Regular Convocation

10 November 2014
A talk by Ian Bell, Professional Organ Adviser, the Association of Independent Organ Advisers

Most Excellent Pro First Grand Principal and companions, good morning.

My name is Ian Bell, and I have been privileged to act as consultant to the great work that has been going on, and is nearing completion, in the restoration and enhancement of the Grand Temple organ.

This organ was built in 1933, installed as part of the fitting out of this wonderful room, and – unusually for an organ – is specifically mentioned in its official listing by English Heritage. It was made by the firm of Henry Willis and Sons and is, by a margin, the largest of three pipe organs that the Willis company installed in rooms in this building.

The Willis family did rather fancy themselves, successive generations – each called Henry – giving themselves regnal numbering, after the manner of royalty. It was Henry Willis the third that was involved here, and though still quite a young man he was well-qualified for the job. He came here hot-foot from having overseen the installation of the new Willis organ in Westminster Cathedral, and immediately before that, the largest organ in the country, both then and now, at Liverpool Anglican Cathedral. 

The organist at Liverpool was one Reginald Goss Custard – I have no idea whether, like Mr Farage, he took upon himself the affectation of adjusting his vowels to become Custaard – but we do know that at the time he carried the title of Grand Organist of England, and as such not only presided over the organ at the opening ceremonies of the Grand Temple in July 1933, but had also been responsible for approving the designs that Willis had put forward.

For the best part of a century, the Willis name had been at the forefront of English organ building.

The founder of the Willis firm, the first Henry Willis, who was later respectfully known as Father Willis, had played a major role in the process whereby, during the latter half of the 19th century, organs – and consequently the self-esteem of those who played them – grew exponentially in size, and in complexity. 

Willis had hit the headlines with the largest and most ambitious of several organs that were on display at the Great Exhibition of 1851, in Hyde Park.  This led directly to a very large contract for a new organ in the magnificent St George’s Hall, in Liverpool; and then in 1871, went on to build what was then the largest organ in the world, for the newly constructed Royal Albert Hall, for the splendid sum of £8,000 – not including engines. The engines in question were steam engines required to pump air into the main bellows – needing an organist to give a day’s notice whenever he might want to play the thing – and they were an indicator of the point to which the scale of these organs had grown, over the course of a mere twenty or thirty years.  

These enormous instruments were now not only too large for the bellows to be pumped by hand, but also much too hard work for the organists to be able to push the keys down by finger power alone. Various ways were devised to provide servo-assistance, as it were – first employing pneumatic means, using wind-pressure; and soon, as the 19th century drew to a close, using low-voltage electricity and batteries.

The die was now cast – no longer limited by the wind-pressure that human muscle-power, lubricated by copious amounts of beer, could generate, organs could now be as loud and as large as funds and space allowed, distributed on multiple sites around a building, connected simply by electric cables, and with the organist detached on the end of another cable, at a suitably safe distance from the considerable noise that he was now able to make. 

The only limiting factor was now that of good taste – something which, in my experience, can no more be relied upon with organists than it can with organ builders.

One further spin-off in all of this remote control of organs, and one which especially appealed to architects, who generally make it very clear that they have a deep distaste of organs as being an intrusion in their otherwise fine buildings, was that they no longer needed be actually on view in the space where they were meant to be heard, but could be tucked away in odd and forgotten corners, often behind a grille – or even completely invisible above the ceiling, or hidden under the stage as usually became the case in the cinema. Simply blow the pipes harder and they would still be heard, and all would be well, went the theory.

The installation of this organ fell right into that period. It is packed in very tightly, and when it is all assembled, the impression  to someone standing very uncomfortably inside is that the brief to Mr Willis must have been something like ‘Here are two odd left-over spaces – pack as much organ into them as you can.’  As with all of this building money did not seem to have been in short supply, but– for the organ – space certainly was. 

Although it was at least given the concession of visible pipes, and pipes which actually work and announce ‘See – this room has an organ’, they were as usual only a fraction of the entire picture – just 60-odd pipes out of the total of 2,200 that the organ contains. Most of those were pushed very much into the background, packed into two very crowded spaces, each triangular in floor area and tapering from the widest end next to the balconies, down to virtually nothing at the eastern end where the opening into the Temple actually is. So although the pipes are shouting very loudly in there, they are shouting in the wrong direction away from the listeners and their output is being squeezed down until the point where, like toothpaste from a tube, it can eventually escape sideways into the room. To the organist against the far wall, and indeed to the great and good privileged to qualify for seats on the dais underneath it, it is clear that the organ is bellowing at the top of its voice. To those out in the body of the Temple it becomes instead a somewhat muted roar.

To add to the difficulties, the acoustics were extensively treated with absorbent material, so as to minimise reverberation, and clarify speech. This was the absolute opposite of the organ builder’s ideal dream of the sound of the pipes speaking without restriction or obstruction, into a flattering and reverberant cathedral acoustic, however inappropriate such an acoustic might have been here.  Henry Willis’s very evident pride, as a freemason himself, at being offered the chance to make his mark here, in the heart of the Peace Memorial Building, was therefore unavoidably tempered by the hazards thrown into his path. Writing in his house magazine in September 1933 he says:

'I was clearly given to understand from the very start that the acoustical properties of the Temple would be such that the requirements of speech would be considered first, last, and all of the time; and that it would not be possible to modify this requirement to suit the needs of the organ in any way.  It was under these onerous conditions of restricted space and an almost non-existent reverberation period that I had to make my plans.'

One can sense a heavy heart going about the making of those plans.  But whatever his misgivings Willis succeeded in very largely overcoming, or at any rate minimising, the difficulties with which he was faced. By the end of the same article he cannot resist quoting a letter of congratulation from Mr Goss Custard:–

'Everyone is more than delighted with the Temple organ and I must say that personally I consider it one of the most beautiful that you have ever made. Considering the difficulties that you have had to overcome with the site, the effect is nothing short of marvellous.'

A happy client – what we all wish for.... 

And, not unusually it has to be admitted, Willis felt moved to pat himself on the back too:–

'If I may say so, a noble organ in a noble edifice. Only the best has been good enough for the Masonic Peace Memorial in every part of its structure and furnishing. The Temple organ is worthy, in every way, of its superb setting.'

