As well as launching a television rental empire and revolutionising the British horse racing industry, Freemason David Robinson also shared his prosperity with worthy causes, as Paul Hooley explains
The culmination of more than a year of preparation, the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II in 1953 brought three million spectators to London’s streets to witness her procession. It was the first British coronation to be televised and the subject caused considerable debate, with Prime Minister Sir Winston Churchill opposed
to the idea. Elizabeth was convinced otherwise, however.
The event highlighted public interest in television, but few people had been able to afford to purchase their own set – so Freemason David Robinson saw an opportunity. He formed a television rental business through his existing chain of shops, carrying out repairs in a pre-war workshop behind his garage.
Born in Cambridge in 1904, Robinson was the son of a local bicycle-shop owner. In 1930 he bought a garage in Bedford and developed it into a substantial business. Later, he opened a radio and electrical shop in the high street and then similar shops in several neighbouring towns.
By 1962, Robinson Rentals had expanded nationwide and was making an annual profit of £1.5 million. Robinson sold the business to Granada for £8 million in 1968, and turned his attention to his great love – horse racing. Over the next few years, he set up three separate and competing stables at Newmarket and purchased Kempton Park Racecourse.
Horse racing in those days was something of a closed shop. But Robinson was his own man and had little regard for the racing establishment or the slapdash way in which the industry was run. He dismissed many antiquated ways of running stables and developing horses, bringing in his own methods.
Robinson revolutionised the ‘sport of kings’ and made it what it is today. He never bred horses himself but spent lavishly at the yearling sales, where his buyers were known as Robinson’s Rangers. He was always looking for a return on every investment, first on the racecourse and then on the resale of the horse as a stallion.
Robinson proved that efficient management could make horse racing profitable. He ranked all his horses, jockeys and the courses they ran on by colour – red, blue or green, according to ability – and woe betide any trainer who ran a red horse with a blue jockey at a green course. In the 10 years he was actively involved in horse racing, Robinson topped thenumber-of-winners table eight times, setting a new record of 115 wins in the 1973 season. At that time, he had 157 horses in training and his career total was a staggering 997 winners.
‘While Robinson’s charitable giving was legendary within the Craft, he never sought to go through the chair’
As spectacular as Robinson’s achievements were, it was his support of worthy causes and altruism that most impressed those who knew him. In Bedford, he paid for the building of an Olympic-sized swimming pool and sports complex, and in Cambridge his donations paid for a nursing home, an arts centre at his old school and new developments at Papworth and Addenbrooke’s Hospitals, including a maternity unit. When the Penlee lifeboat sank with the loss of the entire crew in 1981, Robinson paid £400,000 for a replacement and went on to fund a further three boats. He made many other donations – often anonymously – the greatest being the £18 million he gave to the University of Cambridge in 1973 to build Robinson College.
Although he accepted a knighthood in 1985, Robinson had little time for honours, social climbing or self-promotion. Equally, while his charitable giving was legendary within the Craft, he never sought to go through the chair, preferring instead to sit quietly among the backbenchers.
Robinson was initiated into Etheldreda Lodge, No. 2107, Cambridge, in 1929 and was made an honorary member in 1984. He was also a member of Robert de Parys Lodge, No. 5000, Bedford, from 1931 until 1982.
A devoted family man, Robinson married Mabel Baccus when they were both 18 and they had a son and a daughter. He led by example and was a remarkable entrepreneur and philanthropist, amassing a fortune so he could give it away to deserving causes. Robinson died in 1987 and was buried at sea by the Royal National Lifeboat Institution.
Musicians such as Phoebe Gorry are bringing comfort to vulnerable adults right across the country. Masonic funding will allow Music in Hospitals to find an even bigger audience, as Matt Timms finds out
Singer Phoebe Gorry shoots a glance at her guitarist before turning to the audience: ‘This one’s my favourite. It’s called Tea for Two.’ Popularised by Doris Day in the 1950 film of the same name, it’s an unusual favourite for a 28-year-old jazz musician to have. Then again, this isn’t your usual performance. In a quiet corner of Surrey, Gorry is reeling off classics for elderly residents at the Royal Cambridge Home.
