On 10th November 2018, in a full Grand Temple at Freemasons’ Hall, Victoria Rifles Lodge No. 822 hosted an event to mark the Centenary of the Armistice

Victoria Rifles Lodge, based in London, is one of the 37 Circuit of Service Lodges which exist to promote comradeship and fraternal contact between military masons. Given the sacrifice of so many of members in the First World War it’s appropriate that such a Lodge should have hosted the Armistice Centenary Meeting.

The lodge’s streamlined Installation meeting, and subsequent theatrical presentation, was conducted in the presence of the Pro Grand Master Peter Lowndes. The Past Metropolitan Grand Master Russell Race and six Provincial Grand Masters were also in attendance.

The Pro Grand Master was escorted into the temple, accompanied by a banner procession featuring all the Circuit of Service Lodges. The banners and banner men filed either side of a Vickers machine gun, placed on a raised platform in the centre of the hall, manned by four Silent Sentinels, symbolising the moment ‘the guns fell silent’.

The Worshipful Master, Capt James Milne, extended a warm welcome to all present and was proclaimed as Worshipful Master of the lodge for a further year. Before the lodge was closed its members voted to donate £9,000 to the Royal Hospital Chelsea Scarlets Appeal and a further £9,000 to Veteran’s Outreach Support.

The Armistice Commemoration Event then began with the entrance of seven Chelsea Pensioners to the tune of ‘The Boys of the Old Brigade’. 

The Lodge Director of Ceremonies, Jamie Ingham Clark, then asked all those present wearing Hall Stone Jewels on behalf of their lodges to rise. With over 500 members standing, he then presented the Worshipful Master with the lodge’s jewel, his address epitomising the whole occasion.

He said: ‘I now have pleasure in investing you with the Hall Stone Jewel, which was presented to this Lodge by the MW the Grand Master in recognition of our contribution towards what was then called the Masonic Peace Memorial, the building we are now in.

‘The medal is suspended by the Square and Compasses, attached to a ribband, the whole thus symbolising the Craft's gift of a Temple in memory of those brethren who gave all, for King and Country, Peace and Victory, Liberty and Brotherhood.’

Actor and guest speaker Simon Callow CBE then commenced with the ‘Sound and Light show’ with readings of renowned war poetry and letters sent between a mother and a son fighting on the Western Front.

The members were then subjected to a sound and light show, with the Vickers gun at its epicentre, resembling an artillery bombardment.  The barrage increased in noise and intensity becoming a completely immersive 360-degree experience. A flash and bang emanated from the gun, signalling an eerie silence and from the ceiling of the Grand Temple, a cascade of poppy petals floated gently from above.

Following the formal Act of Remembrance including The Last Post, Two Minute Silence, Reveille and Dedication, the Circuit Banners fell in and after the bugle call of ‘Men to Meal’ there was a recession in silence led by the Silent Sentinels. As the members filed out, they were each invited to place a poppy next to the machine gun as a personal tribute to the fallen. This remarkable meeting further consolidated the powerful bond that exists between English Freemasonry and Her Majesty’s Armed Forces. Lest we Forget.

On the following day, Remembrance Sunday, over 40 members of Circuit of Service Lodges participated in the official ‘March Past’ at the Cenotaph in Central London, each wearing armbands that attested to their membership.

Queen Victoria’s Rifles served with distinction in the First World War as the 9th (County of London) Battalion, London Regiment (Queen Victoria's Rifles). Its two active Battalions were awarded 27 Battle Honours.

Officers and Men were awarded: 1 Victoria Cross, (Lt Woolley was the first soldier or officer of the Territorial Force to be so awarded). 7 Distinguished Service Orders, 40 Military Cross’, 18 Distinguished Service Medals and 141 Military Medals. Of two Battalions with an average strength of some 700 all ranks each: Queen Victoria’s Rifles lost, Killed or Missing in Action, 170 Officers and 1,395 Warrant Officers, Non-Commissioned Officers and Riflemen.

Neil Johnstone was installed as the new Provincial Grand Master and Grand Superintendent of East Kent on 3rd October 2018

East Kent has just under 7,000 members, meeting in 189 Lodges at 35 dedicated Masonic Centres located everywhere from Gravesend in the north of the county to Hythe on the south coast, from Paddock Wood in the west to Ramsgate in the east.  

