The last few years have seen the blossoming of the sky blues at Fairhaven Lodge No 5076 but let’s not forget the many years of service given by the veterans of the lodge. Of the twelve celebrations of 50 and 60 years of Freemasonry that Assistant Provincial Grand Master David Winder has presided over during the current year, the one for Bill Cowburn was the third enjoyed by the members at Fairhaven Lodge. Having already celebrated the 50th year of lodge almoner Alan Brotherton and 60th year of grand officer Neville Tate, the members looked forward to honorary member David Winder going for the hat-trick with Bill.
With the usual formalities of opening, minutes and treasurers report effortlessly dispatched, it was time to welcome David Winder and his entourage into their midst. Announced by Provincial Deputy Grand Director of Ceremonies Barry Fitzgerald, the cortege included chairman of the South Fylde Group Ian Ward, grand officers Neville Tate and Keith Jackson, with eight acting Provincial officers and other distinguished brethren. Master of the lodge Terry Stevens Lewing welcomed the principal guest into the lodge and offered him the gavel, which was accepted.
In his now familiar style David Winder gave his audience a flavour for what was occurring in the world at the time that Bill Cowburn was initiated into Fairhaven Lodge No 5076 on 17th March 1967. It was a time when SS Torrey Canyon super tanker ran aground at Land’s End; when Clint Eastwood made his debut as lead role in the first spaghetti western ‘A Fist Full of Dollars’; North sea gas was pumped ashore for the first time; Elvis married Priscilla Beaulieu and Mohammed Ali was stripped of his heavyweight boxing world title for refusing to go into military service. Following this résumé, Bill was comfortably settled in a chair in the middle of the lodge and David began an intriguing ‘this is your life’ story of Bill’s last 50 years, both inside and outside of Freemasonry.
Bill was born on 30 May 1931 and named after his father; his mother’s maiden name Goring being chosen as his second Christian name. Bill senior had applied for a job in the ‘Bright lad’ adverts column of the Manchester Evening News at the tender age of 15 years, was successful and joined a Canadian company called T Eaton Department Stores. He would go from office boy to head buyer in the North of England; quite amazing in that he never learned to drive and the role required significant travel. He could however drive the golf ball off his handicap of plus one! He purchased anything and everything from slippers to antiques which were then shipped across to Canada from Great Britain.
Bill junior was born in Stretford on the ‘red side’ of town, a stone’s throw from Old Trafford (although his father, who was 38 at his birth, supported Manchester City). Bill attended Victoria Park Primary School in Stretford but was evacuated in 1939 to Dunham Park in Cheshire due to the fear of the blitz. That had been Bill’s first taste of green fields but he was housed in a stable block. Shortly after that Bill moved to St Annes, initially to live with his uncle’s family but in 1940 Bill moved to Knowles Street, pretty much starting a life time association with the town.
Achieving school certificate Bill qualified for and attended King Edward 7th Grammar School in 1942. On the sporting front, Bill’s chosen sport was cycling and he and his pals would think nothing of cycling to the Lake District and through the Trough of Bowland. Bill’s dad had bought him a drop handlebar racer with three gears which had been made at Johnny Berry’s in Manchester. It was through cycling the lanes and byways that Bill’s geographical knowledge of areas grew and retrospectively fuelled his desire to travel.
On leaving school Bill’s national service posting was to Bridgnorth and then to the Royal Air Force School in Cranwell in Lincolnshire. This was followed by training at 90 Group at Henlow, Bedfordshire where Bill calibrated signal generators. For a short while Bill also worked on the repair of the British version of the enigma machine. Henlow was a sleepy town and so, with little to do, Bill started to attend lectures on architecture, an aspect which would have far reaching implications to his working life thereafter. On being demobbed in 1951 Bill was not issued with a suit but allowed to keep his uniform for possible ‘D’ reserve purposes. Some years passed by and Bill’s great coat became a wonderful garment for outdoor painting in the winter and colder months, much to the worry of his mother as a result of the many splashes of colour upon it! – Bill and his technicoloured RAF greatcoat comes readily to mind!
Bill applied to Manchester University School of Architecture and after five years qualified as an architect. He had met his future wife Brenda whose father was a builder in St. Anne’s. This allowed Bill to add practise to theory and was enormously helpful in placing him on the first rung of the working ladder. Working on site also allowed him to practise driving a three-tonner – which was of dubious benefit in learning to drive the Morris Traveller he owned at the time. Bill holds the distinct honour of parking the Morris Traveller so close to a wall that the semaphore signals on the driver’s side were ripped off by the brickwork!