The concert is one of many that are taking place in care homes (including RMBI homes), hospitals and hospices across the country. They’re the work of Music in Hospitals, a charity that has brought live music to vulnerable adults and children for more than half a century. With the help of a £60,048 grant from the Masonic Charitable Foundation – the latest in a line of donations from the masonic charities over the years – there is now funding for another 216 concerts over a three-year period.
‘Research has shown that live music can help to reduce levels of pain, stress and anxiety, as well as provide moments of joy for those who have lost their independence or feel isolated,’ says Emily Winchester, senior fundraising officer at Music in Hospitals, adding that music has an inherent ability to generate an emotional response in the listener. ‘Musicians like Phoebe provide stimulating and therapeutic enjoyment for hundreds of elderly people in care homes across the country.’
Judging by today’s performance, Gorry is a welcome addition to the home. There are singalongs and plenty of requests – particularly from a cheeky couple in the corner. There is also dancing between staff and residents, and an opportunity to revisit treasured memories while making new ones too.
‘The residents love it,’ says Gaye Wyeth, who is the housekeeper and activities manager at the home. ‘I’ve been here for 26 years and remember a time when there were hardly any activities at all – never mind this.’
Now there’s flower arranging, birthday teas and even a version of the Olympics – with straws and paper plates instead of a javelin and discus. Yet the Music in Hospitals concerts, according to Wyeth, are a house favourite because they’re so varied.
‘Live music can help to reduce levels of pain, stress and anxiety, as well as provide moments of joy’ Emily Winchester
‘We have some artistic residents here who have always appreciated music,’ says the home’s manager, Rory Belfield. ‘One of our residents, Joyce, loves today’s music, but we have plenty of diverse tastes. Some like jazz, some folk, others opera – the whole range.’
The music is enjoyable but it’s also therapeutic. Active participation serves as a form of physiotherapy, through clapping, tapping and moving in time to the music. Positive changes to patients’ mood and self-esteem can also make a real difference to their well-being. In addition, and most noticeably at this home, music sparks memories and emotions, meaning staff can understand more about an individual.
Gorry has been a professional singer for 10 years, since graduating from the Academy of Contemporary Music in Guildford, and was introduced to Music in Hospitals through a friend.
Music in Hospitals’ chief executive Steve Rowland-Jones says that potential musicians are assessed against their musicianship, breadth of repertoire and communication skills. Since 2013, auditions have been conducted within healthcare environments to gauge how musicians engage with audiences and deal with the vagaries of such settings.
Often, musicians will take on the role of friend or listener as they chat to patients about the memories the music may have sparked. It’s an important part of the experience, and one that is welcomed by patients.
‘It’s intimate,’ says Gorry. ‘I can engage with an audience in a way I can’t do at, say, a wedding when everybody’s a bit drunk and I’m in the background. Over the past year, I’ve become a much better performer. It has changed the way I sing. Now I think about how to communicate a song simply, without overcomplicating it.’
As well as in care homes, Gorry has performed in hospitals and special-needs schools. She says her experience with the charity has given her memories that will last a lifetime. One of the most moving was when a nurse in a children’s ward asked her to sing for an eight-year-old girl.
‘She hadn’t been responsive for a long time and, with her mum and sister by her side, my guitarist and I were able to wake her up and help make eye contact. At that point, her mum started crying. She said it was the most stimulated she’d seen her for a really long time. Moments like that make it all worthwhile.’
With the help of the Masonic Charitable Foundation (MCF), Music in Hospitals aims to reach 5,400 elderly people. David Innes, CEO of the MCF, says that the benefits of the service are clear to see and the work itself is closely aligned with the masonic ethos:
‘At the heart of everything we do lies one of the basic principles by which all Freemasons conduct their lives – an ingrained duty to care for those who are less fortunate. From its earliest days in the 1700s, Freemasonry in England and Wales has been concerned with the care of orphans, the sick and the aged, and this grant is a continuation of that principle into the modern day.’
LETTERS TO THE EDITOR - NO. 40 WINTER 2017
We were interested to read your article ‘Perfect Arrangement’ in the autumn edition of Freemasonry Today. We are a husband and wife duo (keyboard player and female vocalist) who for the past four years have been entertaining in various venues and at masonic events in the Lake District and Lancashire. We also perform at care and residential homes and find it very rewarding.
We agree with the article that live music can be beneficial. Some of these homes specialise in dementia care and it is amazing how many residents remember the words to the music that we play. Staff and residents often end up dancing and clapping away.
