Dr Harry E. Nourse

Dr H.E. Nourse

1969 — 1979

‘Harry’ Nourse was a most devoted doctor who served his large Cambridge practice throughout his professional life. Though he was very well qualified and able to have taken a prestigious consultancy had he so wished, he preferred to remain a General Practitioner and was such in the very best sense. During the Second World War Dr Nourse carried on the very large practice single-handed and with great commitment. He was fifty years a Freemason and, for the last ten years of Thirkill’s rule, had been Heir Apparent as Deputy PGM. In the later years, as ‘Thirks’ became more frail, the Deputy visited tirelessly and covered a great deal of the PGM’s work. One cannot help but feel, having seen some of Harry Nourse’s acceptance of the work and the way he carried out the responsibilities, that it might have been more generous of Sir Henry to retire a year, or perhaps two, before his failure of health absolutely compelled it. As a result of shouldering so much of the work, Dr Nourse was very well known throughout the Province when he took on the mantle of the Provincial Grand Mastership at a special meeting in the Guildhall, 3rd February 1970. Arthur Armitage presided and the Installing Officer was the Assistant Grand Master, R.W.Bro. F.W.R. Douglas, who placed the Earl of Stradbroke (PGM of Suffolk) as the Senior Warden and R.W.Bro. B. Guillaume (PGM of Norths. & Hunts.) as the Junior. John Newson-Smith of INUL was the acting Grand Director of Ceremonies. James Stubbs, the Grand Secretary, also attended while Col. Geoffrey Dicker, then Grand Treasurer, was prominent in the guest list. R.W.Bro. Dicker attended our 1995 Provincial meeting as one of his last acts as PGM of Norfolk and there have been few big occasions between the two dates that we have not had the very real pleasure of his support and his company. The appointment and Installation of Harry Nourse was very popular throughout the Province.

Born in Guildford, son of Colonel A.H. Nourse, ‘Harry’ was educated at Winchester and won an Exhibition to Christ’s in 1920. Three years later he moved on to the Middlesex Hospital to complete his medical training. In 1927 he returned to join a partnership in Cambridge, married and began his long service to his patients in the city. He was Initiated into Alma Mater in 1930 and became Master only six years later. His progress in Provincial Grand Lodge was continuous, if a trifle erratic, from being made Steward in 1938 and Assistant Director of Ceremonies the year afterwards, he became Junior

Deacon in 1942; Past Registrar in 1951 and Thirkill’s Provincial Senior Warden in 1953. Dr Nourse received Grand Rank in 1956 (PAGDC) the same year that W.Bro. S. Riddiough, the Deputy and also a ‘medic’, was promoted to Past Grand Deacon. In January 1959, following the unexpected illness and death of W.Bro. Riddiough, ‘Thirks’ held a special meeting of Provincial Grand Lodge at the regular meeting of Alma Mater and invested Dr H.E. Nourse as his Deputy. It was a great pleasure to the PGM and a great compliment to the Deputy that all the WMs of the Province were present, except for one, who was unfortunately away at the time.

Under Nourse, a habit which had been growing up and became established in Thirkill’s later years, suddenly switched its date. The Annual visit to Grand Lodge by the Masters and Provincial Officers, to support and entertain their PGM, had been a December function when Leonard Thompson originally organised it. The first such visit appears to have been in 1963 and was so successful that it became an annual event. When Dr Nourse went to attend Grand Lodge as a Provincial Grand Master for the first time, in March of 1970, he was accompanied by 78 Masters, Past Masters and Wardens of his Province to support and celebrate the event. The mass visit never reverted to December and remains now a twenty-five year old ‘tradition’; an ‘Annual Spring Outing’ of the Province, with an enjoyable luncheon at the Connaught Rooms serving to reinforce the happy bond between the PGM, his senior officers and the brethren of his Province. It has come to serve as the occasion for the PGM to announce appointments, promotions or any matters of importance to his Province directly to his ‘senior echelon’.

