The new experience
Freemasonry has a refreshingly open-minded attitude when it comes to age. The routes to the Craft for engaged young people are now more accessible than ever. The emergence of the Connaught Club, a social club for Freemasons under thirty-five, and the hugely successful Universities Scheme prove as much
But while there’s plenty for this younger generation to take from Freemasonry, what can these new brethren bring to the Craft? From a choreographer with all the right moves and a stonemason preserving the nation’s heritage, to an archaeology student unearthing our past, Sarah Holmes meets three young Freemasons with fresh perspectives, experiences and knowledge just waiting to be shared.
Mat Tindall, stonemason, King Egbert Lodge, No. 4288, Province of Derbyshire
Mat Tindall rarely has a typical day at the office. He is currently rebuilding the roof of Castle Drogo on Dartmoor – the last ‘castle’ to be built in Britain in 1911. It’s a painstaking process that involves re-fixing 3,000 granite blocks back into their original positions. ‘It’s like piecing together a giant jigsaw puzzle,’ Mat reveals, adding that the puzzle is made all the more difficult by the fact that some of the pieces weigh as much as one-and-a-half tonnes.
The whipping autumnal winds blowing in from the exposed Dartmoor landscape certainly don’t make it any easier. Fortunately, Mat isn’t deterred. ‘If I didn’t enjoy my job, I wouldn’t be here,’ he admits. ‘I’m lucky I get to experience some of the country’s most incredible heritage first hand.’
Just last year, Mat ventured below the floors of Sheffield Cathedral into the sixteenth-century crypt of George Talbot, the fourth Earl of Shrewsbury.
‘It was amazing being able to explore this archaic space by lamplight, to stand beside these huge coffins and read the eulogies chiselled into their lids in lead. It’s not something everybody gets to do.’
It was Mat’s love of the historical aspects of his job that first inspired his interest in Freemasonry. Working in great halls, cathedrals and castles, Mat became fascinated with the masonic symbols that he regularly encountered. ‘But it wasn’t until I was working on a farmhouse conversion next to King Egbert Lodge in Derbyshire that I finally got in touch with the Worshipful Master,’ he says.
In September 2014 Sheffield-born Mat was initiated into the Craft. ‘I loved the camaraderie of it all,’ he recalls. ‘The history, the tradition – it’s exactly what
I’m interested in, but my partner felt unsure. I think she worried that the lodge would take time away from our three-year-old daughter, Willow. But she knows now it won’t come to that. There’s never been a pressure to prioritise the lodge over family.’
Despite having only just started his journey into Freemasonry, Mat is already feeling confident in this new undertaking. ‘It’s definitely broadened my horizons,’ he says. ‘As the youngest person in my lodge I feel I bring a fresh perspective, too. Young people do have a different way of thinking about things, and when everybody brings their own stories and insights to their lodges it can benefit Freemasonry as a whole.’
‘Freemasonry has definitely broadened my horizons. As the youngest person in my lodge I feel I bring a fresh perspective, too.’
John Henry Phillips, archaeology student, Wyggeston Lodge, No. 3448, Province of Leicestershire and Rutland
Unlike many students, partying was the last thing on John Henry Phillips’ mind when he headed to the University of Leicester in 2013. Having spent the past four years of his life touring Europe as part of a burgeoning rock band, John was eager to immerse himself in his archaeological passions.
It was the discovery of a World War I grenade during his first visit to the fields at Flanders in Belgium that inspired John to apply to study archaeology. He was just ten minutes into his visit when he and his dad happened upon the small explosive shell.
‘One hundred and sixty tonnes of ammunition are ploughed up from under the fields each year, so people often find artefacts,’ says John. ‘Even so, it’s astonishing to find yourself face to face with a soldier’s boot after over a century. I’m now in talks with various projects in France about excavating the trenches in the future.’
It was after being accepted to study in Leicester (with the same university department that discovered Richard III’s remains in a local car park in 2013) that John became interested in the Universities Scheme, which forges links between lodges and young people who are seeking to become involved in Freemasonry.
‘Student living can be quite intense,’ recalls John, ‘so Freemasonry was a great opportunity to step away from it all, to do something positive and unselfish rather than just going on a pub crawl.’ In December 2013, John was officially initiated into Wyggeston Lodge.
The overlap between the history of Freemasonry and the world wars had a strong appeal for him.
‘As a historical fraternity, it ties in with my interests. I particularly like masonic traditions that originate from those eras – such as raising a glass to absent brethren at lodge dinners, which stems from World War I,’ he says.
It is this sense of tradition, combined with the support of the fraternity, that John believes young people could benefit from most. ‘It’s an uncertain time for young people. We’ve more debt than ever – the old guarantees of a steady job and a mortgage are gradually disappearing. I think Freemasonry could be a welcome constant for many,’ he says.
‘But ultimately it’s a two-way street. Young people today have more diverse experiences and perspectives than they did fifty years ago. We’re better travelled than before and education is more accessible, so I think we have just as much to offer in the way of new ideas.’
‘Student living can be quite intense, so Freemasonry was a great opportunity to step away from it all and do something positive.’
Anthony King, Choreographer, Howard Lodge of Brotherly Love, No. 56, Province of Sussex
After balancing his entire frame on tiptoes, Anthony King bursts across the Pineapple dance studio in a fit of energy and excitement. A Michael Jackson song booms from the speakers above as he moonwalks his way across the white floors.
By day, Anthony is a born performer, specialising in the trademark routines of the King of Pop. His Michael Jackson-style dance classes are a firm favourite on the London fitness scene, and this October he performed two sell-out tribute shows at the Shaw Theatre. But outside the dance studio, he is a dedicated Freemason of Howard Lodge of Brotherly Love, where he was initiated in May 2014.
‘As a performer, I live in quite a superficial daily environment, so Freemasonry gives me insight into another world,’ explains Anthony. ‘It appeals to my philosophical and historical side.’
In particular, it was the idea of being part of a centuries-old brotherhood that drew Anthony to the Craft. ‘I loved the idea of being part of something bigger, of the continuity of the past through the ritual and tradition,’ he explains.
On entering the lodge, Anthony was inspired by the honesty and warmth of his fellow brethren towards him. ‘They made me feel valued and respected from the moment I arrived,’ he says. ‘That really impressed me.’
Anthony became interested in Freemasonry through his friend Simon, whose father, Richard, is a Freemason. ‘But I never thought I’d be able to join until we were discussing it over dinner one night. Richard saw how passionate I was about it, so the next day he gave me the forms and we got the process underway.’
While the prospect of balancing the commitments of Freemasonry with rehearsing for sell-out shows and preparing for dance classes might seem a challenge, for Anthony it’s not an issue. ‘I’ll always be able to make time for it,’ he says. ‘When Simon and I joined, we both agreed this was a turning point in our lives. We were committing ourselves to improvement through Freemasonry.’
Despite being the youngest person in his lodge, Anthony doesn’t pay much heed to the age difference between himself and his brethren. ‘The Craft attracts a certain type of person, regardless of age. Perhaps young people bring a little more vibrancy, but over three hundred years what difference does a generation make? The important thing is that we all value one another.’
‘I loved the idea of being part of something bigger, of the continuity of the past through the ritual and tradition.’