Saturday, 07 March 2015 00:00

Thanks for the memories

A life in stories

Whether it’s memories of D-Day landings or receiving a slice of the Queen’s wedding cake, telling life stories can both reassure care home residents and help personalise the type of support they receive. Imogen Beecroft reports

Tuesday, 6 June 1944 was Doris Taylor’s day off. She was taking a break from the Women’s Royal Naval Service but had been called in to help re-kit survivors who had not reached the shores of France during the D-Day landings. ‘You don’t say no when you’re asked to help,’ she remarks.

Doris recalls being asked to tie a tiddly bow on the side of a cap band by a soldier: ‘I said I wasn’t very good at it, but he said he’d talk me through it. So, with his instruction, I did.’ 

When Doris went to put the soldier’s cap on, she noticed that his hands were red-raw and bleeding. ‘I said he needed to get that seen to, but he told me not to say anything. He’d been waiting to be taken on board the rescue boat, and the only things he could hold on to were wires. He’d been in the sea for hours, waiting, and they’d cut right through his hands. That day has remained with me all my life. I can still see those men. I can still hear them. I’ve never forgotten it.’

This is the story Doris chose to share with her fellow residents at the RMBI care home Prince Edward Duke of Kent Court in Essex on National Tell a Story Day, 27 October 2014. Residents from all the RMBI care homes told stories of key moments in their lives that day, which the RMBI then collated into a book and distributed among care home staff, residents and their families. 

The day was part of a wider RMBI initiative centred on life story work. Debra Keeling, Deputy Director of Care Operations at the RMBI, explains this process: ‘Life story work involves a biographical approach, which gives people the opportunity to talk about their life experiences. It involves recording relevant aspects of a person’s past and present life with the aim of using this life story to benefit them in their present situation.’

Big or small, pivotal or trivial, these memories help bring elderly people out of themselves, bonding with other residents and carers as they share their stories. 

With more than 820,000 people in the UK diagnosed with dementia, the RMBI estimates that 650 of its residents have the condition. Life story work can be particularly beneficial for those with dementia as it promotes individualised care and builds relationships between staff and residents. 

‘The potential benefits of life story work as an intervention for people with dementia and their families have been recognised for some time,’ explains Debra. ‘Medical and social research is continually evolving in the field of dementia, and the adoption of new best practices is a fundamental philosophy of the RMBI. A key objective in dementia care is to reduce the use of anti-psychotic medication, replacing it with activities and environments that both reduce potentially threatening situations and create a reassuring ambience.’

‘A key objective in dementia care is to reduce the use of medication, replacing it with activities and environments that create a reassuring ambience.’ Debra Keeling

New chapters

Becky Timms, Business Administrator at RMBI care home Albert Edward Prince of Wales Court in Mid Glamorgan, has been at the forefront of life story work, and has seen some significant transformations among her residents. ‘One lady in particular used to be part of a drama group for elderly people. Since her husband passed away she hasn’t been able to go to it, but she took a lead role in the storytelling programme and has done lots of different readings. She’s really come into her own and you can see the confidence in her storytelling improve over the weeks.’

For Becky’s team, National Tell a Story Day was the culmination of more than a year’s life story work. They had been running successful fortnightly storytelling sessions, at which a member of staff or visitor read the residents a story. The effect on some of the residents was overwhelming: ‘Our carers were very surprised how well our dementia residents responded to the storytelling and the kind of conversations it stimulated afterwards.’ 

Some of the residents at Albert Edward Prince of Wales Court have such severe dementia that they cannot perform daily life tasks. ‘But then a poem will be spoken and they’ll mouth along to the words because they remember them,’ says Becky. ‘The memory is there because it’s something they learnt so long ago. Hopefully, for those couple of minutes they can just enjoy themselves, and enjoy taking part.’ 

In life story work, residents’ recollections can range from historic occasions to something from their youth. John Wadia, who was an RAF flight engineer, flew US President Franklin D Roosevelt on several occasions. John recalls, ‘He was down to earth and a very nice person.’

One of the most popular stories to come out of this initiative was that of Alan Baker, who set up a Father Christmas call line for charity. Parents would give a donation to charity, and then either Alan or one of his friends would ring their children at an appointed time, pretending to be Father Christmas:

I spoke to Emma and she wanted new dolls. At the other end she said, ‘Would you like to speak to Fiona?’

I said, ‘Yes, if she wants to speak to me.’ So then Fiona came on the phone. 

I said, ‘Where would you like me to leave your presents?’

She said, ‘If you leave me some surprises at the end of my bed that would be lovely.’

I said, ‘Do you clean your teeth twice a day?’

She said, ‘Yes.’

I said, ‘Do you wash your hands after you’ve been to the toilet?’

She said, ‘Yes.’ And then she said, ‘By the way, I’m nineteen and I’m the babysitter.’

Complementary care

Life story work is just one of many initiatives run by the RMBI to help those with dementia. Another is building sensory gardens, and Debra says, ‘We try to recreate spaces where people with dementia are able to experience a high level of wellbeing and independence while still feeling safe. The RMBI has created small domestic-style gardens where people with dementia can enjoy many different sensory experiences, as well as having a quiet place to sit and enjoy the garden.’

The RMBI has opened a number of dementia support units in its homes. Given the success of National Tell a Story Day and the life story work in general, it’s no surprise that the charity is also planning to maintain the initiative. 

Becky’s storytelling sessions will continue, and she hopes to receive funding to print a monthly leaflet with a changing selection of poems and readings. ‘These would be distributed to residents, but also available in reception for visitors to pick up and read to them.’

Audrey Brown, Activities Coordinator at Prince Edward Duke of Kent Court, says, ‘I want to do our own little booklet. Having seen the success of the last one, I think it would be really nice to make a booklet of experiences from our own residents, so they can read each other’s stories.’

