The upper lodge room at Blackpool Masonic Hall in is one of magnificent splendour; dripping with dignity, garnished in grace, luxuriant and inspiring. It is a room that radiates opulence, yet embraces reverence. At the moment that Tony Lea, master of North Shore Lodge No 7916, opened the meeting, it was looking its best; filled with proud Masons in resplendent dress regalia. But Tony was not in sight-seeing mood. He ignored the ornate Wedgewood blue-effect plaster mouldings and vibrant lodge banners. The finely carved chairs, decorative columns and antique globes drew but a single brief glance from him. His mind was firmly on the task that lay ahead of him; that of installing Michael Tax into the chair of King Solomon.
And from the instant of its commencement it was clearly evident that the task had occupied his mind for some time. His performance was crisp, confident and lively; sure indications that he had laboured tirelessly to achieve perfection. Indeed, it was readily apparent that all the officers of the lodge had worked hard. There was a discipline in the production, fluidity in the dialogue and preciseness in the actions. The lodge’s director of ceremonies Ron Strangwick had orchestrated the performance with attention to the finest detail and trained his troops in exactness. Ron is one of those solid men who has the old, hardy spirit of the Briton with those qualities of toughness and endurance which once made our island race what they are.
The general business having been dispensed with, a noteworthy procession filed into the lodge and made its way eastwards. It was preceded by acting Provincial grand officers Anthony Rigby, Gordon Ivett, George Coulter, Godfrey Hirst and John Lee. Following close behind came Blackpool Group Chairman John Turpin and group vice chairman David Cook. There then came grand officers David Thomas, Peter Bentham, Peter Greathead, Ron Weatherill, Ron Sands, David Randerson and Keith Jackson. Lending further grandeur and tone to the line-up was Assistant Provincial Grand Master David Winder, whilst bringing up the rear was principal guest Assistant Provincial Grand Master Tony Bent. With the arrival of such a pantheon of dignitaries, the lodge room became even more impressively opulent.
With bold eloquence, Tony Lea offered the gavel of the lodge to Tony Bent and with even bolder eloquence; the Assistant Provincial Grand Master graciously declined it.
Keeping a handle on how to impress a principal guest however, Tony Lea immediately played his trump card by presenting Tony Bent with an amazing collection of charitable disbursements amounting to £5,471.65 of which £3,882.15 was donated to the West Lancashire Freemasons’ Charity. (£1,600 of which was raised by the North Shore Ladies’ Committee). Additional sums were donated to the Christie Hospital Trust (£472.50); Alzheimer’s Society (£518.75); Macmillan Cancer Relief (£348.25) and Donna’s Dream House (£250). Tony’s ploy worked a treat and left the Assistant Provincial Grand Master almost speechless. He soon recovered and was exuberant in his praise of the lodge members for their generosity, particularly impressed with the work of the Ladies’ Committee.
The time had now arrived for the headline event to commence; the installation of Michael Tax into the chair of King Solomon. In preparation, Tony Lea requested the assistance of Len Jolley to act as installing senior warden, Ormerod Green to be installing junior warden and Emmanuel Adeoye as installing inner guard.
Presented with obvious pride by grand officer Keith Jackson, Michael recited his obligation as master elect and set the tone for the remainder of the day. Quality was definitely on the table.
Acquainted with the general sequence of events in an installation ceremony as the reader will undoubtedly be, the format in North Shore followed the familiar pattern but the standard of ritual was of the highest order and could be chalked up as exemplary. To say that Tony did a good job would be doing him a major disservice, rather as if describing Michelangelo as a mere painter and decorator. That Tony did a superb job – you bet your bottom dollar he did.
Rounding off the inner workings section of the ceremony and seeing Michael safely and solidly planted in the master’s chair, Ramon Ashton delivered a delightful rendition of the address to the immediate past master, soon to be followed by an equally splendid recital of the working tools of an installed master by Gordon Thomson, another of the long-standing stalwarts of the lodge.
