Attending any installation meeting is a pleasure but we each have favourite lodges to visit. It can be because of the affability of the welcome one receives; members of the lodge that are close friends; the general air of fun and enjoyment that radiates; the outstanding quality of ritual; or countless other attractions. Fraternal Lodge No 4531 embraces all these qualities. Add to the equation that Assistant Provincial Grand Master Harry Cox is to be the principal guest and there you have it – a perfect day and a day in which a most delightful atmosphere prevailed in the lounge bar of Blackpool Masonic Hall as the brethren gathered to witness John Houghton being installed as the lodge’s new master.
Dignitaries that assembled to support Harry Cox and enjoy the evening included grand officers Ron Sands, Ron Weatherill, Ted Rhodes and North Fylde Group Chairman Duncan Smith, along with Jack Backburn, Blackpool Group Chairman John Turpin, his vice chairman David Cook and group secretary Steve Jelly. Adding further lustre to the galaxy of notables were acting Provincial officers Peter Smith, Rev Canon Godfrey Hirst and Allan Howie.
Straight from the starting gate it was clear that the gathered throng was to be treated to a peach of an installation ceremony. Master of the lodge John Haines (henceforth referred to as JH1) wasted no time in dispatching the general business of the lodge before introducing the main event of the evening, that of installing master elect John Houghton (hereafter labelled JH2) into the chair of King Solomon. Swift, crisp and articulate, there was no hanging about in JH1’s plan of action. He was going to install JH2 in memorable style. And that is exactly what he achieved. His performance was full on with total conviction.
Preceding the actual installation ceremony, JH1 invited Martyn Jones to act as installing senior warden, Martin Linton to fill the role of installing junior warden and Umesh Dholakia to be stationed as installing inner guard. All three installing officers are members of Blackpool Temperance Lodge No 5303, a lodge that has enjoyed a long-standing association and friendship with members of Fraternal Lodge.
Following Peter Smith’s eloquent presentation of JH2 to JH1, installing master JH1 stormed along in efficient yet sensitive fashion to install master elect JH2. There soon followed the presentations of the working tools of the three degrees and each performed with flair and style. Setting the mould was Peter Louth who dispensed the working tools of a master Mason with spirit and sincerity. Stepping up to the mark with the working tools of a fellow craft Freemason came that stalwart of ritualism, Peter Smith; a veritable rock of reliability. Universally renowned as a class A ritualist he, on this occasion, touched an even higher level of excellence. To the rear came Dennis Mackay with the tools of an entered apprentice. He kept the upper lip as stiff as one likes to see upper lips and, on completion, there was a smile of quiet satisfaction on his face. Understandably, he was feeling pleased with himself, assured that he had played his part well.
As the ceremony progressed into the investiture of lodge officers, quality followed quality. Martyn Jones and Martin Linton in addressing the senior and junior wardens respectively were relaxed and easy in style. If either of them felt any degree of pressure, they affected to ignore it. Their bearing continued calm and unmoved as if mere short recitals like that would be a snitch for them.
Similarly, Peter Louth in his address to the deacons spoke easily and articulately and director of ceremonies Martin Haines proved his credentials with a confident and meticulous address to the stewards of the lodge.
Peter Smith brought yet another gleam of light to the proceedings with a faultless address to the newly installed master. But then again, there is one thing that can be relied on with utmost confidence when Peter is called upon to perform ritual, he will produce a masterpiece. That is the nature of the man. Senior member of the lodge Harold Smith, approaching his 50 years in Freemasonry, and for years recognised as an expert in ritual showed that inherent talent is never lost when he performed a perfect address to the wardens.
All that was left was Harry Cox’s address to the brethren of the lodge. When Harry performs, it is not so much his unfaltering dialogue that is attractive to his audience – although that is great – as the fact that Harry, amongst his other accomplishments, delivers it with charm and stimulating sincerity. From a purely spectacular standpoint, it leaves his audience with a warm glow.
That glow was even more prominent when the newly installed master JH2 (John Houghton) presented Harry with charitable disbursements amounting to £2,005, an amazing amount for such a small lodge. Beneficiaries included the West Lancashire Freemasons’ Charity to the tune of £800; the Masonic Charitable Foundation 2021 Festival receiving £375; £500 to the Blackpool Masonic Hall Building Fund; £100 to Highfurlong School; £100 to Chernobyl Children’s Charity; £100 to the Blackpool Windmill Group and £10 to each of the Masonic bowling, golfing and shooting societies. Harry, on receiving them, was lavish in his praise of the brethren for their generosity and hard work.
The whole ceremony had been a triumph and, although all those involved had been outstanding, there is one figure that is deserving of special approbation – the indefatigable director of ceremonies Martin Haines. Whatever Martin does he does with the same determination that it must be done to perfection and, as one might expect, he handled the entire affair with consummate general-ship.
The way a team performs as a whole determines its success. A lodge may have the greatest bunch of individual performers in the world but if they don’t work together, the result won’t be worth a penny. It is the director of ceremonies who can form that necessary team spirit. He looks after the members of the lodge like a benevolent squire over his tenants; encouraging, supporting and guiding them. Undoubtedly, Martin was the guiding star of the proceedings.
The ceremony completed, the ceremonialists made their way to the banqueting room. Eyes were bright and steps were light and sprightly. All were deeply conscious of an air of approval surrounding them. They had done superbly well and they knew it and the festive board now provided a fitting conclusion to the evening.
Amplifying his earlier remarks on the quality of the ceremony, Harry was enthusiastic in his approbation during his response to the toast to the grand officers. He also took the opportunity to congratulate chairman of the Blackpool Group John Turpin on his pending appointment to United Grand Lodge and North Fylde Group Chairman Duncan Smith on his promotion in Supreme Grand Chapter.
Messages from the Provincial Grand Master that Harry wished to apprise the brethren included the tercentenary dinner at the Hilton Hotel, Blackpool on 25 November 2017, the meeting of Provincial Grand Lodge at the Opera House, Blackpool on 10 May and the forthcoming TV programme ‘Inside of Freemasonry’ that is scheduled to be televised on Sky1 on 17 April at 8.00pm.
Unperturbed by the ringing of an intruding phone, Harry calmly continued with his address and encouraged the brethren to recruit new members into Freemasonry but stressed the importance of ensuring that they are the right men, saying “quality is the most important factor if we are to retain them.”
Following the toast to the new master by installing master John Haines (JH1), Peter Louth, accompanied by George Holden at the piano, performed a sincere rendition of the master’s song. John Houghton (JH2) in response was full of praise for all who had contributed so much to his special evening. And a very special evening it was with all expectations of the brethren and visitors more than fully realised as the mastership of Fraternal Lodge was dutifully transferred from John to John.