What he did not then know was that this was to be the last completely new instrument on such a scale that he was to oversee, and that his firm was to build. The 1930s were tough for everyone, and when times were hard, organs would not be at the top of anyone’s priorities. His competitors got by on the brief but vigorous vogue for the theatre organ, to go with the frenzy of cinema building, but Willis declined to lower himself to that, and saw his order book dwindle drastically, up until the point that war arrived, and with it the turning over of the factory to supplying very different materials, for a very different cause. 

After the war the period of patching and repairing of damage kept people busy for a while, but by the time things settled down Willis found that the market had moved on, and that major work – when it picked up – was going elsewhere. This was partly a shift in organ building fashion to which, in his autocratic way he had refused to bend; and partly, simply, that same autocratic attitude that he could not, or would not, shake off. Clients were no longer happy to be told 'You may think that you know what you want, but if you want an organ from us you will have what we are prepared to give you.'

Willis III died in 1963 a disappointed and, one suspects, rather bitter man, and his son, inevitably Willis IV, was what one might pigeon-hole as something of a Boris Johnson of organ building – a self-designed larger-than-life eccentric, to whom there was certainly more than met the eye – but with whom what met the eye could sometimes appear as a bit of a buffoon, which the staid world of churches and cathedrals rarely found reassuring.  

Henry IV did father a Henry V, who never inherited the crown. Henry IV himself retired to India where I am recently told that in his mid-80s he spends his time pottering with the organ of the local lodge.  The Willis firm continues in name under new management.

So for the organ historian, what Willis III provided here as his last major creation has extra significance above and beyond its characterful qualities as a musical instrument, and as a sophisticated piece of machinery.  

And sophisticated it was.

In the mid-1920s Willis had visited America for two or three extended trips. He spoke of these, both in public and in private correspondence, as rather being his generously sharing his special insight into organ building with the lesser mortals of our former colonies. The spin-off for him, less openly talked about, was his coming home armed with a number of designs for up-to-date mechanisms developed by the Americans, and with the generous granting of permission to use them. 

Because, as the 20th century dawned, the miracle of central heating slowly became less of a rarity here, and radiators began to find their way even into churches. The design of the central aspect of organ mechanisms, the soundboards on which all the pipes sit, had not been changed since the 15th or 16th century – there had been no need to – but it now turned out that organs and efficient heating were very uncomfortable bedfellows. Things stuck fast when they should be free; pipes whistled when they should be silent, or refused to speak when asked.  For the Americans, whose grandest churches and public buildings were made well into the time when heating was taken for granted, these problems had already been very successfully addressed.

So Willis returned with technical drawings of mechanisms guaranteed to withstand the extremes of heating found in our climate – itself much less rigorous than the extremes found in the USA – and thereafter his organs in modern buildings, such as this one, became problem-free. His soundboards ensured that the required pipes would deliver the anticipated sounds only when they should, and right around the year, decade after decade.  Needless to say, typically, this never caught on with the stubborn majority of his suspicious British competitors, who rightly found this foreign new kit extremely costly and complicated to make, and wrongly assumed that this would also make it tricky to keep in good order. 

Whereas in truth, like the Duracell bunny, once set up on its legs it just keeps on going – in this instance for 80 years, at the end of which it was becoming worn but still doing pretty well, and it was the low-voltage switchgear connecting all the bits together and operating the console gadgetry – the 12-volt model railway stuff, if you like – that forgivably was starting to show its age. With an impeccable sense of good housekeeping, your masters and mine decided that it was better to pre-empt the time when the slow deterioration began to become more obvious to those out in the room, and to address the question of complete and meticulous restoration.

This work is being undertaken by the largest present-day firm of British organ builders, Harrison & Harrison of Durham, a highly-respected team who have their nameplate on a long list of prestigious instruments including in the London area Westminster Abbey, the Royal Festival Hall, Westminster Cathedral, Southwark Cathedral, the Temple Church and many more.

The entire organ apart from a handful of the largest pipes and the decorative casework, was in January of this year dismantled for the first time since 1933, and taken away to Durham for a comprehensive programme of attention to all of its diverse components.

The sound of an organ is obviously central to its purpose, and depends upon its pipes. Fortunately the pipes here generally remained in pretty good order, though the soft metal of which they are made – predominantly lead –is susceptible to slowly subsiding under its own weight, and to need coaxing back into shape – which was needed to a certain degree here.

But most of the cost, and the estimated 14,000 man-hours that the work is likely to have taken at completion, has gone into restoring the mechanism. This does not imply any original failing in its design or manufacture, but it does contain perishable materials – only very slowly perishable, but perishable nevertheless – which intermittently need renewing.

Principal amongst these here is leather, specifically sheepskin of a type known as splitskin, because having been removed from the sheep it is carefully split in its thickness to form very thin, supple and quite delicate leather similar to that used for bookbinding or making ladies’ gloves – sadly in themselves an endangered item. This will be found in some quantity in most organs of this period, and this particular ingenious mechanism uses a great deal, of only the finest quality. A whole flock of top-quality sheep will have been turned into lamb chops, legs and shoulders to supply the need for the thousands of individual leather components here, and their sacrifice has not been without value, since their skins have lasted remarkably well – as indeed we can confidently expect the replacement leather to do. Incidentally sporadic efforts to find a synthetic replacement for this purpose have failed, sometimes disastrously, and been set aside. 

All of this must now be restored, each of the 2,220 pipes requiring its own, individually sized and shaped mechanism. The bellows or reservoirs which store and regulate the numerous different wind-pressures on which the pipes speak, similarly use sheepskin which again has lasted well, but will also now be replaced by fresh, new leather. 

Though the sound itself is entirely generated by organ pipes, in time-honoured fashion, the linkage between the organ console and the pipes, and the complex mechanism within the console itself, all operates on low-voltage electricity and incorporates many hundreds of delicate electro-magnets which must operate instantly when electric contacts attached to the three keyboards, the pedal keys, and all of the stops, are activated. Over time, the iron armatures of these electro-magnets gradually themselves become permanently magnetised – what is called residual magnetism – and so all of these will be replaced, as will the 1933 cabling connecting it all together, cables containing hundreds of strands, each of which remains insulated by cotton, soaked in paraffin wax. It sounds fairly combustible doesn’t it? Does it catch light? – very rarely. Do we want to take that risk? Emphatically not. 

