In a Freemason’s career, there are occasions when circumstances demand solid grit and determination; times when a strong sense of duty overrides any consideration of seeking an easy way out. Brian Sharples, a senior member and master of Symphony Lodge No 4924 was faced with just such a decision when Peter Baldwin was to be installed as the new master of the lodge. Brian had not been well during the run-up to the ceremony but he was determined to fulfil his duty as installing master, no matter how stressful or challenging the responsibility may be. Anyone who has conducted an installation ceremony will be only too aware of the pressures that it places on the nerves and tissues. But there was no question of Brian shirking his responsibilities and delegating the task to a younger and fitter member. Brian had accepted the honour of being master of the lodge and he was determined to discharge the duties of his office to the full.
Expertly guided by the lodge’s director of ceremonies Alistair Still, Brian produced a delightful and sincere ceremony. Alistair Still is one of those men of cold steel. You know the sort; generally the chief protagonist in American action movies who takes everything in his stride as if out on a Sunday jaunt. Giving credit where credit is due, one thing that can be said of Alistair is that he can plan a campaign. General Montgomery would have benefited from a training course with him. Follow his plan in detail, and there you are. On the evening, Alistair did a superb job watching over Brian and encouraging him throughout the ceremony – as a sensitive officer might protect his adjutant. But it must also be stated that his troops were top-notch too.
On hand to appreciate Brian’s efforts was Assistant Provincial Grand Master Stewart Seddon, accompanied by Blackpool Group Chairman John Turpin and vice chairman David Cook and supported by acting Provincial officers Peter Smith, Gary Fisher and Bryn Hart.
Prior to installing Peter into the chair of King Solomon, Brian invited Roger Lloyd-Jones to accept the post of installing senior warden, Roy Fenton to act as installing junior warden and Granville Coxhill to be installing inner guard. These positions filled, James Barclay presented Peter to Brian and the ceremony of installation commenced. Amongst numerous examples of excellent ritual was Jules Burton’s address to the immediate past master; a complicated piece that Jules brought to life with his inimitable theatrical style. It was flamboyant yet meticulously accurate in its interpretation.
Vinny Carte was next up to demonstrate expert ritual in his presentation of the warrant of the lodge and book of constitutions and lodge by-laws. Jules Burton returned to the spotlight with another magnificent display when he recited the working tools of a master Mason, again in dramatic style. His performances are always exemplary in passion and vitality.
Vinny Carte, although more reserved in his performances than Jules, produced a masterclass in ritual when he delivered the working tools of a fellow craft Freemason, a standard that continued when Antony Blackburn presented the working tools of an entered apprentice. Quality followed quality when Roger Lloyd-Jones, Roy Fenton and Granville Coxhill addressed the newly invested senior and junior wardens and inner guard respectively.
But a performance that was particularly impressive was that of Alistair Still who, breaking momentarily from his role as director of ceremonies, gave the addresses to the newly installed master and immediately followed it with the address to the wardens. Any Mason who has acted as director of ceremonies will be only too aware of how challenging it can be to suddenly switch roles from director to performer, particularly when faced with such vital pieces of ritual as the addresses to the master and his wardens. Alistair Still achieved the conversion with poise and distinction. His performance was worthy of special credit.
Rounding off the addresses was Stewart Seddon’s address to the brethren of Symphony Lodge. Arriving at his designated spot, whither Alistair Still (now back in his role as director of ceremonies) had escorted him; Stewart addressed the brethren of the lodge, performing his piece in a genuine spirit of pleasure and kindness. Stewart is one of those chaps who earn respect by the warmth of the respect that he radiates to his fellow man.
That warmth and respect became even more pronounced when Peter Baldwin as the new master presented Stewart with charitable disbursements totalling £2,700, distributed as £1,400 to the West Lancashire Freemasons’ Charity, £700 to Blackpool Air Ambulance, £200 to the Blackpool, Fylde and Wyre Haemochromatosis Support Group, £200 to N Vision, £100 to Prostate Cancer and £100 to Hint of Pink Breast Cancer Charity. On receiving them, Stewart was explicit in his approbation of the generosity of the lodge.
At the words “Worshipful Master, that concludes the ceremony of your installation”, Peter was eager to employ the gavel and take charge of the proceedings but before he had raised the aforementioned by more than an inch or so, his actions were interrupted by Stewart rising from his seat and, as is customary at this juncture of an installation ceremony, uttering “That is my cue to bring the greetings and good wishes of the Provincial Grand Master Tony Harrison”. Peter resisted any temptation to continue in his application of the gavel and graciously accepted words of praise from Stewart, directed principally at Brian Sharples for the sincerity and charm of the ceremony and to Alistair Still for his crucial supportive role.
Director of ceremonies Alistair Still had certainly done his work well. He had not been ambiguous. What he intended to convey to the viewer was that Peter had been solidly installed into the chair of King Solomon and that it was performed in a delightful fashion; and that was exactly the impression that the viewer got.
The throng repaired to the banqueting suite to push down a generous dinner and continue the revelry, feasting in the camaraderie that is just one of the joys of Freemasonry in general but of Symphony Lodge in particular. The newly installed master Peter, flanked to his right by principal guest Stewart and group chairman John, took his place at the head of the table whilst, amongst the masses, desultory conversation was proceeding in the liveliest manner and all waded into the bill of fare in an almost brutal fashion. Hunger must have been screaming at their throats (Symphony Lodge is a daytime lodge and many of the revellers had insufficiently breakfasted).
After they had finished slurping their oxtail soup and mangling their chicken breast stuffed with sage and onion, wrapped in bacon and served with sage gravy, roast potatoes, roast carrots and broccoli gratin, followed by a generous portion of lemon meringue pie, the serious business of speeches commenced.
Refreshed by good food and genial company, Stewart’s brain was lively and sharp for his response to the toast to the grand officers. Apprising the brethren of issues important to the Provincial Grand Master Tony Harrison, Stewart reiterated the desire for all to enjoy their Freemasonry and communicate that enjoyment to non-Masons. Stewart also strongly encouraged the brethren to continue to forward the interests of the Royal Arch and make non-Royal Arch Masons aware of its benefits. He was equally enthusiastic about the Tercentenary celebrations and urged all to support planned events, many of which are open to family and friends, thereby offering an ideal opportunity to introduce potential candidates to Freemasonry.
He also referred to the Masonic Charity Foundation 2021 Festival and its official launch at the Provincial Grand Lodge meeting to be held at the Winter Gardens, Blackpool on 10 May 2017, hoping that as many Masons as possible will be present to support the Provincial Grand Master. In closing, he repeated his earlier praise of Brian Sharples as installing master, the delightful performances by the three brethren who had delivered the working tools and, finally, the stoic dedication of Alistair Still.
Rounding off the day with gusto and panache, Peter Bowden launched into a rousing rendition of the master’s song, accompanied on the piano by professional keyboard player Arthur Casson – a perfect ending to a memorable day that had displayed grit, perseverance and stout determination.