Friday, 07 December 2018 00:00

Meet the UK's oldest poppy seller

Don't let the armchair get you

Aged 103, Wally Randall is the Tyler for three masonic lodges, turned on his town’s Christmas lights last year and is the UK’s oldest poppy seller. Peter Watts meets the legend of Leighton Buzzard

Resplendent in a suit and jacket, Wally Randall sits on a wooden pew with a military bearing that belies his years. He has been coming to this masonic temple in Leighton Buzzard for 53 years, which sounds like a long time, until you remember he is 103.

One of the country’s oldest masons, Wally is also the UK’s oldest poppy seller, something this World War II veteran is particularly proud of. ‘I go to our local Wilko – they let me sit inside,’ he says. ‘People say they come specially to get a poppy off me. It’s amazing how generous they are. A lot of people give even though they already have a poppy. I collected over £1,000 last year.’ 

This year’s Armistice Day had particular resonance for Wally. Not only did it mark 100 years since the end of the First World War, it was also 100 years since the death of his father, who served in that war and died of Spanish flu the day before the Armistice was signed. ‘It was rather tragic,’ he says. ‘It might be one of the reasons I started selling poppies. I thought the Royal British Legion did a really good job looking after people who need it.’

Wally is described as ‘a legend’ by fellow Freemasons Roger Wood and David Cato, who are full of stories about his escapades, such as the time Wally fell on to the garage roof while collecting apples from his tree back when he was a mere slip of a man in his nineties. Then there’s the time the doctor warned him his blood pressure was a bit high. ‘That was just before he turned 100. Wally told the doctor, “Well, I did have to cycle here – you can’t find anywhere to park on a Tuesday,”’ laughs David.

With that track record, a spot of poppy selling once a year is not going to get him too out of breath. What’s his secret? ‘Well, it might be a bit dull, but I’ve never been a drinker and I never smoked either – maybe the odd glass of wine during a lodge dinner but I don’t drink apart from that.’

Wally is careful about what he eats as well. At the festive board, he has the starter and dessert, but takes the main course home for his lunch the following day – the kitchen staff are only too happy to wrap up his meal. David thinks Wally is inspiring, ‘On his 103rd birthday he recited the 15-minute traditional history during the rituals, without any notes to read from. He keeps doing things, and tells us, “Don’t let the armchair get you.”’

KEEPING HIMSELF BUSY

Wally lives alone and still drives. As well as selling poppies and masonic activity, he was an active and enthusiastic gardener up until this summer, but now contents himself with directing his granddaughter around the plot. ‘Well, I tell her what I’d like her to do, but she won’t always do it,’ he grins. ‘She doesn’t like slug pellets, so this year I finished up with one runner bean and the slugs had the rest.’ In keeping with his philosophy of staying active, Wally doesn’t just attend weekly masonic events, but acts as a Tyler for three lodges. ‘It’s important to do stuff, you have to keep busy,’ he says. ‘That’s what like about masonry – being the Tyler, I get to meet the candidates and that’s always nice. It’s very interesting and I enjoy getting them ready.’

LOCAL CELEBRITY

The esteem in which Wally is held can be seen in the anteroom to the Temple. In a prominent position is Wally’s stout wooden Tyler chair, which was a gift from fellow Mark masons on his 100th birthday. Above it is a large framed ‘Where’s Wally?’ poster, a present from the caterers, with Wally’s face hidden among all the cartoon characters. And his celebrity status extends beyond the lodge. In 2017, he was invited to turn on Leighton Buzzard’s Christmas lights. 

Wally became a mason in 1965, but it was only when he retired at 70 that he began to take his involvement up a gear. Wally’s mother lodge is Leighton Cross, No. 6176, but he is also a member of Old Cedarians, No. 8078 and All Saints, No. 8776, the latter of which he founded. ‘When it first started, the subs were only £15 a year,’ he smiles, adding, ‘I really enjoy being with the brethren, we are all very close to each other. They look after me and keep me going.’ 

