How Cheshire Masons exhibited at the Royal Horticultural Society's flower show at Tatton Park is explained by David Heathcote
Between 19 and 23 July the Royal Horticultural Society Flower Show was held at Tatton Park, Cheshire – the ancestral home of two past Provincial Grand Masters of Cheshire – Earl Egerton of Tatton and the 3rd Lord Egerton.
With the anticipation of some 250,000 visitors to the multitude of gardens and flower exhibits, the show was set to be a resounding success.
Nothing new in that you say, with the exception that, in 2006, the Freemasons of Cheshire had designed, built and exhibited a garden entitled The Spirit of Freemasonry.
Why a garden? The idea came from attempts to communicate with the media in new ways – in this instance the project was to by-pass the media and go direct to our audience – the public.
Cheshire has created a special projects group, led by Harry Wright, whose aim is to undertake two major projects each year to deliver the Provincial objective of: Dispelling the myths and informing visitors of our work in the community.
It was this small team who set out to change the way in which the Province communicates with the public and in doing so … be friendly, open and honest about Freemasonry – not to attempt to increase membership directly, merely to offer opportunities for improving the understanding of our organisation and to ensure that visitors are left with a favourable opinion of the Craft.
The architect and designer of the garden, Peter Kinder, considered his brief carefully, and his description moved many members of the Province and the 80,000 members of the public who visited. Peter outlined the garden as follows:
The garden depicts the journey of man, from a rough stone to perfection, whilst travelling a path of good and evil, joy and sadness, right and wrong.
The good and evil of the world we live in is represented by a black and white tiled path, which passes alongside an ever-present danger of water, contrasted with verdant pasture representing peace.
The journey carries on until the traveller reaches his final resting place, a triangular seat symbolising the three basic principles of the organisation, namely faith, hope and charity.
The garden’s sundial, with square and compasses – the universal symbol of Freemasonry – depicts the passage of time, over which we have no control.
The Province produced a series of leaflets to support the event including one which explained the horticultural aspects as they related to Freemasonry. A leaflet entitled What’s the big Secret? … It’s no Secret targeted those who may have wanted to know more about Freemasonry.
The Grand Charity series of leaflets including the Tsunami and hospice grants, to name but two, dealt with charitable work. Almost 50,000 leaflets were distributed to members of the public, who without exception welcomed this new approach by Freemasons to communicate with the community.
What impressed so many of the visitors was that, unlike so many of the other display gardens at the show, which were to be sold or broken up, the Cheshire garden was given as a charitable donation to the Hospice of the Good Shepherd near Chester.
Indeed, one lady, when visiting the garden, said “What a lovely garden. This will be a lasting tribute for others to enjoy. I am delighted that it is going to a hospice. I visit this hospice and will certainly look out for it next time I visit”.
In addition to the garden, the Province had a display in the Arts and Garden Design Marquee which equally attracted a large number of visitors. The stand, which depicted a snapshot of a Lodge room with an ancient Master’s chair (courtesy of the Lodge of Unanimity No. 89), provided a glimpse of many rare and important artefacts, including the Provincial Sword, Provincial banner and Provincial Grand Master’s personal standard.
Supporting information told of famous Cheshire Freemasons, charity work and the teddy bear project operated in many Provinces across the English constitution – TLC. The Provincial Grand Master Timothy Richards got in on the act when visiting both the garden and stand on one of the build up days. In his own words, as the Grand Master Overseer of Mark Master Masons, he said: “This is fair work and square and such as we have agreed” – praise indeed!
The garden not only attracted the public, but many Masons from far and wide. Almost every Province and many overseas jurisdictions were represented, with several Masons accidentally stumbling across the garden and stand, clearly delighted at what they found.
Other members of the Cheshire Special Projects team for this initiative included David Heathcote, Eric McConnell and David Thomson, assisted by the Provincial Grand Secretary, Peter Carroll, and the office team, together with many brethren from the Province as volunteers.
David Heathcote is Media and Public Relations Officer for the Province of Cheshire