Reading Old Boys’ Lodge No. 3545
The history of the first 75 years was written by W Bro Len Cheyney in two parts. The first, to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the lodge, in 1961, and the second, in 1986, to celebrate the 75th. Rather than rewrite the history from scratch it seemed to me much better to have a record of the lodge’s history seen through contemporary eyes. I have very fond memories of W Bro Len Cheyney as he initiated me, in Big School, in 1980. He was far too modest in his history of the lodge to mention the very considerable contribution he made to Freemasonry in general and our lodge in particular. I deal with his career towards the end of this history. The following history is in W Bro Len's words. The only alterations I have made to it (usually indicated thus […]) are, I hope to make things clearer or to add information that may be of interest. However, before turning to the history of the lodge, brethren might be interested in a brief history of the school.
Reading School is certainly not the oldest school in the country – at a mere 880 years it is a baby compared with the King’s School Canterbury or St Peter's York: it is, however, regarded as the tenth oldest in the country. Rea-ding Old Boys Lodge is not the oldest school lodge: Old Westminsters’ Lodge, for instance, has been in existence since 1877. The school was established as a part of Reading Abbey, founded in 1121 by King Henry I, in memory of his son and heir who drowned at sea. The abbey was, from its inception, one of the most important Benedictine houses in the country. During its time Parliament was summoned to meet there and King Henry I was buried there.
The remains of the Abbey are, as can be seen in The Forbury in Reading, in a very advanced state of dilapidation but the church of St Laurence and the inner Gatehouse (known as the Abbey Gateway) still remain. It also left a less tangible, but no less important, memorial in the school originally set up by the Benedictines in around 1125. Although the actual date of its foundation is uncertain, since education was an ecclesiastical or monastic preserve in the middle ages (it was illegal to teach without Episcopal licence) the first recorded reference to the school is an early 12th century charter granted before 4 October 1139 from the Bishop of Salisbury concerning the School of Reading ('de scolis de Radyng') which states (in translation):
'I prohibit everyone from teaching school at Reading except with the consent and goodwill of the Abbot and convent'
By 1486, following a visitation by King Henry VII in May of that year (at which it was discovered that all was not well and that the endowment of the school was being misappropriated), the school was put on a firmer footing. On 10th February 1541, after the dissolution of the Abbey in September 1539, Henry VIII granted Letters Patent to the then Head Master (Mr Cockes) granting him the School and Mastership for life, together with a £10 annual stipend. On 23rdFebruary 1560 Queen Elizabeth I granted a Charter to the town of Reading which included clauses which transferred the school to the Borough and required the Mayor to pay the Master's annual £10 stipend. That payment is still made at annual prize-giving in the same sum. The bust of Henry VII on the wall at the east end of Big School was unveiled by HM Queen Elizabeth II when she came to the school in May 1986 to celebrate the Quincentenary of the school's refoundation.
Originally, the site of the school was adjacent to St Laurence's Church, on former Abbey land. By the early 19th century the school was (yet again) in a bad way and almost closed. However it was revived and once more put on a firmer footing: this time by The Reading School Act, 1867. It was also decided to move to a spacious new site in Erleigh Road. The foundation stone was laid on 1st July 1870.
To prepare a detailed history of the first 50 years of the existence of the Reading Old Boys’ Lodge would be a relatively simple operation. What is not so easy it is to write a ‘short’ history suitable to this occasion, and the following cannot be more than a few brief notes giving something of the story of this most important period of its life. It should, however, interest and present members to know something of the birth and development of the lodge and to recall the part played by our predecessors who formed and guided it.
Fortunately the minute books are preserved in excellent condition from its foundation as are also the notes of meetings of prospective founders leading to the consecration on Tuesday, 24th October, 1911. From these notes there is clear evidence of a more leisurely approach to matters in those days e.g. the provision of a curtain rod for the locker room was the subject of a written tender amounting to £1 5s and the efforts to obtain a suitable caterer for the consecration banquet involved the contemplation of a London firm complete with portable kitchens carpets, etc. It was also apparently necessary to appoint a special sub-committee of founders to interview another specially appointed sub-committee of the authorities to negotiate the use of a suitable meeting room for the lodge at the school at a satisfactory rental – 5s. per meeting.
The founders - acting through their association together in the old boys club - had as their objective the desire to bring together the beneficial influence of the Masonic order with the allegiance and comradeship existing among the old boys and staff of the school. The preamble to the bye-laws (initially a bye-law itself) stated [and still states] that the lodge was formed for 'masters, ex-Masters and former pupils of Reading School and such others whose service to the school shall in the opinion of at least two thirds of the members present and voting entitle them to admission’. In 1918 it was agreed to ‘extend the privilege of membership to ex-Masters and former pupils of the Kendrick [Boys] School which is now amalgamated with Reading School’. This objective was a common feature of old school lodges and in our case the school staff have always taken an active part - sometimes a dominant part. It is a happy feature that in the ordinary way it has been possible to hold our meetings at the school thus allowing old boys a most pleasant and privileged way of retaining their connection with memories of their younger days.
