Sir Henry Thirkill

Sir Henry Thirkill

1944 — 1969

With Sir Henry Thirkill we come very firmly into the realm of contemporary affairs with Freemasonry in the Province. There are still many who remember him well and with affection. ‘Thirks’ was the great man of my early years in the Craft. I met him, but cannot say I knew him, yet he greeted me by name when I was but Senior Deacon in INUL. This was a talent he shared with Rushmore and others, and it was one which made him in Public School circles, ‘the best Tutor in either University’ according to Sir Harry Godwin. It was fortunate for Clare College that ‘Thirks’ abandoned his academic work with Rutherford in the Cavendish. His papers in the ‘Proceedings of the Royal Society’ give clear evidence of the future which might have been, had he not given up what would certainly have been a distinguished Scientific career for a rewarding life in the administrative and educational development of the College and University.

A Bradford schoolboy, Henry Thirkill came up to read Natural Sciences at Clare and achieved 1st Class honours, becoming a fellow of the College in 1910 and a University Demonstrator in Experimental Physics in 1912, in which year he had begun his Masonic career by Initiation in INUL at their April meeting. He was Inner Guard of INUL and a Provincial Grand Steward when the 1914 war came. The war took him away for the whole four years and he served as a Major in the Royal Engineers, largely in East Africa where he won the MC, returning to the college in 1919. He returned to his Lodge and to the Province too, being ProvGStwd again in 1919-20 and Junior Warden in Isaac Newton. Elevated to Past Prov. Grand Pursuivant as he became Senior Warden in Lodge, he was appointed Prov. Grand Registrar during his year as IPM. Provincial honours were earlier coming in those days, though Thirkill was unusually favoured. He was Tutor of Clare from 1920 to 1939, President from 1930 to 39 and Master from 1939 to 1958. He played his full part in University life, as Vice-Chancellor 1945-47 and Deputy from 1947 to 1958. It was while he was Vice-Chancellor that he received the OBE in the 1946 New Year’s Honours List. His knighthood came in the list of 1951.

In 1944 Thirkill was ready and well prepared to step into office after Sir Kynaston Studd. He had served as Deputy throughout the whole of Studd’s ten years and had been fully involved in many aspects of Masonic organisation and administration. The Earl of Harewood himself, Grand Master since the tragic death on war service of the Duke of Kent and a close friend of the late Sir Kynaston, attended the meeting of our Provincial Grand

Lodge and Installed Henry Thirkill as our new Provincial Grand Master. H.B. Roderick, PGD and Deputy designate, took the Chair to open Provincial Grand Lodge, dealing with the minutes and roll of Lodges, etc. before the Grand Master was admitted and the Installation ceremony proceeded in the familiar manner. Henry Thirkill dominated the quarter century from the end of the war right up to the purchase of Cheshunt College as a permanent home for University and City Lodges. He had the huge advantage of the great sweep of optimism that marked the ending of World War II. (V.E. Day, 8th May 1945, St. Audrey Lodge met in Ely. They had a candidate, farmer R.N. Morris of Stretham. It was an emotional day but Regulations are Regulations, the summons had gone out and the Candidate been advised. The Lodge, in duty bound, went ahead with its regular meeting and the Initiation. They did not linger after the ceremony you may be sure, and no supper or after-proceedings of any kind took place as the members hurried home to join family and friends. It is a pleasant reflection on our Order that, on 9th May 1995, St. Audrey met as usual for a regular meeting. W.Bro. R.N. Morris, PProvGW, was in his customary place but, that night, the Lodge decided that the Bro. Initiate of fifty years ago should have the place, the toasts, the Song and those other compliments denied him by circumstances at the time. His son, himself now a senior Provincial Officer, sang the Initiate’s song to him at supper. All who were privileged to share the evening said it was a great night.) Thirkill presided over the Consecration of eight Lodges and a Chapter, by far the greatest expansion in the time of any of our Provincial Grand Masters. However, it did reflect a very vigorous growth in the Craft generally, and we may argue about how much of the progress was responding to the demands of the time and how much due to ‘Thirks’ instigation. He certainly pushed quite openly and directly for things to be done.