Neil, who joined Renham Lodge No. 8211 in Sittingbourne nearly 40 years ago, said: ‘I am proud to be the Head of East Kent Freemasons, whilst there is a serious side to what we do, I continue to meet many wonderful people and enjoy some very worthwhile and fun social times.

‘I am also immensely proud of seeing organisation and individuals in Kent being helped with our Cornwallis Charity. This is very heart-warming as it helps to make such a difference to so many peoples lives’ and makes it so worthwhile.’

The Pro Grand Master Peter Lowndes, Grand Secretary Dr David Staples, Second Grand Principal Russell Race and Third Grand Principal Gareth Jones were all in attendance.

Neil had 33-year career in the Police Service followed by 11 years in Local Government. His police career started at Chatham, in the late 60s and early 70s. Neil progressed through various roles and ranks in Kent Police until 1992 when he was seconded to New Scotland Yard to head a national and international unit co-ordinating the many and various aspects of planning for, and responding to, major incidents and the complex investigation processes that inevitably followed.

Neil added: ‘I was very fortunate to travel throughout the UK and to many other countries around the world wearing an Interpol hat and although challenging, it was a fantastic and professionally rewarding opportunity to have had. My succeeding service with our County Council involved the planning for and co-ordination of potential large-scale incidents in Kent, but aimed at minimising the impact on the public and supporting the emergency services. So that was my working life in a nutshell.’

E Comp Jim Boughton was installed as the 13th Grand Superintendent in the Royal Arch Province of Northamptonshire and Huntingdonshire on 28th February 2018

The meeting was attended by companions from chapters across the province, as well as a number of Grand Superintendents from other provinces.

This installation was honoured by the presence of the Second Grand Principal, E Comp Russell Race, who conducted the installation ceremony, assisted by E Comp Peter Kinder, Grand Superintendent of Leicestershire and Rutland, and E Comp Colin Brown, Grand Superintendent of Worcestershire. Once he had been installed, the Grand Superintendent appointed E Comp Neil Handley as Second Provincial Grand Principal, and reappointed E Comp Mike Coleman as Deputy Grand Superintendent and E Comp Mark Constant as Third Provincial Grand Principal.

Deputy Grand Scribe Ezra, E Comp Graham Redman, read the Grand Superintendent’s Patent in his own inimitable way and the Grand Director of Ceremonies Oliver Lodge ensured that the ceremony ran without a hitch.

Once the installation was complete, the newly installed Grand Superintendent addressed the convocation, thanking all those who had come to this special meeting. He spoke of how honoured he is to be leading the province and reaffirmed how he is looking to build upon the tremendous work of his predecessor.

A very enjoyable Festive Board followed the meeting and the Grand Superintendent presented the Second Grand Principal with a bottle of Kingswell Gin, Marmalade and Chutney, with the whole of the Installation team receiving a commemorative glass and bottle of IPA from the resurrected 'Phipps' Brewery as a memento of his Installation Convocation.

Despite the inclement weather, it was a fine day and the beginning of a new chapter for the Royal Arch Province of Northamptonshire and Huntingdonshire.

Pause for thought

Having helped oversee the establishment of the Metropolitan Grand Lodge, Second Grand Principal Russell Race now wants to give Craft members enough time to understand the Royal Arch

What have you taken from your professional career?

I did an economics degree at Liverpool and worked initially for British Steel, then for an administrative body looking after the fishing industry. When I was 24, I went into the City as an investment analyst. I was there for the rest of my working life, for the last 20 years in corporate finance, and retired in my early 50s.

I found my enjoyment was in building good working relationships, and ultimately friendships, with colleagues and clients – which, on the corporate side, is crucial. I had around 30 clients and if you did a good job for them, they would not seek to move somewhere else for a quarter per cent on a deal. And relationships take us into Freemasonry. It’s all about working with people, interacting with them and enjoying their company.

When did you find out about Freemasonry?

I was born in Gloucester, and the first 12 years of my life were spent there. My father joined a lodge just after the war and he went into the Chair in 1956, two years before we moved to Kent, where he became a founder of what became my mother lodge in Rochester.