The exciting developments of a Cambridge Masonic Hall which enlivened the end of Sir Henry Thirkill’s tenure and the beginning of Dr Nourse’s, were paralleled in the North of the Province where United Good Fellowship and Gild of Holy Trinity were equally involved in providing their own accommodation. Wisbech Lodges had, until this time, met at the Rose and Crown Hotel. Installation meetings could be held at the Town Hall, or St. Peter’s Church Hall or the Women’s Institute. In 1966 United Good Fellowship resolved to set up a committee for the purpose of finding suitable premises and the Gild of Holy Trinity swiftly agreed to give the notion their full backing. The Lodges did purchase a plot of land and (after a false start when their first plan proved too expensive) obtained planning permission for a modest single storey building. The Appeal Fund was launched and the building was set to start when, in July of 1969, the Crescent Chapel and the Wesley Hall came onto the market. Once assured that there would be no objection to the use of the Chapel as a Masonic Hall, the Committee made a successful offer of a little over k15,000. They have never regretted it. The building plot in Alexandra Road, Wisbech, was sold without loss to the Lodges.

There was an immense amount of work required and the first thing was to clean and decorate the Wesley Hall, so that meetings could be held there whilst the Chapel was adapted. W.Bro. Charles Tombleson and the late W.Bro. Roland Cook largely organised the working parties which transformed the building so that the first meeting could be held there in February of 1971. As a Master in the Province at the time I well remember meeting there. I also recall the difficulty of finding it on one’s first visit! Thanks to vigorous efforts from members of both Lodges the Chapel was ready for occupation by April the following year and the Wesley Hall assumed its present role as Dining Room, bar and kitchens, well suited to social events. In his 1971 address to the Provincial Grand Lodge, Dr Nourse congratulated the Wisbech Lodges warmly. It was a major change in the Masonic life of Wisbech and our Brethren there have a Masonic centre to be proud of.

Dr Nourse soon had an exciting task to perform as Provincial Grand Master and was, apparently, quite nervous about it until ‘the curtain went up’, when he carried out his role with his usual perfect aplomb. Our Newmarket Brethren had at last got around to forming a new Lodge to be called St. Wendred. Etheldreda Lodge (named after the sainted lady who established the first Cathedral Church at Ely) was the ‘Mother Lodge’ of St. Wendred. This may be considered rather topsy-turvey since Etheldreda herself is said to have been baptised at St. Wendred’s Well at Exning in 630AD. This problem of ‘who came first’ is as nothing compared to the problem caused later, in 1979, when Newmarket finally established the Chapter that Sir Henry had been so keen to see. Supreme Grand Chapter had, by that late date, developed the firm rule that a Chapter must always be associated with a particular Lodge and should carry the name of the Sponsoring Lodge. Fine, except that when Etheldreda Lodge petitioned for the establishment of a Chapter and Supreme Grand Chapter expected it to be called Etheldreda, there was no shortage of Companions to point out that Etheldreda Chapter was already operating very happily in Wisbech for the past hundred years with no wish to change its title. ‘St. Wendreda’, the obvious alternative, had already been adopted by March Chapter in 1913 — because Ely had by then already pre-empted the title of ‘Caldwell Chapter’. Hence the apparent anomalies in our list of Chapters and Lodges. The name ‘Saint Etheldreda’ is at best an edgy compromise. (Unfortunately, Dr Nourse was not able to conduct the consecration of Saint Etheldreda Chapter, which was carried out by E.Comp. Cyril H. Brady, who was Second Provincial Grand Principal from 1974 to 1980.)