The school's connection with Freemasonry goes back to a period of very long before the foundation of the lodge. It may not be generally known that the foundation stone of the present school building was laid on July 1st 1870 by H.R.H. The Prince of Wales, afterwards King Edward VII, with full Masonic ceremony. His Royal Highness, together with the Princess of Wales, made a state visit to Reading for this precise purpose and they were also accompanied by the high officers of [Provincial] Grand Lodge who participated in the ceremony. [The PGM at the time being RW Bro Sir Daniel Gooch]. The central pillar in the school entrance bears an inscription recording this important event. [It is directly below the room in which the centenary meeting is being held].
The lodge was consecrated at Reading School on Tuesday, 24th of October, 1911, by Right Worshipful Brother J. T. Morland, Provincial Grand Master [for] Berkshire, in the presence of about 120 brethren from a great number of lodges. [a copy of the Consecration Banquet menu can be found on the inside back cover] The first regular meeting was held on Wednesday 6th December 1911.
The founders of the lodge were drawn from a number of local lodges and the senior lodge of Reading, the Lodge of Union, No 414, became the sponsoring lodge. [The minutes of the Reading Lodge of Union held on 25th April 1911 at the Masonic Hall in Reading state that a ‘letter was received from Bro. Captain Warren-Hastings, the Provincial Junior Grand Warden, asking the recommendation of the master and wardens of the lodge to a petition about to be submitted in favour of forming an old boys lodge in connection with Reading School. After varying views on the matter had been expressed a majority of the members voted in favour of the recommendation of the petition being given’]. A list of the 15 founders is given elsewhere and mention must at once be made of W Bro B. St. J Warren Hastings who was the moving spirit, the first master, eventually its treasurer and, until his appointment as Provincial Grand Secretary of Cheshire, a most regular attender and a generous benefactor in the early days of financial difficulty. He was also a founder and the first Principal of the Reading Old Boys’ Chapter which was consecrated in 1938. But for him it is doubtful whether the lodge would have survived the grave difficulties which arose in its early days through no fault of its own. His death in 1940 was a great loss to masonry in general and this lodge in particular. The first secretary – W Bro G Marcus Love - who occupied the chair in 1921 - also did excellent work in the early days until called to war service during which he became a prisoner-of-war. His passing in 1952 robbed us of the last of our founders.
These early troubles were the direct result of the 1914-18 War, the outbreak of which gravely threatened the organisation which was slowly being built up and was not at that time sufficiently strong to withstand the upheavals which have affected this lodge perhaps more than many others. Most of its small membership was either absorbed into war service or for reasons of distance were unable to attend. The numbers of initiates dwindled away and the outlook at that time was far from promising. Attendances fell to as low as six or seven. Only six were present at what should have been the installation meeting in October 1914 (the WM elect himself being absent) and the next meeting could not be held until April 1915. The Head Master at the time - (W Bro) G. H. Keeton was initiated in July 1915 and at the following meeting was appointed secretary immediately after taking the second degree.
The occasion however so often produces the man-this was an exception. In July 1916 (W Bro) [Revd] Arthur Keeble was elected a joining member and at the same meeting was appointed secretary. From that day onwards he devoted himself with single-minded intensity to the task of re-building the lodge. While his methods do not always commend themselves to everyone [there is no reference to what these methods were!], there can be no dispute whatever about his sincerity and his motives, or of the results which stand as a permanent record of which any Mason could be proud. He obtained the active support of many distinguished masons who were qualified for the Lodge and became joining members. The supply of suitable candidates for initiation steadily accumulated. He temporarily vacated the office of secretary for just sufficient time to pass to the chair in 1920 otherwise retained office until the day of his passing at the age of 83 in 1951. In 1941 presentation was made to him, subscribed to by all members, to mark its 25 years work as secretary, which period eventually extended to 35 years. This is by any standard a great achievement seldom equalled even in an order which has brought forward so many great men.
[The lodge members purchased two chairs to commemorate the memory of W Bro Revd Keeble. These remained in Big School but when the lodge moved to Sindlesham in 1990 they were going to be disposed until W Bro Arthur Burrows saved them. The minutes of the meeting in July 1991 record that the 2 chairs and Secretary's table were sold to W Bro Arthur for £100. Not long before W Bro Burrows died they were saved from the tip by W Bro Ron Kellman (an OR but not a lodge member – yet!) who took them to Sindlesham. They have now been restored by the Centre and are usually in the Maidenhead Room, either side of the WM's chair. They were used by the secretary and treasurer when we met in Big School. They are returning to the school for this centenary meeting and are being used by the RW Provincial Grand Master and the IPM.]
