One of the saddest events for a Freemason to attend is the closure of a lodge or chapter. And it is even worse when it is in a Masonic hall that they call their own. In Fleetwood, residents talk about three lights which reference the three lighthouses that the town boasts and in Royal Arch Freemasonry they talk about six lights. Fleetwood town and Royal Arch Freemasonry saw one of its brightest lights dim and go out forever.
The long dark shadow of the COVID-19 pandemic is still reaching out with its influence, even though restrictions are easing. This shadow has had an undoubted influence on Freemasonry with members of lodges and chapters still reluctant to come out and attend meetings.
This is one of the reasons that forced the companions of Fleetwood Chapter No 3711 to come to the sad conclusion of surrendering its warrant. The companions faced the coming season and its installation without the numbers to take office and form a chapter, something that some lodges and chapters are facing throughout the country.
But far from being a sombre affair, the members of Fleetwood Chapter, together with companions from other chapters, were celebrating the chapter’s past 50 years.
The chapter was opened by its three principals; first principal Rev Stephen Leach (who described himself as being the last, first principal), second principal Brian Crawford (who had not quite reached the top job of first principal despite two attempts, once in Cumbria and once in Fleetwood) and Philip Cole (who had been through the first principal’s chair before in 2012), took the third principal’s chair in the absence of the missing incumbent.
16 companions, mostly visitors, attended, including the principal guest Assistant to the Provincial Grand Principals David Barr and fellow grand officer Ian Ward, who was due to be the principal guest the following day, on the chapter’s scheduled installation date. David and Ian were accompanied by the Chairman of North Fylde Group John Cross and his vice chairman Tony Farrar and by acting Provincial grand officer Stephen Jelly.
Once Stephen Leach and his co-principals had opened Fleetwood Chapter and dispensed with the final administrative duties, which included seven apologies from members, the companions heard that the final disbursements of their funds included a cheque for £850 for the British Heart Foundation and a similar £850 cheque for the Royal National Mission for Deep Sea Fishermen (in which the chapter’s director of ceremonies Dennis Smith is much involved). They heard that £1,600 was being donated to Fleetwood Masonic Hall, whose secretary Peter Dunn was present as one of the visitors. Other funding was bound for the care of the widows of the chapter through an agreement made with fellow Fleetwood Chapter, Hesketh Chapter No 950, and any balance as a contingency against debts arising after the closure of the chapter.
Following the completion of the chapter’s domestic affairs, David Barr and the chapter’s other distinguished guests were admitted and were welcomed by the three principals.
The Rev Stephen Leach made a moving address to the companions and said: As the ‘newest’ member of the chapter, having made the move from Cornwall to live in Fleetwood, that he never envisaged that he would rise to be the last, first principal of it. He made mention of how the COVID virus had affected the chapter, as had Supreme Grand Chapter’s ruling that members who were no longer in Craft were not permitted to be members of the Royal Arch and had left the chapter as a result, together with a lack of new exaltees, had caused a drastic drop in membership which had led to the regrettable demise of Fleetwood Chapter.
David Barr rose to say that the occasion was very sad in that Fleetwood Chapter was closing after a magnificent 50 years span of existence. He expressed the wish that the members of the chapter would find new Royal Arch homes in other chapters in the group where they would be made to feel very welcome. He urged companions to seek chapters which suited them best and which gave them the enjoyment which they had found by being members of Fleetwood Chapter.
He invited the scribe Ezra Bob Boal to deliver a short history of Fleetwood Chapter which Bob duly did, acknowledging that he was using an account which the last surviving founder of the chapter Robbie Heywood had written. He described the preparations involved in forming the chapter and the individuals, including Robbie as the first scribe Ezra, who had been involved. He also described in detail the opening convocation of the chapter and some of the ritual which occurred on 16 July 1970. He also made mention of some of the worthy members of the chapter over the years and their various claims to fame in Royal Arch Masonry as a result of them having been members of Fleetwood Chapter.
Bob said he had sourced a bottle of Pol Roger Champagne, Winston Churchill’s favourite tipple, of the type which had been drunk at the 16 July 1970 opening convocation and that it was to be entered in the evening’s raffle as a poignant souvenir.
It was established that the treasurer’s books would be closed and audited following the dispersion of monies as agreed by chapter members so that they could be handed over to group officials; also that all dues and subscriptions had been received. The chapter’s minute books and records were also to be prepared for submission to the North Fylde Group.
The principals closed the chapter for the final time and first principal Stephen paid a last tribute to the remaining members of the chapter who had worked so well on its behalf. The charter of the chapter was then delivered to Stephen who in turn presented it to the Assistant to the Provincial Grand Principals David Barr.
Stephen said he entrusted the charter to David for safe transmission to the Grand Superintendent. He also said that the minutes and treasurer’s books would be delivered to the North Fylde Group to ensure their safe keeping as a permanent record of the events of the chapter.
David Barr said that he hoped that the passion for the happiness of Royal Arch Masonry would stay in the members’ hearts forever and that it was the sincere wish of the Grand Superintendent that each and every one of the members of Fleetwood Chapter would find a new home, either within the North Fylde Group or close by to continue the bond which had been enjoyed together for so long. John Cross then read the valedictory address.
David Barr and the grand, group and acting Provincial grand officers were then formed into one column while another column containing the janitor, sojourners and scribes Ezra and Nehemiah, carrying the minute book and the Bible, the three principals still carrying their sceptres and companions was formed. As the visitors looked on, the two columns in turn recessed from the temple for the final time. This symbolised the closure of Fleetwood Chapter forever after 50 years of memorable activity.
Article by Bob Boal and Peter Dunn.