The intrepid travellers of Bryn Lodge No 6553 are now renowned for their globetrotting expeditions as they continue their tradition of annually visiting a lodge in a different country/jurisdiction. The past 16 years have seen them travel to lodges far and wide. Last year was a trip to France, and to St George’s Lodge No 3, under the jurisdiction of the Grande Loge National Française, meeting at the Grand Lodge headquarters in the northern suburbs of Paris.
In previous years the team of lodge members visited Ireland in 2001, then Scotland, Germany, Czech Republic, Spain, Holland (to a lodge working under the Prince Hall Grand Lodge of Massachusetts), Portugal, Majorca, Jersey, Greece, Gibraltar, Bulgaria, Luxembourg, Hungary and Belgium. On each occasion, they have visited an English-speaking lodge, and seen many variations of ritual, customs and culture. This year it was to be different. Being tercentenary year, and never having made a fraternal visit in the English constitution, a trip to London, Goose and Gridiron and all, was decided on to continue the special celebrations foremost in the Wigan group in recognition of this momentous event.
So, it was a very early Friday morning when the 20 brethren, including the WM Phil Barr, his light blue officers and stewards as well as the ‘old stagers’ who originally started the trips all those years ago as ‘juniors’ themselves, (including Dave Brogan and Barry Dickinson, the only two members who have made every single trip) set off from Bryn Masonic hall, on one of David Ogden’s coaches. It was an uneventful drive to London, with light traffic and plenty of time for a breakfast stop, so arrival at Great Queen Street was early enough for a spot of lunch and a few beers in the Covent Garden area. The lodge being visited was non-other than Chelsea Lodge No 3098, otherwise known as the ‘entertainers lodge’.
In 1905 a group of artistes and musicians founded a lodge which was destined to be one of the best known in the world of Freemasonry. It was consecrated in 1905 and its members have represented most branches of show business including music hall, variety, circus, pantomime, comedy, magic, ventriloquism, silent films and talkies, cinema, radio and television, not to mention musicians who were members of British dance bands and orchestras.
To date, over 1,000 Freemasons have been members, and meetings take place at Grand Lodge, Freemasons Hall, Great Queen Street, London five times a year. After suitable refreshments, the Bryn contingent, all dressed in dinner suit and bow tie, as is the tradition, made their way into the hall for a three o’clock start. The lodge room was packed, with well over 200 in attendance, and the atmosphere was electric. A wonderful meeting and passing ceremony impressed all present, although, with a lodge full of performers it shouldn’t have come as a surprise. It being Chelsea Lodge, it was good to see a Chelsea Pensioner in characteristic scarlet coat and his Masonic regalia enjoying the ceremony.
Following the meeting, there was a little time to further socialise in the pub across the road, before going into the drinks reception in the Connaught Rooms where the festive board was taking place. This again is quite a unique event, as the meal and usual toasts is then followed by the Chelsea Lodge cabaret, where members of the lodge put on a bit of a show for members and visitors alike.
WM Phil Barr was given a daunting task, being invited to give the response to the toast to the visitors. Phil was very nervous, but he had been advised earlier by the DC that jokes and gags were not necessary, as most of the jokes that could be told would probably have been written by someone in the audience. Phil considered doing some ritual, as that usually gets a few laughs, but seriously, he overcame his nerves and thanked the lodge and WM for facilitating the traditional Bryn Lodge annual visit on occasion number 17. He concluded, in what is yet another tradition, by presenting a gift, an engraved gavel and stand, to WM George Muranyi to commemorate the visit. George gratefully received it on behalf of the lodge.
The cabaret that followed had everyone on the edge of their seats. It was true variety, with, among other acts, jokes and stories from lodge members Freddy (Parrotface) Davies and Roger De Courcey, real blasts from the past for the more mature brethren. A brilliant musician sat at the keyboard and engaged everyone in a singalong rendition of Bohemian Rhapsody, and there was a memory/mind reading act, described as mind boggling, who required the assistance of a member of the audience. Who else could it be other than Bryn Lodge’s own rising star, Phil Barr. A fine time was had by all, and the coach was waiting to take everyone to the hotel for the weekend at Earls Court. It had been an early start, so after a few beers in the local area an early night, well before the sun came up on Saturday!
Saturday morning started with a leisurely breakfast, a football match for some, and sightseeing around the capital for others. The main event was a trip to the Tower of London, arranged by one of the lodge members John Tabern, whose good friend is a ‘Beefeater’, or, to give the proper title, one of the Yeomen Warders of Her Majesty’s Royal Palace and Fortress the Tower of London, and Members of the Sovereign’s Body Guard of the Yeoman Guard Extraordinary. Beefeaters are ceremonial guardians of the Tower of London. In principle they are responsible for looking after any prisoners in the Tower and safeguarding the British crown jewels; they have also conducted guided tours since the Victorian era.
It was for this purpose, a special guided tour, that the brethren assembled, to be treated not only to a fascinating tour, but also a personal invite into the Beefeaters own bar inside the Tower. From there, it was off to witness the Ceremony of the Keys. The Ceremony of the Keys is an ancient ritual, held every evening at the Tower of London, when the main gates are locked for the night. It is said to be the oldest military ceremony in the world, and is the best-known ceremonial tradition of the Tower. Once safely locked in the Tower after the lockdown, it was back to the bar for more informative and entertaining discussions with real life Yeoman Warders. Fortunately, there were directions to a small wicket gate at the end of the night, so the travellers were able, unlike many that had gone before, to make good their escape and regain the streets of London. It was a very special experience.
All refreshed and rested on Sunday morning, it was a boat trip on the Thames and a visit to Greenwich. With so much to do, they found it difficult to fit it all in. There was the Meridian line, the home of time itself, the Old Royal Navy College, the Cutty Sark, the wonderful market with its street food extravaganza, not to mention all the pubs and restaurants. Early evening soon arrived, and it was back to central London for more sightseeing, a few beers, and a visit to Chinatown for dinner, or perhaps better described as a late supper.
Monday was a return home, again uneventful. Everyone involved reflected on a truly memorable trip. It may not have involved passports, foreign climes, and strange and exotic food and drink, but in this, the tercentenary year, it was a great way to celebrate Bryn’s wonderful tradition and fraternal visit number 17. Surely, they must be running out of places to visit after so many years. Can there possibly be another next year?