Having appeared in newspapers and on the BBC, Wally’s masonic contribution as well as his longevity have been widely recognised. ‘I got a certificate of merit after I’d been a mason for 50 years and another saying I’d been selling poppies for 50 years,’ he says, before declaring that he has no intention of stopping any time soon, even if he does need a break every now and then. Having spent a couple of hours in the lodge being photographed and interviewed, Wally remarks, ‘It’s fish and chip day isn’t it, so I’ll go home and have some scampi and then a little snooze.’

‘I really enjoy being with the brethren, we are all very close to each other. They look after me and keep me going’

Looking back

Born in 1915, Wally Randall left school at 14 and entered the print trade, working for the local newspaper, the Leighton Buzzard Observer. ‘I was a comp machinist and I did a little bit of reporting, following the football team and so on. I got halfpenny a line,’ he recalls. After leaving print, he moved into transport, but one winter found himself out of work because the roads were blocked by snow. ‘I cycled to the labour exchange to sign on and there were hundreds of people queueing,’ he says. ‘I didn’t want to wait, so I biked up to Luton to look for a job. I went to the Vauxhall plant and got a job straightaway. I was there for 40 years.’

Wally served as a magistrate and on the local council, and it was a fellow councillor who got him interested in Freemasonry. At around the same time as he discovered the Craft, he started selling poppies, inspired in part by his own experiences during the Second World War. He’d signed up in 1940 and served in North Africa and Italy. ‘I was in the service corps,’ he says. ‘The nearest I got to combat was at El Alamein. The army was getting ready for the push and we took the 4th Indian Division in there. There was an artillery bombardment, it was like fireworks. That was about as close as I got.’

The Provincial Grand Lodge of Derbyshire have presented the Royal British Legion with a cheque for £1,400, which was raised by the sale of a special remembrance tie

The ties were sold to Derbyshire Freemasons, with the profits destined for charitable causes.

The tie depicts a poppy with the leaf pointing to 11am to represent the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month. The square and compasses point to 5am to represent the actual time that the armistice was first signed. The tie can only be worn by members during November as a mark of gratitude to our armed forces.

The cheque was presented by the Provincial Grand Master Steven Varley at an informal ceremony, following a talk by staff of their Drop In Centre in Derby explaining the important work undertaken in supporting ex-military personnel returning home.

Lilly Clements, Community Fundraiser for the Royal British Legion, said: ‘We are honoured that the Masons have chosen us to support the Poppy Appeal.’

Clocking up the miles in the name of charity

For most 86-year-olds, taking it easy might be par for the course, but for Yorkshire Freemason Jeffrey Long MBE, a veteran paratrooper and serial fundraiser, it’s a different story

Jeffrey has been a busy man in 2017, as a chance encounter with a stranger called Paula Modeste at Windsor train station saw his latest adventure of walking 86 miles go viral, with a ‘selfie’ photograph grabbing the attention of comedian Jason Manford and helping his fundraising for the Royal British Legion go beyond the £120,000 mark – not bad considering his original target was to reach £1,000.

Alongside interviews with the BBC and ITV, national newspapers have also helped Jeffrey gather plenty of deserved headlines as he clocked up the miles. Jason Manford even drove down to Jeffrey’s hometown of Bingley, West Yorkshire, to meet him, whilst he was invited by Chelsea Football Club to be a special guest and introduced on the pitch before their match against Manchester United on 5th November.

Following walks of 84 and 85 miles the previous two years to coincide with his age at the time, Jeffrey’s latest venture of 86 miles saw him start out at the Thames Barrier and eight days later finish in the dark in Caversham, Reading. He estimates that the time spent walking 86 miles took him a full five days to complete, as along the way he also celebrated his 86th birthday with a meal on the 32nd floor of the Shard and visited the Embassy of Switzerland to meet their Ambassador Alexandre Fasel and Guildhall to meet Chief Commoner Wendy Mead.

Jeffrey, who is on chemo treatment because his body is producing too many platelets, admits that his latest walk was not without its challenges. He said: ‘I also suffered a problem with my hamstring a few months before and by the time I started the walk, it had still not recovered. I didn’t have too much of a problem walking as long as I didn’t stride out, but when it came to going down steps, it really pulled on my hamstring and hurt like mad.