The lodge is indeed fortunate to have had since its foundation the active participation of successive Head Masters of the School. W Bro Rev Dr W C Eppstein was a founder and first chaplain and passed the chair in 1913; W Bro G H Keeton, who followed him as Head Master, has already been referred to, - he occupied the chair in 1922; the present Head Master W Bro C E Kemp - initiated in the lodge in 1941 and WM 1954 - is now the Director of Ceremonies. In addition W Bro Revd E Priestley, who was Head Master of the Kendrick [Boys] School at the time of amalgamation, was elected to the chair in 1918.
In memory of three members who gave their lives in the 1914-18 War (Lt Charles Ayers, Capt J C James and Lt H P Dymore-Brown), the Lodge Banner at present in use was given by the members. It was executed to the design of Bro H Dawson Barkas who will be remembered by many as the Art Master of the School and much of the work was done by his daughter. Unfortunately Bro Barkas, who was an initiate of the lodge and relieved W Bro Keeble as secretary during his sojourn in the chair, died before he could himself occupy it, being Senior Warden at the time. The banner was consecrated at a special service held in the School Chapel on 30th June 1920, the service being conducted by VW Bro Rev Dr Cooper-Smith, W Bro Rev F J C Gillmor, W Bro Rev E Priestley and W Bro Rev C M M Jotcham.
In 1920 an OR was initiated who has since achieved great distinction both in masonry and in his learned calling. We are particularly proud to have this initiate – now W Bro Dr W C Costin, OBE, MC, Deputy Provincial Grand Master of Oxfordshire, President of St John's College, Oxford - in the chair by invitation of the Worshipful Master for this special celebration meeting.
The present senior Past Master, W Bro J G Fry, PAGChap, PPGChap, became a joining member at the same time as W Bro Rev A Keeble in 1916 and was treasurer of the lodge for 25 years. The support of Past Masters has always been a marked source of strength of this lodge and the minutes of the October 1948 lodge [meeting] record that out of the 24 subscribing Past Masters at that time, 23 were present.
A special feature of this lodge - doubtless common to other Old School Lodges - is the acceptance into membership of many candidates whose place of residence is far away from Reading, and often away from this country. This has involved the holding of emergency meetings at such times as the candidates happen to be available. In the early days this was such a common proceeding that the number of Emergency Meetings came very close to those of the Regular Meetings. By 1931 the 80th Regular Meeting was competed with by the 53rd Emergency Meeting but this pressure has now decreased.
In 1938 lodge agreed to sponsor the Reading Old Boys’ Royal Arch Chapter and 12 founders were [again] headed by W Bro Warren-Hastings. A prominent part in the foundation of this Chapter was taken by W Bro J Ll Sylo-Jones the Second Master of the School who has been a stalwart supporter of the lodge since his initiation in 1920. He was the first Scribe E of the Chapter and retained that office until his passing in 1956. [W Bro Len Cheyney was also one of the founders.]
The 1939-45 War again brought difficulties but these fortunately did not have the same devastating effect as those of the previous War. Details of War service of all types performed by members, collected at the request of Grand Lodge, showed an impressive record, but happily it was possible to record that no member was called upon for the supreme sacrifice as a result of that service.
In 1947 the Old Boys' Lodge was one of the first to join the newly formed Federation of School Lodges. It has always given very active support to this excellent organisation and in 1952 the Federation held its 5th Annual Festival at the School under the auspices of this Lodge. At that special meeting there were 174 present including 111 members of the Federated School Lodges representing a large number of such lodges. Our interest still further evidenced by the fact that our present Secretary, W Bro F A Wilson, is joint secretary of the Federation. [It is important to note that in 2011 the lodge still retains an active involvement in the Federation, with W Bro Clifford Peyton being a member of the Federation's committee and we welcome to our Centenary meeting both the current President of the Federation RW Bro David Jenkins, PPGM Somerset, Past President, RW Bro Digby Woods, PPGM Berkshire and W Bro N Malden, joint secretary].
The events of recent years have not been dealt with here - partly because of the need for brevity and partly because they will be within the knowledge of most of the present Brethren. One further fact, however, touching on the present position may be of interest - during the 50 years lifetime of the lodge some 150 candidates have been initiated and approximately 50 joining members elected (other than honorary members). Of this total intake of about 200 the present membership stands at 106 which represents a remarkably high proportion.
[The Golden Jubilee meeting was held on the 50th anniversary of the first regular meeting, namely on 6th December 1961.]
The lodge has now reached maturity, is of high standing and is rich in tradition. Membership is a privilege which should be prized by all. The next 50 years can be looked to with every confidence and is perhaps not too much to hope that there may be some present at the celebration that will be spared to attend centenary celebrations in 2011. [Sadly there are not, W Bro Gordon Preece having died in early 2011. Our senior past master is W Bro Mike Glover. He was the Lodge Chaplain for many years. He was initiated in 1963 and became Master in 1973 and again in 1992. He has kindly agreed to be appointed a Steward for this Centenary Year.]
