Elias Ashmole Chapter celebrates 150 years

The members of the Elias Ashmole Chapter No 148, which is the oldest Royal Arch chapter in the Warrington group, were highly honoured by the presence of the Grand Superintendent Tony Harrison who was joined by a total of almost 90 companions, many being high ranking companions who were in attendance at this joint convocation to celebrate 150 years of the chapter’s existence. Representatives from all four of the Warrington Group of Royal Arch chapters along with companions from other groups came together to join in this wonderful celebration.

The chapter room layout.

The chapter room layout.

A very warm welcome was extended to all visitors and members by Dennis Wilding, the first principal, who then opened the chapter with the assistance of David Tabron, second principal and Gary Oates, third principal. The routine business was then conducted.

Barrie Crossley announced that Past Assistant to the Provincial Grand Principals Kevin Poynton and grand officers were outside the chapter and requested admission, they were then admitted in due form. Kevin entered the chapter accompanied by Jack Forsyth, Dennis Rudd, Anthony Bent, Stan Churm, David Redhead, Harry Cox, Frank Davies and Colin Rowling, chairman of St Helens and Prescot Group. Acting Provincial grand officers not on duty also accompanied them.

Paul Hesketh announced that Tony Harrison, the Grand Superintendent and his team of officers were without and demanded admission. Dennis replied that he would be delighted to receive them.

Tony Harrison, along with his Provincial team were then admitted in true ceremonial style and included, Paul Renton, Stanley Oldfield, Godfrey Hirst, Peter Taylor, James Miller, Paul Hesketh, Alan Jones, Neil MacSymons, Barrie Crossley, Peter Blease, Doug Lace and Gordon Ivett. Other acting officers attending were Allen Yates, Reynell Morris, Neil McGill and Chris Gleave, the Warrington Group Vice Chairman.

Dennis extended a very warm welcome to Tony and all the grand and Provincial grand officers, saying he was delighted to receive the Grand Superintendent and all his officers to the convocation and hoped they all would have an enjoyable evening. He then offered Tony the sceptre, which he accepted and occupied the first principals’ chair. Various Provincial grand officers then took up their posts. Tony announced that the next business was to receive a presentation based on the John Tunnah manuscript.

Pictured from left to right, are: Front row, John McIntyre, John Walkey, Michael Hamilton, John Gregory and Dennis Pearson. Back row: Derek Houghton, Gwilym Jones, Darren Brown and Paul Rigby.

Pictured from left to right, are: Front row, John McIntyre, John Walkey, Michael Hamilton, John Gregory and Dennis Pearson. Back row: Derek Houghton, Gwilym Jones, Darren Brown and Paul Rigby.

Gwilym Jones, a senior companion and DC of the chapter, rose to give a short introduction to the proceedings and acted as narrator throughout the presentation. The introduction stated it was very clear that the Royal Arch was very much a major feature of Freemasonry in the area that we used to call Lancashire. This was mainly due to old records from the Bury area together with Royal Arch ceremonies and lectures created for the ‘Moderns’.

This evidence is in the form of a Lancashire manuscript, which came into the possession of John Tunnah and is now in the Grand Lodge Library. The manuscript bears his name because after his death his widow offered it to the Library and Museum in London. John Tunnah was an accountant by profession and had some vigorous Masons as his colleagues in Anchor and Hope Lodge No 37 in Bolton. He became Provincial Grand Secretary of the Eastern Division of Lancashire from 1854 until 1879.

He was not responsible for the production of the manuscript since the document seems to date from around 1797, before he was born. It is not clear where the text originated but Bury is a firm favourite because from other evidence within the Manuscript it appears to be a ‘Moderns’ text. Where did Tunnah obtain the document? Nobody really knows, but as Tunnah belonged to Anchor and Hope Lodge, Bolton, it is generally thought that it was probably part of their archive.

It should not need to be emphasised that a powerful feeling of revelation must have been felt by those companions of the Royal Arch who listened carefully to the fullness of this extensive presentation, explaining the Old Testament in terms of the New, and wherever possible relating it to the symbolisms within Freemasonry. Evidence for the impact the Royal Arch ceremony made can be seen in the explosion of chapters within two decades of the start of the ‘Moderns Grand Chapter’. By 1806 over 130 chapters were nominally on the books, not all however succeeded. The appeal of the ‘Moderns Royal Arch’ however was very marked in Lancashire as by 1823, after the Union of ‘Antients and Moderns’, the names of some 200 chapters were published. Of these 20% were in Lancashire. In fact one eminent Masonic historian ponders upon whether the essence of the Royal Arch was first dreamed up among the mills of Colne, Brun and Calder and embellished and promulgated by a forgotten native of Bury!