Doris is already looking forward to telling more of her stories. ‘I’ve got lots,’ she laughs, ‘but some I couldn’t put into print!’

‘Big or small, pivotal or trivial, these memories help bring elderly people out of themselves, bonding with other residents and carers.’


JULIUS PACHTER, ninety-six, reflected on life as a Jew in Nazi Germany, and told the story of his escape. ‘The only way I could escape was by speaking German, raising my arm and saying “Heil Hitler”.’

BERYL HUME, ninety-three, remembered receiving a slice of Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip’s wedding cake as a thanks to her husband who was a Guard of Honour at the ceremony. ‘I have not had a taste and would have never dreamed of it! I have kept the cake safe for all these years; it is very special to me.’

MARGARET HASELL GOULDBOURN, ninety-six, shared her experiences as a volunteer for the Merchant Navy, writing letters to the loved ones of merchant seamen. ‘I think the voluntary work during the war kept the country going and kept everyone’s morale up. Everyone felt they wanted to do their duty, me included.’

Published in RMBI
Thursday, 04 September 2014 01:00

Beyond the city

Talk of the town

A city lawyer by profession, Sir David Wootton is the new Assistant Grand Master. He talks to Luke Turton about his time as London’s Lord Mayor and why he likes to perform

You’ve been an alderman, chairman, Liveryman, almoner, chancellor and Lord Mayor of London. Would it be fair to say that you like to keep busy?

Most really good things that have come my way haven’t come from some master plan, but because I’ve said yes to something that has led on to something else. I do say no to a lot of things, but I always think twice because you’re not just turning down that opportunity, but all the things you can’t see down the line that it could lead to. 

What connects all the different kinds of activities you’ve been involved in?

If I try and work out a pattern to my life, it’s where there’s been a job that involves performing in some way – whether it’s masonic ritual, making speeches as Lord Mayor or talking to clients of the law firm. I’m less successful at debating in a big crowd, so I wouldn’t be particularly good as a Member of Parliament.

How do you balance all your responsibilities?

I’ve had a career as a city lawyer in the field of corporate transactions. That requires you to operate on a tight timescale, invariably set by other people, which is often halved. In comparison to that high-pressure environment, the collection of jobs I have now is fairly relaxed because on most occasions the dates of things are known in advance. I’ve got masonic events in my diary for the next five years. That’s a great help and far easier than my life as a city lawyer, where most meetings in my diary are suddenly cancelled or come out of nowhere.

What was it like being Lord Mayor?

You operate on a different level. We all have a normal level at which we live – I’m a solicitor with a family living in Sevenoaks. We go to the shops and plan holidays. 

If you envisage that as living on the twentieth floor of a building, being Lord Mayor is like being put in a lift and being sent up to live on the eightieth floor for a year, where people operate on an entirely different plane.  

The people who work on the eightieth floor have normal concerns like everyone else, such as worrying about whether their ties are straight or not, but they’ve also got something special about them – an ability. Moving at that level was an interesting experience, but I’m really happy being back at the twentieth floor again.

‘When I was elected in 2002 to the City Council, someone said that I‘d have to come to Guildhall Lodge, No. 3116. There have been close connections for a long time between it and Freemasons’ Hall, with the Rulers attending. I liked doing ritual and I must have been noticed.’

As Lord Mayor of London, in the wake of the recent financial crisis, did you want to help change perceptions about the City? 

The City isn’t good at fighting its PR battles. City businesses don’t like getting involved in public arguments; they don’t like politics and prefer to do things quietly behind the scenes. Therefore, when there’s a big crisis, other people who are much better at getting their story over heap all the blame for everything on the City, which is weak at replying. Part of the job for me as Lord Mayor was to try and re-address that, to help recognise that part of the criticism was rational and objective, but also to see that part of it was emotional. 

How did you counter the emotional arguments about the City?

With the emotional part, there’s nothing that you can do – you can’t rebut it with a rational argument. If you say the City’s good, that’s not going to convince people. You also look a bit foolish if something else comes out in the press. When I was in office, the story about Libor came out, which was portrayed as an attempt to rig interest rates. Subsequently, there have been revelations about misconduct in the foreign exchange markets, where things were going on that shouldn’t have been. So if you mount a full-throttle defence of the City as being a very good place, and that’s followed by bad publicity, then you lose credibility. You therefore have to be careful about picking your ground, so I decided to draw attention to the good things that the City was doing – pointing to things like the jobs outside of London that depended on it, and hoped that, in due course, I could change the climate. 

Why did you become a Freemason?

I rowed at university and in my last days there I was asked by one of the rowing coaches if I was going to work in London. He said that there was a society that I should consider joining. It turned out to be Argonauts Lodge, No. 2243, which was a rowing lodge. They met in the Lloyds Building in the City, which wasn’t too far from my office. Most of the people there had coached me on the river at university; I think the Craft works well when there’s an outside interest shared between its members.

How did you become Assistant Grand Master?

I went on for years only being a member of Argonauts Lodge as I didn’t have enough time to do much else. It’s only in the past ten years that I’ve been able to become more involved in Freemasonry. When I was elected in 2002 to the City Council, someone said that I’d have to come to Guildhall Lodge, No. 3116. There have been close connections for a long time between the lodge and Freemasons’ Hall, with the Rulers often attending. I like doing ritual and I must have been noticed. I was offered the chair of Guildhall Lodge, started to get to know people and became aware that the then Assistant Grand Master David Williamson wanted to retire. One thing led to another and I was asked if I wanted the position.

‘The principles of Freemasonry are very useful – they provide strong guidelines about your life. At the most basic level, they teach you that if you say you’re going to do something, then you should do it. Life operates better if you follow those rules.’