Protocol at this juncture required the master to be proclaimed in the three degrees, with the appropriate working tools being presented at each stage. With a little ingenuity this portion of the story of Michael’s installation could be converted into an excellent promotion of the many beneficial elements of Freemasonry in the development of young men. The working tools of the three degrees were duly presented by Andrew Fraser, William Parrington and Mark Curtis who recited the third, second and first degree tools respectively. Here were three fairly new Masons who, when first joining the fraternity, had been diffident and self-conscious, uneasy about freely standing in front of an audience and speaking with confidence and clarity. But here they were, after only a relatively short time, boldly and superbly reciting the working tools of the three degrees. Asserting themselves as masters of ritual, they performed with unashamed brilliance. It was a joy to experience.
Dignity and excellence prevailed throughout the ceremony. Investiture of the officers of the lodge was conducted with military precision and decorum. Addresses to newly invested officers were crisp and lucid. Ron Strangwick demonstrated his versatility with the address to the senior warden; Ormerod Green gave a delightful address to the junior warden; Len Jolley and Bob Sims provided charming addresses to the deacons and stewards respectively and John Morris presented the lodge warrant, Book of Constitutions and lodge by-laws with authority and panache.
Adding greatly to the ambience and pleasure of the experience was George Holden who, performing the musical accompaniment, introduced subtle and humorous selections of appropriate personal melodies as each officer was invested.
It was then time for the address to the newly installed master and it was up to Keith Jackson to deliver the goods. He did so abundantly and in heaping measure. His delivery underscored the emotional genius of the narrative and its inspirational message that so effectively reminds every Mason of the genuine principles of Freemasonry. Peter Wilson continued the standard of excellence in his address to the new wardens, performing the ritual with subtle and sensitive inflection that the vapid and unreflective observer might overlook.
Assistant Provincial Grand Master Tony Bent was escorted purposefully yet majestically into position for his recital of the address to the brethren of the lodge. A moment later he spoke. As the skilled ritualist that he most certainly is, Tony threw himself into his work with his customary energy; delivering the ritual with finesse and with that oomph that makes such a difference. His flow of speech never faltered. He was vastly eloquent; practically lyrical.
Tony’s performance signalled the completion of the installation ceremony and all that Tony Lea now needed to do was to declare it as such. This he did with relish and relief. And now that the ordeal was behind him, any semblance of stress had retired and he could fully enjoy his success.
Reviewing the recent scene: the quality of the ritual was superb; the orchestration of the ceremony was superb; the spectacle of the event was first class; the enjoyment derived from it was first class. All in all, it wasn’t at all bad! Indeed, it would be paltering with the truth to say the ceremony was anything but excellent.
And it was very much on these lines that Tony Bent conveyed the greetings of the Provincial Grand Master Tony Harrison. His approbations were first directed at Tony Lea and the splendid manner in which he had conducted the ceremony. Then turning to the three newer members who had presented the working tools, he made a point of passing round the lodge to congratulate them individually; a gesture much appreciated by the three light blues and the general body of the lodge.
There was a particularly moving moment when David Winder, in responding to the first rising, reminded Michael and the populace of the address to a Lewis performed by Michael’s father on the occasion of Michael’s initiation. Leon David Tax, Michael’s father, was one of the most respected and admired Masons in the Province (he was Assistant Provincial Grand Master for a number of years) and his loss has been dearly felt by all who had the privilege of knowing him. It was, understandably, a very poignant moment for Michael.
The whole installation ceremony had been a triumph for North Shore Lodge members and looking at the thing from every angle, it could be seen that the brethren of North Shore Lodge had done superbly well. And so it was that with approving smiles they repaired to the festive banquet where a carte du jour of outstanding excellence and company of warm comradeship created an equally agreeable celebratory function.
Tony Lea and the members of North Shore Lodge may have found the installation a taxing ordeal but having Michael at the helm will certainly bring numerous rewards during the coming year. This is one form of Tax that everyone can enjoy.