Over 100 members and guests of Ashmole Lodge No 5128, visited Warrington Mason Hall to celebrate with John Graham Forsyth (Jack) his 70 years in Freemasonry. The principal guest on this very special occasion was the Deputy Provincial Grand Master Philip Gunning, accompanied by Assistant Provincial Grand Master Kevin Poynton. Also present was Past Assistant Provincial Grand Master Dennis Rudd and other grand officers including Steven Reid, Tony Bone, Norman Thomas, Stan Churm, Neville Powell, Ted Holden, Jim Eaves, James McKeeman, Davis Swindlehurst, Sam Robinson, Derek Hunt, Barry Jameson, Barrie Crossley, Chris Eyres and Andrew Whittle. Acting Provincial grand officers in attendance included Keith Kemp and Mark Barton. Andy Barton (group chairman), Chris Gleave (vice chairman) and John McIntyre (secretary) were also present.
The lodge was opened in due form by Eric Miller WM and the usual administration duties undertaken. Keith Kemp announced the entrance of the Deputy DCs and the celebrant and formed a line of honour to welcome Jack into the lodge.
Keith then announced that the Deputy Provincial Grand Master was without and demanded admission. Philip Gunning was then admitted in due ceremonial style, accompanied by the many grand and Provincial grand officers as previously mentioned.
Eric welcomed all present saying it was a great honour and privilege to see so many very distinguished brethren attending this auspicious occasion and continued by saying he hoped everyone would have a most enjoyable evening. Philip thanked Eric and the brethren of the lodge for their very warm welcome and commented that he felt privileged and honoured to witness the celebration of such a longstanding and very well respected member of the Craft. Philip continued by bringing the sincere good wishes of Tony Harrison the Provincial Grand Master. Eric, as a matter of procedure and as a mark of respect offered Philip the gavel, which on this occasion he was delighted to accept and occupied the chair.
Upon occupying the chair Philip offered a special welcome to Keith Beardsmore PrGM of the West Lancashire Mark Masons, saying that he was delighted that Keith had joined them to celebrate this wonderful occasion. Philip then requested that Jack should be seated in front of the pedestal and asked the DC to ensure Jack was comfortable.
Philip informed all present of some of Jack’s history. Going back to 1925, in the middle of the roaring twenties, when the horrors of the Great War had been more or less forgotten and life was to be enjoyed rather than endured. It was the year of birth of people who went on to become household names: in films, Peter Sellers, Rock Hudson, Paul Newman, Richard Burton; in TV, Ernie Wise and Harry Carpenter; in politics, Tony Benn and Margaret Thatcher; and in sport, Nat Lofthouse. Unlike Jack, they all have one thing in common; they are no longer with us.
On Sunday 11 January, Duncan and Margaret Forsyth announced the arrival of their son, whom they would christen John Graham, now more familiarly known as Jack. In the heady days of the twenties Jack would enjoy a happy childhood, apart from when he was riding his bike and he came off head first and lost his front teeth. They are still missing to this day.
He attended St Mary’s Church of England Primary School in Sale followed by Altrincham Grammar School. He left school at the age of 16 having obtained the school certificate and was subsequently employed as an apprentice toolmaker with Wilkinson’s whose works were firstly in Lymm and then on Kerfoot Street in Warrington. The company made pliers, pincers, nippers, wrenches and tools for telegraph linesmen. Their brand name was ‘Albec.’ Apparently their pliers were standard issue in Rolls-Royce and Bentley Motor’s tool kits.
During his apprenticeship he studied at night school at Stretford Technical College where he gained his Ordinary National Certificate in Mechanical Engineering and upon transferring to Bolton College he gained his Higher National Certificate, finally finishing at Manchester College for further studies in mechanics.
Jack joined the cubs at school, then moved up to the scout troop. When he moved to Warrington he continued his scouting career at St Wilfred’s troop in Grappenhall eventually becoming group scout master.
In 1949, in a two week holiday period from Wilkinson’s he worked for his father in law Ernie Hart, at Hart’s Fabrics in the Warrington market and being suitably impressed with the market trade he changed career. Jack quickly realised that working for someone else was not what he really wanted to do, so he identified a gap in the market. In those days ladies of the household and their daughters used to make their own dresses and skirts and he found that from opening to closing, he had them queuing to buy material. However, in the fabric business expansion was the name of the game and in the following years he acquired even more stalls. At the height of his business he was running 13 stalls on the various markets, together with a permanent shop in Northwich.
