The Grand Superintendent for the Province of West Lancashire, Tony Harrison has just made a very welcome return to the Provincial headquarters at Liverpool Masonic Hall. He was there to attend a meeting of the Royal Arch Chapter of Liverpool No 292 which was being held in the magnificent and incomparable Egyptian Suite.
The chapter was opened in due form by its first principal Peter Connolly, who was ably assisted by his co-pricipals Alan Ball and Victor Waine. The chapter director of ceremonies Phil Pattullo eventually managed to seat all the companions within the room, which has now attained the nickname of ‘The Tin’ such was the multitude that wanted to be there for the evening.
Peter warmly welcomed everyone and thanked them for their attendance before all stood to welcome the Grand Superintendent, Tony Harrison accompanied by officers of Supreme Grand Chapter, acting officers of Provincial Grand Chapter and officials of the Liverpool Group.
After accepting the sceptre of the chapter Tony occupied the chair and requested the Provincial Grand Director of Ceremonies, Ian Higham to place Peter Connolly in a chair in the middle of the floor before him.
Tony said, companions we are here this evening to celebrate the golden anniversary as a Royal Arch Mason of Excellent Companion Peter Connolly, Past Assistant Grand Sojourner.
He then outlined some of Peter’s achievements, beginning with his birth in 1941 within the Waterloo district situated in the small Lancashire fishing village of Liverpool. The only son of William and Gladys Connolly, the family home was a very large 1874 detached house in Abbotsford Road, Blundellsands originally built for a seafaring Captain, which was shared with Peter’s maternal grand-parents.
This was at a time when King George V1 was monarch and Winston Churchill was the Prime Minister of a coalition Government while World War II was raging across Europe. The battle for Tobruk was being fought by both British and Australian forces, and a Josef Jakobs, a German spy, parachuted into the village of Ramsey breaking his ankle and was immediately arrested. He was the last person to be executed in the Tower of London by a firing squad following his conviction under the Treachery Act. Nazi Germany was blitzing Britain, Swansea. Plymouth, Glasgow Clyde Bank, Greenock, Belfast, Manchester and Merseyside, causing damage everywhere except Abbotsford Road. Fire-watching therefore became mandatory for business premises to limit incendiary damage.
The German submarine U 110 was captured in the North Atlantic with its Enigma cryptography machine and all its code books and Rudolf Hess parachuted into Scotland claiming to be on a peace mission. RAF Pilot Douglas Bader was taken prison by the Germans after a mid-air collision over France. The Battleship Bismarck was actively sinking allied shipping in the North Atlantic but Fairey Swordfish biplanes from the Ark Royal aircraft carrier very quickly located and fatally crippled the German battleship in a torpedo attack.
Clothes rationing was introduced and the National Fire Service was established. The British Red Cross began to open wartime charity shops, J.Arthur Rank bought the Gaumont-British Picture Corporation and Noel Coward composed the song ‘London Pride’ and produced the comedy ‘Blithe Spirit’ which was premiered at the Manchester Opera House. Sadly this year also saw the death of Lord Robert Baden-Powell the founder of the Boy Scouts.
But there were many personalities born in 1941, Long John Baldry, Mike Yarwood, Paddy Ashdown, Bobby Moore, Ed Stewart, Tommy Vance, Don Mclean, Michael Fish, Joe Cocker and Peter Connolly. Tony mentioned he had been led to believe that some of Peter’s early memories were chasing the cat Fluff around their large home, up and down the 106 stairs to the attic, shivering after bathing in the long cold winters and helping his father germinate the tomatoes with a rabbits foot and also going into the greenhouse to pick grapes. At this time the only sweets available were Wrigleys spearmint and Beechnut chewing gum as ration book coupons were required for anything else. Like most at that period Peter endured a hard life but recall having great FUN even then.
Peter’s father was a shipping agent at the docks in Liverpool which at that time, were some six miles long, and he had knowledge of all the ships and their cargos passing through the dock. However, if he was able to have an occasional Saturday off work, he would take Peter on a trip on the Liverpool Overhead Railway, which Tony said he was sure set him off on his love for trams and trains of all sizes.
