Final Meeting of Press Lodge No 432
Final Meeting of Press Lodge No 432, Arthur Square
On Monday the 9th May 2011, Rt Wor Bro John Frazer, Very Wor Bro Ivan Gillespie and I attended the final meeting of the Press Lodge No 432 I.C., which was held in the Stokes Room in the Arthur Square Hall in the city of Belfast, Northern Ireland.
We were gathered here this evening to mark the final meeting of the Press Lodge No 432, and afterwards record the Return of the Warrant into the safe keeping of The Provincial Grand Lodge of Antrim. In many ways, this was a sad occasion, marking the end of 94 years of Masonic Service, yet in others it should be a celebration of some 94 years of Masonic Achievement. I would like to take a few moments and recount the history of the achievements of this interesting Lodge.
Warrant No. 432
Press Lodge 432 worked under a warrant granted in the year 1765 to Brethren who sat in the town in Ballycastle, Co. Antrim. The archives of Masonry reveal that fifty-two years later this warrant was exchanged for that of No. 87, now in the jurisdiction of the Province of Down. After lying dormant for exactly one hundred years the warrant was granted to the Press Lodge, which was dedicated on 29th December, 1917. No. 432 can therefore claim to be mellow with age yet buoyant with youth and vigour.
Press Masonic Lodge' No. 432 owed its genesis more to W. Bro. David R. Anderson than to any other individual for, while many newspapermen in Northern Ireland were members of the Order at the time, it was he who in 1917 first suggested the formation of a `Press Lodge' in Belfast in order, recalling words used at the time `to unite in the closer bond of a common Lodge those who already had common Masonic and professional interest.
The suggestion having been made, little time was lost in translating it into reality. On 5th November, 1917, a deputation consisting of V.W. Bro. R.S. Fenry, P.P.J.G.W., Down, `Newtownards Chronicle', W. Bro. T.L. Price, P.P.S.G.D., Antrim, `Larne Times', W. Bro. A.W. Stewart, `Belfast Telegraph', Bros. W.J. Allen, A. Clarke, D.R. Anderson, and G. Browne, all `Belfast News-Letter', and Bro. J.F. Charlesson, `Echo' and `Witness', waited upon R.W. Bro. R.H.H. Baird, P.P.S.G.W., Antrim, `Belfast Telegraph', and invited him `as the most eminent and energetic Irish newspaperman who was a Freemason and the most zealous and enthusiastic Freemason who was a Pressman' to be the first Worshipful Master.
Bro. Baird accepted the invitation, and with his name on the petition to Grand Lodge were those of W. Bro. A.W. Stewart, Rt.Wor Bro. William Bel Burrows, P.G.T., Down, `Belfast Telegraph', Bro. R.J. Lynn, `Northern Whig', V.W. Bro. R.S. Henry, W. Bro. J.W. Story, `Irish Churchman', Bros. W.J. Allen, A. Clarke, D.R. Anderson, V.W. Bro. W. Cassidy, P.J.G.W., Antrim, `Belfast Telegraph', and W. Bro. S. Cunningham, `Northern Whig'. Two of the Lodges which supported the petition were Excelsior, 109 (R.W. Bro. Baird's Lodge), and Unity, 383 (of which a number of other founders were members).
The Warrant was duly granted by Grand Lodge on 6th December and issued on 11th December, 1917, under the signature of M.W. Bro. the Earl of Donoughmore, KP., as Grand Master. Three days later, on the 14th December 1917, the Deputy Grand Secretary H. Flavelle approved the draft Lodge Byelaws and they were returned to W & G Baird Ltd for printing. The Constitution of the Lodge, now bearing the No. 432, took place at Arthur Square on Saturday, 29th December, 1917, the ceremony being performed by R.W. Bro. J.H. Stirling, P.D.G.M., Antrim and supported by a large number of P.G.L. Officers from Antrim & Down.
One year later :-
"....Another happy event which added greatly to the pleasure of the proceedings took place at the September meeting of the Press Masonic Lodge No. 432, Belfast, when the first Worshipful Master, and one of the founders, R.W. Br. R.H.H. Baird, P.P.S.G.W., was presented by the members with a massive gold jewel to wear attached to his collar of office as Representative of the Grand Lodge of Virginia at the Grand Lodge of Ireland. He was also the recipient of a replica of the jewel for use when not wearing his collar of office. The `Press Lodge' which is the only one of its kind in Ireland, although only a little over a year in existence, is now one of the most vigorous and best worked lodges in Belfast......"
Belfast Telegraph, 1 January, 1919.
During the first eleven years of its existence it became one of the most virile lodges in the province of Antrim. With the exception of Gallery Lodge, 1928, at Westminster, it was the only lodge in the world with distinctive Press associations. Its membership then numbering 83, was composed of newspaper men, by whom the opportunities afforded for social and fraternal intercourse were highly prized, inasmuch as the exigencies of Press life deny these privileges to a large extent to those engaged in the pursuit of journalism.