The foregoing notes covering the first 50 years history of the lodge and reproduced as I wrote them for the Jubilee meeting, which was held, by dispensation, on Wednesday 6th December 1961, exactly 50 years after the date of the first regular meeting. These additional notes cover the following 25 years leading to our 75th Anniversary celebrations to take place on 1st October .
The Jubilee Meeting itself was a great occasion, attended by the RW PGM, [RW Bro Lt Col Ingham-Clark] and his full executive. In order to accommodate the large numbers in Big School the platform was brought into use and the organ from the Masonic Hall was borrowed. Having opened the lodge, the WM, Lt Col G H White, offered the chair to W Bro Dr W C Costin OBE, MC, OR, Deputy Provincial Grand Master, Oxon, a Governor of the School and an initiate of the Lodge. The RW PGM and his team were admitted and the RW PGM temporarily assumed the chair and addressed the brethren. On resuming the Chair, W Bro Dr Costin called on W Bro Rev Canon H Hewitson-Nash, OR, ProvGChap, to lead the brethren in an Act of Thanksgiving and Commemoration. He was assisted by W Bro OH Skipwith, PPGChap, WM of the Lodge of Union (our sponsoring lodge) and W Bro Rev L G Reeves, Past Master, OR, PPGChap. After the meeting, the Jubilee dinner was taken at the Masonic Hall, the toast of the guests being responded to by W Bro Sir Howard Roberts, OR, Clerk and Solicitor to the London County Council.
The several years following the celebration will relatively uneventful there being a steady flow of candidates and joiners. On a purely statistical note it may be of interest to record that in its 75 years existence the lodge has received approximately 200 initiates and 70 joiners and of these 270 about 70 are at present subscribing members. Moreover of the 72 Master since the beginning (some having served twice) 23 are still subscribing members.
In 1964 the lodge decided to adopt temporarily the alternative obligations and this has since become permanent [in 1980]. In 1969 it was agreed that its members become members of the Berkshire Masonic Centre [this being the time that the Masonic Hall in Friar Street Reading was sold]. In November 1970, Big School not being available, the lodge for the first time met at the recently opened Sindlesham Masonic Centre. At this time we lost the services of Brother J F Ruddick who had served the office of Tyler with great fidelity for many years. And it was at this time that with great satisfaction we learned of the appointment of W Bro J E Bignal, PM, as Deputy Provincial Grand Master. In October 1970 also we suffered the loss of VW Bro Dr W C Costin who had been present at the April meeting which had celebrated his 50 years membership.
For some years after, there was little of note until in 1975 the death occurred of W Bro F A Wilson who had been secretary for 24 years, having followed W Bro A Keeble who had himself held that office for 35 years. Thus in its 75 years life the office of secretary had been held by only two occupants for nearly 60 years, surely a rare occurrence.
In 1977 there was an interesting event in that several members of the German lodge “Freimauverldge Die Drei Verbundeten”, Dusseldorf, having expressed a wish to visit a Reading lodge, were entertained by us at our July meeting. [Dusseldorf is twinned with Reading] Their accompanying ladies were also entertained by a party of ladies arranged by Mrs Parsons, our master's wife.
In September 1982 the lodge had to face another severe loss by the death of W Bro H R Farmery OBE, PM, ProvDepGDC who had taken the office of secretary on the death of W Bro F A Wilson in 1975. He was therefore the third secretary to die in office. He was succeeded by W Bro Brian Parsons. A Memorial Service was held for W Bro Roy in the School Chapel on 18th September . In his memory a pedestal cloth, woven with the arms of the lodge, was presented by Mrs Farmery [in October 1984 when it was dedicated by W Bro Revd Chris Clarke, ProvGChaplain].
In 1983, quite by chance, the Past Master's Jewel of the first Master of the lodge in 1911, Lt Col. B St J Warren-Hastings, was discovered in a Masonic sale room. This has been purchased by lodge for display. [That has not happened hitherto but will be on display today, along with other documents concerning the Lodge, in the Museum at Sindlesham]
February 1984 saw the first Joint Meeting of Old School Lodges of the province, viz: Aldworth, John Roysse, and the Acre in addition to our own. We hosted the first [attended by the PGM (RW Bro Brig Flavell) and the APGM. The Prov DepGDC on duty that night was (then) W Bro Mike Hooton]; Aldworth did so in [March] 1985, and it is hoped that that these joint meetings will become a regular feature.
