6 ISSUES FOR £6 Subscribe to Devon Life today click here

300 years of Freemasonry: a not-so-secret society

PUBLISHED: 10:30 10 April 2017

Torbay Freemasons

Torbay Freemasons

Archant

There are some 5,500 Freemasons across 138 lodges in Devon. But how much do we know about them? As Freemasonry celebrates its 300th anniversary, Chrissy Harris went to meet some members of this fascinating organisation.

The first thing I did before entering Paignton Masonic Hall was to roll down my ankle-level trouser legs.

I’d hitched them up slightly because it was warm and that’s the fashion these days, so I’m told.

Then it hit me: these guys will think I’m having a laugh.

Because, like many people, I didn’t know a lot about Freemasonry but I did know that they do something with their trouser legs.

“Yes, the trouser leg forms part of the ceremonies,” says Ian Kingsbury, Provincial Grand Master of the Province of Devonshire Freemasons.

“But it’s telling a story. You roll both up to show that you’re not a slave, you’ve got no chains and open your shirt to show that you’re a man. Those are the basic reasons.”

Ah. And the secret handshake?

“There is a symbolic handshake between masons so they can recognise another mason,” says Ian. “But it’s in lodge and only in lodge. Not outside. That’s drummed home to people. The reason goes back centuries and it means that we can recognise each other by night and day.”

With those burning questions answered, the Devon Life photographer arrives and does a rather elaborate knock on the Hall door.

“I see he’s mastered the secret door-knock,” says Ian to his fellow Freemasons, before they all fall about laughing.

That’s the real revelation here. Hanging out with the Freemasons is actually a lot of fun. The centuries-old organisation has struggled with something of an image problem over the years with those not in-the-know associating Freemasonry with secrecy and being, well, a bit stuffy.

Nationally, membership numbers have fallen slightly and there is a drive to recruit younger men to secure the future of Freemasonry for generations to come.

This has involved a general culture of being more open to dispel some of the misconceptions about this once very covert society.

Today, members take part in roadshows, open days and there are even Freemasonry websites, Twitter and Facebook accounts to help publicise the incredible amount of good causes this organisation helps every year (they are the second largest charity donor in the country after the National Lottery.)

The transparency is working here in Devon and particularly at this lodge where there has been a steady stream of new younger members.

Limousine business-owner Martin Squires, 43, joined seven years ago after a friend recommended he try it.

Like all Masons, he had to go through a special initiation ritual in the lodge’s temple, where each member plays their role in a ceremony that has remained unchanged for 300 years.

Torbay Freemasons Torbay Freemasons

There are symbolic ‘tools’ and insignia to represent the history of the Freemasons, which started with groups of stonemasons and was formalised when the first Grand Lodge was formed on 24 June 1717.

“I just liked it and stuck with it,” says Martin. “Part of it, you just think, my gosh, that’s really strange but the more you learn, the more you realise why.

“Everybody has to go through the ceremony and that’s what brings you all together as a team. I was trying to think of ways to explain it as I was coming over here today and I suppose it’s like the New Zealand All Blacks rugby team and their Haka. There they are, these big blokes on the rugby pitch and they’re all doing this ‘pat-a-cake’ type dance. I mean, what is that about?

“But it lowers inhibitions. They all do it together and everyone’s the same. That’s what I like about Freemasonry. You don’t have to put on a persona, you don’t have to stand there and be cool or look big and tough. You can come through that door and completely relax.”

There is much talk of camaraderie, of being with like-minded people and a strong sense of almost military-like brotherhood among Freemasons.

The younger members are said to look up to their older ‘brethren’, who often act as mentors, offering guidance on the masonry journey that takes the men through the different ‘degrees’ and ranks. The highest position in Devon is Provincial Grand Master (PGM) who reports to the Grand Master of England, Prince Michael of Kent.

PGM Ian Kingsbury, a former engineer and pub owner, says it was all a lot different when he joined in 1968.

“You were encouraged to tell your family but not discuss the actual ritual, whereas now, my wife probably knows the ritual better than I do.

“What’s that?” he says, after being heckled by a fellow mason. “Well, yes, actually, everybody knows the ritual better than I do!”

So there are no big secrets here, then. Just a group of guys who look out for each other, meet up once a month for an historic ceremony followed by a formal dinner and then spend a lot of time helping people less fortunate than themselves. All charity donations come from members.

Some elements have changed but the principles of Freemasonry are the same now as they were 300 years ago.”

Why the big secret?

Freemasonry ‘went underground’ during the Second World War because of Nazi German opposition to the organisation.

