The installation of any brother into the chair of King Solomon is always a special event but when that brother is an officer of the United Grand Lodge of England it makes it a particularly alluring occasion. What’s more, the grand officer who was installed into the chair of Great Marton Lodge No 3985 at the Masonic hall in Blackpool is no ordinary grand officer, if such a designation is possible, for Geoffrey Pritchard is one of the most respected and admired Freemasons on the Fylde coast. Other grand officers turned out in force in support of their distinguished colleague and the vibrancy of such an abundance of gold braid in the lodge room radiated a warmth that, no doubt, made installing master David Nicholson somewhat hot under the collar but, in this crisis, he comported himself with masterly skill.
Principal guest on the evening was Assistant Provincial Grand Master Harry Cox who was accompanied by a retinue of distinguished grand and Provincial grand officers that included such noted Masons as Terry Hudson, Past Assistant Provincial Grand Master; Peter Bentham, chairman of the Blackpool group of lodges and chapters; Peter Elmore, Second Provincial Grand Principal in Royal Arch Masonry; Duncan Smith, chairman of the North Fylde group of lodges; Giles Berkley, Eric Picton, Jim Woods, Peter Greathead, Mike Goodwin, William Eardley, Keith Jackson and many more. In addition, acting Provincial officers Martyn Jones, John Gledhill, Gordon Ivett, and Chris Walpole complemented the entourage. Warmly welcoming Harry into the lodge and in offering him the gavel of office, David made a determined effort to persuade Harry to accept it and conduct the installation ceremony, a responsibility from which Harry nimbly body-swerved with the finesse of an international scrum half, and David was well and truly stymied and found the gavel firmly cemented into his hand for the duration of the ritual. And as Harry had so keenly observed, it was to be in very safe hands for David performed his allotted task with consummate poise and precision.
Emulating the exemplary performance by David, the rest of the team executed their roles with similar proficiency in a genial and comradely mood, making the evening one to relish and remember. The presence of so many eminent grand officers could have been quite daunting to many of the brethren and nerves could have become well and truly frayed. But, if anxieties were felt, they were convincingly veiled with each member giving an inspirational display.
First in to bat was Sheldon Rawstrone who presented Geoffrey to David. A long-time friend of Geoffrey’s, Sheldon set the mood with a sincere and dignified presentation and it was obvious that this was to be a ceremony of distinction.
It was also apparent that Masons of all ranks wished to be involved in the evening’s proceedings to honour the lodge’s new master. Junior brethren Chris Pye and Billy Grace recited the third and first degree working tools respectively, both in impeccable style and high-ranking Provincial officer Marcus Hill worked with the younger brethren in delivering the second degree working tools, again in an exemplary fashion.
Sheldon once again demonstrated his brilliance in his address to the WM and even grand officers couldn’t resist an opportunity to honour their colleague with Past Assistant Provincial Grand Master Terry Hudson reciting the address to the wardens; as always punctilious in his demeanour and delivery.
The whole installation ceremony had been a masterpiece but the shining star of the evening was undoubtedly Geoffrey himself. It had been 35 years since he had previously occupied a master’s chair and that was in his mother lodge, Temperance Lodge No 5303.
Throughout the evening Geoffrey had visibly absorbed the ambience of the occasion and, as is his way, his face beamed with pleasure and admiration. He soaked up every morsel with total relish.
His charismatic personality came to the forefront at the festive board that followed the formalities of the evening. After Harry Waggett had performed a sincere rendition of the master’s song and the brethren had toasted the WM, Geoffrey responded. Moulding his audience in the palm of his hand, he entertained the throng with quip after quip, many of the grand officers present being the subjects of his hilarious tales. Even Harry Cox who is generally the bill-topper on such occasions had to concede outright defeat. Yet, in his response to the toast to grand officers prior to Geoffrey’s prize-winning act, Harry had alluded to the element that had made this installation so special.
Harry had remarked that the Provincial Grand Master Tony Harrison consistently emphasises that Masonry is fun and that, had he been able to attend the installation ceremony at Great Marton lodge, he would have witnessed a superb illustration of just how much enjoyment can be found in Freemasonry. Great Marton lodge had had a grand evening, in more ways than one.