‘I loved the challenge of walking 86 miles and even though many people have said it’s extraordinary to be completing it at my age, it doesn’t really seem extraordinary to me.

‘The truth is that I’ve never really been much of a social walker. I don’t have time to train, so when it came to first preparing for these challenges, I just remember putting on some boots, walking for around an hour outside and then going ‘I’ll be fine!’

So how do you go about topping an 86 mile walk? Simple – Jeffrey is already looking ahead to the challenge of walking 87 miles next year. Not only that, he’s considering walking another 100 miles for a separate challenge and looking for a sponsor as he considers swapping the walking boots for a bike and cycling from London to Paris!

Jeffrey is also fundraising for the Parachute Regiment’s charity, Support Our Paras, and to donate please click here.

Jeffrey Long was featured in the Summer 2017 of Freemasonry Today – read his interview here.

Published in More News

Hundreds of people attended the funeral of W Bro Ken Wilkinson, a Battle of Britain pilot and member of both Worcestershire and Warwickshire Provinces

The service was held in St Alphege Church in his home town of Solihull on 8th September 2017, with dozens lining the streets outside to pay their respects. W Bro Wilkinson’s coffin was carried into the church draped in the British flag, whilst a Battle of Britain Memorial Flight Spitfire cascaded through the sky above.

W Bro Wilkinson was one of the last remaining Battle of Britain pilots and was described as “a true gentleman” by the Battle of Britain Memorial Trust.

Those present included Air Chief Marshal Sir Michael Graydon, representing The Prince of Wales, as well as senior military commanders of the Royal Air Force and members of the Royal British Legion.

W Bro Wilkinson died on 31st July 2017 at the age of 99.

Published in More News

Just Getting Started

Freemason Jeffrey Long MBE has chosen  to spend his senior years embarking on  epic walks for good causes. Matthew  Bowen finds out why he’s not planning  on hanging up his boots any time soon

Jeffrey Long’s flat in Bingley, West Yorkshire, is up a steep set of stairs. It’s the kind of place you might advise older relatives to move away from, but at 85, he’s right at home. Not looking a day over 70, Jeffrey has a firm handshake. ‘Excuse the mess,’ he says. ‘I moved into the place in 2009, but am only just finding the time to sort my things out.’

Beyond boxes of crockery and old trinkets, a scrapbook lies open, filled with press clippings and photos. Remarkably, most show Jeffrey as an older man. ‘I just didn’t have time to do all the things I wanted to do when I was working,’ he says, ‘and I’ve never believed in giving up.’

ACTIVE SERVICE

At 19, Jeffrey joined the Royal Army Ordnance Corps to start his National Service. Duty took him to the Far East, dropping military supplies to British troops. He enjoyed serving – ‘Being fit and flying appealed to me’ – and it prepared him for a career with the Parachute Regiment, which he joined in 1952.

At the peak of his fitness, Jeffrey was battalion cross-country champion. ‘Hills were my speciality,’ he says, ‘and I’d always train in my army boots.’ After two years of service, however, he suffered a life-changing incident – his parachute misfired at 500 feet and, with no reserve chute, Jeffrey fell to the ground.

Unbelievably, Jeffrey didn’t break a single bone, but he did suffer excruciating back pain from then onwards. He stayed in service for a further three years, doing everything he could to get back to fitness. When doctors suggested a steel corset to help his back, he knew the end of his active military service was approaching.

Jeffrey joined a textile company after being discharged and spent much of his working life there, running a sales team. He took a four-year break in 1984 to study management, computing and accountancy, then worked as a project manager for the local council, before joining the British Transport Police.

Alongside his day jobs, he promoted Anglo-Swiss relations as the president of the Federation of Swiss Societies. Eventually, however, Jeffrey became so busy with charities that he didn’t have time to work.

Jeffrey had switched his focus to fundraising in the early 2000s following reports of soldiers being sent into the Iraq war without proper support. ‘I got so uptight with the government that I just had to do something,’ he says. Utilising his Swiss connections, he initiated and secured funding for a charity bike ride from London to Lausanne, Switzerland, in support of the Royal British Legion (RBL).

