12 December 2018
A presentation by VW Bro Dr David Staples, Grand Secretary
Brethren, good morning. It is my great pleasure to be speaking to you here today.
As many of you will know, I used to work as a doctor. My clinical job was to work out why people were horizontal and try to get them vertical again. I shall try my hardest over the next 15 minutes or so not to reverse that process.
I left Derby Hospital four years ago to become Clinical Director for Medicine at Peterborough where I managed a whole host of awkward people and there, to my astonishment, I discovered that I rather enjoyed this thing called ‘management’. In fact, I found that I enjoyed it much more than medicine.
People were usually pleased to see me which made a change, and as someone who had always enjoyed solving problems I found that I was deluged with problems. It was not a great leap for me to move into another organisation with problems to solve.
I still practice medicine for half a day a week – it seemed foolish to burn all my clinical bridges in this particular role. The Board and Rulers hired me as Chief Executive with two main outcomes in mind. First, I was to bring the Corporate and Masonic sides of Freemasons’ Hall together – to meld 60 Great Queen Street into a purpose and values driven organisation which services the needs of the United Grand Lodge of England, Supreme Grand Chapter and of course you, our members.
Secondly, I was tasked with helping to formulate, coordinate and ensure the delivery of the United Grand Lodge of England’s strategies for the future as defined by the Rulers and the Board.
To my mind, the most important of these is rapidly becoming to ‘Normalise the perception of Freemasonry in the public consciousness’ – to make it as acceptable to say that one is going to a lodge meeting as it would be to say that one is going shopping, out for a meal, or to the golf course; and to make it a genuine choice for all of our members as to whether they wish to disclose their membership or not – rather than one mandated by the attitudes and prejudices of their colleagues.
Today I would like to try to give you a flavour for some of the challenges UGLE faces along that journey, and some of the things that we are doing to meet them. We are always, however, mindful of the need to respect the independence of individual lodges and Provinces, and only to mandate those things which are absolutely essential to the future of the Craft.
Things are not all rosy. In 1920, Grand Lodge issued around 30,000 Grand Lodge certificates each year. By 2015 this had dropped to 7,000 which equates to less than one new member per lodge per year. 20% of our members resign or never come back prior to receiving their Grand Lodge certificate. 60% of our membership is over 60 years of age. Membership remains one of our greatest challenges.
As an organisation, we are shrinking by 1% a year, although interestingly our districts are growing at 10% per year on average.
Attracting new members and engaging our membership so that they remain members is therefore of paramount importance, but the pool of candidates eligible to join Freemasonry is a fraction of what it was 50 years ago.
We can do little to change whether a person believes in a Supreme Being, or whether they have a criminal record, but UGLE has done a great deal to try to influence the opportunity that eligible members have to join us successfully; this has occurred most visibly through the Membership Pathway which was launched earlier this year – an initiative that seeks to ensure that potential members know what to expect, and to minimise the chances of them leaving.
What used to be ‘invitation only’ is now much more open. Lodges regularly exhibit at universities Freshers’ Fairs and all Provincial websites and the United Grand Lodge of England welcome online membership enquiries. We also seek to influence what is ‘findable’ on Google by engaging with the media. By having sensible stories which reflect what WE want about Freemasonry on the top three pages of a Google search, we are able to significantly alter our public footprint.
Before the Second World War, Freemasons would have been openly known and respected in their communities. Public parades of masons were common place. Masons were often asked to perform ceremonies around the laying of foundation stones for public buildings.
Then, Hitler murdered 200,000 Freemasons on the continent and looked as though he were poised to invade England. Suddenly, it didn’t seem quite such a good idea to be so open about our membership and we collectively retreated into a position of privacy that we have only just, with the Tercentenary celebrations last year, started to retreat from in a coordinated fashion.
The third factor which influences whether we attract new members is the environment – by which I primarily mean the court of public opinion. What do the public think of us? How likely is it that our members are happy to ‘come out’ as Freemasons? How likely or acceptable is it that an organisation or employer decides to discriminate against Freemasons? What is the political climate? What is the religious climate? – All of these issues form the environment from which our members are drawn.
