Along with much of the country, the lights went out and Freemasons' Hall was plunged into darkness at 10pm last night to commemorate the moment that Great Britain declared war on Germany one hundred years ago

A single candle illuminated the Memorial Shrine, which commemorates the 3,225 brethren, who died on active service in the First World War and in whose memory the building was raised.

Behind the shrine is the stained glass memorial window whose theme is the attainment of Peace through Sacrifice, with the Angel of Peace carrying a model of the tower of the building.

The bronze memorial casket, which was designed by Walter Gilbert, contains the memorial roll, at the corners of which are gilt figures representing the fighting services.

Images courtesy of Colin Clay Photography

Letters to the editor - No. 26 Summer 2014

Men of honour


My grandfather was initiated on 9 November 1908 into Royal Rose Lodge, No. 2565, a military lodge formed by officers from the Royal Fusiliers (City of London Regiment). 

He appears on the masonic roll of honour.

Charles Arthur Murray was a volunteer soldier who fought in the Boer War for the Royal Fusiliers and subsequently in the Great War, where he was killed in 1915. Apart from his campaign medals, he was awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal just before he was killed by shrapnel. This was awarded as a result of his actions in preventing the slaughter of German troops who had surrendered when his battalion engulfed a German trench.

As a result of an email discussion with my cousin (sharing the same grandfather), we visited his grave last June. As part of the tour we had a personal trip to his marked grave in Windy Corner, Cuinchy, the Guards Cemetery in Northern France and we laid a wreath. We think we were the first family members to do so. It was very moving, as you can imagine.

This trip to France stimulated me to make further enquiries and I contacted the very helpful Secretary of Royal Rose Lodge, Colin Woodcock. His records also produced my grandfather’s brother, Henry Murray, who I discovered had been initiated and passed on the same dates as his brother, and who became Master in 1922. Colin Woodcock invited me to attend Royal Rose, which I did on 13 November in the company of eight members of my lodge, Sunbury Lodge, No. 1733. 

What a special occasion that was – to make the link going back over ninety years. 

A wonderful welcome was given to all of us by Royal Rose, which subsequently granted me the great privilege of honorary membership. My request to give the visitor’s speech was granted, as I wanted the opportunity to record how Freemasonry benefited me.

As a result of my grandfather being a Freemason, his three sons were enrolled in the masonic school and received a good education. This enabled them to become professionals in their employment and, in turn, give their own sons a good start in life. 

I would not be in a good position today if it were not for that.

We at Sunbury hope to welcome brethren of Royal Rose to our April meeting, where they will be gladly received.

John Murray, Sunbury Lodge, No. 1733, Staines, Middlesex

Charles Arthur Murray 1915

Charles Arthur Murray, 1915

Published in UGLE
Thursday, 05 June 2014 01:00

The Craft in black and white

Pressing matters

In his Prestonian Lecture, Paul Calderwood traces Freemasonry’s faltering relationship with the press throughout the twentieth century. Andrew Gimson finds out why things have started to improve

Why did Freemasonry’s public image change so much for the worse during the twentieth century? This question struck Paul Calderwood many years before he delivered the 2013 Prestonian Lecture on the subject. He became a Freemason in the early 1970s and towards the end of that decade began to notice the declining tone of newspaper coverage: ‘By the 1980s, it was pretty dire. I was amazed at the things I read in newspapers. These reports didn’t match my experience.’ 

On investigating the image of Freemasonry, Paul found that it had ‘a very positive profile in newspapers in the late nineteenth century. It was very much part of the public sphere’. How and why did things go wrong? On retiring from business, Paul decided to conduct a scholarly inquiry into this question, and enrolled at Goldsmiths, University of London, where he researched and wrote a doctoral thesis, which has now been published.

‘Throughout 1900-1940, the largest part of the fraternity’s press profile was derived from the strong involvement of the Royal Family, which played a key role in the administration of the Order,’ explains Paul. ‘Three of the four kings of twentieth-century Britain were Past Grand Masters of the United Grand Lodge of England (UGLE) – as were kings of Sweden and Denmark. They provided Freemasonry with publicity on a lavish scale.’ 

Thanks to its royal favour, Freemasonry drew eminent people from many different walks of life. Archbishops, aristocrats, government ministers, judges and mayors flocked to become Freemasons, commending the fraternity as ‘the key to model citizenship’.

