As Freemasonry searches for new ways to build membership, Sarah Holmes learns what insights were revealed at an innovative light blue clubs’ conference
On a crisp Saturday in late October, young Freemasons from across the country congregated at London’s Freemasons’ Hall. The event was the New and Young Masons Clubs’ Conference, organised to share knowledge and best practice about how to keep the next generation of masons engaged with the Craft.
Testament to the growth of ‘light blue’ clubs within Freemasonry, the conference was hosted by the Connaught Club, whose Chairman Mitchell Merrick-Thirlway is a strong advocate of the need to support Freemasons after they have joined a lodge. As rites of passage go, initiation is a definitive milestone for a mason. ‘I couldn’t sleep for a whole week before mine,’ admits Mitchell, who joined Lodge of Candour, No. 7663, in 2010. ‘The ceremony was beautiful. I couldn’t have been more excited to start learning about this ancient Order.’
When Mitchell discovered that his lodge wouldn’t be meeting for another three months, however, he was understandably disappointed. ‘I imagined we’d be meeting every week, learning about different aspects of Freemasonry, its history and getting to know one another,’ says Mitchell. ‘Fortunately, my lodge secretary told me about the Connaught Club.
‘I went along to the Friday social and discovered a whole new side to Freemasonry.’
Launched at a reception held by Metropolitan Grand Lodge in 2007, the Connaught Club was formed as a social club for masons under 35 years old who were eager to engage in a more active brand of Freemasonry. ‘There are lots of masonic events and trips to get involved with. Just this October, 15 of us went to Dublin to visit the Grand Master’s Lodge to witness a First Degree,’ says Mitchell.
‘I’ve experienced so much more of Freemasonry because of the Connaught Club,’ he continues. ‘The guys are constantly bouncing ideas off each other on Facebook, and inviting one another to their lodge meetings. It’s given me an outlet for the energy and excitement that I wanted to put into the Craft.’
Although a London-based social club, the concept has spread as far afield as Kuala Lumpur and South Africa, where ‘Connaught Clubs’ have also been formed. Today, the London club enjoys a membership of 284 Freemasons under 35 years old, with numbers on the rise. It even has its own lodge, Burgoyne Lodge, No. 902. In April 2015, just five years into his masonic career, Mitchell became Connaught Club Chairman.
‘The energy is one thing,’ says Mitchell. ‘But it’s also about meeting like-minded people. Brethren of a similar age can relate to each other’s lives more easily. The club is about complementing one’s Freemasonry, not replacing it.’
The need for this early support has become clear, as masonic social clubs are cropping up throughout the Provinces. The New and Young Masons Clubs’ Conference heralded the first formal meeting for this national network. ‘It’s a chance for Provinces to exchange ideas, and share the lessons learned from the establishment of their clubs,’ explains Mitchell.
But it’s not just young masons who are benefiting. Light blue clubs give new masons of any age the support they need to get the most out of Freemasonry from day one. As founder of the Southampton Light Blue Club, Andy Venn appreciates the challenges of integrating new masons into the Craft. ‘I remember how daunting it was to come into a lodge full of established, older Freemasons,’ he says. ‘I wasn’t young myself – I was 43 coming in – but most of the brethren were between 60 and 80 years old.’ Thanks to the Southampton Light Blue Club, new members are now greeted at the door by brethren and officially introduced to the lodge.
A social structure
Regular social events have played an important role in easing new members and their families into masonic life. From an impromptu drink down the pub through to organised lodge visits and trips to places of masonic interest, the structure is informal and unpressured. Masons can get involved as often as they like, and events are scheduled to fit around family and work commitments.
‘So far this year, we’ve had three really successful breakfast meetings. We invited British Superbike rider Kyle Wilks to talk, and after that the actor Jeremy Bulloch, who played the bounty hunter Boba Fett in the Star Wars films,’ says Andy, adding that it was a talk by Lance Bombardier Gary Prout, who won the Conspicuous Gallantry Cross for his service in Afghanistan, that really struck a chord with the Southampton masons. ‘When one of his comrades was hit by an explosive device, Gary ran out under Taliban fire to administer first aid and attempt to rescue him,’ recalls Andy. ‘It was an amazing story. He had 40 or so Freemasons with tears in their eyes.’
Having shared the story of his light blue club at the conference, Andy hopes other Provinces will be inspired to establish their own. ‘New Freemasons are our future. They bring a lot of value to the Craft. If we don’t stop this steady drip of younger masons leaving, we’ll stagnate.’
