To celebrate 300 years of Freemasonry, following the formation of the first Grand Lodge in June 1717, the Widnes Group of Lodges and Chapters held a church service in the magnificent St Luke’s Church – a Grade II listed building which dates back to the 12th century
As this was a special occasion, the Provincial Grand Master of West Lancashire Tony Harrison had granted a dispensation to allow the wearing of regalia, which added a lot of colour to the occasion. Tony also supported the occasion by attending with his wife Maureen, along with Assistant Provincial Grand Master Kevin Poynton and his wife Sue, Widnes Group Chairman Neil Pedder and his wife Liz, Widnes Group Vice Chairman John Gibbon and his wife Yvonne along with other officials and committee members of the Widnes Group.
Wider support for the occasion was given by neighbouring groups including Warrington Group Chairman Andy Barton, Woolton Group Chairman Andy Whittle and St Helens Group Vice Chairman Graham Williams along with members of their groups.
The service was conducted throughout by the Provincial Grand Chaplain Rev Canon Godfrey Hirst and commenced with the Provincial Grand Master processing into the church accompanied by the Provincial Team. This was followed by a very warm welcoming address to all attendees by Kevin Poynton who then mentioned that as part of the Halton Heritage Week at Widnes Masonic Hall and to continue the Tercentenary celebrations, the Hall will open to the public for viewing, with pop-up exhibitions, guided tours around the lodge rooms and explanations as to what Freemasonry is about.
Following Kevin’s address, the congregation then sang the first hymn of the service, ‘Praise, my soul, the King of heaven’. All the music throughout the service was provided by the Provincial Grand Organist Stephen Derringer, who in the words of Yvonne Horabin the church treasurer: 'brought our magnificent newly restored organ to life'.
There was then a Bidding Prayer from Rev Canon Godfrey Hirst which was followed by Tony Harrison giving a brief view of Freemasonry in the community.
Tony added that in 2015, the four main London charities donated £14,249,547 to charitable causes and their own West Lancashire Freemasons’ charity donates monies in the region of £500,000 per annum to deserving cases and causes throughout their Province. In conclusion Tony said: 'Brethren, as we celebrate the Tercentenary of Grand Lodge, there is a temptation merely to look back upon our history; however, this 300th anniversary, coinciding as it does with the start of our own 2021 Festival, affords us a glorious opportunity not only to show the world what we stand for and believe in, but also to look to the future, to continue the tradition of caring for those in need and to face the challenges of the future with that vigour, enthusiasm and commitment, which have ever been the defining characteristics of our Order.'
The offertory collection raised the grand sum of £367.57, with all proceeds going to St Luke’s Church. Prayers of thanksgiving were then given by Neil Pedder and then Rev Godfrey Hirst led the congregation in saying the Lord’s Prayer and a commitment to future endeavour.
The final hymn of the service was then sung, ‘I vow to thee. My country, all earthly things above’. After the Blessing by Rev Canon Godfrey Hirst, the National Anthem was sung and then Tony Harrison and the Provincial Team processed out.
The lodges of the Furness and South Lakeland area in West Lancashire have come together to organise a fundraising boxing and dinner evening for the past 31 years
Held each January at the Cumbria Grand Hotel, Grange-over-Sands, with the support of Kendal Amateur Boxing Club, the event is always a sellout. This year, £9,500 was raised, bringing the total over the event’s lifetime to more than £190,000.
With the money distributed equally between masonic and local, non-masonic charities, the emphasis is on helping less well-known good causes that are often overlooked.
At a presentation evening at Barrow-in-Furness Masonic Hall, attended by Provincial Grand Master Tony Harrison, £4,800 was presented to 11 recipients representing local, non-masonic charitable organisations.