Bill had met Brenda at dancing classes while at King Edwards School, as the girls from Queen Mary School would come to provide live cannon fodder for the dancing. Bill remembers being on to a winner when Brenda liked him even though he had two left feet with the weight and gravitas of divers’ boots! Having met at 17 years of age, Brenda decided to go to Manchester Teacher Training College, that being the cunning sub plot to allow the couple to be able to see each other. Engaged at 24 in 1955, they married at St. Anne’s Parish Church. Their honeymoon, wait for it, was in Paris and then to Etretat in Normandy; chosen because a lot of famous impressionist had painted there. Bill obviously made an impression because they went on to many happy years of marriage together. Bill and Brenda have had three children named Adam, Charlotte born in 1961 and Helena in 1975, who have provided eight grandchildren.
After their marriage Bill worked in London for a famous firm of accountants Fry, Drew, Drake and Lasden, on the design of schools to be built in Nigeria and Iran. They lived at Baron’s Court in London, near to Queens Tennis Club. Brenda taught at a junior school which had a playground sited on the building’s roof! Having been there for three years, the birth of son Adam provided a huge change to their lives and in 1959 they returned to St. Annes where Bill set up his own business, buoyed by the work of his father in law, who engaged him to plan and design the bungalows that he intended to build. What a great opportunity it was as there was at that time only one other architect in St Annes. This good fortune led to Bill building many homes in the area before becoming architect for the National Benziole Petroleum Company (now known as BP), designing petrol stations in the North West. With extra commissions coming his way Bill went into partnership with a great producer of plans named Jani Bers and then another partner John Bray, to form the company Cowburn, Bers and Bray until his retirement in 1995.
Before talking about Bill’s life in Freemasonry, David Winder invited lodge secretary Kevin Burns to read a precis from the minutes of the meeting at which Bill was initiated. Following the reading, David continued with the story. It was while speaking to Charlie Creswick, a member of Fairhaven Lodge that it was suggested that Bill might consider becoming a member. Bill’s two business partners quite separately would also become Freemasons. Jani Bers was initiated into Lodge of Friendship while John Bray became a member of a lodge in the Blackpool Group. This was particularly useful for all three when they had ceremonies to learn. Bill was also surprised to find many other friends already members; people such as Alan Brotherton whom he knew through badminton and as chance would have it, Alan was the candidate initiated immediately before him. Bill also knew Neville Tate as his father was the postman who dealt with the office mail.
Charlie Creswick proposed and Harold Hughes seconded Bill who was duly initiated on 17th March 1967. It seemed that a great many of Bill’s clients and colleagues were Masons, a point that he had not been aware of prior to his initiation. Moving on, Bill completed all of the progressive offices within the lodge but unusually delivered the charge in the first degree while the senior warden of the lodge, there not having been a candidate for initiation in his year as junior warden. Bill had the delight of being placed in the chair of the lodge by Alan Brotherton in 1975, a point Bill remembers well as Alan nearly displaced some of Bill’s vertebrae with the gusto of his task, much to the amusement of the brethren at the time.
Bill recalls the master’s year being very busy with ceremonies but also many visits and numerous ladies evenings. Brenda loved ladies evenings which tended to be sumptuous affairs held at the Clifton Arms Hotel. Afternoons at that time were spent playing whist and, fortunately from Bill’s point of view as a double left footer, there was not too much dancing. From master of the lodge, Bill quickly progressed to secretary for an 11 year spell. He was then treasurer for a brief time and then secretary again until five years or so ago, when Kevin Burns took over. Bill was appointed to the rank of Provincial Assistant Grand Director of Ceremonies in 1982 and was subsequently promoted to his current very high rank of Past Provincial Junior Grand Warden in 1987. He has been a member of St Anne’s Chapter No 2457 and Foxhall Chapter No 7484 in the Royal Arch. The Provincial Grand Master Tony Harrison sent his personal greetings in the form of a certificate, which was read by Ian Ward and then presented by David Winder.
At the banquet that followed, David Winder thanked the grand and acting Provincial officers for their support on the occasion, marvelling at having eight acting Provincial officers giving up their time to support Bill’s golden celebration. The toast to the celebrant was proposed by Bill’s son-in-law Roger Grocott of Semper Fidelis Lodge No 4428, who spoke of Bill’s essential traits of friendship, integrity and loyalty. In his response Bill spoke warmly of his proposer and seconder, along with other lodge stalwarts including Neville Tate and Alan Brotherton. The evening was brought to an appropriate close by Barry Hage who delivered the long version of the tyler’s toast with words from the poet Robbie Burns.