Retention is one benefit, but many clubs also offer a taste of masonic life for prospective members of the Craft. ‘We’ve seen a number of membership applications come off the back of our informal drinks receptions,’ says Ben Gait from Cardiff, who helped found the Colonnade Club in 2015. ‘They work well because there’s no pressure attached.’
For Ben, the conference has been fundamental in demonstrating the importance of the clubs to the rest of Freemasonry, particularly Grand Lodge.
‘If you look historically, things have tended to filter down from Grand Lodge to the Provinces. But the fact that members have organised themselves and grown this network organically says something about the changing face of Freemasonry.’
Indeed, the light blue clubs are more than an excuse for having a pint; they are actively building an organisation that’s fit for the 21st century.
Holding a social event
Andy: ‘Every time I try to get an evening social event together it falls flat. But our breakfast meetings work a treat, because they don’t intrude on family plans for the weekend.’
Ben: ‘It’s important to try different types of events. We organised a dinner at an all-you-can-eat buffet; it wasn’t the best-attended event, but the feedback we received gave us great ideas for the next one.’
Mitchell: ‘Charity events are a great way to unite people. This year, a group of us are rowing the length of the Thames on rowing machines to raise money for the mental health charity, Rethink.’
As Commonwealth nations mark the armistice signed to end the First World War, Diane Clements, Director of the Library and Museum of Freemasonry, traces the origins of Freemasons’ Hall
While the peace treaties after the First World War were still being negotiated in Versailles, following the armistice on 11 November 1918, the United Grand Lodge of England began preparations for its own masonic peace celebration in London. In June 1919, guests from lodges in Ireland, Scotland, America, Canada, New Zealand and England enjoyed a week of activities, including visits to the masonic schools and the Houses of Parliament. A peace medal was issued to those who attended the special Grand Lodge meeting on 27 June at the Royal Albert Hall.
The Grand Master, HRH The Duke of Connaught, was unable to attend, but he asked Lord Ampthill, the Pro Grand Master, to read a series of messages. One of these spoke of ‘a perpetual memorial’ to ‘honour the many brethren who fell during the war’. For the Grand Master, ‘The great and continued growth of Freemasonry amongst us demands a central home; and I wish it to be considered whether the question of erecting that home in this metropolis of the empire… would not be the most fitting peace memorial.’
With individual lodges considering what form their own memorials should take, the issue was raised at the Grand Lodge meeting in September 1919. Charles Goff from Fortitude and Old Cumberland Lodge, No. 12, asked if consideration had been given to other forms of memorial – particularly a fund to support Freemasons wounded during the war or their dependants. Charles also asked whether a major building project should proceed at a time of housing shortage. Although several lodges and Provinces decided to support local hospitals, Grand Lodge elected to proceed with its new temple.
In January 1920 details of the campaign to raise funds for the new building were distributed to lodges and individual members. The target was £1 million, giving the campaign its name – the Masonic Million Memorial Fund. Contributions were to be marked by the award of medals. Members who contributed at least 10 guineas (£10.50) were to receive a silver medal and those who gave 100 guineas (£105) or more, a gold medal. Lodges that contributed an average of 10 guineas per member were to be recorded in the new building as Hall Stone Lodges and the Master of each entitled to wear a special medal as a collarette. By the end of the appeal, 53,224 individual medals had been issued and 1,321 lodges had qualified as Hall Stone Lodges.
A design by architects HV Ashley and F Winton Newman was chosen and building work started in 1927. Construction began at the western corner of the new building, where houses on Great Queen Street had been demolished, and progressed eastwards.
The new Masonic Peace Memorial, as it was called, was dedicated on 19 July 1933. The theme of the memorial window outside the Grand Temple was the attainment of peace through sacrifice. Its main feature was the figure of peace holding a model of the tower façade of the building. In the lower panels were shown fighting men, civilians and pilgrims ascending a winding staircase towards the angel of peace.
In June 1938, the Building Committee announced that a memorial shrine, to be designed by Walter Gilbert, would be placed under the memorial window. Its symbols portrayed peace and the attainment of eternal life. It took the form of a bronze casket resting on an ark among reeds, the boat indicative of a journey that had come to an end. In the centre of the front panel a relief showed the hand of God in which rested the soul of man. At the four corners stood pairs of winged seraphim with golden trumpets and across its front were gilded figures of Moses, Joshua, Solomon and St George.
