A Day Out in Bolton

A Day Out in Bolton

I travel a lot by car. To stay entertained I listen to audiobooks. A favourite author is Lee Childs whose hero, ex-military police major, Jack Reacher, has a habit of saying there is no such thing as a coincidence.
Well Jack, try this for a coincidence.

  • Two thriving lodges in the Province of East Lancashire (Internet 9659, Manchester City Derby District; Maritime 3025, Salford) each decide, at the same time, to form an associated chapter.
  • Each, independently, expresses a wish that the Chapters should come to be based in Salford.
  • Each concludes that the best way forward would be to develop its Chapter by repurposing an existing Chapter that has fallen on difficult times
  • Each identifies a chapter (Internet – Manchester Epworth Chapter 3921; Maritime – St John’s Chapter 221) that is about to surrender its warrant over the summer of 2019
  • Both Chapters meet at Bolton Masonic Hall
  • Both Chapters have their installation meetings on the 1stTuesday of the month

Thus, at the culmination of a long and complex journey in which both of us were involved, two APGPs, myself (APGP for Salford and Manchester) and Kirk Mulhearn (APGP for Western Area), found ourselves at Bolton Masonic Hall for 10am on the morning of October 1st.
We were there to witness EComps from around the UK, all members of Internet Lodge, being installed into the Principals’ chairs of Manchester Epworth Chapter 3921 by EComp Barrie Hughes, who will remain in the Chapter as IPZ. The new principals are: Z – EComp Derek Oliver,  H – EComp Mark Griffin and J – EComp Ted Pater.

How do you tell a member of Internet Chapter? From the colour of his lanyard

As you might expect the atmosphere at the ceremony was varied. For some this was an end, for others a beginning and a for small third group staying in the Chapter but with a change in venue, a new focus and a host of new and “exotic” companions, a bit of both. But for everyone there was a recognition that the history of Manchester Epworth Chapter would be carried forward into the new look Chapter whose name would, eventually become, Internet Chapter.
The thing that impressed me most, other than the way the ceremony was conducted, which was superb, was the amount of work that had been done to reach this point. This is particularly so because of the size and pan-national/international nature of Internet Lodge and therefore the prospective joining members and exaltees of the Chapter. An email that arrived on Wednesday morning, 2ndOctober, from John Dutchman-Smith, the new Assistant Scribe E indicates the scope of the changes:
Just a word of welcome to everyone in our rejuvenated chapter. We had a most enjoyable day at the installation meeting old and new faces alike. Paul Spann is creating two websites for the chapter. These things take time so please be patient and we shall report on progress as soon as we can. He is also working on a database so you can maintain your own profile of your membership, and a communication network for our day to day discussions. Similarly Adi Cojan [from Romania.TF] is working on a Facebook presence.
The thing that has taxed me most as the Representative of the Most Excellent Grand Superintendent was how I was to report on the visitors. There were 18 at the beginning and 3 at the end of the ceremony, the difference being the number of members who joined the Chapter in the middle.

Some of the Members of Manchester Epworth (Internet) Chapter 3921

 This was to be a recurring theme.
After a restful afternoon in the Masonic Hall (which is well worth a visit if you’re in the vicinity, the highlight being the large lodge room which is both visually stunning and filled with unique Masonic memorabilia), the second of the two installations took place, this time for St John’s Chapter 221.
The pattern of the meeting was very similar. An excellent installation ceremony, led by EComp Ken Grundy (Z) and EComp Jack Best (DC) resulting in  a new set of Principals and a little earlier, multiple joining members.
The discussions in and outside this meeting hinged around the history of St John’s. The Chapter was warranted in 1818 and so, when Ken Grundy presented the warrant to the new Z (EComp Ian MacNeill), it wasn’t one warrant but 3, acquired over 201 years of history. It was very clear that the 15 or so members of Maritime Lodge 3025 who will form the nucleus of the Chapter were very aware that they now had responsibility for a unique piece of East Lancs Masonic history and that through the “rebadged”,  “repurposed” and rejuvenated Chapter this history would continue to live long in the folk memory of the Province. At the social board EComp Ian MacNeill pointed out that this would be driven forward by the young exaltees, currently numbering 12 who wanted to join the Chapter. The Chapter will, in time, change its name to Maritime.
The essence of the history of the Chapter came to the fore in a short lecture given towards the end of the meeting by EComp Michael Buchanan, Scribe E, some of which is duplicated below.
In 1817 the two Grand Chapters of the Royal Arch were amalgamated and 65 years later were renamed the Supreme Grand Chapter of England.
It is pretty certain that St John’s Lodge decided to form a Royal Arch chapter in 1800 and the Chapter met under the sanction of the Craft warrant until the union of chapters in 1817. Meetings were held at several premises including the Lord Nelson pub, the Volunteer Inn, the  Four Horseshoes, the Wheatsheaf Inn,  and eventually, from 1887, in the Bolton Masonic hall.
The Lodge  minute book of 18th of May 1800 tells us it was resolved that the Royal Arch Chapter shall be held, the Lodge was opened on the third and five brethren “passed the chair”. In 1801 a brother from Scotland “passed the chair”.
 Records show that the Chapter met on second Sundays in February, May,  August and November at 2 o’clock in the afternoon. On 8 February 1846 it was agreed that the meetings should be altered to the second Tuesday in February, May,  August and November at 7 in the evening. There were many commercial and professional businesses represented in the early days. We find an accountant ,an Ironfounder, a Whitesmith, a printer, a bleach works owner, solicitor, commercial traveller , brewer and the clerk to the council.
There was much more, and much of considerable interest on both the grand scale and also the personal minutiae that bring history alive, but this short snippet gives the essence of St John’s early days.
In retrospect, albeit that only a few hours have passed, it is fascinating to be inside this piece of living Masonic history. Two chapters are literally and figuratively entering a new chapter. East Lancs masons (and in the case of Internet Chapter, masons from around the world) have absorbed the past of both these Chapters and will be taking each in new directions. What a year ago might have seemed a sad demise for two proud Chapters, has been transformed and through it renewed life and vigour has come to part of Royal Arch Freemasonry in East Lancs.
We see all this in our own time frame, but I would be prepared to put money on the fluctuating fortunes of Lodges and Chapters being a feature of Masonry over the centuries, and I strongly suspect (and hope) for centuries to come.

After St John’s (Maritime) 221’s installation

© 2019, all text and images contained in this post are the property of the author and photographer respectively.