When John Hamill joined Grand Lodge as a librarian in 1971, he had no idea that he would go on to create a communications department, driving a policy of openness that has shaped modern Freemasonry
Can you remember a life before Grand Lodge?
I went off to university to read history and then went into librarianship before very quickly realising that the public library service was not what it used to be. At that time, if you had any sort of ambition, you went into administration, which is the last thing I wanted to do. Fortunately, when I was just about to start my postgraduate training, I saw an advert for a job at Grand Lodge. I came down and was interviewed, and despite the fact that I wasn’t going to be available for another nine months, they decided to appoint me.
That was in 1971, and I thought that I would probably have an interest for five or six years before moving off to some other sort of research library. But the interest never flagged, and I got hooked. Having said that, I thought I would have a quiet, academic life at the Library and Museum. If anybody had told me then about some of the things that I would be involved in over the next 45-odd years, I would have probably ordered the men in white coats.
I was the library assistant when I joined. In those days, we had a much smaller staff in the Library and Museum, but I hadn’t realised at the time that it was a very dynastic set-up. The then-librarian and curator was retiring 15 months after I joined, the assistant librarian would be taking over, and they were looking for somebody who was a potential successor to him. I had a wonderful 12 years where I could just open cupboards and drawers, look at files and read up on subjects. Then, in 1983, my mentor retired and I was appointed as the librarian and curator.
How did your job evolve in the 1980s?
As things began to change in Freemasonry, particularly changing public attitudes and growing interest by the press, we quickly realised that if we were going to better inform the public about Freemasonry, then the Library and Museum needed to have a key role. We opened up to the public in 1985 and held an exhibition in 1986. We went from being a very small group that maybe saw 7,000 or 8,000 visitors a year to managing about 28,000 to 30,000 visitors a year.
We are now regarded as a major cultural asset, as we have been roughly on this same site since 1776 – and there has been a reluctance to throw things out. We have probably got the best continuous archive in the country, and that is a huge resource for people who are interested in the history of ideas, social history and cultural history.
‘I’ve been lucky. As a retiree, I can say now that I have been one of those very fortunate people who has been paid a salary for doing a hobby’
Why did the Library and Museum decide to open up to the public?
The publication of The Brotherhood by Stephen Knight in 1984 was a real watershed moment for us. Up to that point, from the start of the Second World War, we had gradually withdrawn from society and didn’t engage with the media. In a sense, we shot ourselves in the foot; we allowed a mythology to grow, which hadn’t really been an issue before in this country. We had a pretty heavy time in the 1980s and right into the 1990s, when we were oftentimes a general whipping boy for the ills of society.
Because of the fact that I had gone out to communicate on behalf of the library, I suddenly found I was being drawn more into what is now called the Openness Policy, and I was made Grand Lodge spokesman, along with the Grand Secretary, in 1985. My introduction into the world of communication was an interview with John Humphrys, who wanted to interview somebody from Freemasonry on the Today programme. I remember it was at 7:05 in the morning, which is not my best time. I think it was something to do with the police, and I was really pushed into the deep end – there was so much going on at that time.
Does communicating with the press require a different skill set to that of a historian?
Yes and no. I was able to communicate as a result of things that happened to me during my life. I attended choir school, where we were taught how to use the voice and how to get as much out of the voice as possible. When I got involved in communications at Grand Lodge, I started to go out talking. It’s not exactly a skill – you can’t learn it. It’s something that you have inside you and that is brought out. When dealing with the media and being a spokesman, I just regarded it as being another way of telling people what we are doing.
In the late 1990s, we had a change of Grand Secretary, and it was an opportunity to do something that hadn’t been done for a couple of generations, which was to look at how the office was structured. I was doing more and more of what I would now call the communications side, and I didn’t want the Library and Museum to suffer. When I was asked if I would formally set up a communications department I said yes, but added that I couldn’t run the Library and Museum as well.
We advertised for somebody to come in for the position at the Library and Museum, with the title changed to ‘director’. We were fortunate to get Diane Clements, who did a fantastic job establishing the systems as they are now. I set up the communications department and was its director for 10 years from 1999.
By 2008, we had changed Grand Secretary and I was getting a bit stale in the role. Nigel Brown, who came in as Grand Secretary, had some expertise in communications and took it back into the private office, which I was very happy about.