How does Freemasonry connect with the rest of your life?

The principles in Freemasonry are very useful – they provide strong guidelines about your life. At the most basic level, they teach you that if you say you’re going to do something, then you should do it. Life operates better if you follow those rules. I deal with people on the basis that I’ll come across them again and I want to be thought of in a positive way. In the business world, people often perceive that it’s to their advantage to do something that another party won’t like. I don’t want a reputation like that. 

I think this approach is largely down to Freemasonry.

What do you hope to achieve as Assistant Grand Master?

I’m encouraged to attend the major events at the Hall, the Quarterly Communications, the Annual Investiture and the Festivals. I’ll take over the Universities Scheme next year, as well as looking after overseas districts, but those are the set tasks. What I also want to do is to make sure that Freemasons outside London, outside the Hall, feel they are part of a United Grand Lodge. 

I’d like to make a contribution to improving the relationship between masons and non-masons, to counter the idea that people who practise the Craft are somehow a little bit different. There are also masons who are hesitant about admitting it as they’re worried others might not think they’re normal. We need to address both these internal and external perceptions.

I’d also like to help with improving recruitment and retention, to get younger members to join and to keep them. It’s a big undertaking, but I’m not alone and I see it as a fantastic opportunity – I’m looking forward to getting out and about in the country.

Published in UGLE
Thursday, 04 September 2014 01:00

Grand Secretary's column - Autumn 2014

 From the Grand Secretary

We have recently completed another readership survey about Freemasonry Today, which shows encouraging results supporting its editorial approach and philosophy. Let me give you some examples of those interesting results. Three quarters of readers think the magazine is excellent, with seventy-five per cent believing that Freemasonry Today is a forward-looking publication, and seventy-three per cent agreeing that it helps change perceptions about Freemasons for the better. Eighty-four per cent say the magazine shows us in a modern light and portrays the openness of the United Grand Lodge of England. 

More than half our readers have encouraged friends and family to read the magazine, while three quarters have discussed an article with them. Forty-four per cent of readers say their wives and partners read Freemasonry Today with eighty-nine per cent being more positive about the Craft after doing so.

We have had fantastic feedback from our new DVD, What’s It All About? The film has been shown successfully at county shows and received more than 30,000 views on YouTube.

In this issue of the magazine, you will find myriad examples of what our members enjoy about the Craft – for some it’s supporting charity, while others are looking to find a greater understanding of themselves. 

We follow a group of Welsh lodges as they trek around the coastline to support a local charity. While the money raised will help fund a state-of-the-art children’s hospital in Cardiff, one of the masons on the walk admits that the reward of making lifelong friendships is what drives him to take part in these activities.

For Frank Lee, a volunteer at a local RMBI care home, his Freemasonry is about looking after the elderly and doing what he can to help them. Our report on the Association of Friends scheme explains why Frank counts many of the James Terry Court residents as friends, as they see him as one of the family.

Our feature on Ian Mcilquham profiles a Freemason who received crucial assistance when he needed it most. His local lodge and the MSF were on hand to give financial and pastoral support following Ian’s diagnosis with prostate cancer. His story is not unique. Since 2005, local masonic lodges have raised £476,000 for Prostate Cancer UK in a bid not only to raise awareness, but also to improve ways of treating the condition.

The fact that Freemasonry can encompass all these things (and more) reveals an organisation that has a great deal to offer to both existing members and potential recruits.

Nigel Brown
Grand Secretary

‘Eighty-four per cent of readers say the magazine shows Freemasons in a modern light and portrays the openness of the United Grand Lodge of England.’

Published in UGLE

Lifting the worry

Each year, the Masonic Samaritan Fund and individual lodges contribute to prostate cancer research. The moving story of Freemason Ian Mcilquham and his family shows why this support is so vital, writes Andrew Gimson

In January this year, Ian Mcilquham saw some posters about prostate cancer. He had no symptoms, but his father and another member of his family had suffered from it, so he decided that it would be a good idea to go for a blood test. The result showed that he had a raised level of PSA (prostate-specific antigen), which can indicate the presence of the disease. A biopsy, carried out at the University Hospital of Wales, later confirmed that Ian had prostate cancer. 

As he was only fifty-two years old, Ian decided to undergo a radical prostatectomy – the removal of the prostate gland. However, the NHS in Wales only offers this procedure as an open (more invasive) operation, and Ian was told it could have bad side-effects – including incontinence, erectile dysfunction and being unlikely to be able to go back to work. His consultant advised him to have a robotic (less invasive) operation that is available from the NHS in some hospitals in England.

Because Ian lives in Wales, the only way to have this procedure in England would be at a private hospital, which would be very expensive. A member of Juventus Lodge, No. 8105, in South Wales Province, Ian works as a radiographer, and his wife, Penny, is a specialist nurse. They have three children: Kinsey, aged seventeen, Jourdain, aged fifteen and Kai, aged eleven – who at first was worried his father would die from the disease. 

Ian approached the Masonic Samaritan Fund for help. On the day he telephoned, the Fund emailed him back with authorisation for a private consultation in Bristol.

In Ian’s words, ‘The relief was unbelievable.’ The MSF then swiftly approved the funding application for his operation. ‘It wasn’t just the financial support from the MSF that helped, it was also the emotional support offered to me and my family. Lifting this worry was of greater importance, in some ways, than the financing of the surgery – they helped the entire family unit.’ 

Complete success

With his lodge providing support, Ian remembers that it was ‘weird’ having a major operation while feeling fine, but he knew that the longer he waited for treatment, the more likely it was that the cancer would spread. Five weeks after having the operation, laboratory analysis of his prostate tissue revealed that the surgery had been a complete success. Ian will now be monitored by an NHS hospital and his GP, meaning that he can focus on getting strong enough to return to work.

