As he approaches retirement from the position of Assistant Grand Master, David Williamson reflects on a career as an airline pilot, becoming President of the Universities Scheme and why Freemasonry is not about a ‘blinding light’
When did you become interested in flying?
I’ve had a fascination with aeroplanes since I was a boy. I won a flying scholarship when I was seventeen and my first passenger was my wife –my girlfriend at the time. It was one of my biggest disappointments; there I was thinking she’d be impressed, but she hated every minute of it!
I joined British Overseas Airways Corporation in 1968, and eventually became assistant flight training manager on the 737 at Heathrow. Later, I worked as assistant flight training manager on the 747-400 fleet until I retired in 1998.
How did you come to Freemasonry?
It was the early 1970s and I was approaching thirty. I knew that my father was a Freemason, but I had little idea what it was about. After my mother died I would go and spend time with him and it was then that he spoke to me about Freemasonry. He was Junior Warden and his lodge wanted him to become Master the next year. He asked me what I thought, so I asked him what was involved and whether he thought it was something that would interest me. He said it might.
What attracted you to join?
I did a lot of reading. There was no internet then but I found out that notable people such as Mozart had been Freemasons. It struck me that there was something special about Freemasonry. On the night I was going to be initiated I was excited because I felt there was going to be some kind of revelation. And it wasn’t like that at all. The night was amazing, the atmosphere incredible and I can’t remember if the ritual was good or bad. I read the Book of Constitutions I had been given later that night. In retrospect, I was a little disappointed, but it taught me a valuable lesson: Freemasonry is a journey – not a blinding light but a series of learning events.
How did you become Assistant Grand Master?
I became the Provincial Grand Director of Ceremonies, both in the Craft and the Royal Arch in Middlesex, before becoming Deputy Grand Director of Ceremonies in 1998. In March 2001, Lord Northampton took over from Lord Farnham as Pro Grand Master. The chatter within Grand Lodge was about who the next Assistant Grand Master was going to be. I certainly didn’t think it would be me as I had been appointed to take over as Pro Provincial Grand Master of Middlesex, so it came as a bolt out of the blue. But I took on the role in March 2001.
‘Freemasonry has an appeal for young people... It has a set of values, it has structure and it combines many aspects of life that you don’t always get elsewhere.’
What was your first duty?
London Freemasonry was not like it is now – it didn’t have a Metropolitan Grand Master and the Assistant Grand Master would carry out most of the ceremonial functions. But around the same time as I was appointed, there was a push for London to be self-governing, as it is now. Lord Northampton asked me to chair the committee to make this happen. It was a very exciting time.
What kicked off the Universities Scheme?
Around nine years ago I visited Apollo University Lodge in Oxford. I had been extremely impressed; the members were very young and the ritual was excellent. I spoke about it to Lord Northampton, saying it was fantastic and that we should have lodges like this all around the country. He said, ‘Why don’t you do it?’ From that was born the Universities Scheme. I formed a committee with Oliver Lodge, now the Grand Director of Ceremonies, as Chairman and we used Apollo University Lodge and Isaac Newton University Lodge, Cambridge, as a pattern. We now have fifty-nine lodges.
What do you feel appeals to young people?
Freemasonry has an appeal for young people, which we’ve perhaps overlooked. It has a set of values, it has structure and it combines many aspects of life that you don’t always get elsewhere. The motivation for me is that these are bright people who are going to make their way in society with a knowledge of Freemasonry. Even if they were to leave, hopefully they will have a positive view of Freemasonry that they can take out into the world, although of course we hope they will stay. While the goal of the scheme is to ‘attract undergraduates and other university members to join and enjoy Freemasonry’, we also want to keep them; retention is our biggest challenge.
What about recruiting masons from elsewhere?
The principles of recruitment and retention in the scheme don’t just apply to universities. It’s about approaching membership in a different way. You’ve got to think about how things are different now from fifty years ago. The scheme is a good way of saying
‘if it works here, why can’t it work there?’ It certainly does not address the membership issue but it points to how things could be done elsewhere.