After the war, the tradition of secrecy carried on. Some members say this was a big mistake and the organisation is trying to change.

Celebrating 300 years: the diary of Freemasonry events:

10 April: Tercentenary launch and banner dedication at the Provincial Grand Lodge annual general meeting at the Riviera Centre in Torquay.

24 June: Service of thanksgiving at Exeter Cathedral.

2 July: Charity garden party at Ugbrooke House.

20 August: Passing the banner ceremony on Exeter Cathedral Green

21 to 25 August: Jurassic Coast youth adventure camp. The Freemasons are sponsoring 16 disadvantaged children going to a camp in Dorset.

23 September: Passing the banner ceremony beside the Tamar Bridge.

17 December: Carol service at St Mary’s Church, Plympton.

0 comments

Welcome , please leave your message below.

Optional - JPG files only
Optional - MP3 files only
Optional - 3GP, AVI, MOV, MPG or WMV files
Comments

Please log in to leave a comment and share your views with other Devon Life visitors.

We enable people to post comments with the aim of encouraging open debate.

Only people who register and sign up to our terms and conditions can post comments. These terms and conditions explain our house rules and legal guidelines.

Comments are not edited by Devon Life staff prior to publication but may be automatically filtered.

If you have a complaint about a comment please contact us by clicking on the Report This Comment button next to the comment.

Not a member yet?

Register to create your own unique Devon Life account for free.

Signing up is free, quick and easy and offers you the chance to add comments, personalise the site with local information picked just for you, and more.

Sign up now

More from People

Mon, 17:11

A former personal banker was on maternity leave when she discovered a hidden talent for turning cakes into astonishing works of art. Words: Chrissy Harris | Photos: Steven Haywood

Read more
Thursday, May 17, 2018

DAVID FITZGERALD talks to the man who has never left Devon far from his view during a wide-ranging and controversial career in film

Read more
Monday, May 14, 2018

Former medic for the Special Boat Service, Steel Johnson from Plymouth, has swapped the Royal Marines for magic. This is his story, writes Fran McElhone

Read more
Tuesday, May 8, 2018

This month a true Exeter Chiefs legend will bring down the curtain on his illustrious playing career…but it’s not the end of his journey at Sandy Park, as JAMES CHUBB discovers

Read more
Tuesday, May 1, 2018

From the deserts of Egypt to the beaches of North Devon, there’s a new face at the helm of a Devon art gallery and museum, as CATHERINE COURTENAY discovers

Read more
Tuesday, May 1, 2018

Exeter’s three-day food festival kicks off in May – so get ready for a gastronomic extravaganza. Check out the link at the bottom of the page for details on the competition

Read more
Tuesday, April 24, 2018

A yacht of great beauty, a 60ft wooden vessel hand-built with utter dedication in East Devon, is preparing to make her maiden voyage. Mike Ludgrove has devoted 12 years of his life and all his money to create Helena, the yacht of his dreams. Words: Sharon Goble Photos: Matt Austin

Read more
Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Devon’s iconic Burgh Island, famed for its art deco hotel and links to Agatha Christie, is being sold by owners Deborah Clark and Tony Orchard after almost 17 years.

Read more
Tuesday, April 10, 2018

The Midsomer Murders and Bergerac star tells Devon Life about his favourite Devon people and places

Read more
Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Walking 350 miles around the boundary of Devon was David Beanland’s way of marking his 80th birthday

Read more
Tuesday, April 10, 2018

The word hero is bandied around too often these days, but in the case of veteran Royal Marine Eric Greenleaf it might just be apt, as CHRISSY HARRIS discovers

Read more
Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Fifty years ago Sir Francis Chichester sailed from Devon on voyage that would make him famous, as Chrissy Harris reports

Read more
Tuesday, April 3, 2018

England and GB Women’s hockey star, Giselle Ansley, looks back at a whirlwind 18 months since winning Gold at the Rio Olympics and tells Devon Life of her delight at the impact the team’s success has had on the sport

Read more
Tuesday, April 3, 2018

Bo is living the doggie dream as #1 taster at Devon dog food company Forthglade, writes Belinda Jones

Read more
 
A+ South & South West
 
Great British Holidays advert link
 
Pure Weddings advert link
 
South West Life advert link

Newsletter Sign Up

Sign up to the following newsletters:

Sign up to receive our regular email newsletter


Topics of Interest

Food and Drink Directory

Subscribe or buy a mag today


subscription ad


Local Business Directory

Devon's trusted business finder

Job search in your local area



Property Search