Richard Douglas, Chief Executive of the MSF, explains his charity’s approach: ‘We fund people who have a positive diagnosis, but can’t get the treatment they require on the NHS in a reasonable timescale.’ 

The MSF helps masons and their dependants, aiming to respond quickly in order to alleviate the anxiety of waiting. The charity is able to fund the cost of treatment for most eligible applications, and is also able to consider requests for research funding.

To save the lives of men with prostate cancer, early diagnosis is essential. Unfortunately, the PSA test does not always turn out to be correct. ‘Accurate diagnosis is the starting point to help men survive and have a better quality of life post-treatment,’ explains Richard. ‘With over 10,000 men dying each year from this disease, it’s time to give the experts the resources they need to beat prostate cancer for good.’

‘With over 10,000 men dying each year from this disease, it’s time to give the experts the resources they need to beat prostate cancer.’ Richard Douglas

The MSF has donated £34,625 to Prostate Cancer UK and has helped fund a research project at Cambridge University by Dr Hayley Whitaker, lead scientist of the Biomarker Initiative. She explains that the PSA test can detect lots of things that aren’t cancer, such as an enlarged prostate gland or inflammation. Moreover, only one in four cancers will become aggressive. 

Whitaker and her team of four researchers are trying to find new markers they can use to improve the PSA test. Their aim is to come up with half a dozen markers that will help provide a more accurate diagnosis. It may then be possible to avoid having a rectal examination, and, for some men, to avoid having a biopsy. 

The team at Cambridge have found a number of markers that are very promising, including two that identify patients who are more likely to relapse following surgery. ‘This means we can watch these patients more closely and attack the cancer harder,’ Whitaker explains, adding that the donation from the MSF has made a huge difference. ‘It’s given us such a great opportunity to do the work and we’re incredibly grateful.’

Gabriella Bailey, head of community fundraising at Prostate Cancer UK, is keen to raise the awareness of the disease, which has been far less intensively researched than many other forms of cancer. 

‘Every one of the masonic lodges that’s raised money for Prostate Cancer UK is part of this movement for men, and we’re incredibly grateful for the support,’ says Bailey. ‘Since 2005, local masonic lodges have raised £476,000 for Prostate Cancer UK – a fantastic contribution to the work we’re doing.’

Between one hundred and one hundred and thirty lodges a year support Prostate Cancer UK, which employs a group of specialist nurses to provide support through a free telephone, email and web chat service and who are able to answer questions about symptoms, diagnosis and treatment. In the UK, around one in eight men will get this disease. If you have any concerns, the Prostate Cancer UK website is a great place to start.

For more information about the disease and giving support, please visit 

Published in Masonic Samaritan Fund
Thursday, 04 September 2014 01:00

Volunteers: the unsung heroes of the RMBI

Side by side

Around three hundred and fifty Freemasons volunteer regularly at RMBI care homes across England and Wales. Tabby Kinder meets the people who help residents combat loneliness, remain active and retain a sense of identity

Walking through the corridors of James Terry Court, the RMBI care home nestled in a quiet corner of South Croydon, Frank Lee and his wife Dot are in great demand. Residents stop to say hello to Frank and to hug Dot – and to ask after the couple’s many grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

After eighteen years of volunteering here, Frank and his wife are part of the home, and the residents greet them as warmly as they do their own families. Frank is Chairman of the home’s Association of Friends – a group of volunteers who dedicate time each week to provide support to the care home staff, as well as friendship and entertainment to its residents. 

Each of the seventeen RMBI care homes across the country has its own association to provide extra support and friendship beyond the homes’ core services.

‘Freemasonry and volunteering go hand in hand,’ says Frank, who has been part of the Craft for forty years. 

‘It’s the residents that keep me coming back each month, though. They’re the most important people in the home, and it’s our job to make sure they spend the last few years of their lives feeling happy and secure.’

Frank has been Chairman of the Association of Friends of James Terry Court for five years, running the committee that consists of twelve men and six women. They each regularly visit the home to put on events for residents, escort them on trips to the pub, ballet or the theatre, and raise money. Each year, the volunteers raise around £20,000, which is spent hosting functions and buying new equipment to enhance the residents’ lives.

‘Freemasonry and volunteering go hand in hand. The residents keep me coming back… it’s our job to make sure they are happy and secure.’ Frank Lee

Sweet memories

Last year, money raised by the Association was also used to purchase twenty-eight new adjustable beds and a 1950s-style shop for the home’s Dementia Unit (complete with glass jars of sherbet lemons and an old manual till). Through its sweets and memorabilia, and giving residents the chance to work there, the shop helps re-create a bygone era and stimulates happy memories. 

‘It’s not easy for the residents when they first arrive – some of them don’t want to be here,’ says Frank. ‘It’s so important to me to make moving in easier for them and to ensure they settle in and come to feel safe here.’ 

As well as fairs, fetes and grand dinners on St Patrick’s Day, Christmas, Burns Night and St George’s Day – as well as a popular hog roast in July – Frank and his team hold regular coffee mornings, bingo and film nights. ‘It’s about making sure they don’t get bored,’ Frank laughs.

As a testament to Frank’s commitment to making sure residents are happy, his wife Dot keeps leaving our conversation to greet the ladies who live here, all of whom are overjoyed to see her. ‘I’ve always been a big believer in getting family involved,’ explains Frank. 

‘Dot and I are able to count many of these residents among our close friends, now.’ 

Festive philanthropy

Each year the committee hosts Christmas dinner for the residents of James Terry Court. ‘Freemasons should look after our elderly and do everything we can to help them,’ he says. ‘I’m very happy to be part of an organisation that makes sure this happens.’

