Speaking volumes

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.

Published in UGLE

It’s been two years in the making, with the United Grand Lodge of England’s Grand Master, HRH The Duke of Kent, brought to life in a striking new bronze bust

Sculpted by Frances Segelman, it is life and a quarter size, with his eyes subtly picked out in blue. It was cast by Bronze Age in Limehouse.

Frances was first approached to sculpt HRH The Duke of Kent back in 2016 by then Grand Secretary Nigel Brown, to mark UGLE’s Tercentenary and his 50th anniversary as Grand Master. As a result, His Royal Highness sat for Frances on a number of occasions at both Kensington Palace and her studio in Wapping, London.

Frances Segelman has sculpted a wide variety of public figures including HM The Queen, HRH The Duke of Edinburgh and HRH The Prince of Wales. Recent projects have included Boris Johnson, Joanna Lumley, Lord Julian Fellowes, Sir Derek Jacobi, Sir Steven Redgrave and Sergei Polunin.

The Grand Master’s sculpture can be seen on display in the Kent Room in Freemasons’ Hall.

Published in UGLE

From the Past Grand Secretary

By the time you receive this issue of the magazine, the Grand Master will have announced my retirement as Grand Secretary. It has been an enormous privilege to serve the membership since 2007. I am particularly proud of the success of Freemasonry Today, especially as it is well-liked by the members and, importantly, also read by families.

I would like to thank all those many people for their invaluable advice, support and friendship during my tenure and I wish you all well at this very exciting time in Freemasonry.

In this issue of the magazine, we find out how the celebrations of UGLE’s 300th year are as much about the activities happening in your local area as they are about nationwide events. From plays and concerts through to special meetings and conferences, what is being planned throughout the Provinces, Districts and the Metropolitan area will define how we remember the Tercentenary celebrations in years to come.

Community spirit will be crucial in making the Tercentenary a success and it is evident in much of the work we do. Our piece on the Get On Track programme shows how young people in Wales are being inspired to make important life decisions thanks to a combination of masonic funding and mentoring by professional athletes. With some 848,000 16-24-year-olds in England and Wales currently not in education, employment or training, the initiative is helping them to build new confidence and skills.

It’s not just the younger generation who need inspiration. Our masonic care homes are also encouraging people in later life to learn new skills. We find out about the resident who enjoys a game of volleyball, the 80-year-old learning to play the piano and a music enthusiast who’s turned his hand to DJ’ing for a local radio station. Like the Get On Track programme, the care home scheme is helping to develop self-esteem and create a sense of community.

Freemasons are giving support to so many different individuals and groups. We meet Ezra McGowan in Manchester who gives out crisis packs to the homeless from an old burger van. It’s a heartwarming story about a member of the fraternity helping those in a vulnerable section of society who often have nowhere to turn. If Ezra has his way, the Manchester burger van is just the beginning of a Provincial support network that will help the homeless in any city where there is a need.

By working together, we can look forward to a brighter future not just for Freemasonry but for all the communities that need our help.

Nigel Brown
Past Grand Secretary

‘By working together, we can look forward to a brighter future for Freemasonry and all the communities that need our help.’

Published in UGLE

Building enthusiasm

HRH The Duke of Kent looks forward to the Tercentenary as an opportunity to show the non-masonic world how relevant Freemasonry is in modern society

The successful launch of the Masonic Charitable Foundation at the beginning of April is a very significant milestone. The new charity has been formed following a long and very thorough review of how the four central masonic charities operated and how they could work together most effectively. 

A fundamental benefit of moving away from the model of four separate charities was to make the message easier to understand about what support and services are available to the many and varied stakeholders. 

I congratulate all those involved in achieving this.

The Tercentenary planning is progressing well, with the Provinces and Districts organising their own celebratory events throughout 2017, culminating in the main event at the Royal Albert Hall in October 2017. There is much enthusiasm building for this great anniversary. I see it also as presenting an ideal opportunity to demonstrate to the non-masonic world how relevant the organisation is in society today and that Freemasonry has a long-term future.

After the investitures, Right Worshipful Brother Nigel Brown retired as Grand Secretary. Brother Brown has supported and encouraged my open communications policy and brought both Provinces and Districts to a much closer relationship with Grand Lodge.

He has served the office at a time of rapid change and introduced new initiatives including mentoring and communications, to name but two, aimed at ensuring the future of Freemasonry. On your behalf I wish Brother Brown good health and every happiness in the future.

‘A fundamental benefit of moving away from the model of four separate charities was to make the message easier to understand.’

Published in UGLE

Interim Grand Secretary

Following the retirement of RW Bro Nigel Brown as Grand Secretary at the end of April, the MW The Grand Master has been pleased to make an interim appointment to that office.