Although the lodge is of limited membership it has always been fully conscious of part it should play in the wider aspects of masonry, especially in the Province of Berkshire. A few years ago, at one in the same time, among the subscribing members - all initiates of the lodge – were the holders of the following senior Masonic appointments: Deputy Provincial Grand Master, Berkshire [VW Bro Jimmy Bignal, between 1970 and 1986]; the Deputy Provincial Grand Master, Oxon [VW Bro Dr W C Costin between 1957 and 1970]; Provincial Grand Mark Master, Bucks and Oxon [RW Bro Dr W C Costin 1956 – 1970]; Provincial Prior, Knights Templar, Oxon, Berks and Bucks [Rt Eminent Provincial Prior Len Cheyney 1969 - 1990]; Inspector General 33 Degrees, Berks, Bucks and Oxon [V Ill Bro Dr W C Costin between 1957 and 1970]; Provincial Scribe E, Royal Arch, Berkshire [Ex Comp F A Wilson between 1959 and 1972].
During the later years the lodge has sometimes experienced the difficulties that are bound to arise with lodges of a similar nature whether it is a restricted or specialised field of recruitment; as in our case it is necessary to realise that the viable future of the lodge must, in the long run, be very closely identified with that of the school, but we can at the moment look forward with every hope and confidence to the next 25 years. It is a happy coincidence that this 75th anniversary occurs in the same year as that in which the school is celebrating the 500th year of its re-foundation.
Having myself enjoyed the privilege of membership for 60 of the first 75 years it has given me the greatest pleasure to have been allowed to recall so many of its highlights. I have to assume that the centenary will be dealt with by other hands.
W Bro L F Cheyney OBE, PM, PPGW, PGD (PM 6960, PPGW Herts)
On 19th June 1986 the WM and Wardens of this lodge were pleased to sign a petition, on behalf of the lodge, to sponsor a daughter Lodge, to further the cause of Freemasonry in the Province of Berkshire, and specifically to allow brethren who have sons and friends who are not eligible to join the school lodge, to be initiated into the lodge which has strong connections with the ‘old boys’. The proposal first came before the lodge on 1st February 1986.
Although it was hoped that the proposed lodge would be called the James Edwin Bignal Lodge to perpetuate the name of an eminent mason in the Province of Berkshire, it was not possible because W Bro Bignal was not a PPGM. It was called, when consecrated in November 1986, The Berkshire Lodge of Gratitude. W Bro Bignal was its first (and perpetual until his death) IPM. Each year at installation of the Master of BLOG (as it is affectionately known by its members) those present are reminded of the reason for the lodge's creation, thereby achieving what was hoped in 1986.
So what have the last 25 years brought for the lodge? The short answer is that there have been some important changes which can be identified as: removal of the lodge from the school to Sindlesham on 24th November 1990, the opening of the membership to those without an association with Reading School at the same meeting, the reduction in the number of meetings from 5 to 4 year and the development of a website.
History is, of course, as much about individuals as about events and incidents. What is striking in preparing the history for the last 25 years of the lodge is how much the concerns about numbers and ability to get people to attend meetings reported in the early years have been reflected more recently. Although the last 25 years have seen a regular and steady stream of candidates and joining members, the most noticeable feature in the minutes is the large number of brethren whose deaths have been reported during that time. This means that whereas in the 1980s the lodge had a membership of over 70, by October 1999, 44 members were recorded. Today the membership figure stands at 28.
Before turning to look at last 25 years and put them into some context through the lives, recorded in the minutes, of various masons who may not be known to those present at the centenary or to the lodge in general, it would be appropriate to record the Celebrations to mark the 75th Anniversary.
The 75th Anniversary meeting took place on 1st October 1986 during the year that the School was celebrating the Quincentenary of its refoundation. The cover used for the Centenary Programme is the same as that used for all events in 1986 (including our meeting) and the Act of Commemoration today is almost identical to the one used 25 years ago. The installing master in 1986 was W Bro Geoff Canning and he installed W Bro Gordon Preece who had previously been WM in 1968. As in 2011, the meeting was attended by the PGM (RW Bro Tim Wilder CBE), the Dep PGM (W Bro Denis Orchard) an APGM (W Bro Revd Chris Clarke, who led the Act of Thanksgiving and Commemmoration as he was also the ProvGChaplain) together with the Prov SGW, Prov JGW, and the ProvGSec (W Bro John Owen) all under the stewardship of the ProvGDC, W Bro Digby Woods.
Following on from where W Bro Len's history stopped, as mentioned, W Bro Brian Parsons took over as secretary in 1982. He remained secretary until 1988 as he refused to be the fourth secretary to die in office. W Bro Brian was WM in 1976 and 1994. To mark his year in office, during which he managed to attend nearly every installation meeting in the Province, in October 1977 he presented 3 silver goblets which are used by the WM, SW and JW at festive boards. He died in 2006.
