The gloomy and wearisome light of a leaden autumn evening laid a heavy hand on the exterior of the Masonic Hall in Blackpool and it was at about 3:15pm on that dull and windswept autumnal afternoon when master of Blackpool Lodge of Integrity No 5864 Kevin Croft ascended its steps and, on crossing its threshold, he came upon Derek McMenemy, the lodge’s director of ceremonies who, as is required of his duties, had arrived at an earlier hour to ensure that everything was ship-shape and Bristol fashion for the lodge’s pending installation ceremony.
Amidst the early arrivals was Assistant Provincial Grand Master Kevin Poynton, the principal guest for the evening. His warm and cheery welcome to the brethren was in stark contrast to the greyness shrouding the exterior of the building and he quickly reassured members of the troupe and put each of them at their ease with his legendary good humour and comforting manner.
Other Masonic dignitaries were also soon on the scene. Grand officer and Chairman of the Blackpool Group John Turpin was in attendance to support the Assistant Provincial Grand Master. His vice chairman David Cook and group secretary Steve Jelly had also joined the happy throng, along with acting Provincial grand officers Robert Williams (all the way from Widnes), Phil Houldsworth, Joe Codling (who happens to be the immediate past master of the lodge) and Roy James.
The lounge bar at Adelaide Street was soon teeming with merry laughter from chirpy Masons and the gloominess of the day was promptly overlooked.
As the meeting got underway, master of the lodge Kevin Croft, humbly and in his familiarly understated manner, opened the lodge with alacrity and finesse, quickly dispatching its general business in order to begin the proclamation ceremony, for Kevin was to remain as master of the lodge for an additional year. So far so good; skilfully conducted with the grace and reverence expected of such occasions.
And with parallel dignity, the procession of Masonic notables entered the room. Kevin Poynton, on being courteously introduced to Kevin Croft and offered the gavel of office, graciously returned it with due poise and civility, yet with an impish sparkle in his eye. A few light-hearted quips from Kevin Poynton instantly put Kevin Croft at ease. Shortly after this point in the proceedings, although still early in the evening’s programme, a distinctly relaxed air had already descended on the gathered throng.
Proclamations can often be somewhat uneventful occasions, merely a drastic pruning of a conventional installation ceremony, omitting many of the usual addresses and recitals. But Blackpool Lodge of Integrity had been determined to provide a more interesting and memorable spectacle. Consequently, it fashioned a well-conceived menu that included complete closing rituals of each degree, as opposed to standard closures by virtue.
The result was a delightfully entertaining programme, performed in a natural and comfortable manner giving an impression of spontaneity and informality as if the brethren did it as a matter of course and an everyday event – all with the joviality commensurate of a happy occasion. With the joviality came a relaxation of formality. Kevin Croft was now feeling well-at-ease with Kevin Poynton and a mutual enjoyment of their company was becoming more and more apparent.
The schedule was not without its traditional elements however. In customary fashion, installing wardens were invited to take their places; Vincent Carte as senior warden and Brian Leech as junior warden, along with Barrie Hage as installing inner guard. Presentation of the working tools of each degree was another conventional inclusion to the programme. John Farnden, making his debut as a ritualist, executed the third degree working tools in fine style and Colin Rodgers and Granville Coxhill provided classic renditions of the second and first degree tools respectively.
Intriguing little quirks were also introduced and added further interest. The process of investing and installing the new wardens for example was neatly choreographed with director of ceremonies Derek McMenemy rendering the initial passages while escorting the contenders to their respective locations, whilst each relevant installing warden completed the address on Derek’s delivery of the nominee to the pertinent pedestal. It had required astute planning and nifty footwork by Derek.
Achieving equally impressive synchronisation was Granville Coxhill’s execution of the addresses while ushering each of the deacons to their allotted spots. Each was completed with military exactitude and split-second precision. Blackpool Group Charity Steward Ian Stirling demonstrated his credentials in addressing both the lodge’s new charity steward and the festival representative on their duties.
The planned programme was an enormous success and was rounded off with a masterly address to the new wardens of the lodge by lodge secretary Philip Alderson and finally, a passionate and sincere address to the brethren of the lodge by Kevin Poynton; clear, animated and with gusto.
Augmenting the joviality of the events with complementary razzmatazz were the cheery, some might even say ‘stirring’, refrains from John Wall at the organ, selecting a medley of tunes that reflected the vocations or personalities of individual performers.
Enjoying the spectacle presented to him, Kevin Poynton immersed himself in the pleasures of the proceedings, so much so that by the time he rose to convey the greetings of the Provincial Grand Master Tony Harrison, his appreciation was clearly evinced by his enthusiastic approbation of the performances and with customary humour, warmly congratulated his namesake Kevin Croft on retaining the chair for an additional term.
Kevin Poynton possesses a supreme gift of establishing an atmosphere of cordiality and fun, a quality greatly admired by all who are fortunate enough to wallow in his company.
A period of soberness descended on the proceedings nevertheless when Kevin Croft presented Kevin Poynton with charitable disbursements to the tune of £1,200, consisting of donations of £500 to the Masonic Charitable Foundation 2021 Festival, £200 to the Blue Sky Appeal (Blackpool Victoria Hospital Children’s Ward), £100 to the West Lancashire Freemasons’ Charity, £100 to the Cavendish Cancer Appeal, £100 to RNLI, £100 to the PDSA, and £100 to the Masonic Hall Building Fund. On receiving the cheques, Kevin Poynton was lavish in his appreciation of the generosity shown by the lodge and was particularly grateful for the recognition given to the Masonic hall saying: “Without our halls, we would not be in a position to offer such support to other charities.”
The formal elements of the proclamation ceremony having been concluded and with success very much in the minds of the protagonists, relaxed enjoyment became the principal goal. And success was equally achieved in this category. The remainder of the evening was all about fun.
After a few preliminary refreshers in the bar and with the dinner hour becoming imminent, they took their departure to the dining suite to get around a hearty banquet. Conversations were numerous, varied and fervent; laughter was in abundance and larynxes were copiously irrigated.
At nowhere in the room was the laughter and banter more pronounced than on the top table in the local vicinity of Kevin Poynton and Kevin Croft. Exchanges became increasingly matey as the evening progressed, culminating in all formalities being dispensed with and Kevin Croft addressing the Assistant Provincial Grand Master simply as ‘Kev’ and the Assistant Provincial Grand Master reciprocating with an equally affable ‘Kev’. Such was the tone of the celebrations.
Readers of these chronicles who have, in the past, enjoyed the luxury of a Kevin Poynton response to the toast to grand officers will be only too familiar with the wittiness and sense of wellbeing generated by his repertoire of anecdotes and impish quips. On the evening under review, his discourse could not have been more skilfully scripted. It was perfectly in tune with the mood of the occasion and exactly what the proletariat demanded.
There was nevertheless one final element that defined the individuality of the festivities. It is a tradition, of course, to toast the master of the lodge with the master’s song. Invariably it is a member of the lodge or a regular visitor to the lodge who performs the refrain. Blackpool Lodge of Integrity can however be relied on to conjure up a little more magic than the norm – twice as much magic in fact. Professional singer Roger Lloyd Jones (Kevin Croft’s uncle) joined forces with co-professional Peter Baldwin in an outstanding duo to mark a perfect ending to a perfect evening. Whether one is ‘Kev’ or ‘Kev’, the celebrations could not have been better.