Is Freemasonry changing?
Rulers used to come from the nobility, with Provincial Grand Masters often local landowners, whom you might see once or twice a year. That has all changed. I am the first Assistant Grand Master for several years without a title and Peter Lowndes is the first ever Pro Grand Master not to have one. We have learned to communicate at a different level. You can stand on a stage or you can stand on the floor and we appreciate that we need to put ourselves about. We’ve got to sell our message at a personal level and lead by example. That’s a big change.
‘We have learned to communicate at a different level... We’ve got to sell our message at a personal level and lead by example.’
12 June 2013
An address by the MW the Pro Grand Master Peter Lowndes
our June meeting always has a full agenda with the meeting of the Grand Charity and I am sure you would like me to thank the President of the Grand Charity and all whose hard work has made their work so effective over so many years. What is not required now is a long address from the chair and I will be brief.
Brethren, you will recollect that last year, in recognition of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee, we sent a loyal message to Her Majesty on the occasion of the sixtieth Anniversary of her accession to the Throne.
Last Tuesday a service was held in Westminster Abbey to celebrate the sixtieth year since her Coronation. Her actual Coronation was on the second of June 1953 and the ceremony was conducted by Dr Geoffrey Fisher, Archbishop of Canterbury. Interestingly, Archbishop Fisher was a committed Freemason serving as Grand Chaplain in 1937 whilst being Bishop of Chester. He was re-appointed Grand Chaplain in 1939 just at the time he was made Bishop of London.
At the Quarterly Communication the day after the Coronation, on the third of June 1953, the Earl of Scarbrough, Grand Master, gave a loyal address to Her Majesty on the occasion of her Coronation and I quote, “Brethren, we meet in Grand Lodge this afternoon on the day following the Coronation of our Gracious Queen. This is an event which stirs the hearts of us all – in these Islands, in every part of the Commonwealth and, indeed, throughout the world. We Freemasons, remembering in particular the many greatly-prized links which we have had, and those which we still have, with the Royal House, have our hearts full of loyalty and prayer towards Her Majesty”.
Brethren, we often joke that nothing in Freemasonry ever changes or that, if it does, it takes a good many years to do so. In this case I know that it is true and that as we celebrate the Coronation – sixty years later – those sentiments expressed by Lord Scarbrough are as true today as they were then. Long may that be the case.
We celebrate another royal sixtieth anniversary this year, that of His Royal Highness Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh’s sixty years as a subscribing member of the Craft. The Grand Master sent him a message of congratulations to mark the occasion and, in reply, Prince Philip asked for his thanks and best wishes to be expressed to all members.
Brethren I have to announce that the MW The Grand Master has appointed VWBro Sir David Wootton Past Grand Sword Bearer and, of course last year’s Lord Mayor, to succeed RWBro David Williamson as Assistant Grand Master with effect from 12 March 2014. On that day either the MW The Grand Master or I will have the pleasure of investing him. I must add that Bro Williamson will be continuing as Third Grand Principal in Supreme Grand Chapter.
Established in 2005 to connect lodges with students country-wide, the Universities Scheme is flourishing, enabling a new generation to experience Freemasonry
Hartington Lodge, No. 1085, in the Province of Derbyshire, has become the 55th lodge to join the Universities Scheme, opening a path for it to welcome members of the University of Derby into the Craft from the age of 18.
The lodge was accepted into the scheme after a sub-committee, led by Alan Cudworth, met with Assistant Grand Master David Williamson, Scheme Chairman Edward Lord
and Midlands Co-ordinator David Staples.
David Williamson explained how the Universities Scheme makes it easier for young men to join the Craft, with Provincial Grand Master Graham Rudd then presenting the Assistant Grand Master with a Derbyshire tie and a Festival barbecue cook’s apron.
Hartington Lodge has proven successful in bringing young men into Freemasonry, with members including graduates and former staff of the University of Derby.
