Turning the Key

Alfred John Robertson Nolan – Freemason Entertainer

Alfred John Robertson Nolan was born in Lanarkshire, Scotland in 1884. He began his stage career as an eccentric dancer and comedian at the end of the 19th Century. Billed as Alf Nolan he started to appear in pantomime, as did his wife-to-be Minnie Hobbs and her sister Maud. In 1898, at a novel end-of-run performance of Aladdin at Brighton’s Eden Theatre, in which the children took all the principal roles, Minnie appeared as Abanazer and “made the audience roar with laughter at her eccentricities” and Maud Hobbs “was a dainty little Princess Beauty”.

In 1908 Alfred and Minnie Frederica Hobbs were married. By the time of the 1911 census they were living in London with their two year old daughter Frances, Minnie’s sister Maud and their widowed mother Hannah. Alf and Minnie developed a dance act and appeared as ‘Betty Hobbs and Nolan’ or sometimes ‘Nolan and Hobbs’ acrobatic dancers. They continued to appear in pantomimes and were in the Arthur Rigby Company production of ‘Little Red Riding Hood’ in 1913/14.

As was the case for so many, the Great War then interrupted their careers and Alf joined the Royal Garrison Artillery. It was also during the war years that he joined Freemasonry. He was initiated into the Highgate Lodge No. 1366 on 11th September 1916, remaining a member until his death.

As well as their regular dance routines the duo continued to appear in pantomime in successive years after the war through to the early 1920s. The 1922/23 seasonal offering was ‘Jack and Jill’ which opened at the Royal Theatre, Worcester on Boxing Day 1922 before going on tour. In 1922/23 they appeared in ‘Red Riding Hood’ at Bradford Prince’s Theatre and they were already booked to appear the following season at the Leeds’ Royal Theatre, but fate intervened. They had toured South Africa during 1924 and shortly after their return they were performing their ‘Toy Soldier and Rag Doll’ routine at a London cabaret club. It was a strenuous routine requiring Alf to make many lifts. They were not far into the dance when Alf dropped to the floor………and died, it was October 13th 1924.

The post mortem revealed that although his heart was strong in itself a blood clot had caused the heart attack and a verdict of natural causes was recorded. Betty pursued her stage career for a year or so with a new partner named Harry Deans but then decided to teach dance at her own ‘Betty Hobbs’ Dancing School’.

In 1928 she married Frederick Ison, a one-time vaudeville artiste and also a Freemason being a member of Chelsea Lodge No. 3098. In the 1930s and the 1940s there were several Betty Hobbs’ troupes performing including the ‘Betty Hobbs Globe Girls’ and the ‘Betty Hobbs Superb Eight’ who were resident at the Holborn Empire for a while during the 1930s.

Betty died at her home in Eton, Surrey, (now Berkshire) on 16th July 1943. Alf and Betty had both been members and keen supporters of the Variety Artistes’ Federation and at the meeting following Betty’s death the federation Chairman, Dave O’Gorman, requested members to stand as a sign of respect for the departed. The dance school continued and the good name of Betty Hobbs lived on after her death with former pupils always proud to mention their training ground and their association with Betty’s dance companies in their curriculum vitae.

© Hungerford Lodge 4748

Nine Reasons to join Freemasonry

Turning the key
Turning the key

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If you ask five Freemasons why they joined, you will get at least five different answers. Each person has their own reasons. (I say “person” because there are female freemasons, albeit not as part of the United Grand Lodge of England) These reasons can be intensely personal and for many there is not a single reason.

Some of the reasons people give include:

  • Family
  • Curiosity
  • Wanting to join an organisation
  • To meet other people
  • Looking for a new challenge
  • Charity
  • Camaraderie
  • To have fun
  • To learn new skills

Family

For me this is a very significant reason. My father, grandfathers and great-uncle were all masons at points in their lives. It has been part of my consciousness from an early age and I had always wanted to join.

This is not unusual; many masons are brought in by blood or in-law relations. It is wonderful to see how Freemasonry can reunite families who live significant distances apart, when one member has a special occasion to celebrate, such as becoming Worshipful Master of their Lodge.

Curiosity

I knew my father went out in the evenings “suited and booted” with his case and I wondered what it was all about. I read as much as I could but nothing prepared me for the warmth and affection I found when I was initiated.

A note of caution here – the ritual is available on the Internet if you look – but please don’t, it will spoil your evening if you do.