But Paul has identified another, less obvious factor that contributed to the positive image: the openness of Freemasonry itself. ‘There can be little doubt that the raised masonic profile between 1916 and 1936 was directed by the most senior members of UGLE,’ says Paul. ‘The nature of the press coverage – its detail, frequency and, above all, volume – are clear indications that the in-trays of the leaders of the Order were being officially scanned on a daily basis for news items.’ During those twenty years, the number of masonic articles in the national press increased fourfold. Indeed, there were times when as many as four articles appeared on the same day in the same newspaper.

‘Throughout 1900-1940, the largest part of the fraternity’s press profile was derived from the strong involvement of the Royal Family.’ Paul Calderwood

News outlets including the Press Association, The Times and The Daily Telegraph employed masonic correspondents. Lord Ampthill, who in 1908 became Pro Grand Master of UGLE, had a high opinion of journalism, while Alfred Robbins, who in 1913 became President of the Board of General Purposes, was a well-known journalist. Robbins knew exactly what journalists needed, and he had a network of contacts through whom it could be supplied. Freemasonry in these years did not fear the press; it embraced it. Paul, who himself worked in public relations, sees UGLE as a pioneer of these methods that we now take for granted.

A step backwards

So what went wrong? Robbins died in 1931, but his network continued to function for a few years. Ampthill’s death in 1935 led to the decisive change: ‘There was a change in leadership at Grand Lodge, to people with a very different attitude to communications, and they effectively withdrew from the public sphere.’

The abdication in 1936 of King Edward VIII showed that publicity ‘can be a two-edged sword’. The high profile of Freemasonry had been maintained by his active participation during his years as an immensely popular Prince of Wales, and now, in Paul’s words, ‘his reputation went into free-fall, and an asset proved more of a liability’. The rise of fascism on continental Europe, with Freemasons facing persecution, was taken in England as confirmation of the wisdom of keeping a low profile.

In the years after World War II, Freemasonry in England continued to grow substantially in numbers, only levelling off in the late 1970s and then, in common with most membership organisations, going into decline. But the press no longer carried masonic stories. Paul observes that news values had changed; editors were less interested in printing reports about such bastions of the establishment as Freemasonry. 

Some of the churches, too, having once welcomed Freemasonry as an ally, now began to see the Order as a rival. But the greatest single factor in the decline in coverage was the decision by Freemasonry itself not to make news available, and to be an organisation that jealously guarded its privacy.

‘Many members of the public saw a secretive organisation that did nothing to rebut the conspiracy theories that multiplied around it.’

Addressing the damage

Even when Freemasonry came under attack, no reply was made. ‘Critics had the field to themselves,’ explains Paul. ‘They were able to fill the vacuum with their insinuations.’ In the 1980s, a ‘witch-hunt’ developed, and for a long time no attempt was made to counter these stories. 

As Paul explains, the attitude of many Freemasons was: ‘Let them think what they want. We know we’re right.’

The problem with taking the high road was that many members of the public saw a secretive organisation that did nothing to rebut the conspiracy theories that multiplied around it. At length, the need for a policy of greater openness was seen. According to Paul, this was ‘quite controversial’, even though it was a return to the greater openness of 1916-1936. 

With so little material published about Freemasonry in the twentieth century, Paul has broken new ground both with his book and his lecture – which he has now given about thirty-six times in England and Wales: ‘There is a lot of interest in the subject of our public image and what can be done to improve it.’ Provinces in England and Wales have appointed publicity officers, who are trying to communicate better with the media, and many are also successfully using social media.

As a young man, Paul read history at the University of Leicester before qualifying as a journalist and working for a short time on local newspapers. He understands journalism and, from his days in public relations, has absorbed the lesson that ‘the prelude to understanding is communication’. What a pity it is that having learnt this lesson earlier than many other organisations, Freemasonry then forgot it for half a century.

To order a copy of the 2013 Prestonian Lecture, ‘As we were seen: The Press & Freemasonry’, from Amazon, visit 

Thursday, 05 June 2014 01:00

Master of tides

Life’s adventure

Whether it’s kayaking across the harshest seas or attending a masonic meeting, for Pete Bray life is all about helping other people. Caitlin Davies joins him for a paddle off the Liverpool coast

Record-breaking British adventurer Pete Bray has completed seven major expeditions, survived a sinking boat and two hurricanes, and has a medal for bravery. Now the climber, marathon runner, cross-country skier and microlight pilot is embarking on a new journey: Freemasonry.

Born in Plymouth in 1956, Pete counted polar explorer Sir Ernest Shackleton among his childhood heroes: ‘He taught me that if you plan, you succeed, and you live to fight another day.’ Pete learnt this the hard way when, at the age of eleven, he got his first kayak. Not content with splashing around in the sea, he set off from Torpoint in Cornwall wearing a World War I life jacket with virtually no knowledge about currents and tides. 