He was succeeded as Secretary by W Bro Gordon Preece. Likewise being determined not to follow his predecessors, W Bro Gordon retired as secretary in 2000, after 12 years 2 months when he was succeeded by W Bro Clifford Payton. He did not cease to be active in the lodge, however, becoming in turn Chaplain and Almoner. He had been the DC for many years (between 1972 and 1983) prior to becoming Secretary and was treasurer in the Chapter until 2008. W Bro Gordon was made an honorary member of the lodge on 10th January 2009, the 50th anniversary of his membership. Sadly his health deteriorated so that he was unable to attend the lodge for the last two years of his life. He died in January 2011. He very kindly gave a bequest to the lodge and the new collars and jewels worn by the brethren at the Centenary meeting have been purchased with part of that bequest.
W Bro Gordon's successor as DC in 1983 was W Bro Keith Tomkins and he remained DC until October 2001. He was initiated in 1970 and was WM in 1977. It is with very great pleasure that W Bro Keith, together with the other senior Past Masters, will be appointed a Steward at the Centenary meeting.
By far the most dramatic event of the last 25 years occurred in 1990 when the lodge moved permanently from Reading School to Sindlesham. This was because there was reduced support from the school for our continued presence. The minutes of the last (480th) meeting held at the school (on 24th November 1990) report that the School Song was sung “with vigour (twinged with regret)” by all present. It is with much pleasure that we have been able to return to the school for the Centenary meeting. Although the Lodge did not leave the school until 1990, by 1982 we were dining at Sindlesham, the last meal in the Refectory (also called Junior School but now the Music School at the bottom of the drive) being on 23rd March 1981.
The lodge's move coincided with the fact that the number of candidates from the school had dried up – notwithstanding the fact that we had done a 2nd and 3rd at the meeting in February 1982, a double 1st on 4th April 1987 and a double 2nd on 6th February 1988. The lack of members of staff joining the lodge was almost certainly the chief reason for this. From having only one female member of staff when I left in 1976, in 2011, over half the 68 teaching staff are female. Our efforts to initiate candidates were not helped when on 16th July 1983 the duly proposed and interviewed candidate did not attend the meeting although everyone was ready and waiting!
As a result of this drought, it became necessary to open the lodge's membership to those not directly associated with the school. The first mason to become a joining member (in April 1991) was W Bro Frank Morris; he became Master in 1993 and died in 1999. It is an indication of the open nature of the lodge that in the last 20 years seven of the 16 masters have not been old boys; we have not initiated an OR for many years and the principle offices of Secretary, Treasurer and DC are all held by non-school masons. We have two ORs who became joining members this year, W Bros Trevor Passby and Stefan Fafinski and it is our plan to use the website and other modern social networking sites to start to recruit initiates from our natural constituency.
The father of the lodge for some time was W Bro Len Cheyney. W Bro Len was born in July 1901 and initiated into the lodge on 7th April 1926. He was one of the last pupils who attended Kendrick Boys School before it was amalgamated with Reading School in 1918. W Bro Len was a founder of the Chapter in 1938. He became the Master in 1941 and once again in October 1979. It was he who initiated both me and the immediate past secretary, W Bro Stuart Lyon in 1980. The two collecting bags currently in use were presented to the lodge by W Bro Len after he had completed his second term of office as master. He was the Provincial Prior of the Knights Templar for 21 years between 1969 and 1990.
W Bro Len was active in the lodge even after passing the chair for the second time and the minutes note that he presented a Grand Lodge certificate on the 62nd anniversary of his initiation in April 1989 and gave me my PM's jewel in October 1989. The lodge celebrated W Bro Len's 65th anniversary of his initiation in April 1991 and on 13th April 1996 W Bro Len’s 70th year as mason and his 96th birthday was celebrated by a surprise visit by the RW PGM (RW Bro Digby Woods). W Bro Len was also President of the Old Redingensians' Association and a truly great man and Mason. When marking his death in March 2000, the minutes describe him as 'an accountant, a musician and a mason'. He was exceedingly accomplished in all his callings and we were fortunate to have such a man in our lodge.
The most senior mason in the craft degree within the lodge was W Bro Jimmy Bignal. W Bro Jimmy's 50th anniversary of his initiation was celebrated by a visitation to the lodge on the 7th February 1981 by the RW Provincial Grand Master, RW Bro Brigadier Flavell, attended by his Wardens, both Assistant Provincial Grand Masters and other Provincial Grand Officers. The minutes of the meeting of 7th January 1931 when VW Bro Bignal was initiated were read and then countersigned by both the PGM and VW Bro Bignal. The WM presented VW Bro Bignal with an engraved glass goblet as a token of the esteem in which he was held by the brethren of the lodge. The PGM emphasised VW Bro Bignal's wholehearted dedication to Freemasonry and expressed his thanks for the assistance that had been given to the Province as Provincial DC, Asst PGM and Deputy PGM. On the same evening W Bro Gordon Preece presented to the lodge a cabinet with three draws to hold the working tools. It had been purchased and manufactured on the instruction of a brother who wished to remain anonymous. As the person who purchased the drawers still remains anonymous, it would be a happy coincidence if the donor was VW Bro Bignal.
