More than fair
The Showmen’s Lodge has been bringing together fairground rides, local communities and Freemasonry since it was consecrated in 2007. Ellie Fazan meets the members and spends a day on the dodgems.
For the fairground showmen on Keyworth Playing Fields, Nottingham, it’s an early start – so early, the sun hasn’t yet burnt the summer haze from the sky. ‘We’re never ready until the first members of the public arrive,’ the guys laugh as they put the finishing touches to the rides and attractions at Keyworth Fair, opening this afternoon. There’s something heart-warming about watching a big man artfully arranging popcorn and kids’ toys as prizes on a stand.
‘We closed the last fair at 7pm on Sunday night then packed up and drove through the night to get here. It’s amazing what you get used to,’ explains David Cox Jr (otherwise known as ‘Little David’). ‘Even though I’ve been doing this my whole life, there’s always a thrill arriving somewhere new. This is a real feel-good job. There’s nothing quite like it when there’s sun on your back and cash in your pocket.’
Being a showman is hereditary; rides and pitches run in the family. Little David is the fifth generation. His dad, David Cox Sr, who organised this fair, gave him the waltzers when he was seventeen. David Sr is also one of the founding members of the Showmen’s Lodge, No. 9826, along with the other men at Keyworth today. ‘We were in another lodge that gradually dissolved,’ explains David Sr, ‘and we wanted to be members of something again. We decided on Loughborough as a location because it’s motorway connected, and we have to be mindful of where people travel.’
A sense of belonging
It might seem a strange leap from the fairground to Freemasonry, but the ties are strong. ‘While numbers in some lodges decline, special-interest lodges like this one are growing because of that extra layer of binding,’ explains Leicestershire and Rutland Provincial Grand Master David Hagger, who consecrated the lodge.
‘Even though I’ve been doing this my whole life, there’s always a thrill arriving somewhere new. This is a real feel-good job. There’s nothing quite like it when there’s sun on your back and cash in your pocket.’ David Cox Jr
With showmen only bedding down in one place for three or four months over winter, the sense of community that Freemasonry brings is crucial. ‘We travel widely so it’s good to have something extra that connects us. This gives us a chance to get together and see friends we might not otherwise see,’ says Philip Wheatley, the Worshipful Master. ‘It’s a great social life, and we get to talk about the things that affect our business.’ His brother Jimmy continues: ‘We always meet in November near the Loughborough Fair, because it’s one of the big ones on the calendar that we all go to. The Festive Board is spectacular.’
The Showmen’s Lodge has brethren from all over the country, with members coming from twelve different Provinces as far away as Bradford and Kent. ‘And they have a very close relationship with one another. The son of a mason is called a Lewis, and in this Order there are many more Lewises than usual. Nine fathers and sons, and several brothers and cousins too,’ explains David Hagger.
Another founding member, Michael McKean is here with his son Clark, who has ‘been friends since the word go’ with Little David. As have their parents – and grandparents. Family ties here are strong, and it’s a very close community. ‘Weddings and funerals are huge,’ explains Clark, ‘and the lifestyle is great: going to different places, having great friends and really good family. I’m thirty-three and I’m with my father ninety per cent of the time, always helping each other out. You can’t say that in many communities these days. I have a little girl who is one and a half and she is with us most of the time. It makes life easy, and means showmen don’t have trouble with their kids.’
On home ground
When it comes to stories that have grown up about fairgrounds, the men are keen to dispel certain myths. Contrary to popular belief, their fair has an excellent safety record: ‘Better than Transport for London,’ says Michael. ‘And public preconceptions about us are wrong. They think we go round ripping people off. Not all gypsies are like that, and nor are we. I understand that people are wary of us – they wake up one morning and we’re here. That’s disconcerting.’
On the whole, however, the showmen have a good relationship with the local community and are proud to be welcomed back by those who have got to know them in previous years. ‘My ride is the tea cups,’ says Philip, ‘and some years mothers will come up to me nodding at their children and say, “He’s a bit too big for it now,” and smile. That gives me real pleasure. You don’t love a ride because of how big it is, but because of the pleasure it gives.’
Like many others in the UK, the showmen have been bitten by the economic recession, with the cost of fuel also a big problem. ‘It used to be that you’d only do a six-mile radius, then in recent years we’ve been going all over, and now the net is closing in again. It’s a fine balancing act, to work out the costs. It’s £5,000 for a full tank of petrol to London and back,’ says David Sr. ‘So you have to be sure you’ll make it back.’ And these days people have less to spend. Many come to the fair just to soak up the atmosphere but there’s no bitterness on the part of the showmen: ‘That’s part of the service too. The beauty of the thing is you can come and spend as much or as little as you like.’
