Masons turn spotlight on their ‘secret society’

Former policeman and now Provincial Grand Charity Steward Roger Hampshire, from Bampton, pictured with a model of a traditional mason’s hoist and two blocks of stone – intended to illustrate the Mason’s spiritual journey from rough block to polished

Famous Masons include Sir Winston Churchill

Provincial Grand Master Stephen Dunning in the Master’s chair at Witney Masonic Centre

Oxford Freemasons, pictured in the 1960s

John Newman presented a cheque to the Paddocks School in Wallingford in 2000

Tony Brace, of Bicester Masons, presents a cheque to Stevie Horton from the Thames Valley & Chiltern Air Ambulance Trust in 2002

First published in News The Oxford Times: Photograph of the Author by , Council Reporter, also covering Oxford city centre. Call me on 01865 425429

MANY consider it a secret society shrouded in mystery, but Oxfordshire’s Masons say nothing could be further from the truth.

While many of the society’s practices – such as its famous secret handshake – are destined to remain undisclosed, the Oxfordshire branch of Freemasonry – which has around 2,000 members – is hoping to shed a little light on what it is.

Stephen Dunning, the Provincial Grand Master for Oxfordshire, says a lot of what is said about Masons is “bunkum”.

He said: “I am saddened by the misunderstandings, not frustrated about them because often I find that the people who come out with these theories don’t want to find out the facts.

“The charities we raise money for have no problem with the fact that we are Masons.

“They are incredibly grateful for the support.

“I believe we are part of the community and I would like the community to have as much information about us as possible.”

Mr Dunning, 61, who lives in Bampton, near Witney, and joined in 1984, was introduced to Freemasonry through his father-in-law. He said most of the organisation’s “secret” rituals are published in books available from mainstream bookshops.

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Former police officer and Witney resident Roger Hampshire, the Provincial Grand Charity Steward, said: “The main reason people join the Masons is friendship and having somewhere to meet like-minded people and some of them are very keen to know about the charitable side of it.

“I joined Thames Valley Police in 1972 and I became a Mason because it was just a way of socialising with my colleagues.”

One of the best-known myths about Freemasonry revolves around its use of the so-called “all-seeing eye” in its iconography.

Some claim that the eye’s appearance on the Great Seal of the United States shows the Freemasonry’s influence in the country’s founding.

But Mr Dunning said: “One of the key things about becoming a Mason is the belief in a supreme being and the all-seeing eye is just a representation of that.”

Which religion that Supreme Being comes from is irrelevant.

Mr Dunning says Oxfordshire’s Masonic lodge has members who are Christian, Jewish, Muslim and Sikh.

Mr Dunning, a lawyer, said: “We have got lots of people of different faiths.

“Nobody is surprised when you tell them you are a Mason. I have a magazine called Freemasonry Today which I leave in my office. I am very proud to be a Mason.”

Mr Hampshire added: “Nowadays it seems quite normal.”

Origins lost in history and the myths that followed

Freemasonry is a fraternal organisation, the precise origins of which are unclear. However it owes its creation to the loose organisation of medieval stonemasonry.

Membership is restricted to men aged over 21 who believe in a “supreme being”.

The United Grand Lodge of England – whose Grand Master is the Duke of Kent – estimates that there are around six million Masons worldwide.

There are around 8,000 lodges in England. They are grouped into Provincial Grand Lodges, of which Oxfordshire is one, roughly equivalent to the country’s historic counties. These make up the United Grand Lodge of England.

According to the United Grand Lodge of England, Freemasonry instils in its members a “moral and ethical approach to life”, of which charity work forms an important part.

Famous Masons include Sir Winston Churchill, Sir Ernest Shackleton, Peter Sellers, Sir Alf Ramsey and, locally, former Oxfordshire County Council leader Keith Mitchell.

Myths about the Masons include:

MASONIC bible – Masons have been accused of using their own mysterious bible in their rituals and while a bible does feature in the society’s ceremonies it is actually just a King James Bible with some Masonic decorations on the front.

SECRET handshake – The famous secret handshake does exist – and like many Masonic traditions owes its origins to medieval stonemasonry – but is rarely used outside of the society’s rituals. Mr Dunning said he had never knowingly received the handshake outside a Masonic setting.

