The tercentenary celebrations in West Lancashire were very much in the thoughts of the many members and guests attending the biennial Hall Directors’ Dinner of the St Helens and Prescot Group held at Prescot Masonic Hall
This event hosted by Colin Rowling, Group Chairman, was to celebrate the continued success of the membership of the group and also to acknowledge the excellent work undertaken by the board members of the St Helens and Prescot Masonic Halls.
Everyone attending the evening received a very warm welcome to the hall by master of ceremonies Graham Williams. The principal guest David Steer, QC, Deputy Lieutenant of Merseyside, was accompanied by Deputy Provincial Grand Master Philip Gunning and his wife Anne. Also in attendance were the Mayor of Knowsley, Councillor Frank Walsh, the Mayor and Mayoress of St Helens Council Councillor David and Councillor Jeanette Banks, the Deputy Leader of St Helens Council Councillor Andy Bowden, The Right Honourable, The Earl of Derby, Edward Stanley and Lady Kirsty Pilkington MBE, Ambassador for the Willowbrook Hospice.
The evening got underway with guests taking a comfortable seat in the Masonic Temple to witness a performance of ‘A Timeline Drama and Pageant’ presented by the members of the St Helens and Prescot Group of Lodges and Chapters.
The team announced their arrival with a hearty knock on the lodge door; then the Herald (Dave Burgess) followed by the team, dressed in authentic period costume with wigs, entered the room and announced the start of the pageant. The timeline began in 1646 with Elias Ashmole (played by Allen Yates) who becomes the first recorded speculative Freemason in England. This took place at Warrington, which was then in the County of Lancashire. While Elias Ashmole is conversing with the Herald, there can be heard the ring of a chisel working on stone in the hands of a more experienced workman, the operative mason John Stones. John (played by Norman Lay) represented those skilled tradesmen who, for hundreds of years, knew and kept the secrets of how to measure and build the iconic castles and cathedrals.
The pageant sees the introduction of the first ever worshipful master of the new Grand Lodge which was formed in 1717, which gives us the current tercentenary date of 2017. This was Anthony Sayer (played by Don Fraser). Events move on when five years later, the constitutions drafted by James Anderson are accepted and printed. This character is portrayed by John Roughley, who later also plays the part of the Duke of Kent. Only seven years later, we see the arrival of Samuel Pritchard, (Peter Hornby), who is ‘credited’ with exposing the secrets of Masonry in print.
Moving on over 20 years, we witness the arrival of Laurence Dermott, (Chris Maloney) a painter and decorator by trade, but obviously a man of some intellect, who arrived from Ireland and would later be instrumental in forming a rival Grand Lodge which became known as the ‘Ancients’. Chris also later played the character of the Duke of Sussex. In 1753, Lodge of Loyalty (now No 86) receives its Deputation to constitute a lodge in Prescot and so in later times becomes the oldest lodge in the Province of West Lancashire to this day.
When the Grand Lodge met to discuss a problem, two of the players mentioned above were joined by two more team members Alan Jones and Don Fraser.
The penultimate section focuses on William Preston (Frank Davies, the originator of the pageant,) twice expelled from Grand Lodge for his perceived misdemeanours, re-admitted and sets up a legacy to finance study and lectures, which is alive and well today with the annual Prestonian Lecture. The final scene in the pageant is the unification of the two Grand Lodges in 1813, when the Dukes of Sussex and Kent, heads of the respective Modern and Ancient Grand Lodges, join as one, with Sussex then taking his seat as the first Grand Master of United Grand Lodge. The performance was undertaken with dignity and interspersed with humour throughout.
The guests then made their way into the banqueting suite which was elegantly decorated in a blue and white theme. Following grace delivered by Chris Maloney (chairman of St Helens Masonic Hall Ltd), the guests enjoyed a four course meal of luxury pâté with Melba toast and salad for starters, a main course of roast sirloin of English beef, Yorkshire pudding accompanied by seasonal vegetables and for dessert Eton Mess, then a choice of English cheeses with biscuits.
Following dinner, the first toast of the evening, ‘The Queen’ was proposed by Graham Hughes (chairman of the Prescot Masonic Hall Ltd) which was then followed by Deputy Provincial Grand Master Philip Gunning proposing the toast to ‘The Tercentenary of Masonry.’
Philip commenced by saying how delighted he was to be invited to propose the toast to 300 years of Freemasonry. He spoke about the foundation of Masonry and its origins, mentioning that its popularity grew following a succession of Royal Princes joining the fraternity, the first being in 1727 when HRH Frederick Lewis Prince of Wales was initiated. Others included George IV, Edward VII, Edward VIII and George VI all of whom went on to become Grand Masters, also acceding to the throne. Still today, Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, is a subscribing member of Navy Lodge and The Duke of Kent will be celebrating 50 years this year as Grand Master of the United Grand Lodge of England. Philip went on to mention the importance of the charitable side of Freemasonry and the vast amounts of money distributed over the years to assist in relief of national and man-made disasters and humanitarian crises throughout the world. In conclusion Philip said that the values that were established 300 years ago, honesty, truth, integrity and kindness are just as relevant today as they were all those years ago.
In response to Philip’s toast, Frank Davies (pageant leader) gave an overview of how the pageant was put together with members representing lodges and chapters within the group who were not known to each other, but over the last 12 months had joined together to become a very happy team. The members have given nine performances to date with a further nine booked for the future. Frank was delighted to announce that £1,000 had so far been raised for the 2021 Festival.
Colin Rowling proposed the toast to ‘Our Guests’ declaring how proud he was to be the group chairman. He then gave an interesting account of the background of each distinguished guest with poignant details of their many achievements. Colin then had the pleasure of presenting three cheques of £100 from the SHPG, the first to Lady Pilkington who accepted on behalf of her charity, Willowbrook Hospice; the next to the Mayor of Knowsley for the Big Health Project in Kirkby which is part of the Knowsley Food Bank; and thirdly to the Mayor of St Helens for his ‘Appeal Fund.’ Flowers were then presented by the hall chairmen to Lady Pilkington, Anne Gunning and Jeanette Banks.
To conclude the formalities, David Steer, QC, DL, gave an eloquent and witty response as befits a Queen’s Council, on behalf of the distinguished guests and brought warmest greetings from Her Majesty’s Lord-Lieutenant of Merseyside Dame Lorna Muirhead and her congratulations on this special 300th anniversary celebration. He went on to congratulate the performers saying that the pageant was interesting and entertaining and felt very much at home with it, as having worn one of those wigs in court for the best part of 40 years, he felt very much in tune with the whole affair. David pointed out the many similarities between Freemasonry and the Judiciary - its traditions, customs, ritual and secrets, before revealing a judicial secret which had to remain within those four walls; bringing much hilarity to the proceedings. In concluding David commented: 'You are all to be congratulated upon your heritage and all your good charitable works and donations.' He then thanked everyone for the very warm and generous reception he and the guests had received and wished the group continued success in all they undertake.
As the evening came to a close, Colin thanked the two hall chairmen, Graham Hughes and Chris Maloney, and also John Roughley and John Whalley for their involvement in making the evening a great success.