Lodge of Research No. 2429, which meets at Freemasons’ Hall, Leicester, was the scene for a unique event: the first time it had been addressed by a female researcher after their meeting on 23rd March 2015
The guest speaker was Maxine Gilhuys Notarbartolo from Florence. She was no stranger to Leicester having attended the 2014 symposium the lodge organised to celebrate the union of the two rival Grand Lodges in 1813. It was at that symposium that the speaker first saw the masonic marble table which graces the Leicestershire and Rutland Masonic Library and Museum, and that artefact set her research pulses going!
The Master of the Lodge, W Bro David Hughes, introduced the speaker as a true citizen of the world who, having been born in Guyana, was educated in Birmingham, and then worked for various international organisations in Geneva, Zurich and New York. Subsequent studies at the Universities of Bologna and Leiden continued the cosmopolitan nature of the speaker's life. Currently based in Florence she has developed a strong interest in the history of Freemasonry.
Maxine proceeded to hold the attention of all present with a wonderfully illustrated address on the history and provenance of the marble table. She showed how it was not Florentine work, but that its roots lay in the Pietre Dure tradition which had been imported into Malta from the Italian mainland by the Knights of St John.
Freemasonry flourished in this Knightly Order in the eighteenth century, and so it was natural that there should be a crossover between the rituals of the knights and that of the Craft. The octagonal form of the table was especially important in this respect. The octagon is an important form in church architecture and its eight sides have a special number significance in the Christian tradition. It seems the Knights of Malta used octagonal tables for some of their meetings and our marble table continues that tradition by being some form of tracing board or other instructional device.
It seems the table, known to be one of a small number, may have been commissioned by English masons resident on Malta with either the army, navy, mercantile or government in the early years of the nineteenth century. It was then shipped to England where it was fitted with its current base. It was then probably part of the furnishings of a stately home. Quite how it then passed to a suburban house in Nuneaton where it was until sold to us via an auction sale still remains a mystery. However, the speaker promised to continue her researches with a view to finding out more about the table’s ‘hidden years’ if at all possible.
Maxine’s interesting paper will be printed in the Transactions of the Lodge of Research, and will be available for purchase from the Lodge Secretary or the Editor of the Transactions in October 2015.
The history of the Holmes Lodge Room organ in Freemasons' Hall, Leicester
Lodge of Research No. 2429 was recently treated to Bro Carl Heslop, a young member of Highcross Lodge No. 4835, giving a presentation on the history of the organ in the Holmes Lodge Room in Freemasons' Hall, Leicester, and its current versatility following the extensive restoration it underwent over the summer of 2014.
W Bro David Hughes, the current Master of the Lodge of Research and who has also been involved with the restoration, introduced the speaker and stated that he had commenced playing the organ at the age of 8. He had then become much involved in the theatre organ world, before being apprenticed to the world famous firm of organ builders, Harrison and Harrison of Durham.
Bro Heslop, who is now working for another most prestigious organ builder, Peter Collins of Melton Mowbray, then proceeded to give the assembled audience a most illuminating lecture on the arcane mysteries of organ building, by showing how various types of traditional organ pipes are made and can be combined to produce a very wide range of sounds and differing volumes.
He then brought the science and art of organ building into the 21st century by introducing the modern system of digital sound production, with which the Holmes Temple organ is now equipped, in addition to its older traditional wood and metal pipes.
Bro Heslop revealed that the origins of the organ can be traced back to the early years of the 19th century, when it started life as a small chamber instrument built by the famous London craftsman William Gray.
By some unknown process this had made its way to Leicester and was utilised by the local organ builders Taylor and Co. as the basis of the instrument installed in the old Masonic Hall in Halford Street in 1903. This was moved to the present Hall in 1910 and was extended by Taylors in memory of W Bro Billson in the 1940s.