SYMBOLS – Many of the symbols Freemasonry uses are ubiquitous, such as the all-seeing eye, and have led to conspiracy theories that Masons are behind world events such as the American Revolution but many of these symbols are older than Freemasonry and have been given “occult” meanings relatively recently.

County lodges

The Oxfordshire Provincial Grand Lodge was formed in 1837 with Lord Henry John Spencer Churchill – the fourth son of the fifth Duke of Marlborough – as the first Provincial Grand Master.

There are nine Masonic Centres around Oxfordshire, including in Witney, Thame, Banbury and Bicester but Oxford’s Masons are currently searching for a home.

Before moving to Summertown, Oxford’s Masons were based in High Street.

50 High Street, opposite Examination Schools, was rebuilt by Magdalen College in 1901 and the Masons moved in six years later.

They were based there for more than 50 years until the Temple at 333 Banbury Road was dedicated.

However last year the hall, which was also used as a conference centre, was closed and sold off because of a lack of conference trade.

It has since been purchased by development company Homespace which wants to turn it into 17 homes.

Oxford’s Masons are currently meeting in temporary accommodation while they search for a new base.

Charity work

In 2012 the lodges which make up the Oxfordshire Provincial Grand Lodge donated £58,000 to 138 charities including Thames Valley & Chiltern Air Ambulance, Maggie’s Cancer Centre, Helen and Douglas House and Oxfordshire Domestic Abuse Service.

The Province itself donated £18,450 to some 25 charities including Sobell House Hospice, Bicester Food Bank and Oxford University Development Trust.

Every year Oxfordshire’s Masons pay for a group of disabled and disadvantaged children to go to a panto – this year Aladdin in Henley.

 

Comments (9)

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12:53pm Thu 29 Aug 13

Ox4Eva says...

Proud to be a mason

SMIB
Proud to be a mason SMIB Ox4Eva
  • Score: -40

2:00pm Thu 29 Aug 13

pennekamp says...

A well balanced piece of reporting !!!!
A well balanced piece of reporting !!!! pennekamp
  • Score: -33

3:47pm Thu 29 Aug 13

Gremlin2000 says...

Dont forget the Order of Women Freemasons have also been around for over 100 years.
Dont forget the Order of Women Freemasons have also been around for over 100 years. Gremlin2000
  • Score: -36

4:48pm Thu 29 Aug 13

Excommunicate says...

Interesting and reasonable, yes, but permit me a wry smile when Roger Hampshire, Provincial Grand Charity Steward, says that he joined in order to socialise with his colleagues in the Thames Valley Police in the 1970s.

i can't help thinking of an episode of "Morse" where his superior invites him to join the Masons. i thought it was exaggerated stereotyping but it seems truth is stranger than fiction. in real life, apparently, Morse would already have been a member!
Interesting and reasonable, yes, but permit me a wry smile when Roger Hampshire, Provincial Grand Charity Steward, says that he joined in order to socialise with his colleagues in the Thames Valley Police in the 1970s. i can't help thinking of an episode of "Morse" where his superior invites him to join the Masons. i thought it was exaggerated stereotyping but it seems truth is stranger than fiction. in real life, apparently, Morse would already have been a member! Excommunicate
  • Score: -44

6:34pm Thu 29 Aug 13

pennekamp says...

Now the lodge has told how wonderful they are and what great works they do maybe they can now print a list of " brethren" who hold positions on public bodies, how about starting with our councilors ? Surely if all the masons are is the Round Table in aprons then I cant see the problem
Now the lodge has told how wonderful they are and what great works they do maybe they can now print a list of " brethren" who hold positions on public bodies, how about starting with our councilors ? Surely if all the masons are is the Round Table in aprons then I cant see the problem pennekamp
  • Score: -37

9:15am Sun 1 Sep 13

Freemason1264 says...