The national press is obsessed with handshakes, trouser legs, nepotism, corruption and with events that may have happened 50 years ago in a then corrupt police force. Not a media interview has gone by over the last year when I have not been asked about one of these issues – yet only 4% of young people under 25 ever read the national press, and only 9% get their news from television. By far the predominant source for news in the under 30s is the internet. We need to ensure our media presence reflects this.
In centuries past, however, Freemasons and Freemasonry was enormously respected. Before the times of professional organisations and trade bodies such as the British Medical Associate, the Bar Association, The Law Society etc., if you wanted to employ the services of someone who wasn’t going to rip you off, a Freemason represented someone who openly ‘met people on the level’ and ‘treated them squarely’. It was the closest one could get at the time to a kite mark of decent and moral professional behaviour, and, for tradesmen, membership was a likely to result in both increased respect and increased business.
Unfortunately, how Freemasonry is explained to us as Entered Apprentices is not necessarily an easy and straightforward concept to grasp. We are told that Freemasonry is a ‘peculiar system of morality, veiled in allegory and illustrated by symbols’ . That its system of morality forms of a set of values and principles of conduct. Freemasons are the custodians of a way of behaving which takes good people and makes them better, doing so by acting out ancient myths and encouraging a study of the deeper meaning of symbols, so it is both a philosophical and philanthropic society. One can see how it might prove very difficult for us to explain what Freemasonry is to those who might be curious. And, of course, Freemasonry means many different things to different members.
If we talk about charity, we are no different to hundreds of other organisations who fight for space in a very crowded sector. If we talk about friendship or camaraderie then similarly we do not capture the unique aspects of Freemasonry which set us aside from a club or society.
We will never be able to, nor should we, reinvent ourselves to please the public, but we do need to nuance our message so that it can have the greatest effect on those who we might be able to influence, and what you will see over the next 18 months or so is a coordinated media and communications strategy that starts to deploy these messages. We started this year with ‘Enough is Enough’ and there is a great deal more to come.
We need to find something that communicates the unique nature of Freemasonry in a friendly, accessible fashion, and in a way which makes us an attractive use of our potential members’ precious time. So how do we achieve, in the minds of the public, a favourable opinion preconceived of the institution? We must define ourselves clearly and positively to the outside world. We must regain control of our own narrative, we need to promulgate the timeless principles of brotherly love and self-improvement. We need to inspire people to lead better lives and be a values driven, professional organisation.
So Communications and Membership are two of my top priorities as mandated by the Board, the Rulers and the various committees and groups that have a care for Freemasonry.
These priorities are clearly reflected in the restructuring of the United Grand Lodge of England communications apparatus, and by the creation of a new Membership Services Department, which will encompass a new department for the Districts which, in the past, have not perhaps received the attention that they deserve; the Chancellery which manages foreign masonic affairs and also all of your enquiries should you want to visit a lodge abroad as well as the membership and registration functions.
When I came to UGLE, the headquarters had been split along masonic and non-masonic lines, and it was fair to say that there was a degree of civil war existing between the two. What I found was a headquarters crying out for modernisation. I am pleased to say that following considerable effort by all the staff over the last year, UGLE has just been awarded Investors in People Accreditation – something that will help dispel our reputation as operating from a secret volcano base somewhere off the West Coast of Sumatra.
Bringing about change within UGLE is not a simple task. I have entitled my talk 'Risk Takers, Caretakers and Undertakers' which broadly explains the mindsets which govern all of us here today in some part. Some aspects of the organisation need curating – they are precious to us and to our members and should be preserved as part of our responsibility as the de facto caretakers of a three-hundred-year-old institution, other parts need to be allowed to run their course and die, for an organisation which never renews itself is unlikely to survive. We see this often in the lives of individual lodges, which come together to serve a need for their members, but as times change, or that need changes, some lodges pass away whilst others invigorate themselves and thrive. In order to thrive, we need to be prepared perhaps to take risks and to change in order to remain, or perhaps regain a relevance in the modern world. If we aren’t prepared to do this, we become undertakers and bury something enormously precious to us all.