As with W Bro Len, the lodge minutes are peppered with other occasions when W Bro Jimmy (known affectionately as 'super prompt') marked another landmark in a distinguished Masonic career. When W Bro Jimmy became WM again in 1983, the RW PGM et al attended the installation meeting, and on 13th April 1985 as W Bro Jimmy was DPGM in charge (pending the installation of RW Bro Tim Wilder) the minutes of that meeting were signed by him in that capacity, taking the chair and signing them again on 19th July 1986 for the last time as DPGM. His retirement as DPGM was marked within the lodge att the 75th Anniversary Meeting when a presentation was made to him by W Bro Len as a mark of esteem and respect of the lodge. W Bro Jimmy died in November 1994, having celebrated 60 years in Masonry in February 1991.
The influence of W Bro Dr William Conrad Costin in Berkshire Freemasonry has probably never been analysed. W Bro Len's history for the Jubilee meeting shows the high regard in which he was held in 1961. That, I am sure, tells only part of the story. W Bro Costin was Captain of School and was awarded a First in History at St John’s College, Oxford where he remained until his death. He became the President of that College in 1957. He was the second Old Boy to be President, the former being Archbishop Laud in the sixteenth century. He won an MC (for reasons I have not discovered), was not only Dep PGM in Oxfordshire but, at the same time, was the PGM of the Mark degree for Berkshire and Oxfordshire and Inspector General 33 degrees for Berkshire, Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire. Whilst he was never WM of the Old Boys' Lodge, he was WM of Apollo Lodge (the University of Oxford Lodge) five times.
W Bro Alan Hatch exemplified those members of the lodge who may not have shone much beyond our lodge but without whom we would not have survived. W Bro Alan was a kind, quiet man who served the lodge as treasurer for 20 years between 1972 and 1991. He topped and tailed this by being WM in 1971 and 1991. W Bro Alan was succeeded as Treasurer by W Bro Keith Annand. W Bro Keith was initiated in 1979 and was Master in 1987. W Bro Keith was succeeded as Treasurer by W Bro John Talbot in 1998. W Bro John was initiated in 1964 and became Master in 1975. W Bro John remained Treasurer until 2009. W Bro John was at the same time the Prov Grand Treasurer for Hampshire and Isle of Wight and, as a PJGD, is our most senior member. Both W Bros Keith and John have kindly agreed to be Stewards this Centenary Year.
W Bro Len's wish that the joint meetings of the Berkshire School lodges should continue happened for a while. In November 1987 we hosted a meeting of school lodges and in February 1989 Aldworth Lodge was the host. The next meeting was at The Acre in Windsor in November 1992. The next joint meeting occurred in April 1995 when Bro Quentin Gelder of Kingswood Lodge 4197 presented a paper entitled “A very English Affair: An Examination of School Freemasonry” when we had guests from both Barbados and Louisiana. The last recorded joint meeting seems to be at Aldworth Lodge on 6th October 2001. As we have representatives of all 5 Federated lodges at the Centenary [Trevelyan Lodge being the recent addition] it is hoped that these joint meetings can recommence.
W Bro Len mentioned in 1986 that, although the lodge is of limited membership, it has always been fully conscious of the part it should play in the wider aspect of Freemasonry, especially in Berkshire. That commitment has continued throughout the last 25 years. It is apparent from reading the minutes that the lodge appears to have been fortunate in that all, or nearly all, the active past masters have been honoured with an acting Provincial Grand Rank. An example is that in 2006 there were four acting Provincial officers in the Lodge. W Bro John Talbot as Prov Grand Treasurer (Hants and IoW), W Bro Gary Ivory (our current Secretary) as Prov Gd Pursuivant, W Bro Richard Cooper (our current DC) as Prov Gd Steward. By far the most glamorous appointment, however, was W Bro Derek Fletcher who was appointed the first District Grand Chaplain of the District Grand Lodge of Bermuda by the Pro Grand Master, Lord Northampton. W Bro Derek gave the lodge a wooden drinking cup made of (rare) Bermuda cedar on one of his infrequent visits to the Lodge in April 2005.
Our duty to the Province continues as currently the lodge has within its membership the Operations Manager of Sindlesham Court, the Finance Director of Sindlesham Court Ltd, the treasurer of the Berkshire Masonic Charity, a trustee of the Sindlesham freehold and Chairman of the Berkshire Masonic Education Committee.