‘We want to help the public through any predicament they may be in, whether that is by providing entertainment or charity.’ Michael McKean
‘I’m thirty-three and I’m with my father ninety per cent of the time, always helping each other out. You can’t say that in many communities these days.’ Clark McKean
The fun of the fair
The economic troubles haven’t stopped the lodge’s charitable intentions. Providing spectacle for all, the Showmen’s Lodge is guided by a philosophy of giving back to the communities that give to them. ‘At the consecration meeting they raised £1,400, which shows their generosity,’ says David Hagger.
Recently, Michael ran a free fair for children with additional needs in Derbyshire on the care in the community day. ‘Jimmy asked me and I said yes. Simple as that. And there was no trouble getting others to take part. Just the looks on the little kids’ faces made it worthwhile,’ he says. ‘But this isn’t just because we’re Freemasons. In the showmen community there is a strong tradition of charity.’
Famous showman Pat Collins, Showmen’s Guild president from 1920 to 1929, ran free fairs for orphans of the time. ‘We want to help the public through any predicament they may be in, whether that is by providing entertainment or charity,’ Michael says. ‘During World War I, we provided ambulances to take the wounded from the front, and during World War II showmen all chipped in and bought a Spitfire, known as “The Fun of the Fair”.’ Within their community they have raised more than £100,000 through Molliefest, a fair held to support a sick child.
As the day wound down, conversation moved from charity work to lifestyle. So what’s it like living in a caravan? ‘Same as living in a house. We have every luxury you can imagine,’ says David Sr. Do you ever go to the fair when you’re on holiday? Laughter from Clark, ‘I’ve been to Puerto Rico and seen fairs you wouldn’t want to stand next to, never mind ride on.’
Is it dangerous? ‘How many scars do you want to see?’ laughs Little David. Followed quickly by: ‘No! We are brought up knowing how to look after our equipment. We can spot trouble a country mile off and look out for each other.’ There is no doubt that these men are genuinely committed to each other and the communities they visit.
Then I ask the question that’s been on the tip of my tongue all day: ‘What’s your favourite ride?’ Little David replies immediately: ‘The waltzer. We have a saying: you can take the boy out of the waltzer, but you can’t take the waltzer out of the boy.’ David Jr’s dad chips in with less sentiment: ‘I like whatever ride takes the most money. If someone says to me, can you get such and such, the answer is always yes. Because even if I can’t get it, I know a man who can. We’ve got any event covered.’
Letters to the editor - No. 24 Winter 2013
More than fair
I should like, through Freemasonry Today, to thank the owners of the dodgems featured in the article ‘More Than Fair’ in the last issue. The reason for my thanks is that my brother-in-law, Philip Mosley, was physically and mentally handicapped and used to love the fair coming to Buxton. He would get very excited when he saw it. The dodgems was his favourite ride and they allowed him to go on it at any time without paying.
After I married my wife, Philip lived with us because of his parents’ death. This thank you has been a long time in coming – Philip passed on in 1987 – but I hope it’s better late than never. He must have enjoyed those dodgems for about forty-five years, some of that before my time.
On behalf of my wife Brenda and the Mosley family I thank the owners of that dodgems ride and wish that they prosper long. Thank you also for your interesting magazine, which I pass along as far as Malta.
David Storer, High Peak Lodge, No. 1952, Buxton, Derbyshire
The language of mystery
Director of special projects John Hamill considers whether the words and phrases used in Freemasonry should be modernised to give greater clarity.
The English language is said to be one of the most difficult to learn, in both its written and spoken forms. Part of that difficulty is the wonderfully idiosyncratic illogicality of how we pronounce many of our words, which often has little bearing on the actual letters they contain. Another problem is that a simple word can have different meanings, or shades of meaning, depending on its context, or even where in the country it is spoken.
To most of us, ‘bait’ is what a fisherman puts on his hook in the hopes of catching a fish. In northeast England, ‘bait’ is what a workman has in his lunch box. Equally, in spoken English many words sound the same but have different spellings and meanings. Consider the simple words ‘you’, ‘yew’ and ‘ewe’, or ‘earn’ and ‘urn’.
English is a living language in which the meaning of words changes over time, so it is important to consider the period to get the full definition. I remember in my early days as a masonic researcher being slightly puzzled when the premier Grand Lodge Minutes referred to brother A being appointed Provincial Grand Master for M ‘in the room’ of brother B. In my naivety I thought it rather quaint that they actually went to the room of the predecessor to appoint the successor. But it soon dawned on me that they were using ‘room’ not in its usual sense of an actual physical place but to mean ‘in place of’.