Another key priority for us at UGLE is to modernise the processes by which the organisation is administered. This year, we will have performed 24 Installations of Provincial and District Rulers all of those, coordinated from this building. We are recognised the world over for our pre-eminent ceremonial. It is my intention to ensure that this excellence shows itself in all that we do. We have moved the Masonic Year Book and the Directory of Lodges and Chapters to living online documents, and now have a thriving members’ area on our website. For the first time, some of you will have booked your place here today online and made payment for the lunch that follows electronically – something you will no doubt have been doing in other areas of life for well over a decade.
Astonishingly this change will save over 1,800 man hours of work each year. Those of you who are Secretaries will be pleased to hear that we are aiming to ensure that Installation Returns are pre-printed, meaning that you will never again have to write out the names and numbers of all your past masters – something which has been done and remained unchanged for over 175 years.
But that is just the start. The Book of Constitutions lays out guidance on how a modern membership organisation should be run, but the problem is that its current iteration was written in the nineteenth century.
Imagine now an organisation where the Lodge Secretary could access the central database of their members’ information and keep it updated. Why should secretaries have to write clearance certificates when we already know who is paid up and who is in arrears? Why not just run a real time Masonic credit check when you want to join a new lodge? Why are forms needed in order to get a Grand Lodge certificate, when we already know all the information on those forms?
To start to modernise these internal processes is an enormous piece of work, but I know it will bring real benefits to our members and those who administer lodges and Provinces.
And these changes will alter the experiences of the everyday mason too. Can you imagine a system that sends links to articles that explains the ceremony of initiation to an initiate the day after he is brought in? Or a system that sends information about the Royal Arch to a newly made Master Mason? What about a system that flags to the Lodge Almoner when a member has missed three meetings in a row – a strongly correlated marker for poor engagement and retention. In this way we can start to influence how we engage our membership at a whole new level with that peculiar system of morality, veiled in allegory and illustrated by symbols.
The Craft has an old, established teaching system, which uses role-playing, memory work and public speaking to enshrine its principles in the hearts of Masons. These techniques have evolved over many centuries and even more generations of Brethren, to pass on our traditions to benefit our members by making them better people, at peace with themselves and with the society in which they live.
We have recently launched ‘SOLOMON’, an online learning resource covering the three degrees and the Royal Arch which you are able to register for, access and read as you progress through your masonic journey. It has over 350 articles, graded for the correct degree which augment these established teaching methods within the Craft and make each candidate’s journey through Masonry a much more fulfilling experience.
So, Brethren, there is a huge amount going on in your organisation, and that is not counting the numerous happenings at Provincial and individual lodge level. UGLE is building an efficient and effective organisation. An organisation which provides a structure able to support and engage our members, attract new people to the Craft and Royal Arch, normalize Freemasonry in the public consciousness and stand up for our members whenever they are unfairly discriminated against or collectively attacked.
The United Grand Lodge of England is here to act as a custodian of the values and traditions of Freemasonry which inspire people to Lead Better Lives for the benefit of society, valuing Brotherly Love, Relief and Truth. We should be a straightforward organisation that is supportive, self-confident, welcoming, member focused, friendly and fun because that is an organisation that good men will want to join and even better men will want to remain members of. It is the duty of all of us to make this an organisation we are proud to be a part of.
The heart of the hall
With 11 November 2018 marking the 100th anniversary of Armistice Day, the Library and Museum of Freemasonry looks at how a record of the masons who gave their lives in the First World War came to be immortalised in bronze and stained glass
Walking up the grand staircase in Freemasons’ Hall on Great Queen Street, you may have noticed a casket sitting beneath a stained-glass window. It contains the Roll of Honour for the masonic dead of the First World War and, in the area known as the ‘Shrine’, sits at the heart of this art deco landmark that began life as the Masonic Peace Memorial.
First considered in a meeting of Grand Lodge on 2 December 1914, the Roll of Honour was described a year later by Sir Alfred Robbins as ‘a permanent memorial of active patriotism displayed by Freemasonry in the momentous struggle still proceeding’. The Roll of Honour would give the names of brethren of all ranks who had laid down their lives in the service of their country, based on returns made by lodge secretaries.