The Consecration of St. Wendred Lodge No. 8374, took place on 12th May 1971 at the Rowley Mile on Newmarket racecourse. Since I was fortunate enough to have been Installed as WM of Isaac Newton the previous year, I was privileged to attend this Consecration. I had never before seen the ceremony. Neither had I ever been to New-market Racecourse before (nor since for that matter). The setting was excellent, with ample capacity, ‘easy view’ seating and a large attendance from all round the Province. The Ceremony was smooth and professional, for which Dr Nourse thanked ‘. . . our Trainer, W.Bro. Thompson’. W.Bro. ‘Dick’ Smith, of Fordham Abbey, was Installed as the first Master by the Deputy, Ernest J. Wright, to be warmly welcomed by the rest of the ’70-’71 Masters as a new addition to the flock. His son followed him into the Chair some seven years later. Dr Nourse was able to dedicate a Banner for the new Lodge three years later. Unusually, he dedicated two banners in the Masonic season 1973-74, the first one for St. Audrey and the second for St. Wendred. St. Audrey have been unfortunate in the matter of banners. The original, presented at the Consecration, was destroyed in 1967 when there was a fire at the Silver Street Masonic Hall. A replacement ‘Appeal Fund’ was started and a new Banner commissioned. That too was destroyed by fire shortly before the planned Dedication. One wonders what Lady Bracknell would have said about the matter? At the second attempt a replacement was completed and was dedicated by Dr Nourse in November of 1973. St. Wendred’s was dedicated the following Spring. Only ten days after the delightful celebrations at the Newmarket Consecration Dr Nourse filled a sadder role, reading the lesson at the memorial service for Sir Henry Thirkill in St. Edward’s Church, Cambridge. Thirkill had died in March 1971. The Church was very full and many Brethren took the last opportunity to bid farewell.

Dr Nourse twice more had the great satisfaction of Consecrating a new Lodge in the Province. Only three years after St. Wendred his second Lodge, numbered 8590, paid him the compliment of assuming his name and one may suppose he took a particular delight in that Consecration, in November 1974. The third Lodge was the Descensus Aquarum Lodge No. 8655, Consecrated at the Makings in Ely in September of the following year. There was not another for almost twenty years.

The development of Nourse Lodge was a result of no special pleading, simply because of the pressure of numbers, the length of the waiting list and the time taken to reach the Chair in the main City Lodges. It was a simple response to the growth of Freemasonry in the City. Kynaston was the Lodge feeling the strain most and Kynaston has an unusually dominant role in the formation of Nourse Lodge. The petition emanates from Kynaston and all nine of the Founders named on the Warrant were Kynaston men. The Consecration, on 16th November 1974, was held at 3.15pm at Linton Village College and smoothly and efficiently performed by Dr Nourse and his Provincial Officers. E.J. Wright, the Deputy, once again performed the actual Installation of the first Worshipful Master (Harold Papworth nephew of the redoubtable Oliver) in the Chair, just as he had done in Newmarket and, himself a founder member of the Lodge, assumed the role of first IPM. The Lodge received permission from the BMA to incorporate the caduceus of the medical profession into the Lodge emblem, a very fitting reminder of Dr Nourse’s career. In discussing what ritual to follow, the Founders decided to follow ‘strict Emulation’ but — how often do we hear this caveat? — to introduce some single variation peculiar to each individual Lodge of the City, which the Founders might think particularly pleasing! (Others may have crept in since but who dare suggest it?) With forty-seven Founders and two Initiates the first season, Nourse Lodge made a good start. The strong RAF and ex-RAF representation is dismissed as purely fortuitous.

Descensus Aquarum is essentially different from all other Lodges in this Province — with the possible exception of 88 and the Old Leysians 4520, which began in London. It is not simply that they were formed outside the Province. Alma Mater also began outside but the motivation for it was largely concerned with Cambridge men and Cambridge matters. With Descensus Aquarum however the demand arose from a disparate group of Masons who came together because of their profession, on the formation of the Regional Water Authorities in 1974. The Founders came from many different Lodges, Provinces and backgrounds, but their desire was to form a Lodge which would reflect their basic similarities — that is an interest in Freemasonry and a working life involved in the Water industry — rather than emphasise their differences. The fact that this Province and Ely in particular provided the chosen venue was due to factors geographical and personal. The geographical suitability of Ely as a centre for a Lodge representing the Anglian Water Authority employees is obvious, but it was the friendly and encouraging attitude of the Ely brethren that really clinched the matter and St. Audrey offered to be the sponsoring Lodge.