Pictured from left to right, are: David Tabron, Paul Renton, Dennis Wilding, Tony Harrison, Stanley Oldfield and Gary Oates.

Pictured from left to right, are: David Tabron, Paul Renton, Dennis Wilding, Tony Harrison, Stanley Oldfield and Gary Oates.

The first part of the manuscript was then delivered by John Gregory and Dennis Pearson, two companions of Elias Ashmole Chapter. The second part was delivered by John Walkey and Michael Hamilton of Gilbert Greenall Chapter No 1250. The third part by Paul Rigby and John McIntyre of Travellers Chapter No 4679 and the final part was delivered by Derek Houghton and Darren Brown of the Old Masonians West Lancashire Chapter No 7702. All the presenters and the narrator were dressed in period costumes and worked under candle light alone.

The manuscript was very poignant being contemporary with the foundation of the Elias Ashmole Chapter in 1866. The presentation proved both interesting and informative and was well received by the companions. Tony thanked all the companions who took part in the presentation saying how rich the manuscript was and how interesting it proved to be.

An excellent oration was then delivered by Rev Canon Godfrey Hirst. The oration explained how solid the foundations of Elias Ashmole Chapter were placed some 150 years ago and how well it has prospered over all those years. He also demonstrated how we all look for enlightenment and how we seek to become better individuals. He made reference to the chapter’s namesake, Elias Ashmole and his connection with Warrington, also his many achievements and his legacy of the Ashmolian Library and Museum. The oration was very well received by all and was followed by sustained applause from the companions.

Tony then requested Dennis to resume the first principal’s chair, but before doing so he announced that he would like to thank Dennis for all the hard work he has done over many years of service, not only for the Royal Arch but also for the Craft Masonry in general. He then proceeded to promote Dennis to Past Provincial Grand Scribe Ezra. Dennis was speechless for a little while and when he regained his thoughts and resumed the first principal’s chair he expressed how delighted he was to receive such a high honour and thanked Tony saying he wouldn’t forget this evening.

Dennis then presented a charity donation of £500 to Tony to support the West Lancashire Masonic Charities. Tony thanked Dennis and all the companions of Elias Ashmole Chapter for their generosity. Stanley Oldfield then presented and explained a Grand Chapter certificate to Matthew Oates. Following this the chapter was closed in due form.

Before the meal was served Tony congratulated Dennis on his promotion. At the festive board the Godfrey Hirst said grace. An excellent five course celebratory banquet was served consisting of duck liver pâté with mixed micro leaves and crusty bread, cod moray, hunter’s chicken served with roast potatoes and seasonal vegetables, fresh fruit salad followed by cheese and biscuits. A selection of red and white wines accompanied the meal, which was followed by tea or coffee. At the end of the meal Godfrey Hirst returned thanks.

Barry Jameson responded to the toast to grand officers saying he would normally look towards his right and would name the one or two grand officers present, however, on this occasion he counted 13 grand officers and thought with time being short he had better not name all present but welcomed them. He thanked Gwilym Jones and John Gregory for the work they had done in organising the evening and bringing representatives together from all the chapters in the Warrington Group and the companions providing the presentation. Barry congratulated them on their success. He also praised Stanley Oldfield for the presentation of the certificate to Matthew Oates. Barry also congratulated Dennis on his well-deserved elevation. He concluded his response by saying he was delighted to be with Tony and his Provincial team on this memorable occasion and wished him well for the future. He closed by proposing a toast to the health of Tony which was followed by continued applause from the companions.

In his response Tony thanked Barry for the proposition of the toast to his health and thanked the companions for their reception of it. He was delighted to be present at Elias Ashmole Chapter for the joint convocation meeting of members of the Warrington Group of Chapters, not only to witness this excellent presentation of the Tunnah Manuscripts, but to be with them for their 150th year celebration of the chapter for which he offered his sincere congratulations and good wishes for the future to all the members of the chapter.

Tony Harrison (left) congratulating Dennis Wilding.

Tony Harrison (left) congratulating Dennis Wilding.

