Doncaster Free Press
MASONS LIFTING THE VEIL OF SECRECY
IT has been the butt of jokes for years - from TV shows to friends down the pub, it seems everyone has had a dig at the Freemasons at some stage in the past.
The organisation has always been dogged by secrecy and controversy - but, moving with the times, freemasonry is now opening its doors to the public and allowing a peek behind closed doors.
Reporter SARAH DUNN discovered more.
24 March 2005
Past Master of Bawtry Lodge, Colin Crofts, sits in the Masters Chair.
VIEWED as an almost secret society in the past 50 years, freemasonry in Doncaster - and indeed the country as a whole - has been working hard recently to open up its work to the public.
And people from across the borough could take advantage of an open day held at the town's Masonic Lodge last weekend to find out more - enjoying a guided tour of the building and being given the opportunity to quiz members about their organisation.
Those that went along will know that freemasonry is a social and charitable organisation for men over the age of 21, although a similar, but unrelated, organisation exists for women.
It teaches the beneficial effects of charity and encourages a high level of morality within its membership.
Members are taught its principles by a series of ritual dramas, which follow ancient forms and use stonemasons' customs and tools as moral and spiritual guides.
Stuart Grantham, chairman of the Doncaster and District Installed Masters' Association, explained the reasons behind the open day: "Freemasons are aware that recently their activites have been the subject of some scrutiny and speculation and many unflattering conclusions have been drawn.
"We have to admit that our own reticence about our activities is largely to blame and a gradual process of 'coming out' began about four or five years ago. It was in this spirit of openness that we organised this second open day."
Over 50 people ventured into the hall, its maroon and stained glass door depicting a square and compass tucked away inbetween a travel agent and a leather shop at the Printing Office Street end of Priory Place, last Saturday to learn more about the society.
"It's based on the old masons' guilds," Mr Grantham said. "The terms come from the stone mason trade and we have a whole range of their tools that have a symbolic meaning."
And so it is that a building level teaches people about equality and the plump rule represents justice and uprightness of character. The black and white chequered carpet that mirrors a chessboard also symbolises the ups and downs of life.
The Masonic Hall in Priory Place, built in 1915 by the lodges then in existence, is home to 16 masonic organisations, and plays host to meetings most nights of the week.
Explaining the kind of work the society does Mr Grantham added: "We are a charitable organisation, raising money mainly amongst ourselves. We support elderly or infirm members and their wives, widows and orphans, but increasingly we also donate to non-masonic charities."
Locally this year, they will be donating £6,000 to Doncaster Minster, and nationally freemasons have given more than £500,000 to help victims of the Asian tsunami.
Freemasons have been in Doncaster since 1780 when St George's Lodge, the oldest in Doncaster, was founded. And they will be celebrating 225 years of freemasonry in the town later this year.
And the society looks set to stay, as Mr Grantham added: "There are approximately 300 active freemasons meeting in Doncaster - and six people expressed an interest in joining after their visit."