The Association of Friends also holds a yearly Ladies’ Night for female residents who miss going to masonic events with their husbands. ‘They all look forward to it, queuing up for the salon months in advance and getting dressed up beautifully on the night,’ he explains.

Frank was recently awarded the prestigious Order of Mercy for his volunteering in the community by the League of Mercy Foundation, a royal body that recognises and rewards up to fifty volunteers nationwide each year. But he’s still modest about such recognition. ‘There are no individuals in the Association of Friends. I received the award for the time I’ve spent here, but I accepted it on behalf of the entire team.’

Charles Knowles, a new resident at James Terry Court, stops to talk about how the work being done by the volunteers has eased his transition into living there. ‘They come along here all the time and they treat me beautifully. You can’t ask for more than that,’ he says. 

‘Freemasons should look after our elderly and do everything we can to help them. I’m very happy to be part of an organisation that makes sure this happens.’ Frank Lee

Time and energy

Meet a few of the volunteers who regularly give their time and energy to help improve residents’ lives

‘I’ve been running the home shop for a long time now. It’s open every Tuesday morning and we sell sweets, crisps, chocolates, biscuits, toiletries, drinks and birthday cards. We have some of the residents to our home at Christmas time and Ted, my husband, still plays carpet bowls with them – something that started eighteen years ago!’ - Vi Melber, Patron of Lord Harris Court, Wokingham and Association of Friends member for 38 years

‘The home provides excellent nursing care to residents and the role of the Friends is to provide those things that aren’t part of the home’s remit, but that add hugely to their quality of life. We raise around £10,000 a year. If the home needs a wheelchair-converted mini bus, whenever it’s requested, we try our best to provide it.’ - David Lathrope, Chairman of the Association of Friends of Devonshire Court, Leicester and Association of Friends member for 12 years

‘We’re trying to make the living experience far more enjoyable at Scarbrough Court, and the funds raised by the Friends mean we can redecorate with vintage furniture and decorations – things that remind our residents of their younger days. A lot of the Friends have had loved ones here, so they’re aware of what’s needed.’ - Lesley Dawson, Home Manager of Scarbrough Court, Northumberland for two years

Published in RMBI
Thursday, 04 September 2014 01:00

Charity on the Welsh coastline

All walks of life

This summer, lodges across Wales united in a challenge to trek 1,000 miles in sixty days to support a children’s hospital. Sarah Holmes put on her hiking boots to spend a day on their epic journey

Picture the scene – it’s a balmy afternoon in late July. The sunshine beats mercilessly down over a golden belt of sand dunes on South Wales’s Bridgend coastline. In the distance, music echoes through the granular valleys as a trail of trekkers in matching white T-shirts slowly emerge, their Welsh voices chorusing in booming unison. They look like explorers venturing through the Saharan plains and, as they come closer, it becomes apparent that they’re singing Santana’s ‘Black Magic Woman’.

The lead crooner, Gareth Jenkins of Afan Lodge, No. 833, is an undertaker from Port Talbot. But today, equipped with his Bose speaker and backwards cap, he’s DJ Jazzy Jenks, self-appointed MC for the twenty-two-mile walk around this stretch of the coast. Along with thirty fellow Freemasons from lodges across Port Talbot, he’s attempting to complete the Glamorgan leg of the Walk Around Wales campaign to raise money for the Noah’s Ark Children’s Hospital Charity

Until now, it’s been a leisurely ramble through the woodlands and heather fields of Kenfig Nature Reserve, passing by the candy-coloured attractions of Coney Beach funfair. But the toughest route has yet to come. 

Ahead, the grassy ridges of the Merthyr Mawr dunes rise dramatically upwards. They are the second-highest dunes in Europe, and the place where Peter O’Toole filmed his 1962 adventure epic, Lawrence of Arabia. Luckily, the Port Talbot lodges are well prepared for the challenge. A fortifying hip flask is offered around the group before they dare tackle the ascent – a dose of liquid encouragement for the heroic fundraisers. 

‘If your family ever needed to use the Noah’s Ark Children’s Hospital, you know they’d be in safe hands.’ John Bendall

There are just three days left before the Walk Around Wales campaign comes full circle. Today, it falls to the Port Talbot lodges of Afan, No. 833; Baglan, No. 6079; Celtic Eagle, No. 9132; Margam Abbey, No. 5257; St Theodore, No. 8536; and Ynys, No. 8274, to complete the penultimate stretch. For Paul Haley, Worshipful Master of Services Lodge, No. 7139, this is the pinnacle of many months of careful planning. In January, inspired by a friend who had trekked the Welsh coastal path in just sixty days, Paul set about organising a fundraising event that would see lodges from across Wales come together to cover the same 1,000-mile stretch in relay. 

‘The idea had a fantastic reception from the masons at Services Lodge,’ explains Paul. ‘So we started to build up the schedule with the idea of enrolling a different lodge to complete each leg of the coastal path.’

Paul eventually managed to get twenty-six lodges to commit to the challenge, with members of his own lodge offering to fill in the gaps along the north coast. He also appropriated a mascot, a travelling gavel that would be carried through each stage of the journey by the participating walkers. On Sunday, 25 May, the first group left Penarth Masonic Hall on a counter-clockwise adventure around the Welsh border. Their aim was to raise £12,000 for the Noah’s Ark Children’s Hospital Charity, which supports the only children’s hospital in Wales. But the campaign quickly surpassed its target with the total now standing at £12,678. 

First-class care

For John Bendall of Baglan Lodge, the walk was a fantastic opportunity to give back to a worthwhile cause. ‘The Noah’s Ark Children’s Hospital is first class,’ he says. ‘Obviously, you hope your family would never need to use it. But if they did, you know they’d be in safe hands. It’s a reassuring presence in the community.’ 