Not content with fulfilling their Masonic duties, brethren of the lodge have also undertaken civic duties with three members being Mayors of Reading: W Bro Charles Sage, W Bro George Robinson and W Bro Geoff Canning. W Bro Charles was WM in 1962, Mayor in 1979 (being made a Freeman of the Borough) and celebrated his 55th year of membership of the lodge just before he died in 2003. W Bro George joined the lodge in 1965 and was Mayor in 1982. He was never WM. He was an avid fan of Reading FC which meant that he was always late for meetings, although he did bring the score with him! He died in 2001. W Bro Geoff joined the lodge in 1978, was WM in 1985 and Mayor in 1990, dying in 2001. On a happier note, W Bro John Spanner (WM in 1981) is still a member of the Court of Common Council in the City of London. He too will be a Centenary Steward.
Those of us celebrating the Centenary tonight might be interested to know that the Centenary Fund was started on 27th November 1993 by a bequest from W Bro L E Goodman. He was initiated in 1944, became Master in 1958 and died in September 1993, although he had resigned some time before. We will remember him at 9pm.
As has been variously noted above, during the last 100 years the lodge has received bequests and gifts from members. The most recent tangible gift is the WM Apron worn by all new WMs who are going through the chair for the first time. This was very kindly presented by W Bro Richard Cooper in July 2001 to mark his year in office.
As previously stated, another development for the lodge was the reduction in the number of meetings from 5 to 4 a year as agreed in April 2003. They were originally in October, November, February, April and July but have now become October, January, April and June.
It seems that the lodge may be in the unique position of having two lodges named after or founded in gratitude for two of the senior masons mentioned above. In addition to BLOG, those in the Mark Degree will know of the Conrad Costin Lodge of Mark Master Masons , which was founded in 1975 in memory of W Bro Costin.
Whilst not a member of Reading Old Boys' Lodge (given he died in 1567!) there is a lodge named after another old boy of the school. Sir Thomas White Lodge [No 1820, founded 6th June 1879] is the lodge of the Old Boys of Merchant Taylors’ School. Sir Thomas White was a Lord Mayor of London in 1553 and a Merchant Taylor. With his considerable wealth he founded St John's College in Oxford University in 1555 (to which W Bro Costin went) and was one of the founders of Merchant Taylor's School.
Whilst there has been a long and friendly rivalry between Reading School and Reading Bluecoat School (although in their hearts the Old Blues know we are the greatest), since the late 1970s Reading Old Boys' Chapter has very happily drawn its membership from Aldworth Lodge and has been honoured to have amongst its members the immediate past Grand Superintendent in and over Berkshire, Excellent Companion Robert Faulkner.
Perhaps it is too soon to give an objective assessment of the Centenary Meeting on 29th October 2011 but those who attended said that it was an excellent evening. Big School looked good and the lodge furniture looked as if it had never been away. There were about 140 brethren present (some did not sign the attendance book, just the same as the consecration meeting). We were fortunate to have Bro Widdows act as our photographer to create a permanent photographic record of the evening.
We were honoured by the presence of the Right Worshipful Provincial Grand Master, the Deputy Provincial Grand Master and both Assistant Provincial Grand Masters. In addition there were a further 15 masons of Grand Rank including W Bro John Luker, a Past APGM of Oxfordshire and an OR. We gave 37 salutes! The Worshipful Master opened the lodge and welcomed the PGM's party of over 20. After the master had welcomed the Provincial executive and other distinguished visitors he handed over to W Bro Richard Cooper who installed the master-elect. The officers of the lodge were then appointed, including (as mentioned above) the senior past masters as Stewards of the lodge. The PGM then assumed the chair and led the service of thanksgiving, being very ably assisted by the immediate Past Provincial Chaplain, the Reverend Roy Holmes and the Provincial Grand Secretary, W Bro David Keys (who read the Consecration Minutes). At the end of the service the PGM called upon W Bro Mike Glover, the senior past master of the lodge, having been initiated some 48 years ago. The PGM recalled W Bro Glover's service to the lodge and his willingness to take any office as ane when required and at short notice. Having thanked him for his contribution to freemasonry in general and Reading Old Boys Lodge in particular the PGM then promoted W Bro Glover to PPJGW to enthusiastic and prolonged acclaim.
Amongst those present, we were delighted to have seven ORs who were members of other lodges: W Bro John Luker, W Bro (PPSGW Glos), W Bro Steven Foote (WM for the 2nd time of Cheshire) W Bro Kevin Head (PPStwd, Hants), Bro David Edmonds, Bro Nathan Cook and Bro Jonathan of Goring Gap Lodge.
The most recent development to record is that in June 2011 the lodge website; www.readingoldboys.org.uk was launched. Please pay it a visit. For those of you on Facebook, please visit our page (readingoldboys). What will be made of the use of these now commonplace social network sites in 25 or 50 years remains to be seen!
The lodge has made it to its Centenary. There were occasions when it was thought unlikely. The current members of the lodge are enthusiastic to ensure that it reaches further milestones. We have work to do to increase and consolidate the membership for the future but we intend to be around in 2035 to celebrate our 125th so please join us then. It may be a little optimistic to put October 2061 into the diary, however!
SJO - October 2011