Grand Lodge itself was very conscious that an explosion of interest in the Craft would be likely to follow the end of the war, much as had happened in 1918. Each Lodge was called upon to prepare a report on how the war had affected it. Most were in by the end of 1946 but the Provincial Grand Secretary mentioned in 1947 that not all our Lodges had yet complied with the requirement. A new Book of Constitutions was in place, having come into operation in January 1940 after three years work. However, the Rulers of the Craft were very anxious to avoid a great flood of candidates which might, if pressure became too great, cause a relaxation of ‘standards’ and encourage the election of men who were not so well known to their supporters as they perhaps should be. There was concern too about the many servicemen who, particularly in Egypt, had been persuaded to go through ‘Initiation’ in Lodges which were not Regular and, according to Sir James Stubbs, were sometimes distinctly fraudulent. The solution chosen was to rule that an Emergency meeting could not be held without a dispensation. Thus it was thought a check could be maintained on the number of admissions. To balance this, recognising the legitimate post-war demand, Grand Lodge was supportive of all regular applications to establish new Lodges. That policy at least was very successful. In 1941 seven new Lodges were warranted under the United Grand Lodge of England; in 1946 a hundred and ninety, while a thousand Lodges were established in the following nine years. Thirkill reflected this policy in Cambridgeshire.

Things were very soon underway in this Province. 1945, Thirkill’s second year, the end of the war and the beginning of a period of ‘austerity’, saw both Gild of Holy Trinity No. 6125 and Granta No. 6179 Consecrated in the North and the South of the Province. Although Etheldreda Lodge in Newmarket is the formal petitioner for Granta, the Walden Lodge over the Essex border in Saffron Walden provided Founders and shared the support. Granta met in the Linton Village Hall in the early days. At one Installation the brethren forgot to switch on the heating and ‘Thirks’ insisted on leaving the Lodge, retrieving his overcoat and sitting huddled within it. The members had to find a screen to place round him to prevent draughts! Gild of Holy Trinity might be said to originate with the formation of the Historical Committee in Lodge of United Good Fellowship. That Committee was formed at the 495th regular meeting in order to prepare for the 500th meeting which was in February of 1945. The 500th meeting was commemorated not only by the production of a pamphlet outlining the period 1860-1945, but by the resolution to petition for The Gild of Holy Trinity Lodge. Although Thirkill was Vice-Chancellor of the University for two years from October 1945 and therefore much restricted in his Masonic life, he nevertheless managed to Consecrate both Lodges. Stone Cross Lodge, founded by the members of Caldwell led by E.J. Wright and R.L.R. Bentley (both later Deputy Provincial Grand Masters) was Consecrated soon after in 1948. ‘Thirks’ must have got the taste for it, because he strongly encouraged the idea of forming new Lodges in speeches both at Province and in private Lodges. He also encouraged an interesting little variation in Provincial Grand Lodge. In 1948 Kynaston ‘hosted’ its first Provincial Grand Lodge. In ’49 it was the Gild of Holy Trinity; in ’50, Granta and in 1951 it was Stone Cross Lodge. In each case the WM of the ‘new’ host Lodge opened the Lodge in the three degrees before the PGM and Provincial Officers were admitted to take over and open Provincial Grand Lodge. At the close, the PGM and Provincial Officers withdrew and the host Lodge officers resumed their places to close. Gild of St. Mary and Thirkill Lodge did not come round to their turn until 1967/8 by which time, for whatever reason (I suspect Thirkill’s ill health, for he was unable to attend), the idea seems to have been dropped.

1952 is the first year in which the Yearbook carries a full verbatim report of the Provincial Grand Master’s address to the Brethren of Provincial Grand Lodge. There was no change of Provincial Grand Secretary; it was still P.W. Hall, he whose idiosyncratic signature was always misread as ‘Perryman’, so the initiative probably came from Thirkill himself. In 1952 he was directly urging 88 and 441 to get on with producing a daughter apiece. After referring to the Installation of the Earl of Scarbrough and the words from many overseas guests about the international values and virtues of Freemasonry, he says:

‘I feel that, with three Lodges in the City with memberships ranging from 90 to 160, steps should be taken to give wider opportunities for admission into Masonry. If before the next meeting of Provincial Grand Lodge I could have the views of the two senior Lodges in the Province — 88 and 441 — on the possibility of both founding daughter Lodges, I would feel that something is being done to further these views.’