Time to redefine
Our Craft rituals were developed over a long period, from the late 1600s until they were formally codified by the Lodge of Reconciliation from 1814 to 1816. They inevitably include words and phrases with meanings that have changed in the past two hundred years. Many of those words are still in common usage and so can cause confusion for a new member.
One word that gives pause for thought and appears frequently in our rituals is ‘mystery’, plus its plural ‘mysteries’. Today, mystery has connotations of something hidden, possibly secret, which takes time to understand. The full Oxford English Dictionary gives more than a dozen definitions, some of which are no longer in use, or used rarely, but nonetheless show how we came to use mystery in our ceremonies.
One definition is that a mystery was an occupation, service, office or ministry. Another that it was a handicraft, craft or art. The dictionary states that the phrase ‘art and mystery’ appears in many apprentice indentures, citing a sixteenth-century indenture for a boy apprenticed to a master to learn ‘the science, art and mystery of wool combing’. In another definition it states that a mystery was a trade guild or company, pointing to our possible connections, direct or indirect, with the stonemasons’ craft.
This latter definition was one that appealed to the late Rev Neville Barker Cryer. In his Prestonian Lecture of 1974 he looked for the possible roots of Freemasonry in the Mystery Plays performed by the medieval trade guilds, which he believed had a similar purpose to our masonic ceremonies – the instilling of principles of morality. In ancient Greece, Rome and Egypt, the ‘mysteries’ were rites and ceremonies to which only the initiated were admitted, which again chimes with the use of the word in our ceremonies.
Occasionally, we hear calls to modernise those ceremonies, to take out old words and phrases and replace them with modern, instantly comprehensible ones. I hope those calls are never answered. Our ceremonies contain some wonderful set pieces of English language that would be destroyed if we modernised them. Freemasonry is a learning process, and if we have to resort to a dictionary to fully comprehend what we learn, that can only enrich us.
Letters to the editor - No. 26 Summer 2014
I’ve always considered one of the most important aspects of ritual was to inculcate the brethren in the principles of masonry, and the word is repeated often in ritual and lectures. I do not believe that ‘inculcation’ occurs simply by reading the rituals.
‘Inculcate’ is defined as ‘to instil by forceful and insistent repetition’. By learning, practicing and performing ritual, we reinforce the principles of masonry in ourselves and, hopefully, encourage others to take up those principles. I think it follows that, no matter how good or bad a brother may be at ritual, every effort is made to encourage him in the effort and if bringing some of the language of masonry into the twenty-first century encourages this, so much the better.
Alan Booth, Earl of Chester Lodge, No. 1565, Lymm, Cheshire
Letters to the editor - No. 25 Spring 2014
Mystery of the heel
How right John Hamill is to urge that we don’t modernise the language of our ritual. My favourite is the Charge to the Initiate that encapsulates so well the qualities that we expect of ourselves.
One mystery that I find odd is the suggested pronunciation of the word ‘heel’, which I contend should be pronounced just as that – the Oxford Dictionary in its third meaning defines it as ‘set a plant in the ground and cover its roots’, so why shouldn’t it be pronounced as it’s spelt? And of course there is the old chestnut of ‘tenets’, derived from the Latin tenere (to hold) with a short ‘e’, so where the pronunciation ‘teanets’ came from is another mystery.
Peter Dodd, Old Epsomian Lodge, No. 3561, London
Letters to the editor - No. 24 Winter 2013
Minding our language
I always enjoy reading John Hamill’s articles and found ‘The Language of Mystery’ in the last issue particularly interesting. I have, myself, what some might call an obsession with the origins, history and development of the English language and have, from time to time, presented a paper entitled ‘Language and Freemasonry’.
In that paper, I make mention of the word ‘mystery’, with reference to Peter Ackroyd’s excellent book London: The Biography (Chatto & Windus, 2000). In chapter seven, where he discusses the medieval guilds, Ackroyd says that the word ‘mystery’ in this context derives from the French ‘metier’, meaning, of course, ‘trade’ or ‘profession’. It doubtless suits us in both meanings!
Andrew McWhirter, Luxborough Lodge, No. 4700, Loughton, Essex
Hear, Hear! I read with great interest John Hamill’s article ‘The Language of Mystery’ in the autumn issue, concerning the debate surrounding the call to modernise our ritual and language. To many brethren, this has all the hallmarks of ‘dumbing down’ – and to what end?
