Planting an idea: how Staffordshire masons planted a special garden at the National Memorial Arboretum is outlined by Peter Atkins
The simple, yet symbolic Masonic Garden at the National Memorial Arboretum at Alrewas in Staffordshire is a permanent memorial to all brethren who gave their lives for peace and freedom.
Masonic involvement in the Arboretum started when Staffordshire’s former Information Officer, Roger Manning, realised the significance of Freemasonry supporting the concept and talked to members of his Lodge, St John’s of Lichfield No. 1039.
The Masonic Garden was adopted by the Lodge, which made the initial financial contribution and introduced the concept to the leaders in the Province. The then Assistant Provincial Grand Master, Thomas D C Lloyd, now Provincial Grand Master, committed his support and it was soon adopted.
By early 2002 sufficient money had been contributed by Lodges across the Province for a substantial plot to be bought. The site was dedicated in June that year, during Freemasonry in the Community week.
The Assistant Grand Master, David Williamson, assisted by the then Provincial Grand Master, Kevin Chawner, cut and turned the first sod in the presence of some 400 Freemasons, their families and friends together with local civic leaders and the Lord Lieutenant of the County.
Six months later a yew tree hedge was planted around the plot. Sadly it did not survive, and a second planting took place the following winter.
Around £20,000 has been spent so far and Staffordshire Masons gratefully acknowledge the contributions from the neighbouring Provinces of Warwickshire, Worcestershire, Shropshire and Cheshire.
More funding is needed to complete the garden which, in plans drawn up by retired architect and Deputy Provincial Grand Master John E Griffiths, includes a stone arch at the entrance.
Bro Griffiths, explaining his thoughts on the design, said: “It is a very open and exposed site and I wanted the ashlars to be protected as if they were in a forest glade, enclosed by a hedge, with one entrance.
When the hedge is fully grown, and we have the arch in place at the entrance, it will beckon people, draw them in, to see what I call the pearl within.”
The costs of the garden have been kept down by the contribution of Eddie Ford, a builder by trade from nearby Burton and a truly operative Mason, who laid the chequered paving and supervised the positioning of the two ashlars, each weighing three and half tons.
Bro Lloyd was on hand to welcome the Grand Master, HRH The Duke of Kent, when he made a detour to see the garden during an official engagement at another area of the Arboretum last October.
Peter Atkins is Information Officer for the Province of Staffordshire
National Memorial Arboretum
The National Memorial Arboretum was conceived by the founder director, David Childs, after visiting the USA and seeing the Arlington Cemetery and the National Arboretum in Washington DC. He thought the concepts could be merged into a meaningful living tribute in the UK, which would acknowledge the sacrifice made by the whole nation so that people could live in peace and freedom. Today, it pays tribute to those who died in war and also reminds people of the 80 million lives lost in conflicts in the 20th and 21st centuries. Warwickshire Royal Air Force Lodge No. 9456 created Masonic history when they held the first Lodge meeting at the National Memorial Arboretum on November 1, last year (2006). More than 40 members spent the day at the Arboretum, which began with a visit to the Masonic Garden and included a Lodge meeting in the Visitor Centre during which the Master, W Bro Paul Brennan, initiated his son Gary Stephen. The day ended with a Festive Board provided by catering staff at the Arboretum. The National Memorial Arboretum is open every day, except Christmas Day, Boxing Day and New Year’s Day, from 10am. Admission is free, and a visit is highly recommended.