Several of the lodges within the Warrington Group have participated in celebrations of their own in the approach to the tercentenary date of 24 June 2017. These have included such events as the drama of the timeline from 1717 to present day, explaining the process and history of the formation and development of the first grand lodge of England, presentations of the John Tunnah manuscript and a demonstration of a second degree ceremony from the 1700’s, just to name a few.
The general overall feeling was one of wishing to do something special to mark the 300 years of the formation of the United Grand Lodge of England. Ken Garner, a member of the Warrington Lodge of Concord No 1250, decided to create a clock for the Warrington Group, to mark the tercentenary. The design incorporating the goose and gridiron and the coat of arms of grand lodge carrying the date 24 June 1717 was all handcrafted by Ken. The group chairman, Andy Barton, was both surprised and delighted to receive the clock on behalf of the Warrington Freemasons. It has now been mounted in pride of place at the top of the stairwell of the Masonic Hall as a reminder of this landmark in the history of Freemasonry.
Similarly a banner was made which was presented at the start of the festivities by Caroline Crook to Vic Charlesworth, museum curator and event organiser (a full description and background of the banner can be found on the Warrington Museum of Freemasonry website).
This culmination for the group’s festivities and major celebration was a very special banquet held at Warrington Masonic Hall. Many Civil and Masonic dignitaries were in attendance including the Mayor and Mayoress of Warrington, Councillor Les and Mrs Gwen Morgan, the Deputy Provincial Grand Master Philip Gunning and his wife Ann, the Assistant Provincial Grand Master Kevin Poynton and his wife Sue, Assistant to the Provincial Grand Principles Barry Jameson and the Group Chairman Andy Barton along with his wife Kath.
On arrival at the hall a welcoming sparkling wine with canapes reception was available. Before the banquet started everyone was invited to meet in the large lodge room where all Masons were in full dress regalia with blue, white and gold braid which when coupled with the vibrant textiles used in the banners produced a bright and colourful introduction to the evening. Dennis Rudd Passed Assistant Provincial Grand Master and Director of Ceremonies for the evening introduced Philip Gunning, who gave a warm welcome to the exhibition of many Masonic banners which were on display. He provided a short account of the history of Freemasonry and grand lodge. Many of the ladies present were very interested in the textiles and the amount of very fine needlecraft being so amply displayed on the banners.
Upon returning to the dining and bar areas Dennis announced that the banquet was about to be served.
Andy Barton welcomed everyone to the nine course banquet and Lee Marsh said grace.
The culinary extravaganza began with hot centred Scotch egg with homemade piccalilli. This course dates back to 1738 and was available from Fortnum and Mason, as it was considered to be a traveller’s snack because it was easy to transport. Piccalilli is an interpretation of an Indian relish. Mrs Raffald was first noted for piccalilli in 1772 using English garden vegetables, mustard seeds and turmeric.
Course number two was fresh asparagus soup. The locally sourced asparagus dates it’s origin from the 1800’s.
Course number three was a smoked salmon parcel filled with dill, cream cheese and garnished with caviar pearls. Smoked salmon was brought in from the Baltic by eastern European immigrants, who soon discovered salmon with a far superior flavour was readily available in Scotland and so it became a gourmet food. Dill originated in southern Russia.
The fourth course was orange sorbet to clean the palate.
Course number five was Gressingham duck with plum sauce, which is a unique breed of duck as it is a combination of a wild mallard and a larger Peking duck which were first bred in Gressingham, Lancashire in 1980. The use of plums in the making of sauce for meat dishes dates to about 1837.
The sixth course was thunder and lightning dessert, which was a mini treacle scone with clotted cream and treacle. The tradition of treacle may be due to an act of parliament being passed in 1733 which put high tariffs on rum and molasses from Jamaica. This probably resulted in wreckers and smugglers on Cornish coasts deliberately decoying ships to plunder both rum and molasses. Examples of this can be found in Daphne Du Maurier’s novel ‘Jamaica Inn’.
The seventh course was lemon posset with fresh English strawberries and red rose petal shortbread. A posset was a restorative drink made to encourage a healthy working immune system, served with the quintessential British strawberries and red rose petals in the shortbread which enhanced the flavour of the strawberries and paid homage to the ‘Duke of Lancaster’.
The eighth course consisted of a selection of cheese and biscuits and the final course was tea or coffee with petit fours. A truly fine dining banquet with a focus on dishes over many years was much appreciated by all.
Lee Marsh returned thanks and Andy proposed the Loyal Toast.
Philip Gunning proposed the toast to the tercentenary and started by saying how delighted he was to be in this glittering assembly and proposing this toast on the occasion of celebrating 300 years of Freemasonry.
He explained that to this very day there is still speculation as to Masonry’s precise origins; however, the general consensus amongst Masonic scholars is that it descends in some way from the operative stone masons who built the great cathedrals and castles of the middle ages. They, themselves, would go from place to place and receive wages according to their level of craftsmanship and experience. It was therefore important that there would have to be terms of recognition that could determine a man’s level of competence and experience.
So it was that signs, tokens and words were devised to identify the skill and experience of the craftsmen and yes, imposters were quickly found out and dealt with most severely. From that it is accepted that speculative masonry, rather than operative masonry, was formed and as a centrepiece on which its origins could be based, they chose a building that had been known throughout the ages – King Solomon’s Temple.
