We Lancastrians have been known to say that the only good thing to come out of Yorkshire is the road to Lancashire, but it has to be said that on a recent visit to the spar town of Harrogate by the members and friends of Lathom Abbey Lodge No 6286, they found that old saying to be totally untrue.
On the Friday, every one of the guests attending the ladies’ festival weekend received a very warm welcome from WM John Mercer and his wife Sheila to the Majestic Hotel in the heart of the town for what was to be a great weekend of fun and laughter. Accompanying the proud parents, and it must be said a very great help in organising the event, were son and daughter Andrew and Katie who had been looking forward to the event for some time.
Once the guests had settled into their rooms and unpacked, many ventured out to familiarise themselves with the town and open spaces right on the doorstep of the hotel. Did you know that Harrogate was once two small villages, high Harrogate and low Harrogate? It hosted the Eurovision Song Contest in 1982, and it has been voted the happiest place to live in Britain for the third year in a row by a recent survey. The country’s last, fully working Turkish bath remains in the town, dating back to the 19th century. Betty’s Café Tearoom began its life in Harrogate in 1919, selling Yorkshire’s famous ‘Fat Rascal’ scones; a visit to this establishment was a must for those attending the weekend.
Friday evening started with a carvery dinner served in the aptly named drawing / reading room before the guests assembled in the billiard room for an evening of fun and entertainment hosted by John and Sheila. ‘Play your cards right’, ‘Mr and Mrs’ and the ever challenging ‘guess the altered celebrity face’ plus Irish bingo and so on, led to a lot of good humoured banter.
Following a hearty breakfast the following morning in the main dining room, many of the guests ventured further afield visiting the villages and attractions in this part of the Yorkshire Dales National Park. The scenery within a short drive of the town is stunning and was well worth the effort. Meanwhile back at the hotel John, Sheila and family were hard at work preparing for the main event of the weekend, the ladies festival.
At 5.30pm prompt the guests met in the North South Lounge for pre-dinner drinks and photographs with the men attired in their best bib and tucker and the ladies looking glamorous in their evening gowns; before taking their seats in the Ballroom. This magnificent room befitting this occasion was decorated in shades of pink, lilac, blue and yellow and tables suitably adorned with spring flowers. The master and his wife were then applauded into the room followed by lodge chaplain Neil Winrow, who said grace. A three course meal was then served during which DC Nigel Kent led several traditional toasts. The toast to ‘The Ladies’ was given by Stewart Cranage. A very witty speech from a well-respected Mason and brother-in-law to the WM not only praising the ladies present but also highlighting the many attributes that the family have gained from their association with the lodge.
The ladies song was beautifully sung by Bryan Davidson during which he presented red roses to Edna Dutch and Christina Dutton wives of the acting senior and junior wardens and one to Sheila. Members of the family then distributed roses to all the ladies in the room.
Responding to the toast to the ladies, Sheila said: “I would like to begin by thanking you all for supporting our ladies’ festival here in Harrogate. John and I have been overwhelmed at how many of you have been so eager and excited to join us for this weekend and I feel so privileged to have so many of you here.”
Continuing, Sheila said she well remembered the time when ‘three wise men’ came knocking at their door, explaining that there was room at the Masonic inn for John to be born into the Masonic brotherhood, and thus he has become who he is today, the WM of Lathom Abbey Lodge. She further remembers thinking she was a little anxious of what Masonry was about, as she had heard rumours of a funny handshake, reciting bizarre rituals, wearing funny aprons and white gloves and of course ‘the goat’. Sheila said: “What on earth goes on in that little room above O’Brien’s tea rooms most of us will never know. Whatever does go on though I know has given John a whole new opening in life to provide both of us with the wonderful gift of sincere, welcoming and thoughtful friendships, as well as an increased social life; having fun and laughter whilst raising money for many good causes.” During her speech she also mentioned the Ormskirk Ladies Group whose membership she thoroughly enjoys and the pleasure that the whole family have gained whilst raising money for charitable good courses during her husband’s year in office.
Following the formalities of the dinner, Bryan Davidson took on his alter ego, that of ‘Fast Eddie’ and soon had the hotel and guests rocking to his beat and laughing at his witty banter late into the night.
It must be said that on this occasion the ‘majestic red and white rose counties’ were in perfect harmony an event to be celebrated and remembered by the members and guests of the lodge for many years to come.
Article and Photographs by Barry Hewitt.