After reaching Cawsand, Pete decided on the way back to have a look at HMS Ark Royal in the Plymouth docks, at which point the Ministry of Defence (MOD) intervened. ‘They explained the tides and they picked me up and took me home. I got grounded by my dad for a week, but it was all very exciting.’

Perhaps it was this early brush with the MOD that led to Pete joining the army; he worked for twenty-four years as a soldier, including fifteen years in the SAS. 

‘I loved to race while I was in the regiment,’ he explains, ‘and in 1984 I entered a seven-day race between Sweden and Finland. It was the first time I’d been in a racing kayak. Imagine ice skating for the first time; that’s what it was like: you get in, you tip straight out. When I arrived for the race they asked where my support team was and I replied, “You’re looking at him’.”

‘After saving the lives of his crew when they were struck by Hurricane Alex, Pete was awarded a medal by the Royal Humane Society.’

Rising to challenges

In 1996, Pete kayaked around Great Britain with Steve McDonald, a partially sighted friend, then in 2000 he set off to cross the Atlantic alone. But ‘the valve had been put in wrongly and so the boat sank’. He survived for thirty-seven hours in freezing waters before being picked up. It took him months to learn to walk again after suffering from cold-water injuries, but the next year Pete became the first person to kayak solo across the North Atlantic from west to east. 

This seventy-six-day expedition was documented in Pete’s book Kayak Across the Atlantic, and for ten years he held the world record for the longest open-water crossing undertaken by a kayaker. ‘I hate to fail,’ says the fifty-eight-year-old. ‘If something is in the way, it’s just a hurdle to overcome.’

Pete is clearly a determined man and has had to face many other hurdles along the way. In 2004 he was part of a four-man team attempting the fastest row crossing from Newfoundland to the Isles of Scilly. After thirty-nine days at sea, the boat was struck by Hurricane Alex and split in two. Having saved the lives of his crew, Pete was awarded a bronze medal by the Royal Humane Society in 2005. The same year, Pete and three others spent thirteen days kayaking around South Georgia, setting the record for the fastest circumnavigation of the island.

Then in 2009, drama hit again during a solo row from Newfoundland to the Isles of Scilly. After forty-two days he needed rescuing; faced with winds of one hundred and twenty-five miles per hour and twenty-foot waves, he was in the path of Hurricane Bill. 

For his next challenge, Pete has two ideas: a ‘paddle around Wales’ and ‘motorbiking to the twenty-eight capitals of the European Union with disabled soldiers’. 

And if all that isn’t enough to keep him busy, last year he branched out into previously uncharted waters, joining Phoenix Lodge, No. 3236, in Cheshire.

Pete, who is the director of a security consultancy, Primarius, explains his decision: ‘My business partner Harry Glover asked if I wanted to join his lodge, and one of the attractions was the fundraising aspect of Freemasonry. Being a mason is all about looking after people, which I like, so it seemed logical to join.’

Paddling for pounds

Pete is also planning a sponsored kayak crossing of the Bering Strait between Russia and Alaska, just south of the Arctic Circle. He will be raising money for the Teddies for Loving Care Appeal, which gives teddy bears to children in hospitals, and the Royal Masonic Trust for Girls and Boys (RMTGB), which relieves childhood poverty and supports education. 

Ray Collings has been fundraising manager at the RMTGB for seven years and has worked with masons who have climbed Kilimanjaro, run marathons or completed the National Three Peaks Challenge. But when Pete rang and told him his plan to kayak across the Bering Strait, ‘I thought he was joking,’ laughs Ray. ‘Then when I realised what he has done in the past, I saw it was almost normal for him. He’s always supported children’s charities and was keen to do something for a masonic charity. A lot of people do sponsored events, but there has never been anything as adventurous as this in my memory.’

The RMTGB gives its fundraisers advice, provides the paperwork and processes the donations, and Ray meets many of them at the end of their trip. 

This summer, for example, masons from Middlesex and Hertfordshire are cycling from Gibraltar to Southampton. ‘I’ll meet them at the finish,’ he says, ‘but I’m not sure if the Trust would allow me to meet Pete when he finishes! It’s a bit extreme for me to fly to Alaska.’

Pete, meanwhile, says he wouldn’t describe becoming a mason as an adventure: ‘It’s more of a learning curve. It’s about improvement and bettering yourself. An adventure is about getting from A to B and succeeding; becoming a Freemason is more of a lifelong journey.’ 

 Pete Bray’s  top five kayaking tips

1. Pick a boat for where you want to kayak (in rivers or the sea). There’s a wide range available and you need the right one.

