Ashlar Lodge No 5154 is a small lodge with a big heart. What it lacks in quantity is more than made up for by enthusiasm and dedication by a team of experienced and proactive members. It is a lodge with character – and its fair share of characters!
The most notable amongst the latter is Chelsea pensioner Carl Hayhurst, the principal protagonist in the installation ceremony that saw William (Bill) Farrington installed into the chair of King Solomon. Carl, as many may describe as a ‘larger-than-life’ character was decked out in his resplendent Chelsea pensioner scarlet tunic for the ceremony. This jovial pensioner’s air was jaunty; his smile bright and there was in his demeanour more than a suggestion of a man who might at any moment break into a tap dance.
The principal guest on the night was Assistant Provincial Grand Master David Grainger, an old friend of Carl’s, who had assembled his own entourage of acting Provincial grand officers in the persons of David Cole, Philip Burrow and Keith Halligan. Supporting David were grand officers William Eardley, (an honorary member of Ashlar Lodge), and Chairman of Blackpool Group John Turpin, while his vice chairman David Cook and group secretary Steve Jelly and other prominent Provincial grand officers swelled the number of dignitaries.
Especially welcome was a contingent of Masons from a number of lodges in Northern Ireland, a party of men who were in fine voice and who proved it later during the festive banquet with a medley of classic Irish songs for the entertainment of the general proletariat.
Following the opening of the lodge and despatching of the conventional business, David Grainger was offered the gavel of the lodge by Carl Hayhurst, but, in an impressive bit of slick sidestepping, after having fleetingly accepted it, David swiftly returned it to Carl.
Reluctantly acknowledging his failure to persuade David to retain the gavel, Carl was now entirely in charge, although he was carefully scrutinised throughout the ceremony by the vastly experienced lodge director of ceremonies Michael Thompson. Carl wasted no time in inviting Juan Topping to occupy the position of installing senior warden, Ray Hargreaves that of installing junior warden and master of Emblem Lodge No 6727 Paul Easton to act as installing inner guard.
The three of them securely posted in their offices, secretary of the lodge Michael Wigham presented Bill Farrington to Carl to commence the installation proceedings. Gently guided by Michael Thompson, Carl performed a quaint and entertaining installation, making sure that Bill Farrington was fairly and squarely placed in the chair of King Solomon.
As Bill had been master of the lodge on a previous occasion, way back in 1989, the ceremony was an abridged version of that which would have been performed for a first-time master. This pruning of the ceremony did not however, decrease the pleasure and delight of the occasion.
Whilst the ceremony was a huge success, it does not mean that it was without its minor glitches. A problem that inevitably faces a small lodge is that of an insufficient number of members to allow the luxury of understudies in the event of absence of a key player. Such a catastrophe arose when one of the members was unavoidably detained at work. He had been scheduled to play a significant role, that of presenting the working tools of a fellow craft Freemason. Time went on and the lodge was ever hopeful that he would arrive in time for his planned recital. But no! He didn’t arrive.
Peter Mann had performed an excellent oration of the third degree tools but there was still a void at the crucial moment of the second degree tools presentation and no member in the wings to step into the part. But, in the true spirit of Masonry and in the fallacious belief, if that’s the right term, that anything is better than nothing, the group publicity officer Martyn Jones temporarily discarded his pen and notebook and rashly volunteered to attempt the aforementioned ritual. The outcome was an off-the-cuff, impromptu and improvised interpretation of the piece that bore some resemblance to the recognised text. The immortal phrase of Eric Morecambe springs to mind: “Most of the words were there but not necessarily in the right order.” Whether or not it was recognisable is open to debate, but to the newly-installed master, it served its purpose.
Things soon got back on track when Gerald Lowe delivered a faultless presentation of the first degree working tools. And from then on, all remaining ritual was to an exceptional standard. Michael Wigham provided a sincere and word-perfect rendition of the immediate past master’s jewel and Ray Hargreaves produced a magnificent address to the junior warden. A high standard was the order of the day for the remainder of the ceremony with Blackpool Group Chairman John Turpin addressing the director of ceremonies, John Berry apprising the deacon of his duties and Paul Easton explaining the role of the inner guard.
Complementing the excellence of ritual and creating an ambience of geniality, organist extraordinaire George Holden provided a delightful medley of appropriate tunes for the investiture of lodge officials; a contribution that was much appreciated by all in attendance.
Michael Wigham arose once more from the security of his secretarial post to deliver a sincere and emotional address to the newly-installed master and Michael Thompson proved his credentials with a superb address to the wardens. Michael is a man who accepts responsibility and with it, a grim determination to fight for perfection. In his eyes, nothing less will do. There only remained David Grainger to deliver his address to the brethren of Ashlar Lodge, and as would be expected, it was heartfelt, clear and punchy. He had obviously done it before and to a perfectionist like David, these things tend to become a habit.
It was when Carl uttered the phrase: “That concludes the ceremony of installation”, and sighed audibly with relief that David rose once more to convey the warm greetings of the Provincial Grand Master Tony Harrison, expressing his view that Tony would have thoroughly enjoyed the evening had he been free to attend.
Bill Farrington, visibly delighted to be in the master’s chair again, thanked David for his kind words and presented him with charitable disbursements amounting to £1,156, comprising of £506 to the Masonic Charitable Foundation 2021 Festival, £450 to the West Lancashire Freemasons’ Charity and £200 to Rosemere Cancer; an impressive amount for such a small lodge.
The formal proceedings concluded, the populace retired to the bar and on to the banqueting suite for the festive board. There, they wolfed down their daily rations of soupe à la crème de tomate, rôti de boeuf et pudding Yorkshire, fromage et des biscuits and le café et les menthes in hearty Lancashire fashion. There was a buzz in the air and a jovial, relaxed mood made for a spiffing evening. Cheery banter pervaded the room and formalities were sparing and casual, producing a unique matiness that was welcomed by all.
The standard format of toasts and responses was, naturally, adhered to but all took on an altogether comfortable and chirpy vein. Enjoyment and fun was an integral part of the evening’s menu. As the proceedings progressed, Harry Waggett provided a delightful and sincere rendition of the master’s song, accompanied by George Holden on the grand piano. One would have thought that that would be the perfect end to the celebrations. But it was not to be the case. The contingent of Masons from Northern Ireland stole the show with a splendid medley of Irish songs – nobody could better that.
Ashlar Lodge is only a small lodge but its installation meeting reaffirmed the axiom that great things come in small packages. Surely, with such spirit, the lodge will grow.