The installation of a new master into the chair of a lodge is the highlight of the Masonic year and worthy of jubilation, particularly when the master elect is a fresh appointment to the office. It is an occasion for all to celebrate – and not only by the members of the lodge in question. When, however, the celebration is amplified by an additional celebratory occasion, well, that becomes a very special evening.
The mood was buoyant and euphoric when John Earnshaw, alias ‘Foggy’, (apparently due to his vague resemblance to the character of that name in ‘Last of the Summer Wine’), was placed in the chair of King Solomon in St John’s Lodge No 2825 in Blackpool, but before the jubilance had even started to subside, another major cause of celebration unfolded. It was fantastic! But, more about that later!
From the moment of crossing the threshold of the Masonic hall, the day oozed with the ingredients of a memorable outing. There was a jaunty buzz in the air and cordiality reigned amongst the gathered throng. There was a wide diversity of Masons, covering the entire spectrum of ranks. Grand officers mingled with fresh-faced apprentices, Provincial grand officers mentored their protégées and there were cheery Caledonians from Lodge Hamilton No 233 from north of the border exchanging hearty och-ayes! with the what-hoes! of their southern counterparts. All were happily chirping like garden birds performing their evensong. But then, the Masonic hall is always like that. As familiar the scene is to us however, the evening was to become one of the most memorable in the hall’s long history.
The installation ceremony, in itself, would have marked the evening special. It was stuffed to the brim with excellence. Steve Morris the retiring and installing master performed a flawless ceremony. His delivery was clear, confident and full of personality. As a retired Tornado jet navigator/instructor, Steve is used to flying high and proved his credentials in no uncertain terms.
Revelling in the performance was a string of Masonic dignitaries. Principal guest was Deputy Provincial Grand Master Philip Gunning, supported by Assistant Provincial Grand Master Harry Cox and Past Assistant Provincial Grand Master Terry Hudson (both of whom are honorary members of St John’s Lodge), along with fellow grand officers Keith Beardmore and Chairman of Blackpool Group John Turpin. Provincial Deputy Grand Director of Ceremonies Barry Fitzgerald headed the entourage of acting Provincial grand officers that included Phil Houldsworth, John Guest, David Rigby, Daren Gardner and Joe Codling. Such a bevy of high-ranking notables ensured that the gathered throng benefitted from a vigorous exercise programme during the traditional salutations that followed their procession into the lodge.
Master elect John ‘Foggy’ Earnshaw also got off to a flying start after having been presented by the authoritative John Forster, a Mason of impeccable pedigree and was visibly over the moon when placed in the chair of King Solomon. There was however a brief moment of doubt as to whether ‘Foggy’ would ever get into the chair when confusion arose as to who would act as chaplain in delivering the customary prayer. An extended reflective intermission was nevertheless curtailed when Blackpool Group Vice Chairman David Cook sprang into action and unexpectedly delivered the goods.
One of the numerous treats of the day was provided by Peter Green in his address to the immediate past master. He delivered the explanation of Euclid’s 47th Proposition with sincerity and panache; a complex piece of ritual not often heard in lodges and delivered to perfection by Peter.
By now the ceremony was progressing swimmingly and it was time for the presentation of the working tools of each degree. It was at this juncture that the gathering was treated to one of the most impressive examples of ritual that one is likely to witness. At the moment that ‘light blue’ Mason Martin Bleeker commenced his recital of the third degree working tools, a member of the audience suffered a truly violent coughing fit, one that rocked the very foundations of the hall. Martin, being a light blue and someone who might well have been expected to wilt under the distraction, didn’t wilt in the slightest, but remained calm and collected to the eyebrows. There was no glimpse of distraction, no floundering and no hesitation. He simply drew himself up to his full height and continued the piece with utmost strength and tenacity. His delivery was polished, pushy and exhilarating. It was a prize performance and none could have done better. Indeed, so impressed was Philip Gunning that, on completion of the piece, he spontaneously leapt to his feet and warmly congratulated Martin on his intrepidity with a hardy and sincere handshake. It was another memorable moment.
