One mason and his dogs
Connaught Lodge has been uniting dog lovers, Freemasonry and The Kennel Club throughout its hundred-year history. Tabby Kinder traces the social bonds that connect Crufts with the Craft
Graham Hill has an interest in the animals that has, he admits, somewhat taken over his life. ‘I started exhibiting dogs in 1965 – Russian wolfhounds known as borzoi – and I’ve won breeding and showing achievements at championships for years: top dog, top breed...’ he beams proudly as his well-trained borzoi calmly gaze into the camera lens.
Graham is Secretary of Connaught Lodge, No. 3270. Set up for Freemasons with an interest in dog fancying, the lodge now has fifty-five members from across Britain involved in all facets of the dog world, from showing at Crufts and other dog shows through to field trials, agility, breeding, owning and judging.
The lodge has a history inextricably linked with The Kennel Club that goes back more than a hundred years.
Connaught was founded by a group of six like-minded men in 1907 and named in honour of Prince Arthur, Duke of Connaught (son of Queen Victoria), who was, in the early twentieth century, Most Worshipful Grand Master of the United Grand Lodge of England and also president of The Kennel Club.
‘Each Connaught Lodge member must belong to The Kennel Club, a requirement that has created a close-knit brethren of varying expertise and specialist knowledge.’
As a ring commentator at Crufts and a secretary of the Welsh Kennel Club, Graham’s commitments mean he doesn’t exhibit much anymore but still owns the borzoi, a couple of whippets and a Cardigan Welsh corgi. ‘I’ve had corgis all my life, being from Wales and part of the farming community. Our Cardigan was once a working dog but now all of them are household pets.’
For Graham, the philosophy behind Connaught Lodge is simple. ‘It’s for Freemasons with a common interest in the canine world,’ he says. ‘All of us are associated with dogs, and Connaught members are involved in organising and taking part in all disciplines of canine activities.’
Though the lodge meets just four times a year (at the temple on Duke Street before walking to The Kennel Club on Clarges Street), its members routinely meet informally as they are senior officials in dog fancying across the UK. ‘We’re a whole cross-section of canine enthusiasts,’ Graham says of this niche interest lodge. It’s a philosophy that truly espouses two key aspects of masonry: socialising and brotherhood. Many members are glad of the social aspect, counting Connaught as their mother lodge.
‘Niche interests and Freemasonry go hand in hand,’ explains Jimmy Keizer, Connaught Lodge Almoner and a tour guide at The Kennel Club in London. The club’s art gallery houses the largest collection of dog paintings in Europe, and its exhibitions, open to the public by appointment, are popular in the dog world.
The Kennel Club is an ideal partner for Connaught Lodge, which holds its Festive Board there each year. Indeed, to this day, each lodge member must belong to the club, a requirement that has created a close-knit brethren of varying expertise and specialist knowledge. Jimmy, a member of The Kennel Club since 1989, became a lodge member in 1996 after a lifetime of dog fancying in both a professional and leisure capacity.
Acting as a governing body for dog shows and other canine activities, and also operating the national register for pedigree dogs, The Kennel Club is the oldest recognised body of its kind in the world. And much like Freemasonry, its practices are steeped in tradition.
Of course, an appreciation of dogs is not restricted to making them trot around dog show rings – something that Connaught Lodge Master David Sowerby is keen to explain. Initiated into the lodge in 2005, becoming Master in October 2013, he says: ‘I’m the oddity in Connaught. Everyone else tends to be of the show world, the Crufts element, but I’m firmly a part of the working side, field trials and hunting dogs.’
David’s five cocker spaniels hunt and retrieve game in the shooting field, and he regularly ventures to grand manor grounds and estates in the British countryside to compete. ‘They’re fit for the purpose for which they were originally bred and that’s important to me,’ he says. The joy David finds in his love of dogs encapsulates how lucky he feels to be alive, especially following a recent battle with cancer: ‘It’s a privilege to be involved in dog trialling – if it wasn’t for the dogs, I wouldn’t get to experience the beautiful views and nature.’
David believes Connaught Lodge will grow steadily in membership numbers. ‘It’s a good thing,’ he says. ‘The lodge isn’t run by The Kennel Club and the club isn’t run by the lodge. Instead, one enriches the other. Connaught brings different views, experiences and expertise from different locations together, while the practices of their niche, specialist interests add to the beauty of masonry.’
Hounds for heroes
Each year, Connaught Lodge raises funds for a different charity, nominated by the serving Master. Last year, approximately £3,500 was raised for Hounds for Heroes, which provides trained assistance dogs to injured and disabled people from the UK Armed Forces. This year, the lodge is focusing on fundraising for the United Grand Lodge of England’s tercentenary.