If the goal is to put ‘bums on seats’ we would do well to remember that in recent history, our larger churches went through this process of modernising their respective services in order to make them more accessible to a wider congregation. The result? A near collapse in church attendances bordering on seventy per cent. As John Hamill asks, do we really want to risk the current green shoots of growth just because some of our language may appear a bit ‘fuddy-duddy’ at times?
Martin Day, Cyngesburie Lodge, No. 5607, London
Rev Neville Barker Cryer
A regular contributor to Freemasonry Today, the Rev Neville Barker Cryer’s recent death has robbed the Craft of one of its modern ‘characters’. A big man in every way, he had an international reputation as a researcher, writer and speaker on Freemasonry.
A Past Master of Quatuor Coronati Lodge, No. 2076, Neville was for a number of years its secretary and editor of Transactions. His work was acknowledged by his being appointed Prestonian Lecturer for 1974.
After a few years as a parish priest, Neville was secretary of the British and Foreign Bible Society and authored several books on religious matters.
He will be much missed, not least on the masonic lecturing circuit and in the many Orders in which he held high office.
Letters to the editor - No. 24 Winter 2013
It was with great sadness I read of the passing of Reverend Neville Barker Cryer. His passing is a great loss to the Craft.
I only once had the good fortune to meet him and listen to his thoughts. When an entered apprentice, I attended the ‘Let’s talk Freemasonry’ conference at Hemsley House in Salford. It was here that I was able to hear the Reverend speak; impart wisdom, knowledge and his own brand of acerbic wit. Indeed, when I read in the last issue the description of him as one of the last great modern ‘characters’, it raised more than a wry smile to my lips. Personally, I found him enlightening, amusing and uncommonly direct.
Despite him being in great demand for attention whilst at the conference, he took the time out to speak directly to me for a few moments. The encouragement and bolstering belief he kindly gave me in those moments will live with me always. Worlds, as they say, are turned on the smallest of thoughts and deeds. He had a clear opinion, and had the courage of his convictions and stuck with them.
Richard Bardsley, Kitchener Lodge, No. 3788, Bolton, East Lancashire
At the Annual Convocation of the Provincial Grand Chapter of Northamptonshire and Huntingdonshire, the ME Grand Superintendent, E Comp Wayne Williams, had a surprise up his sleeve for the eldest companion present
This was 92 years old E Comp Frederick (Vic) Bashford, a member of St Ivo Chapter No. 2684, Northamptonshire and Huntingdonshire Chapter of First Principals No. 3422 and Ailwyn Chapter No. 3535, who is one of the few surviving WWII veterans who were recently awarded the Arctic Star campaign medal.
During the Second World Cpl Vic Bashford, as a young Royal Air Force Electrical Fitter, was involved in Force Benedict, a secret mission to protect the northern Russia port of Murmansk, that was a crucial lifeline to the Soviets. The aircraft, the first 39 of nearly 3,000 Hurricanes supplied, were transported in August 1941 by the Aircraft Carrier HMS Argos and SS Llanstephen Castle in the first Arctic convoy between the UK and Russia.
Throughout the War 104 merchant ships and 20 Royal Navy ships were lost in the Arctic Convoy duties but fortunately, E Comp Bashford survived this ordeal and was able to be present at the meeting and enjoy the presentation by the Most Excellent Grand Superintendent of his Certificate of Meritorious Service for unstinting service over many years to the Holy Royal Arch.
The sociable network
With social media and a pint at the local pub attracting a new following of junior Freemasons, Caitlin Davies meets the Rough Ashlar Club
These days, a recommendation to become a Freemason doesn’t have to happen at the local pub. Ubiquitous internet access and devices mean that social media is now proving an ideal way for Cheshire Freemasons to reach out to new, younger members. Launched last November for junior masons, the Rough Ashlar Club has a Facebook page, and a Twitter feed that’s gathered nearly five hundred followers to date.
The club is a result of the Cheshire Master Masons Forum, whose aim is to make Freemasonry a modern, appealing and fun organisation, while retaining its core traditional values. ‘Our leaders in Cheshire identified that we needed to engage with young guys.
Now the forum has various projects and we’re bringing Cheshire into the modern era,’ explains Master Masons chair Mark Sellers, thirty-six, a Freemason for nearly ten years.
The Rough Ashlar Club launched with a Greek-themed night, attended by around forty people. ‘The idea was to bring mates along to meet your masonic friends,’ says Mark. ‘We’ve not got two heads, we’re normal guys who enjoy friendship and raise money for charity.’
Forum member Tom Browne, forty-seven, says they surveyed lodges and found that people wanted more social events. So the club held a Fancy a Pint night in pubs around Cheshire.