There was another fine performance when Nick Osborne, one of the lodge’s newest members and making his debut as a ritualist, turned out an A-class rendition of the first degree tools. He proved that, despite inexperience, a determined man can nerve himself to almost anything and produce real value for money. Of course, it can be argued that things are easy when a lodge is able to boast a plethora of first-rate ritualists, a factor recognised in St Joh’s Lodge.
The investiture of officers highlighted this very point with addresses of the highest calibre. Installing senior warden Bob Bennett and installing junior warden Jon Selcoe illustrated the claim perfectly with brilliance at the forefront of their addresses to the incoming wardens. The standard was maintained with John Forster’s superb address to the deacons, installing inner guard Ian Benson’s to the new inner guard and Mike Joyner’s to the wardens. Non-members of the lodge were equally inspiring. Acting Provincial Grand Steward David Rigby from the St Helens Group displayed the same high standard of recital in his address to the stewards of the lodge.
Stalwart of St John’s Lodge Jon Selcoe, shone as usual, with a dynamic address to the newly-installed master and Philip Gunning, as would be expected, rounded off the proceedings with an immaculate address to the brethren of the lodge.
A casual observer would have thought that things could not have got better but, if that were the case, they would have forgotten that they were dealing with St John’s Lodge. Adding further lustre to the occasion was the declaration that a total of £2,462 was to be donated to charities. £900 to the Masonic Charitable Foundation 2021 Festival, £312 to the West Lancashire Freemasons’ Charity, £450 to the Alzheimer’s Society, £300 to Brian’s House, £300 to Bugs2Butterflies and £200 to Blackpool Masonic Hall, all very gratefully received by Philip who expressed his admiration of the brethren of the Lodge.
‘Foggy’ was now solidly in the chair and feeling on top of the world. A glance in his direction was enough to tell anyone that all was tickety-boo with him. If it were not for the fact that he was in a filled room, one would suspect that he would have uttered a howl of joy that would have set the silverware rattling. As a retired police officer, trained to be a keen observer and sleuth extraordinaire, he would have thought that the case was well and truly sewn up. But, even Sherlock Holmes could not have detected what was to happen next. Things were about to get even juicier.
At the enquiry of any other business, Philip Gunning intruded at a most seasonal moment and with simple dignity that became him well, he instructed the Provincial Deputy Grand Director of Ceremonies Barry Fitzgerald to place Bob McGown before him. The words were strong and firm and Bob was dumbfounded, his aspect that of a man who had been unexpectedly struck by a thunderbolt. Philip, addressing him with an affectionate smile, announced that the Provincial Grand Master had instructed him to promote Bob to the supreme rank of Past Provincial Senior Grand Warden with immediate effect and invested him with the badge of that office. Bob could not have been more surprised and seemed incapable of speech. Intense spontaneous applause from the gathered admirers provided time for Bob to reflect on Philip’s announcement and having restored himself somewhat and come partially out of the ether, could restrain himself no longer; a bright glint came to his eyes and a beaming smile stole across his face. It was a wonderful moment; one that all present will forever remember – but none more so than Bob McGown.
In retiring to the festive banquet, the throng could not have been jollier. The ceremony had been a roaring success. All the players had performed to perfection and there had been the added joy of Bob McGown’s promotion. On their way to the dining suite, refreshment had been acquired at the bar and a most delightful atmosphere now prevailed. Pushing down a generous dinner, they continued the revelry, feasting in the camaraderie that is just one of the joys of Freemasonry. All that remained was to wallow in the melodic tones of John Cartwright’s mesmerizing rendition of the master’s song, stupendously guided by Grant Thornburrow at the piano.
There was to be however, on more memorable twist. In response to the visitor’s toast, the brethren of Lodge Hamilton No 233 provided a flavour of Masonry north of the border with a cheery song and heartfelt greetings. Perfect!