‘The Pro Grand Master said at the end of 2017 that we have rebuilt confidence and pride in masonry at the grass-roots level over the past 30 years. That is a huge transformation’
What came after the communications department?
I think it was realised that I was an asset, so it was determined that I should have a job that would keep me around for when they needed to tap into my brain. In 2008, I became Director of Special Projects. I basically was the corporate memory at Grand Lodge. It is one of those roles that myself and the Deputy Grand Secretary Graham Redman do. We complement each other – there are areas I don’t know much about and he does, and vice versa. I formally dropped off the paid staff at the end of April, and Graham is continuing, but they’re still going to be benefiting from what’s in my brain after I cease formal employment.
As well as getting involved in whatever projects happen to turn up from time to time, I have been running the Grand Chancellor’s office. I had been involved with the External Relations Committee since the late 1980s and have done a lot of travelling abroad. People very kindly invited me over to talk about masonic groups, so I built up a network of contacts. The Grand Chancellor needed a staff member, so they introduced the office of Assistant Grand Chancellor, of which I was the first. Two years ago, I was promoted to Deputy Grand Chancellor, which I will continue to be, although I won’t be in the office.
As you retire, what state do you feel you’ve left Freemasonry in?
One of the most difficult parts of the Openness Policy, from back in its early days in 1984, was firstly persuading members that they could talk about Freemasonry, and secondly giving them the tools to talk about it. We had been quiet for so long, people had lost the habit of talking about it. There was a huge educational process that had to go on within the organisation to say, ‘yes, it is all right to talk about Freemasonry, but make sure you are sending out the right messages.’
I think the dividends of that approach came through last year in the Tercentenary celebrations – local media and local people were very positive about Freemasonry because members were very happy to talk about it. The Pro Grand Master said at the end of 2017 that we have rebuilt confidence and pride in masonry at the grass-roots level over the past 30 years. That is a huge transformation, and it has been fascinating to be involved in the process. Freemasonry has a far more positive future now than in, say, 1999 or 2000. If you’d asked me then, I would have been fairly pessimistic, but the things that have been done since then have really made a difference.
What is your proudest achievement?
As well as being part of the Openness Policy, I’m most proud of transforming the Library and Museum into a charitable trust, combined with working with academia to rebuild our connections there. I’ve been lucky. As a retiree, I can say now that I have been one of those very fortunate people who has been paid a salary for doing a hobby. I’ve had the most extraordinary opportunities to meet people who I couldn’t imagine meeting in other circumstances. I’ve been able to travel. I’ve made some very good friendships around the world. It’s just been fun.
Do not hide the light
Following the Craft Annual Investiture, the Grand Master, HRH The Duke of Kent, is heartened by the enthusiasm shown by new Provincial and District Grand Masters
I congratulate all those whom I have invested. It is both a reward for past endeavours but also a clear indicator that we expect more from you in the future. An award of Grand Rank signifies the United Grand Lodge of England’s pride in you and recognises your efforts on our behalf. It denotes a senior and, in most cases, a public position within our brotherhood, and I would hope that you all feel willing to communicate the pride you now feel to those you meet, to those who might not understand us and to those who know little of us.
AN EXCITING TIME FOR FREEMASONRY
Your Rulers, I know, have been very busy already this year promoting Freemasonry across the world and installing new Provincial and District Grand Masters. I welcome those recently appointed and am greatly heartened by this youthful enthusiasm, for this is where our future lies. I welcome our new Grand Secretary, David Staples, while at the same time bidding farewell to Willie Shackell, who has served in a number of senior appointments for the last 11 years. We wish him well in retirement.
Many of those I have invested will go on to be leaders in the Craft, and I believe it is a very exciting time for Freemasonry in general. For 300 years men from all different backgrounds, faiths, ages and races have met as equals to make themselves better people. Such sentiments have never been more relevant, or more needed, than they are today. Be sure that we do not hide that light as we look forward to our next 300 years.
‘I welcome those recently appointed and am greatly heartened by this youthful enthusiasm, for this is where our future lies’
Grand Lodge regularly receives special visitors, and none were more welcome than a group of Chelsea Pensioners who were greeted by then-Grand Secretary Willie Shackell and Junior Grand Warden Sir Tony Baldry
On their tour of Freemasons’ Hall, the Chelsea Pensioners were taken around the Grand Temple, saw Winston Churchill’s masonic apron in The Library and Museum of Freemasonry and visited several lodge rooms.