Events so far have been as inclusive as possible, targeting the young but not excluding seniors, and open to family and friends. Plans are now afoot for cheese and wine evenings, casino nights, a family fun day and a Christmas ball. In February the club sold well over one hundred tickets for a race night – and raised £1,770 for charity. Upcoming events include a trip to the Chester Charity Beer Festival.
So, beer features quite prominently in the club’s activities? Tom laughs, ‘It seems to be a running theme.’
Another theme is the use of social media. Forum member Phil Hopkinson set up a website (www.roughashlarclub.org), which advertises events and keeps people up to date with news. A Facebook page has also been launched, but it’s the Twitter feed (@RoughAshlarClub), with news, comments and photographs, that has been the biggest success.
‘Twitter has been phenomenal. Older guys say, “I wish we’d had this while I was growing up!”’ Mark Sellers
Entering a new age
While posting regular tweets and keeping the website and Facebook page fresh is a big time commitment, the Rough Ashlar Club is already seeing the results. ‘Younger brethren are constantly asking when the next event will be,’ says Tom. ‘Social media is definitely working and this is only the beginning.’
Forum member Adam Collantine describes his role as ‘ambassador, champion and a bit of a mouthpiece’. He says the club was started for ‘young’ masons; then the forum realised the median age of new masons is between forty and fifty, so they changed the word to ‘junior’.
Adam, thirty, became a mason by simply writing to the Province saying he wanted to join. ‘I’d read up on it and I was feeling slightly disheartened about the state of the world, the country and the way people behave to each other. I liked the core values of Freemasonry.’
It was Adam and other forum members who made a concerted effort to bring Cheshire Freemasons into the twenty-first century.
‘We said we’d run a Facebook page and a Twitter feed as a trial for the Province,’ he says, revealing that the Province has just started a Twitter feed of its own. ‘I was a Facebook man, but Twitter is faster and constantly updated.
The point of social media is short pieces. I’m at work, I don’t have time to read an article, but I can read one hundred and forty characters.’
Open and honest
‘The people in the Province didn’t understand social media and there was a fear of exposing themselves to criticism,’ admits Mark. ‘There has been a lot of interaction, but no negative press. Twitter has been phenomenal. All the people I bump into think it’s great. Older guys say, “I wish we’d had this while I was growing up!”’
As for the social events, Mark explains that masonic activities are not exclusive from the rest of the member’s life: ‘Wives, partners and girlfriends get to enjoy them too.’ The club’s website, meanwhile, includes a section for people thinking of becoming a Freemason.
It explains the organisation’s history and dispels the myth that becoming a mason is difficult.
Mark says new members are now applying though the internet; the days of having to be invited to be a Freemason are well and truly gone. ‘We need to be open and honest and let people find out about us. People join, they go through their Three Degrees and then they wonder what’s next – especially if there aren’t younger guys at their lodge. They want to know how to get more involved.’
The Rough Ashlar Club’s aim is to help the Craft both survive and thrive. It has created a list of Cheshire-based masonic tweeters to encourage communications between all corners of the Province. And if social media continues to thrive as a communication and recruitment tool, what’s happening in Cheshire could provide a template for other Provinces to use – so watch this space. Or for those already on Twitter, watch this ‘#’.
Letters to the editor - No. 24 Winter 2013
Getting to know you
I was interested to read in your most recent edition of the concerns that many members have with regards to recruitment policies, and the quality and speed in which a member advances through the offices.
All views expressed seem to have merit but there are a complex number of issues that one has to consider with regards to recruitment within masonry. Quality is undoubtedly the major influencer in sustaining good numbers years after many others have come and gone.
Our lodge, White Eagle, adopted a policy some years back, which has some extremely encouraging results.
The basis of recruitment had been to identify a character that a member could recommend, and put it to him on the first occasion whether or not he wished to be a mason – this often without any real knowledge of the organisation or any of the people within the particular lodge he might be joining.
We identified this as being a policy which failed to produce the right quantity and quality of prospective masons. We therefore embarked on creating some ‘fringe events’, which include a dinner between 6pm and 7.30pm on Thursdays (as our Lodge of Instruction meets later that evening). Members are encouraged to invite anybody, without the slightest notion of recruiting them into Freemasonry.
This provides a way by which, through regular attendance, a prospective member could consider the characters involved in Freemasonry before making the enquiry to join himself. It is only once that person has proved themselves as somebody who would attend each Thursday for dinner, drinks and a social occasion (for say a year) do we begin to enquire if there is a deeper interest in them joining the organisation.
By encouraging these dinners, the potential candidate also has the chance to introduce other friends with the possibility of them becoming interested. We have found it a most useful and successful recruitment policy. Because it is not an obvious recruitment event, it attracts more enquiries.