So whilst outwardly the 1933 organ and its console will remain entirely unaltered, all of this electrical equipment has been discreetly modernised, as have the switching and control systems that direct the organist’s commands to this or that section of the organ. And as a spin-off, this will allow the organ to play all on its own at the touch of a button, to add a little something extra to guided tours, or more usefully allow players to record their intentions, and then walk down into the building and hear in advance the real effect of what they are planning to inflict upon the assembled gatherings.

In all of this we were conscious on the one hand of our conservationist obligations, and on the other of the need to try and do something to overcome the indirectness and woolliness of sound that had frustrated Mr Willis, and more recently had also been a matter of concern to the organ committee of distinguished Masonic organists, presided over by Charles Grace whose diplomacy, patience and seemingly tireless energy has steered this project so admirably, and to whom I personally am hugely grateful for his guiding me through just enough of the mysteries of freemasonry as I needed to know in order to understand the uses of what we were discussing, and to be able to work in this place without undue surprises.

One answer, which had already been considered when I became involved here, was that of adding a small but bold new chorus of pipes, positioned centrally against the east wall where it would speak clearly along the main axis of the building, thereby allowing us to leave the Willis organ sounding and performing exactly as when built, but with this supercharger in reserve. This would mean altering the appearance of the building and I was not sure whether this would be acceptable first to the powers-that-be here, and then to English Heritage and the local authority. 

After a lifetime of working with the various manifestations of the church, where everyone these days avoids making any decisions at all for fear of upsetting somebody, it was hugely refreshing here to find that not only did people have firm views, but they had no hesitation in backing them up with actions. That the major work which has taken place should be marked by a clear and visible alteration was seen as not only acceptable, but desirable. Recognising that such a change should, and would, be done in such a fashion as to appear as if it had always been here, English Heritage were equally accommodating.  So we had a plan. The organ will retain all of its imperial grandeur, but gain in clarity when accompanying and encouraging the building full of people; and for occasional, and one hopes tasteful, use there will be some fiery icing on the cake in the form of a commanding fanfare trumpet.

The new decorative casework – being assembled behind the curtain behind me – will match exactly that of the two original cases, both in its shape and in the style and extent of its carving; and the similarity between the three will be further drawn together by the fact that the decorative finish of real gold leaf which has been renewed on the existing casework and pipes, will be applied also to the new.  For this work we have been very fortunate to secure the talents of an internationally respected specialist in this decorative work, Robert Woodland, who as Excellent Companion Woodland is I believe here today.

Finally a less glamorous but very important aspect has been the equally thorough restoration and rebuilding of the powerful original blowing plant, buried just below the back corner of the dais, and which is now augmented by two compact new electric blowers for the new section – one for the chorus, and a small but muscular one solely for the fiery icing on the cake.

This great project, which has had to be timetabled around the use of the Temple and the installation of the separate engineering work needed to provide discreet but sturdy support for the additions, should be finished by early April. 

All of this technical skill and artistry costs money.  Restoration work on what is essentially industrial archeology is always tricky, extremely labour-intensive, and therefore costly, and with both the obligation and the wish to balance respect for the original work with the sensible updating of the unseen technology, requires considerable time and care. You will probably be aware that in round terms, the cost is expected to finish at about a million pounds, or around £840,000 pounds before the taxman has added his cut. Of this £840,000, just over £400,000 has been spent on the restoration of the original organ and its casework. The organ builders’ work on the new section adds a further £125,000, plus a little over £200,000 for its casework, embellishment and decoration, and the necessary engineering works to hold it invisibly to the wall.

The final slice of £80,000 for sundries includes the hire of the temporary imitation organ, a new CCTV system to allow the organist to see not just what is happening in here but what is approaching in the corridor and vestibule outside, a contingency provision for unknowns, and finally a very modest amount for fees for those of us who are just barnacles clinging to the hull.

I should add that we have no grounds to doubt that the life-expectancy of what has been achieved will be any less than that of the eighty years of the original installation. Divided over that period this present outlay amounts to £10,000 per annum, which is markedly less than many will spend on keeping themselves kitted out with a reasonably decent car.

The philosophy behind the making of this building, with respect both to its long-term purpose and to its immediate dedication to peace and remembering the fallen, whilst looking forward rather than back, was that the main criterion should be that of the best quality, with the cost being an inevitable consequence to be managed, not side-stepped. As an admiring and appreciative visitor, it has been impressive for me to see that approach and responsibility so unhesitatingly upheld in this further work, itself looking forward to serve the future.

Published in Speeches

Quarterly Communication

10 September 2014 
A talk by Mike Woodcock, President of the Royal Masonic Trust for Girls and Boys, and Chairman of Lifelites Trustees, and Simone Enefer-Doy, Chief Executive of Lifelites

Mike Woodcock: MW Pro Grand Master, brethren, at the Royal Masonic Trust for Girls and Boys we inevitably deal with many distressing cases involving children: those who are orphans, those from single parent families, even those whose parents have taken their own lives. And many being brought up by grandparents who simply cannot afford their upkeep.

Most of these children never had the opportunities that we had when we were young, but because they are children of the wider masonic family, through a mixture of financial support, care and advice, we can help them often substantially and most go on to lead happy and fulfilling adult lives.

However, today we are here to talk about children who neither we nor anyone else can help into adulthood – because these are children who will never have what the other children take for granted – the chance to grow into adults. They are children with life-limiting conditions who are cared for by children’s hospices.

For parents facing the tragedy of losing a child, making the most of the time left is the most precious gift they can give.

Today Simone and I are here to tell you more about Lifelites, a small charity established by the trust 15 years ago to mark the millennium. It remains a masonic charity but through the power of partnership it has been able to work with non-masonic people and organisations to bring unlimited opportunities to children with limited lives.