At the suggestion of Anthony West, Chairman of the Grand Lodge 250th Anniversary Fund, Tuscan Lodge, No. 14, arranged a Fellows Presentation at The Royal College of Surgeons of England in Lincoln’s Inn Fields, in the presence of The Grand Master, HRH The Duke of Kent.
The 250th Fund was set up in 1967 to support the college in making annual grants to support research Fellows, and currently there are three Freemasons’ research Fellows each year. In connection with the bicentenary of Supreme Grand Chapter in 2013, an appeal is in progress, the funds of which will be applied for a similar purpose.
Other distinguished guests included the Pro Grand Master Peter Lowndes, Assistant Grand Master David Williamson, Grand Secretary Nigel Brown and the Grand Director of Ceremonies, Oliver Lodge.
The guests were welcomed by Professor Norman Williams, President of The Royal College of Surgeons, while plastic surgeon Professor Gus McGrouther expressed his gratitude to the masonic community for its support. Professor McGrouther explained that the college receives no NHS funding for research and that this all has to be paid for by voluntary contribution. The college supports 20 researchers annually chosen from 150 applications.
Three Freemasons’ Research Fellows gave talks. They were Vaibhav Sharma, on improving hearing through reducing scar tissue; Miss Ming He, on tissue engineering for transplantation; and Satoshi Hori of the Uro-Oncology, Hutchinson/MRC Research Centre, University of Cambridge. A member of Isaac Newton University Lodge No.859 also spoke on targeting growth factors in prostate cancer.
Grenville Lodge No. 1787, is the first lodge in the Province of Buckinghamshire to be admitted to the UGLE Universities Scheme. With two Nigerian students from the University of Buckingham joining the lodge in April 2012, it is the 52nd lodge to be admitted to the scheme.
Buckingham is the only private university in the United Kingdom and was opened in 1973. It was the first UK university to condense the academic content of a standard three-year degree into a two-year programme, running over four terms per year, and 80 per cent of its students come from overseas, although many stay in England to work or gain postgraduate qualifications. It is hoped that the scheme will also further enhance the link between the lodge, the university, the Province and Freemasonry in general.
As Provinces around the UK welcome university students into the Craft, the biennial Universities Scheme Conference focused on why students are vital in ensuring the future of Freemasonry
More than 130 brethren gathered at Freemasons’ Hall, London, for the third Universities Scheme Conference. The Scheme is a pioneering initiative by Grand Lodge under the auspices of the Assistant Grand Master, David Williamson, to help forge links between well-placed, enthusiastic lodges and the many students – as well as other young people – seeking to become involved in Freemasonry.
There are currently 50 lodges under the Scheme across England and Wales, the West Indies and South Africa. In 2010 these lodges held 159 initiations of candidates found through the Scheme, and between them had over 300 members who were under 30. This year, the conference included presentations on recruitment, retention and break-out sessions on making masonry affordable.
A tremendous level of Provincial support has greatly contributed to the success of the Scheme. Five final-year students at the University of Bath have been initiated by St Alphege Lodge, No. 4095, Province of Somerset. Meanwhile over in Leicestershire and Rutland, Wyggeston Lodge, No. 3448 has forged links with Leicester University students.
The mood of the day was encapsulated by Mike Jones from the University Lodge of Liverpool: ‘Student recruitment is an ongoing process. You need to engage with students not only when they make their first enquiry, but all the way through the application process. You need to mentor them so that they feel comfortable.’
Go to www.universitiesscheme.com for more details on the conference
In March, brethren from Apollo University Lodge No. 359 (Oxford) and Loge Robert de Sorbon (Paris) attended a meeting at Freemasons’ Hall, Cambridge, followed at the June meeting with a friends and family garden party. The celebration of the anniversary was held in July, at which the principal guest was the Deputy Grand Master, Jonathan Spence.
The prime purpose of the meeting was to make the substantial charitable donations that the lodge had decided should be the main way in which it celebrated its anniversary year.
The lodge has donated £1,000 for each year of its existence, with £50,000 going to the Grand Charity through the Provincial Festival, £50,000 to other masonic charities and £50,000 to a number of non-masonic charities drawn from suggestions and requests from lodge members.