We are now looking at working in homes for adults with learning difficulties.
Mike Langdon, Bela Lodge, No. 7576, Milnthorpe, Cumberland & Westmorland
The Temple Builder
For Alexander Burnett Brown, architecture, charity and Freemasonry were inextricably entwined. Philippa Faulks finds out about the man who built an opulent temple inside London’s Great Eastern Hotel
In 2000, the Conran group was mid-way through renovations of a jaded hotel just south of Liverpool Street Station, London. Puzzled by what appeared to be an additional room on the blueprints, the builders broke down a wall to reveal the double doors of a magnificent masonic temple.
Media intrigue ensued, dubbing the discovery a Dan Brown-style mystery. But for those in the Craft, the temple was an open secret; many masons had long been privy to the Great Eastern Hotel’s Grecian Temple, created in 1912 by architect and eminent Freemason Alexander Burnett Brown.
Born on 25 May 1867 in Newcastle, Northumberland, Brown’s parentage is unknown, but the census of 1871 recorded him as living at Ryde, Isle of Wight, with his grandparents.
Brown was a scholar at Charterhouse school, Godalming, Surrey, and left in 1883 prior to joining the Royal Artillery in 1885. Six years later, the 1891 census describes him as an ‘architect and surveyor’. In 1893, he married Amy Elizabeth Reynolds from Buckinghamshire; they had two sons, Alexander Denis and Geoffrey Trevor.
Brown served as aide-de-camp to the Governor and Commander-in-Chief in Gibraltar from 1893 to 1900, and took part in the China Relief Expedition in 1900, promoted to Major in the same year. His architectural career led him to be elected as Fellow of the Royal Institute of British Architects and The Surveyors’ Institution, and he formed a business partnership – Messrs Brown & Barrow – with Ernest Robert Barrow.
A MAN OF OFFICE
Brown’s masonic career was as varied as it was long. He was initiated in Sir Francis Burdett Lodge, No. 1503, Middlesex, on 8 November 1893; passed on 14 February 1894, and raised on 11 April that same year; and served as Worshipful Master in 1897.
He went on to be a founding and joining member of numerous lodges in and around London. Brown also served as the Provincial Grand Secretary of Middlesex, as well as Deputy Provincial Grand Master and Provincial Grand Master of Middlesex.
In 1906 he was appointed Grand Superintendent of Works by the United Grand Lodge of England, serving until 1934 with promotions to Past Grand Deacon and Past Grand Warden along the way. His masonic memberships also extended to the Royal Arch and Mark Masonry, and he was a 32nd Degree mason in Ancient and Accepted Rite.
Brown’s support of masonic charities and institutions was just as prolific. He was Vice-Patron of the Royal Masonic Institution for Boys; Patron of the Royal Masonic Institution for Girls; and Chairman of the Building Committee for the new girls’ school in Rickmansworth. He also served on the Board of Management and Committee of the Royal Masonic Hospital, and was an assessor of the architectural competition for the new masonic hospital at Ravenscourt Park.
MASONRY ON TRACK
Brown’s masonic and architectural careers proved harmonious. While Grand Superintendent of Works, his firm Messrs Brown & Barrow was instructed by the Great Eastern Railway (GER) to create the Grecian Temple in the Great Eastern Hotel.
Freemasonry was flourishing and several hotels owned by the railway companies had established close links with the Craft, incorporating masonic rooms into their fabric. In 1901, the Great Eastern added an Egyptian-style temple in the basement, but by early 1912 had decided to create another on a much grander scale, on the first floor.
Using the initial designs made by the chairman of the GER, Freemason Lord Claud Hamilton, Brown and Barrow set about creating a Grecian-inspired masterpiece. This feat, according to author Mark Daly (London Uncovered, 2016), was accomplished through the personal financing of Lord Hamilton, his family and other railway directors.
No expense was spared, with the temple costing around £50,000 – over £5 million at current prices. Marble of the highest quality was used for the columns, wall panelling and flooring, and lavishly carved mahogany chairs sat beneath a dazzling sunburst ceiling.
The Grecian Temple was formally dedicated on Tuesday, 5 November 1912, with the ceremony performed under the banner of Bard of Avon Lodge, No. 778. The Dedicating Officer was Grand Secretary Sir Edward Letchworth, with Brown acting as Worshipful Master. Many lodges have since graced the temple – notably Caledonian Lodge, No. 134, which met there from 1920 to 1947.
