There was nothing scary about Halloween for the brethren of the Wigan Group, far from it. Instead of trick or treat, it was trip and treat, and what a treat it was. 50 brethren, a mix of Grand, Provincial, past masters and master Masons, from Hindley, Pemberton and Bryn lodges, met up very early at Bryn Masonic hall. The brethren piled onto one of David Ogden’s coaches to make the trip down to London and the Royal Albert Hall, to join fellow Freemasons from around the globe at the much-anticipated Tercentenary celebration.
There has been a big effort within the group to make the most of this special year in Freemasonry, starting in March with a tremendous weekend away in Caernarfon, which included the takeover of a seaside hotel, two special celebratory dinners with top class entertainment, one formal and one slightly more relaxed and organised activities in the Welsh mountains and coast.
As well as other smaller celebrations, there was unique celebration at Bryn Masonic Hall in June, 300 years to the day from that momentous meeting at the Goose and Gridiron, when, as well as 10 courses in a 300 minute ‘dine-athon’, there was a live linkup with young Masons from the Essex Cornerstone Club at the site where it all began. Following the theme of “Freemasonry universal”, there were video greetings from Greece, Hungary, France, Ireland, New Zealand, United States of America, Scotland, Brazil and Italy, and a special message from the Provincial Grand Master. The latest event was a special Tercentenary church service, graced by the presence of the Bishop of Liverpool, the Mayor of Wigan and the Provincial Grand Master, followed by a further celebratory dinner.
With such a history, the group officers, Geoffrey Porter, David Ogden and John Selley, were determined to make the most of the opportunity for the brethren. Group chairman Geoffrey, like a mother hen looking after her brood, kept a proud and watchful eye, whilst secretary John supplied the bleary-eyed travellers with uplifting coffee, and vice chairman David drove the coach London bound to ensure his driver had enough driving time to get us all back safely later. Following a stop for breakfast, and the usual traffic approaching the capital, the merry band arrived in plenty of time to obtain liquid sustenance and enjoy the comradeship of brethren from far and wide, all easily identified by the regalia carriers kindly supplied specially for the occasion. Some careful manoeuvring was required to park up the coach and safely offload the passenger, as the streets surrounding the Royal Albert Hall were just full of Masons, and a suitable spot was found to enable everyone to get together for a group photograph.
Expectations were high, but nothing prepared the brethren for the spectacle that unfolded. With 4,000 fellow Masons filling the hall, the atmosphere was electric. The Royal Albert Hall historically has close connections to Freemasonry. The hall itself was opened in 1871 by Queen Victoria to fulfil the vision of her late husband Prince Albert to promote understanding and appreciation of the arts and sciences. It has witnessed some truly memorable moments of Masonic history. Two historic meetings of Grand Lodge held in 1887 and 1897 to commemorate the golden and diamond jubilees of Queen Victoria, two of the largest Masonic meetings ever held in England, took place in the building. The future King Edward VII, then Prince of Wales, presided over both as Grand Master. Also, Sir Arthur Seymour Sullivan of Gilbert and Sullivan, the legendary Victorian theatrical partnership, served as Grand Organist at the 1887 meeting. More recently, HRH The Duke of Kent was installed as Grand Master in the building at a meeting of Grand Lodge in 1967.
The production was amazing, starting with a presentation of charity donations and a welcome to the Grand Lodges from around the world. There then followed a brilliant show depicting a novel take on the story of Masonry and the journey and rationale of membership, narrated by David Jacobi, with Samantha Bond (Miss Moneypenny in the James Bond films during the Pierce Brosnan years) and Sanjeev Bhaskar (from comedy series Goodness Gracious Me and star of the sitcom The Kumars at No 42) in support. Music and excerpts from the Magic Flute and Gilbert and Sullivan’s Mikardo were both lively and entertaining, filled with humour and appreciated by all. After the show, the Grand Master took to the stage, made some presentations to three of the four original lodges from 1717, and led the throng in rousing songs, including ‘I vow to you my country’, ‘Jerusalem’ and of course the ‘National Anthem’. The balance between entertainment, enjoyment and the dignity of a Masonic occasion was well and truly achieved.
The majority of brethren then went on to either Battersea Evolution or Kitchen W8 for the festive board, whilst the Wigan contingent said farewell to new made friends and headed back to the coach. The conversation buzzed, all about the different parts of the spectacle they had witnessed, with the help of beer and some sandwiches. Not quite the champagne, fine wines and gastronomic delights enjoyed by those at the festive board, but a stop off at a suitably located hostelry to break up the journey kept everyone in good spirits.
Arriving back home close to the witching hour, there was no sign of spooky or ghostly apparitions, just group chairman Geoffrey, personally seeing each brother off the coach and thanking them for their support and company.
With 4,000 Masons from around the world, live streaming to a global audience, and the sheer quality of the production, this event will live on in people’s memories. Non-more so than the Wigan contingent who have yet another great Tercentenary memory indelibly imprinted on their minds.
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