Adrian Foster Talks With Richard Smith About The Growing Popularity Of Special-Interest Lodges
It’s no secret that attendances at Lodge meetings and the numbers of candidates coming forward for initiation into Freemasonry are falling in certain parts of the country. With this in mind, I set off for Malvern, home of the quintessentially English Morgan sports car, to meet founding member and Past Master Richard Smith and members of The Morgan Lodge, to discuss the emergence of so-called ‘hobby lodges’ and discover why they appear to be bucking this trend.
Somehow, meeting members of The Morgan Lodge, No. 9816, in the snug of the majestic Abbey Hotel in the heart of Malvern seemed the most appropriate and civilised way of delving into the past, present and future of this iconic Lodge.
Which reason is why I was grateful to Richard Smith; Director of Ceremonies Clifford Pratt; Senior Warden Paul Harris; and Dutch founding member, Hans Spaans, for kindly agreeing to chat to Freemasonry Today instead of jumping into their beautiful Morgan sports cars and heading for the open road.
Establishing the Lodge
Inevitably, my first question concerned how the lodge was formed: Richard revealed that The Morgan Lodge had been consecrated in March 2006 by Delmund Penney and himself.
‘We met via an Internet chat room where we were idly talking about Morgans and we discovered that we were both Freemasons. We decided that we’d try to find out whether there were many other Morgan-owning Brethren, so I wrote to Freemasonry Today and to Morgan International and we were inundated with Morgan-owning Masons from all over the world,’ recalled Richard.
To begin with, the two Morgan enthusiasts didn’t know where they wanted the Lodge meetings to take place, other than they had to be central, at weekends and during the daytime.
‘Because we didn’t want this to be just another masonic lodge, we agreed to run our meetings around the philosophy of Morgan ownership: ergo, when you buy a Morgan you become part of a wider family. Sadly, Delmund died just a week before our first Installation, when he would have been installed as Master,’ he added.
But surely setting up something as radical as a car-based lodge must have encountered overwhelming difficulties, I suggested? ‘On the contrary’, he replied, ‘it was a relatively straightforward task to set up The Morgan Lodge because everybody was so enthusiastic about the idea.
People wanted to pitch in and help and nobody tried to take over or dictate terms to us.
‘We’ve already got over thirty members and more than ninety percent of those own Morgans. Unlike regional lodges, we have members from all over the world and owning a Morgan isn’t a prerequisite, but it helps if you are a Morgan enthusiast. I’m convinced we have currently got at least three lodge members who would not have been Freemasons were it not been for the Morgan connection,’ added Richard.
Inevitably, opinions are divided on whether or not so-called ‘hobby lodges’ encourage new members at the expense of trivialising Freemasonry. When I put this question to Richard he was forthright in his reply:
‘No, I believe it’s vital for Freemasonry to continue to attract new members at a time when ‘old’ lodges are handing in their warrants. I think new, focused, or ‘special interest’ lodges that attract new members are an important part of Freemasonry because in this way we bond cars, owners and Freemasons together through a mutual interest. And it’s a very good social outlet because all of us are basically car ‘nuts’ as well as Freemasons and The Morgan Lodge brought us together. In combining these two elements, I don’t think things could get much better than this, masonically or car-owning wise,’ he enthused.
Indeed, Richard may well be right as there has been an undeniable growth in the number of ‘common interest’ lodges within the United Grand Lodge of England. For example, some are attached to golf, fishing, insurance brokers, narrow boats, airports, and there’s a new Mike Hailwood Lodge in Warwickshire which will surely appeal to motor cyclists.
‘In my view, as Freemasons we have been our own worst enemies for far too long. The Morgan Lodge shows nonmasons that we’re just like them, with interests and hobbies apart from Freemasonry. In the old days, we’d have had processions though the streets flying our banner. I don’t know why we don’t do that anymore. We should be shouting what we’re doing from the rooftops!’ insisted Richard.
We then went on to discuss whether or not preserving old, often valuable cars for the future sets the right example at a time when we are all being urged to recycle more and reduce exhaust emissions from our cars.
‘I would argue that Morgans are ecofriendly simply because there’s such a long waiting list that owners don’t scrap them, they rebuild them. One can also argue that there’s a saving to be made in new materials, energy and manufacturing, thereby creating less environmental pollution as a consequence. Surely it makes more sense to restore an old car than to set up tooling and manufacture a new one from scratch?’ argued Richard. And he clearly has a point, because the Morgan Motor Company has coped neatly with European legislation by utilising modern power units supplied by mainstream car manufacturers including Ford, Jaguar and BMW, which of course conform to current and future ‘green’ standards and legislative requirements.
Indeed, Morgan, which has promised to bring out a new model every two years from now on, recently announced its ‘Lifecar’ project, which is going into production in 2012 and which seems likely to be a very ‘green’ car indeed. ‘That’s the beauty of Morgans – you get the modern engines with the oldfashion look and feel of the cars,’ concluded Richard.
Before I bade farewell to Richard Smith and the members of The Morgan Lodge, I was unable to resist the offer of a quick spin around the block in lodge Director of Ceremonies Clifford Pratt’s immaculate 2002 Morgan Le Mans Special Plus 8.
Finished in spotless British Racing Green with white roof and no bumpers, it was produced as a special limited edition to commemorate the Morgan class win at Le Mans forty years previously.
Clamber behind the leather steering wheel and into the plush cream leather seats and for a moment you feel cosseted in luxury. Then fire up the burbling V8 engine, heave on the clutch pedal and you are catapulted forwards - or rather backwards into a time when sports cars were synonymous with rock hard suspension, baffling gearboxes and herculean steering. In this respect the Morgan has changed little, but therein lies the charm of Malvern’s finest. As we thread our way through the back streets and out onto the open road, the sonorous V8 comes on song with its glorious, throbbing soundtrack. The whole car seems to come to life and suddenly motoring becomes an exciting, pleasurable experience to be savoured once again.