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
A good catch
Members of Flyfishers’ Lodge, No. 9347, and Saint Oswald Lodge, No. 850, from Ashbourne in Derbyshire, used their annual competition to launch a wheelyboat for disabled anglers. The funding was raised by both Derbyshire and Leicestershire masons, along with the Peter Harrison Foundation and Derbyshire Community Foundation. The boat was launched by Derbyshire Provincial Grand Master Graham Rudd. Ben Hodgson, principal of Carsington Sports & Leisure, said: ‘We’d like to thank the Freemasons. They expected a five-year campaign, but achieved their target in 12 months.’
Opening the door to the public in Leicester
An open day has been held at Freemasons’ Hall, Leicester, where a total of 255 visitors were shown around the Georgian building housing the Provincial Grand Lodge of Leicestershire & Rutland.
The tours gave visitors staged presentations in various parts of the building, including the Library and Museum. These showed the principles, history and symbolism of Freemasonry; the charitable activities supported by masons; and lodge interiors, including banqueting and meeting facilities available for commercial letting. As a direct result of the experience, 25 people expressed an interest in joining the Craft.
Provincial Grand Master David Hagger said, ‘I felt very proud of the efforts made by so many brethren in making this event the most successful ever in engaging the public in what we are, aim to be and our place in the local community.’
12 September 2012
An address by the MW the Pro Grand Master Peter Lowndes
I have recently finished the two yearly Regional Conferences that I have with Provincial Grand Masters. These are relatively informal affairs and cover a wide range of subjects. I find them extremely useful and they are kind enough to say the same – but, of course, what else could they say!
One theme that ran through them all was a determination to see our numbers on the increase by 2017. Indeed, in one or two cases, this has already started. This means that perhaps we are getting some things right.
I have said frequently that we must not be looking for new candidates simply for the sake of increasing numbers, but if we can start this increase with the right candidates there should be a knock on effect.
Enthusing new members is of paramount importance and we heard from Brothers Soper and Lord at the September Quarterly Communication about the work of the Universities Scheme. Following that talk I have asked the Universities Scheme Committee to think about how best we can implement some of the principles that were mentioned, across the whole Craft.
Recruiting and retaining young candidates is our most important task and I am confident that those who have made the Universities Scheme successful can help us with this important challenge. However this is not just down to them and we must all pull our weight in this respect.
Brethren, in November I visited my Great Grandfather’s mother Lodge in Hertfordshire and a splendid occasion it was, with an almost faultless 2nd Degree Ceremony being performed. I can almost hear you all thinking that they would have spent hours rehearsing. Not so, as they didn’t know that I was coming.
The reason for mentioning this today is that in the Reply for the Visitors the Brother speaking referred to the Craft as an altruistic society. Altruism is one of those words that I have often heard used and possibly even used myself without having been completely sure of its meaning. The dictionary definition is “regard for others as a principle of action”. Rather a good description for a lot of what Freemasonry is about.
If we can instil this ethos into our candidates, we won’t be going far wrong. Of course it is not all that we are about, but it is not a bad starting point, as it should naturally lead to a practice of Brotherly Love, Relief and Truth, which in itself leads on to our charitable giving, which seems to be second nature to us.
During this year the Festivals for our Charities in our Provinces have raised a total of nearly £10m, of which Leicestershire and Rutland raised £1.7m for the RMBI; Warwickshire raised £3.16m for the MSF; Cambridgeshire £1.285m for the Grand Charity and Devonshire £3.836m for the RMTGB. In these troubled economic times this, Brethren, is remarkable and I congratulate all those concerned.
I hope that our membership, as a whole, are far more familiar with the activities of all our Charities than might have been the case 20 or so years ago. The promotion of their activities by the Charities is excellent and the Freemasonry Cares campaign has enlightened many people at home and abroad about what support is available.
Whilst 3 of our Charities are Masonic in their giving, and there is nothing to be ashamed of in that - quite the contrary in my view, the Grand Charity, of course, has a wide brief for giving to non Masonic bodies, provided that they are also Charities. Not everyone appreciates this aspect, or how much money is involved and we should be quick to point it out.
Brethren, since 2007 we have had excellent and amusing talks on the past at the December Quarterly Communication from Brothers Hamill and Redman and we should be proud of our history, but it is of paramount importance that we look forward and ensure that we go from strength to strength in the future in both numbers and our usefulness to the society in which we live.
Brethren, I wish you all a very relaxing break over Christmas, particularly if, like me, you will be having your Grand Children to stay.
As Provinces around the UK welcome university students into the Craft, the biennial Universities Scheme Conference focused on why students are vital in ensuring the future of Freemasonry
More than 130 brethren gathered at Freemasons’ Hall, London, for the third Universities Scheme Conference. The Scheme is a pioneering initiative by Grand Lodge under the auspices of the Assistant Grand Master, David Williamson, to help forge links between well-placed, enthusiastic lodges and the many students – as well as other young people – seeking to become involved in Freemasonry.