Peter’s education progressed from Ursuline Convent and Miss Milton’s Prep School to Merchant Taylor’s School in Crosby, for three years, but sadly in 1952 at the age of 46 his father suddenly passed away causing a devastating loss to the family. However, a few years earlier, in 1949, his father had joined Fairfield Lodge No 2290 and had just reached the Stewards bench. Dr Fred Wilson a Freemason and the medical officer for all the shipping lines out of Liverpool, proposed Peter for the RMBI at Bushey, where he attended for two years. The closure of the School was proposed and those who were about to start their GCE courses were moved to other schools and Peter was fortunate enough to go to Liverpool College as a boarding scholar, leaving in 1959 having achieved GCE 0 and A level certificates and his athletic colours.
The boarding school conditions were to say extremely Victorian, but he enjoyed them and they obviously set him up for a good life ahead. Tony said Peter remembers a number of his school friends who made names for themselves, Nigel McCulloch who became Bishop of Manchester, and who officiates at the British Legion Festival of Remembrance in the Royal Albert Hall, Malcolm Thornton who became Minister for Wales in Margaret Thatcher’s Government and of course Richard Stilgoe, now of television fame.
Upon leaving school Peter studied at the College of Commerce, and later joined the Territorial Army and received his commission in 1960, finishing his career commanding 309 Signals Squadron at Prescot as Captain, Acting Major. He then joined Norwest Construction as a management trainee for two years before joining a national firm of timber merchants ‘Southerns’, as a buyer for their manufactured products.
Peter started their joinery division and in 1974 became manager of the Door and Joinery division responsible for some 20 staff and selling over 5,000 doors every week. The company merged with’ Magnet’, to become ‘Magnet Southern’ and he was appointed to the board as a director of the company. In 1985 he resigned from the board to start his own business and very quickly became the second largest supplier of spiral staircases in the country, to Barratts, for their starter homes. He then went on to design extruded plastic products for the newly introduced Roof Ventilation Regulations which he marketed and sold for 22 years before his retirement in 2008.
Peter married in 1964 and had three children, Andrea, Stephen and Paul who have given him four wonderful grand children who bring great joy, especially those who love the railways. He remarried in 1999 to Lynne and acquired a further three grandchildren.
Peter’s hobbies and interests are many and varied, his love for our past heritage, trams and railways in general but narrow gauge railways in particular offer him great excitement, as does the caravanning and fell walking. Tony said he believes that it all stems from the days when Peter was a young wolf cub and a boy scout and that keeps him looking so youthful or is it perhaps the fact that he is now an Honorary Girl Guide, supporting his dear wife Lynne, during her 10 years as commissioner and his help with the Rainbows and Brownies which has earned him the distinguished order of a ‘Wise Owl’ or possibly ‘Know it all owl’ as he is better known.
More recently both Lynn and Peter have become volunteers at Martin Mere Wild Life centre, where they specialise in pond dipping and helping children recognise the inhabitants. Only this afternoon Peter has completed his training on candling and downy duck training!
Peter is also very involved with his local church, and currently the Cantor, reprising psalms and responses. As an accomplished amateur organ player he derives much enjoyment out of playing and listening to organ music, particularly the Willis organs at St Georges Hall in Liverpool and that in Freemasons Hall in Gt Queen Street London where their great Willis Organ has just been refurbished at great expense and was heard again at the last Grand Lodge Investiture.
Tony continued by recalling that it was November 1963 when Peter took his first regular step into the unknown and became a Freemason, being initiated into Fairfield Lodge which has now sadly closed, but he became a member of several other lodges again some of which have closed, is this trying to tell us all something.
Peter was reminded of his startling Masonic journey which began on passing through the chair of Fairfield Lodge, firstly in 1977 again in 1978, becoming the acting Provincial Senior Grand Warden of the Province on 8 May 1984 then shortly afterwards becoming vice chairman and then chairman of the 8th Liverpool Group, as it was then. Peter received his first Grand rank appointment Past Assistant Grand Director of Ceremonies in 1998 and a promotion in 2008 to Past Grand Junior Deacon.
1965 was yet another good year for him, it also saw Harold Wilson leading a Labour Government, war broke out in Cyprus and the Race for Space was on. The Pennine way was officially opened and Asda opened its very first supermarket store in Castleford. The Post Office Tower in London opened and Dr Beeching announced his plans for the closure of 100s of railway stations and branch lines throughout the country. Liverpool won the FA cup for the first time in history and whilst the motorway network was expanding they also introduced the 70 mph speed limit. The first female High Court Judge was appointed and on the 13 May 1965 Peter’s Royal Arch journey commenced when he was exalted into the Chapter of Liverpool No 292.