The name of the new Lodge, ‘Descensus Aquarum’ (‘the falling of the waters’ or ‘a fall of water’) was meant to reflect the origins and at first the aim was to admit only candidates who were involved in some way with the Water industry. The Consecration was per-formed by Dr Nourse and his Provincial team on 24th September 1975 when ‘The Maltings’ at Ely was relatively new as a public centre. It proved a very successful venue and afterwards ‘Descensus’ became the third Lodge to meet in the Ely Masonic Rooms. Although the variety of background of the founders made the choice of ritual a some-what argumentative process, one little idiosyncratic touch did creep in right from the Consecration. Dr Nourse was amused and granted his permission. Specially purchased glasses now sit beside the plate of the unsuspecting guests at dinner and these glasses are filled with simple tap water. The toast to the Provincial Grand Master is always taken with these small glasses of water. The restriction on membership did not last long. The movement of staff around the area, or to another Region, followed by the huge change of privatisation, caused problems of continuity and the members soon decided to remove the old requirement. They are now inclined to say that membership is restricted to anyone involved in the making of water!

During Dr Nourse’s ten years he was as energetic as Sir Henry in encouraging the charitable efforts of the Province and his address always had a good deal to say about the results of the Benevolent Association or matters connected. However, the main exhortations at this period come from Cyril Brady, now delivering the Chairman’s address rather than receiving the thanks and praise as the Secretary of the Association. The names of Alan Myall and Roy Abraham, with Frank Matthews in support, now replace those of Brady and Chater in the expressions of thanks from the Province. W.Bro. Brady was always very forthright in urging the virtues of covenants and in stressing the need for every individual to look closely at what he could manage to do. Decimalisation made the old half-crowns of little significance and he was not slow to point this out!

In the context of Masonic Charity, the two principal events of the years 1969-79 for this Province are the Bagnall report and the establishment of Cornwallis Court at Bury St. Edmunds. The Bagnall Report originated with the Grand Master’s Committee of Enquiry, whence the Chairman sent a request to Provinces for opinions and ideas. Cambridgeshire treated the request with appropriate seriousness and not only was the matter discussed in Lodges and opinions passed on to Cecil Mole, the Provincial Secretary, but a special meeting of Lodge representatives to the Provincial Benevolent Association was held for a detailed discussion and clarification of ideas. The topic took up a great deal of time at the Festive Board as well as in Lodge, for it was a very frequent topic of conversation and debate in those days. Subsequently the Provincial Grand Master submitted a memorandum to the Grand Master’s Committee summarising the reports from the lodges and from the special meeting. Fortunately he had it typed, for Correspondence from Dr Nourse required great interpretative skills unless you were very well accustomed to it. The intricacies of his handwriting, as V.W.Bro. Jeremy Pemberton referred to them, were too much for all but the most devoted Brother or intuitive Pharmacist. The final result of the Committee’s deliberations was the Bagnall Report, which Nourse spoke about at his Provincial meeting in 1974. He recognised that not everyone had seen the full report but referred to the summary of recommendations, copies of which leaflet, he hoped, would be available to every member of the Lodges of the Province. He explained that the Grand Master had already accepted the majority of the recommendations and had set up a further committee under the Asst. Grand Master to consider the details of implementing the new suggestions. The following year, he was reminding all Lodge secretaries that they should read out in Lodge the Grand Master’s April speech on the Bagnall Report and that full discussion must be encouraged before reporting the opinions of the brethren to the Provincial Grand Secretary. All his Lodges duly did so with the result that, in 1976, Dr Nourse reported the grateful reply from R.W.Bro. the Hon. Fiennes Cornwallis and passed on his thanks to the Province. By this time the establishment of the Grand Charity was already underway and the amalgamation of the Boys’ and Girls’ schools under active consideration. The establishment of the office of Charity Steward followed which, at his meeting in 1976, Nourse welcomed as relieving Almoners to get on with their proper duty of caring for the sick and distressed.