It should also be noted that by creating an event on our regular Lodge of Instruction evenings, it maintains the interest and attendance of existing members which, in my own opinion, is the primary challenge that lodges face. On that point, we are purposefully delaying progress through the ranks, as rapid advancement has a tendency to put too much pressure on some, and they have a tendency to fall by the wayside, so to speak. I hope some other lodges find these ideas helpful.
Robin Norris, White Eagle Lodge, No. 4384, London
LETTERS TO THE EDITOR - NO. 23 Autumn 2013
What an inspiration it was to read the article by Caitlin Davies in the summer 2013 edition. To see young Freemasons embracing new technology so successfully lifted my spirits.
At seventy-five years of age and twenty-six years a member, I have long wondered what the young guys make of us older brethren, with our old suits and tales of crowded lodge meetings of the past. Looking forward, I have long been convinced that once encouraged, modern communication systems would prove a great advantage in recruitment and retention.
Looking at the photographs accompanying the article I noticed not a musty old suit in sight; the confidence shone through the happy faces and demonstrated our openness to anyone in doubt – we are not a load of old fuddy-duddies with funny clothes and two heads.
Clearly, modern communication is the way forward and these brethren are proving their success in the interest they are generating. Despite occasional bad press about certain media sites, I hope the powers that be will encourage activity like this in all Provinces.
It must, of course, have clear guidelines in which to operate but please don’t strangle it at birth. No doubt some of the ‘suits’ will rail against my comments but I fear they might be the ones whose outdated attitudes slow down the future progress of this wonderful fraternity.
Brian Fairweather, Old Rectory Lodge, No. 6651, Caversham, Berkshire
Letters to the editor - No. 22 Summer 2013
Spread the word
Seventy per cent of our lodge’s new members have been secured directly through our website. Their enthusiasm and the renewed enthusiasm shown by our existing members has proved a draw for others. In 2011 we were fortunate to have initiated four members, in 2012 eight new initiates, and now have seven in line for next year plus three joining members. This takes the total to about thirty-nine – almost double our previous membership.
With almost thirty outstanding ceremonies projected at the start of 2012, we had to make sure new candidates didn’t lose interest while waiting to progress through their respective degrees. Mentoring and communication play an important part. As we are busy in the lodge, we are able to give them work at the earliest opportunity without them feeling under any pressure, and progression is now by merit and ability. We have also been fortunate to have support from a number of other lodges in Middlesex who have had no scheduled work. This means that our candidates can progress as quickly as they want and it boosts the numbers at the meetings of the other lodges because we will attend to support our candidates. Most importantly, visiting enables friendships to be made between the lodges.
By putting our efforts into digital and social media, we have been able to tap into a growing online community of existing and would-be Freemasons.
In doing this, we have provided a place where people can learn about, discuss and eventually join our lodge more easily than they have been able to in the past.
Nigel Harris-Cooksley, North Harrow Lodge, No. 6557, Harrow, Middlesex
A member of Thermopylae Lodge, No. 4386, in the Province of Cheshire created a Facebook page last year to help provide information about the lodge and to help dispel the myths about Freemasonry. Within months it became popular to the point where people were approaching asking for further information about charity work, activities and membership. The current following is little under four hundred and the page can reach up to forty-five thousand people some weeks.
The first to ask for more information were a father and son. After attending social events and getting to know the members of the lodge they decided to join and their double initiation was in February. They have fitted in brilliantly and taken on the true spirit of the lodge. We get asked by enquirers for more information daily. We offer links to Grand Lodge or the Province as appropriate and the benefit of the page is incredible: www.facebook.com/wirralfreemasons
Dale Bland, Thermopylae Lodge, No. 4386, Wallasey, Cheshire
Where freedom exists, Freemasonry can flourish. Director of Special Projects John Hamill explains why the Craft thrives in democratic societies
In January, National Holocaust Memorial Day passed almost unnoticed in the media, and where it was commented on there was no mention of Freemasonry. It still appears largely unknown outside the Craft that a significant number of Freemasons in Europe disappeared into Nazi labour and concentration camps never to be seen again. Nor had the attacks been confined to the Nazis. Freemasons had been persecuted in Mussolini’s Italy, Franco’s Spain and Stalinist Russia.
Freemasonry under England, Ireland and Scotland has been remarkably free from persecution at home. The closest it came to being closed down by government was in the aftermath of the French Revolution, when the 1799 Unlawful Societies Act was passing through Parliament.