It was at this stage that Tony requested Tim Burgess of Liverpool Chapter to read the events of that day. Tim stood and informed Tony that unfortunately the minutes of the meeting held on 13 May 1965 are now sadly missing, believed to have been lost in the disastrous fire the hall suffered in the latter end of that same decade.
However, Tim said: “Other information has been gleaned from local sources. First it should be said that Peter Connolly should have been exalted on 8 January. However, the Scribe Ezra refused to allow the ceremony to proceed because no clearance certificate from Fairfield Lodge had been produced. In fact he was confused, it was a Grand Lodge certificate that was required, and this had been produced. Peter was refused entry, and sent home at 6.15pm Not a good experience for someone less than two years a Mason. However, because his proposer Dr Fred Wilson and seconder Tom Place were those who had proposed him for the Masonic school he came back for the May meeting.
The Liverpool Echo for that very day gave further information for that day. On that very day, 13 May, three Belgian trawlers from Zeebruge were arrested by the Merchant Navy off the Great Orme and brought into Morpeth Dock, Birkenhead. They had been fishing within the 12 mile limit. There was a warning about global warming [50 years ago!], because the temperature had soared 15° higher than the previous average for May. The trade gap had widened by £8,000,000 and there had been local elections for urban district councils and the Conservatives announced that they had won 295 seats, far more than they had expected.
On television at the same time as Peter was being exalted were Blue Peter, The White Heather Club and Doctor Kildare. You could hire a Granada TV for 8/9d per week and Mantunna tea [where Peter’s aunt was company secretary cost 1/4d a pack. A new product developed for the Atlas missile ‘WD40’ was launched at 9/9d a can [rather expensive], and in the world of entertainment My Fair Lady was on at the Empire Theatre and Cilia Black sported a new bob-cut hairstyle for her part in a new film Ferry Across the Mersey.
As an alternative Peter could have been dancing at Reece’s or the Grafton Rooms. Grand Superintendent that was what was reported on 13 May 1965.”
After thanking Tim for the extra information Tony continued with the address to Peter remarking that after Peter had passed through all the chairs of the chapter and as first principal in 1982, he was appointed to the rank of acting Provincial Grand Scribe Nehemiah in 1988 and according to his information Peter received an appointment in Supreme Grand Chapter in 1989 to Past Grand Standard Bearer whilst still holding the acting rank within the Province, then a promotion in 2010 to his present rank of Past Assistant Grand Sojourner, and now he is once again back in the chair of first principal of the chapter.
Peter is also a member of other orders connected with Freemasonry, holding high office in many of them, and until very recent, held the position of a Provincial Grand Master in one of these.
He has attained so much through his Masonic journey, but has given so much more back, to those under his rule. He has been a great mentor to many 100s of brethren in all the orders of Freemasonry, and I wish publicly to offer him my most grateful thanks for being a great mentor to me throughout the many years that I have had the fortunate opportunity to work along-side him.
Tony said: I know that I am speaking, not only for many companions here this evening, but also for 100s of brethren not able to be here this evening for what-ever reason, who also have cause to be so grateful to Peter.”
Speaking directly to Peter Tony said; ‘Peter Connolly – You will not only be remembered in the annuals of the Royal Arch here in the Chapter of Liverpool, but throughout the Province of West Lancashire, you have been a great friend to a great many brethren who have practiced and served Freemasonry with you. You have introduced many junior brethren to the world of Grand Lodge in London, and many of those brethren are now staying over in London to support me at the Quarterly Communications. You are a Mason in a 1,000,000, a force for good in Freemasonry generally and I congratulate you on attaining 50 years as a Royal Arch Mason in West Lancashire.” He followed by saying: “As Grand Superintendent in and over this Province of West Lancashire I have issued a certificate to commemorate this very special day and I would now ask the Liverpool Group Chairman, Sam Robinson, if he would read this certificate to you and all the companions present.
On Sam’s completion of the reading Tony again addressed Peter saying: “Peter Connolly it gives me the greatest of pleasure to present you with this certificate to commemorate your achievements in the Royal Arch and trust that you will continue to enjoy your Freemasonry, as you have done over the last 50 years and on behalf of all the companions here, I offer you our most sincere congratulations on this wonderful milestone in you Masonic journey and we all wish you good health, much happiness for a long and enjoyable sojourn in the Royal Arch and in Freemasonry in general. Peter, hearty congratulations.”
This was met with high acclamation throughout the room from all present.
This concluded the formal ceremony and the companions retired to the main banqueting suite for a celebratory festive board.