In keeping with tradition, Provincial Grand Master Tony Harrison made his official annual visit to the north of the Province and concluded his two day ‘Northern Tour’ with a visit to the Lancaster and District Group. The previous day had seen Tony and his officers in the Furness and South Lakeland Group and he was quite obviously proud and delighted to be back on ‘home turf’ as he hails from Morecambe and was until becoming the Provincial Grand Master, the APrGM responsible for both groups. Earlier that day, before leaving the Furness area the team had made a visit to the Manjushri Kadampa Meditation Centre at Conishead Priory, Ulverston where they had enjoyed a very informative tour and an opportunity to participate in a session of guided meditation.
The Provincial team were therefore undoubtedly relaxed and in a contemplative mood on their arrival. Accompanying Tony on his visit to Lancaster Castle Lodge No 5952 at the Lancaster Masonic Hall, Rowley Court were Philip Gunning DepPrGM, David Grainger APrGM, Lancaster and District Group Chairman Jim Wilson, group vice chairman Peter Pemberton and group secretary Neil McGill. Acting Provincial grand officers also present were Michael Threlfall PrSGW, Peter Schofield PrJGW, Keith Kemp PrGDC, Ernie Greenhalgh PrGAlm, David Thomas PrDGDC, Mark Barton PrDGDC, John Holmes PrSGD, Harry Kilgour PrAGDC, Robert Treharne PrAGSwdB, John Broadhurst PrAGStdB and Scott Devine PrGStwd.
Over 100 Masons squeezed into the lodge room to join the WM of Lancaster Castle Lodge Keith Heys and his officers as they conducted a second-degree ceremony for entered apprentice Stuart Slater. At an early stage in the proceedings, Keith Kemp entered the lodge room to announce that the PrGM in time honoured tradition demanded admission.
The subsequent entry procession was a wonderful visual spectacle with Tony’s entry being preceded by a substantial escort of grand and acting Provincial grand officers. The WM gave Tony a very warm welcome, which was received with equal sincerity. However, the offer of the lodge gavel saw a particularly brief acceptance and rapid return as Tony stated emphatically with a broad smile that he was ‘back in his home group’ where he hoped to have a pleasant evening without being handed any additional work!
Once the appropriate salutations had been given to Tony, Keith Heys went on to conduct a ‘masterclass’ of excellence in the ceremony of passing Stuart Slater. The candidate showed considerable fortitude in maintaining his composure in front of such a large and august assemblage and the gentle and prompt guidance of senior deacon Larry Branyan was just the right ‘touch’ needed to calm any nerves. The delivery of the full charge at the completion of the ceremony by Alan Fleming was outstanding in its flawless and sincere rendition.
The congratulations and appreciation expressed by Tony for the quality of the ceremony were elevated to an even higher level when Keith presented him with a cheque in favour of the West Lancashire Freemasons’ Charity for the wonderful sum of £1,500. On a humorous note, Keith then announced that as the ‘piggy bank’ had been partially depleted the next item of business, to collect alms, was particularly apposite. Having contributed visual and dignified magnificence to the proceedings, the Provincial party then recessed in similar vein prior to their attendance at the festive board.
The Rowley Court dining room was at maximum capacity for the banquet which followed. Once again, a splendid menu was provided by the resident caterers and the stocks of wines and varied ales saw a rapid depletion in their accompaniment to the excellent dishes. The atmosphere was lively and animated as many friends shared tales of their ‘exploits’ during the summer recess.
The first response of the evening fell to Phillip Gunning who responded on behalf of the grand officers. With his usual wry humour, he had one or two observations to make regarding one or two of his colleagues before segueing seamlessly into a very fitting and appropriate toast to the health of the Provincial Grand Master. Phillip paid tribute to several of Tony’s predecessors, singling out the particular skills they had each brought to the position but he suggested that history would most likely prove that Tony Harrison had excelled in his fulfilment of the role to a higher level, particularly in his caring, active, conciliatory and approachable manner in the discharge of his duties. Loud and rapturous applause signified that Phillip’s sentiments were fully in concord with those of the audience.
On rising to respond, Tony admitted to being particularly moved by the tribute paid by Phillip and had a few words to say in admiration of the skills that his deputy brought to the Provincial team. He continued by expressing his delight in being able to lead another ‘Northern Tour’ and paid individual thanks in naming all those who had either accompanied him or contributed to the success of the visit. News from the Province, he said was substantial and therefore he expressed the hope that the brethren would indulge him as there was much that needed communicating.
He spoke at some length about the changes to the Provincial care system, the relocation of the Provincial office to Leyland and the potential impact of the next charity festival on the income of the WLFC. News of developments in the progress of the tercentennial celebrations were also included in his address and before closing his remarks, he once again urged everyone to continue to maximise their enjoyment of Freemasonry.
In his response to the toast to the Provincial grand officers, Peter Schofield made mention of the special relationship that existed between the two northern groups and the continuing support that they gave to each other. He paid particular tribute to his colleague, Martin Baxendale the former Vice Chairman of Lancaster Group and said that he hoped that Martin’s health would eventually allow him to resume his Masonic activities. These sentiments were echoed with spontaneous and very loud applause by the brethren in the room.
As the evening drew to a close, Simon Hanson proposed the toast to the WM and had some very complimentary observations to make. In responding Keith Heys took the opportunity to thank not only all those who had attended but also had a word or two of appreciation for the continuing efforts of his colleagues on the Masonic hall maintenance team. He also praised the marvellous generosity of the brethren which had resulted in £329 collected in the lodge and a further £521 raised through the raffle. A truly wonderful total £850 for deserving causes.
He then made a special presentation of a pair of socks to Tony, which appeared to feature the words “On Tour”, suggesting that as the PrGM was making a habit of venturing into the ‘frozen wasteland’ that was the northern part of West Lancashire, he might need something to keep his feet warm!
Tony thanked him for the gift, but remarked that he probably would not get away with wearing them in Provincial Grand Lodge. He further quipped that the warmth of welcome that he repeatedly received on this, his ‘home turf’ was guaranteed to repel any chill!