Tony again congratulated those companions who had taken the time to perfect their respective roles for the presentation and for the manner in which they had all performed them so well. He added it has been a great privilege to have witnessed their work. This has been a means of us all progressing on our Masonic journey and advancing our Masonic knowledge, understanding and personal development of the Royal Arch. Well done everyone!

He extended his grateful thanks to all the grand and acting Provincial grand officers for being present, particularly Paul Renton and Stanley Oldfield. Thanks also went to Barry Jameson, Peter Taylor, Godfrey Hirst, James Millar and to the Provincial DC Paul Hesketh and his deputies, Neil MacSymons and Barrie Crossley. Tony also thanked all the other members of the Provincial team for their support. Everyone had had a wonderful time and that it was just what he hoped for, that all the companions and brethren in West Lancashire would enjoy their Freemasonry. He continued by saying: “If we are all able to witness ceremonies, presentations and ritual as we have this evening, then we are well on the way to fulfilling our Masonic expectations.”

Tony pointed out that the new Care Structure is working well and to the advantage of all Masons and their dependants and allowing almoners to attend to their pastoral care. The West Lancashire Membership Focus Group is attracting great attention from Grand Lodge as we forge ahead with recommendations for attracting new members and indeed we are initiating new members all around the Province. The RA throughout the Province is developing extremely well under the direction of Danny Jones, Paul Renton, Ian Higham and those companions who are undertaking the initiatives recently introduced in the RA. ‘Talking Heads’ and enhanced ceremonies are now bearing fruit and exaltations throughout the Province are increasing. Becoming an RA Mason is an important part of being a Freemason and unfortunately we have many brethren who have not yet taken that additional step to become an RA chapter Mason. He asked everyone to consider themselves as membership officers and mentors and try to encourage those many brethren to joint this beautiful order.

Under the heading of charities, the West Lancashire Freemasons’ Charity, Gift Aid and Masonic Halls, Tony thanked everyone for their generous contribution of £500 to West Lancashire Freemasons’ Charity, saying we must seriously consider our charitable donations over the next months. Tony said he knows that we all like to give to our local charities, hospices and care homes such as Ecclesholme and Tythebarn.

Many great events are being arranged by the Warrington Group and other groups over the next few months in readiness for the tercentenary of 2017. Next year will also see the start of the 2017 – 2021 Festival and the Masonic Charitable Foundation. The Province of West Lancashire is privileged to have been chosen to host a festival in aid of the `Masonic Charitable Foundation`. We have an enviable heritage of charitable giving across the entire spectrum of charitable needs and as no doubt this festival will show, once again, that this Province is at the forefront of everything that is good about Freemasonry.

Tony finished by asking that everyone would continue to enjoy their Freemasonry, in what-ever order or degree, but also to endeavour to offer encouragement to those brethren in your lodges and chapters within their group and provide them the opportunity to progress through their Masonic journey. Tony thanked the companions for their patience in listening to his reply and please continue to enjoy your RA Masonry.

James Miller responded to the toast to Provincial grand officers by saying that he had enjoyed the joint convocation and thought it was great that the four chapters should come together on an annual basis. He continued by congratulating the chapter on attaining 150 years and he hoped it would long continue. He made reference to Elias Ashmole who was an alchemist, astronomer, a member of the Royal Society and the initiator of the first Museum and Library, saying the founders could not have picked a more appropriate name particularly considering his connections with Warrington. James went on to say the chapter may be steeped in history but is still a progressive chapter and perhaps one of the first to allow typed minutes and has dispensed with the wearing of white gloves. James proposed the toast to the Elias Ashmole Chapter.

Stan Churm, the most senior grand officer in the chapter, responded to the toast firstly by confirming he is not a founder member, but a senior one. Stan stated that the chapter was based on a very solid foundation and has achieved many great things in the past – but as he put it, those were all in the past and we all need to concentrate on the future. He continued by saying that the chapter has a membership of 33 with one new candidate and one joining member to follow, which is good but like a school report – could do better! However, Stan was pleased to confirm that 28 members were present this evening. He said that the work for ceremonies is normally split so that the possible stress of learning was shared making attendance easier and would recommend this way of working to others. He concluded by thanking James for his toast and companions for the way it was received.

Before the dignitaries retired Dennis presented a bottle of amber nectar to Tony, for which he thanked the members of the chapter saying it was a pleasant surprise but very acceptable. The evening was brought to a close by Gordon Ivett who proposed the janitors toast.

The new Provincial team.

The new Provincial team.

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