Three members of the Leyland and District Group of Freemasons embarked on a three-day bike ride from Wellington Park, Leyland Masonic Hall, Lancashire, all the way down to Freemasons Hall in London; covering a distance of approximately 240 miles and raising over £2,200 for the Masonic Charitable Foundation in the process
The three brethren who undertook this challenge were also members of the group’s light blue club, the Leyland Lights. The ambitious endeavour was part of the West Lancashire Province 2021 Festival which is raising funds for the Masonic Charitable Foundation (MCF).
The idea came to the fore during a Leyland Lights committee meeting when Freemason Craig Statters wanted to do something to help celebrate the United Grand Lodge of England's Tercentenary. Craig was fairly new to Freemasonry having only joined two years previous, but quickly set about thinking how he could be part of the Tercentenary celebrations. He had undertaken cycle rides for charity in the past and so his idea was to cycle to Freemasons' Hall.
Craig presented his idea to the Leyland Lights committee where he instantly achieved their full support and so he set about recruiting additional cyclists together with a mobile support team to travel down to London with them. Craig was joined by Chris Hughes and Phil Kavanagh in the making up of the cycling team with the mobile support team of Jeff Lucas and John Anderson, the group’s charity and assistant charity stewards respectively. The team would travel the distance in three days, cycling approximately 80 miles each day.
Like all well planned journeys, overnight breaks with bed and board were required. This was ably organised by Neil Ward, the Leyland Lights founding president, after Craig had planned the route South. Neil arranged stop-offs at Stone in Staffordshire and Daventry in Northamptonshire by contacting the nearest Masonic Halls, who showed their benevolence by joining in with the spirit of the event and by providing shelter for the bikes and equipment, as well as laying on rooms for the cyclists.
The first day of the cycle was to take them through Wilmslow in Cheshire, with the support team joining them at the 40 mile mark for refreshments. Needing just another 34 miles to complete their day one destination of Stone and with the team having rested up for a short while to take on nutrition, they headed off on the road once more. The team arrived at Stone Masonic Hall late afternoon where they were met by a number of local Freemasons including John Lockley, Provincial Grand Master for Staffordshire.
For the second day, the trio were joined by Robert Curtis from St Michael’s Lodge No. 2487 who cycled 15 miles to keep them company. The team made hard work of the second day though, with a puncture to Chris’s bicycle and Phil picking up a knee injury along the way, but still made it to Daventry in good time.
Day three saw the team leave Daventry and ride on to Leighton Buzzard for lunch to make ready for the final push of 44 miles to their destination. Good time was made on the final day and no doubt extra effort was not found wanting with the goal in sight and when they finally arrived at Freemasons' Hall, they were met by a number of brethren from Leyland, UGLE and the MCF.
To meet the intrepid trio at UGLE were Chris Blackwell, Leyland Group Chairman, Neil Ward, President of the Leyland Lights, and Wayne Haslam, Leyland Lights Secretary, Willie Shackell, UGLE's Grand Secretary, David Innes, Chief Executive of the MCF, and Les Hutchinson, Chief Operating Officer of the MCF.
After their sterling efforts helped to raise over £2,200 for the MCF, the return journey was made easier as they had each booked seats on a train back home to Leyland, Lancashire!
The beneficiary of this years sponsored ‘Cross Bay Walk’ was, not surprisingly, the West Lancashire MCF 2021 Festival
What was surprising though, was that the event was blessed with one of those very rare gifts that is sometimes granted by the fickle British climate, a hot summers day! West Lancashire Freemasons, partners, family members, friends and an assortment of four legged, tail wagging companions assembled on the promenade at Arnside in preparation for the ‘crossing of the sands’.
The Provincial Grand Master Tony Harrison was there to ‘wave the walkers off on their way’, being unable to join them himself due to another charity event commitment later in the day. However, the group were not destined to be without top level Masonic leadership, as the PrGM for the Province of Cumberland and Westmorland Norman Thompson was accompanying the group, along with many brethren from his own area. Providing the essential guidance on this perilous trek was the man who undoubtedly understands the quixotic nature of the sands of Morecambe Bay better than anyone - Cedric Robinson MBE is the official ‘Queen’s Guide to the Sands’, a post which he has held since 1963.