Despite being aged 75 and not a cyclist, Jeffrey intended to join the ride himself until a training injury scuppered his plans. Never one to admit defeat, he decided to walk the route instead, despite ‘not being much of a walker’. The 650-mile route took Jeffrey 39 days, solo and unsupported, through torrential rain and baking sun. He even walked the English Channel by marching back and forth on the ferry.

Modestly acknowledging the achievement, Jeffrey, who started the walk with a 35kg pack on his back, says: ‘It was quite a big thing to take on, but I knew a 75-year-old doing something like this would generate publicity, and that would lead to more cash for the Legion.’ The combined fundraising total of the walk and ride came to £142,000.

CLOCKING UP THE MILES

Buoyed up by the success of the walk, Jeffrey carried on. In 2009, he joined five firemen on a speed march to York. In the years following, he has undertaken a 90-mile route that included climbing three Yorkshire peaks, walked 127 miles between Liverpool and Leeds, and completed the length of Hadrian’s Wall – 84 miles – in his 84th year. ‘I even delayed a hernia operation to take part in a 12-kilometre [7.5-mile] assault course,’ he adds.

As well as the walks, Jeffrey organised 18 years’ worth of fundraising dinners while working with the St James’s Branch of the RBL, and received an MBE in 2010 for his efforts.

Born and raised in Bradford, Jeffrey’s a proud Yorkshireman who takes great delight in the stunning local landscape. Dressed in full military gear, he walks up the slope to Ilkley Moor’s Cow and Calf Rocks at a brisk pace, explaining that he doesn’t train because he doesn’t ‘have the time’.

So, what do Jeffrey’s friends think of his exploits? ‘People tell me I’ve done enough, that I don’t have to prove anything anymore,’ he says, ‘but it’s not about proving anything, it’s just that somebody has to do something.’

Jeffrey’s friend, 87-year-old Maurice Johnson, thinks he’s trying to wear his legs out completely. While expressing mild concern for his friend’s well-being, Maurice also acknowledges: ‘I could never achieve what he’s done. He’s a wonderful warrior for charity and always finds time to take on extra, when others would say they were too busy, or too old.’ Maurice is Treasurer of Helvetica Lodge, No. 4894, and the man who recommended Jeffrey to Freemasonry.

Jeffrey became a member of Helvetica Lodge 10 years ago and says it was an easy decision. ‘I’ve always believed in what the Freemasons believe about brotherly love, kindness and doing the right thing,’ he says. ‘I’ve been supporting others my whole life.’ In addition to raising more than £175,000 for charity, Jeffrey has spent time tutoring ex-offenders and volunteering at Bradford Day Shelter.

A few hours spent with Jeffrey is enough to convince you that he will never stop pushing himself physically, and mentally, to help others. He’ll do all he can to make a difference. Gazing over the spectacular views of Ilkley and beyond, he cheerfully remarks: ‘It won’t be long before I’m planning a 100-mile walk for my 100th birthday.’

Support Jeffrey’s ‘85 Miles for 85 Years’ fundraising walk at www.mydonate.bt.com/events/jeffreylongmbe

LETTERS TO THE EDITOR - NO. 39 AUTUMN 2017

VALOUR AND GALLANTRY

Sir,

I read with great interest your article on Jeffrey Long, ex-para, and his fundraising [summer issue of Freemasonry Today]. I am a slightly younger (52) ex-para cadet with military parachute wings who jumps out of historic aircraft at 1,000 feet to commemorate veterans, while raising badly needed funds.

On my last jump I had the great honour to represent SAS legend 98-year-old Captain Mike Sadler, who was navigator in the North African desert for Col Sir David Stirling from the early days of the SAS in 1941.

I have been doing these jumps both to commemorate D-Day and Arnhem veterans and to raise money for the Parachute Regiment and SAS charities.