Fifteen years ago, children’s hospices were a relatively new concept. There were just 17 throughout the British Isles and for the first seven years Lifelites was funded entirely by the RMTGB. However, as the children’s hospice movement grew and new technology provided more and more possibilities, Lifelites was given the independence to raise funds more widely and to partner non-masonic organisations. The result is that today there are 49 children’s hospices with a Lifelites project and presence in every one. Lifelites provides the very best technology, equipment and training enabling children with life-limiting conditions and often with profound disabilities to learn, to explore, to communicate and to play in ways which they, their parents or their carers never thought possible. 

What we do is often life-changing not only for 9,000 – yes 9,000 – children being cared for in children’s hospices at any one time, but also for their parents and extended families.

Simone leads the small and dedicated team at Lifelites, and she is now going to explain what a Lifelites project consists of and how it makes such a difference. I will then explain how Freemasons and others have helped to make all of this possible. 

Simone Enefer-Doy: Those of you who have visited a children’s hospice will know that they are special places caring for terminally ill children and their families. The child may visit the hospice over a number of years for respite and specialist care, and they will always find a lively home-from-home atmosphere with plenty of activities taking place. I regularly witness the struggles these children and their families face. It is hard to imagine what it is like having a child who cannot communicate or play like other children.

When Daniel first visited Richard House Children’s Hospice in London he told his carer Bernie that he could not do anything because he could only move one arm. But Bernie thought that if he could move one arm then he could hold a camcorder and from that spark of imagination a whole film club was born. Using the Lifelites camcorder to film and the Lifelites computers to edit, Daniel and his friends went on to make action features and now every year they have their own Oscars’ ceremony – wheeling themselves along the red carpet, dressed in their bow ties – and every child gets an Oscar. Daniel’s mum and dad told us that his confidence had gone through the roof, for the first time he had made friends and was doing things he never thought possible. They realised that they would never see their son taking part in a school sports’ day, but for them, this was even better. Sadly, Daniel is no longer with us, but we are proud that Lifelites had such a positive impact on his short life. 

As Mike said the children we help often have profound disabilities – some have difficulty controlling their movements, others are less cognitively able and many find it difficult to speak. But Lifelites can change all that. Recent advances in technology are enabling dreams to become a reality, and everything we do is aimed at helping these children – whatever their abilities – to join in and take part. 

Wherever you may live in the British Isles, there are children being supported by Lifelites because we have a magical technology project at every one of the 49 children’s hospices. Our typical package includes items like touchscreen computers, games consoles which work through sensing movements, iPads with drop-proof covers, and software that makes it possible for the children to be creative, to communicate and control something themselves. Very importantly, we make sure that the equipment we provide is portable so that even if a child cannot get out of bed, the equipment can be taken to them.  

Most children love playing computer games, but off the shelf software is not designed with disabilities in mind. So we have worked with students at London South Bank University to develop games which are unique to Lifelites.

Another amazing piece of equipment is the 'magic carpet' that projects an image onto the floor which the children can interact with. It gives them the chance to escape the confines of their condition and to embrace a world of make-believe, flying an aeroplane, splashing in the sea or playing football. We also provide software that enables those who can only move their heads to use a computer. But sometimes the only part of their body they can move is their eyes so we also provide cutting edge technology called eyegaze. Eyegaze enables children to access a computer through a camera which tracks their eye movements, enabling them to move the cursor around the screen. Through eyegaze, children whose carers and families thought they were unable to communicate at all, can now do so – they can tell their carers what they would like for breakfast, when they are thirsty, they can explore new worlds and can even, for the first time, tell their parents that they love them. It means that these children can enter and stay involved in the world around them for as long as it is possible. 

But we do not just provide the equipment and walk away: first we consult with the staff and children to find out what would be most useful for them; we constantly research the best solutions and make hospice staff aware of what is possible; we raise the funds to provide it, we install it; we train the hospice staff in how to use it, we commit to maintaining it in good order and we aim to replace every four years.

With the addition of exciting new items like eyegaze and the magic carpet this now costs around £50,000 for each hospice every four years. This means that we need to raise £12,500 for each of our 49 projects or over £600,000 every year. 

The hospices themselves simply could not afford to do what we do. Without Lifelites these children, for whom every second counts, would miss out on the opportunities which new technology can bring. Because we look after the equipment, hospice staff can concentrate on doing what they do best: caring for the children and their families. What we provide comes at no cost to the hospice and does not detract in any way from their fundraising. 

David Strudley, Chief Executive of Acorns Children’s hospices in Birmingham, Walsall and Worcester tells people: 'Whatever the problem, nothing seems to be too difficult for Lifelites to solve for us or with us. As technology moves on, so does Lifelites. Our children – however severely disabled – are able to use the equipment for themselves. It does not matter that a child cannot communicate in the traditional way anymore – non-verbal communication is not a problem. Lifelites has helped us to discover better ways of looking after our children.

'Each time I visit a hospice I am reminded that the children are not just patients, they are funny, joyous people, and it is possible for a short life to be a good life, a happy life and a full life.'

What we do is in no small part due to the support we continue to receive from Freemasons. So I would like to say thank you on behalf of all those 9,000 children for the help you have given – and we hope you will continue to give – for our vital work which makes such a difference.

Mike Woodcock: Brethren, even though we work with 49 children’s hospices and raise all of our own funds we have just five full time staff and this is only possible because we have so many volunteers who not only raise funds but also help deliver our services, most are Freemasons and some of them are here today including: our trustees and members of our management committee; individual Freemasons who visit the hospices helping to set up and maintain the equipment and to train staff in how to use it; at least two-thirds of the Provincial Grand Masters sitting behind me whose Provinces have made generous and sometimes substantial donations to support our work. And I also include generous support from other masonic orders, from the Mark Benevolent Fund and the Grand Lodges of Scotland and Ireland, and the many others here today who have either made personal donations or taken part in the many Lifelites fundraising initiatives.

As chairman of Lifelites trustees I too extend a huge thank you to you all. Lifelites is further proof that masonic charity is not just inward looking and that Freemasons not only give generously but involve themselves directly in caring for the less fortunate. 

Unlike the main masonic charities we do not receive funding from the festival system, but importantly we are able to raise funds from outside Freemasonry and we work in partnership with non-masonic organisations to help deliver our aims.