While Noah’s Ark is a familiar Welsh charity, less well known is the vital role Welsh Freemasonry had to play in the hospital’s establishment, with Freemason Lyn Jones launching the Noah’s Ark campaign in 1990.  

‘It took ten years of knocking heads together,’ Lyn explains. ‘But finally, in 2000, the public appeal got the green light.’ Since then, the charity has raised £10 million and overseen the successful completion of a state-of-the-art children’s hospital in Cardiff that treats over 100,000 seriously ill children every year.

In 2008, an appeal for a further £7 million was launched to fund the building of the second phase of the hospital, which will include two additional operating theatres, a new Critical Care Unit, and a hydrotherapy pool, as well as various improvements to its existing facilities. With completion due in 2015, this latest donation from the Walk Around Wales campaign is essential to helping the hospital reach its target. 

For Alan Bolger of Ynys Lodge, the walk was as much about enjoying the camaraderie of the day as raising money. ‘It’s a great way to meet other lodges and get to know people who you might never have spoken to before,’ he smiles. ‘The reward of making lifelong friendships is enough for me. If we raise awareness about a good cause – that’s even better.’  

Word spread about the walk via social media. Paul created his own hashtag, #circlecymru, which he used in tweets to local organisations and councils, encouraging their support. The campaign even drew the attention of Welsh TV personalities, including weather presenter Sian Lloyd, and The One Show host Alex Jones. 

‘It’s a great way of connecting with the community outside of Freemasonry, which is something I hoped this campaign would achieve,’ explains Paul. 

Back in Glamorgan, the midday heat has coalesced into an orange haze as the army of masons amble along the cliffs at Ogmore Bay. It’s the home stretch and, after scaling Merthyr Mawr dunes followed by some tiptoeing across the stepping stones by Ogmore Castle’s enchanting ruins, it’s safe to say all are now firmly focused on closing the gap between themselves and The Three Golden Cups pub in Southerndown. Even DJ Jazzy Jenks has gone quiet.

A crowd of family and friends cheer the masons across the tavern threshold. Having walked non-stop for ten and a half hours, a pint or two is well deserved. However, the real celebrations won’t take place until the following Saturday when the masons cross the final finish line at Barry Rugby Club.

‘The highlight for me has been seeing how willing everyone was to get involved,’ Paul beams. ‘The dedication of the lodges has helped to raise awareness of both Noah’s Ark and Freemasonry, which is fantastic.’

To donate to the Walk Around Wales campaign, visit

On the move

Special mention goes to the Provincial Wardens John Roberts and Rex Plowman, as well as the following Freemasons from Services Lodge, No. 7139, who spent a considerable number of days on the walk: Allun Jones and Alun Punter (ten days); Steve Hill (eight days); Mike Rudall, Clive Thomas and Martin Flanigan (four days).

The following lodges took part in the walk: Afan, No. 833; Baglan, No. 6079; Beehive, No. 6265; Breaksea, No. 8358; Celtic Eagle, No. 9132; Industria Cambrensis, No. 6700; Dinas Powis, No. 5997; Gnoll, No. 5057; Ionic, No. 6626; Llanilltud Fawr, No. 8644; Lodge of Three Pillars, No. 5857; Margam Abbey, No. 5257; Old Barrians, No. 6671; Penllergaer, No. 5567; Porthkerry, No. 6299; Preswylfa, No. 5792; Services, No. 7139; St Cecilia, No. 8748; St Quentin’s, No. 4778; St Theodore, No. 8536; Striguil, No. 2186; Wenvoe, No. 9038; Windsor, No. 1754; Wings, No. 8651, and Ynys, No. 8274

Putting Australia on the map

Few men in history can claim to have named an entire country, but Freemason Matthew Flinders is one of them. With July 2014 marking two hundred years since Flinders’ passing, Kevin Gest explores how this navigator ended up down under

Philosophers who lived two thousand years ago knew the Earth was a sphere that rotated on its axis with a slow, gentle wobble. The limit of their geographical knowledge was centred in the northern hemisphere on the land masses and cultures they knew. They reasoned that, in the southern hemisphere, there had to be a land mass of equal size to balance the axial rotation, otherwise the wobble would be far more acute. The philosophers named this mythical land mass Terra Australis Incognita – the south land, as yet unknown.

Captain Matthew Flinders is little known in Britain, but in Australia he’s a giant in the history of British settlement. Flinders ranks with the achievements of other great seamen such as Captain Cook, who was killed in Hawaii; and Bligh, known for his misadventure on the Bounty. Cook learned his navigation skills the hard way, Bligh learned from Cook, and Flinders learned how to sail from serving with Bligh on HMS Providence on the second voyage to transfer breadfruit plants from Tahiti to the West Indies. But Flinders took his seafaring skills to a whole new level.

Calling to the sea

Born and raised in Lincolnshire, Flinders had a calling to the sea. Even as a junior officer, he demonstrated an ability to think for himself and act independently. In the closing years of the eighteenth century, Flinders sailed to Sydney Town in the fledgling colony of New South Wales. His seamanship and cartography skills quickly came to the attention of the Governor through a series of pivotal short expeditions. 

Backed by the Governor, Flinders was appointed to command HMS Norfolk to survey the coast of Van Diemen’s Land, which, at that time, was believed to have been part of the mainland. Flinders discovered that it was an island, later renamed Tasmania. He returned to England in 1800 where he presented his discovery to the Royal Society. This event brought him into contact with Freemason Sir Joseph Banks, who had sailed into Botany Bay with Captain James Cook to discover what’s now known as the east coast of Australia, and he later recommended that to populate the area, convicts were transferred by sea to settle there.

By the time of Flinders’ arrival in Sydney harbour, there were two coastal territories, 2,000 miles apart, noted on maps as New Holland and New South Wales, but there was uncertainty about what existed between them. Banks encouraged a new expedition to fully chart the territories and discover if this was the fabled land of Terra Australis Incognita, and Flinders was its commander aboard HMS Investigator. 