Wanting to join an organisation

Humans are social animals and many love the engagement with others that joining an organisation brings. The wide ranging spread of freemasonry really helps with this desire. Lodges exist throughout the country and wider world. Changing address does not mean that you lose contact with Freemasonry. Also, if you have to move for some reason, what better way is there to build a new local network of friends than by joining a Lodge in your new area?

To meet other people

Freemasonry brings together people of varying backgrounds, faiths, skills and interests and gives them a common bond. Whilst membership of a golf club tells you that a person likes and plays golf, being a freemason tells you about their moral values and being an initiation society ensures that all freemasons have a common shared experience.

Looking for a new challenge

Freemasonry offers a number of challenges, from learning the ritual, to public speaking, acting as secretary or treasurer or even the highest accolade any member can be given by his Lodge, to act as Worshipful Master.

Charity

Freemasonry is inextricably linked with charity. It is unusual in that all funds raised come from the membership. Freemasonry does not look to raise money from non-Masons but expects all Freemasons to give freely within the bounds of their personal capability. Charity is described as the “distinguishing characteristic of a freemason’s heart.”

Camaraderie

There is always a degree of banter and joking within a group. Within freemasonry there is a tendency to be supportive and a recognition of the effort required to memorise long tracts of text and deliver them with sincerity to a candidate. The ritual also encourages the amicable settlement of any differences before entering the Lodge.

The discussion of religion and/or politics is expressly forbidden within masonic meetings. This removes the foundation for many arguments and has enabled brethren to meet across an otherwise unbridgeable divide. For example, the Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of Israel is a Palestinian.

Having fun

It should be remembered that first and foremost Freemasonry is a hobby. For some officers within the Lodge it can sometimes seem like a job, particularly when others are enjoying the camaraderie at the bar and you are still collecting dining fees! However, when you go visiting you can forget all that and let someone else take the strain.

Visiting is one of the joys of being a freemason. Seeing how other Lodges “have always done it” differently to your own Lodge means every Lodge meeting is a joy. Meeting old friends and new is the cornerstone of freemasonry.

Learning new skills

Freemasons who take an active role within the Lodge will learn many things. The ritual elements are single act plays, delivered out loud by a small cast to a highly supportive audience. As an active officer, masons will gradually become comfortable with the idea of speaking in public. They will also have learnt the art of memorising the words and standing in the right place at the right time.

Secretaries and treasurers learn the skills required to successfully organise and run what is essentially a small not-for-profit business. Those attaining the office of Worshipful Master will learn how to manage to consensus and to rule their Lodge.

If this post has inspired you to join Freemasonry, all you need to do is ask.

© Hungerford Lodge 4748

Arthur Phillips Hemsley – Freemason Entertainer

Arthur Phillips Hemsley was born in Alma Place, Margate on August 13th 1881. He was the fifth son of Durham born actor and scenery artist William Thompson Hemsley and his actress wife Fanny. Harry Hemsley, one of Arthur’s elder brothers, was a child mimic and might be best remembered for his radio success in England as one of BBC’s Ovaltineys.

By 1885 the family had moved to London where William set up the scenery business in which Arthur would first start work as a scenic painter and sculptor. The young Arthur was clearly attracted by all the other aspects of theatre that he experienced and while still only a young man he became stage manager for the well-known actress/manager Sarah Thorne back at the Theatre Royal, Margate. From there he joined a stock company at the Grand Theatre Islington.

He also appeared in Dickens’ plays and was much sought after by some Drury Lane companies as a character actor. He continued to develop his skills as a stage performer and early in the 19th century he found his niche and began making a name for himself in musical comedy. He found particular success at Blackburn Royal Theatre and the York Royal Theatre and he also scored well with his clever eccentric dancing in ’The Orchid’, a musical comedy that he would later produce himself in Australia.

He formed a sketch act with London born soubrette Elsa Brull. The couple married in March 1907 and as ‘Brull & Hemsley’ they enjoyed much success touring with their own sketches such as ‘Fun in a Music Shop’ and ‘Uraliarty’, which had its West End debut at the Oxford Music Hall in August 1913. Others followed including another called ‘The Knut, The Girl and the Egg’.

They travelled extensively with at least nine tours of Africa for Barney Hyman before being engaged in Cape Town for the South Africa Theatres Trust. Then it was on to Zanzibar, and then to India where they toured for several years under Maurice Bandmann management. They also made two trips to Australia, in 1913 and 1918, where they were particularly well received and where they would eventually make their home in 1924.

In August 1917 they had landed a year’s work with the ‘Courtiers Costume Comedy Company’ at Cremorne Gardens, Brisbane. It was here that Arthur first showed interest in Freemasonry after discussing it with local men from the cast and production crew.