Significant non-masonic donors have included: the Thomas Cook Children’s Charity; The Khoo Teck Puat Foundation; Dixons Group who made Lifelites their chosen charity; GamesAid, Microsoft, London South Bank University, Sainsbury’s (here in holborn), Children with Cancer UK, Buckinghamshire Building Society and many others who have supported us. London Underground allow us to make a christmas collection. We even have Ladies that Lunch who raise funds for us.

By working with others we have been able to triple the funds donated by freemasons enabling us to do so much more.

But partnership is not just about fundraising, Lifelites also works with others in delivering its services.

The Worshipful Company of Information Technologists has been our partner from day one, bringing their specialist knowledge and expertise to our management committee as well as donating funds themselves. As Simone said we also work in true partnership with the hospices themselves to ensure maximum impact.

Today the charity world is changing rapidly and we need to respond to change if we are to become even more successful. There is intense competition for funds meaning that we have to employ management techniques derived from the commercial sector, especially in marketing and fundraising. Charities have to be able to find, select and utilise the very best of new ideas – no one has a monopoly of these. It is no longer enough to simply ask for support because we have a worthy cause. The emphasis has to be on performance and impact assessment requiring rigorous questioning, enabling potential donors to make informed choices. As a result of being a leader in innovation we have been proud to receive no less than four national industry awards recognising our achievements. 

So, today we celebrate the fifteen year success of a small charity founded by Freemasons which has grown to encompass every children’s hospice in the british isles and in doing so we have been able to raise the profile of the Craft as a modern and effective force for good in society.

Charity may not be the main purpose of Freemasonry but we all know that it is high on our agenda and in many ways characterises the kind of people we are. Freemasonry has a long, proud and enviable record in charity and Lifelites has shown that if we use the power of partnership we can achieve even more. 

Most Worshipful Pro Grand Master, the last time that I had the privilege of addressing Grand Lodge, I looked up at the depiction of Pythagoras on the temple frieze in the west and reminded us that the ancient Knights of Pythagoras had a saying, 'that a man never stands as tall as when he kneels to help a child' 

Today, every Freemason who has supported Lifelites stands very tall indeed.

Thank you again and please remember that if ever you would like to become more involved in our work we are only a telephone call away or you could arrange to visit our small office at 26 Great Queen Street – you will be most welcome.

Brethren, thank you for listening to the Lifelites story and thank you again for giving so many children the power to control at least something in their lives and their parents the joy of seeing them live their short lives to the full. 

Thank you.

Published in RMTGB
Wednesday, 10 September 2014 01:00

Pro Grand Master's address - September 2014

Quarterly Communication

10 September 2014 
An address by the MW the Pro Grand Master Peter Lowndes

Brethren, at the Quarterly Communication held on the second of September 1914, one hundred years ago, the First World War had been underway for just under a month. Thinking back to that time, your predecessors would have known that, even in that short time, the German Army had already defeated the Russian forces at the Battle of Tannenberg and the French and British armies were in fierce contact with the German advance in the South of Belgium.

That Quarterly Communication was presided over by Sir Frederick Halsey as Deputy Grand Master as the then Grand Master, HRH the Duke of Connaught and the Pro Grand Master, Lord Ampthill were away serving their country. 

Sir Frederick, in proposing the motion that ‘Grand Lodge expresses the deep appreciation of the loyal and devoted service now being rendered to our country by HRH the MW Grand Master, the MW Pro Grand Master, and very many other Brethren of all ranks in the Craft, and its earnest prayer for their continued well-being’, went on to say – amongst other things – that it was a time of great anxiety and that every Grand Officer would carry out their work without panic and alarm and show that calmness and confidence which animates the breast of every Englishman and mason.

He added, ‘our hearts go out to our friends and relations, to our dear ones, both in the Craft and outside it, who are now serving their country at the call of duty; our prayers follow them, and we trust that before long, in the mercy of the Great Architect of the Universe, they may emerge from this present struggle safe and sound’.

Sadly over 3,300 masons, serving in the four fighting services Army, Navy, Royal Marines and Royal Flying Corps never made it home. This fine building was created as a peace memorial dedicated to them and I trust you will have all seen the magnificent memorial window at the end of the vestibules beyond those doors and which have been recently restored thanks to the generosity of London Lodges and Chapters as well as individuals coordinated by Metropolitan Grand Stewards’ Chapter, and below it, the bronze shrine containing the Roll of Honour parchment scroll honouring those who made the ultimate sacrifice by giving their lives in the service of their country. We should not forget that many sons and grandsons of members were killed – many of whom would have been potential members.

The Library and Museum at Freemasons’ Hall has an exhibition entitled, ‘English Freemasonry and the First world War’ starting next week and which will go on until the beginning of March next year. This major exhibition tells the story of the organisation and members during the First World War and, for example, it explores how lodges coped with members being called up to fight. 

Brethren, brotherly love remains as important in today’s world as it did in those dark days of great anxiety in the First World War. To exercise kindness, tolerance and charitable support – and to feel deeply interested in the welfare of others – is a source of the greatest happiness and satisfaction in every situation in life. It is, I believe, of the utmost importance today to ensure our long term survival but I am concerned that we are, surprisingly, not always seen internally as a caring organisation with junior members too often marginalised and unsupported. This must change and it is the responsibility of every member to help to retain those of integrity within their Lodges by making them feel included and cared for. By so doing we will ensure that they will gain the same fulfilment and satisfaction from their masonry that we have all been lucky enough to enjoy.

Published in Speeches
Wednesday, 11 June 2014 01:00

Pro Grand Master's address - June 2014

Quarterly Communication 

11 June 2014 
An address by the MW the Pro Grand Master Peter Lowndes 

Brethren, over the last year or two there has been a certain amount of correspondence in the various masonic magazines regarding the pros and cons of reading rather than reciting our ritual.

One correspondent suggested that as ritual was read throughout European Grand Lodges, we should follow. I am not sure all our politicians would agree with that! Certainly it is true that reading ritual is prevalent in many European Grand Lodges, however it is not universally so, and, in any event, there surely is no good reason for us to follow their example. Indeed, I have many friends in European Lodges who envy the way we deliver our ritual.