He is the 25th guide, the first was appointed in 1548 and the guide is paid a nominal salary but the holder of the post also has the use of the 700-year-old Guide’s Cottage at Kents Bank, which is owned by the Crown and managed by the Duchy of Lancaster. In the period between late spring and early autumn, many groups, sometimes up to 500 in number are guided at weekends by Cedric and his assistants across this ancient thoroughfare which was used in medieval times by the monks of Furness Abbey.
Almost all the groups undertaking these ‘passages’ are motivated by raising sponsorship for their efforts to benefit charitable causes. It was in the company of walkers supporting other diverse charities that the Masonic contingent left the promenade at Arnside to complete the initial stage of their journey along the coastal footpath to a point just past New Barns Bay where they were met by Cedric and his team.
From this point, many experienced ‘sand grown un’s’ will tell you that the objective, Kents Bank railway station on the far shore, looks deceptively close. However, wiser council will relate that you now have a steady two to three-hour trudge to endure as you ‘zigzag’ your way across the literally shifting sands and wade sometimes in waist high water through the estuary of the River Kent.
The vagaries of the quicksand pools, migrating channels and rapid and variable tide courses in Morecambe Bay are the very dangerous elements that make the guidance and knowledge of Cedric and his team such an essential ingredient for any group or individual venturing into this environment. Having safely navigated this challenging ‘marine Sahara’ of the Lancashire – Cumbria border under the relentless glare of the burning noonday sun, it was with a mixture of relief and sense of achievement that the walkers crossed the last few yards over the muddy saltmarshes at Kents Bank before they were able to seek rest and refreshment at the Abbot Hall Hotel.
It was here, in the shade and tranquillity of the hotel grounds that the weary but elated pilgrims were enabled to reflect on a memorable and safe passage of the sands and compare blisters. Phil Preston, Provincial Grand Charity Steward for the Province of West Lancashire, paid tribute to all who had taken part in the fund-raising endeavour and expressed particular thanks to John Wrennall who had organised and coordinated the event. The total raised will be announced a little later, once all the sponsorship money has been collected.
An advisory service in the North West for people with Huntington’s disease and their families can continue to take new referrals thanks to a £30,000 grant from Lancashire Freemasons and the Masonic Charitable Foundation
The Huntington’s Disease Association Advisory Service is delivered by experts on the condition and tailored to the individual needs of those affected. The mission of this specialist service is to demystify the disease, dispel misinformation and provide advice as well as practical and emotional support.
Referrals to the North West service grew considerably over the past year, with an increase of 115 per cent in Manchester and Cheshire, and 57 per cent in Cumbria and Lancashire.
The tercentenary celebrations in West Lancashire were very much in the thoughts of the many members and guests attending the biennial Hall Directors’ Dinner of the St Helens and Prescot Group held at Prescot Masonic Hall
This event hosted by Colin Rowling, Group Chairman, was to celebrate the continued success of the membership of the group and also to acknowledge the excellent work undertaken by the board members of the St Helens and Prescot Masonic Halls.
Everyone attending the evening received a very warm welcome to the hall by master of ceremonies Graham Williams. The principal guest David Steer, QC, Deputy Lieutenant of Merseyside, was accompanied by Deputy Provincial Grand Master Philip Gunning and his wife Anne. Also in attendance were the Mayor of Knowsley, Councillor Frank Walsh, the Mayor and Mayoress of St Helens Council Councillor David and Councillor Jeanette Banks, the Deputy Leader of St Helens Council Councillor Andy Bowden, The Right Honourable, The Earl of Derby, Edward Stanley and Lady Kirsty Pilkington MBE, Ambassador for the Willowbrook Hospice.
The evening got underway with guests taking a comfortable seat in the Masonic Temple to witness a performance of ‘A Timeline Drama and Pageant’ presented by the members of the St Helens and Prescot Group of Lodges and Chapters.