You can’t get much clearer than that.

Scientific were prompt in their reaction and in open Lodge at the May meeting of 1953 the Petition for the Gild of St. Mary Lodge was signed by the WM by unanimous resolution. The suggestion was that the new Lodge should cater specifically for ‘Itinerant Masons’; brethren who had moved into Cambridge and were not members of Lodges in the town. It was to be quite deliberately a ‘City’ Lodge and this influenced the choice of name, emphasising the Town connection by reference to the famous Gild. The Lodge still has a happy tradition of presenting Initiates or Joining members with a small booklet about the original Gild of St. Mary. Thirkill referred to 88’s constructive action at Provincial in June of Coronation year, saying:

‘I am very happy to know that the Scientific Lodge No. 88 has responded by sending a petition to Grand Lodge for a warrant to found a daughter Lodge to be known as ‘The Gild of St. Mary Lodge’. . . . The Lodge of Three Grand Principles, No. 441, is also taking preliminary steps in the same direction. I am very glad to know of this and I am sure there is not only room but an urgent need for two new Lodges. Although the Scientific Lodge has gone ahead, I feel that the brethren of the Three Grand Principles Lodge need have no hesitation in proceeding without delay with their own scheme. I hope it may result in a second daughter Lodge being consecrated during the coming Masonic year. Those promoting it may rest assured of my very warm support in every way possible.’

Thirkill Lodge, No. 7333 was Consecrated in 1954.

Thirkill was just as determined over Royal Arch matters. Following on directly from the comments above, he pointed out that eighteen years had elapsed since the Consecration of the last Royal Arch Chapter in the Province. He sketched the dispersal and numbers of the Chapters, quoted the numbers in appropriate Lodges and picked out Etheldreda, with a membership of 107 and St. Andrew, with a membership of 81, in particular. Each of them, he pointed out, had 15 members who were Royal Arch Masons else-where. The average Royal Arch membership in the other ‘Country’ Lodges was 55, he told his audience, and insisted that the figures proved his point that a weakness existed in the provision of facilities in the two areas.

‘I should be very glad’ he went on, if the Brethren of Newmarket and Whittlesey would give serious consideration to this matter and let me know their views.’

He had certainly done his homework. St. Andrew responded swiftly, their Chapter being Consecrated in 1955, but the Newmarket brethren were not so biddable and, although Thirkill’s next address suggests that some moves in the required direction had been attempted, they continued a tradition of applying elsewhere, mainly to Pythagoras, until 1979. The eventual success of the 2107 Chapter does indicate that Thirkill was quite right to urge it.

The same subject reappeared in 1954. This time, after referring in retrospect to his pleasure in Consecrating 7288 and 7333, he went on to issue a strongly worded appeal perhaps more of a warning — to the ‘knockers’ who opposed the formation of new Lodges, telling them that if, for one reason or another, they could not whole heartedly support a proposal, they should at least adopt a position of ‘benevolent neutrality’. He returned to the issue of the small size of our Province and the need to justify ourselves by ensuring that the facilities and opportunities for Freemasonry should not be any less than those in larger Provinces. This led him to welcome the suggestion of forming a Lodge of Installed Masters, and it was Lodge 7429 which was next added to our Register in 1956.

