Brethren, I appreciate your patience waiting for my reflections on the celebrations of the Tercentenary of the United Grand Lodge of England. I have been concerned that the enormity and spectacle of the occasion would dull over before I got to reflect – It has not. I have said on numerous occasions that the honour of representing the Victorian Constitution, having Mya accompany me and being supported by RWBro. Keith Murray DGM and Fiona, is not lost on me.
The 24th June 1717 dawned as just another Monday in the bitterly divided Britain. For two centuries, Britain had been torn apart by religious and political violence, leaving a society nursing deep and bitter division. Mid-morning on that symbolic date, an armed escort accompanied the Earl of Oxford from the Tower of London to Westminster Hall. There, before an audience of both Houses of Parliament, the legendary stateman knelt and was formally charged with high treason.
That evening, on the feast of St John the Baptist: a favoured patron saint of stonemasons, two miles north-east of Westminster – amid the stone dust of St Paul’s Churchyard – a group of Freemasons met in the Goose and Gridiron Ale House and created the world’s first Grand Lodge.
Three hundred years later (and some months), on Wednesday 25th October 2017, Mya and I landed in London to begin an amazing journey.
We had previously made contact with all the Grand Lodges of Australasia and China to invite them to a gathering on a Friday evening. The Silver Cross Pub was selected, and most of the Grand Masters of Australasia and the Grand Master of China together with partners and delegations spent an evening in each other’s company under the watchful eye of Lord Nelson’s statue in Trafalgar Square.
The following Sunday we were welcomed at The Rosewood Hotel, London as guests of the UGLE. The Rosewood is described as combining English heritage with contemporary sophistication. At 6 pm, all those staying at The Rosewood gathered in the Foyer for a leisurely walk to the Grand Connaught Rooms to enjoy a welcome dinner. RWBro. Jonathon Spense DGM and RWBro. Sir David Wootton Assistant GM, hosted the event and we were made to truly feel welcomed to the start of the celebrations. The band perched on the balcony made for a pleasant atmosphere, but the spectacle of two trumpeters duelling on Hunting Horns was truly a spectacular finish to the evening.
On Monday 30th October we were all invited to Freemasons Hall where all 338 Grand Masters attending from all corners of the globe were presented to the Grand Master of England, The Most Worshipful Grand Master, His Royal Highness The Duke of Kent, KG, GCMC, GCVO, ADC. Walking through the impressive outer doors of Freemasons Hall, a building dating back to 1927, standing on a two-acre site, which was designed as an irregular hollow pentagon with the Grand Temple at the centre, I was sure that this was a special moment. Taking the stairs to the first floor the spectacular stained-glass windows and pillars seemed to take over, but soon blended into insignificance when we entered the Grand Temple. But I am getting ahead of myself. First I needed to present to Derek Dinsmore, Grand Chancellor, the gift from Freemasons of Victoria to the Grand Master of England. A beautiful Mont Blanc, limited edition fountain pen which had a plaque and letter from the GM of FMV.
Once I signed the Tercentenary Signature book at position 74 and robed, I was ready to enter the Grand Temple. Two huge doors of bronze metal, perfectly balanced on five hinges greeted us and were opened majestically by the Tyler – without effort, these enormous doors seemed to have a mind of their own. I hope the photos attached to this EDM will do the Grand Temple justice.
In welcoming me HRH The Duke of Kent was warm and engaging, noting that those from Australia had travelled a very long way to be in attendance and expressed his appreciation. Formal photographs with the Grand Master of England followed.
Mansion House was the venue for the evening cocktail party, the official residence of the City of London’s Lord Mayor, Alderman Dr Andrew Parmley who hosted the event along with MWBro. Peter Lowndes Pro GM. A spirited welcome and exchange between the two was a highlight. Mya became friendly with a Beefeater, one of many who dotted different areas of this exquisite Mansion.
While the morning of 31st October was free time, there was an air of anticipation of what to expect at the Royal Albert Hall. It was time for the ladies to attend Freemasons Hall for a live streaming of the happenings at Royal Albert Hall while the men were taken by coach to the venue. Having had time on a ‘hop on hop off’ bus the previous week many of the sights along the way were familiar.
Moving through Door 9, to Grand Tier 33, seat 7 I looked out over the inside of the venue. The first thing that struck me, other than the stage and the large Square and Compasses and screen was how empty of people the interior was. It did not take long before I got an appreciation of what a beehive would look like as once the lower doors were opened, Freemasons from all corners of the globe flooded into the auditorium filling it to its listed capacity of nearly 4,000 people.
What followed was nothing short of a West End show. A journey of Freemasonry through the degrees with all the glitz and glamour of opening night. I hope you have had a chance to view this spectacular event. Please note that you will be asked to register prior to watching the link. http://streamstudio.world-television.com/CCUIv3/registration.aspx?ticket=817-1339-17665&target=en-default-&status=ondemand&browser=ns-0-1-0-0-0
It is worthy of note that the event was narrated by well-known actor Sir Derek Jacobi who might not be as recognisable in his robes but was instrumental in bringing the night together.
While the ladies dined at the Grand Connaught Rooms after the event, those invited guests were coached to Battersea Evolution where together with approximately 1,800 other masons enjoyed a sumptuous meal and great company.
The enormity of the logistics that went into each of the events and the way that everything worked is a credit to the organising committee, and the care taken by the UGLE in welcoming local members and their guests from further afield was greatly appreciated by all in attendance.
I could not help but reflect that we were celebrating an event which occurred three hundred years ago and that the First Fleet led by Captain Arthur Phillip landed at Botany Bay in 1788 to commence the colonisation of Australia – a mere 229 years ago.
We left for country England on the Wednesday morning while others followed the Deputy to Scotland, some flew to other places or returned home, but all had a sense that they had been part of something special, a once in a lifetime experience.