Pennekamp,
a while ago, some were calling for lists of Masons to be published, especially of those who were also members of the Judiciary. Jack Straw, the then Home Sec. investigated and judged that no such listing was necessary, as there was no evidence of ANY wrongdoing. Indeed one of the arguments that surfaced was that Freemasons themselves stated that no other society had been forced to publish membership lists so why should they?
So you and a lot of other people are suspicious of what Masons "get up to"?...especially if some members are also involved in public bodies like the Council? What a load of tosh. The reason that you and people like you want to see such lists, is because you have been taken in by the "rumours" that abound on the internet and other popular forms of communication... all without substantiated evidence.
One of the famous ones is the Leo Taxil affair. Google it and then maybe your views will change. Or are you one of those that has a closed mind?
Pennekamp, a while ago, some were calling for lists of Masons to be published, especially of those who were also members of the Judiciary. Jack Straw, the then Home Sec. investigated and judged that no such listing was necessary, as there was no evidence of ANY wrongdoing. Indeed one of the arguments that surfaced was that Freemasons themselves stated that no other society had been forced to publish membership lists so why should they? So you and a lot of other people are suspicious of what Masons "get up to"?...especially if some members are also involved in public bodies like the Council? What a load of tosh. The reason that you and people like you want to see such lists, is because you have been taken in by the "rumours" that abound on the internet and other popular forms of communication... all without substantiated evidence. One of the famous ones is the Leo Taxil affair. Google it and then maybe your views will change. Or are you one of those that has a closed mind? Freemason1264
  • Score: -89

9:17pm Sat 14 Sep 13

DonnyDarkoh says...

Masons are outdated with their sexist views because they do not allow women. While this is the age of fraternity, this is not the patriarchal age like yesteryear. Freemasons need to update their organization for the times or at least recognize women's freemasonry as regular. Otherwise they'll go the way of the dodo, and other esoteric societies more adapted to the times will take over.
Masons are outdated with their sexist views because they do not allow women. While this is the age of fraternity, this is not the patriarchal age like yesteryear. Freemasons need to update their organization for the times or at least recognize women's freemasonry as regular. Otherwise they'll go the way of the dodo, and other esoteric societies more adapted to the times will take over. DonnyDarkoh
  • Score: -1

5:53am Wed 25 Sep 13

truthforyou says...

NYC Q33, John Todd 1976, Bill Cooper 2006
NYC Q33, John Todd 1976, Bill Cooper 2006 truthforyou
  • Score: 0

1:57pm Wed 25 Sep 13

Freemason1264 says...

DonnyDarkoh wrote:
Masons are outdated with their sexist views because they do not allow women. While this is the age of fraternity, this is not the patriarchal age like yesteryear. Freemasons need to update their organization for the times or at least recognize women's freemasonry as regular. Otherwise they'll go the way of the dodo, and other esoteric societies more adapted to the times will take over.
Donny,
the Order of women Freemasons don't admit men...so do you think THEY are sexist? It is simply tradition, because of the all male membership of operative stonemasons of yesteryear. Freemasonry works on a "traditional" footing and as such acknowledges the OWF. Freemasonry has worked extremely well with the same rules for last few hundred years.. so if it's not broken, why fix it?
Also, I can see why if an individual were to be disadvantaged by a matter dependent on their sex, why it would be a cause for concern, but there is no material advantage for ANY Mason be they male OR female, in fact we are Freemasons because we choose to give rather than to receive (and not just cash, but time as well!) so what's the problem?
[quote][p][bold]DonnyDarkoh[/bold] wrote: Masons are outdated with their sexist views because they do not allow women. While this is the age of fraternity, this is not the patriarchal age like yesteryear. Freemasons need to update their organization for the times or at least recognize women's freemasonry as regular. Otherwise they'll go the way of the dodo, and other esoteric societies more adapted to the times will take over.[/p][/quote]Donny, the Order of women Freemasons don't admit men...so do you think THEY are sexist? It is simply tradition, because of the all male membership of operative stonemasons of yesteryear. Freemasonry works on a "traditional" footing and as such acknowledges the OWF. Freemasonry has worked extremely well with the same rules for last few hundred years.. so if it's not broken, why fix it? Also, I can see why if an individual were to be disadvantaged by a matter dependent on their sex, why it would be a cause for concern, but there is no material advantage for ANY Mason be they male OR female, in fact we are Freemasons because we choose to give rather than to receive (and not just cash, but time as well!) so what's the problem? Freemason1264
  • Score: 0

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