In the following years, Flinders produced astonishing charts of previously unknown coasts; he was the first to circumnavigate Australia, suffering great hardship at sea in the process. His mission fulfilled, and armed with his charts and logs, he began his journey back to England. He was shipwrecked on the Great Barrier Reef, almost losing all his records, and was later taken prisoner on Mauritius by the French and branded a spy while his charts were confiscated and copied. Some of his discoveries were also claimed by French explorers. 

‘Had I permitted myself any innovation of the original term, it would have been to convert it into Australia; as being more agreeable on the ear.’ Matthew Flinders 

Flinders returned to England in 1810, where he was celebrated by the Royal Society, and introduced by Banks to King George III, and the Prince Regent, who was to become a Grand Master. He was encouraged by Banks and the Admiralty to write down the details of his voyage, which he did in a volume entitled A Voyage to Terra Australis. In it, Flinders produced a map of the outline of the land he had been sent to explore. He wrote: ‘Had I permitted myself any innovation of the original term, it would have been to convert it into Australia; as being more agreeable on the ear and an assimilation to the other great portions of the earth.’

First to use the name

Australian documents indicate that Flinders was the first to use that name, having written it in a letter to his brother in 1804. After his map was printed and released in 1814 with this new designation emblazoned upon it, the name slowly became accepted to such a degree that, a few decades later, when the first Governor General was appointed, the name was attached to his rank. 

Researchers have noted that in Flinders’ diaries, detailed after his return to England, there are several entries, at regular monthly intervals, stating that he was attending a meeting – but nothing else to disclose their purpose. There’s little doubt that these were to attend a lodge. According to the archives of the Grand Lodge of New South Wales and Australian Capital Territory, Flinders was initiated into Friendly Cultivator Lodge while held on Mauritius. His journal entries for July 1807, 1808 and 1809 note that he celebrated ‘the fete of St John at the Freemasons Lodge established there’. 

Matthew Flinders died on 19 July 1814, aged forty years, from an illness he was believed to have contracted while imprisoned. He’s buried in what was once a large cemetery, but it has now been converted into a public park, close to London’s Euston Station. The headstone marking Flinders’ grave has also disappeared. He’s immortalised in England, along with other seamen, in a stained-glass window in Lincoln Cathedral, and in Australia by elegant statues in Sydney and Melbourne.

Published in Features

Building together

Covering everything from grand temples to local masonic halls, The Masonic Mutual offers the opportunity not only to reduce the cost of insurance, but also to explore who owns what when it comes to masonic heritage

The challenge is getting people to understand that change can be a good thing,’ says Robin Furber, sitting on the top floor in the Supreme Council’s central London premises. Robin is the chairman of The Masonic Mutual, a new company that went live on 1 July. The Masonic Mutual offers cover for owners and users of masonic buildings and organisations against traditional risks such as fire, flooding, accidental damage and theft, as well as employers, public and products liability. 

However, due to the way that The Masonic Mutual is set up, it can offer cover at a competitive price that will potentially decrease as the membership increases and, if income exceeds claims and expenses, can even return the resulting surplus back to its members. 

With no shareholders to pay, and being owned by its members, the Mutual already has three big clients on its books: the United Grand Lodge of England and its properties around Freemasons’ Hall in London; the Royal Masonic Benevolent Institution and all its care homes in England and Wales; and the Supreme Council, with its properties in London’s Duke Street. However, the cover hasn’t been designed solely for large estates, and Robin is now keen to reach out to the Provinces. Any owner of a building used for masonic purposes will be likely to enjoy real benefits from joining the Mutual. 

Prime motivator

While quality of cover, claims handling and response times are all important factors, Robin accepts that the prime motivator for people changing their insurance will be price: ‘What we’re doing is cutting out a huge amount of cost and we aim to be able to reduce premiums paid to the commercial insurance market by around ten per cent at least. The Mutual has to pay for someone to manage the cover, but it’s nothing like the cost that would be retained by an insurance company to underwrite a risk. The cover wording is also extremely broad, so it should easily accommodate all the usual insurable exposures that the owner or user of a masonic hall is going to face.’

Unlike a normal commercial policy holder, a Mutual member pays into a fund – one that will pay out claims up to a certain level. The fund also pays for a manager’s fee and top-up insurance in the commercial market for any claims that are in excess of the retention that the fund will take. In other words, if any claim or an accumulation of claims goes above a certain level, the excess amount will be covered by a commercial insurance company.

‘Any owner of building used for masonic purposes will be likely to enjoy benefit from joining the Mutual’

Currently, any single claim up to the value of £50,000 is underwritten by the Mutual. To protect the Mutual’s fund from an unexpected series of individual losses, or a single large additional loss, extra protection is bought from the commercial insurance market. 

‘As membership of the Mutual increases, our reliance on the commercial market will go down as our buying power increases,’ says Robin. ‘The bigger the bucket, the greater the Mutual’s control of its financial destiny.’

Potential market

In terms of the potential market, Robin understands that there may be about eight hundred masonic buildings around the UK that are being used for masonic purposes. The launch of the Mutual is also a fantastic opportunity for Provinces to do an inventory of the masonic buildings and other assets in their area. 

‘This is going to be an interesting exercise as it encourages those responsible for buildings to look at what they’ve got. We don’t always know who owns the halls and buildings – some are owned by lodges, some by collectives, some by trusts and some by individuals,’ says Robin. ‘I think it will be very useful for Grand Lodge to find out what’s owned by the masonic family.’ 