The team announced their arrival with a hearty knock on the lodge door; then the Herald (Dave Burgess) followed by the team, dressed in authentic period costume with wigs, entered the room and announced the start of the pageant. The timeline began in 1646 with Elias Ashmole (played by Allen Yates) who becomes the first recorded speculative Freemason in England. This took place at Warrington, which was then in the County of Lancashire. While Elias Ashmole is conversing with the Herald, there can be heard the ring of a chisel working on stone in the hands of a more experienced workman, the operative mason John Stones. John (played by Norman Lay) represented those skilled tradesmen who, for hundreds of years, knew and kept the secrets of how to measure and build the iconic castles and cathedrals.
The pageant sees the introduction of the first ever worshipful master of the new Grand Lodge which was formed in 1717, which gives us the current tercentenary date of 2017. This was Anthony Sayer (played by Don Fraser). Events move on when five years later, the constitutions drafted by James Anderson are accepted and printed. This character is portrayed by John Roughley, who later also plays the part of the Duke of Kent. Only seven years later, we see the arrival of Samuel Pritchard, (Peter Hornby), who is ‘credited’ with exposing the secrets of Masonry in print.
Moving on over 20 years, we witness the arrival of Laurence Dermott, (Chris Maloney) a painter and decorator by trade, but obviously a man of some intellect, who arrived from Ireland and would later be instrumental in forming a rival Grand Lodge which became known as the ‘Ancients’. Chris also later played the character of the Duke of Sussex. In 1753, Lodge of Loyalty (now No 86) receives its Deputation to constitute a lodge in Prescot and so in later times becomes the oldest lodge in the Province of West Lancashire to this day.
When the Grand Lodge met to discuss a problem, two of the players mentioned above were joined by two more team members Alan Jones and Don Fraser.
The penultimate section focuses on William Preston (Frank Davies, the originator of the pageant,) twice expelled from Grand Lodge for his perceived misdemeanours, re-admitted and sets up a legacy to finance study and lectures, which is alive and well today with the annual Prestonian Lecture. The final scene in the pageant is the unification of the two Grand Lodges in 1813, when the Dukes of Sussex and Kent, heads of the respective Modern and Ancient Grand Lodges, join as one, with Sussex then taking his seat as the first Grand Master of United Grand Lodge. The performance was undertaken with dignity and interspersed with humour throughout.
The guests then made their way into the banqueting suite which was elegantly decorated in a blue and white theme. Following grace delivered by Chris Maloney (chairman of St Helens Masonic Hall Ltd), the guests enjoyed a four course meal of luxury pâté with Melba toast and salad for starters, a main course of roast sirloin of English beef, Yorkshire pudding accompanied by seasonal vegetables and for dessert Eton Mess, then a choice of English cheeses with biscuits.
Following dinner, the first toast of the evening, ‘The Queen’ was proposed by Graham Hughes (chairman of the Prescot Masonic Hall Ltd) which was then followed by Deputy Provincial Grand Master Philip Gunning proposing the toast to ‘The Tercentenary of Masonry.’
Philip commenced by saying how delighted he was to be invited to propose the toast to 300 years of Freemasonry. He spoke about the foundation of Masonry and its origins, mentioning that its popularity grew following a succession of Royal Princes joining the fraternity, the first being in 1727 when HRH Frederick Lewis Prince of Wales was initiated. Others included George IV, Edward VII, Edward VIII and George VI all of whom went on to become Grand Masters, also acceding to the throne. Still today, Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, is a subscribing member of Navy Lodge and The Duke of Kent will be celebrating 50 years this year as Grand Master of the United Grand Lodge of England. Philip went on to mention the importance of the charitable side of Freemasonry and the vast amounts of money distributed over the years to assist in relief of national and man-made disasters and humanitarian crises throughout the world. In conclusion Philip said that the values that were established 300 years ago, honesty, truth, integrity and kindness are just as relevant today as they were all those years ago.
