As Letchworth marks its one-hundredth year, John Hamill reports on the centenary of a very special lodge
On 28 March 2011 in Lodge Room No. 10 at Freemasons’ Hall in London, almost 150 brethren gathered for an emergency meeting. Nothing unusual in that – until you look at the signature book and discover that those present included the Pro, Deputy and Assistant Grand Masters, the Metropolitan Grand Master for London, the President and Deputy President of the Board of General Purposes, the Grand Chaplain, Grand Secretary, Grand Director of Ceremonies, Presidents of the Grand Charity and the Masonic Samaritan Fund, and other senior brethren.
What, you might wonder, other than a Quarterly Communication of Grand Lodge, would bring such illustrious company together in one tyled meeting? The reason is a joyous one – to take part in the centenary celebrations of Letchworth Lodge, No. 3505. But why such eminent brethren for a Hertfordshire lodge? The answer, to paraphrase Shakespeare, is all in a name. The ‘Letchworth’ after which the lodge was called is not the delightful Hertfordshire town, but Sir Edward Letchworth who was Grand Secretary from 1892 to 1917. As for why the celebrations were in London, when the membership of the lodge was formed in 1911, it was restricted to the permanent clerks in the Grand Secretary’s Office. And even today is limited to those employed in the capital’s masonic headquarters.
Although a Secretary to the Grand Lodge was appointed in 1723 (becoming Grand Secretary in 1734) and the premier Grand Lodge had a permanent building in Great Queen Street from 1775, it was not until 1838 that the Grand Secretary’s Office came into being. From the of the two Grand Lodges in 1813 until 1838, the Grand Secretaryship was a joint office shared by William White, who had held the same office in the premier Grand Lodge, and Edward Harper, who had been Deputy Grand Secretary of the Antients.
In 1838, Harper ‘retired’ and White was asked to take on the role of Grand Secretary. He agreed but on one condition: that Grand Lodge employed two full-time clerks to assist with paperwork. As a result of the expansion in members and lodges in the Victorian period, by the time Letchworth became Grand Secretary in 1892 the office had grown to seven clerks. As they had to be Master Masons it was suggested they should have a lodge. There was one problem: nine was the minimum number of petitioners and there were only seven clerks.
By 1911, there had been an expansion of the Craft and clerk numbers grew to 15. They approached Letchworth to petition for a lodge, and the consecration took place on 28 March 1911. Sir Edward himself was the Consecrating Officer, assisted by the President of the Board of General Purposes, the President of the Board of Benevolence (now the Grand Charity), the Grand Chaplain and Grand Director of Ceremonies and the Chairman of the Board’s Officers and Clerks Committee.
Sir Edward stated that the lodge’s purpose was ‘to meld the clerks into greater harmony’. It would also assist Grand Lodge by bringing into Freemasonry suitable candidates that might become clerks in the office; and get brethren through the Chair in a reasonable time for additional duties. The latter was important, as many lodges had more than 100 members and it could take 15 or more years to reach the Chair.
The lodge’s first year was a busy one with two candidates and three installations. The Master designate had been installed at the consecration and at the July and November meetings two of the senior clerks were installed. In 1913, the lodge began a practice that was to continue until the 1970s – that of initiating as serving brethren members of the portering and maintenance staff of the Hall. They were to assist the Grand Tyler by laying up the lodge rooms and acting as Assistant Tylers whenever Grand Lodge met.
The First World War halted progress of the lodge and office, as half the staff were on active service. Only one did not return, Ponsonby Cox, and another, Guy Mercer, was awarded the Military Cross. Those too old for military service kept the lodge and office going. To help in the office, the rule requiring clerks to be Master Masons was put into abeyance and three lady clerks and two ‘lady typewriters’ were taken on. The latter, Miss Haigh and Miss Winter, proved far from temporary, spending the rest of their working lives as private secretaries to Grand and Deputy Grand Secretaries.
The huge increase in the Craft four years after the war, and the plan to rebuild Freemasons’ Hall as a permanent war memorial, led to an increase in office size. Between 1925 and 1927, five boy clerks were taken on as ‘temporary’ staff ; each of them eventually becoming members of the lodge. There were similar problems during the Second World War, when again the rule on clerks being Master Masons was set aside and women were taken on. They proved so popular and useful that in 1949 the rule (No. 33 in the current Book of Constitutions) was put into abeyance. The lodge had difficulties meeting and reduced its wartime gatherings to two per year. The only ceremonial work was the annual installation of the Master.