In its original form the Act would have made masonic meetings illegal. Fortunately, the Earl of Moira, Acting Grand Master of the Premier Grand Lodge, and the Duke of Athol, Grand Master of the Antients Grand Lodge, were able to persuade the Prime Minister, William Pitt, of the moral basis of Freemasonry, its support for lawfully constituted authority and its benevolent activities. As a result, clauses were introduced into the Act specifically exempting Freemasonry from its provisions, provided that each year every lodge secretary supplied a full list of the members of his lodge together with their ages, occupations and addresses.
It is not difficult to see why totalitarian regimes hate Freemasonry. Our insistence that candidates believe in a supreme being; our basis in morality; our striving for high standards; our practice of tolerance and respect for others; our belief in equality and freedom of thought; and our caring for others in the community are all anathema to a dictatorship, and things we should jealously guard.
After the Second World War and a short period of freedom, an ‘Iron Curtain’ descended dividing western and eastern Europe. In countries in the Eastern Bloc, Freemasonry had a brief revival but was driven underground when Communism prevailed. It says a great deal about our principles that there were individuals in Eastern Europe who had come into Freemasonry, either in the 1930s or in the brief period after the war, who were willing to put themselves into real danger to keep the spirit of Freemasonry alive in their countries.
The road to freedom
It was because of their courage that when the Iron Curtain finally crumbled in 1989, Freemasonry was brought back into the open. Their road back has not always been easy but Freemasonry is flourishing. A simple statistic shows how much has been achieved: in 1990 England recognised nineteen regular Grand Lodges in Europe, today it recognises forty-three.
Those who were present at the two hundred and seventy-fifth anniversary of the Grand Lodge at Earls Court in 1992 will remember the rather diminutive, elderly figure of the Grand Master of the recently revived Grand Lodge of Hungary. He explained how from the opening of the first lodge in Hungary in 1749, Freemasonry had been regularly persecuted but now ‘in a democratic country, Freemasonry can continue its work’. As one American masonic writer wrote: ‘Where freedom exists Freemasonry can flourish and nurture that freedom.’
We, who in our long masonic history have never suffered persecution, should remember with pride those who so believed in Freemasonry’s importance that they, like that great character in our ritual, were willing to face death rather than betray their principles or the trust reposed in them.
Letters to the editor - No. 24 Winter 2013
On Saturday 5 October over twenty thousand bikers from across the country made their annual pilgrimage to the National Memorial Arboretum near Burton upon Trent to pay their respects to members of the armed forces who have lost their lives in the service of their country. Amongst these were more than sixty brethren, most being members of the Widows Sons Masonic Bikers Association, all from lodges across the country.
They travelled from the north, south, east and west and at 1pm gathered in the Freemasons’ Garden to stand together for a few moments to remember lost friends, relations and brothers who have been lost in the various armed conflicts since the Second World War. The Freemasons’ Garden, which forms an important part of the National Memorial Arboretum, was conceived and established in 2002. It is now in line for a makeover and upgrade during the coming months as part of the multi-million-pound redesign of the Arboretum Visitor Centre.
John Perridge, Compass Lodge, No. 8765, Syston, Leicestershire and Rutland
I read with interest the letter of Denis Baker (Autumn 2013) regarding the dilapidated state of the Freemasons’ memorial at the National Memorial Arboretum in Staffordshire. I am a Warwickshire Freemason residing in Staffordshire and have visited the Arboretum on several occasions since it was first formed, including a visit just recently.
I concur entirely with the comments made by Denis Baker and consider that the state of the Freemasons’ memorial reflects badly on Freemasonry in general and it needs improvement work carried out immediately.
A notice board at the Freemasons’ memorial plot informs visitors that work is ongoing but this information is over five years old and there is no sign of any such work being carried out. The whole area occupied by the Freemasons’ memorial, together with the information notices, give it an abandoned and uncared for appearance.
John Wileman, Goldieslie Lodge, No. 6174, Sutton Coldfield, Warwickshire
May I assure all your readers that the concerns expressed about the Masonic Garden at the National Memorial Arboretum are shared by every member of the Staffordshire Province. For the past ten years we have not been allowed to do anything because it was expected that the new Visitor Centre would be extended over our garden and we would be relocated. The plans for the new Centre have now been agreed and we can now make some progress.
Our first plan was accepted this summer by the Arboretum but the cost of the project, £170,000, was too great and we are now finding out whether our second proposal is affordable. It is all complicated by the ground conditions: the site is a former sand and gravel quarry on a river flood plain with a high water table, and it is essential to build a concrete raft supported by piles. That alone will cost about £18,000.