Lodges had a big social calendar and as a teenager I went to many lodge events with my parents. When I came back from university at 21, and was still living in Kent, my father said to me, ‘Well, you know something about masonry and you’ve met many members of the lodge, so if you’re interested in joining, let me know.’ It was a very smart psychological move. Many fathers might have said, ‘Well, I’ve got you down to join at the next meeting, now you’re back in the area,’ but mine didn’t. I took about two years, got settled in a job, and then said, ‘I’d like to join.’ It was very much my decision, rather than feeling any obligation to join.

Did joining the Royal Arch feel like a natural progression?

I was 29 when I joined the Royal Arch, again in the local chapter in East Kent. I didn’t go into it with any preconceptions and I loved the ceremony from day one – despite being on the receiving end of all three lectures on the evening of my exaltation! In those days, the Royal Arch was considered the completion of the Third Degree, which is now an area of debate. But you could also just say it was seen as the natural progression from the Craft, which is something we rightly still emphasise.

The pressure on chapters was rather less in the 1960s and 1970s, because our numbers were higher than they are today, albeit beginning to level out. Chapters were thriving with 30 or 40 members, but it’s when you get below critical mass of 20 to 15 that you suddenly start thinking, ‘What do we do?’ It’s only at this late stage that many chapters try to re-establish links with the mother Craft lodge, which may be too late.

Why did you become involved in Metropolitan?

As a member of London lodges and chapters, I was aware that Metropolitan was being set up as a separate entity, but my move to London was a complete shot out of the blue. As East Kent Deputy Provincial Grand Master, I had met the Pro Grand Master Lord Northampton for the first time at a dinner. A little later, Rex Thorne asked me out to lunch in Long Acre, and when I arrived Lord Northampton was with him. To my surprise, he asked me to move up to London to become the first Deputy Metropolitan Grand Master.

I took some time to think about it because it was a new job and I knew the time commitment would be substantial. I asked the opinion of a few close friends who were unconnected with London, and they all said the same: ‘You can’t say no. It’s a great opportunity.’ Which indeed it was, but the workload proved to be quite heavy as well.

How did you feel leaving Metropolitan to become Second Grand Principal?

I think I made it known to people over time that Royal Arch is one of my great loves. Having completed six years as Metropolitan Deputy Grand Master and six years as Metropolitan Grand Master and Grand Superintendent, I knew it wasn’t a job I was going to do forever. I had a meeting with Peter Lowndes, who asked how I would feel about taking the position of Second Grand Principal, as George Francis was retiring. I paused slightly but, on this occasion, I didn’t ask for time to think about it, I said, ‘Yes, I’d love to do it.’ The best things in life come unexpectedly, don’t they?

For my successor as Metropolitan Grand Master, Sir Michael Snyder, the intention is to perform the role in a slightly different way, which I am sure is right. It was important in the early days of Metropolitan Grand Lodge for the rulers to be seen to be out visiting lodges and chapters on a regular basis and to be visible to all London masons. I was able to do that, but it wasn’t something that necessarily needed to be carried on at the same pitch, because London now has a firmly established base and identity.

‘We should continue to celebrate the great diversity of ritual practice within the Royal Arch’

What have you inherited from your predecessor in the Royal Arch?

I think one of the important things that George Francis brought to the job was being visible to companions all around the country, visiting widely in the Provinces and London. There is no substitute for hearing people’s views first-hand. Additionally, he was a keen promoter of making the ritual more dramatic and understandable for all participants.

What I would say is that we now need a slight pause for breath to allow the changes to sink in. We have a number of initiatives going on, following on from the ritual change a few years ago, and we have to get these embedded within each Province. Although there may be minor adjustments, I don’t envisage radical changes in the near term. We should continue to celebrate the great diversity of ritual practice within the Royal Arch.

In lodges where there is no active Royal Arch representative, or the Secretary’s not particularly keen on our order, the young mason coming through may have no awareness of the Royal Arch at all. Why should he be deprived of that experience? We need to ensure that all masons have the opportunity to join. I’m not saying you’re an incomplete mason if you’ve not come into the Royal Arch, but rather that your breadth of understanding is not as full as it might be.