In response to Philip’s toast, Frank Davies (pageant leader) gave an overview of how the pageant was put together with members representing lodges and chapters within the group who were not known to each other, but over the last 12 months had joined together to become a very happy team. The members have given nine performances to date with a further nine booked for the future. Frank was delighted to announce that £1,000 had so far been raised for the 2021 Festival.
Colin Rowling proposed the toast to ‘Our Guests’ declaring how proud he was to be the group chairman. He then gave an interesting account of the background of each distinguished guest with poignant details of their many achievements. Colin then had the pleasure of presenting three cheques of £100 from the SHPG, the first to Lady Pilkington who accepted on behalf of her charity, Willowbrook Hospice; the next to the Mayor of Knowsley for the Big Health Project in Kirkby which is part of the Knowsley Food Bank; and thirdly to the Mayor of St Helens for his ‘Appeal Fund.’ Flowers were then presented by the hall chairmen to Lady Pilkington, Anne Gunning and Jeanette Banks.
To conclude the formalities, David Steer, QC, DL, gave an eloquent and witty response as befits a Queen’s Council, on behalf of the distinguished guests and brought warmest greetings from Her Majesty’s Lord-Lieutenant of Merseyside Dame Lorna Muirhead and her congratulations on this special 300th anniversary celebration. He went on to congratulate the performers saying that the pageant was interesting and entertaining and felt very much at home with it, as having worn one of those wigs in court for the best part of 40 years, he felt very much in tune with the whole affair. David pointed out the many similarities between Freemasonry and the Judiciary - its traditions, customs, ritual and secrets, before revealing a judicial secret which had to remain within those four walls; bringing much hilarity to the proceedings. In concluding David commented: 'You are all to be congratulated upon your heritage and all your good charitable works and donations.' He then thanked everyone for the very warm and generous reception he and the guests had received and wished the group continued success in all they undertake.
As the evening came to a close, Colin thanked the two hall chairmen, Graham Hughes and Chris Maloney, and also John Roughley and John Whalley for their involvement in making the evening a great success.
The members of Westhoughton Lodge No 4215 hosted the demonstration team from the St Helens and Prescot Group on behalf of the Chorley Group at their regular meeting held at Masonic Hall
The team are visiting groups around the Province as part of the Tercentenary celebrations and performing a timeline drama and pageant about the evolution of Grand Lodge from 1717 to 1813.
This project started out some years ago as an idea for something to do at a meeting when the oldest lodge in the Province - Lodge of Loyalty No 86 had nothing to do. At first, the concept was that a "Master of Ceremonies" would announce the year of the event and one of the characters would step forward and deliver his story.
Each character would have been given a script with key words/phrases highlighted and he was asked to deliver the story using the key words but without having to learn any lines.
When it was announced that APrGM Tony Bent had been appointed to co-ordinate the 2017 celebrations and he was looking for ideas from lodges, the most senior member of Loyalty Frank Davies PPrSGW mentioned what he had in mind. From that point on, the project became a living being which the team just had to deliver.
Recognising that they were straying into "theatreland", Frank enlisted the help of an experienced thespian, Freemason and friend David Burgess who readily offered his services. In doing so, David passed the script to a friend of his - Jacob Larch, who is a professional scriptwriter no less and Jacob converted the Master of Ceremonies into the Herald the brethren saw and added the historical facts delivered by him during the performance.
Following a brief open and close meeting the players took over the lodge room setting the scene for the brethren present to show how the Grand Lodge was formed. As the drama unfolded the brethren were kept entertained whilst witnessing a re-enactment of how the Elias Ashmole, the earliest known recorded Freemason initiated into an English lodge in 1646.
The team based their pageant on how the first Grand lodge meetings were carried out 300 years ago. The drama was not only informative, but had a great humour to its story which was most appreciated by the brethren watching.
On the completion of the drama the worshipful master thanked all the pageant brethren for their wonderful work.