RW Bro Brigadier WE Shackell, CBE, PJGW, will take up the appointment with effect from Wednesday 8 June, and will be invested as Grand Secretary in the course of the Quarterly Communication of the Grand Lodge on that day.

The Rulers and the Board of General Purposes believe that the process of finding a long-term successor as Grand Secretary should not be hurried, and recruitment is therefore unlikely to begin for some months.

In the meantime, I am sure that you would all wish to join in wishing Bro Shackell well in his new role.

Yours sincerely and fraternally,

Anthony Wilson
President, Board of General Purposes

Published in UGLE

Annual Investiture of Supreme Grand Chapter

29 April 2016 
An address by the ME Pro First Grand Principal Peter Lowndes

Companions, I know that you would want me to congratulate all of the Grand Officers whom I have invested today on behalf of the Most Excellent the First Grand Principal. At the same time I would remind you that with your new ranks come new obligations. Appointments and promotions are therefore not just a reward, but an encouragement for further participation in the success of the Order whether providing support for the members of your chapters or giving encouragement to those in the important role of Royal Arch Representatives in your Craft lodges. If, indeed, you are not that representative yourself.

It has been a great pleasure to invest today Most Excellent Companion Gareth Jones as Third Grand Principal in succession to Most Excellent Companion David Williamson who was himself appointed in 2010. We owe Companion Williamson an enormous debt of gratitude for his many contributions, both in our order and in many others as well. Today’s succession coupled with that of Most Excellent Companion Russell Race in November last year, continues the strong leadership that the Royal Arch has enjoyed for many years and ensures an exciting future for the Order.

Companions, I believe that the Royal Arch is in its strongest position for many years. The profile of the Order was greatly enhanced by the outstanding success of the bicentenary celebrations in 2013 coupled with several key initiatives during and since that time, including the Royal Arch participation in the Freemasons’ Fund for Surgical Research. As a reminder, there are two Royal Arch fellows in every five fellowships supported. This is thanks to the incredible generosity of our members and the skilful management of our assets.

Finally, companions, I must, on your behalf and mine, thank the Grand Director of Ceremonies and his team and the Grand Scribe Ezra’s staff for the success of today. Somewhat naturally I take great pride in the work of the Grand Director of Ceremonies and his team, but on this occasion I want to thank, particularly, the retiring Grand Scribe Ezra for his work over the last nine years. We have travelled a lot together, although we have not always returned without mishap – be it Icelandic volcanic ash, Barbadian hurricanes or Heathrow snow, but we have made it in the end one way or another. I am sure he would agree with me that these were testing events and we were both extremely grateful for the calming influence of his PA, Louise, back at base.

Thank you companions.

Published in Speeches
Wednesday, 27 April 2016 01:00

Grand Master's address - April 2016

Craft Annual Investiture 

27 April 2016 
An address by the MW The Grand Master HRH The Duke of Kent, KG 

Brethren, I start by congratulating all those that I have invested this afternoon. Grand Rank is conferred not only for your past services to the Craft, but equally for the expectation of your commitment to ensuring the long term future of the English Constitution.

The successful launch of the new Masonic Charitable Foundation, at the beginning of April, is a very significant milestone. The new charity has been formed following a long and very thorough review of how the four central masonic charities operated and how they could work together most effectively. A fundamental benefit for moving away from the model of four separate charities was to make the message easier to understand about what support and services are available to the many and varied stakeholders. I congratulate all those involved in achieving this.

The Tercentenary planning is progressing well with both the Provinces and Districts organising their own celebratory events throughout 2017, culminating in the main event at the Royal Albert Hall in October 2017. There is much enthusiasm building for this great anniversary. I see it also as presenting an ideal opportunity to demonstrate to the non-masonic world how relevant the organisation is in society today and that Freemasonry has a long term future.

I congratulate the Grand Director of Ceremonies and his team for an excellent ceremonial occasion. This is the point at which every year I also express my thanks to the Grand Secretary and his staff. My gratitude to them on this occasion is no less than it ever was, but it is this time tinged with a certain sadness, since after the Investitures Right Worshipful Brother Nigel Brown will be retiring as Grand Secretary. Brother Brown has supported and encouraged my open communications policy and brought both Provinces and Districts to a much closer relationship with Grand Lodge.

He has served the office at a time of rapid change and introduced new initiatives including Mentoring and Communications, to name but two, aimed at ensuring the future of Freemasonry.

On your behalf I wish Brother Brown good health and every happiness in the future.

Published in Speeches

14 April 2016

An announcement by the President of the Board of General Purposes

It is with great sadness that we inform you that the Grand Secretary, RW Bro Nigel Brown PJGW, has announced his wish to retire, and it has been mutually agreed that this will be effective from 30th April 2016.

