would not feel pressured into spending more than they could afford in the evening.
An Allied Arts Charities Association was also set up to encourage members to make regular donations, boosted through Gift Aid to ensure the lodge continued to look after deserving causes.
Through masonic networking, the lodge gradually started to grow. It was explained to joining members that London masonry could be an enjoyable adjunct to provincial work, in a similar way to chapter being an extension of Craft – a way to increase one’s horizons, experiences and social network.
I was invited to become Senior Warden and I gave a talk, shamelessly stolen from Clifford Drake, the Deputy Provincial Grand Master of Buckinghamshire, about how to use recruitment to turn around failing lodges. Space does not allow me to go into all the points, but the key message is: draw up a list of decent people who are in your circle of friends, family and workmates, and talk to them about the benefits that you get from the Craft. If they are not interested, then you have at least explained to them Freemasonry’s core values of friendship, decency and charity. If they are interested, then perhaps a couple of years on you will have a waiting list of new members.
Currently, Allied Arts Lodge is doing double ceremonies and emergency meetings, not least thanks to a particularly enthusiastic initiate, Paul Hogan, who has willingly recruited his friends and family to join. We are also starting to attract members from the City of London, reflecting the region’s different communities. Allied Arts now boasts Catholics, Protestants, Muslims, Jews, blacks and whites, and our youngest member is in his early twenties.
Roots of Allied Arts Lodge
Allied Arts Lodge was consecrated on 22 July 1946. It was started by members of one of London’s thespian lodges, Vaudeville, ostensibly to celebrate the work of theatre technicians whose work was ‘allied’ to the entertainment world. The lodge has a long-standing relationship with the Vaudeville Chapter.
Allied Arts profited from a significant growth in Freemasonry after the Second World War, possibly because men wanted to keep up the camaraderie they had enjoyed while serving in the armed forces. It was common for a daughter lodge to be set up in order to accommodate a large backlog of new members, who might otherwise have had to wait for a decade or more to advance to the chair.
Vaudeville Lodge, No. 5592, is in turn descended from the world-famous Chelsea Lodge, No. 3098, through Proscenium Lodge, No. 3435. Chelsea is known as the entertainers’ lodge, with members including actors Peter Sellers and Bernard Bresslaw, the broadcaster and author Keith Skues, and the magician Eugene Matthias.
Chelsea’s mother lodge, Drury Lane, No. 2127, also has strong theatrical connections. The latter’s founders included the actor Charles Warner and London’s Gaiety Theatre manager, Charles Harris. Drury Lane’s membership also attracted establishment figures, including Field Marshal Earl Kitchener, perhaps best known today as the face of Great War recruitment posters, featuring the legend: ‘Your country needs you!’