The immediate post-war years saw an enormous growth in the Craft. This led to expansion of the office and an increase in the membership of the lodge. Much of the work was in making serving brethren, as the portering and maintenance staff had also grown, and many took on additional work as Tylers for lodges meeting at Freemasons’ Hall.
By the late 1960s, however, things were slowing down and doubts were expressed about the future of Letchworth Lodge. Membership had been limited to Permanent Clerks, but in 1977, Grand Secretary James Stubbs was approached about opening the lodge to the full office, to which he agreed. In the early 1980s, under Grand Secretary Michael Higham, the lodge was opened to the whole of the male staff at Freemasons’ Hall and the staff of other masonic headquarters in London. This has resulted in a vibrant lodge with a steady stream of candidates. The changes have also brought the staff of the various masonic offices in London closer together. Sir Edward Letchworth’s hopes at the consecration can truly be said to have been achieved.
As the Grand Secretary’s lodge, Letchworth has had great support from Sir Edward and his successors. Sir Philip Colville Smith became an honorary member when he became Grand Secretary in 1917. (Sir) Sydney White joined the lodge when he was appointed Chief Clerk in 1918, was its Master in 1920, and was a regular attendee even after election as an Honorary Member when he became Grand Secretary in 1937. (Sir) James Stubbs was elected an Honorary Member when he was appointed Assistant Grand Secretary in 1948, while Michael Higham became a joining member when appointed Deputy Grand Secretary in 1978, and is still active. Nigel Brown joined when he was appointed Grand Secretary in 2007 and members are delighted to have him as their Centenary Master. He was thrilled to have been installed by Michael Higham.
Being involved in central masonic administration, the members of the lodge were only too aware of the privilege extended to them to have the Pro Grand Master present the Centenary Warrant. The happy occasion was followed by a reception and banquet in the Grand Temple vestibules.
14 September 2011
An address by the RW The Deputy Grand Master Jonathan Spence
It is very good to see you all here today and I hope you have had a very enjoyable and refreshing summer. The summer is not only a time for the re-charging of batteries, but I find it is also a time for reflection and preparation for the challenges ahead. As our Masonic activities begin again for the Autumn I thought it would be appropriate for me to share with you some thoughts on some essential aspects of Pure Antient Masonry, being the Craft and Holy Royal Arch. I am prompted to do this after listening to an interview given by the Grand Chaplain to the BBC in May in which it became clear there are still substantial misunderstandings about the Craft, when frankly there ought not to be.
We need to be absolutely clear when we discuss our Pure Antient Masonry that we belong to a secular organisation, that is to say a non-religious organisation. This was a point made very eloquently by the Grand Chaplain in his interview. It is, however, a secular organisation that is supportive of religion: it is an absolute requirement for all our members to believe in a Supreme Being. As the late and sadly missed Dean Neil Collings so eloquently put it, this gives "a context and background to the individual's way of life as they seek to live it”. Freemasonry itself, as we all know, is neither a substitute for nor an alternative to religion. It certainly does not deal in spirituality; it does not have any sacraments; or, indeed, offer or claim to offer any type of salvation. Freemasonry, in fact, absolutely fails to meet any of the tests of what it is to be a religion, set by the late Reverend Professor John MacQuarrie, former Lady Margaret Professor of Divinity at Oxford. The fact that men from different faiths can meet easily in harmony and friendship, without compromising their particular religious beliefs, demonstrates that one of the greatest strengths of the Craft, dating from its earliest beginnings, is that of Tolerance. To ensure this tolerance remains untroubled, of course, discussions of religion like discussions of politics are strictly prohibited!
Organised Freemasonry, from its beginnings in the late 17th and early 18th Centuries, a time of religious intolerance, was always concerned with teaching and encouraging morality. Our forefathers were very aware of human nature and its flaws, particularly those of self-absorption and selfishness. The Craft sought to encourage men to be loyal to their country, to obey the law, to try to be better behaved, to consider their relations with others and to make themselves more extensively serviceable to their fellow men, that is to say their wider communities. In other words, to pursue a moral life. The ceremonies were used as the main means of teaching and illustrating the principles of the Craft: they were, and still very much are, a dramatic and effective set of morality plays.