In December 1914 Grand Lodge had begun to compile a Roll of Honour of all members who had died in the war. In June 1921, the roll was declared complete, listing 3,078 names, and was printed in book form. After completion of the memorial shrine, the Roll of Honour, with the addition of over 350 names, was displayed within it on a parchment roll.
The Roll of Honour was guarded by kneeling figures representing the four fighting services (Royal Navy, Royal Marines, Army and Royal Flying Corps). By the time all these memorials were complete, the country was already in the midst of another war. Freemasons’ Hall continued to operate during that Second World War and survived largely undamaged so that it can be visited today.
Pro First Grand Principal Peter Lowndes explains why Armistice Day should be a moment when we remember all the masons who have given their lives in times of conflict
Armistice Day commemorates those who gave their lives in two World Wars. To mark the occasion, a poppy wreath was laid at the memorial shrine in the first vestibule to the Grand Temple. It sits in front of the casket that holds the roll listing over 3,000 of our members who gave their lives on active service in the First World War.
I think it is worth reminding ourselves, however, that it is not just the shrine that is the memorial but the whole of Freemasons’ Hall itself. Indeed, during the planning stages in the 1920s and the first years of its existence, the building was known as the Masonic Peace Memorial.
As a memorial, it was intended that the building should be reserved solely for masonic purposes. Time and economics, as well as the fact that the building is now Grade II* listed, have gradually led to it being opened for non-masonic events and filming.
I would assure you, however, that our excellent in-house events team takes great care to ensure that outside events, especially filming, are consistent with the building’s origins and core purpose. We have a building of which we can be justifiably proud and that is recognised as one of the landmark buildings of London.
On Armistice Day we remember not only those in whose name the building was raised but also the many thousands of our members who gave their lives during World War Two and other conflicts that have taken place since then. I believe that on Armistice Day, we stand to remember those who sacrificed their lives to preserve those ideals that have allowed Freemasonry to flourish.
‘On Armistice Day we remember not only those in whose name Freemasons’ Hall was raised but also the many thousands of our members who gave their lives during World War Two.’
Globe Chapter milestone
The sesquicentenary celebrations of Globe Chapter, No. 23, have taken place at Freemasons’ Hall, Great Queen Street. The chapter started life in 1865 as Panmure Chapter, No. 720, but in 1914 was unusually allowed to change to its current name and number.
Everyone present at the celebration received a copy of the chapter’s history written by member Richard Gan, who also gave a talk, after which the 50 or so companions dined together in Globe tradition at one very large table.
During its long existence the chapter has had 373 members, only 33 of whom have come from Panmure Lodge and 77 from Globe Lodge. The remaining members have had no affiliation to either, which has been one of the chapter’s strengths.
11 November 2015
An address by the ME Pro First Grand Principal Peter Lowndes
Companions, I am very pleased to see so many of you present today to witness the Installation of Most Excellent Companion Russell Race as Second Grand Principal. On behalf of all of you I wish him a long and happy tenure in this important role.
It is to the future that we should now look, but I would like to repeat my thanks to Most Excellent Companion George Francis for his many achievements and tireless work in raising the profile of the Holy Royal Arch since his own Installation in November 2005.
Companions, today, apart from celebrating the Installation of a new Second Grand Principal you will all be aware that it is also Armistice Day when we commemorate those who gave their lives in two World Wars. The observant amongst you will have noticed that a poppy wreath has been laid at the memorial shrine in the first vestibule to this Grand Temple, in front of the casket which holds the roll listing over 3,000 of our members who gave their lives on active service in the First World War.
I think it is worth reminding ourselves, however, that it is not just the shrine which is the memorial but the whole of Freemasons’ Hall itself. Indeed, during the planning stages in the 1920s and the first years of its existence, the building was known as the Masonic Peace Memorial.
As a memorial it was originally intended that the building should be reserved solely for masonic purposes but time and economics and the fact that the building is now Grade 2* listed both internally and externally have gradually led to the building being opened for non-masonic events and filming.
I would assure you however, companions, that our excellent and hard-working in-house events team take great care to ensure that outside events, especially filming, are consistent with the building’s origins and core purpose. We have a building of which we can be justifiably proud which is recognised as one of the landmark buildings of London.
Today we remember not only those in whose name the building was raised but also the many other thousands of our members who gave their lives during the Second World War and the other conflicts that have taken place since then. Although we have already stood in memory of recently departed members, in particular Most Excellent Companion Iain Bryce, Past Second Grand Principal, I believe that on this special day we should stand again to remember those who gave their lives to preserve those ideals which allow Freemasonry to flourish.
