Members of Birchwood Lodge No 8861 gathered with brethren from across the Mersey Valley to celebrate Norman Illingworth’s 50 years in Freemasonry at Warrington’s Masonic Hall. Principal among them was honorary Birchwood Lodge member and Assistant Provincial Grand Master Kevin Poynton, who was very ably assisted by the Provincial Deputy Grand Director of Ceremonies Mark Barton. They were accompanied by grand officer Chris Eyres and Warrington Group officials Andy Barton (group chairman), Chris Gleave (group vice chairman), and John McIntyre (group secretary).
WM David Hobbs opened the lodge with all due ceremony, conducted business, welcomed the guests and surrendered the gavel to Kevin Poynton with an efficient ease. The tyler and a fellow craft were admitted into the lodge to witness proceedings.
The celebrant was comfortably seated in the centre of the lodge before Kevin Poynton commenced his address. He noted that historically, a seat was never used and the celebrating brother, who was inevitably older than 71 years, was expected to stand throughout the ceremony, no matter how long that might be. Norman looked relieved when Kevin promised he wouldn’t ask for the same.
Norman was born on 1 November, 1944 to parents James (who for some reason everybody called Harry) and mum Eileen Illingworth, in Liverpool. Home was Brunswick Square in Kirkdale. Norman started school at Westminster Road Primary School and was only there for a few months when the family relocated to Neilson Road, St Michaels, Aigburth, where Norman’s parents bought a dairy farm which also had hens and a horse. Here he attended St Michael’s Primary School, which just so happened to be situated right next door to the farm and meant that he had no excuse for being late for school. Kevin wondered whether this was a very clever ploy by Norman’s parents to ensure that he actually attended.
From there, Norman moved on to Rose Lane School, Mossley Hill, where he started his secondary education. At that time, one Jimmy Tarbuck had just left the same school. Once he was aged 15, Norman’s father wanted him to join the family business, and after many arguments to the contrary, this is what Norman had to do. This lasted 12 months before Norman decided that working 7 days a week for each of the 52 weeks in a year was not for him, so he successfully obtained an engineering apprenticeship with Elliots who manufactured hospital equipment for histology/pathology labs.
After a few years, the company re-located to Runcorn and Norman went with them; he stayed for another 46 years in total, rising to become Model Shop Manager in Development. At this time, Norman met his future wife Pauline, who lived in Bowring Park across the road from his aunt and uncle, and who babysat their children.
Love blossomed. They married in March 1970 and moved to Great Sankey, where they still remain. Their marriage was blessed with two sons, Graham and Stephen, who are both now married, each having 2 children of their own. Graham married Samantha; they have Harriet and Zac. Stephen married Claire; they have Ashton and Autumn. As you can imagine, Norman and Pauline are kept very busy and on their toes with these 4 little cherubs (this is their description) who are a great source of pleasure to them. Also in his own words: “Nice to have and nice to give back.”
Amongst Norman’s hobbies are gardening, DIY and photography. He also has a great passion for railways; steam, diesel, electric, in fact anything on rails, and combines his two passions together, doing his own developing and printing, originally in black and white, then colour and now progressed to digital colour. He has even had one of his pictures of the Flying Scotsman published.
Since retiring in 2008 Norman and Pauline have found time to enjoy numerous holidays with friends and family; Australia, New Zealand, Canada, USA and the Caribbean, not to mention their favourite place in this country – The Lake District, where they have a timeshare.
On Norman reaching 21, his father, who was a Mason, asked him to join the Craft in his mother lodge. So on 21 December 1966 Norman was initiated into Everton Lodge No 823. He went on to be passed to the 2 degree in 1967, but felt that at only 22 years of age he was too young to continue and so resigned from his Lodge.
Fast forward 24 years when Norman and Pauline are both members of Park Road Primary School PTA. Secretary of the same association was Alan Gillard, and the headmaster was Charles Appleton PPrJGW. Friendship followed and Alan was only too pleased to propose Norman into his mother lodge, Warrington Lodge No 6987, so Norman completed his third degree on 1 November 1990, a gap of 24 years between his second and third degrees. Kevin researched this gap as a possible record longest between the second and third degrees, and has found only one brother with a longer gap. So, very nearly a record.
Kevin highlighted that it took genuine courage for Norman to re-join the Craft after such a long period. The Masonic qualities of fraternity and charity are usually highlighted and these Norman has, but this quality of courage ranked just as high. Once on the ladder, Norman filled every office on the floor with the exception of inner guard. He was installed into the chair of King Solomon in September 1999, which he thought, was a magical year for him. This culminated in a truly wonderful Ladies Evening, with 150 guests in attendance.
At the end of his year of office, Norman’s successor was unable to take the chair due to his wife’s health problems and he himself subsequently passing to the Grand Lodge above very soon after. Norman was asked to serve a second year in office, in which he duly obliged. Once out of the chair, Norman became charity steward, which he did for many years until Warrington Lodge amalgamated with Winmarleigh Lodge No 6101 and Good Companions Lodge No 7531 in September 2006 to form Optima Lodge No 6101. Norman took on the role as charity steward for his new lodge and also served as senior deacon for many more years, enjoying the work on the floor and being part of the ritual.
Optima Lodge sadly surrendered its warrant in October 2014, (incidentally to Kevin). Norman and a number of his colleagues then became members of Birchwood Lodge. He is also a member of Mersey Valley Lodge of Installed Masters No 9057. In 2008 Norman received Provincial honours of PPrAGDC at Blackpool. Also in 2008 he retired and now often wonders how he found the time to go to work.
A certificate of congratulations on attaining his jubilee and extending fraternal greetings, signed by the Provincial Grand Master and embossed with the seal of Provincial Grand Lodge, was presented to Norman by Kevin, to great applause.
At the festive board that followed, the assembled brethren dined on a traditional Christmas meal (this being that time of year). Afterwards, Kevin thanked all of the officers who had helped in the ceremony and during the festive board. Norman’s old friend Alan Gillard gave the toast to the celebrant, thanking Charles Appleton for attending, telling of their long friendship and of Norman’s extremely detailed knowledge of train timetables.
A commemorative tankard from the lodge members was presented to Norman by the WM, with their best wishes, as was a beautifully crafted commemorative menu, signed by all present. The evening was rounded off by the tyler’s toast, the tyler being accompanied on his way to the head of the table by ‘The Liberty Bell March’, (otherwise recognised as the theme from ‘Monty Python’), played on assembled kazoos; this is the traditional end to the evening for Birchwood Lodge. It couldn’t be made up. Norman stayed on for a while, exchanging season’s greetings and good wishes to all the brethren. It was an affable end to an evening that celebrated a very affable brother.