On 27 June 1919, an Especial meeting of Grand Lodge was held at the Royal Albert Hall to celebrate the peace. A message was read from the Grand Master, HRH The Duke of Connaught, in which he appealed for funds,
to create a perpetual Memorial of its [i.e. the Craft’s] gratitude to Almighty God…[to] render fitting honour to the many Brethren who fell during the War. I desire that the question of the Memorial be taken into early consideration… The great and continued growth of Freemasonry amongst us demands a central home; and I wish it to be considered whether the question of erecting that home in this Metropolis of the Empire, dedicated to the Most High, … would not be the most fitting Memorial.
Following an international architectural competition in which 110 schemes were submitted to a jury chaired by Sir Edward Lutyens, a design by HV Ashley and F Winton Newman was chosen and building work began in 1927. The new Masonic Peace Memorial was dedicated on 19 July 1933, with the theme of the memorial window in the vestibule area outside the Grand Temple being the attainment of peace through sacrifice. Its main feature is the figure of peace holding a model of the tower facade of the building itself. The lower panels depict fighting men from ancient and modern times, civilians and pilgrims ascending a winding staircase towards the angel of peace.
SHRINE TO THE FALLEN
Five years later in June 1938, the Building Committee, in its final report, announced that it had given instructions for a Memorial Shrine and Roll of Honour to be placed under the Memorial Window. At the Grand Lodge meeting on 5 June 1940, by which time the country was again at war, it announced that the work had been completed.
The Memorial Shrine was created in bronze by Walter Gilbert (1871-1946). Its design and ornamentation incorporated symbols connected with the theme of peace and the attainment of eternal life. It takes the form of a bronze casket resting on an ark among reeds, the boat indicative of a journey that had come to an end. In the centre of the front panel a relief shows the hand of God set in a circle in which rests the soul of man. At the four corners of the Shrine stand pairs of winged seraphim carrying golden trumpets, and across the front are four gilded figures portraying Moses, Joshua, Solomon and St George.
The Roll of Honour is guarded by kneeling figures representing the four fighting services at the time it was designed (the Royal Navy, the Royal Marines, the Army and the Royal Flying Corps). On either side of the Shrine are the bronze Pillars of Light decorated with wheat (for resurrection), lotus (for the waters of life) and irises (for eternal life) with four panels of oak leaves at their base. The Roll of Honour displayed at the Shrine on a parchment roll includes more than 350 names not included in the Roll of Honour book and additional lodge details for about 30 names already known.
The Library and Museum of Freemasonry provides regular guided tours of Freemasons’ Hall, offering visitors the chance to see first-hand the beautiful craftsmanship of the Roll of Honour and the Shrine.
From the Grand Secretary
The Grand Secretary’s column is, of course, also the Chief Executive’s column and I would like to give you a feel for what we have been implementing over the past year, and our hopes for the future. As Chief Executive, one of the reasons I was hired was to oversee the modernisation of the organisation in terms of its administration. The Chief Executive and the 90 or so staff at 60 Great Queen Street are responsible for the 180,000 members in England and Wales and some 20,000 members in our Districts overseas, for the upkeep and commercial realisation of the headquarters – a Grade 2* art deco masterpiece – and for supporting the committees which give direction and strategy to the membership organisation.
Some of the most important changes will not be obvious to you but will help build an organisation capable of delivering the will of the Rulers and the Board and Committee of General Purposes in a manner which serves and supports you, the members. There have been changes in roles and staff as is inevitable with any change management process, but we are moving, at pace, towards becoming a more transparent headquarters whose purpose is understood and appreciated.
Investors in People has advised us on some of these changes as we transform the way we do things, and we have just learnt that we have been awarded Investors in People accreditation. We are at the tail end of a wholesale restructure to ensure that ‘delivering for our members’ is at the heart of everything we do. The Directory of Lodges and Chapters and Masonic Year Book are now living online documents, and you may now book in, and pay for Quarterly Communications and Supreme Grand Chapter online (saving 1,800 man hours for the Secretariat a year). We have also increased the commercial hire of our wonderful building by 30 per cent year on year, without affecting our masonic hires, thereby offsetting the costs we have to pass on to you. New video conferencing suites enable members up and down the country to participate in the decisions being made here in London and we are training more people than ever before – from Provincial Grand Masters to Media Ambassadors, Provincial Grand Secretaries to Almoners and Communications Officers.