Each was given the latest copy of Freemasonry Today, with some taking the opportunity to have a look around Letchworth’s, the masonic shop within the hall.
Sara Rothwell has become the first winner of the Royal College of Organists’ Freemasons’ Prize
Sara came up from Fishguard in south-west Wales to play on the Grand Temple organ at Freemasons' Hall, where she was congratulated by Dr David Staples, Grand Secretary of the United Grand Lodge of England (UGLE).
Following this, Sara was then shown around Freemasons' Hall by Charles Grace, the Organ Curator, who was also oversaw the restoration of the Grand Temple organ.
The Freemasons’ Prize is awarded to the pupil who scores the most points overall in the Colleague of the RCO (CRCO) examinations.
Besides instituting this prize, UGLE are also funding Freemasons’ Bursaries to help less well-off pupils with organ tuition fees and travel expenses, as well as making the new digital organ in Temple 10 available to RCO pupils who wish to practice for their exams. The Grand Temple organ may be one of those used by the RCO for examination purposes.
Sara said: 'I am delighted to be the first winner of this prize and thrilled to be able to look round this beautiful building and have a chance to play this organ. It is a lovely instrument and Harrison & Harrison have done a wonderful job of renovating and enhancing it.'
Craft Annual Investiture
25 April 2018
An address by the MW The Grand Master HRH The Duke of Kent, KG
Brethren, this meeting is always a very happy occasion and I do congratulate all those whom I have invested today. It is both a reward for past endeavours but also a clear indicator that we expect more from you in the future. An award of Grand Rank signifies UGLE’s pride in you, and recognises your efforts on our behalf. It denotes a senior, and in most cases, a public position within our brotherhood, and I would hope that you all feel willing to communicate the pride you now feel to those you meet, to those who might not understand us, and to those who know little of us.
Your Rulers, I know, have been very busy already this year promoting Freemasonry across the world and installing new Provincial and District Grand Masters. I welcome those recently appointed and am greatly heartened by this youthful enthusiasm, for this brethren is where our future lies. I welcome our new Grand Secretary – David Staples whilst at the same time bidding farewell to Willie Shackell who has served in a number of senior appointments for the last 11 years. We wish him well in retirement.
Many of those I have invested today will go on to be leaders in the Craft and I believe it is a very exciting time for Freemasonry in general. For 300 years men from all different backgrounds, faiths, ages and races have met as equals to make themselves ‘better men’. Such sentiments have never been more relevant, or more needed, than they are today. Be sure that we do not hide that light as we look forward to our next 300 years.
Brethren, events like this do not just happen and I would like, on your behalf, to congratulate the Grand Director of Ceremonies and his team for once again arranging such an impressive ceremony and the Grand Secretary and his team for ensuring all the other arrangements have gone so smoothly.
Enjoy the rest of our celebrations.
14 March 2018
An address by the MW The Pro Grand Master Peter Lowndes
Brethren, it is always a pleasure to see this magnificent temple as full as it is today, although it is hardly surprising bearing in mind the special nature of today’s meeting. Our Provinces and Districts, as well as those involved here at the centre, have taken a great deal of trouble in identifying those brethren most deserving of the honour that they have received today. I hope it has been a very special day for them and I really do congratulate and thank them. As always brethren, whilst congratulations are very much in order for all that you have done, particularly during the Tercentenary year, it also raises great expectations for your endeavours in the future.
We also have the Soane Ark back with us today. As those of you who were at the Tercentenary celebration at the Royal Albert Hall, (or those of you who read Freemasonry Today) will know, the original of this beautiful mahogany piece, the “Ark of the Masonic Covenant”, was made by Bro Sir John Soane in 1813. It was dedicated at the great celebration marking the Union of the Ancient and Modern Grand Lodges in 1813 and the Articles of Union were deposited inside.
It was tragically destroyed by fire in 1883, but UGLE commissioned an exact replica for our Tercentenary, which was dedicated at the Royal Albert Hall in October. Then, as in 1813, we placed a facsimile of the Articles of Union inside it, as well as the “Three Great Lights”.
It was on public display at the Soane Museum in Lincoln’s Inn Fields for the months after the Royal Albert Hall celebration, but now it has returned to its intended place in Grand Lodge. Triangular in form, it has at each corner a column of the Ionic, Doric and Corinthian order representing Wisdom, Strength and Beauty, the three great pillars on which our lodges, including this Grand Lodge, are said to stand.
