Following an invitation from the three principals of Heysham Chapter No 4108,13 members of Provincial Grand Stewards’ Chapter of West Lancashire No 8516 gave a lecture about the Royal Arch tracing board. The chapter was opened by the three principals Ray Griffiths, Alan Herron and Allan Finney. On completion of chapter business, the demonstration was conducted by the first principal of the Provincial Grand Stewards’ Chapter of West Lancashire Malcolm Alexander Past Grand Standard Bearer, Assistant to the Provincial Grand Principals.
The chapter was honoured by the attendance of Deputy Grand Superintendent Chris Butterfield accompanied by Assistant to the Provincial Grand Principals Barrie Crossley, Past Assistant Grand Sojourner Philip Gardner and Provincial Deputy Grand Director of Ceremonies Barry Fitzgerald, together with Lancaster Group Chairman Neil McGill, group vice chairman Scott Devine and group secretary Chris Larder. Acting officers in attendance were Provincial Grand Almoner Paul Broadley and Provincial Grand Steward Ken Needham.
At the demonstration and lecture in February 2016 at Sandylands Chapter No 5702, the team on this occasion were representatives from eight groups in the Province and were, Malcolm Alexander first principal (Ormskirk and Bootle), Alan Procter second principal (Lancaster), Philip Powell third principal (Ormskirk and Bootle), Ian Stirling scribe Ezra (Blackpool), Michael Silver (Chorley and Leyland), Kevin Byrne (Chorley and Leyland), Geoffrey Waters (Furness and South Lakeland), Douglas Smith (Furness and South Lakeland), Geoffrey Bury (Lancaster), Stewart McVernon (Lancaster), Robb Fitzsimmons (Liverpool), Robert Stafford (North Fylde) and Robert Brentwood (South Fylde).
Tracing boards were originally used by the master Mason to draw and calculate the design of the proposed building. These days they are allegorical illustrations of the mysteries of the various degrees. In each degree, the tracing boards have their own meaning and representation of the degree in which they are open. Tracing boards were a framework of board or canvas, on which the emblems of a degree are inscribed, for the assistance of the master in giving a lecture. It was formerly the custom to inscribe these designs on the floor of the lodge room in chalk, which were then wiped out when the lodge was closed. These would soon be put aside when lodges met in carpeted rooms. Then the symbols were shown by marking out the lodge with tape and nails or shaping the symbols in wood or metal to be laid upon the floor or table or pedestal as the case might be in the lodge. A further development was for the designs to be painted on a cloth spread out on the floor when in use, or folded up for storage.
In an attempt to standardise the design of lodge tracing boards the Duke of Sussex, the first Grand Master of the United Grand Lodge of England and the Past Grand Master of the Moderns, commissioned the artist John Harris to harmonise the tracing boards by creating an official model for each degree including the Royal Arch, a degree within the Moderns that had been controlled by the Craft up until 1817. John Harris, (1791-1873) came from an artistic family and was a painter of miniatures and an architectural draughtsman. He was initiated in 1818 and from the beginning was fascinated by the symbolic portrayals on tracing boards. He soon revolutionised the concept of the designs, which ultimately led to the standardisation of tracing boards throughout the constitution.
Somewhat business minded, in 1823 Harris dedicated a set of his miniature tracing boards to the Duke of Sussex. This act naturally popularised his designs and his tracing boards soon became fashionable and in demand by the majority of lodges. A true breakthrough came when an invitation by the Emulation Lodge of Improvement was made for artists to submit designs for tracing boards. John Harris’ designs won hands down and he never looked back. He produced a series of designs for tracing boards including the Royal Arch, which are used in Masonic ritual to help explain the symbolism and moral system of Freemasonry.
Harris’s designs were widely adopted and form the basis of many still in use today. By 1856, Harris had become totally blind, and in 1860 Harris and his wife moved to the Royal Masonic Benevolent Institution, where they stayed until his death in 1873. As different Masonic jurisdictions established standardised written degree rituals the creation of new tracing board designs began to decrease and those mostly in use today are representations of the various designs produced by John Harris between 1820 and 1850.
John Harris’s design for the Royal Arch tracing board was never universally accepted. His design had a curved top and was an illustration of the layout of the Royal Arch lodge room.
On completion of the lecture, Malcolm Alexander and his team were thanked by first principal Ray Griffiths for a very interesting demonstration and lecture. At the festive board which followed, the raffle raised £150 which was donated to the Provincial Grand Stewards’ Chapter of West Lancashire