From January we will have a Member Services Department incorporating Registration, the Chancellery, and a Department for the Districts to support the Provinces and Districts as well as delivering our renewed focus on attracting new members and engaging our current membership. A new communications structure will focus on getting the positive messages of Freemasonry known, and ensuring the Court of Public Opinion is firmly on our side. Imagine an organisation ‘normalised’ in the public consciousness. Where going to a lodge meeting was regarded in the same manner as going out for a meal, going to watch the rugby or going to the cinema.
Imagine an organisation where writing the same details on different forms every step of your masonic journey was a thing of the past; where clearance Certificates could be obtained at the click of a button; where you could update your personal details in a few seconds and where candidates received information on the ceremonies they had just been through the following morning. Imagine lodges being visible in the community – volunteering to help with what matters to them – and being regarded as an outward expression of Brotherly Love, Relief and Truth; where lodge secretaries didn’t spend hours on installation returns, and where Grand Lodge certificates were dispatched with the merest twitch of Bro Secretary’s index finger. These are some of the things the Executive and staff, the various committees, working groups and volunteers are looking at realising over the coming 18 months as we seek to improve how we administer your organisation.
These changes are not, of course, about altering our character or our essence. They are not about changing our rituals or outlook, or imposing faddish political correctness or unnecessary change for change’s sake. The United Grand Lodge of England will always be here to act as a custodian of the values and traditions of Freemasonry that inspire men to lead better lives for the benefit of society. We are here to curate those areas that are precious to us while promoting a straightforward organisation that is supportive, self-confident, welcoming, member focused, friendly and fun, because that is an organisation so many people would want to join, and would never dream of leaving.
Dr David Staples
‘Imagine an organisation where going to a lodge meeting was regarded by the public in the same manner as going out for a meal, going to watch the rugby or going to the cinema’
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.
Enough is Enough
A personal letter by Dr David Staples, Chief Executive of the United Grand Lodge of England. This has also been placed as a full page advert in The Times, Daily Telegraph and Guardian
At the United Grand Lodge of England, we value honesty, integrity and service to the community above all else. Last year we raised over £33 million for good causes.
As an organisation we welcome individuals from all walks of life, of any faith, age, class or political persuasion. Throughout our 300 year history, when people have suffered discrimination Freemasonry has embraced them into our lodges as equals.
The United Grand Lodge of England believes that the ongoing gross misrepresentation of its 200,000 plus members is discrimination. Pure and simple.
We owe it to our membership to take this stance, they shouldn’t have to feel undeservedly stigmatised. No other organisation would stand for this and nor shall we.
I have written to the Equality and Human Rights Commission to make this case.
I appreciate that you may have questions about who we are and what we do, so over the next six months our members will be running a series of open evenings and Q&A events up and down the country. These will be promoted in the local media and on our website.
I am also happy to answer any queries directly. Please feel free to write to me here at Freemasons’ Hall, 60 Great Queen Street, London WC2B 5AZ and I will come back to you.
Dr David Staples
United Grand Lodge of England
Letters to the Editor - NO. 42 SUMMER 2018
Enough is Enough
I note with dismay the recent attacks on Freemasonry by some newspapers, including The Guardian. These attacks included remarks by the outgoing chair of the Police Federation, in short, accusing Craft members of restricting the progress of women and ethnic minorities within the force.
Yet another example of press sensationalism [claimed] the existence of secret lodges in Westminster. The ramifications of such adverse publicity are obvious, given that it is instigated by non-masons and often falls upon the ears of the ill-informed.
However, I also note, with delight, that the United Grand Lodge of England (UGLE) has, and is, conducting a spirited, factual and well-reasoned defence of the iniquitous allegations. For decades UGLE has not responded to such criticism, but in this age of political correctness, such a response is not only commendable, but necessary.
