Having opened the lodge, the Worshipful Master soon asked the Provincial Grand Master to take charge to perform what must be one of his most pleasurably tasks – to present a 50 year certificate. The recipient was one W Bro Peter Jones PAGDC PProvSGW who had already told the Provincial Office that he didn’t want a fuss. The PGM couldn’t quite do that and a compromise was reached with a condensed presentation in which he outlined WBro Peter’s contribution to Freemasonry in general and to this Province in particular. Initiated into Caxton Lodge in November 1966, W Bro Peter became the youngest Master in the Province at his installation in 1978, a record which stood until it was beaten by his son! His proud boast is that he has not missed a lodge meeting in 40 years.
The Provincial Grand Master recounted the first time that he met WBro Peter. He was a very young Freemason and WBro Peter was the Provincial DC and a busy one at that having consecrated no less than 10 lodges during his tenure. He transformed the ProvGDC role and provided a model of how to behave. In coming up to speak with a young Bro Macey, he left an enduring impression and the now RWBro Macey wished to thank WBro Peter for all that he taught him. With obvious pleasure, the RW PGM then formally presented WBro Peter with his certificate and lapel badge. The current ProvGDC then delivered another one of his special, faultless proclamations after which all the brethren present saluted WBro Peter.
From one special moment to another. The ‘main course’ was a talk by Very Worshipful Bro John Hamill the Deputy Grand Chancellor who took us through 300 years of Grand Lodge. The Worshipful Master took considerable pleasure in introducing VW Bro John, most notably by telling those present that he had be born into a family with a long Masonic tradition before being initiated into a Tyneside lodge, Tyne Lodge, in 1970. He was well supported at that ceremony by no less than five uncles and three cousins and was a Master Mason within three months! Little did they know that nearly 50 years later, he would be the Deputy Grand Chancellor and the Director of Special Projects for the United Grand Lodge of England.VW Bro John started by posing the question of what we would do if time travel were possible. He said that he would simply wish to bring some of the brethren from the very earliest days of Grand Lodge to the present day. Little is known about the start as people were not as good at writing things down as they became and we only know parts of the story. If he eventually gets to the Grand Lodge Above, VW Bro John has a long list of people to talk with.
It all started on 24th July 1717 with four lodges coming together to elect a Grand Master. Those 100 or so brethren would recognise some of our current practises but much would be very unfamiliar. Firstly they would be amazed with the number present at this meeting – they would meet in a small, private room and would sit around a table situated in the centre of the room. The table would be moved to one side and the Tyler would draw the lodge on the floor – this later became a floor cloth. The Master would figuratively sit in the east with both Wardens in the west and it was the wardens who preformed much of the ceremony as it was not until much later in the 18th century when the office of deacon was introduced. Once the ceremony had been concluded, the candidate would be provided with mop and pale to remove the drawings on the floor, the table moved back and catechical lectures complete the evening’s work. Masonic symbols would be removed from the table and supper would be served. It is thought that in these early days, the first and second degrees were two parts of the same ceremony as records simply state when a candidate was ‘made a mason’. This would happen at one meeting and the brother would still need to pass a ballot at the next meeting to become a member of the lodge.
1723 saw the first signs of administration with the appointment of a secretary (only becoming the Grand Secretary in 1736) and the publication of the first book of constitutions. There were around 200 lodges in 1730 and that decade saw the expansion of Freemasonry around the globe which spread as the British Empire grew. 1730 also saw the first exposé of Freemasonry by a chap called Pritchard. It went through 8 printings in six months and must have been an accurate representation of the ceremonies as some lodge records show its purchase, presumable as an aide-memoire for the brethren.
At some point, Grand Lodge decided to change the words of the first and second degrees around, and didn’t tell Ireland. Consequently, Irish masons would give the wrong word and would be discounted as not a genuine Freemason. They came together and was the basis of the formation of the Antients Grand Lodge. The two Grand Lodges were uneasy sparring partners but relations improved the further from London with some lodges even having warrants from both Grand Lodges!
Things got interesting in 1799 when the Unlawful Societies Act came into force banning any meeting in secret or which included the taking of oaths and was punishable with transportation. The two Grand Masters at the time met with the Prime Minister explaining the situation and that there were a number of Royal brethren who enjoyed patronising Freemasonry. The law was subsequently changed but each lodge was required to submit a list of members to the Clerk of the Peace every year.
The two Grand Lodges began to talk about coming together and in 1809 a group was formed to discuss and plan this. However, progress was very slow. The Moderns gave their representatives full authority to make decisions but those of the Antients had to report back to a Quarterly Communication for further instruction. November 1813 saw a rapid progress – the Prince of Wales, the Grand Master of the Moderns, became Prince Regent. He stood down and was replaced by his Deputy, the Duke of Sussex. The Grand Master of the Antients, the Duke of Athol, decided to stand down too and was replaced by the Duke of Kent. The two Grand Masters were Royal brothers and within six weeks, the articles of union were agreed!
A Board of Works was created to standardise the designs of regalia worn – they are still used today. However, the greatest regularisation was with the ritual. A Lodge of Reconciliation was established and produced a standard set of ritual which was demonstrated in 1816 at Grand Lodge bringing the existing ceremonies and catechical lectures of the early ritual together. We may often wonder why there are so many different workings – the library at Freemason’s Hall has over 50. Brethren were invited to travel to London to witness the new ritual being demonstrated. Nothing was written down but rather learned so as they travelled back to whence they came, they would have tried to remember just what they had seen and perhaps didn’t quite manage it!
Why has Freemasonry survived? 1717 was the start of a great age for societies and clubs, many which would have appeared similar to Freemasonry. Many became Friendly Societies before disappearing altogether with the establishment of the welfare state. There may be one great reason for its survival – Freemasonry has changed quite considerably over the years but its basic principles - those of brotherly love, relief and truth, and the prohibiting of talk of politics or religion – have not. It was established at a time of great turmoil with civil war and provided a means of bringing people together.
VW Bro John concluded by saying that we have not altered those basic principles and that he believes that, as long as we continue to maintain those principles, Freemasonry will go on and, in a hundred years, someone will talking about 400 years of Grand Lodge!
The Worshipful Master thanked VW Bro John for his presentation adding that he has given all present not just a daily advancement but a full month’s worth! The Provincial Grand Master added his personal thanks saying that it was a truly inspiring talk. All of which was received with acclaim by all the brethren who had been fortunate to witness a gem of a talk from a jewel in the crown from is Grand Lodge.