The magnificent temple remains unchanged today. The Andaz London Liverpool Street hotel now occupies the building and proudly offers the temple as a venue for events ranging from fashion and art shows to promotions for HBO’s Game of Thrones.
Brown died at the sanatorium at the Royal Masonic School for Girls in Hertfordshire on 1 April 1948. He would likely be proud that his beautiful creation is still being enjoyed by so many.
LETTERS TO THE EDITOR - NO. 40 WINTER 2017
The Temple in the Hotel
Readers of ‘The Temple Builder’ article in the last issue might be interested in further information about Alexander Burnett Brown’s interesting masonic career. His architectural career aside, he was Deputy Provincial Grand Master of Middlesex when HRH The Duke of York was the Provincial Grand Master, and became Provincial Grand Master when HRH became George VI on the abdication of his brother, Edward VIII.
Right Worshipful Brother Alexander Burnett Brown was held in very high esteem by the brethren of Middlesex, so much so that a lodge was consecrated in 1945 as Alexander Burnett Brown Lodge, No. 6133, in his honour. Both his sons were the lodge’s First Master and Senior Warden.
It is unfortunate to record that from 1996 the lodge began to fail despite strenuous efforts. In 2000, I had to inform the Province of the situation, and the Warrant was duly surrendered.
David A Walters, Middlesex Masters Lodge, No. 3420, Staines, Middlesex
I very much enjoyed the article on Alexander Burnett Brown, architect and eminent Freemason, especially with reference to the Grecian Temple at the Great Eastern Hotel. I was initiated in that Temple in September 1981 into Semper Fidelis Lodge, No. 4393. The most memorable part of the ceremony was descending the magnificent winding staircase into the Temple.
Within a couple of years, the lodge had to leave the Great Eastern Hotel and move to Great Queen Street as the then-owners found it not economical to have lodge meetings on Saturdays. I would be interested to obtain a copy of any photograph of that winding staircase as a reminder of my 36 happy years in Freemasonry.
Geoffrey Cathersides, Fraternitas Lodge, No. 6046, East Kent
For me it was especially interesting to read the article on the Grecian Temple in the autumn edition of Freemasonry Today. Having served in the Rifle Brigade, I became a joining member of its London Life Brigade Lodge, No. 1962, in 1975. I have a vivid memory of my first visit, descending the marble staircase into the temple and being in awe at the ceiling, furniture and surroundings.
I deem myself very fortunate to have had this experience. Sadly, thereafter it was closed to Freemasonry. However, being a listed structure the Grecian Temple will remain unique.
Bernard Dribble, Wellington Lodge, No. 341, Rye, Sussex
The Library and Museum has acquired a portrait of Lord Petre, the Grand Master who proved instrumental in the building of the first Freemasons’ Hall at Great Queen Street
Freemasons’ Hall in London has hosted many of this year’s Tercentenary events. As the headquarters of the oldest Grand Lodge in the world, it is certainly the focus for overseas masonic visitors.
For more than 50 years after 1717, Grand Lodge was content to hold its meetings in taverns and the halls of city livery companies. It was likely seen as quite radical for this relatively new organisation to contemplate having its own premises.
The acquisition of the Great Queen Street site and the construction of the first Freemasons’ Hall took place under the leadership of Lord Petre (1742-1801), who was Grand Master from 1772 to 1776. It was therefore appropriate that this year, the 275th anniversary of his birth, the Library and Museum should purchase a pastel portrait of Lord Petre.
Grand Lodge already owns a full-length portrait of Petre, which was copied from an original at Ingatestone Hall in Essex in the 19th century. This new acquisition was painted from life by Lewis Vaslet in Bath in 1793, when Petre was in his early 50s. The purchase was supported by the London Grand Rank Association Heritage and Educational Trust.
Petre was a leader of the English Roman Catholic community and was instrumental in securing the relaxation of legal restrictions on English Roman Catholics. As Grand Master, he chaired the committee that oversaw the building of the first Freemasons’ Hall and his enthusiastic endorsement of the Great Queen Street site is indicated in the committee’s minutes.