I am sure that it will grace our Grand Lodge meetings for centuries to come.
We have become only too well aware of the term 'fake news' in recent times and we began this year with our own encounter with 'fake news'. Many of you will have seen the coverage generated by the outgoing Chairman of the Police Federation and the Guardian newspaper and I trust you will have also seen our responses. Let me assure you that UGLE will always stand up for its members, their integrity and their care for the communities from which they are drawn. It is my firm belief that policemen are better policemen for their membership of our proud organisation. However, it is not just policemen who can benefit from membership – lawyers, public servants and indeed all men benefit from the teaching our ceremonies have to offer, and the time has come for the organisation to stand up and make these points loudly and clearly. Enough, brethren is enough.
I have said it before and I say again I strongly believe that the future is bright for Freemasonry. We created a bow wave of optimism last year which produced a surge of interest in the Craft. We must now ensure that we maintain the momentum created and build on that legacy, and we will.
This year is very much a year of change, particular of key personalities both here and in the Provinces and Districts. On your behalf I welcome Geoffrey Dearing to his first Quarterly Communication as President of the Board of General Purposes and, in April, David Staples, our CEO will become our new youthful and dynamic Grand Secretary, bringing together all the activities here in Freemasons’ Hall. Already this year we have installed two new PGMs as well as new DGMs in New Zealand South Island and SA Western Division. Both John Clark from Buckinghamshire and Anthony Howlett-Bolton from Berkshire are able to be present and I welcome them to their first Quarterly Communication as Provincial Grand Masters. We now start a steady stream of installations: nine Provincial Grand Masters and ten District Grand Masters, plus many Grand Superintendents in the Royal Arch. This will keep the Rulers in both the Craft and Royal Arch busy this year as we catch up on the backlog.
Although we have plenty of ceremonial work to do, I am also keen that we continue to visit Provinces and Districts in a less formal way. We are here to provide help and support and we must show it.
This year, as you know, is the 100th Anniversary of the end of the First World War – 'The Great War'. I have no doubt that many of you will be commemorating this, as appropriate in your area. This building was built to commemorate those masons who lost their lives in that war. It was called the Masonic Peace Memorial Building, but changed its name at the outbreak of the Second World War to Freemasons’ Hall. We shall commemorate the end of the First World War on 10th November 2018 under the auspices of Victoria Rifles Lodge and I am sure it will be an impressive occasion.
Brethren, I hope that today has been a memorable event for those I have invested. Many congratulations, once again, and remember there is no resting on your laurels.
From the Grand Secretary
Welcome to this Tercentenary souvenir edition of Freemasonry Today, which celebrates the achievements of 2017 while looking to the future with a quiet confidence. I say that in the knowledge that I will retire at the April Investiture and hand over to David Staples, our current dynamic CEO, which will bring back together all of the departments within Freemasons’ Hall under one head.
Clearly the Sky TV programme and the many events organised across the Provinces and Districts last year, which are commemorated in this special edition, considerably raised the profile of Freemasonry. It is now important that we maintain that momentum by promoting our values and relevance to society at every appropriate opportunity.
In this unique issue, we feature the events that helped make the Tercentenary so remarkable – from the especial meeting at the Royal Albert Hall to the teddy bears’ picnics, cathedral services and masonic parades held. These celebrations not only show what Freemasonry has achieved in its long history, but also demonstrate its ongoing commitment to communities and causes, both at home and overseas.
With this in mind, we draw from the masons we’ve interviewed in Freemasonry Today whom we feel represent the core values of Freemasonry. From Wayne Ingram, the mason who has been raising money in order to fund facial reconstructive surgery for a child he met in Bosnia, through to Sean Gaffney, who lost his leg in an accident only to win gold at the Invictus Games – these are the type of individuals taking Freemasonry forward for the next 300 years.
FATHERS OF FREEMASONRY
We also feature inspirational masons from history who have helped make the Tercentenary an anniversary worth celebrating. These are masons who worked tirelessly in their local communities, broke down social barriers and challenged the status quo in order to improve the lives of those about them – from the Duke of Sussex, who helped shape modern Freemasonry, through to Augustus John Smith, who brought education and hope to the residents of the Isles of Scilly. Reflecting the spirit of the Tercentenary as an ongoing journey, we call this issue Past, Present & Future.