Jon Bridel, Doyle’s Lodge of Fellowship, No. 84, St Martin’s, Guernsey & Alderney

Published in Features

Ambulance service flying high with funding boost from Masonic Charitable Foundation in Bedfordshire

On Sunday 30th April, Bedfordshire Freemasons attended the Icknield Road Club, 2017 Spring Sportive, at Redborne School in Ampthill

During the Family Fun Day, they presented a cheque for £4,000 to the East Anglian Air Ambulance. Anthony Henderson, the head of Bedfordshire Freemasons told us: 'Freemasonry in England is 300 years old this year, and charity is one of the foundations upon which Freemasonry is built. As part of our Tercentenary celebrations, we are giving an additional £3 million to local and national charities during 2017. This is in addition to the £30 million we annually give to charities and good causes. The £4,000 we gave to East Anglian Air Ambulance today is part of the £192,000 Freemasons recently gave to the 22 air ambulance and rescue services in England and Wales. This brings the total Freemasons have donated to air ambulance and rescue services in England and Wales since 2007 to £2.1 million.'

Amongst the Bedfordshire Freemasons was Wally Randal (pictured above holding his walking stick) a 101-year old Freemason from Leighton Buzzard. Wally, a former Desert Rat, a member of the Royal British Legion for over 60 years and the oldest poppy seller in England told us: 'A member of the air ambulance crew told me that the first helicopter flew in 1939 – some 78 years ago – and just one year before I joined the British Army to fight for King and country in the Second World War aged 24.'

Craft brewing

Members of Thorpe Bay Lodge in Southend have been making and selling their own bitter to raise money for charity. Imogen Beecroft raises a glass to Lest We Forget

People couldn’t believe it when we told them what we were doing, but I don’t see why it’s surprising. We’ve got so much experience between us – maybe not with brewing beer, but definitely drinking it!’ Gordon Goodall, then Charity Steward of Thorpe Bay Lodge, No. 4803, smiles as he explains how his charity fundraising plan grew into something much larger. Last February, he decided the lodge should brew beer to sell at their Poppy evening in November to support military charity SSAFA and the Royal British Legion

Unsurprisingly, the plan was an instant hit and lodge members Andy Rogers, Stephen Bateman and Paul Bates jumped at the chance to get involved. However, as none of the team had ever brewed a beer before, they knew they would need some expert help. Gordon approached several microbreweries in the area, but finally struck gold with Wibblers Brewery, based in the Essex countryside. 

Wibblers head brewer Phil Wilcox says, ‘I have an understanding of Freemasonry through my godfather and have always appreciated the charity work they do. These are both fantastic charities, so we were very happy to help.’

Wibblers on board, the four men headed to the brewery for a hard day’s work. With Phil’s guidance, the masons finalised their recipe and set to work creating their drink: a classic English bitter with a malty taste and nutty finish. By all accounts, the day passed cheerfully, aside from a slight tussle over who would climb into the hot, cramped mash tun and shovel 300kg of grain out of it. 

‘We told our friends and they told theirs, and suddenly we were selling out.’ Gordon Goodall

Laughing, Andy says: ‘As soon as this job came up, Gordon said, “Oh my back, I can’t go in there.” Steve said he wasn’t feeling up to it, and Paul started complaining about his arm. So muggins here got lumbered with the job of getting into the tun.’

But it wasn’t all hard graft. As Stephen says: ‘The great thing about brewing is that at a certain point you just have to let the beer do its thing. So we got the barbecue out and decided it was time to try some of Phil’s other beers.’ Once the beer was fermented and sent away for bottling and labelling, all the team had to do was sell it. 

Aptly named Lest We Forget in honour of fallen servicemen, the bitter was promoted by the brewers in the lead-up to their Poppy night, which they opened up to non-masons. As a result of their campaigning, more than 80 people attended the event, and pretty soon they were receiving regular orders for cases of the beer. 

Social brewing

The four masons used their lodge’s social media accounts to sell the beer, crediting the Master of the lodge with reaching out to his connections in the pub trade. But, as Gordon says: ‘It was mainly word of mouth – we told our friends and they told theirs, and suddenly we were selling out.’

Indeed, Lest We Forget has been a success by almost any measure: they’ve sold 2,000 litres so far, over half of their stock, and are planning on heading back to Wibblers to brew a second batch soon. They have raised £3,000 for the armed forces charity SSAFA and the Royal British Legion, and expect to net at least £4,500 in total. 