Imagine when somebody’s interviewed for initiation and saying to them, ‘You are beginning an exciting four-stage journey.’ If you can get that message across on day one, it’s far easier than going to them after they’ve done their Third Degree and saying, ‘Oh, by the way, there’s another step and here’s a leaflet about it.’

Even if, on a flat Craft membership, we can increase the conversion rate to 45% or 50% across the board, rather than current rate in the high thirties, that in itself will take up our membership to more acceptable levels.

Do you see your role as ambassador or enforcer?

Gareth Jones, the Third Grand Principal, and I are certainly ambassadors. I think it’s about communicating to Superintendents and their Deputies, as well as to all companions, that we’re here to help and guide them in the right direction. I sense a strong desire for consistency across the piece, and that has to come from Supreme Grand Chapter. A Province or a private chapter can’t take effective decisions about the direction in which they are going unless they have the proper information to start with. I think it’s quite compelling if you say to a Grand Superintendent that these initiatives are available, they’ve worked in other Provinces – look at the results, maybe there are lessons for you.

I mentioned before about taking a slight pause, giving yourself the time to think. I saw a very good demonstration in Freemasons’ Hall some years ago. At various stages in the ceremony they stopped and said, ‘Right, we’re about to do this. Somebody tell me why we do it this way.’ And the members hadn’t thought about it. They were just hearing the words. That was in a Craft lodge, but the moral applies equally to the Royal Arch.

Every now and again it behoves us all to stop and think, ‘What do the words mean? Why do we do what we do, for example, in terms of choreography of the ritual?’ I would like to reverse the trend in numbers, which we are beginning to do in some areas, but I believe that will only come through companions having a better understanding, and with it greater enjoyment of our unique order.

Published in SGC

Last Wednesday’s Regular Convocation of Supreme Grand Chapter was a special meeting as HRH The Duke of Kent celebrated his Golden Jubilee as First Grand Principal with a special investiture of Grand Ranks

Afterwards HRH The Duke of Kent was photographed with the Pro First Grand Principal, Second Grand Principal and Third Grand Principal to mark the occasion.

Read the First Grand Principal’s address here.

Read the Pro First Grand Principal’s address here.

Published in SGC

Travelling together

Pro First Grand Principal Peter Lowndes explains how strong leadership combined with a responsible approach will help to build a successful future for the Royal Arch

I congratulate all the Grand Officers whom I have invested on behalf of the Most Excellent the First Grand Principal. At the same time I would remind you that with your new ranks come new obligations. 

Appointments and promotions are therefore not just a reward but an encouragement for further participation in the success of the Order, whether providing support for members of your chapters or giving encouragement to those in the vital role of Royal Arch representatives in your Craft lodges. If, indeed, you are not that representative yourself.

It has been a great pleasure to invest Most Excellent Companion Gareth Jones as Third Grand Principal in succession to Most Excellent Companion David Williamson, who was himself appointed in 2010. We owe Companion Williamson an enormous debt of gratitude for his many contributions, both in our Order and in many others as well. This succession, coupled with that of Most Excellent Companion Russell Race in November last year, continues the strong leadership that the Royal Arch has enjoyed for many years and ensures an exciting future for the Order.

I believe that the Royal Arch is in its strongest position for many years. The profile of the Order was greatly enhanced by the outstanding success of the bicentenary celebrations in 2013, coupled with several key initiatives during and since that time, including the Royal Arch participation in the Freemasons’ Fund for Surgical Research.

As a reminder, there are two Royal Arch fellows in every five fellowships supported. This is thanks to the incredible generosity of our members and the skilful management of our assets.

I take great pride in the work of the Grand Director of Ceremonies and his team and want to thank the retiring Grand Scribe Ezra for his work over the past nine years. We have travelled a lot together, although we have not always returned without mishap. But be it Icelandic volcanic ash, Barbadian hurricanes or Heathrow snow, we have made it in the end, one way or another. 

‘Appointments and promotions are not just a reward but an encouragement for participation in the success of the Order.’

