In celebration of 300 years of organised freemasonry Liverpool’s oldest lodge, Merchants No 241, hosted a pageant in celebration of this event. Fittingly, they invited a team from the nearby St Helens and Prescot masonic group, which included members of the oldest lodge within the Province of West Lancashire, Loyalty No 86 of Prescot, to present “a timeline drama and pageant’ for the occasion.
The lodge, sitting in the Corinthian room at Liverpool masonic hall, was opened in due form by the worthy master Ray Fitzsimmons, ably assisted by his wardens, John Buckingham and Eric Holcroft, and a warm welcome extended to all the visitors. The principal guest on this auspicious occasion was Assistant Provincial Grand Master Mark Dimelow, along with the Liverpool Group officers. Throughout the evening, the whole ambience was enhanced by the delightful musical programme of organist Ian Jones.
Ray took the opportunity to introduce Geoff Brown and Barry Fletcher, the group charity stewards who would be available throughout the evening for advice, and to assist brethren in signing up to the Province of West Lancashire MCF 2021 Festival. On completion of business, which included the proposal of a new candidate, the lodge was closed accordingly and at this point the lodge was prepared with a reading pedestal, four chairs and a table with a lamp placed upon it in readiness for the pageant.
(This had grown from an original idea formed by Frank Davies of Lodge of Loyalty, and after working on an outline of dates and events he took it to his friend David Burgess. David, an accomplished actor in local dramatics wrote a script around the work, but was not completely happy with his result. David decided to discuss it with an old friend, script writer Jacob Large who is not a Freemason, and it was Jacob who had the idea to have a herald (David Burgess) and to turn it into a pageant, rather than a play. Eventually, with everyone’s agreement, it was taken forward to Tony Bent, head of tercentenary celebrations and events for the West Lancashire Province who readily gave his approval. The pageant was born.)
With a large rapping on the lodge door the team announced their arrival when the Herald (Dave Burgess) followed by the team, dressed in period costume, entered the lodge and announced the start of the pageant. This timeline began in 1646 with Elias Ashmole (played by Allen Yates) who becomes the first recorded speculative Freemason in England. This took place at Warrington, which was then in the county of Lancashire. While Elias Ashmole is conversing with The Herald there can be heard the ring of a chisel working on stone in the hand of a more experienced workman, the operative mason John Stones. John (played by Norman Lay) is a larger than life figure representing those skilled tradesmen who for hundreds of years knew and kept the secrets of how to measure and build the cathedrals and castles across Europe and beyond.
The pageant sees the introduction of the first ever worshipful master of the new grand lodge which was formed in 1717, which gives us the tercentenary date of 2017. This was Anthony Sayer (played by John Dawson). Events move on when five years later the Constitutions drafted by James Anderson are accepted and printed. This character is portrayed by John Roughley, who later on also plays the part of the Duke of Kent. Only seven years later, we see the arrival of the ‘pantomime villain’ – Samuel Pritchard, who is portrayed to perfection by Alan Jones, when exposing the secrets of masonry in print.
Moving on over twenty years, we witness the arrival of Laurence Dermott, a painter and decorator by trade but obviously of some considerable intellect who arrived from Ireland, and would be instrumental in forming a rival grand lodge which became known as the ‘Ancients’. This part was played by Christopher Maloney (with a lilting Irish accent) and he later also played the character of the Duke of Sussex. In 1753 Lodge of Loyalty (now No 86) receives its Deputation to constitute a lodge in Prescot and so in later times becomes the oldest lodge in the Province of West Lancashire to this day
The penultimate section focuses on William Preston (played by Frank Davies the originator of the Pageant) twice expelled for his perceived misdemeanors and later re-admitted when he set up a legacy to finance study and lectures, which is alive and well today with the annual Prestonian Lecture. The final scene in the pageant is the unification of the two grand lodges in 1813, when the Dukes of Sussex and Kent, heads of the respective Modern and Ancient Grand Lodges join as one with Sussex then taking his seat as the first Grand Master of United Grand Lodge.
This was met by prolonged applause from all present, and brought the proceedings to an end, from which all removed to the main banqueting suite for a delightful festive board. During the evening a collection had been made in the meeting with the proceeds going to the Liverpool masonic hall building fund, while a raffle was taken at the festive board which raised £253, to be split equally between the charity accounts of the St Helens & Prescot 2021 Festival, and Lodge 241.