With The Masonic Mutual now live, the cover is being marketed to all potential members throughout the Provinces in England and Wales. ‘We don’t expect them just to come to us,’ says Robin, ‘but we’d like them to give us the opportunity to quote for their insurable risks. Stage two will be to offer protection to individual lodges that do not own their own premises.’

Robin is keen to stress that the Mutual is being launched for the benefit of masonry as a whole by providing a good-quality product at a good price by a company that is not shareholder driven. ‘It’s for everyone,’ he says. ‘If we have a good year, we can increase the retention and not pay as much to the commercial market, which will make the cover cheaper.

‘At some stage in the future, it’s also our intention to pay out surpluses based on the amount someone has paid in. It’s a win-win situation.’

For more information visit the Masonic Mutual's website

Published in Features

Devonshire masons on show in Plymouth

History was made in July in the City of Plymouth when, for the first time since 1938, 40 Freemasons from over 36 lodges in the Province of Devonshire took part in the Lord Mayor’s Parade in full regalia. 

Proud to be masons and wanting to be more open in the community, Keith Johnson, a member of the Provincial recruitment team, came up with the idea of joining in the Lord Mayor’s Parade.

At the event, led by Provincial Grand Master Ian Kingsbury, the recruitment stand gave out information all day long to interested passers-by. 


Independent thinker

Embracing tolerance and approaching life with an open mind, it’s no coincidence that the Duke of Sussex played such a pivotal role in shaping modern Freemasonry, writes Malta Grand Inspector Dr Lawrence Porter

The Duke of Sussex, Grand Master from 1813 to 1843, is a towering figure in the history of English Freemasonry. He played a pivotal role in the unification of the Premier and Antient Grand Lodges to form the United Grand Lodge of England in 1813. It’s impossible to overestimate the importance of his influence on the structure and status of modern English Freemasonry. Without his vision, energy and, above all, his sense of tolerance, the United Grand Lodge of England would not exist in its present form. Just imagine if we still had two competing Grand Lodges and how this would dampen the effectiveness of English Freemasonry throughout the world. 

Augustus Fredrick was born a Royal Prince on 27 January 1773, the ninth of the fifteen children of George III and Queen Charlotte. On 27 November 1801, at the age of twenty-eight, the King made him Duke of Sussex. 

Progressive reputation

Augustus had a reputation for open-mindedness and was considered the most liberal of his siblings, being something of a social reformer. He was educated abroad, entering the University of Göttingen in 1786 at the age of thirteen. He was the only one of the princes not to pursue a military career, although some commentators have attributed this to the fact that he suffered from asthma rather than his well-known liberal propensities.

In opposition to the views of some of his older brothers, in particular the Duke of Cumberland, Augustus favoured Catholic Emancipation. He was also, despite his devout Christianity, a strong supporter of the Jewish community. In 1815, the Duke accepted patronage of the Jews’ Hospital and Orphan Asylum, which survives to this day as the charity Norwood. 

He also lent his influence to promote various benevolent schemes and was once referred to as ‘the most charming beggar in Europe’.

Augustus was a prominent supporter of the arts and also of scientific research and progress. He became president of the Society of Arts in 1816 and president of the Royal Society in 1830. An active president of the Royal Society, Augustus hosted many parties at Kensington Palace, often at great personal expense. 

Glittering career

Augustus was initiated into the Lodge of Victorious Truth in Berlin in 1798 while studying in Germany. 

He took rapidly to masonry, eventually occupying the Chair of his German Lodge. Back in England, in 1800 Augustus joined his brother George’s Prince of Wales Lodge, now No. 259. The Duke joined the Lodge of Friendship, No. 6, in 1806 and Antiquity, No. 2, in 1808. In 1814, he was instrumental in the resuscitation and, later, amalgamation of several lodges to form Royal Alpha Lodge, No. 16 – which was the Grand Master’s personal lodge and remains so until this day. 

In 1813, Augustus was elected Grand Master of the Premier Grand Lodge while his elder brother, the Duke of Kent, became Grand Master of the Antients, and they became involved in the completion of the negotiations for the unification of the two Grand Lodges. 

The Articles of Union were finalised at the end of 1813 and on 27 December 1813, the Duke of Kent graciously stood aside for his younger brother to take the reins of the new Grand Lodge. Augustus remained Grand Master for thirty years until his death in 1843. He referred to the union of the two Grand Lodges as ‘the happiest event of my life’.  

Augustus was a very hands-on Grand Master, resolving ‘to rule as well as to reign’. He attended some of the meetings of the special Lodge of Reconciliation (1813-1816), personally chaired the Board of General Purposes and was involved in the detail of all of the major Board decisions. The Union did not proceed quite as smoothly as it might appear from our vantage point, two hundred years further on. Indeed, Augustus faced significant resistance to the changes necessary to bring together two proud organisations with similar aims and ceremonies, but with important differences.

‘Augustus astounded the nation by becoming the first royal to be buried in a public graveyard. After his death in 1843, he was laid to rest in Kensal Green Cemetery.’

Demonstrating his independent thinking, Augustus astounded the nation by becoming the first royal to be buried in a public graveyard. After his death on 21 April 1843, and following the instructions recorded in his will, he was laid to rest in Kensal Green Cemetery in North London. Such a choice of burial place by a royal prince required the permission of Queen Victoria. He had been the Queen’s favourite uncle and gave her away at her wedding to Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha in 1840. The Spectator of 29 April 1843 wrote: ‘Her acquiescence in his selection of a place of burial may be received as an indication that she understood as well as loved him.’

A visit to the Kensal Green Cemetery is worthwhile. After the Duke’s burial there, and later the burial of his sister, Princess Sophie, the cemetery became fashionable and many famous people followed suit. However, the inscription on the tombstone is now difficult to read and I believe that Freemasons would do well to pay more attention to the final resting place of our Grand Master.

Published in Features
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