2. Make sure you have the correct paddle; they come in all different shapes, sizes and lengths.

3. Choose a boat you like the colour of; you’re going to have to really want to be with it. My favourite colours are blues and reds.

4. Learn from a professional, like myself.

5. Enjoy it and do it for the right reasons. People say I should be sitting in an armchair but even now I’m still paddling! If you get off your backside, you can do something.

‘I hate to fail. If something is in the way, it’s just a hurdle to overcome.’ Pete Bray

Appealing to the senses

A blossoming sensory garden initiative by the RMBI is helping to both lift the spirits of care home residents and connect with their past, as Sarah Holmes discovers

While gardens are a source of pleasure during the summer months, imagine if an uneven paving stone was enough to limit your enjoyment of a flower bed in full bloom. For the older generation, the great outdoors can sometimes feel like a hazardous place, with the security of indoors often seeming a far more sensible option.

Forty-one per cent of adults over the age of seventy take a twenty-minute walk less than once a year, according to statistics published by the British Heart Foundation National Centre for Physical Activity and Health in 2012. In care homes, the figures are more worrying still, with seventy-eight per cent of men and eighty-six per cent of women classified as inactive.

At Queen Elizabeth Court in Llandudno, however, the scene could not be more different. The Royal Masonic Benevolent Institution (RMBI) care home is set in an acre of sprawling lawns that play host to an award-winning patchwork of raised flower beds and vegetable plots. And thanks to a network of pathways, the garden is completely accessible to its residents. But it is the home’s sensory garden, funded primarily by local Freemasons and volunteers from its Association of Friends, that’s the real pièce de résistance.  

One of the four central masonic charities, the RMBI is dedicated to looking after Freemasons and their dependants in retirement, and sensory gardens are its latest initiative to improve the lives of residents in its care homes. Designed to stimulate all five senses, the gardens are especially therapeutic for people with dementia. ‘We want all of our residents’ lives to be as fulfilling as possible,’ explains Debra Keeling, Dementia Care Advisor at the RMBI. ‘The sensory gardens are fine-tuned to provide a safe, stimulating space that benefits all residents, including those with dementia.’ 

Working with landscaping specialist Ward Associates, which has links with the University of Stirling’s leading dementia centre, the RMBI developed a sensory garden blueprint in 2011 that could be used in its homes, with the help of grants.

In a sensory garden, colours, shapes and special features are introduced to assist visual impairment. 

Wind chimes and water features aid hearing, with specially surfaced paths creating noise when residents walk on them. Plants with different textures are grown so that people can touch and enjoy the variety, while cultivating herbs and vegetables means the residents can taste fresh, home-grown produce. 

With an expanding dementia support unit, Queen Elizabeth Court was a natural candidate for a grant, and its sensory garden helped the RMBI home take second place in the 2013 Llandudno in Bloom awards – adding to its roster of wins. 

‘We want all of our residents’ lives to be as fulfilling as possible. Sensory gardens provide a safe, stimulating space that benefits all residents, including those with dementia.’ Debra Keeling

While his work may be award winning, for Alan Roberts, the horticulturalist at Queen Elizabeth Court, outstanding resident care is the only priority when it comes to maintaining the garden. ‘It’s nice to win awards, but at the end of the day it’s the residents’ garden,’ he says. ‘It’s here to benefit them.’ 

Roberts acknowledges that without the RMBI’s investment and expertise, the sensory garden would never have happened. From flower beds raised to wheelchair height through to sheltered seating areas, the garden is an accessible and engaging space for all. Plants and flowers that appeal to the senses are particularly important for residents with dementia, for whom the smell of lavender or the sight of a daffodil is enough to reinvigorate a host of comforting memories.  

Encouraging involvement

There are plans for more improvements, too. ‘We’ve decided to create a water feature to get the residents out more, and eventually we’ll have decking with more raised flower beds outside the dementia wing, so it’s easy to access,’ Roberts explains. At present, the home has eleven raised beds where residents plant their own produce, such as tomatoes, lettuce and strawberries – and it is up to the residents to nurture everything through to harvest, when it will go straight to the kitchens, then onto their plates. 

‘It’s a great confidence booster,’ says Gary Carr, Activity Coordinator at Queen Elizabeth Court. ‘Our residents’ faces light up when somebody compliments them on something they’ve grown.’ 

Although it can be difficult to entice people out of their rooms, Carr and Roberts are never deterred. They regularly organise sessions to make hanging baskets and sunflower-growing competitions. ‘It’s an incredibly useful space,’ says Carr. ‘It adds another level of engagement to the activities, and is a great source of stimulation for residents in the dementia wing.’