The Provincial Grand Master eased up on the public urgings from that time on, though privately he made his views clear and was delighted when St. Ovin was founded in 1961. He was able to Consecrate the Lodge in the new Masonic Temple just acquired by the members of St. Audrey. The Porta, once let to the Lodge by the Dean and Chapter, had later to be shared with the King’s School which caused some difficulties and, in 1949, a motion was passed authorising a committee to secure new accommodation. It was nine years before the suitable opportunity arose, however, when the Ely Urban District Council offered a lease on the Old Barracks in Silver Street. The terms were agreed and the Lodge met there for the first time in October 1959. A year (and a great deal of work) later, Thirkill had the pleasure of dedicating the new Temple for St. Audrey Lodge and our Ely brethren have continued to meet there ever since. The recent new improvements and development of the bar area have made the Ely Masonic Rooms a very pleasant regional centre now serving four Lodges. The St. Ovin Lodge, for which the petition was only approved and signed at the regular meeting of St. Audrey in March, was Consecrated in the new Temple in September 1961. R.A. Taylor of INUL and Granta remembers it well, because he was the Provincial ADC. He recalls that ‘Thirks’ was insistent on two rehearsals well beforehand, in his rooms at Clare. The rehearsals were preceded by dinner — ‘Thirks’ always liked to feed and wine before or with business — and the officers sat in pairs around the large table. The courses, and the wines, came and went. On the removal of each course, at Thirkill’s instruction, the left hand member of each pair moved round a place, so that before the rehearsal began they should have become, as he put it, ‘quite intimately acquainted’. They were sober again by the time of the Consecration, which was a fine ceremony. How far due to rehearsal or to Thirkill’s method of ensuring his team of Officers became ‘intimately acquainted’ is impossible to tell.

If possible, the consecration of Virtute et Fide Lodge in May 1964 gave Thirkill even more satisfaction. It was the eighth Lodge to be formed in the Province since the war and brought his list of Lodges up to twenty, as he pointed out in his address to the Provincial Grand Lodge that June. He warmly congratulated the principal founders and in particular C.A.H. Brady, the first WM. He was also particularly pleased that the Consecration had been so organised, being at The Dorothy Restaurant, as to allow a very wide attendance by the brethren of the Province. It was the largest attendance so far at any Consecration in Cambridgeshire. The original seven ‘prime movers’ called a meeting at the INUL Masonic Hall in March of 1963. The twenty-five Old Boys and staff who attended resolved that if sixty Founders could be mustered, a petition would be made for a new Lodge. Although only fifty-seven founders are listed in the 25th Anniversary leaflet, the support was clearly sufficient and Cantabrigia supported the Petition. In fact the Founders’ List reads like a Who’s Who of Cambridge Masonry. The Lodge name, taken from the motto of the old Cambridgeshire High School for Boys, is probably the most mistreated title in our current list of Lodges! ‘Tooti-frooti’ is considered indelicate and brings swift opprobrium upon the perpetrator, but ‘Fide et Virtute’ is very commonly heard from many who should know better. ‘Virtuous Fido’, I think, was an unusual accident, probably from a visitor. ‘Virtute’ normally suffices for most purposes.

Thirkill’s addresses to his Province reflected, as one would expect, whatever was upper-most in the Masonic mind at the time, but there were certain things which he did not let go and to which he returned in time until he was satisfied that all was being done that could be done. Needless to say, he was as proud as his predecessors about the excellent results the Province always achieved in work for the Benevolent Association and he delighted to read extracts from letters of thanks sent by Chairmen of relevant festivals — particularly when the letter contained some compliment about the relative scale of Cambridgeshire’s contribution. The topic of Charity was one which was never omitted from the PGM’s address and the highly successful and onerous work of Cyril H. Brady and Norman Chater for the Benevolent Association was warmly acknowledged year after year. In 1956, apart from his usual words of thanks and praise, Thirkill gave the brethren a lengthy and very clear exposition of the proposed changes in the organisation of the Boys’ School at Bushey and the revision of the old and unwieldy system of ‘Voting rights’. The modernisation was long overdue. He brought his Province up to date with the latest developments in 1962 when he had proposed W.Bro. Armitage in his place as Cambridge representative on the Governing body and again in 1963 over the abandonment of the re-location and re-building plans. In 1968 by far the greater part of a very long address was devoted to the Benevolent Institution and the visit made by himself and the Provincial Secretary to Harewood House. Benevolence was ever a part of his message to his Lodges.