The exciting development of Cornwallis Court paralleled the Bagnall debates. Dr Nourse first raised the issue in 1973 when he reported on his visit to the Lord Harris Home in the Berkshire Masonic Centre. Discussions with Norfolk and Suffolk followed about the possibility of a Residential RMBI home in the area and a joint approach was made to the RMBI to ascertain the official response. The Charity replied that no funds were available for major capital works but if a site and some funding could be found, they would be interested. The offer of a viable site just outside Lowestoft, coupled with a fairly substantial legacy promised if work began within a specified time, led to a visit by the Chairman of the RMBI and his advisors for discussion with the East Anglian representatives. They made encouraging noises, but remained quite uncommitted. Dr Nourse told the Province that if the idea developed, we would be expected to produce £35,000 and a contribution to running costs of £750 per year. Between then and 1978, however, the situation changed entirely with the appearance on the market of the old Bury St. Edmund’s Hospital. It was purchased by the RMBI. At the Provincial meeting of 1978 Dr Nourse spoke of Lord Cornwallis laying the Foundation Stone of Cornwallis Court and told his Province that, although we could not contribute to the capital costs, we were certainly expected to help with a share of the half-million pounds conversion and furnishing cost. He suggested we make the RMBI the principal target for our Benevolent funds every other year for the next five years. We more than kept our promises, though the detail came under the aegis of Dr Aston. Dr Nourse’s part is commemorated by the Nourse Library in Cornwallis Court. Our concern and interest is and must be ongoing. It is a happy thought that the Province, aided by a £2,500 grant from the City and University of Cambridge Masonic Charitable Trust, was able to provide £5,000 for the refurbishment of the Nourse Library when it was moved into better accommodation on recent building improvements at the Home in 1994. A senior Cambridge brother, W.Bro. George Porter, of Galloway & Porter the Booksellers, took on the onerous task of maintaining the Nourse library and did so until his death in 1994, when W.Bro. R.H. McCarthy and his wife (herself a qualified Librarian) undertook to continue the labour of love. The Friends of Cornwallis Court, a body devoted to providing additional funds and comforts beyond the formal provision of the RMBI, is well supported in Cambridgeshire and the present organiser of the fund raising for the Friends is W.Bro. H.H. Bland of Cantabrigia.

Apart from these two major concerns of our Masonic Benevolent Association, there was also Dr Nourse’s promise of aid towards the Grand Master’s fund for the refurbishment of the Masonic Hospital. At that time there was no inkling of the disasters that were to come upon this Jewel in the Crown’ of Masonic Benevolence and our PGM had personal and professional reasons for giving the Hospital as much support as we could manage. It was well publicised that the expenditure of the Hospital was running far above the level of charitable giving by the Brethren. The PGM reported on the progress of his appeal from 1971 to 1975. In the latter year he announced that the final total had reached £8,647. His Provincial target of £5,000 had been exceeded by £490 and there was an additional £3,157 to be added as a result of his personal appeal. He was delight-ed. It went as our contribution to the six and a half million pounds cost of the refurbishment and modernising. This was, of course, in addition to the normal annual support for the Charities. In that same year Dr Nourse had been able to tender £9,000 at the Boys’ School Festival.