The actions of our governing body cannot, and must not, be seen in isolation. Freemasonry has, it can be strongly argued, a serious problem with its image. This is an opportunity to change this image for the better. Many brethren, as myself, care passionately in what we believe and try to practise on a daily basis. We are the ambassadors of the Craft, so let us help Grand Lodge change our public image by expressing pride in our fraternity and spreading its teachings of universal brotherhood.
By so doing, we will not only change the Craft’s public image for the better, we will ensure success for the next 300 years.
J S ‘Brig’ Youngs, Frenni Lodge, No. 8427, Ceredigion, West Wales
I want to pay tribute to Dr Staples and the superb communications team at UGLE who have handled this situation professionally and with dignity, expertise and even a little bit of humour. You have done, and continue to do, the Craft a huge service.
Stuart Wilson, Lodge Sir Michael, No. 989, Kilmacolm, Scotland
Freemasonry has given me confidence, transferable skills, a great deal of enjoyment and so many genuine friends. I’m therefore extremely proud to be a Freemason.
Dr Andy Green, Wyggeston Lodge, No. 3448, Leicester, Leicestershire
I’m not a mason, but I wanted to show my support for you and your members and for standing up for yourselves in front of the media witch-hunt. It seems any organisation that is seen as different is fair game for criticism. Well done for sticking to your aims and ambitions and for maintaining the right level of confidentiality.
I just wanted to pass on that I saw the piece on BBC Breakfast regarding Freemasonry. I thought your representative did a terrific job with his answers to the verbal attack by the BBC. My husband has been a mason since 1971 and installed our son as Master of their lodge a few years ago. My family have enjoyed many, many masonic social events over the years.
I find it so incredible that you still face this type of ignorant media attack after so much work has been done and is still being done in trying to make Freemasonry as open as possible.Congratulations on the response to the piece.
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
Brethen of Valour
Special paving stones outside Freemasons’ Hall pay tribute to English Freemasons awarded the Victoria Cross in World War I
A set of paving stones commemorating the 64 English Freemasons who were awarded the Victoria Cross (VC) during World War I was unveiled outside Freemasons’ Hall on 25 April.
The VC is the highest award for gallantry that can be conferred on a member of the Armed Forces regardless of rank or status – and almost one in six of the 633 VC recipients during the First World War were Freemasons.
Of these, 64 were under UGLE and 43 were under other Grand Lodges in the British Empire. Freemasons’ Hall itself is a memorial to the 3,000-plus English Freemasons who gave their lives in World War I.
The Grand Master, HRH The Duke of Kent, attended the ceremony for the stones’ unveiling and blessing, together with Lord Dannatt, a Deputy Lieutenant for Greater London; the Mayor of Camden; senior officers from the military services; a group of Chelsea Pensioners; and representatives from the VC and George Cross Association as well as some of the regiments in which the VC holders had served. Specially invited were the families of those who were 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 as well as passers-by.
Music was provided 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 President of the Board of General Purposes, Anthony Wilson, welcoming those attending.
Derham set the scene at the outbreak of war in 1914 with the aid of archive film showing how young men ‘flocked to the flag’ in the expectation that the war would be over by Christmas – and how the reality set in that it was not to be a short war but one that would affect every community in the country.
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 a VC in 1918.
The horrors of the war were brought vividly to life by Sebastian Cator, a pupil at Harrow School. He read extracts 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 memorial stones were then unveiled and blessed by the Grand Chaplain, Canon Michael Wilson. The Grand Master and Lord Dannatt then inspected the stones, after which family members and other invited guests had an opportunity to view them before entering Freemasons’ Hall for a reception in the Grand Temple vestibule area.
You can watch highlights of the unveiling of the memorial to Freemasons awarded the Victoria Cross during the Great War here
A special commemorative programme for the ceremony, including portraits and brief details of the 64 brethren of valour, can also be viewed here
Letters to the Editor - NO. 38 SUMMER 2017
We will remember
I wasn’t really sure who to address my comments to regarding the Victoria Cross memorial paving stones unveiling ceremony at Freemasons’ Hall, except Grand Lodge, brethren and friends. Freemasonry stood tall and exemplified what we are about in the unveiling of the wonderful memorial to those gentlemen who were Freemasons, and who paid the final sacrifice. This was a wonderful day for Freemasonry and a day of pride for Freemasons. Thank you for allowing me to be a small part of it.