There are currently 50 lodges under the Scheme across England and Wales, the West Indies and South Africa. In 2010 these lodges held 159 initiations of candidates found through the Scheme, and between them had over 300 members who were under 30. This year, the conference included presentations on recruitment, retention and break-out sessions on making masonry affordable.
A tremendous level of Provincial support has greatly contributed to the success of the Scheme. Five final-year students at the University of Bath have been initiated by St Alphege Lodge, No. 4095, Province of Somerset. Meanwhile over in Leicestershire and Rutland, Wyggeston Lodge, No. 3448 has forged links with Leicester University students.
The mood of the day was encapsulated by Mike Jones from the University Lodge of Liverpool: ‘Student recruitment is an ongoing process. You need to engage with students not only when they make their first enquiry, but all the way through the application process. You need to mentor them so that they feel comfortable.’
Go to www.universitiesscheme.com for more details on the conference
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
Don Peacock Relects on Modern Masonic Recruitment
During my forty year career in telecommunications, I was often struck by the rate of change not only in the technology we were producing but also our business processes and methods. When you are in the middle of all this change it is at times frustrating and annoying. However, on looking back it is very much apparent that we had to evolve or the world would have passed us by.
Classic car runs have become major fund-raising events for Masons, bringing out families and friends in a community day out which involves vehicles and their owners from many parts of the country.
During the summer, the Leicestershire & Rutland Freemasons’ Classic Car Run took place, when 30 pre and post-war classics assembled for the event. The older cars included a 1934 Rolls Royce, a 1933 Aston Martin and a Lanchester.
For the second year, the wartime Willys Jeep, together with driver and passenger in wartime uniform, took part. The post-war classics ranged from a 1948 Allard and included Rolls Royces, Jaguars and a Ferrari.
The run was started by entertainer Engelbert Humberdinck and Lady Gretton, the Lord Lieutenant of Leicestershire. After being waved off, the cars took a circuitous route to Grimsthorpe Castle, 40 miles away near Bourne in Lincolnshire, quite an onerous run for some of the more elderly vehicles!
This year the runners were raising money for LOROS and the Ruby Rainbow Appeal by sponsorship for the journey. Over the past four years, classic car events held by Leicestershire and Rutland Freemasons have raised more than £17,000 for local and national charities.
This year they were hoping to raise more than £5,000, and one participant has already raised more than £1,000 for sponsorship of his classic car in this event.
Specialist lodges: all the fun of the fair
A newly-consecrated lodge has been set up for travelling showmen, John Jackson reports
When the ancient Goose Fair, well over 700 years old, gets underway at Nottingham in October, among the showmen who will be entertaining the thousands of visitors will be members of a newly consecrated Lodge, The Showmen’s No. 9826.
Showmen have been associated with fairs as far back as at least Roman times, the word ‘fair’ deriving from the Latin word ‘feria’ meaning ‘holiday’. As fairgrounds became established, many were granted charter status by the sovereign, and a number of these charter fairs exist today with their showmen in attendance.
These include King’s Lynn, under a charter granted by King John in 1204, which traditionally starts the travelling showmen’s season on St Valentine’s Day – 14 February.
The association with the church still continues to this day, for the opening ceremony at King’s Lynn begins with a blessing from the Mayor’s Chaplain.
These early fairs were originally for the sale of livestock, but quickly attracted the travelling showmen, and many fairs were associated with Saints’ days and the early Christian church.
The granting of a charter by the sovereign was much prized, as it laid down the dates, provided protection against rival fairs and gave the right to collect dues and tolls. In return, there was an obligation to hold the fair on the stated dates.
Many autumn fairs did not have a charter and were known as ‘Mop’ or ‘Hiring’ fairs, and some still exist. At these fairs, prospective employers reviewed potential employees.
Sometimes a second fair – known as a Run-Away Mop – was held for those seeking to change jobs or those who had not found work on the first occasion.
With the showmen travelling hundreds of miles, it has not been easy trying to put a Lodge together for such a mobile group of Masons. The original idea came from secretary Paul Maltby, but it would not have got off the ground but for the enthusiasm of Darren Jones, first Master, and his Uncle Jimmy Wheatley, first Senior Warden.
The Lodge, consecrated in February, has 31 founders – all showmen – and many of them run the big rides, so popular with children. It was because they were so scattered that the idea of a Lodge arose. However, the plan has been an instant success, with seven candidates lining up to become Masons as well as five joining members waiting to come on board. The Lodge will hold its meetings at Loughborough in the Province of Leicestershire and Rutland, whose Provincial Grand Master, RW Bro Michael H Roalfe, officiated at the consecration meeting.
The Lodge was also given a great deal of help by Richard Moss of Belper Masonic Regalia in Derbyshire.
Summer is the busiest time for showmen, so the Lodge will be meeting five times a year ‘out of season’ in September, November, December, January and February.
Although showmen are spread over the country, there is a central organisation, the Showmen’s Guild of Great Britain, which is both a trade union and trade association, and was originally formed around 1888-1889 as the United Kingdom Van Dwellers Protection Association (the Guild). There is also a Showmen's Guild Lodge No. 9089 associated with the Guild, which meets at Clevedon in Somerset.