In total, there were 118 Royal Arch Companions who dined following the installation meeting of Vale Chapter of Installed Principals No 5256 held at Barrow-in-Furness Masonic Hall.
There was a buzz of enjoyment around the packed dining room as the three-course meal was enjoyed following a very busy and successful meeting. The chapter principally draws its membership from the two most northern groups in the Province and this annual get-together of friends from around Morecambe Bay is always a very friendly affair filled with great bonhomie.
Of course, any installation meeting is a special occasion but the latest such convocation of Vale Chapter was an event of particular note and great pomp as it also witnessed a meeting of Provincial Grand Chapter. It is often said by the main guest at installations that: “these things do not just happen” and this gathering was no exception to that adage.
Planning had been ongoing for several weeks and at mid-morning on the day of the meeting members of the hall committee and the chapter were on hand to welcome Provincial Grand Director of Ceremonies David Thomas and his deputy Malcolm Bell to the building. Final alterations were made to the lay-out of the room, which had been prepared during the preceding days, and seats reserved as appropriate. A break for lunch was taken before final preparations and rehearsals were undertaken.
Following the opening of the chapter a large number of grand and non-working acting Provincial grand officers entered in processional order. These were soon followed by the head of the order Tony Harrison and his accompanying Provincial team. Provincial Grand Sword bearer Andrew Barton along with Provincial Grand Standard Bearers Tony Cassells and Denis Skett added to the spectacle.
There were admiring nods of approval as David announced the full name and ranks of no less than 14 pre-eminent members of the team without hesitation, deviation or repetition. It brought a smile of appreciation to the face of many of the onlookers.
Tony was welcomed by first principal John Stanley and on this occasion accepted the sceptre when it was offered to him. John’s co-principals Bill Glassey and Andre Lawrence were likewise relieved of their staffs of office as Chris Band and Norman Thomas occupied their seats in the guises of acting Second and Third Provincial Grand Principals respectively.
Tony’s first duty was to formally invest David with his collar of office and present him with his wand. This was followed with the investiture of Chris Butterfield as Second Provincial Grand Principal with his collar of office being borne into the chapter by Dave Roberts.
Barrie Crossley was then invested as the replacement for Chris as the local Assistant to the Provincial Grand Principals with responsibility for the two groups from which Vale Chapter chiefly draws its membership.
Somewhat fittingly both Chris and Barrie are members of the chapter with Chris having to forgo his duties as janitor and Barrie those of the principal sojourner on the day to attend to their new roles.
Amongst the interested spectators was the Rev Canon Godfrey Hirst who is the third Provincial Grand Principal (elect). Provincial business completed it was time to pass the sceptres back to the chapter principals for the ceremony of installation.
John, Andre and Bill are all experienced Masons but even so there must have been some nervous twitches concealed by their robes, and doubtless some trepidation, as they went about their work in front of a packed room boasting so many highly ranked and knowledgeable companions. They installed Allan Everett, George Fox and Frank Heath as first, second and third principals respectively. Although somewhat of an abridged ceremony, with all the participants being past principals, they nonetheless discharged their duties both accurately and with great feeling. It was a pleasure to observe. Tony was later to congratulate the installing principals on the quality of their work.
Following the appointment of his officers Allan’s next duty was the pleasant task of presenting Tony with a cheque for £500 in favour of the West Lancashire MCF 2021 Festival.
Formal recessions were conducted under the watchful eyes of David and Malcolm, the chapter closed and it was time for a pre-dinner aperitif before the dinner gong was sounded. A pleasant and convivial time was had as friends old and new chatted over dinner.
At the 2020 installation the first principal will be a nominee from the Lancaster and District Group with the ceremony taking place at a Masonic hall in that area. It will be the turn of the companions from Furness to travel round the bay to what will inevitably be another superb evening of Masonic ritual and friendship.
As mentioned earlier, these things do not just happen. The janitor having proposed the final toast and the last wine glass put down was not the end of things. The next morning at 6:00am volunteers from the hall committee assembled to clean up the dining room, put away the tables and then turn their attention to putting the lodge room back as it should be. Their work in the main may be unseen but their efforts should be appreciated by all.