The air was full of quiet confidence in the lounge bar at the Masonic Hall in Blackpool where the brethren of Clifton Lodge No 703 had assembled for their installation meeting. Each was occupying themselves in their various ways.
One may as well run through the roster just to keep the record straight. The master of the lodge James Harper, or Jim to those who are on more familiar terms with him, was discussing minor final arrangements with Roger Fish, the director of ceremonies. Stuart Williams, the master elect, was receiving encouraging chitchat from grand officer Ian Robertson and lodge secretary Chris Walpole was sharing a tale with Assistant Provincial Grand Master Harry Cox, the principal guest of the day. Mike Thompson of Ashlar Lodge No 5154, who is a regular visitor to the lodge and who would be playing a crucial role in the ceremony later on was chatting to Joe Codling of Blackpool Lodge of Integrity No 5864 who would also be playing an important role as installing inner guard, whilst Martyn Jones of Blackpool Temperance Lodge No 5303 (who was to be the installing senior warden during the ceremony) was at the rear of the building checking security.
All seemed well and there was a distinct promise of a good evening ahead. Master of the lodge Jim Harper is a genial and affable rotund Caledonian import to the lodge; cheery and dedicated to his role. He is also the lodge’s mentor and so, the opportunity of installing one of his prodigies into the chair of King Solomon had been a role he had been cherishing. But, in the cold light of day and by the time the allotted time had arrived, a good deal of the gay enthusiasm with which he had embarked on this enterprise had ebbed away from him. After all, a challenge is all very well but you don’t need it at 3:30pm on a Thursday afternoon on an empty stomach. Indeed, Jim would have gone for a bite to eat had he not been under the necessity of installing Stuart. There was no question about it, the lodge members, and Stuart in particular, depended on him.
Stimulated by this reflection, Jim threw himself into his part with grit and determination. It was a daunting prospect and Jim needed all his skills of concentration and Caledonian spirit to produce the goods. He did it delightfully with sincerity and charm, although his Scottish accent successfully masked any possible errors in the text. Encouragingly guided by director of ceremonies Roger Fish and assistant director of ceremonies Jack Monks, Jim produced an alluring ceremony that was highly appreciated by the gathered throng.
Harry Cox, Assistant Provincial Grand Master, obviously enjoyed the occasion, as did the other dignitaries who were present. Mind you, many of them were delegated to perform in the ceremony. Grand officer Ian Robertson, (a member of Clifton Lodge), was charged with the post of inner guard whilst fellow grand officer Robert Graham was positioned as installing junior warden. Provincial Grand Steward Allan Howie earned his keep by delivering the address to the stewards of the lodge. Clifton Lodge believes in keeping its visitors engaged!
There were nevertheless dignitaries who were present purely for enjoyment. Blackpool Group Chairman John Turpin, his vice chairman David Cook and group secretary Steve Jelly simply relaxed and soaked up the show. And there was plenty of quality in the show to soak up.
The master elect Stuart Williams very soon demonstrated his skills with an authoritative, clear and confident obligation as master elect. It was impressive and indicative of things to come. Recitals of the working tools of each degree were additional masterpieces. Roger Fish, a stalwart of the lodge was first to go with a superb rendition of the working tools of an installed master, followed by three magnificent displays by Graham Hoadley, Nathan Peacock and Mark Middleton who performed the third, second and first degree working tools respectively. They were each a triumph for the lodge.
Investiture of the officers of the lodge brought additional noteworthy performances. Chris Walpole nailed the address to the immediate past master; a complex and uncommonly heard piece relating the 47th Problem of Euclid. Despite its complexity, Chris performed it with relaxed ease and preciseness. As the new junior warden of the lodge was not present (unfortunately he was at home recovering from a recent illness), Robert Graham was relieved of any need to give an address. Not so for Martyn Jones however who addressed the newly invested senior warden. Bill Snell addressed the deacons in fine style and visiting brethren Joe Codling and Allan Howie gave faultless recitals to the inner guard and stewards respectively.
Following investiture of the officers, the standard of excellence continued with Mike Thompson’s passionate address to the newly installed master; Michael Wilkinson’s inspired address to the senior warden and Harry Cox’s dazzling address to the brethren of the lodge. Harry has a remarkable ability to make the piece sound as if it had been penned specially for the lodge of that day, despite having performed it to countless lodges over the years. There is a sincerity, individuality and warmth about his delivery that gives it a unique personal touch.
On completion of Harry’s address, Jim Harper appeared to discover new buoyancy in the manner that he announced that that concluded the ceremony of installation. He had gently removed a bead of perspiration from his brow and noticeably felt liberated. He returned to his jovial, care-free self; a factor that Harry instantly remarked on when he rose to convey greetings from the Provincial Grand Master.
Stuart, on his part from the new position of master of the lodge, seized the opportunity to present charitable disbursements to Harry with gusto. It was little wonder that Stuart was so enthusiastic and passionate. A total of £2,415 is a generous amount from a small lodge. £500 was awarded to the West Lancashire Freemasons’ Charity; £500 to the Blackpool Masonic Hall Building Fund; £400 to Disability First, a local charity helping adults with learning difficulties; £100 to Blackpool Polar Bears, a swimming charity that helps young people with disabilities and learning difficulties and £915 that had been donated to the Alison Hayden Fund, a seriously ill young girl who sadly passed away only a couple of weeks before the installation day. It was a poignant moment and underlined the importance of Freemasonry’s charitable ethos.
Charged with verve and zeal, Stuart conducted the remainder of the meeting with poise and assurance, a sure indication that Clifton Lodge will go from strength to strength during his tenure. He had been installed into the chair of King Solomon in fine style and showed every indication that he will continue to maintain the high standard.
Having brought the formal proceedings to a close, the throng beetled off to the festive board, getting themselves on the outside of a generous and sumptuous dinner of spicy tomato soup, roast beef and Yorkshire pudding and apple crumble with custard before embarking on the customary round of toasts and speeches.
Understandably, Harry’s response to the toast to the grand officers centred on the upcoming events of 2017. The first topic was the tercentenary of the formation of the Premier Grand Lodge and some of the events planned by the Province as part of the celebrations. Services have been organised for 26 February 2017 at St Albans Church, Warrington and 5 March at Lancaster Priory. Additionally, a celebratory dinner is planned for 25 November at the Hilton Hotel, Blackpool. Local lodges are planning further events and brethren are urged to attend the functions. 2017 will also see the launch of the Masonic Charitable Foundation 2021 Festival and Harry was pleased to see that Clifton Lodge had already adopted the white Gift Aid envelopes in support of the festival.
Before closing and conveying Xmas greetings to all present, Harry asked his audience to support the Provincial Grand Master by attending Provincial Grand Lodge in May. The Provincial Grand Master Tony Harrison has visited countless lodges during the year and as Harry said: “It would be nice for all to attend his lodge in response.”
It was then Jim Harper’s opportunity to speak in proposing the toast to the new master. By this time Jim was his old self; full of beans and fun! In a highly entertaining speech he revealed many secrets about Stuart that Stuart would probably have preferred to remain untold. Nevertheless, he joined in the laughter as heartily as the rest of the throng. Continuing in a lighter vein, Harry Waggett, accompanied on the piano by George Holden, performed a sincere rendition of the master’s song.
Stuart’s installation can be summed up in a few select words. Brilliant, thoroughly enjoyable and sincere! Jim handed over the reins to Stuart in memorable fashion and in accepting the role, Stuart has shown that he will be a credit to Clifton Lodge.