On 4th June 1920, at the Alice Street Masonic Temple, proposed and seconded by entertainers Hugh Huxham and Les Warton respectively, he was initiated into Thespian Lodge No.73 on the register of the Grand Lodge of Queensland. According to the minute book “the meeting was attended by a goodly portion of freemasons from the theatrical fraternity”. He and Elsa often appeared for charitable causes including ‘The Far West Home for Crippled Children’ and the YWCA in Perth.

In 1924 he embraced the arrival of radio broadcasting to Australia and by 1930 he was on radio for the Australian Broadcasting Commission and station 4BC. In 1931 he was anchor-man and producer of Shell Radio Party, a programme heard all around Australia and in 1936 he did his first national radio tour for the ABC. In 1950 he made a brief, ill-advised and unfortunately unsuccessful foray into film when he featured in ‘The Glenrowan Affair’. Arthur died aged 73 in 1954 and Elsa died in 1961.

© Hungerford Lodge 4748

Henry Barnard – Freemason Entertainer

The first in our series on Freemasons in the entertainment business of yesteryear.

Henry Barnard, theatre proprietor, variety agent, fishmonger and Freemason.

Henry Barnard, theatre proprietor, variety agent, fishmonger and Freemason was born in South London in 1867. He was a fishmonger by trade and despite his various other sources of income, and theatrical activities with more grandiose names, he was always content to list himself as such. He lived his adult life in 43 Marsham Street, Pimlico. It was from these premises that he conducted his fishmonger business and, in the early 1900s, from where he operated as a variety agent successfully sending packages of variety artistes’ on tours to Cape Town, South Africa.

Harry was also a director of the Camberwell Palace of Varieties, a venue that was often used for meetings of the Music Hall Home Fund and their charity matinees. He was associated with the Music Hall Home Fund for almost twenty years and at different times held the positions of chairman, secretary, vice president and treasurer. It was during his involvement with the Fund that the very first Music Hall Home was founded for performers, even before the more successful Variety Artistes’ Benevolent Fund & Institution (VABF&I), which survives to this day, was established at Brinsworth House, TwickenhamThe Music Hall Home Fund’s first residential premises were in York Road, Waterloo. They later moved to a larger house in Camberwell and finally to Gypsy Hill near the Crystal Palace.

After the VABF&I Home in Twickenham was founded by Joe Elvin the two establishments ran in parallel but the first Music Hall Home struggled financially and the notion of amalgamation was muted, and was probably inevitable. 1913 was not to be a happy year for Harry. On April 25th 1913, there was an especial general meeting at Three Stags Hotel to pass the resolution to amalgamate the Music Hall Home with the Variety Artistes’ Benevolent Fund and Institution Home at Brinsworth House. There was much disappointment and concern for the future among those attendees who had worked so hard to see the Gypsy Hill home established but as the current treasurer, Harry, who had himself contributed £2/10/00 to the ‘rival’ VABF&I fund was tasked with the liquidation and transferring of all assets and funds from the Gypsy Hill Home to the VABF&I at Twickenham.

Harry was also one-time president of the Terriers Association, a fraternity which had been founded in 1890 by a group of performers who had not been able to join The Grand Order of Water Rats because of their numerically restrictive membership rules at the time. At the time of their transition to the ’Benevolent Order of Terriers’ in 1913 the new rules excluded him as an active member. This was another disappointment so soon after the liquidation of the Music Hall Home, but sweetened perhaps at the last Terriers Association banquet when he was presented with an illuminated address and a Terriers’ Jewel as a mark of appreciation for all that he had done.

Harry was introduced to Freemasonry by friends in Pimlico Lodge No.1772 which had been consecrated in 1878 and had initially met, at the Morpeth Arms Tavern just along the road from his fishmonger’s premises. By the time Harry was initiated in October 1904 the Lodge met at the Victoria Mansions Restaurant in Victoria Street, a leisurely ten minute stroll in the other direction. Harry embraced Freemasonry and in November 1906 he was listed as a founder member of Lord Desborough Lodge No.3200. He happily paid the qualifying fees to become a life governor of the Royal Masonic Institute for Boys and the Royal Masonic Institute for Girls (since amalgamated) and he was also vice president of the Royal Masonic Benevolent Institute.

He and his wife Esther, née Phillips, were married in 1890 and had four children. Their only son Henry Phillips Barnard, or Harry Jnr. traded as a fishmonger, initially from 43 Marsham Street and then moved along the road to larger premises at No. 58 from where he traded as a ‘high class’ fishmonger. Harry Jnr. not only followed in his father’s fishmonger footsteps but also followed him into Freemasonry when he was initiated into Lord Desborough Lodge in February 1921. He was also a member of Grenfell Chapter No.3077 at Taplow. Harry Snr. died at his home on July 31st 1922 aged 55.