The first ‘recorded’ initiate was Alias Ashmole, who, as most of you will know, was initiated in Warrington, in 1646. Ashmole went on to do great things and his life and work are celebrated with the Ashmolean Museum at Oxford. As far as English Freemasonry is concerned it was formalised some seventy years later in 1717, when four lodges met in the Goose and Gridiron Pub in the churchyard of St Paul’s in London and formed themselves into one Grand Lodge. The rest, as they say, is history.
Freemasonry became increasingly popular when, in 1727, HRH Frederick Lewis, Prince of Wales, was initiated. Thereafter, came a succession of Royal princes, who went onto become Grand Masters and succeeded to the throne. Among those were George the Fourth, Edward the Seventh, Edward the Eighth and George the Sixth.
Today, English Freemasonry still enjoys Royal patronage. HRH Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, is still a subscribing member of Navy Lodge. HRH Duke of Kent was initiated into Freemasonry in 1965 and will, this year; celebrate 50 years as our Grand Master. His brother, Prince Michael, has also given long service and is Grand Master of the Degree of Mark Master Masons as well as being the PGM of Middlesex. Up until her death in 2002 one of Masonry’s greatest supporters was Queen Elizabeth, The Queen Mother. Each year she would send a telegram conveying her best wishes to the new master of Navy Lodge, the Lodge of her late husband, George the Sixth.
Over the last three centuries, Freemasonry has been at the forefront of charitable giving. Until the 1980’s any large donations we made were done anonymously. Now, in these more enlightened times, we are not and neither should we be, reticent to tell everyone about the good we do. In the past thirty years Grand Charity has donated in excess of £120,000,000 to assist in relief at times of disaster, be they natural, man-made or humanitarian crisis. Some well-known examples are the replacement of the Penlee Life Boat, at Mousehole, at a cost of £250,000 after the Solomon Brown had been lost, with all hands, attempting to rescue the crew of the Union Star. To put that into perspective, the cost of today’s replacement would be £2,100,000. Then there was £200,000 sent to New York following the 2001 attack on the twin Towers. This was followed in 2006 by £1,200,000 sent to South East Asia following the Boxing Day Tsunami. There has been a succession of donations of up to £500,000 pounds sent to the Caribbean Islands following the devastating hurricanes experienced in that part of the world. Similarly, the earthquakes in Turkey, New Zealand and other parts of the world have also attracted huge sums of money. Recently we were informed that the MCF had sent £100,000 to East Africa to aid in the humanitarian crisis that is happening among the starving populations on the Horn of Africa.
Philip continued by saying ‘In this country we have sent huge sums of money to Avon and Somerset, Cumbria, Yorkshire and East Lancashire to assist in relief following the devastating floods and only last week, Sir David Trippier Provincial Grand Master of our sister Province of East Lancashire handed over a cheque for £186,000 to the Appeal following the Manchester Arena atrocity’.
‘Locally, in West Lancashire we donate £500,000 a year to non-masonic causes, mainly small self-help groups, with an overwhelming emphasis on those connected with children and youth organisations and Ladies Gentlemen and Brethren, long may that continue’.
In conclusion Philip said ‘In proposing this toast I would like to think that you all appreciate and encourage the value of Freemasonry and what it has meant to so many people in the past and what it will hopefully mean to so many in the future. Those values that were established 300 years ago, honesty, truth, integrity and kindness are just as relevant today as they were all those years past and I would urge your continued support and practice of them. We, as an organisation, are changing to meet the modern demands of society and embrace the challenges that lie ahead and no matter what part each of us play we should all gain inspiration from being involved in the process’.
‘Like Hiram Abif, at the building of King Solomon’s Temple all those centuries ago, in 1717 our early brethren figuratively laid the foundation stone of a building that successive generations of Masons could build upon. It is a building that has withstood the wreck of empires, the destroying hand of time and the British national press. We, the brethren of today, are the stones that continue to build upon that foundation and the good works we do add strength to the entire structure. Just like us, future generations of Freemasons will inherit this building and the wonderful and timeless legacy that goes with it and may God bless us all in our work.
Mr Mayor, Ladies, Gentlemen and Brethren, I propose the Toast, The Tercentenary of Masonry’.
Following on from the toast Andy thanked Philip and said it gave him great pleasure to present a cheque to the value of £1,500 to go to the 2021 festival on behalf of the Warrington Group. Philip thanked Andy and the Group for their generous donation.
Throughout the evening Brian Wilson expertly played a varied selection of background music. He featured music from the early 18th century up to the present day covering the 300 years of the existence of Grand Lodge. After the banquet Brian gave a brilliant but short performance taking the audience on a musical journey of the period highlighting many Masonic connections throughout.
Chris Gleave, Vice Chairman brought the evening to a close by expressing what a wonderful evening it had been and would bring back many memories in the future years and he hoped everyone had enjoyed it as much as he had.
Chris continued by thanking Councillor Les and Mrs Gwen Morgan, Philip Gunning and his wife Ann, the Assistant Provincial Grand Master Kevin Poynton and his wife Sue, Assistant to the Provincial Grand Principles Barry Jameson and the Group Chairman Andy Barton along with his wife Kath for their attendance.
Special thanks went to Vic Charlesworth and his team for their hard work in the organisation of the evening, the hall staff for providing and serving an excellent banquet, Lee Marsh for acting as chaplain, Dennis Rudd for acting as DC and Jack Forsyth for just being there. He concluded by thanking everyone for their participation and hoped they all had a safe journey home.
Story and pictures by John Starkey.