Celebrating 300 years
Tuesday, 12 September 2017 00:00

American hat-trick in the chair at London lodge

Drury Lane Lodge, No. 2127, witnessed a special event at London’s Theatre Royal Drury Lane when Immediate Past Master Peter Goetz installed Daniel Aherne

He is the third American to occupy the chair, following brothers Michael and Alex MacIver.

Some 10 years ago, the Grand Lodge of California requested a team from Drury Lane to demonstrate the Third Degree ritual; in turn, the American trio visited the London lodge, and enjoyed themselves so much that they joined and progressed through the various offices.

Despite the distance, and the difference in ritual, they still manage to attend nearly all the meetings.

Command performance

Robert Henderson-Bland was an actor, soldier, poet and Freemason. Director of the Library and Museum of Freemasonry Diane Clements traces his fortunes during World War I

It is 100 years since Canadian doctor Major John McCrae wrote his poem In Flanders Fields, the first line of which, ‘In Flanders fields, the poppies blow’, was to be an inspiration for the poppy as a memorial. The same year, 1915, also saw the death of one of the best-known war poets, Rupert Brooke, who wrote five sonnets in late 1914 that helped make him famous, including The Soldier. Somewhat forgotten now but also an active and frequently published poet in his time was Freemason Robert Henderson-Bland (1876-1941).

Henderson-Bland’s first war poem, published in August 1915, was inspired by the Scots Guards and includes the following lines, written before the idea of a War Graves Commission had been developed:

‘Let someone mark the place whereat they fell,
And hedge it round, for in the after-time
Their fame will draw the many who would dwell
Upon those deeds that made an hour sublime.’

Henderson-Bland was best known as an actor, working in the early 1900s with leading theatrical figures such as Lily Langtry and Herbert Beerbohm Tree. On 26 April 1912, as he records in his autobiography, he received a telephone call asking him to take the role of Jesus Christ in a new film to be made in and around Jerusalem. Directed by Sidney Olcott, From the Manger to the Cross became one of the most significant films of the silent era. 

It was Beerbohm Tree who had recommended Henderson-Bland for the part, as he considered that the only man who could play Christ was a poet. Although controversial at the time, the film was eventually praised by leading religious figures, and it has since been designated culturally, historically and aesthetically significant by the Library of Congress. It was revived in London in 1926 when it was shown at the Royal Albert Hall every day for three months, and the Bishop of London supported the showing of a sound-enhanced version, stating that he considered it to be ‘a most beautiful film’. 

A few months before Henderson-Bland went to Jerusalem to make the film, he was initiated in Green Room Lodge, No. 2957, one of several London lodges with theatrical connections. His raising was delayed until filming was complete, in November 1912. In November 1913, he presented a souvenir of his time in Jerusalem to the lodge – a gavel made from stone quarried ‘from Solomon’s Mines’, with its shaft made of olive wood grown on the Mount of Olives. 

Theatre of war

When World War I broke out in August 1914, Henderson-Bland, aged 40, was acting in America. He returned to Britain to join the Gloucestershire Regiment, initially in Britain and then, from July 1916, in France, where he served until he was wounded in April 1918. By the end of the war he had been promoted to captain. After the war, Henderson-Bland became involved with veterans society the Ypres League, working to promote the organisation in America. He continued with his Freemasonry, joining, in 1927, another lodge with theatrical links, Drury Lane Lodge, No. 2127, where he was installed as Master in March 1937. He died in August 1941 as the result of an air raid. 

Henderson-Bland knew many who died in the war. One friend, also a Freemason (Drury Lane Lodge), was poet Arthur Scott Craven, who had joined the Artists Rifles and was killed in action in April 1917. Before the war, Henderson-Bland had dedicated a book of poetry to him. He wrote the following poem after his death and it was published in June 1917:

‘O all my youth came singing back to me
When first I learnt that you were dead, my friend.
What of the years when you and I did see
In life a splendour daily spilt to mend
Our souls grown tired of trivial delights?
Not lost to you the glimpses of the heights,
For you went gladly where the worst is surely best.’

The gavel presented by Henderson-Bland to Green Room Lodge is on display as part of the Library and Museum’s Spotlight: Freemasons and Entertainment exhibition, which runs until 13 February 2016.

A book written by Library and Museum staff, English Freemasonry and the First World War, is available from the shop at Freemasons’ Hall or online at www.letchworthshop.co.uk 

Published in Features

In the spotlight

Opening in June, the Library and Museum’s latest exhibition looks at the longstanding links between Freemasonry and entertainment

 The association between Freemasonry and the entertainment profession during the Victorian period is well known. The connection was embodied by men such as Sir Augustus Harris (1852-1896), actor and theatrical impresario, lodge founder and Grand Treasurer. 

He and his circle of theatrical figures feature in a revealing press cartoon from 1891 (above). 

Harris was particularly associated with the Drury Lane Theatre, where he staged elaborate pantomimes. He was a founder of Drury Lane Lodge, No. 2127, in 1885, which met in the theatre itself. After his death in 1896 at the age of 44, his wife married Edward O’Connor Terry, another actor, theatre proprietor and Freemason. Terry’s initials are shown entwined on the founder’s jewel for the lodge that was formed in 1898 and named after him. 

Terry was a Past Master of Lodge of Asaph, No. 1319, which formed in 1870 and met in the afternoons to permit its membership of musicians and actors to continue with their regular jobs in orchestras and theatre in the evenings. 

Spotlight: Freemasons and Entertainment 

The exhibition runs from 8 June 2015 to 13 February 2016, Monday–Friday, 10am–5pm. 

Admission is free

Published in More News

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.

It’s not been easy. But in a few years’ time, we will have a strong group of initiates, ready to progress through the Master’s chair. We are organising Lodges of Instruction closer to where people live, meeting on Sunday mornings when the M25 traffic is more manageable and it is possible to get space in otherwise busy masonic centres. In the meantime, we could still do with a handful of members in our middle-batting order. So, if you want to sample London masonry, get in touch at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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!’

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