Published in SGC

Annual Investiture of Supreme Grand Chapter

29 April 2016 
An address by the ME Pro First Grand Principal Peter Lowndes

Companions, I know that you would want me to congratulate all of the Grand Officers whom I have invested today on behalf of the Most Excellent the First Grand Principal. At the same time I would remind you that with your new ranks come new obligations. Appointments and promotions are therefore not just a reward, but an encouragement for further participation in the success of the Order whether providing support for the members of your chapters or giving encouragement to those in the important role of Royal Arch Representatives in your Craft lodges. If, indeed, you are not that representative yourself.

It has been a great pleasure to invest today Most Excellent Companion Gareth Jones as Third Grand Principal in succession to Most Excellent Companion David Williamson who was himself appointed in 2010. We owe Companion Williamson an enormous debt of gratitude for his many contributions, both in our order and in many others as well. Today’s succession coupled with that of Most Excellent Companion Russell Race in November last year, continues the strong leadership that the Royal Arch has enjoyed for many years and ensures an exciting future for the Order.

Companions, I believe that the Royal Arch is in its strongest position for many years. The profile of the Order was greatly enhanced by the outstanding success of the bicentenary celebrations in 2013 coupled with several key initiatives during and since that time, including the Royal Arch participation in the Freemasons’ Fund for Surgical Research. As a reminder, there are two Royal Arch fellows in every five fellowships supported. This is thanks to the incredible generosity of our members and the skilful management of our assets.

Finally, companions, I must, on your behalf and mine, thank the Grand Director of Ceremonies and his team and the Grand Scribe Ezra’s staff for the success of today. Somewhat naturally I take great pride in the work of the Grand Director of Ceremonies and his team, but on this occasion I want to thank, particularly, the retiring Grand Scribe Ezra for his work over the last nine years. We have travelled a lot together, although we have not always returned without mishap – be it Icelandic volcanic ash, Barbadian hurricanes or Heathrow snow, but we have made it in the end one way or another. I am sure he would agree with me that these were testing events and we were both extremely grateful for the calming influence of his PA, Louise, back at base.

Thank you companions.

Published in Speeches

Retirement dinner for George Francis

After 10 years as Second Grand Principal, George Francis has retired. To mark his retirement a dinner was held at Freemasons’ Hall in London for those Grand Superintendents that he had installed. Also present was his successor as Second Grand Principal, Russell Race.

Published in SGC

Moment of opportunity

In his new role as Metropolitan Grand Master, Sir Michael Snyder explains how his appetite for change has steered a distinguished career in accountancy and the City

How did you become the managing partner at Kingston Smith?

I took articles at Kingston Smith when it was a small accountancy firm, as most were in 1968. I was asked to look after our Hayes office in 1973 for a couple of weeks, as the manager they’d put in wasn’t working out. Two weeks became a month and by late 1973 I was running the office, becoming one of five partners in 1974. In 1979 the then senior partner became ill and I took over running the firm. We were seven partners at the time, then merged with another firm and became 11. It’s been pretty successful: we’re client focused, have a good niche in the market and are in the top 20 firms in the UK. 

Are you proud of your career?

I never use the word ‘pride’. I always think that’s a bit pompous, a bit self-satisfied, and tends to come before a fall. I’m happy with the way we’ve grown the firm. Of course, I could have done some things better but we’ve avoided major pitfalls. I think we’re respected and we’ve always focused on our clients.

How did you come to Freemasonry?

I was a member of The Worshipful Company of Needlemakers, which has an associated lodge, so I joined because a good number of my friends were members. I was a bit apprehensive beforehand but I thought, why not? When you join Freemasonry, you go through the degrees and it all slowly unfolds. However, it didn’t really mean an enormous amount to me until I went into the chair some years later – then it all started to come together and I began to really understand. I like the symmetry of it, I like the ritual, and however busy I am in business and public life, I always attend some meetings.

Are you ambitious?

I’ve been dedicated but I haven’t been on a mission. When most of we baby boomers were born after the war it didn’t matter what strata of society you were from, there wasn’t a lot to go around. We grew up understanding that we had to make our way, work hard and dedicate ourselves to our careers. I guess that’s where my motivation comes from. 

Has the City changed?

It used to be like a big club, but since the Big Bang [in 1986] there are more international players, more regulations. But it’s always been a level playing field. 

