Masons target universities to swell numbers
12:11AM BST 27/05/2007
By Miles Goslett
Students and university lecturers are to be encouraged to join the Freemasons as part of a drive to increase membership.
The organisation, more popularly connected with policemen, lawyers, and businessmen, has changed its constitution - lowering the age limit of candidates from 21 to 18 - and established the Universities Scheme.
Seven universities across England have been targeted, with lodges in the respective cities agreeing to "promote and encourage freemasonry among undergraduates and other university members". If successful, the project will be expanded.
"This is a challenge for the lodges that have chosen to participate," said David Williamson, Assistant Grand Master of the United Grand Lodge of England, masonry's governing body, discussing the scheme on the Freemasons' website.
"Young masons under 25 make up only about 0.25 per cent of the membership of the Craft in this country, so we want to make the Craft more accessible to young men."
Lodges in Bath, Birmingham, Bristol, Durham, Exeter, Manchester and Sheffield have signed up to consider accepting younger members willing to declare their belief in a Supreme Being and brotherly love.
One mason from the University of Birmingham Lodge, who asked not to be named, said it was a two-year scheme which was in the early stages of development.
"Young members pay half dues and the dining fee is also reduced," he said. "A few members of staff have been initiated already."
"It's good for undergraduates to join because we have members from all walks of life - doctors, policemen, magistrates, clerks," said another, who belongs to the lodge of St Peter in Exeter.
A spokesman for Exeter University said: "The university is not aware of any official approach being made to senior management or the Guild of Students under the new University Lodges Scheme. We assume that recruitment is being done along the lines of individual invitations and recommendation."
Modern masonry's origins date back to 1646, when Elias Ashmole, the antiquarian, became the first recorded mason in England. The United Grand Lodge estimates that there are now 270,000 masons in Britain.
The universities of Oxford and Cambridge have masonic links dating back to the 19th century, although the Universities Scheme is being used to try to increase membership.
A spokesman for Oxford University said: "While it is not a body officially affiliated with the university, there has been a lodge at Oxford since 1819. As with any other society, as long as members obey the law and membership does not interfere with the business or procedures of the university, then we have no objection to students or staff joining."
Freemasons have a long history of involvement in education. They operate The Royal Masonic School for Girls, in Rickmansworth, Hertfordshire, and ran the Royal Masonic School for Boys at nearby Bushey until it closed in 1977.
The organisation also sponsors the education of many children through The Royal Masonic Trust.