Library and Museum of Freemasonry
60 Great Queen Street,
London WC2B 5AZ
Open Mon-Sat, 10am-5pm
The sun was shining on Tercentenary celebrations in Windsor Great Park as 2,000 visitors came to mark the beginning of the Classic 300 and attend a very special teddy bears’ picnic
The Grand Master, HRH The Duke of Kent, waved the starting flag on the Classic 300 at a Family Fun Day at Windsor Great Park on 21 May.
Commemorating 300 years of English Freemasonry, the Classic 300 is a series of classic car runs taking place in England and Wales during 2017. Organised by the Masonic Classic Vehicle Club, the non-competitive runs are open to masons and non-masons with an interest in Freemasonry and classic and future-classic cars. In some cases, motorcycles and commercial vehicles are also being included.
The Grand Director of Ceremonies, Oliver Lodge, introduced the Grand Master to the Mayor of the Royal Borough of Windsor and Maidenhead, Cllr Sayonara Luxton; the Provincial Grand Master for Berkshire, Martin Peters; Past Deputy Provincial Grand Master for Berkshire, Colin Hayes; and Provincial Grand Masters from other Provinces.
The Family Fun Day, organised by the Province of Berkshire, also included a teddy bears’ picnic in support of the Teddies for Loving Care appeal, which raises funds for the supply of cuddly toys to paediatric emergency departments across England, Wales and Ireland. The day also featured a challenge to get 300 people to walk a mile along the park’s famed tree-lined avenue, the Long Walk, to The Copper Horse statue at the top of Snow Hill, with more than 400 attendees taking part.
A ‘time tunnel’ explained the history of Freemasonry, with displays from the Berkshire Masonic Charity and the Masonic Charitable Foundation, while the Egham Band made the day go with a swing. ‘It has been wonderful,’ said Martin Peters. ‘A really good turnout.’
Find out more at: www.classic300.org.uk
Brethren of Navy Lodge, No. 2612, which meets at Freemasons’ Hall in London, have presented their most senior naval member, Admiral of the Fleet HRH The Duke of Edinburgh, with a gold Tercentenary Jewel at Buckingham Palace
The presentation was made on behalf of the lodge by its Master, Captain Simon Thomas RN, and its youngest and most junior serving member, Lieutenant Josh Skelding RN. They were accompanied by Commander Michael Higham RN and Navy Lodge Secretary Commander Jonty Powis RN.
After the presentation, His Royal Highness and the brethren talked about the lodge and Freemasonry in general, including the recent Sky 1 documentary series about the Craft.
At a Tercentenary event in Chippenham, three local lodges played host to brethren and their partners from Loge Zur alten Linde, No. 368, which meets in Dortmund, Germany
Fraternal visits have been taking place in Dortmund or Wiltshire for many years. On this occasion, it was decided to combine the fraternal visit with the Tercentenary celebrations in Wiltshire. Among the visitors was Arnim Schneider, Deputy Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of Ancient Free and Accepted Masons of Germany.
The host lodges – Chaloner Lodge, No. 2644; Wiltshire Lodge of Agriculture, No. 9090; and Fiat Lux Lodge, No. 9773 – also organised a trip to Longleat safari park, followed by a country social evening in Melksham.
More than 30 charities have benefited from £150,000 donated by West Wales as part of the Province’s Tercentenary celebrations
Grants were presented at a dinner held in Fishguard attended by local Freemasons and charity representatives, with entertainment provided by The Goodwick Brass Band.
As the Scout Movement celebrates its 110th year, the Province of Bristol has formed a new lodge dedicated to promoting Freemasonry though the Scouts and other youth organisations
With its members having personal links with both Freemasonry and Scouting, Scoutcraft Lodge, No. 9936, was duly consecrated according to Bristol custom.
There are currently 38 Scout lodges in the UK. They, along with other lodges connected with youth organisations, collectively form the Kindred Lodges Association.
For the first time since it was founded in 1934, members and guests of Blundell’s Lodge, No. 5467, held their meeting in Blundell’s School in Tiverton, Devon
The event took place by permission of school head Nicola Huggett, who was guest of honour alongside Richard Swarbrick, chairman of the Old Blundellian Club.
Lodge Master John Shepherd and Devonshire Provincial Grand Master Ian Kingsbury each presented Huggett with a cheque for £1,500.
The £3,000 will help fund a project in Laos that is organised by Community Learning International, and supported by Blundell’s School, which helps provide opportunities for children to develop their skills and knowledge.