The success of the Classic 300, a nationwide series of classic car runs supporting UGLE’s Tercentenary celebrations in 2017, has given rise to Square Wheels Lodge, No. 9966, consecrated in the British Motor Museum in Warwickshire. Edwin Smith meets the lodge that’s making a lot of noise
You have to be a certain sort of person to have a love for classic cars,’ says Peter Manning, Primus Master of Square Wheels Lodge. ‘And there’s an affinity between classic cars and Freemasonry.’
If the early days of the lodge are anything to go by, he’s not wrong. The lodge was only consecrated a few months ago, but already it has 90 members and a calendar brimming with events.
The genesis of the lodge, Peter explains, can be traced back to the Classic 300 – a series of 17 classic car rallies that took place across the country during the Tercentenary year, under the auspices of what was then the Masonic Classic Vehicle Club. When chairman John Cole chose to retire, the decision was taken to move the club from its base in Reading. ‘We settled on Warwick,’ says founding Secretary, now Senior Warden Peter Hughes, ‘because it’s at the centre of the country, it’s close to a lot of motor production, and it’s got a lovely masonic hall.’
The name of the classic car club was also changed to Square Wheels. It’s not necessary to be a Freemason in order to be a member of the car club but, Peter says, ‘the consensus was that the club could easily give birth to a lodge. We created a petition and David Macey, the Warwickshire Provincial Grand Master, who’s a petrolhead himself, supported it wholeheartedly.’
With the two Peters on the case, along with Lodge Secretary Bernard Foad tinkering under the bonnet, preparations accelerated. The warrant was secured in July last year and the consecration took place in October at the British Motor Museum in Gaydon – a ‘brilliant venue, full of classic cars,’ says Peter Manning. Some 253 people attended, including three Provincial Grand Masters: David Macey was the Consecrating Officer, Mike Wilkes of Hampshire & the Isle of Wight was the Consecrating Senior Warden, and Bob Vaughan of Worcestershire was the Consecrating Junior Warden.
The oil used during the ceremony was, appropriately, ‘Castrol R’ motor oil. ‘I wanted to burn it by putting a few drops in the censer,’ says Peter. ‘You really get the smell when it’s burning, but our Provincial Grand Chaplain suffers from asthma, so it wasn’t a good idea.’
'We'll take our wives and partners with us. They'll have the morning off while we have our meeting and then we'll go for a run around the Cotswolds and head home.’
The lodge has 75 founding members, 20 honorary members and welcomed a further 15 members early this year. It will primarily be based at Alderson House, a handsome Grade-II-listed Georgian building on the High Street in Warwick. Some of the lodge’s meetings in 2019, however, will take place elsewhere.
‘We’ll have four meetings a year,’ says Peter Manning. ‘Two in Warwick and the other two will be peripatetic – we’re taking the lodge to the members around the country.’ On 4 May, the lodge will meet in Bristol. ‘We will be taking wives and partners down with us. They can have the morning off while we have our meeting. After lunch, we will go for a run around the Cotswolds, have afternoon tea, and then head home.’
Another meeting is planned for Burton-on-Trent in July. ‘We want to spread the word around the country,’ says Peter Manning. ‘That’s one of the principal aims: for the lodge to visit its members rather than waiting for them to come to us.
‘I hope it’s going to be an extremely active lodge,’ he adds, ‘both masonically and socially. We want to make sure that partners get involved. At a lot of lodges, I think a problem can be that wives occasionally feel alienated, or at least not a part of it. But, clearly, we don’t want that to be the case.’ To that end, Peter Manning and others have also planned to organise an informal picnic every six weeks at a beauty spot or a National Trust venue.
There’s a need to keep ‘clear water’ between the car club and the lodge itself, but it is hoped that by touring around the country and remaining open to non-Freemasons, the club will fuel the future of the lodge. ‘The idea is to promote Freemasonry to the public through the club,’ he says. ‘We’re hoping it will be a feeder for initiates into the lodge.’
The cars themselves may prove to be a draw as well, with a huge range of vehicles in the club, from legendary marques to cute vintage runabouts. ‘There are some fairly heavy motors in the club,’ says Peter Hughes, but it’s his 1970 Fiat 500 that he describes as his ‘pride and joy’. ‘The biggest problem with my Fiat is keeping it away from my daughters,’ he says. It’s a far cry from the challenges he came up against in his early motoring life. He raced in Formula 3, and even shared a grid with the late, great Ayrton Senna. ‘I emphasise “shared a grid with”,’ he says, laughing. ‘It wasn’t “racing”. He went one way while I seemed to go backwards by comparison.’
Peter Manning is also very keen to emphasise that the club isn’t all about luxury or high-powered sports cars. On the contrary, ‘there’s a huge cross-section of vehicles,’ he says. ‘We’ve got loads of members who have MGBs and Austin 7s and goodness knows what. We’ve also got some beautiful pre-war Bentleys, but the nice thing is that it’s reflective of Freemasonry.’ What does he mean by that? ‘It might sound a bit poetic,’ Peter says, ‘but I mean it in the sense that everybody here has got the same passions: motoring and Freemasonry. It doesn’t really matter what you drive – we all enjoy it for what it is. It’s a great atmosphere we’ve created.’
Looking to the future, Peter Hughes is adamant that Square Wheels Lodge has the pulling power needed for further growth. Some of his back-of-the-envelope calculations based on research carried out by the Federation of British Historic Vehicle Clubs suggest that there might be as many as 10,000 Freemasons who own classic cars. ‘It’s predominantly a hobby for males over the age of 40,’ he says. ‘Which sounds a bit like Freemasonry.’
Other specialist motoring lodges are also beginning to spring up. ‘There’s a new one at the Mini factory in Oxfordshire, as well as Derbyshire, Cheshire and West Wales. I think a lot of Provinces are looking at this.’ He points to the Widows Sons, the association of Freemason motorcyclists, as an example of a community that can be built around a special interest. ‘They are huge on the charity side of things and everybody knows them – they have done very well. I think it’s a pattern we could follow.’
In fact, Peter Hughes sees no reason why there couldn’t be a national Freemasons’ association for classic vehicle enthusiasts. ‘I’d quite like us to take a lead; it would encourage people to visit other Provinces and build ties through meetings and cross-visiting. That’s got to be the next project.’