The Craft, as a secular organisation, remains just as concerned today to encourage these ideals. I suggest that, in today's language, we could articulate the fundamental principles to which our members subscribe as integrity, honesty, fairness, kindness and tolerance. These are principles of which we should be very proud and we should not hesitate to articulate them, when appropriate opportunities present themselves, to our family, friends and, indeed, the wider community in which we live. We should also make it very clear that we very much enjoy ourselves and what we do. I have no doubt our principles will appeal to those who are not masons, if they are aware of them. Once it is clearly understood that the nature of our ritual, often written in an elegant older style of language, is that of a morality play, many of the genuine misunderstandings will fall away.
The future of the Craft is obviously dependent on attracting and retaining good quality candidates. Our principles, I believe, should be attractive to many men of good reputation and integrity. It is very important that we all only recommend to our Lodges men who we know subscribe to our principles, who we believe will enjoy being members of the Craft and who will mix happily with the other members of their individual Lodge.
The other side of this coin is that we should be careful in our choice of candidates. This is something every new Mason is told in the Charge after Initiation and for a very good reason. Unsuitable candidates are likely to damage the Craft in general and their own Lodges in particular.
Every one of us has an important part to play in articulating clearly what the Craft is and encouraging appropriately qualified candidates to be members. To support this, our soon to be announced strategic communications direction, together with the results from the working party on mentoring, will go a long way to help us to speak openly, and in an informed way, about Freemasonry. Our success will help to ensure Freemasonry’s long term future.
Burlington Lodge, No. 3975, hosted a momentous event at Bridlington in the Province of Yorkshire North & East Ridings in November, when Past Deputy Grand Master Iain Ross Bryce celebrated his 50 years as a mason. Joining him for the event were Pro Grand Master Peter Lowndes, Deputy Grand Master Jonathan Spence, Assistant Grand Master David Williamson and Past Pro Grand Master Lord Northampton.
David Hagger has been installed as Provincial Grand Master for Leicestershire and Rutland by the Deputy Grand Master, Jonathan Spence. David is a member of the Royal Arch and the Mark, Royal Ark Mariners, Rose Croix and Red Cross of Constantine.
1972 Initiated, Highcross Lodge No. 4835
2000 Provincial Grand Secretary
2003 WM, Leicestershire & Rutland Lodge of Installed Masters, No. 7896
2005 Assistant Provincial Grand Master
2006 Past Senior Grand Deacon
2007 Deputy Provincial Grand Master
2008 Past Grand Sword Bearer
10 DECEMBER 2008
An address by the MW The Pro Grand Master The Most Hon The Marquess of Northampton, DL
I have had the great privilege of being Pro Grand Master since March 2001 and before that I was Assistant Grand Master for five years in charge of London. I have decided that the time has come for me to step down in March and give someone else the chance to steer the Craft for the next few years.
These past eight years have continued a process of great change for English Freemasonry, helping it to come through one of the most difficult periods in its history.
As the Grand Master pointed out recently, we are entering a period of consolidation, and if we continue to build on the foundations of openness we have laid for the 21st century there is every chance that we will start to grow again. I welcome an increase in our numbers as long as we continue to maintain the highest standards and concentrate on the quality of our candidates.
I am pleased to tell you that the Grand Master has appointed RW Bro Peter Lowndes, Deputy Grand Master, to succeed me. He will be installed as Pro Grand Master at the Quarterly Communication of Grand Lodge in March. He will be succeeded as Deputy Grand Master by RW Bro Jonathan Spence, Grand Director of Ceremonies, and he in turn by W Bro Oliver Lodge, Past Deputy Grand Director of Ceremonies. I am pleased to say the Assistant Grand Master will be continuing in office. I shall be presiding at Grand Lodge for the last time in December.
I wish Bro Lowndes every success in his new important role and have every confidence that the Craft will be in very capable hands. For my part I shall continue to enjoy my Masonry, albeit at an easier pace and with less direct responsibility.
I look forward to helping in any way I can to ensure the future good health and happiness of English Freemasonry. It has been an honour to serve the Craft.