Past Masters of the lodge presented cheques to the Assistant Grand Master, David Williamson, the Metropolitan Grand Master, Russell Race, and to the Presidents of the Royal Masonic Benevolent Institute (RMBI), Masonic Samaritan Fund (MSF) and the Royal Masonic Trust for Girls and Boys (RMTGB).
The Provincial Grand Master received the cheque for his Festival on behalf of the Grand Charity.
St Alphege Lodge is responsible under the UGLE Universities Scheme, for forging links with the University of Bath
As a result of considerable interest generated by the Scheme and from members already recruited through it, Christmas came early this year with five candidates being initiated into the Lodge in a multiple ceremony.
St Alphege last carried out such a ceremony in 1925, so this was a very special evening for everyone concerned.
The Assistant Grand Master, RW Bro David Williamson, who is President of the Universities Scheme, attended along with the Provincial Grand Master for Somerset, RW Bro Stuart Hadler. The Assistant Grand Master subsequently wrote to the Lodge saying "I sat in Lodge, enthralled and touched by what we witnessed."
The Provincial Grand Master described it as "a great success and a landmark in the history of the lodge"
The Ceremony concluded with a presentation of a 50-year certificate by the Provincial Grand Master to Brother Keith Brown, the significance of which made an important impression on the five young Initiates.
The grand total - vastly exceeding the initial £1.5 million target - was announced at a dinner at Ascot Racecourse to mark the end of the 2011 Festival. The event was attended by 520 guests, including Assistant Grand Master David Williamson and Festival President Michael Hooton. The RMBI is immensely grateful for the support of the Festival, which will enable it to continue and develop its important work.
As Letchworth marks its one-hundredth year, John Hamill reports on the centenary of a very special lodge
On 28 March 2011 in Lodge Room No. 10 at Freemasons’ Hall in London, almost 150 brethren gathered for an emergency meeting. Nothing unusual in that – until you look at the signature book and discover that those present included the Pro, Deputy and Assistant Grand Masters, the Metropolitan Grand Master for London, the President and Deputy President of the Board of General Purposes, the Grand Chaplain, Grand Secretary, Grand Director of Ceremonies, Presidents of the Grand Charity and the Masonic Samaritan Fund, and other senior brethren.
What, you might wonder, other than a Quarterly Communication of Grand Lodge, would bring such illustrious company together in one tyled meeting? The reason is a joyous one – to take part in the centenary celebrations of Letchworth Lodge, No. 3505. But why such eminent brethren for a Hertfordshire lodge? The answer, to paraphrase Shakespeare, is all in a name. The ‘Letchworth’ after which the lodge was called is not the delightful Hertfordshire town, but Sir Edward Letchworth who was Grand Secretary from 1892 to 1917. As for why the celebrations were in London, when the membership of the lodge was formed in 1911, it was restricted to the permanent clerks in the Grand Secretary’s Office. And even today is limited to those employed in the capital’s masonic headquarters.
Although a Secretary to the Grand Lodge was appointed in 1723 (becoming Grand Secretary in 1734) and the premier Grand Lodge had a permanent building in Great Queen Street from 1775, it was not until 1838 that the Grand Secretary’s Office came into being. From the of the two Grand Lodges in 1813 until 1838, the Grand Secretaryship was a joint office shared by William White, who had held the same office in the premier Grand Lodge, and Edward Harper, who had been Deputy Grand Secretary of the Antients.
In 1838, Harper ‘retired’ and White was asked to take on the role of Grand Secretary. He agreed but on one condition: that Grand Lodge employed two full-time clerks to assist with paperwork. As a result of the expansion in members and lodges in the Victorian period, by the time Letchworth became Grand Secretary in 1892 the office had grown to seven clerks. As they had to be Master Masons it was suggested they should have a lodge. There was one problem: nine was the minimum number of petitioners and there were only seven clerks.
