When the incoming master is 69 years old but is described as a ‘mere slip of a lad’ by the immediate past and installing master, you just know you have a good story that deserves further investigation. The ‘youngster’ in this case was William Byrne (Bill) who was taking the chair of Vale Lodge No 5256 for the first time, although Bill had previously been the master of Rowley Lodge No 1051 in 1999, prior to its amalgamation (now Poulton le Sands Lodge No 1051). The installing master, Hughie Howarth had a good reason to consider his successor as a ‘youngster’; Hughie will shortly be celebrating his 94th birthday and is currently enjoying his 51st year in the Craft!
The representative of the Provincial Grand Master attending the installation meeting at Rowley Court, Lancaster was Peter Pemberton, who was accompanied to this daytime lodge by Lancaster Group Chairman Jim Wilson and group secretary Neil McGill. Acting Provincial grand officers John Holmes and John Kilmurray, both of whom are Provincial Senior Grand Deacons, were joined by colleagues Robert Treharne, Provincial Assistant Grand Sword Bearer and Scott Devine, Provincial Grand Steward.
On being introduced to the representative by Paul Thompson, the lodge’s director of ceremonies, Hughie welcomed Peter and his distinguished colleagues into the lodge and assured them that they had a happy and enjoyable afternoon ahead of them. Peter suitably responded and wished all taking part an equally enjoyable experience. Following the requisite salutations, Norman Mitchell presented Bill Byrne for installation.
In an abridged ceremony, Hughie performed an outstanding demonstration of ritual in his installation of Bill, combining verbal perfection with sincerity and wit. Further contributions of outstanding work were then in evidence as the ceremony progressed. Of particular note was the performance of Christian Bolton a master Mason, in his delivery of the third degree tools. Supporting presentations of the second and first-degree explanations were given in fine fashion by experienced past masters John Haire and David Jackman respectively. The individual addresses to the master and wardens were handled with expected competence by George Fox in his rendition of the former and by Paul Thompson in performing the latter, whilst Peter Pemberton perfectly and sincerely gave the address to the brethren.
The appointment and investment of the lodge officers was an interesting and relatively speedy process. Due to the small membership of the lodge, a considerable number of post holders found themselves in dual roles. Even the newly installed master had the distinction of ‘figuratively’ investing himself as almoner! With all the requisite offices appropriately filled, the newly appointed director of ceremonies Norman Mitchell announced the completion of the business of installation.
At this point, Peter Pemberton with alacrity rose to tender the congratulations and best wishes of the Provincial Grand Master Tony Harrison. He was most effusive in his praise of the installing master and expressed admiration for both the skill and commitment that Hughie had brought to his role. He continued by assuring the newly installed master and lodge members that Tony would not only have enjoyed witnessing the ceremony but would have wholeheartedly approved of the combination of skill, dignity and humour that it contained. He also brought a special personal message of congratulations from Tony to Hughie, thanking him for his continuing active contribution to Masonry.
Hughie was invited by the new master to respond to this praise, which he did with typical modesty before presenting Peter with cheques totalling £1,250. The beneficiaries were West Lancashire Freemasons’ Charity £500, Lancaster Masonic Hall Company £500 and a further £250 donation from Hughie towards the installation cost of a ‘hearing loop’ for the Masonic hall. Peter thanked the lodge members for their generosity, noting that the sums were particularly impressive from such a small lodge.
The Festival of St John, held in the dining suite at Rowley Court was well attended, with a traditional menu of prawn cocktail, roast beef and cheese board excellently presented. The addition of port to accompany the cheese selections was particularly welcomed by many of the diners and perhaps slightly resented by those who had driving duties! The less abstemious brethren were most generous in assisting the ‘driving brethren’ in disposing of their unwanted share of the bottles.
In responding to the toast to the health of the Provincial grand officers, Peter Pemberton began by reiterating the praise and congratulations he had proffered in the lodge room, expressing his delight at now being able to add his personal congratulations. He philosophically stated that he envied Hughie’s prowess at ritual and continuing zeal and felt sure that he would not have the same capabilities if he were fortunate enough to reach a similar age. In continuing, he praised the lodge for its exploration of and open-minded approach to new ideas to ensure its survival. He hoped that the newly announced change to holding meetings on Mondays for part of the year would attract more joining members and hopefully some candidates.
In drawing the attention of his audience to current Masonic issues, he elaborated on the changes to the Provincial care system and encouraged all brethren to assist in identifying Masons and their dependants who were in need of support. Other topics on which he expanded included recruitment and retention with news of the Provincial focus group being established, the need to encourage appropriate introduction to the benefits of Royal Arch membership for new master Masons, the tercentenary celebration planning and the newly formed Masonic Charitable Foundation. The ongoing need for strong support of the West Lancashire Freemasons’ Charity in advance of imminent festival commitment was also highlighted, as evidence overwhelmingly suggests that our Provincial charity will see a marked reduction in income during a festival period. Peter concluded by repeating the Provincial Grand Master’s message that our happiness in our enjoyment of Masonry and the public expression of that happiness is the best recruiting tool we have. Through our enthusiasm and enjoyment, we will be able to recruit the right candidates to join us. He resumed his seat to loud and enthusiastic applause
In proposing the toast to the master, Norman Mitchell gave extensive and detailed insights into Bill Byrne’s personal life as well as his business and Masonic career. No stone was left unturned by Norman. The veracity of some of the revelations was considered by the master to be the subject of later conjecture! George Fox performed the master’s song with accompaniment by David Tattersall, prior to the newly installed master making his response. He particularly thanked all the visitors for their company and said that the raffle total of £240 was most generous, especially as it included a donation of £30 from the masters in office. He ended by strenuously urging everyone to continue to visit the lodge and assured them of a very hearty welcome on every occasion.