Jack carried on being a market trader for the rest of his working life, some 58 years. In addition, he held many civil offices: Justice of the Peace for 20 years until retirement at 70, Commissioner of the Board of Inland Revenue. Board of Visitors for Appleton Thorn Prison until it became a youth detention centre, Director of Warrington Building Society until it was taken over by the Cheshire Building Society and past Chairman of the Warrington Old Friends Association.
In his private life Jack married Pamela in 1947 and tragically in 1950, Pamela died during the birth of their daughter Mary, a loss that left him devastated and in his own words ‘lonely’. In 1958 he married Anne, who gave him a son Matthew, who is the current assistant secretary of the lodge. Jack and Anne still enjoy life together in their beautiful home and anyone who is fortunate enough to visit cannot fail to be impressed by their wonderful garden.
Jack was initiated into Masonry on the 23 January 1947. Having joined, the rest of his Masonic career is breathtakingly outstanding. Jack having been initiated into Ashmole Lodge No 5128 became WM in 1959 and afterwards took on the office as lodge DC. He was appointed PPrJGD in 1972, promoted to PrDepDC 1978 and PPrJGW in 1981. He gained the grand rank of PAGDC 1987 and PJGD 1993. He was also WM of Lathom Lodge No 2229 in 2010. He was a founder of Mersey Valley Lodge of Installed Masters No 9057 in 1982 and was the founding DC for three years.
In the Royal Arch he was exalted into the Chapter of Friendship No 2963 on the 12 December 1952. Jack was installed as first principal in 1965 and gained Provincial honours as PPrAGSoj in 1974, PrDepDC in 1981. He was later elevated to PGStdB in 1986 and PAGSoj in 1988. Following the closure of Friendship Chapter in 2011 he became a joining member of Elias Ashmole Chapter No 148 in the same year.
Jack has had similar levels of excellent success and risen to very high ranks in several other Masonic orders, all this from someone who confessed to being motivated because he was lonely!
Philip added that, one of the enduring qualities of Freemasonry is that it provides stability and certainty in a somewhat unstable world in uncertain times. It provides the opportunity throughout all its various degrees for good men, by personal development, to come to the fore and provide leadership and direction.
Philip concluded by saying: “I have been attending our Provincial Grand Lodge for the past 32 years and in all that time I have hardly missed a meeting. Like anything else you attend for a long time you get to recognise familiar faces and after a while you come to know them. You don’t necessarily have to speak; you just know they are there. Slowly but surely you build up an unspoken friendship, simply because they have become part of the fabric of your Provincial life. They are what you expect to see and quite honestly, you don’t ever want that to change.” He continued: ”I discussed this some time ago with our PrGM when we were coming back from London on the train and I was thinking about what I was going to say. We both agreed that when Jack takes your hand at the end of the meeting and escorts you to your place in the procession, the warmth of the hand and the friendly smile assures you that all has been alright on your watch and that you are in good hands and Jack, long may that and you continue.”
Kevin Poynton then read the certificate and Philip presented it to Jack amid considerable applause and a standing ovation.
At the social board, Robert Timmis, the lodge chaplain said grace which was: “We await our meal with hearty cheers to celebrate Jack’s 70 years. Ahead of us lie food and drink for which we offer thanks, and think (and so we should as loyal brothers) of the heartfelt needs of many others!” A fine banquet followed which included aperitifs, goujons of plaice, sirloin of beef with seasonal vegetables, followed by a premier cheese board, with tea and coffee, all served with a generous helping of red and white wine.
Following the meal Robert returned thanks saying: “We offer thanks for eating well – for fun, in place of strife; and fellowship with all our pals, especially Jack Forsyth!”
Jack responded to the toast to his health which was proposed by Mike Williams.
Jack reflected upon his initiation into Freemasonry some 17 years after the lodge was founded. He recalled that in those days some members were friendly whilst one or two others were not, adding that that was how it was in those days. He remembers his proposer and seconder and can also recall many of the founders. The annual fee in those days was three Guineas (£3.15) and the dining fee was three shillings (15 pence) but he informed us that rationing was the order of the day, so it wasn’t that easy. In those days the dining fee included a glass of beer for the lower echelons and a drop of whisky for the higher ranks. He continued by saying that he has found many friends in Freemasonry, particularly after Pamela had passed away. This is when he was very low and extremely lonely because many people of his age were all married bringing up their own families.
Jack said one particular highlight in his life was when his son joined the lodge. He commented that he has many friends in several high places in Freemasonry but his lodge friends are just as important. He thanked everyone who had played a part in the organising of this very special occasion and he would remember it for many years to come. He thanked the hall staff for their work and concluded by saying he had enjoyed the day greatly.
As Jack sat down it was just like a prompt for everyone to stand as a matter of respect for the man, with continued applause lasting for many minutes.
Article written by John Starkey.