A very very special day at Great Marton

The installation of a new master into the chair of King Solomon is a special occasion in any lodge but there are times when ‘special’ isn’t a sufficiently exuberant word to describe the installation of a highly revered Freemason. Extra special also falls well short of the mark. Possibly ‘extraordinary’ could be applied to such an occasion but is probably still inadequate in its description. The dilemma of a suitable expression was faced when Marcus Hill MBE was installed into the chair of King Solomon in Great Marton Lodge No 3985 at the Masonic Hall, Blackpool. Not only is Marcus one of the most revered and valued of Masons but he will also be celebrating 50 years in Freemasonry one month after his installation. That made his installation extremely special.

Philip Gunning congratulates Marcus Hill MBE.

Philip Gunning congratulates Marcus Hill MBE.

And so it was in the luxurious lodge room of the Masonic Hall in Blackpool that Marcus Hill MBE was installed as the new master of Great Marton Lodge. Befitting the occasion, the principal guest was the Deputy Provincial Grand Master Philip Gunning and, a measure of the respect held for Marcus was illustrated by the galaxy of grand officers and high-ranking Provincial officers in attendance. Supporting Philip were Assistant Provincial Grand Master Harry Cox, Past Assistant Provincial Grand Master Terry Hudson, grand officers Stuart Thornber, Geoffrey Pritchard, Michael Goodwin and David Thomas, with further support from acting Provincial officers Peter Smith, Gordon Ivett, Stuart Gay and Alan Howarth. Other notables included Blackpool Group Chairman John Turpin, his vice chairman David Cook and group secretary Steve Jelly, and chairman of the Preston Group Stephen Bolton.

That the brethren of the lodge considered the occasion very special was clearly demonstrated by the work that the team had put into the preparations of the ceremony and the standard they achieved. Chief protagonist in the ritual was the installing master Rodney Barnes who was faultless from the beginning; sincere and sensitive in his delivery; crisp and clear in his enunciation – a velvet-tongued orator, if ever there was one.

But the evening was very much a team effort with quality being the order of the day. All involved excelled and their enthusiasm was sparkling, no doubt spurred on by the meticulous attention to detail by lodge director of ceremonies Matthew Barrow who was determined to complete his term of office as director of ceremonies on a high before handing the responsibility to his successor Paul Hunter.

Pictured from left to right, are; Marcus Hill MBE, Matthew Barrow and Rodney Barnes relaxing at the festive banquet.

Pictured from left to right, are; Marcus Hill MBE, Matthew Barrow and Rodney Barnes relaxing at the festive banquet.

The first action by Rod Barnes in the installation ceremony was to appoint Peter Lovatt as installing senior warden, Paul Hunter as installing junior warden and David Edwards, immediate past master of Blackpool Temperance Lodge No 5303 as installing inner guard. This completed, Marcus, as master elect, was presented by his brother-in-law Len Hellon. Instantly, Marcus demonstrated his credentials as a ritualist with a perfect recitation of his obligation; bold, clear and precise.

Once in the chair of King Solomon, Marcus’ stature was unquestionable and his presence commanded a perfect ceremony. And that is exactly what he got. To many of the gathered spectators, a highlight of the day came with newer light blue Masons presenting the working tools of the three degrees. First off the mark was Christopher Pye who recited the working tools of a master Mason. There was a precise edge to his speech. He articulated with crystal clearness and it was beautifully modulated.

It was Paul Bennett who had drawn the short straw and who had been charged with the responsibility of delivering the second degree working tools – the extended version to boot. But Paul proved himself a master of ritual and completed it in relaxed and efficient manner. One would have to go a long way to see it performed better.

It was at short notice that the responsibility of reciting the first degree working tools fell on the shoulders of William Grace. And, as anyone who has undertaken such a role at short notice will be only too aware, it is extremely challenging and can reduce unsettled nerves to ashes. But the Grace’s are a fighting clan and William came out in lively fashion and delivered it with real punch. It was a joy to listen to.

The light blue working tools presenters. Pictured from left to right, are; William Grace, Paul Bennet and Christopher Pye.

The light blue working tools presenters. Pictured from left to right, are; William Grace, Paul Bennet and Christopher Pye.

And so the day continued. One piece of excellence followed by another – and with some emotional moments to add to the occasion. Alan Jeffrey was excellent in his address to the senior warden. Matthew Barrow performed similarly in his address to the junior warden, made more poignant in that it was his dad William who was taking office. Peter Mann in his address to Rod Barnes who was taking the office of lodge almoner and Tom Houldsworth’s address to the inner guard were both to the highest standard. It was particularly joyous when Past Assistant Provincial Grand Master Terry Hudson stepped into the limelight to recite the address to the wardens (and as may be expected of Terry, to perfection).

And, having reached that point in the proceedings at which the principal guest is contracted to deliver the address to the brethren from the south-east corner of the lodge room, Philip Gunning made his way thither, escorted with due decorum by Provincial Deputy Grand Director of Ceremonies David Thomas. Once in position, Philip hitched up the larynx and performed with animation and vim, yet with delightful understatement rather than exaggerated flamboyance. Excellence oozed from him.

But the day was not without its disappointment. Sheldon Rawstrone, master of Blackpool Temperance Lodge No 5303 has been a long-time friend of Marcus and, like Marcus, will be celebrating 50 years in Freemasonry this year. For some seven years, Marcus and Sheldon had been planning to coordinate their golden jubilees and their installations into their respective lodges. Sheldon was installed into the chair of Blackpool Temperance Lodge two weeks prior to the installation of Marcus into Great Marton Lodge and it was Marcus who delivered the address to the new master at Sheldon’s installation. The plan was for Sheldon to reciprocate by delivering the address to Marcus but, unfortunately, Sheldon was taken ill at the last moment and was unable to attend the ceremony. Marcus was gutted and, without a doubt, Sheldon was equally devastated. The day had been robbed of a precious moment for both of them.

Left: Harry Waggett (left) toasts Marcus Hill during the master’s song. Right: There was plenty of fun, right up to the end. Harry Cox (far left) enjoys Philip Gunning’s off-the-cuff remark to Marcus Hill.

Left: Harry Waggett (left) toasts Marcus Hill during the master’s song. Right: There was plenty of fun, right up to the end. Harry Cox (far left) enjoys Philip Gunning’s off-the-cuff remark to Marcus Hill.

The catastrophe demanded an urgent change of plan and, with only five hours’ notice,     Tom Houldsworth was asked to step into the breach. Now, Tom is a ritualist of no lukewarm order and, despite the pressure, calmly took up his post and, pausing momentarily to gather his thoughts and seemingly imbibing zestful energy, he launched into the ritual with zip and clarity. It was an amazing performance and much appreciated by the throng of happy onlookers. Tom had saved the day for Marcus and, although disappointed that his friend Sheldon was unable to perform the address, was delighted with the quality of Tom’s performance.

At the closing of the ceremony, Philip Gunning was enthusiastic in his praise of the team and even perambulated the lodge room to individually congratulate each of the three light blue Masons who had delivered the working tools. It had been a major success and the quality was much admired by all in attendance.

Retiring to the festive banquet that followed the ceremony, the masses continued to enjoy a spectacular day. An excellent meal in cheery mood with good-hearted banter and camaraderie provided a perfect end to a perfect day. In a nutshell, it was a special day in a special year for a very special Mason.

Marcus Hill MBE surrounded by a galaxy of notables.

Marcus Hill MBE surrounded by a galaxy of notables.