It was at about three o’clock in the afternoon when Sheldon Rawstrone turned into the doorway of the Masonic Hall in Blackpool. His emotions, as he did so, differed a good deal from those of an ordinary Mason attending an ordinary lodge meeting. Sheldon was sunny to a degree and his sunniness would linger for the rest of the day. Little wonder that life looked rosy to Sheldon Rawstrone and that he was suffused with an optimistic glow. It was the day in which he would be installed into the chair of King Solomon in Blackpool Temperance Lodge No 5303 and, to boot, during his 50th year in Freemasonry.
Little wonder too that he felt so uplifted because he knew that David Edwards would be performing the installation ceremony and there are very few Masons who could do a better job than David when it comes to ceremonies. David is a ritualist of the first order (It is Blackpool Temperance Lodge’s pride that its officers are well trained). Fundamental to that training, of course, is the lodge’s director of ceremonies Martin Linton. So often, prior to the start of a ceremony, brethren shake and perspire with concern. But when a tactician like Martin is in charge of the arrangements, to be concerned seems so unnecessary; simply a waste of time. It is bound to prove a smooth bit of work with Martin at the helm.
Enjoying the brilliance of the ceremony to the full was Provincial Senior Grand Warden John Lee, principal guest and representative of the Provincial Grand Master Tony Harrison. The lodge could not have selected a more appropriate principal guest. John has been a strong supporter of Blackpool Temperance Lodge for many years and is a close personal friend of many of its members, including installing master David Edwards. His delight at being in attendance was clearly evident from the moment of his arrival.
Supporting John on the occasion were Past Assistant Provincial Grand Master Terry Hudson, Assistant Provincial Grand Master Norman Cope (Province of East Lancashire), and grand officers Jim Woods, Geoffrey Pritchard and David Thomas. Blackpool Group Chairman John Turpin, his vice chairman David Cook, group secretary Steve Jelly, and acting Provincial officers Brian Snape, Stuart Gay and Anthony Rigby were also in attendance.
From the opening of the lodge to retiring to the festive banquet, the proceedings ran like clockwork. David was magnificent as the installing master. One might suppose that, in the company of so many prominent Masons, there would be a fair share of errors in performing the ceremony. Such was not the case. There was no tottering in David’s performance. It was as correct as if he had been practising it since childhood. He cleared his throat and, determined to leave his mark on the proceedings, called upon every ounce of his splendid Edwards expertise to deliver a masterpiece of ritual. Putting it in a nutshell, it was a corker.
But, no doubt, in the back of David’s mind was consciousness that Sheldon is worthy of perfection. This was the third occasion that Sheldon was occupying the chair of King Solomon in Blackpool Temperance Lodge, having previously served as master in 1982 and 1983. Sheldon holds the Provincial rank of Past Junior Grand Warden and, during his 50 years in Freemasonry has gained the respect and admiration of a vast number of his colleagues, a fact borne out by the full house in attendance at his installation. Always cheery; always the perfect gentleman and always the finest example of Freemasonry at its best, Sheldon epitomises the craft. Calm, unruffled and correct in everything he does, Sheldon is someone who takes things in his stride. His motto is nil admirari.
But even Sheldon was taken aback when, at the end of the ceremony and at the third rising, master of Blackpool Tranquillity Lodge No 6544 Mel Wainwright, responding on behalf of the visiting brethren, announced that his lodge was inviting Sheldon to become an honorary member of Tranquillity Lodge. You could have knocked Sheldon over with a feather! But that gesture was a measure of the respect and admiration that his fellow Masons feel for Sheldon. It went to confirm that Sheldon is truly a master amongst masters.
All who performed in the ceremony were charged with the same determination to produce brilliance. Installing senior warden Stanley Wilson and installing junior warden Mike Smith brought with them family ties (being related to Sheldon) that added to the occasion, as well as masterly performances. Master of Mereside Lodge No 6360 Tony Hind, who had just received notification of a promotion to Past Provincial Grand Superintendent of Works, added further quality to the proceedings as installing inner guard. Director of ceremonies of Fraternal Lodge No 4531 Martin Haines, renowned for his ritualistic skills, stepped in at short notice to present the working tools of a master Mason in magnificent style. Martyn Jones presented the working tools of a fellow craft, more akin, some were heard to remark, in the manner of a Shakespearean soliloquy while Michael Johnston provided a perfect rendition of those of an entered apprentice.
The quality continued in all the addresses customary at an installation. Marcus Hill MBE, due to become the master of Great Marton Lodge No 3985 and who will also be celebrating 50 years in Freemasonry later in the year, produced a splendid, sincere and moving address to the newly installed master. Umesh Dholokia proved his expertise with word perfect addresses to the immediate past master (a highly complex piece of ritual explaining the 47th Problem of Euclid) and to the newly invested wardens. Martin Linton reinforced his credentials as director of ceremonies with a faultless explanation of the Hall Stone jewel and secretary of the lodge Ken Jones, relinquishing his post for a few moments, demonstrated his versatility with a perfect address to the deacons. Bringing the formalities to a close in magnificent style was John Lee with his animated recital of the address to the brethren of the lodge. All were to the highest of standards and befitting of a new master of the calibre of Sheldon.
Blackpool Temperance Lodge No 5303 is only a small lodge but its donations to charitable causes were as impressive as the quality of its ritual. A total of £2,500, with £2,000 being given to the West Lancashire Freemasons’ Charity and £500 to Trinity Hospice demonstrated that the lodge’s heart is as strong as the personalities within it. John Lee, on receiving the disbursements, was enthusiastic in his approbation of the lodge members saying, “It is a remarkable amount for such a small lodge to raise.”
The festive banquet that followed the ceremony was equally splendid. Organised to perfection by secretary Ken Jones, a sumptuous fare, and warmth of camaraderie produced a memorable event. The balance between formal and informal, combining seriousness in speeches with jocularity of banter, made for a thoroughly enjoyable evening.
John Lee in his response to the toast to Provincial officers covered a number of significant messages that the Provincial Grand Master wished to be relayed to the brethren, ranging from the year’s tercentenary celebrations; recruitment, retention and retrieval of members; the recently introduced care structure; the Provincial Grand Lodge meeting on 10 May at the Winter Gardens; the Grand Ball at the Macron Stadium; the Masonic Charitable Foundation 2021 Festival, and the importance of visiting other lodges were just some of the topics covered. John is a natural and relaxed orator and throughout his address, not a single err, umm or ah was uttered. It was fluent, clear and energetic.
But there was no question that the evening belonged to none other than Sheldon. The enthusiastic and genuine manner in which Harry Waggett performed the master’s song, accompanied by George Holden at the piano, and the sincerity and warmth of the toast to Sheldon was confirmation of the high regard with which he is held by his fellow Masons. Sheldon Rawstrone is truly a master amongst masters.