So are the masons surprised by how successful the beer has been? Paul certainly isn’t: ‘Freemasonry is a very sociable pastime, and we do like a beer – so I knew we’d have a reasonable audience to sell to. We’ve been well looked after by Wibblers, and we’ve got a good network of contacts, so I’m not surprised it’s done so well, really.’ Andy is quick to add, ‘I’m not surprised how well it’s sold, but I am surprised that we managed to make such a nice beer!’ 

‘Making the beer has solidified the foundations of our lodge for the future – we’re going onwards and upwards.’ Andy Rogers

It seems that the quality of the beer is something everyone can agree on. Andy loves it, although acknowledges, ‘it’s not great for my waistline’, while Gordon gives it perhaps the ultimate accolade: ‘Even my wife, who doesn’t particularly like beer, says she thinks it’s quite tasty.’ And Phil, the expert brewer, admits that he has to keep putting money aside to give to the masons for the bottles he’s sampled.

Although the ultimate aim of this project was to raise money for charity, the team have noticed that it’s had a more far-reaching positive effect for Thorpe Bay Lodge. Gordon explains: ‘We’ve had some struggles as a lodge in the past, but this has really galvanised our members and pushed us to try new things. Of course, the serious message behind the beer is that we must not forget the people who fought for us in conflicts, but there is also the aspect of having fun and trying something different.’ 

Andy agrees: ‘Making the beer has solidified the foundations of our lodge for the future, and we’re just going to go onwards and upwards.’

New batch

As well as uniting the current members of Thorpe Bay Lodge, Lest We Forget has also secured some new recruits: ‘As a result of this project, and people seeing what Freemasonry is all about, we’ve got four people lined up to join our lodge next year, which is great,’ explains Stephen. 

Although they’ve nearly sold their entire first batch, Gordon reassuringly explains that this won’t be the end of Lest We Forget. ‘Because it’s been so well received we’re going to do it again on a bigger scale. We’re hoping to brew it in barrels now we know how quickly it’s selling. It seems like this beer might be the ideal thing to centre our 2022 Festival around, and hopefully some of the other masonic centres will pick it up too.’

With talk of selling at a few masonic centres and even going national one day, the project is a triumph. As Paul says: ‘It speaks for itself: it’s a damned good beer at a damned good price and it’s for a good cause.’ What’s not to like? 

Phil Wilcox explains the art of brewing

Malted barley and warm water are mixed in a mash tun. It sits for an hour and a half while the starch in the grain turns into sugar. The grain is removed and the solution is boiled with hops, for bittering. At the end of the boil, more hops are added for flavour and aroma. The liquid is chilled and placed, with yeast, in a fermenter: it’s left while the sugar turns into alcohol. After a week (lager takes around seven weeks to ferment, while cider can take up to three months) the beer is ‘crash chilled’ and bottled.

A microbrewery has helped ‎Freemasons‬ in Essex ‪create a ‪special Remembrance beer to raise money for military charities

Wibblers Brewery lent their expertise to create the Lest we Forget beer for members of Thorpe Bay Lodge at their annual Lodge Poppy evening on November 11.

Wibblers, which has just opened a new brewery in Southminster, helped create the Lest we Forget beer.

The bitter was the idea of members of Thorpe Bay Lodge who created the beer to keep the members happy at their annual Lodge Poppy evening on November 11.

'Wibblers were fantastic but the beer has been so well received that there is real talk that it could qualify for a CAMRA award and we are now thinking that we could offer it to Freemasons across Essex with all profits going to local charities and other good causes.'

Read the full article here: http://www.echo-news.co.uk/news/13923895.Microbrewery_helps_create_beer_to_raise_money_for_military_charities/ 

Published in More News
Friday, 05 June 2015 01:00

Dave Stubbs: Northern Soul brother

Life and soul

With a bit of ritual, special outfits and a strong sense of camaraderie, Northern Soul is a music and dance passion for Dave Stubbs that perfectly complements his Freemasonry. Sarah Holmes finds out more

Leafing through a red leather box of vinyl, Dave Stubbs suddenly jumps to his feet. ‘Ah! This one! This record is magic,’ he beams. Turning to an old-fashioned record player, he carefully places the unsheathed disc on the turntable and drops the needle. A crackled silence is followed by the stomping bass of John Leach’s 1963 track Put That Woman Down. The music rumbles through the two-up, two-down terrace in Shrewsbury as Dave bounces on the spot, face to the ceiling and arms open wide, crooning in time to the gravelly vocal.

