Clifton Chapter No 703 is the oldest Royal Arch chapter on the Fylde Coast and the twelfth oldest in the Province of West Lancashire, having been consecrated all the way back in October 1872. It has a long and proud history and boasts an impressive legacy of first principals. One of the founders of the chapter and its first principal during its formative years was Lord Skelmersdale (Deputy Provincial Grand Master of Lancashire West Division at the time) – establishing its credentials in no uncertain terms. Over the past 145 years the chapter has continued to elect companions of the finest order to the office of first principal – and the present is no exception.
In a slick and meticulously orchestrated ceremony at which Provincial Grand Scribe Nehemiah Jim Miller was the principal guest as representative of the Grand Superintendent Tony Harrison, Roger Fish was proclaimed first principal for a second year, Graham Hoadley was installed as second principal and Rory Maskell was installed as third principal. Accompanying Jim was Blackpool Group chairman John Turpin and his vice chairman David Cook, further supported by acting Provincial officers Ron Strangwick and William Ainsworth. Members of the chapter added even more dignity to the occasion. Grand officer Ian Robertson (the assistant director of ceremonies in the chapter) and group secretary Steve Jelly were just two of the revered members who provided additional lustre.
As might be expected of a chapter of such antiquity, some of its ritual is slightly different from that of chapters established in more recent years. But then, it is the minor idiosyncrasies that add charm and interest to convocations. Add to this the eccentricities of individual companions and the meetings take on a vibrancy and individuality that is both entertaining and very satisfying.
Throughout the ceremony, the observer could not help but be impressed by the endeavours of the chapter’s director of ceremonies Martin Haines. He had moulded the team into a well-oiled engine and was attentive at all times to ensure its smooth running. Martin does not expect others to produce what he himself is not capable of. Martin is a fine and reliable ritualist, always willing to step up to the mark. He is one who is not afraid to put his head on the block. And his grit and determination to do a good job was reflected in the quality of the ceremony at Clifton chapter. It was superbly choreographed and competently performed.
Having given a warm welcome to the visiting companions, first principal Roger Fish opened the proceedings and conducted the general business of the chapter with alacrity and relaxed cheeriness. The evening had started well and all in attendance were looking forward to an entertaining meeting. Jim Miller and his retinue were paraded in with customary decorum and the evening’s main agenda item commenced.
Martin Haines presented a nervous Rory Maskell as third principal elect and one of the idiosyncrasies of the chapter was immediately realised. The ancient, and now unusual, practice of ‘ablutions’ with the third principal was enacted before Rory undertook his obligation. To state that Rory appeared to be ill at ease would be an understatement. Yes, there is no getting away from it, Rory was nervous. He drew a deepish breath and, looking about as relaxed as a penguin in a microwave, he eased into his obligation. As is so often the case with nerves, once the performer gets underway, concentration on the task in hand overcomes anxiety and a fine performance prevails. So it was with Rory.
It was then the turn of Graham Hoadley to be presented to the first principal as second principal elect. Graham was altogether more relaxed but, having already been through the principals’ chairs in 2007, he was only required to re-affirm his obligation and did so in serene and tranquil vein. Roger Fish, remaining in the office of first principal, was duly proclaimed and the ceremony moved on at a lively pace.
On completion of Rory’s installation as third principal, and proclamations of the first and second principals, the audience was treated to a flurry of especially good ritual. Whilst many chapters would consider themselves fortunate if blessed with a mere handful of gifted ritualists, Clifton chapter appears to hold a plethora of talent. Kicking off the surge of excellence was Martin Haines with the scarlet robe address, followed by Chris Walpole with the purple robe address and then Michael Wilkinson with the blue robe address. Each was superb. They recited their pieces as if some inner voice had whispered inspirational encouragement to which they had responded with fervour.
The brilliance continued when Vernon Broadhurst relinquished his seat at the treasurer’s post to take the floor and deliver the address to the three principals. Vernon is a quiet and unassuming gent, one that can be readily underrated. But he can rise to the occasion when required, realising his latent talent, if that is the right term. Not that it matters. The point is that he performed with absolute quality.
Ernie Gavan in his recital to the officers of the chapter started off in fine style but uncharacteristically faltered slightly. Recovering after a short uncomfortable pause, however, he soon got the machinery going again, enabling him to reach the highest standard of performance.
The pressure was then on Jim Miller to deliver the address to the companions of Clifton Chapter. He moseyed over in a southerly direction and dropped anchor at the stipulated spot, reciting the narrative in debonair and confident manner. It was a recital of classic eloquence and sincerity – perfect for a chapter of such historical significance.
At the announcement of the conclusion of the installation ceremony, Jim was eager to convey the greetings of the Grand Superintendent and congratulate the three principals and the participating companions on their fine performances and on creating a fascinating and enjoyable spectacle. Referring to the antiquity of the chapter, he stated that attending historic chapters is always a fulfilling experience. “It makes it a very special occasion”, he said.
Responding to Jim’s kind words, a genial glow suffused first principal Roger Fish. Well, one always likes a word of praise from the fans, doesn’t one? Roger was also delighted to present Jim with charitable disbursements that included £200 to the West Lancashire Freemasons’ Charity, £200 to Highfurlong School, a school for children and young adults with a wide range of special education needs and £200 to Blackpool Polar Bears, a local multi-disability swimming club for members of the community with a physical or learning disability.
Following the closure of the chapter, the companions withdrew from the chapter room and elatedly tottered off to the bar to procure their chosen refreshers as groundwork for the festive banquet where they were served with a feast that would have satisfied even the most edacious of revellers. In a spirt of courteous carousing, light-hearted banter and joviality prevailed, providing an ideal conclusion to a super day, no doubt just one of many in the long history of Clifton Chapter No 703.