By high summer, many residents will be visiting the garden at least once a week – some even two or three times a day. One resident in particular, Valerie Morris, adored the garden. Having been a keen gardener throughout her life, Val could often be found planting her favourite geraniums or engrossed in a gardening book. When she was moved to the dementia wing during the last four years of her life, the sensory garden provided a great source of comfort. 

‘Val was a lovely lady,’ recalls Roberts. ‘The garden really helped in the last few years. It reminded her of when she used to garden with her son. We always made sure there was a vase of geraniums in her room.’

It’s the willingness of staff like Carr and Roberts to go the extra mile, combined with the RMBI’s strategic sensitivity to evidence-based innovation, that allows the care homes to excel in the field of dementia care. 

‘We are experts in this area, and the sensory gardens are a key part of our offering for people with dementia,’ says Keeling. ‘It’s all about facilitating people’s interests, and the great thing is that the gardens can be enjoyed by everyone. All RMBI care homes with specialist dementia units already benefit from sensory gardens, so the next step is to introduce them to our other homes. It’s something that we will continue to develop to give real quality of life to our residents every day.’

Sowing the seeds

In addition to central funding from the RMBI, each care home has a dedicated volunteer group known as the Association of Friends. Their activities support care home provisions, such as the sensory gardens, and members also volunteer as companions for residents. 

Every year, their efforts culminate in a big outdoor event. This year, Queen Elizabeth Court will be gearing up for its annual summer fete, which will see more than twenty lodges and local businesses arrive to peddle their wares from marquees. Last year’s attractions included artisan cheeses and charcuterie, a dog display, the West Mercia Lodge brass band and a residents’ strawberry stall. 

To find out more, visit 

Published in RMBI

Flying as one

When fighter pilot Len Thorne saw one of his squadron shot down in World War II, little did he think that more than forty-five years later he would meet that pilot again thanks to his Freemasonry. Barry Griffin, Len’s son-in-law, explains the chance encounter

For a couple of years before his death, my father-in-law Len Thorne had been working on memoirs based on his World War II pilot’s logbook as a front-line fighter and his time as a test pilot in the Air Fighting Development Unit (AFDU). His daughter, my wife Gill, promised Len that we would try to complete his book and have it published. The following extract not only gives a breathtaking account of mid-air battle, but also reveals how important Freemasonry can be in bringing people together:

‘On a “sweep” operation on 12 October 1941, I flew as Yellow three, sub-section leader on the port side of the leading section and slightly above it. We swept south from Gravelines to Hardelot, inland ten to fifteen miles from the French coast. Blue section, off to our right and slightly below us, were attacked by a group of 109s just as we made a starboard turn to leave France. The rest of us were immediately involved in several brief individual combats, and for a few moments, the sky seemed full of aircraft. 

‘In a momentary lull I saw Blue four off to my right spinning down, with the Spitfire completely engulfed in flames. I broke violently to port to avoid an attacker and became separated from the somewhat scattered squadron, so joined up with one of the “Keyhole” (452 Australian) Squadron boys and got home safely. We later learned that Blue four was Sergeant Ted Meredith of B Flight and, at that time, he was believed to have perished in his flaming aircraft.

‘In March 1987, over forty-five years later, my wife was helping at a masonic meeting of the Warwickshire Masonic Widows Friendship Club. I was waiting for her with the husband of another of the helpers in an anteroom. We chatted as one does and he noticed my RAF Association lapel badge and asked what I did in the RAF. Learning that I had been a fighter pilot, he told me of a friend of his named Ted Meredith, who had also been a fighter pilot, and wondered whether I knew him. I said that I had known a Ted Meredith but it could not be the same chap, as I saw him shot down in flames. 

‘A quick phone call revealed that it was, indeed, the man I had known; not only was he alive and well but lived only eight miles away in Bromsgrove! Ted was also a Freemason and we agreed to meet at the next meeting of his lodge. A mutual friend tipped off a reporter of the local newspaper. The story not only appeared in the local papers, but also made headlines in the Daily Express. A few days later we were interviewed by a team from the BBC Six O’Clock News and were featured in the television news that evening. Instant fame!’

‘In a momentary lull I saw Blue four off to my right spinning down, with the Spitfire completely engulfed in flames.’

Their Freemasonry had brought Len and Ted together and the two pilots remained firm friends until Ted passed away in 1996. Len’s involvement in the Craft was a natural accompaniment to his military and civilian career. As a pilot, he was considered a safe and careful pair of hands; he wanted to complete his mission, concentrate on his security and that of his colleagues and return home to a safe landing. In his Freemasonry he showed similar traits; he did not take chances but made sure that thorough preparation enabled him to perform to the best of his ability.