You will note, brethren, that I said that they are envious of the way we 'deliver' our ritual and, in my experience, ritual that is recited has much greater meaning to the candidate than ritual that is read, although I am pleased to say I have not been present on many occasions that it has been read.

I entirely accept that learning ritual is time consuming and time is at a premium in today’s hectic schedule of life. But how often is it true that the busiest people are those who find the time to learn it. I am not going to pretend that I have ever found ritual learning easy, and, as time goes by, dare I say, I find learning new ritual more difficult, but, nonetheless, I shall never forget the satisfaction of carrying out a second degree ceremony at the first meeting that I was in the chair of my mother lodge. To be told by an extremely demanding DC that it had been adequate was as good as it gets! I should add that this was a great deal more complimentary than anything he ever said to me during the year that he taught me classics.

By definition reading means looking at the book and, if the deliverer is looking at the book, he is not looking at the candidate or the brethren to whom he is speaking. To read a text well is in itself a skill that not everyone has. Good reading needs preparation and unless our ritual is understood by the deliverer, what chance is there that it will be understood by the recipient. For the reader to have a good understanding of what he is saying he will have had to have read through the text on several occasions and it is most certainly not a case of turning up, opening a book and reading.

Our ritual is to be treasured and there are few better experiences than seeing and hearing a really well conducted masonic ceremony. 

One of the prime reasons that lodges are being encouraged to share the workload is so that members should spend time really learning and understanding what they are delivering and not just reciting ritual parrot fashion. It is inevitable that some members will find ritual easier than others and it is incumbent on all of us to ensure that as much help as possible is given to those who need it, thus giving everyone the opportunity to take pride in their delivery, however short a piece it may be.

I don’t expect what I have said today to be universally accepted, but I would be surprised if the majority do not agree with at least part of it.

Letters to the Editor - No. 28 Winter 2014

All in the delivery


With regard to the June address by our Pro Grand Master, Peter Lowndes, there is no doubt that the candidate deserves to experience the ritual without the deliverer needing to read the text from a book. I was greatly impressed by the sincerity and meaning thus offered. At one time I could comfortably deliver the Second Degree Tracing Board as well as preside over a lodge or chapter with similar confidence, but now, with the years advancing and being into my seventies, such standards of delivery are now virtually impossible. The reluctant answer, where appropriate, is to delegate, but sometimes reading the ritual is just unavoidable. I do try to impart appropriate emotion with my delivery.

Barry Mitchell, Zetland Lodge, No. 511, London

Published in Speeches

Quarterly Communication

11 June 2014
Order of Service of Masonry citation for W Bro Richard Leonard Ellis

Bro Len Ellis was made a mason in March, 1962, at the age of 30, in Old Castles Lodge, No. 5773, in Hawarden, North Wales, serving as its Master in 1978. In 1982 he joined Clwyd Lodge of lnstalled Masters, No. 8676 and in 1987 he joined Pen-y-Ddraig Lodge, No. 8163, serving as its Secretary from then until 2008. He was exalted into the Royal Arch in Pen-ar-lag Chapter, No. 3273 in 1964, becoming its First Principal in 1981.

After a year as Provincial Assistant Grand Secretary of North Wales in 1977, Bro Ellis became, in short order, Provincial Senior Grand Deacon, Provincial Grand Sword Bearer and, in 1985, Provincial Senior Grand Warden. In 1987 he was appointed Provincial Grand Secretary (and Provincial Grand Scribe Ezra), and received the rank of Past Assistant Grand Director of Ceremonies in the Craft, receiving that of Past Grand Standard Bearer in the Royal Arch the following year. In due course he was promoted to his present ranks of Past Junior Grand Deacon and Past Assistant Grand Sojourner. 

Bro Ellis was one of the last long-serving Provincial Grand Secretaries, a breed that is all but extinct in an age when that office is perceived as a burden that should only rarely be shouldered by any individual for much more than five years. He held that office with distinction under four Provincial Grand Masters, from 1987 until 2008, one of whom, the late Bro Ian Mackeson-Sandbach, knew he had one of the best Provincial Grand Secretaries in the Constitution and treated him accordingly. The wealth of knowledge and experience which he accumulated during his period in office stood him, his successive Provincial Grand Masters and, above all, his Province in good stead. His later years in office were marred by severe arthritis, but he never lost his sense of humour and remained unfailingly courteous as well as a great source of advice and information to his neighbouring Provincial Grand Secretaries and even senior staff at Freemasons' Hall.

Published in Speeches

Annual Investiture 

1 May 2014 
An address by the ME Pro First Grand Master Peter Lowndes 

Companions, this is a very special day for those that I have had the pleasure in investing and I congratulate you all. 

Grand Rank does come with responsibilities. For example, you have a duty to be mindful of both recruitment and retention in the Order. On recruitment, I would first ask – who among you does in fact recruit and, to those of you who do recruit new members - are you sensitive to the right time to approach each potential exaltee? This sensitivity is also a challenge to Royal Arch representatives in Craft Lodges and emphasises the reason why this is such an important appointment. Those of you who do not recruit, why not? Recruiting to the Royal Arch is, after all, simply a matter of persuading someone to extend their knowledge about a subject of which they are already partly aware and enjoy, not introducing them to something completely alien.

On retention, you can help by actively showing your enthusiasm for and enjoyment of the Order. Also, by guiding the new Companion through the various stages of his progression, making sure that, wherever possible, the work is shared, so that the ritual is enjoyed by him and does not become a burden to him.

As many of you will know, in October last year we celebrated the Bicentenary of the Holy Royal Arch. The First Grand Principal announced then that the Royal Arch Masons 2013 Bicentenary Appeal for the Royal College of Surgeons had exceeded £2m and that the Appeal would remain open until the end of 2013. Companions, as you have already heard from the President of the Committee of General Purposes, the figure is now £2.5m. This is a wonderful achievement and a great credit to the Royal Arch. Well done to those of you who have given so generously.

The First Grand Principal also took the opportunity to announce his intention to make additional appointments this year to past Grand Rank to Companions who have carried out significant work for the Appeal or had made a significant contribution in some other way to last year’s Bicentenary celebration. Grand Superintendents were responsible for making the recommendations based on this criteria and I again congratulate those of you who received these special appointments which celebrate the success of the Bicentenary.