© Hungerford Lodge 4748

Learning the Ritual

Turning the key
Turning the key

A year ago I went to a great seminar organised by the Berkshire Masonic Education Team on the topic of Learning the Ritual. It was not a cramming session on a particular part of the “little blue book”, rather it was a discussion on the science of learning. I was intrigued to find out that we don’t all learn in the same way. There are different methods which influence the way a person takes in, understands, expresses and remembers information. The other part of the course was learning when not to attempt to learn. It may seem like common sense but sometimes it has to be said before people realise it.

Trying to learn when you are tired, stressed/upset, hungry, or have consumed alcohol will typically make the learning  less effective. The problem with this list is that most Masons are busy people anyway and so they will frequently be tired or stressed which will make it particularly difficult. As for being hungry or having consumed alcohol, well that is more personally controllable.

The session established in my mind, not only the need to foster the right environment for learning, but also to learn in the right way for me. But what is the right way for you? People can be divided into five categories:

 1. Visual

Visual learners learn through seeing. They’re the ones most likely to drift off during a long lecture. Masons in this category are more comfortable with images, than working with words. Visual learners generally find tools like diagrams, flowcharts, pictures or symbols key to learning the ritual.  A good trick for visual learners is to develop a system of images to replace the written word. It can be useful for visual learners to colour code their notes, to create more visual stimulation. Another trick is to associate parts of the ritual with a mental image of a part of the Lodge or the particular Working Tool.

2. Auditory

Auditory learners learn by listening. Lectures, tutorials, and group discussions are essential, for these learners. Auditory learners can focus better on text passages by reading them aloud, so they can hear how the words sound. Masons in this category may benefit from recording themselves delivering the ritual. The advent of the MP3 and iPod/iPhone devices allow auditory learning Masons to play the ritual over and over in the car or on the journey to work.

3. Read/Write

Reading and writing are the main methods, here. Masons who are read/write learners may find it helpful to write out the piece that they trying to learn.  They should read it, then create a new, condensed set of study notes. Masons categorised as read/write learners often benefit from the creation of mnemonics, for example as children we were taught to remember the sequence of the colours of the rainbow with Richard Of York Gave Battle in Vain (Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, Blue, Indigo, Violet). It might therefore follow that you could create a mnemonic for the seven liberal arts and sciences or the five noble orders of architecture.

4. Kinaesthetic

Kinaesthetic learners learn by doing. These Masons will get an enormous amount out of the Lodge of Instruction by rehearsing the piece over and over again. Learning exercises should aim to bring all their senses into the experience. This will provide multiple cues to aid their recall of the ritual. For example, walking to the Junior Warden’s chair should trigger the memory of the specific part of the ritual.

5. Multimodal

Masons who are multimodal learners will display two or more of the above learning preferences equally, or near equally. This is more of an ideal condition, as combining elements of different learning styles can be beneficial, regardless of your predominant preference.  Learning styles can and do change, over time. This is often influenced by changes in your life and learning environment.

Personally, I have tried auditory and kinaesthetic learning as I find that I need to learn the words and then practice the associated floor work.

Which type(s) of learner are you?

This questionnaire uses 16 questions to  determine your learning style. The test presents a variety of learning or explaining scenarios, and asks how you would best make a decision, or give advice, or integrate this new information. It’s a good idea to retake the test annually. That way, as you change you can adapt your learning style to meet your current needs.

This thinking can be applied to all forms of learning, not just Masonic ritual. I hope this post helps you to find the best way for you to learn the ritual and as a result it takes some of the stress out of the process.

Further Study

You may also want to listen to this podcast from In The Chair where Robert Bone interviews Rick Smith author of the great book “Learning Masonic Ritual, the Simple, Systematic and Successful Way to Master the Work”. He has also written a companion book “Learning Royal Arch Chapter Ritual”.

© Hungerford Lodge 4748

Becoming a Freemason

Long before their initiation a person has already prepared themselves for life as a Freemason.

Turning the key

Most people think you become a Freemason by going through an initiation ceremony and to some extent they are correct. However, long before a man is initiated, he will need to have become a Freemason in his heart. The ceremony of initiation simply confirms that transition.

