Sunshine gilded the external fabric of the Masonic Hall in Blackpool and the warmth of its rays were matched by the warmth of the welcome extended to the Provincial Grand Master Tony Harrison and the galaxy of distinguished Masons accompanying him at the installation meeting of North Shore Lodge No 7916 that saw Michael Tax install Ramon Ashton into the chair of King Solomon in spectacular fashion.
One would not be surprised to learn that some of the brethren of the lodge felt under pressure on the day. After all, the Provincial Grand Master was the principal guest and he was accompanied by no fewer than 10 grand officers and 15 acting Provincial officers. Performing ritual in the presence of such an illustrious party is daunting, even to the most experienced Masons. But the Provincial Grand Master has a talent for putting people at ease and, in circulating amongst the brethren in the lounge bar prior to the meeting he put this talent to good effect; establishing a spirit of fellowship and calm. A warm greeting here; a cheery word there, and always a ready smile soon relaxed the more apprehensive of the performers and ensured that enjoyment was the priority of the day.
And so it was in sunny disposition that the ensemble repaired to the opulence of the upper lodge room; braced and ready to snap into the business of the evening.
Seemingly unaffected by nerves, Michael Tax opened the lodge and dispatched the general business with alacrity and confidence before the cortege of dignitaries paraded in. The eye was refreshed by the weight of numbers and the showiness of glistening gold braid on their dress regalia, creating a magnificent spectacle that was an ideal precursor to the quality of ceremony that was to follow. Even with the grandeur of the Provincial Grand Master’s entry however, Michael did not lose his head. He continued to present the old sangfroid throughout the ceremony.
Perhaps his confidence was founded on his first task prior to the main event, that of presenting charitable disbursements to the Provincial Grand Master. The amounts donated were as impressive as the ceremony would prove to be, with a total of £4,760.75 being distributed between Masonic and non-Masonic causes. Breaking down the grand total into its individual components, the figures read as follows; £1,181 to the Masonic Charitable Foundation 2021 Festival; £438.75 to the West Lancashire Freemasons’ Charity; £451 to Christie Hospital Trust; £750 to the Alzheimer’s Society; £250 to Rosemere Cancer Foundation; £250 to Prostrate Cancer Research; £250 to Cancer Research; £150 to the Stroke Association; £140 to Donna’s Dreamhouse and a further £900 to the Masonic Charitable Foundation 2021 Festival raised by the North Shore Ladies’ Committee. A highly impressed Provincial Grand Master was lavish in his praise of the members of the lodge for their generosity and particularly grateful to the North Shore Ladies Committee for its hard work and support.
Having parked Provincial Senior Grand Warden David Asbridge and Provincial Junior Grand Warden Peter Allen into their respective stations as installing senior and junior wardens, Michael invited Emmanuel Adeoye to act as installing inner guard in preparation for Gordon Thompson to present the master elect Ramon Ashton.
It is worthy of record, in the light of after events, that at the beginning of the evening, it was the general expectation of the masses gathered at the Masonic Hall that the ceremony was to be first rate and it would be paltering with the truth to say that it was anything other than excellent. It had been anticipated that it would be packed to the teeth with quality performances and it was indeed, packed to the teeth with quality performances.
Michael performed the ritual with subtle and sensitive inflection that the vapid and unreflective observer might overlook. Rarely would anyone see a better performance. It was a joy to experience. Following his placement in the chair of King Solomon, Ramon responded with equal verve in investing Michael as the immediate past master with an interestingly extended and rarely heard address. Similarly, senior member of the lodge Gordon Thompson fired a delightful and sincere rendition of the presentation of the working tools of an installed master.
It was not only the individual performances that were entertaining. The whole ceremony had been orchestrated with precision and exactitude by the director of ceremonies Ron Strangwick. It was disciplined. It was well practised. It was charming. Nature, when designing Ron Strangwick shoved in a bit more efficiency and organisational skills than was absolutely necessary and, consequently, created a director of ceremonies of the highest order. Such are his abilities that it is safe to say that they are recognised by the big wigs. One does not need to labour the point. His record speaks for itself.
The process of proclaiming Ramon as the new master was particularly pleasurable to the gathered throng. The quality of oration from the three light blue brethren who presented the working tools of the degrees established them as popular favourites with the multitude. The proletariat as a whole was for them solidly. Andrew Fraser was first to perform in presenting the working tools of a master Mason, followed by Derek Haigh who delivered those of a fellow craft and Mark Curtis who presented the working tools of an entered apprentice. And as a clear testimonial to their brilliance, Tony Harrison, Harry Cox and David Asbridge, during their speeches at the festive board, each made specific reference to the three whom this chronicle has alluded, each speaker using the adjective ‘magnificent’.
The officers of the lodge having been invested with their collars and jewels of office, it was Peter Bentham’s turn to perform the address to the newly-installed master. He took up his post with appropriate reverence and adopted the deportment of a victorious statesman and, pausing momentarily to gather his thoughts and seemingly imbibing zestful energy, he launched into the ritual with zip and clarity. It was a fine performance and much appreciated by the throng of happy onlookers.
Peter Wilson thrilled the audience too with a splendid address to the newly invested wardens of the lodge, leaving the Provincial Grand Master to round off the occasion with his address to the brethren. Having been escorted to the allotted spot with due reverence by Provincial Grand Director of Ceremonies Keith Kemp, Tony Harrison delivered the piece with impeccable style, pausing momentarily to check that Keith Kemp was paying attention by mischievously requesting a prompt. Having established that Keith was 100% on the ball, Tony completed his oration with pep and zest.
At the denouement of the formal proceedings, it was clearly evident that the populace had been presented with delight and had revelled in it. In joyous mood they retired to the dining suite to thoroughly immerse themselves in a four course banquet and as they ladled out their prawn cocktails, there was an atmosphere of cordial satisfaction. All had gone well and was worthy of reward.
But the pleasures of the evening were not yet over. Customary speeches were still to come and the standard set by the ceremony continued throughout the festive banquet. Toasting the health to the Provincial Grand Master was Harry Cox, always a gifted raconteur who delivers his narrations with style and vim. Responding to the toast, Tony Harrison was lavish in his praise of all who had participated in the formalities of the evening. He also made mention of the plethora of grand officers and acting Provincial officers who had attended in support of him and the lodge. He was also generous in his thanks to Blackpool group chairman John Turpin and the group team who do so much behind the scenes.
Ever cheerfully, he reprised his audience of the many tercentenary celebrations taking place throughout the Province and conveyed his thanks for the support of the Masonic Charitable Foundation 2021 Festival that had been officially launched at the Provincial Grand Lodge meeting a couple of weeks previously at the Winter Gardens, Blackpool, saying that he could not have wished for a better start to the Festival.
Senior Warden of the Province David Asbridge, in his response to the toast to Provincial officers, echoed the praises of Harry Cox and Tony Harrison in his approbation of the ceremony, particularly reiterating the praise lavished on the light blue Masons who had presented the working tools.
There only remained the toast to the newly installed master, a task that is traditionally affected by the immediate past and installing master. Still in the same confident and competent manner that he displayed during the formalities of the ceremony, Michael Tax did a superb job, providing a balance between humour and reverence. The master’s song, performed with gusto and accompanied with equal enthusiasm by George Holden at the piano, was belted out in flawless fashion by Steve James.
The whole occasion had been a roaring success and Ramon Ashton summed up the events of his installation as, “a wonderful and memorable occasion.” His enjoyment of the day was equalled by the pleasures that the populace had experienced. Putting it in nutshell, North Shore Lodge No 7916 can be very proud of its achievement – and for keeping a smile on Tony’s face.