I turn now to the Grand Temple organ restoration project, already briefly mentioned by the President, which is a Royal Arch initiative using existing funds. Designed and built by Henry Willis and Sons the Organ has been in place since this building was opened by the then Grand Master, the Duke of Connaught in 1933. It is possibly the largest complete unaltered Willis instrument in full working order after eighty years. It was, however, in need of substantial restoration. English Heritage and Camden Council have agreed to the restoration plans with full completion in early 2015 – in good time for the Craft’s tercentenary in 2017. Not only will this fine Organ be restored but the Royal College of Organists will be approached to investigate the possibility of encouraging young organists to use the Grand Temple Organ, as well as conducting organ recitals that are open to the public.

Finally Companions, great ceremonial events such as this take an enormous amount of planning for and direction on the day. I thank the Grand Scribe Ezra and his staff for all their planning and the Grand Director of Ceremonies and his Deputies for the smooth running of this memorable event.

Published in Speeches
Wednesday, 30 April 2014 17:57

Grand Master's address - April 2014

Craft Annual Investiture 

30 April 2014 
An address by the MW The Grand Master HRH The Duke of Kent, KG 

Brethren, I want to start by saying a very warm welcome to you all, and to thank you for re-electing me as Grand Master at the last meeting in March. I particularly congratulate all those that I have had the pleasure of investing today.

Whether you have been appointed to or promoted in Grand Rank, I want to emphasise that two of your key tasks are recruitment and retention. It has become clear from the research carried out by the Membership Focus Group chaired by the Deputy President of the Board of General Purposes that these tasks are more important than ever before. I am particularly concerned to hear that very few members recruit at all, and that there is an unacceptably high loss rate after each of the three degrees and indeed during the first ten years of membership.

The Membership Focus Group has been formed to analyse the statistics and to make proposals to stem the loss of members. It is already clear that the Mentoring Scheme will play a vital role going forward. It is therefore important that Lodge Mentors appoint appropriate personal mentors to look after each new candidate, rather than trying to do all the mentoring themselves. I look to you all, as Grand Officers, supporting the Mentoring Scheme.

Naturally, I expect you will also be good examples to others whatever their rank – not only in your good conduct and supportive approach but also by demonstrating your enjoyment of Freemasonry.

Yesterday evening I hosted a dinner for Provincial and District Grand Masters. The support of and direction from your respective Provincial and District Grand Masters is paramount and I am pleased to hear how closely they, in turn, are working with the Centre, here at Freemasons’ Hall. This inclusive approach is core to the future of the English Constitution.

I continue to hear of the good work done by the Provinces in their local communities and no better example has been the help given to the victims of the recent floods, especially in the West Country. This good work was supported when I recently had the opportunity to visit two Provinces. In Gloucestershire where I also attended their annual service in Gloucester Cathedral and also in Cornwall. I was impressed by the enthusiasm of the members I met in both Provinces.

Finally Brethren, I want to express our thanks to the Grand Director of Ceremonies and his Deputies for the smooth running of the impressive ceremony that you have just witnessed, as well as to the Grand Secretary and his staff for all their hard work leading up to today’s investiture.

Published in Speeches

Quarterly Communication 

12 March 2014 
A Statement by The President of the Board of General Purposes, RW Bro Anthony Wilson, concerning Grande Loge Nationale Française (GLNF) 

MW Pro Grand Master and Brethren, in September last the Grand Chancellor made a short statement on our position with regard to the GLNF. The Board has continued to monitor the situation and I believe it would be useful for Grand Lodge to receive an update on the subject. The Board has been encouraged by the progress being made in restoring peace and harmony within the GLNF. A special meeting will be held in April at which the members of the GLNF will be invited to approve significant changes to their Constitution and Rules, which will return power to the Grand Lodge and its members. If those changes go through, the Board believes that it would be possible to consider restoring recognition to the GLNF in the near future. The Grand Lodges of Ireland and Scotland are of the same opinion.

Published in Speeches
Wednesday, 12 March 2014 12:00

Pro Grand Master's address - March 2014

Quarterly Communication 

12 March 2014 
An address by the MW the Pro Grand Master Peter Lowndes 

Brethren, it has been a pleasure to install Right Worshipful Brother Sir David Wootton as Assistant Grand Master. In offering him our congratulations I know that you would want me to wish him well in his important task at this exciting time for Freemasonry. 

I also take this opportunity to thank RW Bro David Williamson for his thirteen years as Assistant Grand Master serving the English Constitution admirably in that role. I can think of few people who have done more for Freemasonry in general and the Craft in particular. I also know that I speak for Lord Northampton when I say that there could not have been a more loyal and supportive AGM.

It is, in fact, the unity of the English Constitution that I wish to talk about today. That unity is crucial to our survival as a relevant organisation in society for men of quality to join. In particular I want to emphasise the importance of all the component parts of our organisation working together. Enormous progress has been made in the liaison between the centre, here, and London, the Provinces and Districts.

The consistent approach from the centre is now very much a consultative one, working directly to seek views before making proposals for consensus approval. This is typically through the Grand Secretary, on behalf of the Rulers and Board of General Purposes by direct contact, online surveys or by Provincial Grand Masters championing or being members of committees looking into and ensuring the future of Freemasonry. This inclusive approach is working well. I am keen that it continues.

I will illustrate this inclusive approach with some examples to support this starting with the Board of General Purposes whose nine members include the Metropolitan Grand Master, two current and two past Provincial Grand Masters. They not only bring a wealth of experience but also an understanding of the issues directly facing the Provinces. For your information the latest issue of Freemasonry Today, which has just come out, has an article in which the President of the Board explains how the Board is fully transparent, where every member is an active contributor. He also mentions the increasing professionalism in the way the Craft is run with standards you would expect to find in successful businesses.

I mentioned that this is an exciting time for Freemasonry with several initiatives dealing with both future recruitment and retention as well as business effectiveness in running a large membership organisation. For example the newly formed Membership Focus Group which includes eight Provincial Grand Masters. Their brief is to advise the Board of General Purposes on how best Freemasonry can concentrate the minds of members, lodges, Provinces and Rulers to work in a collaborative and focused manner in stemming the decline in membership and meeting the long term needs of the Craft. Interestingly, they have already identified the high loss of members throughout the first ten years of membership. It is also already clear that the majority of recruitment is carried out by a relatively small number of members. 