Nigel has supported and encouraged the Grand Master's open communication policy and brought both Provinces and Districts to a much closer relationship with Grand Lodge.

He has served the office at a time of rapid change and introduced new initiatives including Mentoring and Communications, to name but two, aimed at ensuring the future of Freemasonry.

We wish him good health and every happiness in the future.

Published in UGLE & SGC
Tuesday, 08 March 2016 00:00

Grand Secretary's column - Spring 2016

From the Grand Secretary

Welcome to the spring 2016 issue of Freemasonry Today. With 2017 fast approaching, we thought it timely to have an interview with the Tercentenary Planning Committee Coordinator to give the latest brief on the rationale and planning for the celebrations. What a joy to be a member of such an illustrious organisation that has adapted to the many social changes over 300 years, ensuring that we are still relevant in today’s rapidly evolving society.

On the topic of keeping relevant, the Membership Focus Group has, among many other initiatives, been looking at what Freemasonry has to offer in the 21st century. 

In an insightful article you will read about image, recruitment, retention, understanding, and supporting those who lead at all levels.

Also in this issue of the magazine, we interview the Masonic Charitable Foundation’s Chief Executive, David Innes, to learn how bringing the four central masonic charities together will improve the service they give to beneficiaries. He also explains how the new charity will give a stronger voice to the causes that the masonic community cares about.

On the subject of charity, members of Thorpe Bay Lodge in Essex reveal the origins of Lest We Forget, a special bitter they have been brewing to raise funds for the Royal British Legion and military charity SSAFA. While the project’s goal was to fundraise for good causes, the brewers all agree that it has had a wider effect for Thorpe Bay Lodge, improving members’ morale by trying something new. 

The emotional as well as financial support that Freemasons give is the subject of a profile piece on Paula Kilshawe-Fall. The wife of a Freemason, Paula has managed to get back on her feet thanks to the almoner network in West Lancashire. Her story reveals some of the core values of Freemasonry: that of pastoral care and the desire to help those in your community.

The Iron Bridge Lodge in Shropshire is ensuring that it stays true to Freemasonry’s traditional values. However, it also wants to provide a meeting place that accommodates modern life in order to recruit and retain the next generation of masons. By drawing upon social media and streamlining its ceremonies, the lodge is now attracting younger masons who are not only bringing ideas of their own but also introducing new members into the fold.

As we look forward to the Tercentenary, I think you will find so much in this issue that shows why Freemasonry is as meaningful in society today as it was 300 years ago.

Nigel Brown
Grand Secretary

‘What a joy to be a member of such an illustrious organisation that has adapted to the many social changes over 300 years.’

Published in UGLE
Tuesday, 08 December 2015 00:00

Grand Secretary's column - Winter 2015

From the Grand Secretary

On behalf of the members of the United Grand Lodge of England, a message of congratulations was sent to the Grand Master on the occasion of his 80th birthday. How fortunate we all are to have such a dedicated royal leader since his installation as Grand Master by the 11th Earl of Scarbrough on 27 June 1967.

Thank you to those readers of Freemasonry Today who have participated in the recent Membership Focus Group surveys. One of the results from your feedback has been the creation of a clear strategy to make sure there is a sound future for Freemasonry. This strategy has been agreed at the highest levels throughout the organisation and we now wish to share it with all our readers. You will find a copy of this strategy attached to this issue of the magazine. 

I trust you will find it fascinating, and that it gives you added confidence for the future and your continued enjoyment of Freemasonry.

New enthusiasm

In this issue of the magazine, we find out how Freemasonry is helping to build confidence among our members. Our article on the first New and Young Masons Clubs’ Conference at Freemasons’ Hall reveals a support network of light blue clubs that are helping initiates get the most out of Freemasonry from day one. We look at how these clubs are giving new members an outlet for the energy and excitement that they want to put into the Craft.

Overcoming challenges

The values of Freemasonry proved vital for Arthur Vaughan Williams, who, following a car accident, went from peak physical fitness to being unable to control two-thirds of his body. In our interview with Arthur, he explains how Freemasonry helped him to re-engage with society and create a new life for himself. With a reinvigorated sense of self-belief, Arthur has learned how to fly and is carving out a successful career as a television presenter.

Also in this issue, London’s new Metropolitan Grand Master Sir Michael Snyder discusses what motivated him to modernise the City, not only the way it runs but also the business buildings that populate London’s skyline. Meanwhile, our feature on deaf communications organisation Signature shows how masonic support is aiming to put British Sign Language on the curriculum and open up the education system for deaf youngsters.  

I hope you enjoy our winter edition and wish you and your families a wonderful festive season.

Nigel Brown
Grand Secretary

‘We look at how light blue clubs are giving new members an outlet for the energy and excitement that they want to put into the Craft.’

Published in UGLE
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