Candidates for Freemasonry are typically looking to make themselves better men by being more useful to society in general and are already volunteering or involved in charitable activities. For example, there is a strong association between the Scouting movement and Freemasonry. The values instilled into young people during their time in the Scouts mirror those valued by Freemasons. There are several Lodges, such as the Be Prepared Lodge no 9845, for whom this bond is part of the reason they exist.

Freemasonry nurtures an inherent desire to be more than an individual, to serve the community and to grow as a person. Scouts learn to always do their best and to be prepared. The aim being to help them achieve their full physical, intellectual, social and spiritual potential so that they become constructive members of society. The degree structure of Freemasonry leads the individual on a spiritual (not religious) journey from ignorance to enlightenment or self-awareness.

Candidates will come via a variety of routes but all will be looking to become something more than they are today. If you believe that you are ready to take the next step on this journey, we recommend that you read through the following paragraphs and the What is involved? section and when you are ready, contact us to discuss how to take things forward.

Essential Qualifications

The essential qualifications for becoming a Freemason are:

  • You believe in a Supreme Being
  • You are at least 21
  • You are free and of good report

Belief in a Supreme Being

Craft Freemasonry is open to men of all faiths and does not focus on the name they use for that Supreme Being. Freemasonry acknowledges and respects that people find different routes to understand their own spirituality.

Being of mature age

The rules of Freemasonry require that a man has reached what was considered the age of majority at the time of their writing. Certain lodges in Oxford and Cambridge had a dispensation to initiate at 18 as they were aligned to the universities and this is being expanded under the Universities Scheme to cover more and more universities. The rule is intended to ensure that men are sufficiently mature in their thinking to make such an important decision.

Free and of good report

Freemasonry and therefore the ritual text predates the abolition of slavery and the requirement to be free or freeborn harks back to that time. Being of good report is a reference to the need for all candidates to be of high moral standing and with no unspent convictions.

© Hungerford Lodge 4748

Freemasonry and Entertainment

The subject of the Prestonian Lecture in 1999 was Freemasonry and Entertainment. It drew parallels with various ceremonies in Freemasonry and likened them to plays. There is unquestionably a certain amount of theatre in some ceremonies in the lodge room. There are principal players, a supporting cast, an audience and a producer.

Entertainment, in its broadest sense, is continued into the meal customarily enjoyed afterwards. Here some Lodges indulge in varying degrees of formal entertainment. This might take the form of cabaret, recitals, music or song. Though most Lodges will not indulge to that extent all Lodges will have toasts to propose. The proposal of informal toasts and the responses to them is, within reason, an opportunity for a light hearted or humorous ‘performance’, perhaps a limerick or a poem………entertainment if you will. So it might come as no surprise that among the membership of many Lodges there are entertainers; from circus clowns to dramatic actors and all shades in between.

That is not to say that the virtues or attributes found in either sphere of activity is necessarily suitable for the other. Far from it, a good entertainer would not necessarily make a good freemason, nor want to be, and vice-versa. However when the two do come together it is usually a happy union. In the mid to late nineteenth century many benevolent societies were founded by upright and worthy men to provide support and comfort for disadvantaged entertainers and their kin. The Royal General Theatrical Fund, The Dramatic and Equestrian Agency and Sick Fund Association , The Actors Orphanage Fund, The Variety Artistes’ Benevolent Fund & Institution and The Music Hall Sick Fund, to name but a few.

With roots stretching back much further and with well-established structures of benevolence and philanthropy already in place, many Lodges were populated with the same gentlemen who had founded, joined and supported the above organisations.A dozen or more Lodges founded in the last quarter of the nineteenth century and into the twentieth century would be even more so and would make the association even more pronounced.

By their very name they would attract folk from the entertainment industry, among them; Drury Lane Lodge, consecrated in 1886 and meeting at Theatre Royal, Drury Lane. Manchester Dramatic Lodge, consecrated in 1891 and meeting at Freemasons’ Hall, Cooper Street, Manchester. Green Room Lodge, consecrated in 1903, and meeting at the Imperial Restaurant, London. Guildhall School of Music Lodge, consecrated in 1893 and meeting at the Holborn Restaurant, London. Proscenium Lodge, consecrated in 1910 and meeting at the Town Hall, King’s Road Chelsea.

There were other Lodges known to be in tune with the entertainment industry but not overtly so by their name. One in particular was heavily populated with gentlemen listed as licensed victuallers or music hall managers, at a time when the edges between the two occupations were still blurred. One does not have to look far in the Library or on the Internet to find the names of many well-known entertainers who were also Freemasons.

In future blog posts, we will look at the lives of some of the lesser known and now long forgotten ‘Entertainer Freemasons’.

© Hungerford Lodge No. 4748