No lodge ever had a more auspicious send off, the first W.M., Rt. Worshipful Bro. Sir Robert Baird, Grand Treasurer of Ireland, and Wor Bro. Major William Baird, handsomely endowing its chairs in the Masonic Orphan Boys’ and Girls’ Schools, and in the Belfast Masonic Widows’ Fund. Further substantial gifts to the charities have followed from time to time, and over and above these a voluntary collection for the schools, with which is linked an interesting system for qualifying annual governors has been a recognised feature of the Stated Communications since 1922. The W.M., S.W., J.W. and Secretary for the time-being are Vice-Patrons of the Girls’ School, and it is hoped in process of time to have all the Officers similarly appointed.
There are many interesting features in the artifacts used by 432 in their monthly meetings. Its most treasured possession is the beautiful Volume of the Sacred Law, an artistic masterpiece of surpassing worth, presented with a series of companion gifts in 1926 by W. Bro. Major Wm. Baird and received with due ceremony.The W.M.’s maul is carved from portion of a beam of the G.P.O., Dublin, which was destroyed by fire during the Easter Rebellion in 1916, and is the gift of R.W. Bro. W.M. Whitaker, KC. Another gavel, gifted in 1926 through Bro. V. Salter, is made from the flagstaff of Independence Hall, Philadelphia.
The S.W.’s mallet, presented by Bro. Thos. Sinclair is made from a hand grenade mounted with ebony. The J.W.’s mallet is composed of four different woods grown in the Holy Land. It was used by a Lodge held in King Solomon’s quarries, near Jerusalem, and presided over by W. Bro. Rev. P.C. Duncan, P.G. Chap. Derry and Donegal, an Hon. Member of 432, who in 1920 handed the mallet over to Press Lodge, together with a large wooden panel, containing the seal of the lodge, handsomely carved in wood taken from the wreck of the White Star liner Laurentic, which was sunk by enemy action off the Donegal coast during the Great War.
Obituary for the late Bro. A.W. Stewart : "At a Stated Communication of `Press Lodge' No. 432, held in the Masonic Hall, Arthur Square, Belfast, on Saturday evening, December 20th., 1924, the lamented death of Br. Andrew W. Stewart, P.M., P.K., P.P., P.G.R.C., XV., managing editor of the "Belfast Telegraph" and allied papers, was made the occasion of a solemn In Memoriam service........ At an appropriate stage in the solemn proceedings R.W. Br. Sir Robert Baird said, It is my melancholy duty to present and propose the following resolution, which, being seconded, supported and passed, will be placed on the minutes of `Press Lodge' No. 432."
A further addition to the Lodge equipment was the presentation of silver-mounted deacon poles by Bro. J.H. Church and Bro. T. Moore in 1931. The most treasured of all the Lodge's possessions is the beautiful Volume of the Sacred Law presented, with silver Square and Compasses and a silver-mounted book-marker, by W. Bro. Major Baird in 1926.
The Volume - 1611 Version of The Holy Bible - is bound in blue Levant Morocco, inlaid with different colours. The inside cover is lined with lamb-skin, worked with gold, with a pattern of the Square and Compasses. The ancient Celtic note predominates in the decorative scheme and all the extensive illuminated work is carried out on parchment.
These parchment pages carry a history of the foundation of the Lodge, a record of the constitution, the autographs of the W.M.'s and the names of the foundation members. It is a Volume which can be truly described as unique in Irish Masonry.
The Lodge has one of the finest Dragon Compasses that I have ever seen.
This is a way of measuring solar and lunar eclipses, and is a very old astronomical system, not often see in modern Lodges.
Curiously perhaps for an Irish Lodge's closest contacts with other lodges in its early years were with Lodges in the English Constitution, though it is not altogether surprising as the two with which it exchanged greetings at its formation were `Gallery Lodge' No. 1928, the only other Lodge in the United Kingdom composed of newspapermen, and `Ulster Lodge' No. 2972. It is pleasant to record that the link with `Gallery Lodge' has been maintained and as recently as 1964 a number of members of `Press Lodge' visited `Gallery Lodge' for the installation as W.M. of Bro. Percy Dymond, London Editor of the `Belfast Telegraph' and formerly a Belfast colleague of many of the members of 432, and that in the following year W. Bro. Dymond brought the greetings of `Gallery Lodge' when he attended the installation of Bro. T.S. Carson as W.M. of `Press Lodge'.
The links with `Ulster Lodge' were more tenuous, but an exchange with another English Lodge added an unusual event to the history of 432. This was the visit in 1928, on the invitation and inspiration of Sir Robert Baird, to `Jubilee Masters Lodge' No. 2712 in London, to give an exemplification of the opening, closing and initiation ceremonies according to the Irish ritual. Eleven members of Press Lodge were included in the party and occupied the majority of the offices of this `Irish Lodge' within an English Lodge, as well as acting as conductor, candidate and instructor. Jubilee Masters Lodge, is composed entirely of P.M's and is regarded as one of the most representative and influential in the English Constitution.