By 1911, there had been an expansion of the Craft and clerk numbers grew to 15. They approached Letchworth to petition for a lodge, and the consecration took place on 28 March 1911. Sir Edward himself was the Consecrating Officer, assisted by the President of the Board of General Purposes, the President of the Board of Benevolence (now the Grand Charity), the Grand Chaplain and Grand Director of Ceremonies and the Chairman of the Board’s Officers and Clerks Committee.
Sir Edward stated that the lodge’s purpose was ‘to meld the clerks into greater harmony’. It would also assist Grand Lodge by bringing into Freemasonry suitable candidates that might become clerks in the office; and get brethren through the Chair in a reasonable time for additional duties. The latter was important, as many lodges had more than 100 members and it could take 15 or more years to reach the Chair.
The lodge’s first year was a busy one with two candidates and three installations. The Master designate had been installed at the consecration and at the July and November meetings two of the senior clerks were installed. In 1913, the lodge began a practice that was to continue until the 1970s – that of initiating as serving brethren members of the portering and maintenance staff of the Hall. They were to assist the Grand Tyler by laying up the lodge rooms and acting as Assistant Tylers whenever Grand Lodge met.
The First World War halted progress of the lodge and office, as half the staff were on active service. Only one did not return, Ponsonby Cox, and another, Guy Mercer, was awarded the Military Cross. Those too old for military service kept the lodge and office going. To help in the office, the rule requiring clerks to be Master Masons was put into abeyance and three lady clerks and two ‘lady typewriters’ were taken on. The latter, Miss Haigh and Miss Winter, proved far from temporary, spending the rest of their working lives as private secretaries to Grand and Deputy Grand Secretaries.
The huge increase in the Craft four years after the war, and the plan to rebuild Freemasons’ Hall as a permanent war memorial, led to an increase in office size. Between 1925 and 1927, five boy clerks were taken on as ‘temporary’ staff ; each of them eventually becoming members of the lodge. There were similar problems during the Second World War, when again the rule on clerks being Master Masons was set aside and women were taken on. They proved so popular and useful that in 1949 the rule (No. 33 in the current Book of Constitutions) was put into abeyance. The lodge had difficulties meeting and reduced its wartime gatherings to two per year. The only ceremonial work was the annual installation of the Master.
The immediate post-war years saw an enormous growth in the Craft. This led to expansion of the office and an increase in the membership of the lodge. Much of the work was in making serving brethren, as the portering and maintenance staff had also grown, and many took on additional work as Tylers for lodges meeting at Freemasons’ Hall.
By the late 1960s, however, things were slowing down and doubts were expressed about the future of Letchworth Lodge. Membership had been limited to Permanent Clerks, but in 1977, Grand Secretary James Stubbs was approached about opening the lodge to the full office, to which he agreed. In the early 1980s, under Grand Secretary Michael Higham, the lodge was opened to the whole of the male staff at Freemasons’ Hall and the staff of other masonic headquarters in London. This has resulted in a vibrant lodge with a steady stream of candidates. The changes have also brought the staff of the various masonic offices in London closer together. Sir Edward Letchworth’s hopes at the consecration can truly be said to have been achieved.
As the Grand Secretary’s lodge, Letchworth has had great support from Sir Edward and his successors. Sir Philip Colville Smith became an honorary member when he became Grand Secretary in 1917. (Sir) Sydney White joined the lodge when he was appointed Chief Clerk in 1918, was its Master in 1920, and was a regular attendee even after election as an Honorary Member when he became Grand Secretary in 1937. (Sir) James Stubbs was elected an Honorary Member when he was appointed Assistant Grand Secretary in 1948, while Michael Higham became a joining member when appointed Deputy Grand Secretary in 1978, and is still active. Nigel Brown joined when he was appointed Grand Secretary in 2007 and members are delighted to have him as their Centenary Master. He was thrilled to have been installed by Michael Higham.
Being involved in central masonic administration, the members of the lodge were only too aware of the privilege extended to them to have the Pro Grand Master present the Centenary Warrant. The happy occasion was followed by a reception and banquet in the Grand Temple vestibules.