Taking to the sky

Len was born in Waddesdon, Buckinghamshire. After his grammar school education he went to work as a junior clerk for High Duty Alloys (HDA) in Slough, moving to Redditch when HDA opened a new factory in 1938. But World War II intervened and in 1940 Len joined the Royal Air Force (RAF). He flew with many of the top ‘aces’ of the war and talks with clear affection in his memoirs about Al Deere, Brendan ‘Paddy’ Finucane, TS ‘Wimpy’ Wade and James ‘One-Armed Mac’ MacLachlan. 

After two tours of duty as a fighter pilot, Len was seconded to the AFDU, which tested, under extreme conditions, new Allied aircraft and captured enemy planes. Len flew the Focke-Wulf Fw 190 in simulated combat and was nearly shot down by his own side. He briefly flew the Messerschmitt Bf 109, which crashed on the runway. He also test-flew the P-51 Mustang and was part of the team to suggest the modifications that turned it into a war winner.

‘A quick phone call revealed that it was, indeed, the man I had known; not only was he alive and well but lived only eight miles away in Bromsgrove!’

A new path

Len left the RAF in September 1948 and returned to HDA in Slough. The following month he was initiated into Industria Lodge, No. 5214, in the Province of Buckinghamshire. Returning to Redditch, Len became a regular visitor to Ipsley Lodge, No. 6491, becoming a joining member in 1959. Len was installed in the Chair in 1972, which was when he initiated me into the lodge, and in 1998 received his fifty-year certificate. 

Len was a very good ritualist and a good organiser. He regularly performed the Mystical Lecture in Royal Arch, was happy to take the Chair for any ceremony, and raised substantial funds for masonic charities.

In early 2008, he was offered a promotion to Past Provincial Junior Grand Warden, but did not accept it as by then he was feeling his age. Len passed away on 6 June 2008, the anniversary of D-Day, just before he was due to receive his sixty-year certificate.

History preserved

Len Thorne’s diary and logbook, A Very Unusual Air War, is available from The History Press (£16.99). All authors’ royalties will go to the Royal Air Force Benevolent Fund and the British Legion, in line with Len’s wishes. 

Published in Features

The welfare estate

When Augustus John Smith signed a lease to run the Isles of Scilly, he created an infrastructure that would transform living conditions for the poor. Richard Larn OBE charts the life of this enthusiastic Freemason and philanthropist

While the Victorian era produced countless well-educated young men from wealthy British families, Augustus John Smith stood out. Provincial Grand Master and Chapter member of both Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly, Smith saved the five off-islands of Scilly from starvation.

The Smith family originated from Nottingham, where grandfather Smith had made his fortune in textiles. His son James took over the business before moving into banking and property investment, purchasing Ashlyn’s Hall in Berkhamstead, where Augustus was raised. The young Smith was at Harrow when his mother Mary died while visiting Paris. 

Graduating from Christchurch College, Oxford, Smith greatly missed his mother and her guidance. Her love of horticulture encouraged him to later create the now world-famous Tresco Abbey Garden on the Isles of Scilly. However, his great passion in life was education and improving the lot of the working class.

While in his twenties, Smith’s father gave him a very large sum of money. With such serious funds in a bank account, many young men would have embarked on the Grand Tour, seen Europe end to end and thoroughly enjoyed themselves, but not Smith. A studious and serious young man, he toured Britain, studying the working class – their living conditions, employment, finances and education.

At his own expense, Smith established two schools in his home town where ‘the three Rs’ were taught alongside instruction in industry. He suffered abuse from his peers for his support of the poor, with wealthy industrialists fearing that education would make workers unwilling to slave for the pittance they were paid. It was this opposition to progress that caused him to seek pastures new, somewhere he could turn his dream of reformation into reality. Smith toured England and Ireland looking for such a place before setting his heart on Scilly.   

The needs of the islands, owned by the Duchy of Cornwall and deemed ‘unprofitable’ by their previous tenant, were summed up in a Duchy Report that stated: ‘No corner of Great Britain stood in greater need of help than Scilly.’ A similar comment was voiced by the Rev George ‘Bosun’ Smith, who stated in 1818, ‘Oh, that some of our wealthy and benevolent countrymen, whose hearts are as generous as their means are ample, could but witness these things.’

Devoted to reform

The reverend was referring to the conditions he found during a tour of the off-islands, which revealed men, women and children in the depths of poverty. He wrote in his journal: ‘What strength could they have from limpets and dried leaves off the hedge, which they mix with hot water? ... Scarcely any clothes and no shoes, the woman frequently goes out at twelve at night to any family who can hire her, and stands washing till the next night for four pence and a little food.’

