Defying warnings of icy winds and snow across much of northern England, the brethren and guests of Progress Lodge No 4120 gathered at the Masonic hall in Blackpool for the lodge’s installation meeting and generated such warmth and fun that the flavour of the evening was akin to a tropical carnival. Whilst the warmth of the welcome was instantly felt on arrival, the fun element gradually evolved over the course of the evening, from a respectful and appreciative enjoyment of superbly performed rituals in which excellence descended on all those who participated, to light-hearted friendly banter and culminating in sheer hilarity at the festive board that followed the ceremony.
Revelling in the standard of performance and the ambience of the evening was principal guest John Christopher Hutton, Assistant Provincial Grand Master and accompanying dignitaries including Peter Bentham, chairman of the Blackpool group of lodges, John Turpin, group vice chairman, David Cook, group secretary, and acting Provincial officers Martyn Jones and Matthew Hopwood, all who were equally impressed by the quality of rituals.
But the excellence of such an evening cannot be achieved without hard work, a point that John was quick to recognise and allude to when he conveyed the best wishes of the Provincial Grand Master Tony Harrison to the newly installed master of the lodge James (Jim) Barnes, a jovial and larger than life personality that admirably compliments his corpulent frame. Jim is no stranger to the chair of King Solomon, having occupied the elevated position of master of a lodge on three previous occasions, although this is his first term of office in Progress lodge. He is also group membership officer for the North Fylde group of lodges and is a well-known character across the Fylde. With the appearance of one who has been straining at the leash and has at last managed to break free, canny Scotsman Gordon Mclean enthusiastically got the installation ceremony underway by inviting Damon Tait to occupy the senior warden’s chair; Mick Thistlethwaite to act as junior warden and Jim Barnes’ son Chris to hold the post of inner guard.
The lodge’s director of ceremonies Andy Walch who had worked the brethren so hard as to iron out any minor flaws to achieve a perfect preparedness and avoid any chance of last minute stymies had the honour of presenting master elect Jim to installing master Gordon. From that moment on, all the brethren’s talents were in opulence. Gordon was sublime throughout and once Jim was duly installed into the chair Bob Hopwood presented the working tools of an installed master with panache and reverence. Then, as the other brethren returned and were marshalled by Andy Walch, Adam Riley, Dan Whalley and Marin Sirbu in turn explained the working tools of each degree in superb fashion. Of particular note was Marin’s performance in presenting the first degree tools as he had been asked at short notice to cover for a fellow brother who had unavoidably been prevented from attending.
It was once again Andy Walch’s turn to shine. Preserving his aplomb, he gave the address to the new master with skill and fortitude, setting a standard that was admirably equalled by Phil Dytham in his address to the wardens, Alistair Still in his to the immediate past master, and, as might be expected, in John Hutton’s address to the brethren of the lodge.
Adding immensely to the jovial atmosphere throughout the proceedings, Provincial organist and honorary member of the lodge Roy James amused the gathering with his selection of appropriate melodies that reflected the occupation, personality or role in the lodge of brethren who were being invested in their respective offices. And so the formal ceremony drew to a conclusion and John was eager to congratulate all who had contributed to its success, proclaiming that they had been superb. He was particularly complimentary of Gordon as installing master and the three brethren who had presented the working tools saying that it was obvious that everyone had worked extremely hard to achieve such a high standard.
Responding to the praise, Jim thanked John and was delighted to present donations to charitable causes amounting to over £2,500 which included £750 to the Trinity Hospice, £750 to the West Lancashire Freemasons’ Charity, £1,000 to the Blackpool Masonic hall building fund, and a number of smaller sums to local charities. John was noticeably pleased at learning that the lodge had supported the Masonic hall’s fund, a cause that he has consistently pleaded. On receiving the cheques, he read out the total sum of donations, looked at the WM and raised his eyebrows in delight. The WM looked at the brethren and raised his eyebrows. The brethren look at each other and raised their eyebrows. It was a major eyebrow-raising evening.
On retiring from the lodge room, the brethren headed for the dining suite where they feasted on a sumptuous three-course meal with lashings of humour and jocularity. Here they deservedly let their hair down after all the hard work that they had put into the ceremony. It was certainly a proud day for the lodge and its new master, a sentiment that was prevalent during and after the master’s song robustly performed by John Darrell with accompaniment by Roy James. Hard work most definitely reaps its rewards.