The evening concluded with fun and laughter at the festive board including a raffle which raised the princely sum of nearly £200 – half of which was shared with the pageant brethren who were donating it to the MCF 2021 Festival. The brethren of the pageant put on a first class and most entertaining production.
Once again heavy rain did not deter the hundreds of attendees who packed into St Elphin’s Church, Warrington, to attend the second Provincial service of thanksgiving to celebrate 300 years since the formation of the first Grand Lodge in the world at the Goose and Gridiron Tavern in St Paul’s Churchyard on 24 June 1717
St Elphin’s is the Parish Church for the town of Warrington, a place of worship has been present on the site of St Elphins Church since about 650AD, and the presence of a priest in Warrington was recorded in the Domesday Book. According to tradition the first church was built by Saint Oswald for his companion Elphin, who remained as the first priest there until his death in 679. The earliest fabric in the present church is in the chancel and the crypt, which survive from the church built in 1354 by Sir William Boteler. The church was badly damaged by the Parliamentary forces in the Civil War. Following this the tower was rebuilt in 1696 and the nave in 1770. The south aisle was added in the early 19th century. Most of the fabric of the present church is the result of an extensive restoration between 1859 and 1867 by Frederick and Horace Francis. It was during this restoration that the spire was added.
The Provincial Grand Master Tony Harrison and his wife Maureen were joined by the Deputy Provincial Grand Master Philip Gunning and Assistant Provincial Grand Masters, Tony Bent, Mark Dimelow, Harry Cox, David Winder, John Hutton, Derek Parkinson, Kevin Poynton and Robert Wright, many of whom were accompanied by their ladies.
A broad range of Masons from grand officers to entered apprentices took part in the service that was a combination of celebration and thanks. The clergy processed into the church preceded by Mark Barton and Malcolm Bell both of whom are Provincial Deputy Grand Directors of Ceremonies, followed by the both Provincial wardens, the Assistant Provincial Grand Masters and the Provincial Grand Master who was preceded by the Provincial Grand Sword Bearer and followed the the Provincial Grand Standard Bearers. The processional hymn of ‘Praise my Soul the King of Heaven’ was sung with overwhelming gusto and provided a rousing start to the service.
The congregation were welcomed very warmly by the Lay Reader Lee Marsh who said how pleased he was to see so many Brethren and their families attending that service of thanksgiving.
Following the bidding prayer, the choir sang Psalm 150 which was followed by a reading from ‘Chronicles’ by Richard Clatworthy, a Fellowcraft which detailed the prayer by Solomon at the building of the Temple. Another inspiring and uplifting hymn, to the familiar tune of ‘Cwm Rhondda’ followed with the congregation rising superbly to the task in rendering, ‘Guide me O’ thou Great Redeemer’ with a passion that would have brought a tear to the eye of many a Welshman.
The second reading from ‘Luke’, concerning the story of the ‘Good Samaritan’ was given by Clive Smith, an Entered Apprentice. This reading was to be reflected on in greater detail during the Oration.
Tony Bent, who has been responsible for the organisation and promotion of the Tercentenary celebrations within the Province, then gave an inspiring and thought provoking presentation on the work of Freemasonry within the community. He highlighted the ‘quiet and unassuming manner’ in which Freemasonry operated as a force for good and charitable works, reflecting that we had been, in the past perhaps ‘too quiet and self-effacing’ about our work. He further suggested that Masons were not just generous in their donations of financial assistance but were repeatedly as philanthropic in the gift of their time.
In his concluding remarks, he reminded the congregation that Freemasonry had always and should continue to be acutely aware of its roots in the local community and the role it can and should play in supporting that communal foundation. He ended by suggesting that although it was tempting and indeed understandable that we could reflect with pride on the past 300 years, it was equally important that we looked to the future and renewed our commitment to maintaining and promulgating the principles of Freemasonry.