Lou Myer, Ubique Lodge, No. 1789, London
LETTERS TO THE EDITOR - NO. 39 AUTUMN 2017
Valour and gallantry
Your recent article on the honouring of World War I Victoria Cross recipients was inspiring and fascinating. Brave men indeed! I write to enquire if any similar research has been done on gallantry medals awarded relating to World War II?
A past member, Vivian Hollowday, of my own lodge, Old Worksopian, No. 6963, was awarded the George Cross in January 1941. The George Cross is the highest award that can be made for gallantry ‘not in the face of the enemy’. Viv was the first non-commissioned member of the RAF to receive the extremely high and rare honour. He was the eighth initiate into the lodge in 1958. A convivial and friendly brother, he remained a member until his death in 1977 aged 60. Living in Bedfordshire, I believe he also joined a lodge in that Province.
For good measure, Old Worksopian Lodge at the time also included two recipients of the Military Cross, George Rees and Arnold Slaney.
John Taylor, Old Worksopian Lodge, No. 6963, Worksop, Nottinghamshire
Details of the 150 oil paintings in the collection at Freemasons' Hall in Great Queen Street are now available online as part of a joint project between the Public Catalogue Foundation and the BBC to put on line all the oil paintings in the UK. More than 200,000 paintings at 3,000 venues across the UK are to be included.
Freemasons' Hall is just one of many institutions (including many Oxford and Cambridge colleges) that are not in public ownership which have joined the project for the benefit of wider public awareness and research. For more information see: www.bbc.co.uk/yourpaintings You can search for the Library and Musuem of Freemasonry as a venue to see all the paintings at Great Queen Street.
The Library and Museum of Freemasonry has been working with the Public Catalogue Foundation for the last two years to have all the pictures photographed and to provide details of the artists.
With visitors invited to explore Freemasons’ Hall, director of the Library and Museum Diane Clements explains to Caitlin Davies how this is leading to greater transparency
Covent Garden is one of London’s tourist hot spots and this sunny Saturday in September is no exception. The area is crowded with people sightseeing, shopping and visiting bars. But at the end of Long Acre, where it meets the corner of Great Queen Street, is another city attraction altogether. It’s a large, almost monumental, stone building with little to identify its purpose to those who don’t know.
Come a little closer, however, and a plaque states it was opened in 1933 by Field Marshall HRH The Duke of Connaught, Knight of the Garter and Most Worshipful Grand Master. This is Freemasons’ Hall and today it sports a welcoming sign as part of the annual celebration of the capital’s architecture – ‘Open House London’. Now in its twentieth year, the scheme has seven hundred and fifty buildings opening their doors for free, from iconic landmarks to private homes. A steady stream of people head through the Tower entrance to Freemasons’ Hall, where a steward hands out a leaflet. ‘Welcome to Freemasons’ Hall,’ he says. ‘It’s a self-guided tour.’ ‘People often walk or cycle past and have never been in,’ says Diane Clements, who is overseeing today’s proceedings and is director of the Library and Museum of Freemasonry. ‘People don’t know what they’re going to see – there is a sense of amazement when they get inside, the building is far more elaborate than you might think. The fact that they can come in shows how open we are and helps address misconceptions about Freemasonry.’ Diane has run the Library and Museum for thirteen years, and relishes the opportunity to work with a world-class collection of objects that have interesting stories to tell. ‘The public has a continuing desire to learn about Freemasonry. I’d like to think the Library and Museum has played a part in improving their understanding.’
Wandering at will
Each year thirty thousand people visit the Library and Museum, and most come for organised tours of the Grand Temple. Freemasons’ Hall has taken part in Open House London since 2000 and the logistics of running the event are considerable. ‘For Open House we couldn’t get enough people through the doors using our usual guided method,’ explains Diane, ‘so it’s the only time you are basically given a leaflet and left to look around.’ Her role is to make sure that the two thousand, five hundred visitors on Open Day have ‘an enjoyable and informative visit’, and over the years she’s learnt to always ‘wear comfortable shoes’.