Dr Nourse was never harsh and his wit never wounded, but he could be critical. One thing he deplored was any relaxation of Masonic standards of conversation or conduct, whether in Lodge or out of it. Thanks to his interest, W.Bro. Colin Kidman, as Provincial GDC, prepared a ‘helpful hints’ page for the Year Book in 1975. Previously, Dr Nourse had commented on occasion on matters of Masonic etiquette and propriety. In particular he much disapproved of the practice of addressing Brethren by their Christian names in Lodge, particularly during the investiture of Officers which, he said in 1972, ‘… detracted from the dignity of an important part of the Installation Ceremony’. The experiment of the ‘Hints & Tips’ page by the Provincial DC was well received and was expanded year by year, eventually growing into the three pages of invaluable guidance presently entitled, in our current Year Books, ‘A few notes for the guidance of Masters, Directors of Ceremonies and Secretaries; and some points of Masonic Etiquette’. It astonishes me that it is manifestly not a section read and absorbed by all of those for whom it is intended. The By-laws also seem, for some reason, to lie in an unfrequented and unread backwater of the Year Book!

The present Year Books also carry a section concerning the economical provision of Provincial Regalia, whether new or secondhand. This arose from discussion between Cecil Mole and Lodge secretaries at meetings which he called for that purpose, when the increasing cost of Freemasonry was a recurrent theme. The first attempt to organise a centralised system was made in 1977 and its early success was reported in 1978. W.Bro. Peter C J Cannon, now resident in Norfolk, was the first volunteer co-ordinator and made a very successful job of it. He and his wife worked extremely hard and earned over £1,400 for the Benevolent Association during the five years they ran the scheme. The system has continued ever since and makes a valuable contribution to our Benevolent funds whilst, at the same time, enabling a newly appointed or promoted Brother to equip himself at a discount or, with good second-hand regalia given or sold to the Province, at a really bargain price.

The Deputy, W.Bro. E.J. Wright, celebrated his fiftieth year in Freemasonry by con-ducting full ceremonies in both Craft and Royal Arch after each of which, we are told, he entertained the Brethren with a fascinating and amusing stream of reminiscence and anecdote. Only three years later, in 1976, illness forced him to lay down the Office of Deputy which he had filled with great distinction. W.Bro. Wright died in March of 1977. He was an Initiate of Caldwell Lodge in 1923 and was a Founder member of four other Lodges in the Province. On Ernest Wright’s withdrawal, the Right Worshipful Provincial Grand Master looked around for a suitable successor. His own health was failing markedly and he sought not only a good man, but a brother who could be seen very clearly as an heir-apparent. He remained true to the tradition of University men for the office. The choice fell on Stanley Collin Aston of INUL and Alma Mater, then Bursar of St. Catharine’s College. At the Provincial meeting of 1977 Dr Nourse invested Dr S.C. Aston as Ernest Wright’s successor.

Dr Nourse was ill. In October of 1978 the new Deputy made a formal announcement at the Installations of Kynaston and Cantabrigia, then wrote round to all Secretaries and Scribes explaining that Dr Nourse was in Hospital and visiting was restricted to family, but that he hoped to be out again in three or four weeks. Dr Aston wrote ‘I think this situation is likely to be of short term duration, but I will keep you informed.’ In the event, Dr Aston was wrong. The PGM was never again able to take up his familiar role nor did he again visit his Lodges. He went into Hospital two or three times more before his death from bronchial cancer in May 1979. There was very real distress around the Province. R.W.Bro. Jeremy Pemberton delivered a moving eulogy at the service in ‘Little St. Mary’s’, in Cambridge and Dr Aston, as Deputy in Charge, added his tribute at the Provincial meeting in 1979. Dr Nourse, he said, was ‘a quiet man, in whom resided the sovereign virtue of compassion; a gentle man, but an honest judge; a courteous man, though a fair critic; a dignified man, yet easy of manner and approach; a man sparing of talk but wise in counsel; an equable man, but one unwilling to settle for second best; a man of ready humour and of dry but unwounding wit; elegant, fastidious, graceful in looks and manner. All these qualities remained with him to the full during the long months of illness and pain.

We miss such a man and a Brother.

Extract from “Cambridgeshire Encompassed” by kind permission of W.Bro. Jim Whitehead