The Tercentenary Planning Committee is working closely with the Board of General Purposes looking at the overall plans for celebrations in 2017. Although there will be a final event in London towards the end of the year, I am determined that the Provinces and Districts run their own celebratory events throughout the year at times convenient to them. With this in mind two Provincial Grand Masters sit on the Committee with the aim of supporting and coordinating the planning with other Provincial and District Grand Masters. This way, many more members, throughout the English Constitution, will be able to participate in celebrating this milestone in our great history.

I have talked about Provincial Grand Masters being involved with helping to set the strategy as members of committees. But, brethren, wider views are also sought with online surveys which are quick and informative. For example, we have run a survey seeking opinions on communication strategies for the English Constitution. More recently, we have had a survey on potential new branding as we move towards 2017. 

There are, of course, many other examples of how well we are all working together. I hold a business meeting for all Provincial Grand Masters the day before the annual Craft Investitures in April each year, and later this year I will be holding my next round of regional meetings with Provincial Grand Masters. These meetings have proved invaluable in the past, openly exchanging views and opinions.

Let us not forget the Districts who form an important part of the English Constitution. Last year, accompanied by the Grand Secretary, I attended business meetings with groups of District Grand Masters in Trinidad, Harare and Lagos whilst the Deputy Grand Master attended the inaugural Asia Oceanic Conference of District Grand Lodges in Kuala Lumpur. In addition I hold a dedicated meeting for all District Grand Masters who attend the Investitures in April to discuss issues that particularly affect them.

So, brethren, we are, as a united English Constitution, working more closely together than at any other time in our history. At a strategic level, I believe that continuing to work together will not only stem the decline in membership but start to increase it to ensure the future of Freemasonry. At an individual level, consider the fact that the more members there are, the better chance Grand Lodge has of keeping the dues down. 

Changing tack, brethren, you will all be more than well aware of the appalling conditions being experienced by thousands of people as a result of the winter floods. Whilst the south west has been worst hit, Kent, Sussex and Berkshire as well as parts of Wales are not far behind, in fact there is barely a part of the south that does not have its tales of woe.

It will not surprise you to know that Freemasonry has been to the fore with providing relief funding. The Somerset Community Fund has received £750,000 in all, of which £125,000 has been from various masonic sources. The Provincial Grand Master of Somerset set a target of £50,000 and so, brethren, you can imagine how overwhelmed he is by the support  the Province has received, from the Grand Charity, other Provinces (Essex alone donating £40,000) and many Lodges from all over the country, as well as those in his own Province.

The Grand Charity can and does react quickly in these situations and as well as its support of Somerset, it has donated to the Red Cross, Berkshire, Devonshire and West Wales. In all, so far, it has made donations of nearly £60,000.

We should all be immensely proud of the way in which our members respond to emergencies and how well we are able to coordinate our giving. Thank you to all those concerned.

Published in Speeches
Wednesday, 11 December 2013 00:00

Assistant Grand Master's address - December 2013

Quarterly Communication 
11 December 2013 
An address by the RW Assistant Grand Master David Williamson

Brethren, the more observant among you may have noticed that I acted as Deputy Grand Master at the last two Quarterly Communications, in September and June. However, you should not infer from the fact that you see me in this chair today, that this is a portent of what the future holds for me!

You will remember that at the June Quarterly Communication, the Pro Grand Master announced that the Grand Master had appointed VW Bro Sir David Wootton to succeed me as Assistant Grand Master. He is a man of great quality, and I wish him every success in his new role; he will be installed on 12th March next year. Thus today is my last appearance as Assistant Grand Master at Grand Lodge, and the Pro Grand Master, with the collusion of the Deputy Grand Master, has contrived to be otherwise engaged today, to permit me the extraordinary privilege of presiding over Grand Lodge, for the first and last time, for which I am deeply grateful.

By the time I retire next March, I will have served thirteen years as Assistant Grand Master, during which time I have visited every continent, for a variety of purposes; to Install District Grand Masters and Grand Inspectors, to attend landmark meetings of private lodges, and to represent the Grand Master at other Grand Lodges. Here at home, I have installed Provincial Grand Masters, attended Charity Festivals and lodges in their Provinces, and in Metropolitan London; I have always received a warm and generous welcome, for which I thank them all.

There are many other people to whom I owe personal debts of gratitude for the support and encouragement they have given me during my term of office, not least the several Rulers I have been privileged to serve under, two of whom, I am delighted to see here today, MW Bro Lord Northampton, and RW Bro Iain Bryce. I am also very grateful to so many people here at Freemasons' Hall, who have helped smooth my path with their advice and support.

Over the years I have witnessed many changes and exciting initiatives, not least the formation of Metropolitan Grand Lodge, in which I was privileged to play a part. Nine years ago, with Lord Northampton’s encouragement, I started the Universities Scheme, which now has fifty nine lodges around the country, many of which I have visited. I am proud of what those lodges are achieving, and very grateful to successive members of my organising committee for the time and effort they have devoted to promoting the Scheme.

Parallel with the growth of the Scheme, I have seen the mentoring initiative take an increasingly positive effect in making masonry meaningful to new masons and aiding overall retention. One of the biggest changes has been in the development of the way we portray ourselves to the outside world, through websites, social media, and our publications, all of which contribute to what we know as 'openness', and in helping us regain, what the Grand Master has called, 'our enviable reputation in society.' 

Finally, brethren, as I reflect on the last thirteen years, it is with all humility I can say that it has been a great honour to have had the opportunity to contribute to English Freemasonry; I have enjoyed every moment. My grateful thanks to all of you who may have made a special effort to be here today; it is wonderful to see the Grand Temple so full!

My sincere thanks too to the many masons it has been my pleasure and privilege to meet, in London, in the Provinces, and overseas. I will always remember the collective and individual encouragement you have given me over the years. Brethren, thank you all.

Published in Speeches
Page 7 of 18

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