After signing a lease for ninety-nine years at an annual rent of £40, Augustus Smith was asked by the owners to pay a fine of £20,000 – a refundable surety, he was told. The five off-islands were in a deplorable state; the Duchy wasn’t prepared to invest in its own property, yet still it demanded this sum. 

Smith also had to promise to spend £5,000 building a new quay, and a further £3,400 on the parish church. Any lesser man would have walked away – but not Smith. He arrived on Scilly in 1835 as Lord Proprietor and embarked on a huge construction plan, offering employment and paying wages out of his own pocket. 

Smith set out a policy that cut to the quick of the old Scillonian ways. In future, every child would attend school until the age of thirteen. New dwellings went up, quays and roads were repaired, and new ones created, all at his own expense. He banned smuggling, introduced a magistrates’ court and upset a lot of people who were reluctant to change. 

With no property on Scilly sufficiently large enough for his personal needs, Smith built Tresco Abbey as his private residence, overlooking two lakes in the grounds of the old St Nicholas Priory.

The moral man

One of Smith’s great passions was Freemasonry. 

He was initiated into the brotherhood in Watford Lodge, No. 404, in London in 1832 at the age of twenty-seven, and later became a member of numerous other lodges. In 1855, aged fifty-one, the Phoenix Lodge in Truro sponsored his election as Deputy Provincial Grand Master; by 1863 he was chosen as the sixth Provincial Grand Master of Cornwall.

Just when Smith joined Dolphin Lodge, No. 7790, Isles of Scilly, is uncertain. There had been a lodge on the island from 1755, but in 1783 it changed its name to Godolphin Lodge, possibly out of respect for the family who held the tenancy of the islands for centuries. In 1851, for reasons unknown, the lodge surrendered its warrant and closed. 

While this could have been due to a lack of support, it does not seem likely. With shipbuilding on the main island of St Mary’s at its peak, the island was packed with workers and countless ships’ captains, many of whom were masons. There is a possibility that Smith initiated its closure, since as a mason he was morally obliged to support the lodge and attend its meetings, but his role as Lord Proprietor placed him in an impossible position. We shall never know.

In 1872, Smith died aged sixty-seven from gangrene of the lungs in Plymouth. He was buried in St Buryan, Cornwall, choosing that location over the islands as a death-bed protest against the Duchy of Cornwall, which he felt had treated him badly. 

Smith had worked tirelessly for the benefit of Scilly. He got the post office to connect the islands to the mainland by telegraph cable, established a regular packet service, mail collection and delivery, and encouraged new enterprise including the island’s burgeoning flower industry.

Published in Features

Taking the right approach

Pro First Grand Principal Peter Lowndes emphasises the importance of making ritual enjoyable and marks the Royal Arch’s achievements

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. It is 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.

‘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…’

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 £2 million 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 £2.5 million. This is a wonderful achievement and a great credit to the Royal Arch. 

I turn now to the Grand Temple organ restoration project, which is a Royal Arch initiative using existing funds. Designed and built by Henry Willis and Sons, the organ has been in place since Freemasons’ Hall was opened in 1933. It is possibly the largest complete, unaltered Willis instrument in full working order after eighty years. It is, 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, the Royal College of Organists will also 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.

Published in SGC

What’s heritage worth?

While historic masonic items may not have huge monetary value, Director of Special Projects John Hamill explains why they are still national treasures

A few years ago the Library and Museum of Freemasonry, with incredible assistance from a dedicated team of brethren in the Provinces, conducted one of the largest national archive surveys that has ever taken place in this country. The result was a formidable database of all the lodge and chapter records in masonic hands in this country. It will be a veritable gold mine for future researchers into English and Welsh masonic history and is also proving to be a major source for local historians.

The survey was limited to ‘words on paper’ and, partly because of time constraints, did not include regalia, furniture, masonic equipment or artefacts. That leads me to one of my hobby horses: that masonic historians in the past have primarily depended on only the written records that are available and have largely ignored what can be learnt from non-documentary items.

During the twenty-eight years I was involved in the Library and Museum, I was privileged on many occasions to be invited to speak in the Provinces. 

I soon developed a habit of arriving early, if visiting a masonic hall I had not previously attended, in order to have a look at what they might have hanging on their walls or in, often dusty, display cases. I soon began to appreciate the wealth of material that still survived and began to keep notes of anything unusual or rare. I also began to realise that very few of those running the halls were aware of the treasures in their custody, or that some of them had a monetary value.

