The door of the prep room, a small annex adjoining the lower temple at Blackpool Masonic Hall in which companions regale themselves in readiness of their chapter convocation, swung open and a pensive figure entered with tentative steps. It was Vincent Carte, or Vinny to his many acquaintances, and generally the chirpiest of cheery birds. But on this day an observant passer-by scanning his face, would have fancied that he discerned on it a keen, tense look. And he would have been right. Crossing to the west, Vinny greeted fellow companions William Atcheson and Gordon McLean with reticent cordiality and both, normally leading players in the chirpiness game, had faces that were similarly a little drawn and anxious. The apparent trepidation of the trio was a mystery for they were to be installed as the three new principals of Bispham with Norbreck Chapter No 4731, the prospect of which had elated them when first proposed; Vinny as first principal, William as second and Gordon as third. Other companions of the chapter were also knitting their brows, finding themselves regarding with apprehension the shape of things to come. Their mobile features indicated clearly the concern with which they were viewing the future.
The reason for their anxiety was that the stanchion of the chapter, the much respected director of ceremonies John Tew was not available to oversee the evening’s installation ceremony. A family bereavement in Australia had necessitated a sudden departure and last minute alternative arrangements in the chapter were necessary. The absence of one as skilled in the discharge of Royal Arch ceremonies as John Tew would throw many chapters into total disarray. But not at Bispham with Norbreck Chapter! Salvation was immediately at hand and ‘the Law’ stepped in to save the day.
Retired police officer Alan Law was just the man for the job. In Alan there had come such an expert in Royal Arch ritual that even John Tew, himself a master of ritualism, would have felt compelled to raise his hat in humble respect. Having previously been director of ceremonies of the chapter for 22 years, Alan knows the ceremonies like the back of his hand and it was clearly evident from the beginning that he was going to ensure order throughout.
With breezy insouciance, a few comforting words of reassurance from Alan soon regained composure amongst the companions. They assembled and proceeded to conduct the evening’s programme, commencing with Bill Snell’s efficient opening and discharging of the chapter’s general business.
It was soon time for the distinguished guests to be admitted. Leading the procession were acting Provincial officers Bob Bennett, Roy Fenton and Peter Weller and falling into step behind them in reverent mood strode Peter Bentham, Chairman of Blackpool Group, John Turpin (vice chairman) and grand officers William Eardley and David Thornton (Province of East Lancashire). To the rear was principal guest Assistant to the Provincial Grand Principals David Randerson, representing the Grand Superintendent. David, a kindly soul, always furnishes an enthusiasm and noticeable delight at attending convocations and this evening was no exception.
His delight was intensified when, as a first duty, Bill presented charitable disbursements to David to the tune of £500 with £300 going to the West Lancashire Freemasons’ Charity, £100 to Aspire and a further £100 to Blackpool Polar Bears. The smile on David’s face on receiving the cheques was even wider than usual.
The installation ceremony was in traditional format in which the first principal Vinny was installed in customary fashion by Bill, conducting the ritual with a delightful balance of solemnity, reverence and subtle humour where appropriate.
Installed securely in his chair of office and having pushed all nagging doubts aside, Vinny adopted a more relaxed pose as if a great burden had been lifted from his shoulders. In a smooth ceremony he installed William Atcheson as second principal and William duly and efficiently placed Gordon McLean in the third principal’s chair.
George Holden, wrenching himself from the organ where he had been providing musical accompaniment to the proceedings, demonstrated his versatility in reciting the robe address to the first principal. It was then Alan Law’s opportunity to demonstrate his mastery of ritual by presenting the purple robe address to William. Word perfect and with the ease of a veteran campaigner, Alan produced an arresting and inspirational example. Faced with such excellence the pressure was squarely on the shoulders of Robert Marsden in presenting the blue robe to Gordon McLean. A momentary dip in confidence had temporarily choked him but his manly spirit had not been crushed and he returned gallantly to the attack, much to the appreciation of the gathered throng.
The investiture of officers having been completed there followed a delightful sequence of addresses, firstly to the immediate past first principal Bill Snell by Brian Dudley. A rarely heard piece of ritual, Brian nailed it superbly with both spirit and sincerity. Reinforcing the companions’ opinion of his undeniable qualities Alan Law then demonstrated his immaculate command of the rituals by performing both the addresses to the three principals and to the officers of the chapter with confident fluidity and exemplary preciseness.
Completing the addresses, David Randerson in his to the companions of Bispham with Norbreck Chapter, provided another example of top-notch ritualism. Sincere, animated and with distinct clarity, David was determined not to be outclassed.
Alan had stepped into the breach as director of ceremonies at short notice and throughout the ceremony the companions had taken their orders from him placidly and executed them with promptness and civility. The whole affair was a triumph and a delight and, in conveying the best wishes of the Grand Superintendent, this was the point that David emphasised. Congratulating the three new principals on attaining their positions, he was exuberant in his praise of all the companions who had participated in the ceremony.
Apprising the companions of recent initiatives from grand and Provincial chapters in his address in response to the toast to grand officers at the banquet that followed the formalities of the installation, David concentrated on the amalgamation of the existing four grand charities into a new Masonic Charitable Foundation, the festival that will commence in 2017 and the tercentennial celebrations of the same year. He also reiterated his congratulations on the delightful ceremony that the companions had produced and thanked them all for their hard work, making special mention of Alan Law’s 11th hour contribution.
Earlier anxieties had dissipated and a relaxed and jubilant atmosphere prevailed during the banquet. Customary cheerful smiles returned to the faces of the three principals and the characteristic camaraderie of the chapter was to the forefront. Law and order had reigned supreme during the ceremony but now it was happiness and joy that reigned with equal supremacy. Accompanied on the piano by George Holden, Bill Eardley in his inimitable style performed the song to the three principals. One might say, it set the coping stone on a fine day.