Bispham with Norbreck Chapter No 4731 meets in the lower temple of Blackpool Masonic Hall, in the zone that architecturally, is loosely designated the basement area of that great edifice. But the word basement is an elastic one. It can be applied equally to nothing more than a dingy vermin-infested cellar, to acres of wine vaults beneath the massive structure of a stately castle, or to a luxurious abode more pretentiously marketed as an executive apartment. The basement temple of the Masonic hall is none of these, but is an opulent and tranquil haven offering a cosy retreat from the troubles of the outside world; the sort of place in which one can immediately relax.
But relaxation was not uppermost in the minds of the officers and companions of the chapter when they gathered for their installation convocation. Indeed, the basement area was not entirely at ease; it was redolent of the London underground during the rush hour of a Friday evening. Bodies scurried hither and thither checking on final arrangements. Where is the third principal? Where are the jewels of office? Who’s got the charitable donations? Who’s doing what?
The general tension was plausible as the principal guest on the evening was the Second Provincial Grand Principal Paul Renton who was accompanied by Assistant to the Provincial Grand Principals David Randerson, fellow grand officers Stuart Thornber and William Eardley and supported by Chairman of Blackpool Group John Turpin, vice chairman and group Royal Arch contact David Cook and acting Provincial grand officers David Thomas, Ron Strangwick, William Ainsworth and Stephen Holcroft. It was an impressive retinue of dignitaries and enough to give any aspiring Royal Arch companion the heebie-jeebies.
But there was no need for concern. Provincial Deputy Grand Director of Ceremonies David Thomas put the acting officers through their paces and instilled a level of confidence that would ensure success and Paul Renton is a chap who immediately puts one at ease. He is composed, articulate and charming, as well as being highly intelligent (after all, he has gained his doctorate). As a consequence of Paul’s settling manner, a state of calm soon descended on the players.
The chapter was punctual in its opening and the initial proceedings were conducted with discipline and alacrity. Of course, one would expect a well-choreographed display from the chapter; a good many of its members are retired police officers. It was little wonder therefore that Paul, on entering the chapter room, greeted the three principals with a courteous and genial: “Hello, hello, hello.”
Getting down to brass tacks and hastening on the installation ceremony, Ken Buckley acted as installing scribe Nehemiah, Steve Smith as installing third principal and Roland Flitcroft as installing second principal.
The three new principals were installed in a quiet and dignified fashion (a somewhat incongruous style when compared with their activities in the lounge bar after the event). William (Wally) Atcheson was installed as first principal by Vincent Carte, (better known as Vinny to his many friends). Gordon McLean was installed as second principal by Wally and Colin Goodwin installed as third principal by Gordon. Former submariner John Herdman recited the readings throughout, definitely adding decorum to the occasion.
Marvellous examples of Royal Arch ritual followed with the robe addresses being performed by three stalwarts of the chapter. The scarlet robe address to the first principal was superbly delivered by George Holden, as were the purple robe address to the second principal by John Tew and the blue robe address to the third principal by Alan Law.
Alan had been the chapter’s director of ceremonies for 22 years and is a master of the degree’s ritual, and although he retired from the position a few years before, can be relied on to take command again at the drop of a hat; such is his expertise. Indeed, Alan continued with the ceremony by presenting the breast jewel of an immediate past first principal to Vinny, together with an explanation of its significance.
Following the investiture of the chapter officers, these stalwarts of the chapter gave additional examples of ritual at its best with Ken Buckley providing a masterclass in his address to the three principals and John Tew maintaining the standard with a fine recital of the address to the officers of the chapter. Their perfect performances presented Paul Renton with a daunting challenge when he was escorted to the south-east of the chapter to deliver the address to the companions. But Paul is unrivalled in his delivery. He made it look simple and spontaneous, a capacity that only the best ritualists can achieve.
Concern rumbled round the chapter when there was no announcement that the installation ceremony had concluded. Vinny, in his eagerness to sample the delights of the bar and the festive banquet went straight into presenting charitable disbursements to Paul. He had totally over-looked the fact that the end of the installation had not been declared. But Paul, as cool as a halibut on ice, stepped into the breach with gentle words of: “You finally got there.” Vinny could do no more than acknowledge that it was a fair cop
One could appreciate Vinny’s eagerness to present the cheques however. The generosity of the chapter deserved recognition; recognition that Paul was only too pleased to bestow. A small chapter that can raise £700 for charitable causes is an admirable achievement. £500 was donated to the West Lancashire Freemasons’ Charity, £100 to Hint of Pink, (in aid of breast cancer) and £100 to the Blackpool, Fylde and Wyre Haemochromatosis Support Group. Pronunciation of the latter was bound to challenge Paul and despite some tutoring prior to the convocation, he elected to leave the challenge to Steve Smith who is a volunteer for the group.
The ceremony having finally been officially concluded, Paul conveyed greetings from the Grand Superintendent Tony Harrison saying that had Tony been present he would have congratulated all on a fine ceremony and added that the three newly installed principals would no doubt be a great example to the companions.
Paul went on to thank the acting Provincial grand officers for their support and wished all the companions a healthy, successful and happy year. His observations were that the companions obviously enjoyed their Royal Arch Masonry and that, in itself, is a tremendous message to circulate amongst brethren
The message that the companions enjoy themselves could not have been more convincingly conveyed than by the banter and genial camaraderie that ensued at the festive banquet that followed. There may have been a few nerves prior to the meeting but relaxation came easily at the end of the day. Fittingly for a chapter with a core of retired police officers, the day had been arresting and trouble-free; just what the doctor ordered!