Oration given by W. Bro. the Revd. A. J. Davey, Dep. G. Chap., Prov. G Chap., at the 175th Anniversary Meeting of Hertford Lodge, No. 403, on Thursday 23rd. September 2004
RWPGM, WM and Brethren. What to say, where to begin - and indeed end, at
a splendid Meeting to celebrate the first 175 years of Hertford Lodge. 1829: it
started somewhat dramatically. Jan 8th. saw the hanging of body-selling
murderer William Burke, and seemed to end in a similar vein with the last
British hanging for forgery of Thomas Maynard! For those who disagree as to
which of the two Universities is the senior - I might mention that it was on
June 10th that the boat race was first run: and it was won by
We have heard something of the history of this worthy and worshipful Lodge. The UGLE had not long been in existence. May I for a few moments guide your thoughts to what the Founders might have been thinking? I am quite sure they were looking forward, naturally, to forming a new Lodge to meet some need; to many years of a healthy, happy, and honourable Lodge after they had departed to the Grand Lodge Above; to working the three degrees, making Masters, and a whole host of other things, some of which we still do, some of which no doubt have fallen by the wayside. Whatever else might have changed over the last 175 years, I pray that our adherence to our Masonic Principles, and especially our belief in a Supreme Being, have not. Let us consider just that for a few moments.
Usually, the first “Official” question that a man is asked at his interview with a Lodge Committee, when he applies to join our Order, is “Do you believe in God?” Proceeding onwards, he later finds at his Initiation a Holy Book, that which we call “The Volume of the Sacred Law”, lying open. From the outset be discovers the great Masonic principle, that the Light that penetrates the otherwise impenetrable gloom of mankind, is “That Light which is from above.” Thus be learns that the benign influence of the Craft comes not from man, nor from any particular creed or dogma; it is from the very foundation of belief itself, the Great Architect of the Universe. The first of the Charges, to be found in the Book of Constitutions, reminds us in the words of the First Book of Samuel, chapter 16, verse 7, that “God seeth not as man seeth; for man looketh at the outward appearance, but God looketh to the heart”. We must never forget that the Craft is not itself a religion, but encompasses all men whatever their religious persuasion may be. It is the happy union of good men and true, the means of conciliating friendship and concord. In the Charge after Initiation, after God is mentioned our neighbour. Finally, after God and our neighbour, come ourselves. In that charge, we learn of Prudence to direct us, Temperance to chasten us, Fortitude to support us, and the necessity of Justice being the guide of all our actions.
Many tend to think of the second degree as less important than the other two, perhaps just a link between them. In earlier times, this degree was held in somewhat higher esteem than it is today, as can be seen from the fact that much of the Installation of a Master takes place in it, surely the high spot of a Lodge’s year? Thus the Brother elected to that high office builds greatly upon the foundations laid at his initiation. In this degree we are encouraged to think about our morality, equality, and uprightness of life and actions, and their application to the world in which we live.
Wherever we turn in the Craft, we can never escape the fundamental principles of piety and virtue, belief in God, the brotherhood of man, and the sanctity of human relationships. The third degree reinforces all this, and more. Whatever Name we use in the various degrees for the Almighty, it is interesting that the first and last working tools use the same.
In passing, I return briefly to the preliminaries of the Book of Constitutions, where we find that “Pure Antient Masonry consists of three degrees and no more, viz., those of the Entered Apprentice, the Fellow Craft, and the Master Mason, including the Supreme Order of the Holy Royal Arch”. I must not go into more detail here, but I note that this Lodge grew to Masonic fulfilment in 1872 when the Chapter bearing its name was Consecrated.
But the heart and soul of a Lodge is rather more than just the working of degrees, making Masters, and moving from one year to the next. It is a living thing, formed of good men and true, experiencing deeper relationships guided by our principles of Brotherly Love, Relief, and Truth, and of course taking the essence of the Lodge to the uninstructed and popular world. That essence, that feeling of warmth - if I may use that term - is generated by our relationships within the Lodge, the happiness we experience, and above all what we put in.
We look back with fond memories of all manner of things that occur. Some of these are highlights of the passing years, as well as a general feeling of well being. And we must not forget that in this serious business of Masonry, we also take great enjoyment.
This Lodge is not without its moments! I am told that a former Treasurer, Dudley Mainprize,
discovered that the men in black, including his boss, with strange little cases
who left his place of work early on some afternoons, were Freemasons. He
decided to join, and at the interview was asked why he wanted to do so. He was
about to say,’ Because it is a good excuse to leave work early’, when he
spotted his boss, and changed his answer to ‘I don’t know!’ Forty-four years
later, and now living in
Then there is the warm welcome of Hertford. A new and enthusiastic brother was initiated and joined the LOI. When asked by his next-door-neighbour what Masonry “was all about” he replied that he was not quite sure yet, but that it involved some extremely “pleasant chaps” and suggested that the curious friend attend the LOI on the following Monday night to meet a few of the worthy men. He duly arrived and knocked on the door, which was answered by the I.G. who didn’t recognize the stranger, closed the door and went to consult (the late) Dougie Wooldridge, [a genial but rather forbidding figure to those who did not know him]. Dougie marched testily to the door, exchanged a few words with the ‘visitor’ and informed the assembled brethren that he had seen the intruder off! Then there was the time that a brother was impaled on a sword and ended up in hospital.
I am told there are fond memories of an Installing Master bringing the house down, literally, when the canopy above the Chair fell upon the new Master. And talking of things that drop - it apparently is part of the ritual of this Lodge for the Chaplain’s trousers to do likewise when presenting Grand Lodge Certificates. I shall remember that when I am next called upon.
Brethren, may I congratulate you as you celebrate your first 175 years, and look forward to your bicentenary? Happy memories, good ritual, service to others, charity, and a belief in the Great Architect: this is what Freemasonry is most surely all about. It allows us to build upon what we are given - especially that totally intangible essence of our Order - and pass it to generations yet to come.
I have no doubt the Petitioners of 175 years ago would be proud to know that the foundations laid by them have been built upon well and worthily. Long may that building continue, and may God grant you every blessing in the years to come.