Freemasons from the Province of West Lancashire and beyond braved the wind and rain to attend the second installation meeting of Pro Patria Lodge No 9952 at the Masonic hall in St Annes. The lodge is the youngest in the Province, only having received its warrant in September 2017 and duly held its official consecration in February 2018 at the magnificent Tower Ballroom a few miles north in Blackpool.
Pro Patria was formed as a military lodge, drawing its members from the various sections of the armed forces. Known as a travelling lodge, it meets at various halls throughout the Province of West Lancashire.
The installation meeting was held at the Masonic hall in St Annes, known locally as the Palace. It was built in 1900 and was originally used for plays and musical events – so not a lot of difference from its use today! The building was eventually sold to the Masonic brethren of St Annes who converted the top floor into a lodge room whilst the ground floor was converted to retail units, bringing in a good rental income.
WM Ray Pinkstone efficiently dispensed with the general business of the day, reading the dispensation allowing the lodge to meet at St Annes and conducting a successful ballot for three joining members. Then came the highlight of the day, the installation of senior warden Juan Topping as only the third WM of the lodge.
The installing officers; John Nichols, Ron Stangwick and Vinnie Carte were invited to occupy their respective chairs by Philip Houldsworth, who expertly wielded his unique staff of office known in polite military circles as a ‘pace stick’. The pace stick consists of two pieces of wood, hinged at the top, similar to a pair of compasses. It can be opened so it corresponds to various lengths of marching pace, hopefully keeping everybody in step. Thankfully the amount of marching on the day was kept to a minimum, allowing Phil to keep the pace stick in its closed position and to concentrate on the proceedings of the day.
On a report Stuart Thornber was admitted into the lodge, accompanied by Past Assistant Provincial Grand Master David Grainger and Rev Canon Godfrey Hirst, along with acting Provincial grand lodge officers Jim Gregson, Alan Barnes and Jon Conroy. Ray welcomed Stuart to Pro Patria Lodge, warning him to ‘expect the unexpected’.
Steve Smith presented Juan to the lodge and Juan was installed into the chair of King Solomon with the finesse that you would expect from a lodge of such seasoned Masonic veterans.
A welcome treat on the day was Bob Wareham’s presentation of the installed master’s tools, not normally delivered in lodges these days. No other working tools were given as they had been presented to Juan at his previous installations as a WM of other lodges. Continuing the rollout of Masonic veterans, Eric Peat gave the address to the new WM with the authority and confidence of a senior Freemason.
The members of the lodge were ordered to stand to receive the address to the brethren given by Stuart in his own unique style, bringing the installation proceedings to a close.
On hearing the phrase: “That concludes the ceremony of installation”, Stuart rose to bring the greetings of the Provincial Grand Master Tony Harrison, hoping that Juan would have a good and healthy year in the chair of this fine new lodge. Stuart also congratulated Ray as the installing master and thanked him for his work on the day.
Returning the compliments, Juan presented Stuart with cheques to the value of £3,900 to be given to various charities and good causes including; £1,000 to the Royal Marines Charity, £500 to 177 Squadron, Blackpool Air Cadets, £200 to Fleetwood Masonic Hall, £200 to Cleveleys Masonic Hall, £100 to Trinity Hospice, £400 to Blackpool Royal Marines Cadets and £1,500 to the Masonic Charitable Foundation 2021 Festival. The donation to the MCF 2021 Festival allowed Stuart to present the lodge with a certificate qualifying the lodge as a Patron of the Festival; a magnificent achievement for a lodge of only three years in existence.
The collection for charity was gathered in a military hat passed around the lodge and accompanied by the brethren singing William Blake’s poem ‘Jerusalem’. The tune and variation of the words sung were reminiscent of many a school assembly.
Under any other business, Juan was pleased to report that the lodge had received gavels to be used at their meetings, donated by Benevolence Lodge No 4035 from Warwickshire.
Juan was also pleased to give each founding member of the lodge a framed, hand stitched cloth, individually embroidered with a square and compasses by Juan’s wife Debbie.
The brethren having being suitably entertained, orderly retired to the dining room for a festive board full of atmosphere and military banter and even more singing.
A poignant reminder of the role of the armed forces was a small table placed in the corner of the dining room set with a single place setting to represent a fallen comrade. The table is round to represent the everlasting concern for fallen comrades and a white tablecloth adorns it to represent the pure intentions of the men who have been called to service. Placed on the table is a singe rose to symbolise the blood that has been spilt in service to one’s own country. An up-turned glass represents the missing comrade who cannot participate in the celebrations and a lit candle symbolises the light of hope that exists to illuminate the way home to family and friends.
The toast to absent brethren and fallen comrades included everyone singing a heart-felt version of the hymn ‘Abide with me’.
After a very enjoyable meal cooked by the Palace resident caterers, Square and Compass Catering, a glass of fine port was given to everyone for the loyal toast.
Responding to the toast to the grand officers, Stuart gave an interesting and amusing response and took the opportunity to add his own congratulations on the day’s proceedings, making particular mention of the Masonic Charitable Foundation Steward Jewels, urging everyone to wear one with pride. Afterwards the raffle raised £500 for Masonic and military charities.
After an informative toast to Juan by immediate past master Ray Pinkstone, Peter Baldwin proceeded to sing the master’s song accompanied by Phil Bolton on the organ. Juan responded to the toast to his health, explaining some of the traditions of the lodge to the non-military brethren present; none of which are suitable to be printed, including the explanation of Ray’s nickname ‘Pinky’.
Juan presented Stuart with his own framed embroidered square and compasses, thanking him for attending on the day and also presenting him with flowers for his wife in appreciation of her allowing Stuart to attend. The evening concluded with the final toast of the evening given by the tyler.
Article and photographs by Gordon Ivett.