In the upper lodge room of Masonic Hall in Blackpool, a young man in a well-tailored suit was presented to the master of the lodge and led eastward to the master’s pedestal. An observant attendee at the meeting, scanning his face, would have fancied that he discerned in the young man’s expression a keen, tense look, like that of a child tentatively approaching a large Rottweiler. And he would have been right.
Anthony Ellis – for it was he – was about to take his obligation to become the new master of Blackpool Lodge of Tranquillity No 6544, a daunting responsibility for one of such tender years. Not that the installing master Mel Wainwright bore the slightest resemblance to a Rottweiler; on the contrary, he is of a disposition redolent of a gentle pussy cat, should a comparison be sought.
However, starting at the beginning to eliminate any further confusion, the brethren of Blackpool Lodge Tranquillity had assembled in the opulence of the lounge bar of Blackpool Masonic Hall, partaking of a few refreshers to steady shaky nerves before decanting into the lodge room in readiness for the installation ceremony.
Principal guest, Assistant Provincial Grand Master Harry Cox, was busying himself circulating amongst them and offering reassuring and calming words. Installing master Mel Wainwright, experienced and solid as a rock, needed no calming. He is a dapper man in whom the wear and tear of our complex lives appears to have left unscathed, remaining youthful, genial and apparently at ease in any situation. He is constructed of sturdy fibres and is always a very congenial companion.
Anthony Ellis, the master elect, is young and fresh with humility and diffidence stamped into his DNA. It would promise to be a daunting experience for Anthony. Nevertheless, weighing the facts and sifting the evidence, it was quite certain that the day was to be a corker, one which would live in the minds of those in attendance for a very long time.
After the general business of the lodge had been efficiently and confidently discharged by Mel, it was time for Harry Cox and his entourage to enter. A modestly-sized but noteworthy procession filed into the lodge room, fronted by acting Provincial grand officers Joe Codling, Daren Gardner and Phil Houldsworth, providing a fittingly respectful guard of honour to the principal guest. Harry was accompanied by grand officers Geoffrey Pritchard and the Chairman of Blackpool Group John Turpin, and supported by the group vice chairman David Cook and group secretary Steve Jelly.
Following an optimistic offering of the gavel to Harry and the customary salutations, Mel invited Ian Jackson to occupy the office of installing senior warden, Frank Hogarth to act as installing junior warden and Bob McGown of Blackpool Lodge No 1476 to be installing inner guard.
All three duly positioned at their respective posts, the first of a string of charming quirks to the ceremony was introduced into the proceedings. So often it is a high-ranking member of the lodge who presents the master elect to the installing master but Blackpool Lodge of Tranquillity is sensitive to the wishes of its master elect. Possibly uniquely, it was a fellow craft Freemason who presented Anthony. The decision for this departure from tradition was simply explained: Anthony Ellis Snr is Anthony Ellis Jnr’s father. It was a delightful touch.
At this juncture, the report returns to its opening paragraph. Anthony Ellis Jnr approached the pedestal to take his obligation as master elect. For a short moment his knees trembled like a poorly set blancmange and he was one with the symptoms of someone who had been struck on the back of the head with a large cold trout. But, at the moment of reciting his obligation it was as though he had swallowed a brimming dose of some invigorating tonic, the sort that makes an infirm octogenarian leap from his chair and perform somersaults, for he ladled out a superb obligation; strong, spicy and full of zip.
No doubt spurred on by the excellence of Anthony’s obligation, Mel provided a first-class ceremony of installing Anthony in the chair of King Solomon. Throughout his year as master of the lodge, Mel had proved over and over again that he is a master of ritual and he was determined to relinquish the chair on a high point. It is exactly what he did. His delivery was impeccable; passionate and punchy.
Anthony, now safely in the chair, appeared overwhelmed by the spectacle of the occasion but graciously and charmingly invested Mel with the past master’s jewel. This was a point at which another charming quirk was introduced to the schedule. Mel briefly explained the history of the ornate past master’s jewel that he had received. It had originally been presented in 1948 to Marsden Crawshaw, the first master of the lodge on its consecration and was later presented to Mel after he had served his mastership in 1987, the year in which Marsden had sadly passed away. It was presented to Mel by Charles Harrington who, with his wife, had taken Marsden into their home when he became infirm. Mel had been the last to see Marsden before his death and it was felt befitting that he should be the recipient of Marsden’s past master’s jewel. Understandably, it is of immense sentimental value to Mel who looks forward to the day when he, in turn, can pass it onto his son Gary when he passes through the chair in a few years’ time.