It’s the kind of passion usually reserved for the front row at a music festival, but here in the humble setting of his living room, Dave’s exuberance practically bursts through the walls. He is a music fan, quite obviously, but with a particular taste for the B-side American soul tracks of the 1960s. 

Unlike the populist songs of Motown, this music was harder, grittier and less palatable for mainstream audiences. Even so, it found a devoted fan base in the Mod-inspired subcultures of northern England. From 1970 onwards, journalists such as Dave Godin referred to it as Northern Soul, and underground clubs like Twisted Wheel in Manchester and The Golden Torch in Stoke-on-Trent began hosting Northern Soul all-nighters. 

Like so many, Dave Stubbs first came to the music as a teenager in his local youth club. ‘It was the older lads, the ones sneaking into the Northern Soul all-nighters, who introduced us to the music,’ remembers Dave. ‘That’s how we learned to dance; we just copied what they were doing. It was all experimental.’ 

Thanks to the genre’s athletic dance style, Northern Soul fashion was dictated by the need for practicality. Loose-fitting clothes such as baggy Oxford trousers, Ben Sherman-style shirts and sports vests became the accepted uniform. Dave looks every inch the genuine article in Wrangler Bluebell jeans, a check shirt and a flat cap. ‘It’s not a costume for me. I walk around in these clothes every day,’ he says. Although vintage shops are the main source of his authentic 1970s wardrobe, his most prized possessions have been passed down to him by fellow ‘soulies’.

The only incongruity in his outfit is the masonic ring on his right hand. As a member of Salopian Lodge of Charity, No. 117, Dave balances his time between Northern Soul and Freemasonry. ‘My great grandfather was a Freemason, so it was something that always interested me,’ he explains.

Soul brothers

A military man for most of his youth, Dave served in Iraq in the early 1990s and his living room is adorned with paraphernalia of his time there, including a framed certificate of commendation for his work with Operation Desert Storm. But it wasn’t until leaving the army that Dave became involved in the Craft. 

Having become a county standard bearer with The Royal British Legion, he got talking to a Freemason while on duty at the Shrewsbury Flower Show and was proposed as an initiate. ‘I know a lot of lads from the military who are involved in Freemasonry,’ says Dave. ‘It’s something that we look for after a military career – that sense of belonging.’

It didn’t take long for Dave to introduce his brethren to the belting world of Northern Soul. Every month, he organises a Northern Soul night at the masonic hall on Crewe Street, the proceeds of which go towards maintaining a World War I memorial commemorating the Shrewsbury Freemasons. Simon Curden is a regular attendee and, like Dave, has a passion for the Northern Soul scene: ‘It’s fun, keeps you fit and is part of a fantastic social world. It’s not so different from Freemasonry.’ 

It’s not just members who benefit from Dave’s musical interest. This summer, his friends and family will get a glimpse into the Craft when he hosts his Northern Soul-themed wedding reception at the masonic hall in Shrewsbury. ‘My fiancée Polly is a Freemason and a Northern Soul fan too, so it’s a place that’s close to both of our hearts,’ says Dave. ‘It’s not surprising that so many people who enjoy Northern Soul are Freemasons too. I find the two interests very complementary. On the Northern Soul scene, we’re often called soul brothers and soul sisters, and just like a masonic lodge, we all stick together.’

Dance rituals

Watching Dave cut his way across a dance floor, it’s no surprise he was cast as an extra for Elaine Constantine’s 2014 film, Northern Soul. In celebration of the premiere, Dave hired out the local cinema, selling the tickets to family and friends, and giving the proceeds to the local Freemasons’ memorial. 