Following a further appropriate and inspiring hymn led by the choir, the Provincial Grand Chaplain Rev Canon Godfrey Hirst ascended the pulpit to deliver his oration. Taking as the core of his text, both the parable of the ‘Good Samaritan’ and the very human need to ever be seeking ‘truth’, Godfrey delivered a resounding and uplifting homily in his inimitable and poignant style. He used many examples which highlighted the ‘principles and tenets’ of Freemasonry and reminded everyone that although the ‘Volume of the Sacred Law, would guide us to all truth’, we as ‘children of our Creator’ had a responsibility to ‘be diligent in determining fact from fake’ and implored that, ‘may the search for truth be the focus of our further endeavours’.
During the offertory, which was made to the benefit of St Elphin’s Church, Masonic stewards assisted and the congregation sang ‘For all the Saints, who from their labour’s rest’. This was followed by prayers of thanksgiving, led by Godfrey, and culminating with the singing of that quintessential celebratory hymn ‘Jerusalem’ accompanied by further stirring and profoundly moving accompaniment from Steven Derringer PrGOrg.
In a final act of avowal and reaffirmation, Godfrey invited all Freemasons to stand and join him in a pledge of ‘Dedication to future endeavour’ which they all exceeded to in response to each enquiry of ‘Will you?’ with the resounding reply of, ‘We will, the Most High being our helper’.
Very appropriately the final hymn of the service was ‘Now the evening’s shadows closing’ followed by ‘The National Anthem’, prior to the recession led by the Provincial team followed by the clergy.
Speaking after the service, Tony Harrison expressed his gratitude and thanks to the magnificent support shown by the brethren and their families: 'It has been a wonderful and historic occasion and I am really grateful to the brethren for their support this afternoon.' He also acknowledged the time and efforts employed in organising such a successful celebration that had been undertaken by Tony Bent and his team.
If there were ever a doubt that the new Provincial ties are suitable for any occasion, Steve Ralph from the Leigh Group, West Lancashire, wore his on a visit to Buckingham Palace.
Steve, who is an acting Provincial Grand Steward, was attending the palace to receive his award as a Member of the Most Excellent Order of The British Empire (MBE). It was a special day for Steve, who received the award in the Birthday Honours list for his long service to the Scouting movement.
As autumn nears its end and the signs of winter start to dominate, and as the nights draw in and temperatures fall, members of Bryn Lodge No. 6553 which is member of the Wigan Group in West Lancashire start to get ready for their annual pilgrimage
A pilgrimage it must be acknowledged to be, as the hardy brethren have religiously made the journey to visit a lodge in a different country / jurisdiction for the last 16 years.
Last year was a trip to Flanders and Chevalier Ramsay Lodge No. 4 of the Regular Grand Lodge of Belgium and in previous years the team of lodge members visited Ireland in 2001, then Scotland, Germany, Czech Republic, Spain, Holland (to a lodge working under the Prince Hall Grand Lodge of Massachusetts), Portugal, Majorca, Jersey, Greece, Gibraltar, Bulgaria, Luxembourg and Hungary. On each occasion, they have visited an English-speaking lodge, and seen many variations of ritual, customs and culture. This year it was to Paris, and to St George’s Lodge No. 3, under the jurisdiction of the Grande Loge National Française, meeting at the Grand Lodge headquarters in the northern suburbs of Paris.
So, it was a cold and frosty (very early) Thursday morning when the intrepid travellers set off from Bryn Masonic Hall, on one of David Ogden’s coaches, loaded with bacon and sausage sandwiches, pies, chicken legs, boiled ham barm cakes, tea and coffee, and perhaps a little beer. 20 brethren made the trip, including the WM Mark Seddon, his wardens, all the light blue officers, stewards and to make the trip perfect, a new fellow craft and a recently initiated entered apprentice, as well as the ‘old stagers’ who originally started the trips all those years ago, as ‘juniors’ themselves. After a very pleasant, albeit long, journey the team based themselves in the Montmartre area of Paris, near to the famous Sacre Coeur church. In such a great location, they had a great time exploring the local area, bars and restaurants, and entertaining the locals with some melodious, albeit partisan, singing in the early hours.
