If William Cowper was correct in his hypothesis that variety is the spice of life, Blackpool Chapter No 1476 must surely be an Ethiopian Sik Sik Wat banquet of Royal Arch Masonry. Its membership has been drawn from a wide spectrum of craft lodges and displays a diverse range of personalities. There are masters of ritual. There are those who are less proficient. There are dedicated officers. There are less ambitious companions. There are companions of long-standing. There are some who are relative rookies. The membership is representative of all walks of life, both young and not so young. But they all share one commonality – they enjoy their Royal Arch Masonry.
Enjoying the company of the chapter at its installation convocation was Third Provincial Grand Principal Ian Higham, accompanied by grand officers Terry Hudson, Stuart Thornber and Geoffrey Pritchard, supported by noteworthy Provincial officers like Blackpool group chairman John Turpin and his vice chairman David Cook and further lustre added by the presence of acting Provincial officers Neil MacSymmons, Ron Strangwick, William Ainsworth, Martin Linton and Gordon Ivett.
The chapter had gathered and its several parts were assembled in their right places, impeccably dressed and looking fit to go to a garden party at Buckingham Palace. As may be expected of a chapter with such diversity, the ceremony was not without its incidences. There was humour. There was drama. But above all, there was sincerity.
Opening the chapter was larger-than-life first principal Stan Hill who discharged the general business in his own inimitable relaxed air of easy cordiality, under the patient and ever vigilant guidance of director of ceremonies Ray Lamb. It was then on to the installation ceremony proper in which Stan installed Terry Barlow into the chair of first principal, Terry installed William Snell into the chair of second principal and William, in turn, installed Ronald Longley into the third principal’s chair.
Now, despite Stan’s relaxed and cheery manner, he is not a master ritualist. Accomplished ritualists do not grow on every tree and Stan would probably describe himself as fallen fruit. The thought of his looming peril at installing Terry was one at which he shuddered. Nevertheless, and against all odds, he achieved his goal with decorum and sincerity.
When considering the art of ritual, Terry on the other hand is one who is devoted to good form. He is a precise sort of chap who, when charged with a task, will throw his whole weight behind it to ensure a first class outcome. You know the sort, reliable and dependable to the hilt. But the best laid plans of mice and men don’t always produce the desired results. Fate deals a cruel hand on occasions.
William Snell threw himself into the role of second principal – literally! While being installed and during the process of kneeling, William lost his balance and had a very intimate moment with the chapter room carpet. Somewhat shaken by the experience, it was a while before he regained his composure but, in the meantime, he misheard the word ‘smell’ and in repeating Terry’s oration declared, “the obnoxious Snell”. More than anyone, it was William who saw the humour in his error.
It was a shaken William that installed Ronald Longley into the third principal’s chair and, true to form as the trooper that William is, he was not going to allow a fall to divert him from his duties.
Throughout the installation procedures, proper demureness was preserved by delightful scripture readings from Sheldon Rawstrone, Geoffrey Pritchard and Peter Mann. Quality continued when Gordon Ivett, Brian Ogden and William Watt delivered the scarlet, purple and blue robe addresses respectively. All three had prepared themselves well and were alert and bright. So much so that, on delivering the ritual, they performed with exceptional vim and clarity. Ken Jones, another of those wholly reliable members dispensed the address to the immediate past first principal with a great deal of spirit and sincerity.
To many, the addresses to the three principals, the officers of the chapter and that to the companions of the chapter were the highlights of the day. John Cross delivered the address to the three principals. His manner when reciting the piece was easy and confident, as if he were just chatting to a few close friends. His presentation was effortlessly fluid, snappy and forceful; repartee of the highest order. Such naturalness is a delight to watch.
Mel Wainwright is yet another solid rock. Whatever he does he does with the same determination that it must be done to perfection. His address to the officers of the chapter was no exception.
Ending the formal proceedings with the address to the companions of the chapter, Ian Higham’s recital was so scintillating that it held his audience in a species of trance, one combining approbation and respect.
Following customary lines, when the conclusion of the installation had been announced, Ian rose and conveyed greetings of the Grand Superintendent Tony Harrison, wishing the three principals a successful, busy and, above all, an enjoyable year. He was eager to congratulate all those who had taken part in what he described as a most enjoyable ceremony. Responding with warm cordiality, Terry presented Ian with charitable disbursements to the sum of £840, comprising £400 to the West Lancashire Freemasons’ Charity, £300 to DEBRA (Dystrophic Epidermolysis Bullosa Research Association), and £140 to the Blackpool Masonic Hall Building Fund. On receiving them, Ian was lavish in his praise of the generosity of the companions of the chapter.
At the denouement of the formal proceedings, the congregation retired to the festive board in high spirits to enjoy a banquet of camaraderie and cheery banter. The three principals, well and truly planted in their respective roles, were toasted with enthusiasm following Harry Waggett’s rousing rendition of the song to them, accompanied by George Holden at the piano. A measure of the enjoyment shared by the companions was to be seen by their generosity in the raffle, an amazing £238 being raised for charity – a sure indication that Blackpool Chapter enjoys its Royal Arch Masonry.