On the right of the cloakroom a sign shows visitors where to start, then there’s a murmur of voices and creaking of knees as people go up the stairs. The building has a library feel to it, but this changes in the first vestibule, which is flooded with glorious yellow light reflected from the stained glass windows. A man crouches to take a picture of a small golden figure, part of the shrine designed by Walter Gilbert. Meanwhile, a woman from West Sussex says she wasn’t sure what to expect: ‘My dad is in a lodge and I always thought he just meant he went to a room somewhere. But it’s fantastic. It’s really beautiful.’ Another visitor, Dermot, just happened to walk past this afternoon. And what did he imagine was inside? ‘That’s the thing,’ he replies, ‘I didn’t know what to expect.’ For a lot of people it is curiosity that has brought them here today.
‘All our buildings are chosen for the quality of their architecture, that’s our criteria,’ explains Victoria Thornton, director of Open-City, which runs Open House London. ‘Some, like Freemasons’ Hall, may have a quiet façade, behind which lies real exuberance.’
In the second vestibule, steward Peter Martin is presiding over a table of free literature and says the event is even busier than last year. Eric from Kent has been to several Open House events today. ‘I started at Lloyds and worked my way along Fleet Street. I’ve seen Unilever and Doctor Johnson’s house… the stained glass is awesome here.’
The question of gender is a popular one. In the third vestibule a woman asks a steward if only men can join Freemasonry. He explains women can join one of two Grand Lodges in England, but they are not allowed in the men’s Grand Temple, and vice versa.
In the Grand Temple there are fold-down seats like a theatre and it’s here that many visitors take the opportunity for a rest. Voices are respectfully hushed. ‘It is contemplative,’ says Diane. ‘There’s never a huge noise in here. It’s not like the Sistine Chapel – we don’t have to say “Quiet please.”’ One steward answers a barrage of questions about rituals and pledges. ‘Is it true the Queen is a Freemason?’ asks one visitor. The answer is no.
An outside walkway leads to the Library and Museum where an exhibition traces the relationship between Freemasonry and sport. The tour ends at the exit on Great Queen Street, where members arrive for their lodge meetings and are watched with interest by departing visitors, one of whom takes a final snap.
Development of Freemasons' Hall
Exciting new developments at Freemasons’ Hall have been announced by the Board of General Purposes.
Since its formation in 1814, the Board of General Purposes has been responsible for the management of the finances and real property of Grand Lodge. Freemasons’ Hall is the major physical asset of the Craft and is an enormous responsibility, made the more difficult by its Grade 2* listing internally and externally.
The Board has been reviewing both the use of space in the building and the costs of running it. Discussions have been held with the four national Masonic Charities and a plan has been agreed in principle for them to move their offices into Freemasons’ Hall during 2006.
Few visitors to Freemasons’ Hall realise how much space is available outside the Lodge Rooms and public areas. The lower ground floor area has been used mainly as storage. Sensitive plans have been developed by the Board of General Purposes to open up the space, which is surrounded by a light well with natural daylight, to provide modern offices giving a good working environment.
Both Grand Lodge and the Charities will benefit from the changes. Costs of the development will be shared and, once in the building, the Charities will contribute to the running and maintenance costs of Freemasons’ Hall. The move will free-up the accommodation currently occupied by the Charities on the North side of Great Queen Street, which will be upgraded for commercial letting, bringing in additional income for Grand Lodge and the Charities, who own the properties.
Whilst that is going on, the office space on the ground floor occupied by the Grand Lodge staff, which is much as it was designed in the 1920s, will be reorganised and upgraded to accommodate both the Grand Lodge staff and the offices of the Metropolitan Grand Lodge of London.
Anthony Wilson, President of the Board, commented: “2006 is going to be an exciting and challenging year for the staffs of both Grand Lodge and the Masonic Charities.
“Once the work is complete they will have a much better standard of accommodation, better use will be made of the space available in Freemasons’ Hall and the other properties in Great Queen Street, and the changes will be to the financial benefit of all.
“Charity is an integral part of Freemasonry. The Charities now work closely together and have a common purpose with the Craft. It seems eminently sensible that the various administrations should all be housed under one roof, where they can work together for the good of Freemasonry in general.”