All refreshed and rested on Friday, it was time to head for the lodge, suitably attired and raring to go. The 659th regular meeting of St George’s Lodge was to be an initiation ceremony. Two of the brethren, John Tabern and Garry Rowland, were a little exited as well as a tad apprehensive, having been given the honour of taking part in the ceremony, John as Junior Deacon and Garry in delivering the address at the NE corner.
With the assistance of satnav, following a short journey which battled through that nightmare which is Paris traffic, the expectant and eager brethren were dropped off just around the corner from the lodge with plenty of time for a relaxing drink at the bar, or so they thought! They were victims of a cruel turn of fate, there being two addresses in Paris with similar street names, one in district 6, the other in district 17, and guess what? Yes, you’ve got it, they were at the wrong one, some 40 minutes away from the lodge, through the rush hour.
A quick apologetic phone call was made to Michael Hawksley, WM of St George’s Lodge, who was very understanding and volunteered to open the lodge and deal with business and domestic matters until the brethren’s arrival. And so it was, the lost explorers were eventually re-united with their coach and arrived at the Grand Lodge building and were received into the lodge enthusiastically by Michael and his officers and distinguished guests.
St George’s Lodge, despite being in Paris and operating under the GLNF, work our familiar Emulation Ritual in English. Warranted in 1914 as a civil lodge, it obviously attracted much attention from visiting brethren during the troubled years that followed and rapidly became an Army Services Corps and Royal Engineers military lodge.
All present were treated to a fine initiation ceremony. Bryn Lodge can quite rightly be proud of their junior brethren who took part in the work, something that not many get a chance to do. The lodge room was significantly smaller than they were used to and John Tabern adapted quickly to manage the perambulations with skill and performed his task efficiently with a relaxed manner and infusion of appropriate humour that helped the candidate feel comfortable. Garry Rowland, for his part, delivered a word-perfect address from the NE corner.
The business of the evening being ended, the Bryn brethren joined their hosts at a fine festive board. The building accommodated several lodge rooms and several meetings were going on at the same time. There were also a number of dining rooms and the festive board was held in one of the larger ones. The brethren were treated to traditional French cuisine and fine wine, and the company of a great bunch of guys.
Mark Seddon was delighted to respond to a toast to the visitors and did so in his own inimitable style, enthusiastic, thanking the lodge and brethren, interspersed with ‘Scouse wit’, before presenting the lodge with an inscribed gavel and stand to commemorate the visit. He had been presented with a gift from St George’s Lodge, an inscribed tankard, in the meeting earlier. Following the response, as is the tradition at Bryn and to the delight of the assembled company, the visiting brethren stood and sang ‘Let us have harmony’, joined by the rest to complete the final verse. The evening was completed by a visit to the Masonic Museum filled with interesting artefacts and stories and historic anecdotes. After that it was back to Montmartre and a few nightcaps.
Saturday was a typical tourist’s day, with a boat trip on the River Seine, an ascent of the Eiffel Tower and a stroll down the Champs D’Elise and the Christmas markets, followed by dinner and drinks back in Montmartre. The journey from Paris to Calais on Sunday was a little fraught as news of storm Angus was filtering through. It was raging in the channel and crossings were delayed, a ship having gone down in the adverse conditions just off the English coast.
Fortunately, there was nothing to worry about, as, after a three-and-a-half-hour delay in Calais, the seas calmed smiling on the faithful brethren allowing them a safe return to their native shore, as was so desired. It was a tired and motley crew that arrived back at Bryn after midnight, but reflecting on a very successful and enjoyable trip. Freemasonry is truly universal, but surely, after 16 years, Bryn Lodge must be running out of options for future trips? Can they find another foreign clime and jurisdiction next year, that is home to a lodge that works in the English language and meets on or near to the weekend, to make it 17? We’ll just have to wait and see.