The Lodge has had the honour of entertaining visiting Brethren from almost every country under the sun. The presence of such distinguished visitors as V.W. Bro. Viscount Maitland, P.S.G.W., England (January, 1919) and R.W. Bro. H.A. Tubshaw, D.P.G.M., Northern Province of South Africa (I.C.) (May, 1927), has left happy memories. Naturally no visitors are more welcome to the Lodge than working Journalists, and the Brethren feel highly delighted that the Masonic delegates at the annual conference of the Institute of Journalists have been able to attend one of their Communications and to partake of their hospitality. As a sequel to the tour in South Africa, early in 1926, of R.W. Bro. Sir Robert Baird and W. Bro. R.M. Sayers (then W.M. elect) 432 at the request of the South African Brethren, furnished details of its constitution and working to Johannesburg, where the formation of a new Press Lodge on the same lines was contemplated. Inspiring as its past has been, and proud as is its present prestige, Press Lodge looks forward with confidence to an even brighter future.
Sadly in 1934 Sir Robert Baird was Called to the Grand Lodge Above. He was accorded one of the biggest funerals ever seen in Belfast and was buried in Belfast City Cemetery. Shortly thereafter, a memorial window of “The Good Samaritan” was placed in memory of Sir Robert in the Parish Church of St George, High Street, Belfast.
2nd February, 1946 : The Stated Communication of the Provincial Grand Lodge of Down …. “…. The Provincial Grand Master (R.W. The Rt. Hon. Sir Harry Mulholland, Bart. DL.) said it was with profound sorrow and regret he had to record the death of the Provincial Grand Lodge Treasurer, R.W. Bro. W. Bel Burrowes. His death was a great loss to the Province, none had been more kindly and willing to help. For 36 years he had looked after the Funds and kept the accounts and in addition to his work as Provincial Grand Lodge Treasurer he had been Treasurer of the Down Masonic Widows’ Fund, his work on their behalf was well known – but indeed his record in Freemasonry was outstanding. He was a member of the Supreme Council 33 Degree, Treasurer of Lodge 188 of which he was a Founder and Treasurer of the Press Lodge No. 432. He would be mourned by Freemasons everywhere under the Grand Lodge of Ireland and also in the English Constitution. He had lived 86 active years and had gone to his reward. His memory was honoured by a Muffled Salute. ….”
The current Father of the Lodge is Wor Bro Dr.Malcolm Brodie, a well known and highly respected Sports journalist who joined the Lodge in the late forties, and has been a hardworking member ever since. He has now been in the lodge for over sixty years and, in that time, has seen many changes in membership and working in the lodge.
In 1968, Northern Ireland was engulfed in civil unrest leading ultimately to some forty years of “Troubles”. The city, in many ways became a ghost town as a result of bombings, burnings and the constant need for traffic and movement controls. As a result many visiting press-men came to the Province, and those that were Freemasons, availed of the opportunity to visit their Brethren of The Press Lodge. However on the down side Freemasonry in general was depressed as a result of Brethren not wanting to travel through the City at night and due to many Brethren giving time and effort to the RUC Reserve, UDR, The Samaritans and other voluntary organizations that were active at that time.
As the Troubles slowly came to a close in the middle of the 1990’s, suddenly Belfast discovered choice. The wide selection of leisure activities now available since the Troubles ended, brought their own pressures on Lodge Membership and after a number of years struggling Press Lodge, like many others have decided to Return their Warrant in Trust, in hope, that at some future time, Brethren will again activate the number and bring forward the Warrant for further Labor.
I should point out that this was not just a sudden decision by the Lodge in the last few months, but the considered resolution of a problem that was initially discussed by the Lodge fourteen years ago. Falling membership and attendances have been a feature of the Lodge since the early nineteen nineties, and a long rearguard was fought before tonight’s decision was reached. It was thanks to the clear head and steady chairmanship of Wor Bro Neil Ritchie, over the last couple of years that the Lodge was brought in to its final berth with dignity, decorum and a sense of a job well done. The last formal act, on the agenda for the night’s meeting was the surrender of the Warrant, and after all the business on the agenda was concluded, the Worshipful Master collected the Warrant and Returned same into the hands of Very Wor Bro Ivan Gillespie, representative of The Grand Lodge of Ireland and The Provincial Grand Lodge of Antrim. Then some final photographs were taken in the Lodge-room, as a memento of the occasion.
So Brethren, sadly the story of Press Lodge No 432 has come to an end tonight, until some future time, when a new Band of journalistic Brothers will pick up the baton and try again. Once the formal activities were complete, we all adjourned to the upstairs Dining Room to enjoy a last supper, served by Florence and her team, to their usual high standard. Wor Bro Neil Ritchie, the WM regaled us all with stories of life in the telegraph during the troubles and gave us lots of detail on the many links between Press Lodge and the Telegraph. He particularly told us of the many social occasions using the Telegraph’s Bar and Catering facilities and some of the many stories associated with same.
Wor Bro Neil set up a free ballot ( providing all the prizes himself ) and then had a collection for Action Cancer which raised the sum of £ 300-00 for their ongoing research work. His final act was to present all seventeen of the Members and Guests present with a small memento – a copy of the original 1917 Lodge Byelaws approved for use by the Press Lodge No 432. The National Anthem was then sung in traditional Press fashion followed by a final verse of Auld Lang Syne.
Rt Wor Bro Robert T Bashford.