I believe that perhaps the reason the City has been so successful over the centuries is because anyone in the world can come here to trade and expect the same treatment. I think that’s important.

Could you work anywhere else?

I love the City of London – I think it’s a wonderful place. I like its cosmopolitan nature, the diversity and the fact that it’s the centre of the international business world. I started doing things for the City 30 years ago because I wanted to give something back, and I was asked to stand for election to the City of London’s Court of Common Council.

‘As a baby boomer, I grew up understanding that we had to make our way, work hard and dedicate ourselves to our careers. I guess that’s where my motivation comes from.’

Are you a reformist?

Before I led the City of London Corporation it ran like a sort of federation of states, with each department reporting only to its committee, not to the CEO, so we changed that and brought it together as one organisation. When I became policy and resources chairman, I didn’t have an office, didn’t have a meeting room, no staff – it was impossible to run, so I put the necessary support in place.

I felt that we couldn’t just be insular in London, so we opened an office in Brussels to engage with the EU, as well as opening offices in Mumbai, Shanghai and Beijing to connect with two of the powerhouses of the future. We also engaged with the surrounding and deprived areas of London and were at the forefront of the Academy schools initiative. 

There was considerable change but I wasn’t trying to kill tradition; I was introducing direction and modernity to how things worked. We decided the City needed buildings fit to house the world’s leading financial businesses, rather than the City becoming a museum, so we changed the planning policy and some of London’s best buildings are now here.

Do you seize opportunities?

Yes, I have always tried to make the best of opportunities that come my way. I like to get things running properly and I’m driven by fairness. If I see something unjust I can’t stand it and I have to try to resolve the situation. It’s been an exciting journey. My wife’s bugbear is about me learning to say no. 

I’m trying, and I think I’m a good delegator.

What keeps you in the Craft?

I do like the Craft, not only its good spirit but also the charity side. It’s incredible what masons do in terms of giving. Take the Royal Masonic Trust for Girls and Boys’ support of Lifelites, which contributes to all of the children’s hospices in the country, or the London Freemasons who are raising £2 million for an Air Ambulance. The London members of the Craft and Royal Arch add up to something like 45,000, which is a significant proportion of Freemasonry in England, but it’s not an enormous number of people when you look at the amounts of money they raise. 

How do you feel about becoming Metropolitan Grand Master?

When I was approached I was flattered and somewhat apprehensive. I admire [the outgoing Metropolitan Grand Master] Russell Race, he’s done a fantastic job and has steered London rather astutely from an embryonic concept into a strong, viable organisation. Russell’s had an excellent team, but you’ve also got to recognise the contribution made by the hundreds of Freemasons in London who have been involved in Metropolitan’s activities. 

What are your aims for the role?

I like to get things working smoothly and I see my appointment as an opportunity. We have nearly 1,870 lodges and chapters in the Metropolitan area, so considerable organisation is needed to lead and support them. I want every volunteer in every role to be able to undertake their masonic duties while still being fully involved in their family and professional lives. Some masons who are retired may wish to start meetings early and finish early, whereas those who are working in their careers will need meetings to start later; we need to accommodate both. 

Freemasonry is an interesting hobby that needn’t take over from family life or earning a living. It can help develop the skills and confidence that serve us well in our careers, as well as provide fellowship and a network of friends.

Canterbury evensong for Royal Arch

The choral evensong congregation at Canterbury Cathedral was enhanced by almost 500 companions, brethren, their families and friends coming together for the Province of East Kent’s Royal Arch biennial church service.

Led by Grand Superintendent Geoffrey Dearing, distinguished guests included Assistant Grand Master Sir David Wootton, Third Grand Principal David Williamson, the then Metropolitan Grand Master Russell Race and several neighbouring Provincial Grand Masters. 

Guests were able to view the Ancestors exhibit, a series of life-size figures representing the Ancestors of Christ that date to the 12th and early 13th centuries. These beautiful examples of medieval stained glass had been temporarily removed from the Cathedral’s Great South Window while conservation work was carried out on its crumbling stonework. They were on display in the Chapter House, the East Window of which was a gift from the Freemasons of Kent.

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