Happily, that neglect and ignorance has been changing since the late 1990s with the creation of the Masonic Libraries and Museum Group, which is formed of dedicated volunteers with a love of masonic history. The group has gradually persuaded their respective Provinces that they have collections of importance, which should be properly catalogued and looked after because they form an important part of our heritage – and in many cases, include items that are irreplaceable.

History for sale

A recent auction sale in south London illustrates the value certain masonic objects can have. The first part of the sale was probably the last major collection of masonic jewels and artefacts in private hands in this country. Formed by Albert Edward Collins Nice between the 1930s and his death in 1969, it was rich in eighteenth- and nineteenth-century jewels, which, in addition to having masonic importance, were superb examples of the jeweller and silversmith arts. Competition was fierce and some surprising prices were paid for the star items.

The Antiques Roadshow and its many spin-offs have given the public a false sense that because something is old it must be worth money. Monetary value, however, is not everything. Particularly in a specialist area, an item can have very little monetary value to the outside world but be of major importance to the history of the organisation concerned. In my early days in the museum, people would wander in with an item and ask what it was and if we would be interested in having it. Today, thanks to antique-valuing programmes on television, they ask what it is and what it is worth!

We live in an age in which the importance of our heritage in all parts of our lives is being increasingly recognised. We took the major step of finding out, and taking steps to preserve, our archival heritage in Freemasonry. Perhaps now is the time to take the same steps in relation to the treasures, in the widest sense of that word, that rest in our buildings.

‘An item can have very little monetary value to the outside world but be of major importance to the history of the organisation concerned.’

Published in Features
Thursday, 05 June 2014 01:00

Grand Secretary's column - Summer 2014

 From the Grand Secretary

Many readers will know of the Royal Arch 2013 Bicentenary Appeal for the Royal College of Surgeons

The final result has just been announced as £2.5 million. This is a fantastic sum and a great example of our philanthropy. As Secretary of the appeal, I know how much was done to achieve this impressive figure and that much of the praise is justly attributed to the Second Grand Principal as Chairman of the appeal.

You will all be receiving a DVD copy of our latest short film with this issue of Freemasonry Today. It has been greeted with great acclaim and we hope you will show it to your family. 

It is different and exciting, designed specifically for family members to show them about our friendships, the importance of family and the good we do in our communities. In other words, Freemasonry is a great organisation of which to be a member, and one of which we should all be proud. Indeed, as we move towards our Tercentenary we should show our pride in being a member and look for people of quality who can join us to share in that pride.

Interestingly, two of the Senior Insights in this issue of the magazine discuss recruitment and retention. HRH The Duke of Kent, our Grand Master, explains that these tasks are more important than ever and emphasises the role of the mentoring scheme in retaining members. The Pro Grand Master asks why so few members recruit and urges us to become more active in this area. We encourage you to read both of these excellent articles.

In this issue, we believe you will find a great deal to inspire you about Freemasonry. 

We profile Pete Bray, who, having survived two hurricanes and a sinking ship, is now embarking on a new journey as a Freemason. Paul Calderwood traces the Craft’s faltering relationship with the press throughout the twentieth century and provides some useful insight into how things have started to improve. Meanwhile, four members of a Salvation Army brass band explain why playing together is the perfect complement to being members of a lodge. 

For some, the community of Freemasons across England and Wales is a fantastic way of sharing a common interest or raising much-needed money for good causes. For others, it provides a unique opportunity to bring people together. We find out how fighter pilot Len Thorne saw one of his squadron shot down during World War II; and how forty-five years later, at a Masonic Widows Friendship Club, Len discovered his colleague was still alive and living just eight miles down the road. Len is a fantastic example of the breadth of people who make up the Craft. I hope you enjoy reading his story and the many others in this issue.

Nigel Brown
Grand Secretary

‘In this issue of the magazine, we believe you will find a great deal to inspire you about Freemasonry.’

Published in UGLE

United we stand

Pro Grand Master Peter Lowndes considers how the future of Freemasonry depends on every part of the organisation working together

For men of quality to join, the unity of the English Constitution is crucial to our survival as a relevant organisation in society. 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, 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 or 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 and I am keen that it continues. 

This is an exciting time for Freemasonry, with several initiatives dealing with future recruitment and retention, as well as business effectiveness in running a large membership organisation. The brief of the newly formed Membership Focus Group 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, focused manner in stemming the decline in membership and meeting the long-term needs of the Craft. 

The Tercentenary Planning Committee is working 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. 

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

‘We are working more closely together than at any other time in our history.’

Let us not forget the Districts, which 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, while 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.

As a united English Constitution, we are 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 also 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.

Published in UGLE
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