UGLE's 300th anniversary: interview with Keith Gilbert of the Tercentenary Committee

Tuesday, 08 March 2016

Countdown to the main event

The Coordinator of Planning for the 300th anniversary celebrations at UGLE, Keith Gilbert, explains how preparations are progressing in the run-up to October 2017

When did the planning start?

The Board of General Purposes established a committee of the President, Deputy President, Grand Secretary, Grand Treasurer and two Provincial Grand Masters in October 2013. This committee prepared the ground and gave the general direction. A broad outline for the Tercentenary celebrations was designed, projects agreed upon and venues booked. Soon after, Provinces and Districts were invited to consider their responses and to outline their plans for local celebrations.

What activities have been planned so far?

Every Province and District is planning one or more events and the range is extensive. They include services of thanksgiving at the cathedrals in Canterbury, York, Bristol, Chester, Durham, Exeter, Liverpool, Llandaff, Peterborough, St Albans, Truro, Wells and Winchester, as well as family fun days, balls and banquets, choir and music concerts, and celebrations in song and dance in East Africa, the Caribbean, India and Bermuda. The range and quantity show how our Provinces and Districts have embraced this important milestone in our history. Where is the MAJOR UGLE event being held?

The celebration of 300 years will be held in the Royal Albert Hall on the afternoon of 31 October 2017, followed by a dinner at Battersea Evolution. Invitations to the Grand Masters of all Grand Lodges recognised by UGLE have been sent, together with invitations for representatives of each Province and District. The latter invitations are based on the membership of the Province and District. Provincial and District Grand Masters have been informed that these invitations are likely to be on a ratio of 1/70. 

Why is the event not being held on the anniversary of the first Grand Lodge, 24 June 1717?

It was decided to hold the major international gathering on 31 October 2017 to give a window of 16 months (from the start of our 300th year) for UGLE, Provinces and Districts to host events. 

What will be the format?

It will be a special meeting of Grand Lodge, while ‘called off’. Apart from some traditional elements, such as addresses and processions, there will be a theatrical extravaganza, which is being coordinated by Gerry Hann, a Past Assistant Provincial Grand Master of Berkshire. Preparations and the booking of professional musicians and performers have already taken place. There will be opportunities to dine and take refreshments in the Royal Albert Hall. Some 2,000 guests will then go on to dine at Battersea Evolution, where a banquet is being organised by Mark Scholfield, a Past Grand Steward. This will include a reception, wine with dinner, and drinks afterwards. 

How can all UGLE Freemasons witness the celebration?

Whichever venue had been chosen it would have been impossible to facilitate all those who wanted to attend. For that reason the event at the Royal Albert Hall will be streamed live around the world. It will be for Provinces and Districts to decide if they wish to make use of this facility. The plan is for a rough-cut one-hour video to be available that evening and then a professionally edited version will be provided by the weekend. Brochures containing articles about the Tercentenary and a broad outline of the event will be available several weeks beforehand, with a downloadable update of proceedings produced a few days before. In this way, meetings and dinners can be held within Provinces and Districts, with the opportunity for local celebrations enabling a feeling of involvement with the central event.

Why do you think you were asked to participate?

It was after a conversation I had at the Annual Investiture Dinner in April with a member of the committee. I finished my year as Secretary of the 2014-15 Board of Grand Stewards and had been liaising with several of the officers of Grand Lodge. Previously I had been Provincial Secretary and then Assistant Provincial Grand Master in Hertfordshire and we hold our annual Provincial Meeting at Freemasons’ Hall, so I had some experience of working with those who are based in the building. 

‘The range and quantity of celebrations show how our Provinces and Districts have embraced this important milestone in our history.’

Marking three centuries

•   The concert in the Grand Temple on 30 September 2015 started the celebrations and also marked the refurbishment of the organ by Supreme Grand Chapter

•   Paving stones naming the Freemasons awarded the Victoria Cross will be laid on the steps of Freemasons’ Hall in London. 

•   The existing Freemasons’ Memorial Garden is being refurbished at the National Memorial Arboretum, Staffordshire, which will publicly show Freemasons’ involvement in national projects. 

•   To celebrate the TLC Appeal presenting more than a million teddies to children in hospitals nationwide, a series of teddy bears’ picnics will be held across the country. 

•   The Library and Museum at Freemasons’ Hall is being extended to include a new room and exhibition about 300 years of Freemasonry. 

•   A car rally will be held across Provinces, calling at well-known motoring centres en route. 

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