Brethren, it has been a great privilege and pleasure to have been your Grand Secretary for the last two years, and I wish you well for what I know will be a bright future.
‘It is important that we maintain momentum by promoting our values and relevance to society’
Memorial paving stones commemorating the 64 English Freemasons who were awarded the Victoria Cross during World War I were unveiled outside Freemasons’ Hall
Roughly one in six of the 633 VC recipients during World War I were Freemasons. Of these, 64 were under UGLE and 43 were under Grand Lodges in the British Empire.
The Grand Master, HRH The Duke of Kent, attended the ceremony for the stones’ unveiling and blessing, together with General Lord Dannatt representing the Lord-Lieutenant of Greater London, the Mayor of Camden, senior officers from the military services, a group of Chelsea Pensioners and representatives from the Victoria Cross and George Cross Association, as well as representatives from the regiments in which the VC holders had served. Specially invited were the families of those being commemorated.
The event was open to the public, with Great Queen Street and Wild Street closed to traffic. The crowd included representatives from many of the service lodges. Music was by the Band of the Grenadier Guards and the North London Military Wives Choir.
Radio and television presenter Katie Derham narrated the first part of the ceremony, which opened with Chelsea Pensioner Ray Pearson reading an extract from AE Housman’s A Shropshire Lad, followed by the then President of the Board of General Purposes Anthony Wilson warmly welcoming those attending.
‘The horrors of war were brought vividly to life by Sebastian Cator, who read from the diaries of Major Richard Willis’
Simon Dean OBE paid tribute to his grandfather Donald John Dean, who, at the age of 21, was awarded the VC in 1918. Col Brian Lees LVO OBE, chairman of the Rifles, Light Infantry and KOYLI Regimental Association, and Lt Col Matt Baker, Commanding Officer of 1st Battalion, The Rifles, paid tribute to Oliver Watson, who was posthumously awarded the VC in 1918.
The horrors of the war were brought vividly to life by Sebastian Cator, a pupil at Harrow School. He read from the diaries of Major Richard Willis, who had also been a pupil at Harrow, in which he described the carnage resulting from landing his men on W Beach at Gallipoli on 25 April 1915. For his part in that action he was one of the famous ‘six VCs before breakfast’ of the Gallipoli landings.
The Grand Secretary, Brigadier Willie Shackell CBE, gave an exhortation that was followed by the last post, a one-minute silence and reveille. The stones were then unveiled and blessed by the Grand Chaplain the Rev Canon Michael Wilson.
Grand Masters from more than 100 foreign Grand Lodges brought gifts from around the world to Freemasons’ Hall for the Tercentenary celebrations
The Tercentenary is over but not forgotten. When you visit the Library and Museum there is a colourful reminder in a display of some of the many gifts presented by overseas Grand Lodges.
A set of Russian dolls depicting the Rulers and the Grand Secretary caught the sense of fun and celebration on the day. In a very different vein, an antique collecting box from the combined Scandinavian Grand Lodges contained a scroll showing that every member had made a donation to the Masonic Charitable Foundation (£44,500 in all), emphasising the spirit of generosity that was present throughout the events.
In all, more than 100 Grand Masters from across the world made presentations, with the Library and Museum of Freemasonry team managing to have all their gifts unwrapped, listed and on display by the time the Grand Master arrived to view them after the welcome ceremony.
In late 2001, Lichfield mason Roger Manning suggested the creation of a masonic memorial to be sited at the new National Memorial Arboretum at Alrewas, Burton-on-Trent
It was agreed by all that the masonic garden should serve in the remembrance of all Freemasons, whether they had died in the service of their country or through sickness, accident or old age. There would be no reference on the site to specific lodges, groups or individuals.
Sixteen years later, following four different Provincial Grand Masters, two architects, more than a dozen designs, planting failures, floods, dozens of detailed reports and many meetings, The Masonic Memorial Garden was finally unveiled on 18 April 2017 to more than 300 brethren and civic dignitaries.
The service was witnessed by Pro Grand Master Peter Lowndes, Deputy Grand Master Jonathan Spence, Assistant Grand Master Sir David Wootton, then President of the Board of General Purposes Anthony Wilson and Grand Secretary Willie Shackell.
A welcome to all in attendance was given by local builder and mason Eddie Ford, who had been responsible for the garden’s development over the entire 16-year period. The dedication service was then undertaken by the Provincial Grand Chaplain the Reverend Bernard Buttery.