It was his involvement in this BAFTA-nominated documentary that won him the starring role in a national Shredded Wheat advert last year. A mini film showing the ritual leading up to a Northern Soul night out, it captured every moment of Dave’s meticulous routine as he got ready. ‘The ethos is all about turning out smart,’ explains Dave. ‘So from the moment you wake up on a Saturday morning you’re ironing shirts, shining shoes and listening to records. It’s a whole-day ritual.’

For three days, a film crew camped out in Dave’s front room, interviewing his friends and family on his lifelong devotion to the Northern Soul scene, and the philosophy behind his passion. ‘They could have hired an actor,’ he says, ‘but I think they chose me because I actually live the lifestyle. It’s in me as a person, so there was no need for pretending.’

Luckily, Dave’s brush with stardom didn’t go to his head; he didn’t even keep the lifetime’s supply of Shredded Wheat that he received after the advert. ‘We tired of it pretty quickly, so we gave it to the homeless shelter down the road,’ he says, keen to add that money was never going to be a motivating factor: ‘Northern Soul is my passion and I wanted to show other people what it is like, and hopefully share the joy with them.’

While Northern Soul was predominantly the preserve of Suedeheads and Mods in the 1970s, over the years its following has diversified; nowadays you’re just as likely to find youngsters tearing across the dance floor as the original soulies. ‘Nobody will judge you for letting go and having a good time in Northern Soul,’ explains Dave. ‘It’s all about the shared love of the music. You can completely lose yourself in it, and it feels amazing.’

Such is the adrenaline rush of the Northern Soul all-nighter that often, Dave says, he’ll return home at 7.30am only to head back out to an all-dayer by noon. ‘It becomes a lifestyle, I suppose,’ says Dave. ‘Just like Freemasonry, it’s not about money, and it’s not about connections. It’s about camaraderie, and living in a way that makes you feel good.’ 

‘Nobody will judge you for letting go and having a good time in Northern Soul.’ Dave Stubbs

Out on the floor

Starting off in venues such as Manchester’s Twisted Wheel in the late 1960s, Northern Soul’s unique brand of fashion and dance quickly spread to other UK dancehalls and nightclubs like Chateau Impney in Droitwich, The Catacombs in Wolverhampton, the Highland Room at Blackpool Mecca, The Golden Torch in Stoke-on-Trent and Wigan Casino. With the beat becoming more uptempo, Northern Soul dancing became more athletic and started to feature spins, flips, karate kicks and backdrops.

Published in Features

Hertfordshire Lodge of the Legion No. 9827, based in Cheshunt, ensures that as many war memorials as possible throughout Hertfordshire have a poppy wreath laid on Remembrance Sunday each year

In all, members of the lodge lay more than 60 wreaths each year. The first wreath-laying ceremony for this year took place at the Liberator Memorial, by Lt Ellis Way, Cheshunt, on November 2. This was attended by civic leaders, local MPs and councillors, in addition to the Royal British Legion, USAF guard of honour and a three-gun salute from USAF Mildenhall, along with the new Hertfordshire Provincial Grand Master Paul Gower, who laid the wreath on behalf of the Lodge and numerous brethren.

Brief history

On the 12th August 1944, what was then the small town of Cheshunt was saved from a catastrophic disaster that would have cost many of the local citizens their lives. 

An American B24 'Liberator' aircraft from the 392nd Bomber Command, based in Wendling, Norfolk, on route to Germany was involved in a mid air incident above the town. 

The aircraft, under the command of Lt John D. Ellis, fell from the sky and was steered away from Cheshunt, crash landing just outside the town. The B24 Bomber was fully laden and exploded on impact, killing all ten crew members on board. 

The memorial was constructed and unveiled on the 22nd January 2011 at Lieutenant Ellis Way, named after Lt John D. Ellis, through the tireless work and commitment of Ernie Havis a veteran and Royal British Legion local representative. 

At a ceremony on the 12th August this year two flagpoles with the Union flag and Stars and Stripes were erected and dedicated to the site by Col Travis A. Willis, USAF Air Attaché from USA. 

The Lodge of Legion is instrumental in ensuring that the ten crew members are honoured each year.

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