Companions, on September 30th this year, a packed Grand Temple enjoyed a magnificent Inaugural Concert to celebrate the refurbishment of our organ and when Supreme Grand Chapter is closed I am sure you will enjoy the talk by Ian Bell, Organ Consultant entitled ‘Achieved is the Glorious Work or Proof of the Pudding’, with musical illustrations played by Excellent Companion David Cresswell, Grand Organist.
Thank you, companions.
A Fantastic Evening of Family Entertainment
Advent, Christmas, Hanukkah and Diwali are all just around the corner so it's time to book for our Family Festive Concert. It takes place on Thursday 10 December from 6.30pm to 8.00pm in the Grand Temple at Freemasons Hall, Great Queen Street.
Returning from their triumphal performance last year are St Anne’s College Camerata, the Oxfordshire Youth Brass Ensemble, the Oxfordshire Schools’ Choir and the Celtic London Pipes and Drums.
In addition this year, we will hear the refurbished Grand Temple organ in all its glory and a steel band. Father Christmas will also be there with presents for all the children attending.
This is the chance to celebrate in music and song the Festive Season of many faiths. It is also a chance to bring wives, family, friends and potential candidates to see the splendour of the Grand Temple.
Our compere this year is that well-known Freemason and traveller in the skies, Stratton Richey.
Tickets are £10 for adults and £5 for children under 16 years.
Book your tickets now: https://event.bookitbee.com/3855/family-festive-concert-10-dec-2015/
National conference for young masons
An invitation has gone out from the Connaught Club and other ‘light blue’ organisations to take part in the first ‘New and Young Masons Clubs’ Conference’ at Freemasons’ Hall in London on Saturday, 24 October 2015.
Each club will present any ideas they have, explain which events have worked well for them, and discuss best practices. The two-hour conference will include time to meet other members. Representatives from Provinces without a young masons club are also encouraged to attend.
After the conference, guests are invited to the installation meeting and Festive Board for the Connaught Club’s lodge, Burgoyne Lodge, No. 902.
For full details and to register, go to www.connaughtclub.org/nymcc2015
Our borough has a birthday
We were very pleased to be invited to take part in this film put together by LoveCamden, celebrating the 50th birthday of Camden – the home borough of Freemasons' Hall. You can see our Grand Temple at 0:38.
Slick new look for masonic shopping website
We're very pleased to announce a brand new website for Letchworth's Shop: http://letchworthshop.co.uk/
The shop, based in Freemasons' Hall in Covent Garden, sells gifts, stationery, postcards and souvenirs, a wide range of official publications, books and magazines and Craft and Arch regalia. Other regalia can be obtained to order.
It also offers a range of items which can be personalised for individuals, lodges or chapters.
All major credit cards are accepted.
Telephone orders: 020 7395 9329 (during opening hours)
Members of the London Grand Rank Association staff the Shop on a voluntary basis working with the Shop Manager, Kevin Duffy.
Monday to Friday 10.30am to 5.30pm
Saturday 10am to 2.30pm
Except Bank Holiday weekends, Christmas and Easter when Freemasons' Hall itself is closed.
Did you know we used to hold the record for largest ever sit-down meal?
HM The Queen is having a street party for her 90th birthday to be attended by 10,000 guests: http://bbc.co.uk/news/uk-33456400
But for years it was Grand Lodge which used to hold the record for largest ever sit-down meal. The event was in aid of the Masonic Million Memorial Fund which raised money to build our beautiful Freemasons' Hall in London.
The historic lunch was held on Saturday 8th August 1925 at Olympia. Special trains were laid on to transport the over 7,000 members to the venue, who dined on five courses and coffee, served by 1,250 waitresses in just over an hour!
Five miles of tables were laid with 50,000 plates, 30,000 glasses, 30,000 knives, 37,000 forks and 15,000 spoons. The assembled enjoyed salmon, lamb, chicken garnished with tongue and York ham.
A central conning tower was erected in the gallery which was fitted with electrical signalling devices for the caterers to supervise the event. There was also a loudspeaker system with amplifiers that allowed all the diners to hear the speeches clearly. Music was provided by the band of the Welsh Guards.
Books of matches were issued at the end of the meal, featuring an image of the event jewel on one side and the coat of arms of the United Grand Lodge of England on the reverse. Cigars and cigarettes packed in specially designed cases were also distributed.
Wow! And what an incredible image of the special day. I wonder what's in store for our tercentenary in 2017...