Mike celebrates 50 years as a Mason

The members of Lodge of Concord No 343 celebrated 50 years in the Craft of member Michael (Mike) Billinge; a very special occasion for Mike and the members. The proceedings were led by Assistant Provincial Grand Master David Winder, accompanied by acting PrDGDC Neil MacSymons and supported by the group chairman Steve Bolton and PrJGD Mike Cowsley.

David presents Mike with his celebration certificate.

David presents Mike with his celebration certificate.

After transacting the initial business of the lodge, the WM Ray Thompson welcomed David into the lodge, thanking him for his attendance on this special occasion. On accepting the master’s chair, David began by saying, “Most Masons say very little to their pals about their personal achievements in life. They are by nature conservative, humble and self-effacing.” He felt that this celebration could be quite revealing as it is often the quiet ones that have to be watched.

To set the scene, David recounted some of the events of 50 years ago when, in 1965, Harold Wilson was Prime Minister, Mary Quant designed the mini skirt, The Beatles were taking the world by storm and the space race was being fought out by the USA and the USSR.

David then invited Neil MacSymons to escort the celebrant to a seat on the floor of the lodge, asking Mike to relax and enjoy the evening to the full. The brethren were then treated to a splendid résumé of the happenings in Mike’s life, both in and out of Freemasonry.

David began by recounting Mike’s early family life living in a large Victorian house with many rooms, some of which Mike’s father rented out to tenants. The house had a large cellar lit by gaslight in which Mike was able to play table tennis with his brother. The cellar also acted as a storage area for coal for use by all in the house. David recalled the time when a tenant, Miss Blinkhorn, was unexpectedly ‘frightened to death’ when, collecting coal, she was confronted by a shadowy figure that turned out to be a large Guy Fawkes Mike had made and stored in the gloomy cellar waiting for bonfire night.

Turning to Mike’s school days, David confided in the brethren that they began at Christ Church Primary, when on the first day; he walked home at lunchtime thinking schooling was over for the day. He went on to attend St Mathews and then Deepdale Secondary Modern where he qualified for the Harris Institute. Mike attended the ‘Harris’ from aged 14 to 16 attaining first class honours with distinction. Ready to go to university, Mike’s close friend Ted Morris persuaded him not to bother and seek employment at English Electric on Strand Road where his engineering studies could be put to good use.

David moved on to Mike’s working career which started with a five year student apprenticeship in mechanical engineering relating to heavy diesel engines. The training varied from a three month secondment to Rugby, working in the foundry with its rivers of molten iron to attending English Electric at Samlesbury to learn the finer points of pattern making. At the age of 21 Mike qualified as a draughtsman, engaged in the design, layout, assembly and detailed drawing work of multi-cylinder engines for both marine and traction use. During this training period, Mike studied at night school, gaining Ordinary and Higher National Certificates in mechanical engineering and subsequently after further study, the necessary endorsements to become a student member of the Institute of Mechanical Engineers.

Rather than serving in the military, Mike’s skills afforded him the opportunity to conduct his National Service in the Merchant Navy. The first year saw him travelling to Australia, New Zealand, the Caribbean and New York. The second year saw him change to a maritime company sailing out of Preston, calling at Larne, Glasgow, Cardiff and Liverpool.

Completing National Service, Mike returned to English Electric before seeking employment at the UKAEA Springfields site as a draughtsman in the design office. His work on fuel element design saw him, on promotion to Engineer 3, move to the Capenhurst site leading a team of draughtsmen dealing with all aspects of engineering. In 1974, further promotion to Engineer 2 and a move to the enrichment plant design office resulted in increased skills and experience that led to the post of project manager and having achieved the accreditation of Chartered Engineer of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, further promotion to Engineer 1, a position he held until his retirement.

On the subject of romance, David continued by turning the clock back to 1948 and referring to Mike’s ‘further education’ whilst studying at the Harris Institute. The education involved a certain young lady called Josephine who was in the commercial department. Attending Ashton Baptist Church where Josephine worshipped, played games of tennis together with church social activities, successfully converted Mike’s covert stalking exercise to success when in 1956 they were married at St Andrews Church, Ashton.

Married life saw Mike involved in many adventures driving his three wheeled BSA car with its gravity fed fuel system including numerous house moves as dictated by work demands. On the sporting side he enjoyed golf and cycling having covered many thousands of miles and continues to be an active member of the Springfield’s Fell Walking Club. His skills as a crown green bowler have seen him win the Provincial Bowling Tournament on two occasions and runner up in 2008.

Moving on to Mike’s Masonic career, David invited the lodge secretary, Patrick Bracewell, to read a précis of the minutes of the meeting at which Mike was initiated.

David continued by mentioning Mike’s father was a member of Halcyon Lodge No 6500 but never pushed Mike to join. It was up to Mike to ask first as was the tradition in those days. Despite being a ‘Lewis’, his father insisted he waited his turn to join. This occurred in October 1965 in a double first ceremony. February 1966 saw him passed to the degree of a fellowcraft and at the next meeting in March, raised to the sublime degree of a master Mason. Work commitments involving a move to Chester meant he had to resign from Halcyon Lodge after four years but not before joining Upton Weal Stone Lodge No 6373 meeting in Chester.

He completed the offices in the lodge and became master in 1978. His work and commitment within the lodge was recognised in 1988 when he was appointed in the Province of Cheshire to the rank of PPrGStdB. Work commitments intervened again forcing another lodge resignation and house move. This time, Mike joined Salwick Lodge No 7993 becoming master in 1996. Sadly, the lodge would hand in its warrant in 2002. As a result Mike became a joining member of the Setantia Lodge of Installed Masters No 7755 and shortly after the Lodge of Concord. Although Mike was offered a Provincial appointment in West Lancashire he preferred to retain his Cheshire honour that holds many happy associations.

David then invited Steve Bolton, to read the 50th celebration certificate before formally presenting it to Mike, bringing the congratulations of the Provincial Grand Master Tony Harrison as well as his own.

David concluded his remarks by reminding Mike that on the day he was made a Mason he was charged to be respectable in life, useful to mankind and an ornament to the society of which he was on that day made a member. His final words were, “Every brother present today is in no doubt that you, Mike, have fulfilled those obligations on every count and we join in congratulating you on a wonderful achievement, your jubilee celebration in Freemasonry.” This was followed by well-deserved applause from all the brethren present.

Pictured from left to right, are: Mike Cowsley, Neil MacSymons, David Winder, Mike Billinge, Ray Thompson and Steve Bolton.

Pictured from left to right, are: Mike Cowsley, Neil MacSymons, David Winder, Mike Billinge, Ray Thompson and Steve Bolton.