Members of Dona Conferentes Lodge No 9392 arranged a special and unusual treat for themselves and their guests when they visited the Preston Masonic Centre. This peripatetic lodge of almoners and charity stewards can always be relied upon to invite interesting and inspiring speakers to their meetings. This occasion was no exception.
Indeed, they pulled out all the stops and arranged for Provincial Grand Master of the Honourable Fraternity of Ancient Freemasons (HFAF) Brenda Cook to address them. HFAF lodges are purely for lady Masons and operate very similarly to the men’s lodges of the United Grand Lodge of England (UGLE). Both organisations have their Grand Lodge buildings situated in different parts of London.
With members of Dona Conferentes Lodge in place, the lodge was opened, the normal business completed and the lodge closed. Non-Masonic guests were admitted, welcomed by master of the lodge Tony Farrar, and shown to their seats. Tony also welcomed members from several ladies lodges and these too were shown to seats in the lodge room. Dona Conferentes’ director of ceremonies John-Robbie Porter introduced the lady Deputy Provincial Grand Master Angela Seed, along with Heather Hitchen and Pat Rothwell, both of whom are Past Provincial Grand Masters.
The scene duly set, the doors of the lodge were opened and Provincial Grand Director of Ceremonies Margaret Marson announced the arrival of Brenda Cook, who entered the lodge room to warm applause and an equally warm welcome from Tony Farrar. Brenda was conducted to the lectern to deliver her address. She began by thanking the master and brethren for their kind invitation to address them during the 300th anniversary year of the formation of the first Grand Lodge.
She continued by explaining that her father had been a member of Vanguard Lodge No 7170, which was meeting at Saul Street, Preston, at the time. He had encouraged both his wife and daughter to join lady Masonry. They had joined as mother and daughter and came out as brothers (the ladies use the male gender when working in their lodges). Brenda was proud to name many charities that had been supported by HFAF during the last 20 years; including Guide Dogs, Hearing Dogs, Air Ambulance (frequently), Alder Hey Hospital, Macmillan Nurses, Teddy Loving Care, Shelter Boxes and most recently, Alzheimer’s. At Alder Hey Hospital they have plaques in four bedrooms to indicate that they were donated by HFAF.
Brenda then proceeded to outline the history of Freemasonry from its origins in the early 18th century to the present day; also, how early English Masons set up lodges in France in 1729 and in Hamburg in 1737. Further examples of expansion to Russia and Italy were mentioned, along with the relentless persecution of Freemasons after they had formed in Portugal and Spain.
Moving from Europe to America, she covered the alleged involvement of Freemasons in the Boston Tea Party, the influence of Masonic teachings in their Bill of Rights and the fact that George Washington, the first American President was a Freemason and that all presidents since have taken their oath of office on the Bible belonging to St John’s Lodge at that time. At least 15 American presidents are known to have been members of the fraternity. Added to these connections were various composers, writers, explorers, sportsmen and architects, as well as leaders in many fields of human endeavour; all men who had one thing in common in that they all believed in a supreme being and were permitted to take their obligations on their own holy books, whether that be the Bible, Koran or book of holy scripture peculiar to their own religious beliefs. Brenda concluded this section by covering the Royal connection with Freemasonry from HRH Frederick Lewis, Prince of Wales in 1737 up to the present Grand Master, the Duke of Kent.
The history of men’s Freemasonry proceeded into the history of ladies Freemasonry by Brenda introducing the links between the suffragette movement in the early 1900s. She spoke of the formation of the Honourable Fraternity of Antient Masonry in 1908 and of the many lady Masons who marched under their lodge banners, wearing full regalia in the great protest march of 1911, in which 40,000 people were involved. These events did not herald the beginning of lady Masonry, however, as the Grand Lodge of Scottish Symbolic Masonry, which admitted women, was founded in 1893. She also quoted examples of women joining Masonic lodges before that, both in Ireland and in France.
Co-Masonry was introduced into England in 1902 and still exists as the Universal Order of Co-Masonry, with its headquarters in Paris. After a difference of opinion concerning the constitutions, several men and women resigned from this organisation and set up what was to become the HFAF, leaving another group known as the Order of Women Freemasons to work the three degrees until they formed their own Royal Arch Chapter in 1929. The new order was formed in 1913 with Elizabeth Boswell-Reid as the first Grand Master, with Margaret Sully as the Deputy Grand Master.
The Grace Banks-Martin Lodge No 14 was the first lodge opened in the north of England. It was consecrated on the Isle of Man in 1938. This was closely followed by Morecambe and Heysham Lodge No 15 in 1939. This ladies’ order was most prolific between the 1930s and 1960s and is still expanding. In 2016 Brenda was one of 21 senior brethren who travelled to New Delhi to open their first lodge in India. In the 10 days that followed, they initiated, passed and raised 20 candidates. As well as this, they performed a consecration ceremony, a conferred honours ceremony (creating past masters), an installation and a banner dedication. Brenda offers advice to any director of ceremonies wishing to know how to organise multi-candidate ceremonies in the three degrees.
In conclusion, Brenda stated that both ladies’ orders are now involved in Royal Arch Chapter and several other side degrees. Her presentation had kept her audience engaged from start to finish and received rousing applause at the end. She was heartily thanked and congratulated by Tony Farrar and Assistant Provincial Grand Master Stewart Seddon. After the principal guests had progressed from the lodge room, everyone else followed to the banqueting suite for a fine four course meal, at the end of which Tony Farrar presented Brenda Cook with a cheque for £150 towards the Alzheimer’s Society. In response, Brenda thanked Dona Conferentes Lodge members for the cheque. She also thanked the lodge members for their warm hospitality, not only toward herself but to all the members of her fraternity and the non-Masonic guests.
Article and photographs by Glenn O’Brien with thanks to Brenda Cook for her co-operation, including the generous loan of her presentation script.