Fleetwood Masonic Hall, in common with stately homes and other notable buildings in England, joined in the celebration of some of the country’s unseen architecture and culture during Heritage Open Days. Buildings which are usually closed to the public or normally charge a fee for admission offer members of the public free access to their properties during this annually-held weekend event.
Fleetwood Masonic Hall opened its doors to the public for two days of the event making it the fourth time the hall has participated in Heritage Open Days (HODs). Working closely with the town’s Civic Society buildings of every age, style and function in the town also threw open their doors to show off their unique place in Fleetwood’s past and present.
The hall has had a chequered history since the original property was first built in 1847. It was then a private house known locally as The Towers. In 1945 it became Fleetwood Orphanage and Children’s Home and remained as such until the orphanage closed in 1954 having given scores of Fleetwood children an especially fine start in life.
In 1955 lodges operating in Fleetwood, which up to that time had met in the town’s public houses, made enquiries about the cost of either a new building or one which could be adapted for masonic purposes. Hesketh Lodge No. 950, Fleetwood’s oldest lodge and which was formed in 1863, received approval to pay a deposit of £240 for the purchase of the former orphanage at No. 32, The Esplanade. Fortunately, by coincidence, the lodge had received a legacy of £300 from the estate of a former member and consequently another chapter in the building’s history was to open.
Massive structural alterations took place and the premises, initially spartan and without floor covering (or even a bar!) opened in 1956 with all due ceremony. Over the intervening years a multitude of improvements have been made to the hall to make it the comfortable environment it now is for members to meet.
During the HODs’ weekend, and despite gale force winds and heavy downpours on the Sunday, a steady flow of visitors from all parts of the country, together with local people, were welcomed by members of lodges which meet at Fleetwood Masonic Hall who acted as volunteer tour guides. Fleetwood Masonic Hall Ladies’ Committee also played a vital role in the day. The many comments recorded in the visitors’ book paid glowing tributes to what the members of the public who availed themselves of the tour of the hall thought of the experience.
It was to prove a two way street for the guides who, apart from the facts and figures they themselves were providing, heard snippets of information in return about connections some local people had with the hall over the years. One visitor, Gwyneth Priestley, the niece of a former North Fylde Group Chairman Harry Robson, now sadly gone to the Grand Lodge above, pointed out her uncle’s portrait in the foyer to her guide. Harry had been a member of both Onward Lodge No. 5540 and Wyre Lodge No. 7704 and his portrait was presented to the hall in 1986 to commemorate his 50 years of service to Freemasonry.
Another portrait in the foyer also caused some comment. This one only this week has been given pride of place at Fleetwood Masonic hall and is of new Assistant Provincial Grand Master and North Fylde’s own Harry Cox. Harry and his wife Carol saw the portrait for themselves for the first time when they paid a visit during the HODs’ weekend and admitted to being very pleasantly surprised.
Amongst the many other visitors to the hall which has panoramic views over Morecambe Bay was the grandson of a lighthouse keeper whose grandfather in days gone by trekked across the sands daily to light the historic Wyre Light lighthouse which in those days was illuminated using oil. The Wyre Light which indicated to generations of Fleetwood trawler men that they were nearing home can clearly be seen from the hall.
Also paying a nostalgic visit was Charles Linkison and his family. Charles’ father Bill, now sadly deceased, was a well known and much loved character at Fleetwood Masonic Hall and a member of several lodges. Bill, who hailed from the Scottish island of Millport, regularly took Fleetwood Masons to visit his mother lodge in Glasgow, was much involved in the King Solomon Building team which tours the country raising money for good causes and was responsible for organising traditional Burns’ supper evenings at Fleetwood, amongst a host of other things.
North Fylde Group Chairman Duncan Smith on his visit to Fleetwood praised the efforts of the volunteer tour guides and the Fleetwood Masonic Hall Ladies’ Committee for their efforts and congratulated the organisers on a job well done. Heritage Open Days are a good vehicle he said to show the involvement Freemasonry has with the communities in which we are involved and they also give the chance to dispel a few myths on what masonry is really about.