February is allegedly the most disliked month of the year according to a number of surveys. It is still winter; the festivities of Christmas and New Year have withered and purses have been severely depleted. Freemasonry is a wonderful therapy for suppressing these February blues and this was clearly illustrated when distinguished Masons from the Grand lodges of England, Scotland and Ireland were united in the celebration of Michael Fisher being installed into the chair of King Solomon in Emblem Lodge No 6727 in a delightful and somewhat unusual ceremony at the Masonic Hall, Blackpool.
It was unusual in that the presence of high ranking Masons from all three constitutions at the one ceremony is not a daily occurrence. Leading in the dazzling procession of dignitaries was principal guest Past Assistant Provincial Grand Master Philip Gardner, hotly pursued by Terry Hudson, also a Past Assistant Provincial Grand Master; Peter Bentham, chairman of the Blackpool group of lodges; James Jack, Grand Marshall of the Grand Lodge of Scotland and Immediate Past Provincial Grand Master of Lanarkshire; Geoff Lovegrove, Deputy Chairman of the Metropolitan Board of the Grand Lodge of Ireland (equivalent to a Deputy Provincial Grand Master); Nigel Tyney, Past Senior Grand Warden of the Grand Lodge of Ireland; and grand officers William Eardley and Brian Sandall. Supporting the impressive retinue were acting Provincial officers Martyn Jones and Chris Walpole. Whilst all eyes were firmly fixed on the impressive array of notables, the assembled brethren were visibly delighted to see that the three grand lodges were represented and recognised the uniqueness of the occasion. However, the ceremony was also unusual in that three members of the lodge undertook the role of installing master.
After completing the opening of the lodge and announcement of the forthcoming ceremony, master of the lodge John Jelly invited Chris Cash to supervise the initial formalities of the installation. Having conducted a major portion of the ritual, Chris then ceded the chair to Steve Jelly, son of John, who after a further section of the work returned the honour to Chris. The impeccable quality with which both Chris and Steve conducted the ceremony was a fitting testament to John’s delegatory genius and no doubt significantly influenced the performances of the remainder of the team involved in installing Michael Fisher. Peter Smith, who had been Michael’s seconder when he joined Masonry, presented Michael to the master of the lodge in fine style. Of particular note in the proceedings were the performances of junior brethren Martin Spencer, Nicholas Harrison, and Paul Smith who faultlessly delivered the third, second and first degree working tools respectively, earning the appreciation and plaudits of the throng. A similar standard was maintained throughout the ceremony with fine presentations from all who invested the various officers of the lodge: George Holden’s superb oration of the complexities of the 47th problem of Euclid in his investing of the immediate past master; Steve Jelly’s presentation to the newly invested director of ceremonies Gordon Smith; Warren Plant’s discourse to the stewards; Ian Smith’s address to the WM, and Ernie Gavan’s address to the wardens. All were to be heartily congratulated.
Following this display of excellence, it was Philip Gardner’s turn to address the brethren and he magnanimously feigned a momentary glitch in his delivery in order to further embellish the brethren’s performances and boost their confidence. Whilst even the best may falter on occasions, it is the manner of recovery that reveals the true professional and, in this respect, Philip was spectacular. The brethren were most indebted for the consideration shown them. In rising to convey the best wishes of the Provincial Grand Master Tony Harrison, Philip was full of praise for those brethren who had provided such an entertaining and delightful ceremony, in particular the junior brethren that had delivered the working tools. Smiling and jesting about his own minor anomaly, Philip promised to attend future practice sessions of the lodge. His smiles became even more prominent when presented with donations to charitable causes; a grand total of £6,051 being the magnificent sum. He was particularly pleased to note that £1,500 had been donated to the West Lancashire Freemasons’ Charity and a further £500 to the Blackpool Masonic club building fund.
The formalities of the evening being ended, the brethren retired to enjoy a marvellous banquet; a lively and on occasions, boisterous celebration of a job well done. There was plenty of fun and laughter, an aspect that Philip endorsed in his response to the toast to grand officers. He also commented on the international flavour of the evening and extended heartfelt greetings to the Scottish and Irish brethren. Following a superb rendition of the master’s song by Nicholas Harrison, accompanied by George Holden, newly installed master Michael reiterated Philip’s warm words of welcome to the Scottish and Irish contingent and related the chance encounter that some of the brethren of Emblem lodge had enjoyed while on a fishing trip in Ireland nearly ten years previously. Amazingly, they just happened to float into the company of some Irish Masons, one of whom is presently the Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of Ireland. But that’s another tale of international intrigue to be chronicled in these columns on a future occasion.