There followed yet another special few elements in the ceremony; the presentation of the working tools of each degree. They were each recited in stupendous fashion by three light blue members. First in the spotlight was Mel’s son Gary Wainwright with a scintillating rendition of the third degree tools, followed by an astounding piece by Anthony’s uncle Chris Duggan with the second degree tools. This was particularly interesting as Chris hails from the Province of East Lancashire and the text revealed slight differences from that more familiar to West Lancashire Masons. Completing the trio, and in equally superb fashion, was Alan Albiston who presented the first degree tools. All three had proven that there is plenty of talent amongst the younger brethren. Their presentations were effortlessly fluid, snappy and forceful; repartee of the highest order. There is no doubt that director of ceremonies John Tew would be delighted with their performances.
Swiftly moving on to the investiture of officers, a bevy of delightful performances came to the forefront from some of the more experienced members of the lodge, whilst also recruiting the assistance of some of the dignitaries. Blackpool Group Chairman John Turpin had been charged with addressing the newly invested charity steward Bob Hogarth and delivering a message that not only outlined the usual duties of the post but also provided a special dispatch on the role of Festival representative for the period of the Masonic Charitable Foundation 2021 Festival.
The investiture of officers brought brilliance in rituals to the forefront of the programme with excellence from all involved; John Tew’s address to the newly installed master, Ray Johnson in his address to the wardens, Ian Jackson and Frank Hogarth to the senior and junior wardens respectively and Bob McGown’s to the inner guard. David Boswell, Paul Gormley, Howard Nordwind and so on, were all highly impressive. And, as one may expect from a master like Harry Cox, the icing on the cake was provided by his sincere and animated address to the brethren of the lodge.
But the most satisfying aspect of the investitures was that all the offices on the floor were occupied by light blue Masons. Blackpool Lodge of Tranquillity has a wealth of young Masons in its fold, each with spirit and zeal and each determined to leave their mark. The future is bright and the genial warmth of these young Masons increases the optimism of the lodge.
At the conclusion of the installation, in conveying the greetings of the Provincial Grand Master Tony Harrison, Harry Cox lavished praise on all who had been involved in the ceremony and echoed the sentiment that it was a delight to see young Masons taking office in the lodge. He wished Anthony a successful, enjoyable and healthy year in the chair and, after congratulating Mel on the quality of the ceremony, focused on the excellence of the working tools presentations by the three young brethren.
At the point of responding to Harry’s kindly praise, a look of bewilderment swept over Anthony’s face and he quivered as if a spider had crawled down the back of his neck. Oops! Harry’s name had momentarily escaped him. There followed a pregnant pause, if that’s the appropriate term. Anthony glanced at John Tew. John Tew glanced at Harry. Harry glanced at John and Anthony. It was a moment in which a lot of glancing took place. Thankfully, Harry remembered his own name and genially prompted Anthony, and proceedings progressed in jovial spirit.
Harry was still smiling when Mel presented him with charitable disbursements from the lodge members. On scanning the list of recipients and sums involved, Harry’s smile broadened into a gargantuan grin. A total of just under £4,000 was distributed to Masonic and non-Masonic causes with some 12 organisations benefitting from the cheques provided. It was a stunning amount and a shining example of the generosity of the lodge members; little wonder that it brought such a bright beam to Harry’s face.
There was too a moment of déjȧ vu when Edwin Fisher had responded on behalf of the Provincial grand officers after the second rising. Anthony was not familiar with Edwin and had not been furnished with his identity. Another pregnant pause ensued, during which time a bevy of glances was again exchanged between parties before, once more in jovial spirit, the difficulty was resolved.
The festive board that followed the formal ceremony was a stirring, bustling scene, typical of this nerve centre of Blackpool’s Masonry, with an air of easy cordiality and alive with an array of desultory chit-chat. Minds had been broadened and larynxes were being jubilantly exercised, none more than by John Darrell in his lively rendition of the master’s song, expertly accompanied by Jim Coupe at the piano. Everyone had thoroughly enjoyed the ceremony and it was time to relax and revel in the celebrations. It was, ultimately, a time when Anthony could relax and tranquillity returned to his frame.
Finally, and with his customary perfection, Sheldon Rawstrone delivered the tyler’s toast – a scintillating ending to an altogether scintillating evening.