Plans are already in hand to replace the yew trees with a field maple hedge. When we have an affordable plan we hope that the United Grand Lodge of England will lead our fundraising efforts, supported by all the Provinces in the country, for a National Masonic Memorial in the National Memorial Arboretum to those Freemasons who have died in the service of their country.
It would also be fortuitous if we can celebrate its completion and opening early in 2017 as part of our national celebration of three hundred years of Freemasonry in England. We are working hard to make this project a success and a credit to all concerned.
Sandy Stewart, Provincial Grand Master, Staffordshire
Letters to the editor - No. 23 Autumn 2013
On the theme of Service Remembered (summer 2013 issue), my father James Carroll was in the Royal Navy during World War II aboard the Captain Class Frigates, which carried out convoy duties not only across the Atlantic but to the Arctic on the Russian convoys. After sixty-eight years the government finally recognised the extreme conditions and sacrifices made by those who carried out what Churchill called ‘the worst journey in the world’.
The Prime Minister, David Cameron, and Russia’s President Putin held a ceremony at Number 10 Downing Street, presenting my father with the Arctic Star and one of the highest naval decorations in Russia, the Ushakov Medal. Some thirty veterans were invited along for tea and the award was made prior to the Prime Minister and President Putin leaving for the G8 conference in Northern Ireland.
At nearly ninety, my father was very proud, as were we, at being able to receive this long overdue recognition. He was initiated into Freemasonry ten years ago, in May 2003 at the age of eighty.
Alan Carroll, Vicar’s Oak Lodge, No. 4822, London
Having visited the National Memorial Arboretum in Staffordshire at the weekend I was greatly impressed with the many memorials located on the site.
The memorial to Freemasons who gave their lives in defence of the nation comprises two stone blocks representing the rough and smooth ashlar standing on a chequered pavement surrounded by a yew tree hedge to indicate eternity. I was surprised to see that this memorial is in a dilapidated state, with part of the yew tree hedge having died off leaving an untidy gap.
I felt that this dilapidated memorial creates a poor image of Freemasonry, particularly when compared to those of other organisations, and believe that Grand Lodge should take a lead and ensure that the memorial is repaired as a matter of urgency. The costs involved are likely to be very minor compared to the very large sums that Freemasonry gives to other causes.
I am sure that many of the brethren will agree that in this case charity should begin at home, and I look forward to hearing and seeing that Grand Lodge takes this on board and carries out the remedial work.
I understand that Staffordshire Province has undertaken work in the past but as this forms part of a national memorial, I consider that it falls more appropriately in the province of Grand Lodge.
Denis J Baker, Ravenshead Lodge, No. 8176, Mansfield, Nottinghamshire
Letters to the editor - No. 22 Summer 2013
I read with interest John Hamill’s article entitled ‘Free from Persecution’ in the spring 2013 edition of Freemasonry Today. Although the number of Freemasons who perished in the Holocaust is unknown, it is believed to be between eighty thousand and two hundred thousand.
I had been privileged to give a reading on behalf of the Freemasons at a well-attended Holocaust Remembrance Day Service in Portsmouth last year when later the same day my wife and I attended the reception preceding the masonic province of Hampshire’s Thanksgiving Service. At that reception I was approached by the Mayor of Havant. Among the guests were many dignitaries from local authorities within the Province but I had known the mayor for many years and he asked whether the Province would like to send representatives to attend the Havant Holocaust Remembrance Service. He is not a Freemason, but he is Jewish, like myself.
It was a cold January afternoon when the Provincial Grand Master, the Deputy Provincial Grand Master, an Assistant Provincial Grand Master (who had been invited to wear their chains of office), our Provincial Information Officer, our wives and I attended the sombre and fitting service. About a hundred people attended and wreaths were laid. There were readings by civic dignitaries, school children and a member of the travelling community.
At the reception that followed we were invited to give a reading and lay a wreath on behalf of Freemasons within the Province at future Holocaust Remembrance Day Services. I hope other local authorities will follow the example of Havant Borough Council and Portsmouth City Council. Both these services were extremely moving and a fitting tribute to those who perished under Nazi persecution.
Philip Alan Berman, Old Portmuthian Lodge, No. 8285, Portsmouth, Hampshire and Isle of Wight
I enjoyed John Hamill’s article ‘Free from Persecution’ in the recent edition of Freemasonry Today. However, there is always an exception to the rule. I was rather surprised on a visit to Cuba two years ago, to find that Freemasonry was well in the public domain. Our tour guide organised for me a visit to one of the temples to meet up with a few Freemasons – but alas time did not permit attendance at their meeting.
Garth Ezekiel, Richmond Hill Lodge, No. 6698, Twickenham, Middlesex