After many years of faithful service the old instrument fell into disrepair and silence until being rescued by Bro Heslop, who volunteered his services shortly after attending an open evening meeting at London Road – where he was invited to become an initiate in Highcross Lodge, the lodge of our current Provincial Grand Master, RW Bro David Hagger.
The lecturer then became the recitalist and demonstrated with great virtuosity the amazing versatility the organ now has in its new 'hybrid' form, which places it at the vanguard of organ building technology and gives us one of the finest instruments available to Freemasonry.
Bro Heslop showed how the organ can produce sounds in the English cathedral tradition, those of the north German and French Baroque styles and then by simply pressing a few switches he transported the entire company present to the Tower Ballroom in Blackpool with a recreation of the sounds of 'the Mighty Wurlitzer' school of organs.
It was subsequently pointed out that the world renowned Reginald Dixon, for so many years the organist of the Tower Ballroom and who was known as 'Mr Blackpool', was a prominent mason in Lancashire.
Following the recital, Bro Heslop answered questions and was then thanked and congratulated by the Provincial Grand Master, who pointed out that the selfless devotion of this young mason had saved the Province a very considerable sum of money while giving us an instrument of which we may be truly proud.
Bro Heslop was then thanked by W Bro David Hughes, who presented him with a copy of the Transactions of the Lodge of Research for the current year as a token of the lodge's thanks for his efforts. Bro Heslop responded by presenting W Bro Hughes with a redundant pipe from the organ which prompted the response that the Master of the Lodge of Research would now be able to blow his own trumpet!
It can honestly be said that this event was historic in that it was the first combined lecture and recital to be given to the Lodge of Research, and it was most enthusiastically received by all those who were present.
Leicester's War Memorial
On the north side of the Holmes Lodge Room in Leicester's Freemasons’ Hall stands a war memorial tablet which details the names of the brethren who served in the Great War (WW1), and the seven Leicestershire and Rutland brethren who gave their lives in that conflict. Often the brethren attending meetings in that fine space give it scarcely a second glance, but how did it come to be there and what can we find out about those seven brethren?
An appeal was launched in 1919 for subscriptions towards a Freemasons’ War Memorial which 'should take the form of a substantial fund for the Leicester Royal Infirmary (LRI) and a memorial of some kind in connection with the Masonic Temple'.
The appeal raised over £5,500 (equivalent to £750,000 in today's money) of which £5,000 was for the LRI (new Orthopaedic Department) and the remainder for a memorial tablet to record the names of the seven brethren who fell in the war, plus those brethren who served in His Majesty’s Regular and Territorial Forces.
A question has been raised whether there are other Leicestershire and Rutland masons who died in action or as a result of wounds, who are missing from the memorial. The problem is that many of the records were bombed in the Second World War – many being totally destroyed and what remains at Kew are referred to as 'the burnt records'.
So next time you are in Freemasons’ Hall, please do go into the Holmes Lodge Room and look at the memorial tablet, and spare a thought for those brethren in general who served their country 100 years ago.
A detailed paper has been written about the tablet in the Holmes Lodge Room (with detailed notes on the seven brethren) by W Bro Jonathan Varley and has been published in the 2012-13 Transactions of the Lodge of Research No. 2429, which are available from the lodge secretary.
The Lodge of Research seeks to exchange opinions with Freemasons throughout the world, and to attract and interest brethren by means of papers on the historical and symbolic aspects of masonry. It meets on the fourth Monday in November, January and March at London Road. Contact the secretary for further details of membership or visiting.
Symposium for UGLE bicentenary
Lodge of Research, No. 2429, in the Province of Leicestershire & Rutland, has marked the 200th anniversary of the formation of the United Grand Lodge of England by organising a symposium and dinner at one of its regular meetings.
There were both masonic and non-masonic visitors, including the then Assistant Grand Master David Williamson and Provincial Grand Master David Hagger, who heard a number of papers delivered by prominent masonic historians, including Professor Andrew Prescott. Among other guests was Philippa Faulks, publishing manager at Lewis Masonic, which sponsored the event.