The war had obviously resulted in disruption of various kinds. In some ways, the effects were dramatic — the loss of well-loved brethren, for example, or the return of a large number of local men from the hands of the Japanese. In such cases there was little to be done except wait for time and fraternal affection to ease the memories, but many returnees still retain in their hearts a little exemption in the area of Brotherly Love. I remember my surprise when, in conversation with Ron Kitson (at that time Tyler for the majority of City Lodges, Chapters and other degrees) we got onto the subject of Singapore and Changi as I was driving him home. I found this honest and kindly man, a pillar of Masonic virtues, yet bore a single hard core of bitterness over that four years of his life. Brother Kitson, Initiated in Kynaston in 1962, had in fact ‘Tyled’ for clandestine Masonic meetings before, but did not know it. He was one of the four ‘Tylers’ set as lookouts in Changi at times when prisoners were holding Masonic meetings. He always thought, until much later, that he had been guarding the Escape Committee! Compared to their sufferings the difficulties of suppers, or of dress which had grown during the war years, were trivialities. The food side was difficult enough. Letters from the Duke of Devonshire were read in Lodge about restriction of Banquets, but 88 decided to stay at the Lion, restricting supper to five shillings per head, but members to pay for their own drinks! The Lodge also received a letter from Lodge Vision in Victoria, Australia, asking for a list of deserving brethren or widows to whom food parcels might be sent. Some needed such parcels more than others for, in 1947, the cry of ‘She’s Blew!’ was heard in the Fens, and 700,000 acres and many homes were flooded. The Mayor of Cambridge opened a Fen Fund to which the Lodges naturally subscribed.

The problems of the war years had led to a great relaxation of standards of dress in Lodge, and Great Queen Street saw this, at least, as something within its purview. Coupons, shortages, the need to be ready for other activities if the sirens went, ‘demob’ suits — whatever the reasons, the ‘Dress Code’ had slumped badly and Grand Lodge issued directives about it several times. Some Lodges read or reported them. W.Bro. Hall mentioned the problem — particularly of coloured ties and brown shoes — in his report of 1949. Then Thirkill decided action had not been sufficiently swift. In 1952 he referred to the Grand Master’s wish that the wearing of white gloves be resumed and went on to remind his ‘flock’ of the proper dress. Most of our brethren, he was pleased to note, did follow the dark suit, white shirt, black tie and black shoes code and, he said:

.. there can be no doubt that it adds greatly to the dignity of our ceremonies. On the contrary, mustard coloured suits, blue collars and red ties, together with brown shoes, which one occasionally sees, greatly detract from that dignity.’

The following year he returned to the subject and was embarrassingly direct, saying:

‘My reference to the wearing of coloured collars and tics, light clothing and brown boots has been generally accepted, though at an Installation early in the winter the WM had departed widely from it. Possibly the DC or the ADC among his many other duties may be able to find time to draw the attention of Brethren, before they enter the Lodge, to breaches of usage in this manner.’

One wonders who dressed in this colourful manner? It sounds the sort of thing to be worn by Max Miller, or that other famous comedian of the old days, Nosmo King who, as a well known resident of Thorney, was occasionally invited to St. Andrew Lodge to the great enjoyment of the Brethren. At least he used to be invited, until someone discovered that he was not and never had been a Freemason. Whoops! 92During Thirkill’s Mastership some of those aspects of our current practice which we may think of as ‘Time Immemorial’ were put into place. The practice of inviting all the WMs of the Province to one’s Installation was not universal before the war. Nor was the idea applied at all to Chapter until Thirkill specifically requested it in that important 1952 speech, asking that Scribes E should adopt the practice of inviting the Principals of all the Chapters. At the same time he pointed out that the 3rd Provincial Grand Principal received invitations to all Chapter meetings and he asked that his wardens might receive the same courtesy in the Craft. The following year he again spoke to Scribes and Secretaries in Provincial Grand Lodge. In thanking those who had adopted his suggestions, he said he had:

.. hoped they might be willing to change some of their old customs in a way that might be in the interest not only of their own Lodges and Chapters, but also in the interests of the Province as a whole and, in addition, a help to the Deputy Provincial Grand Master and myself. I have been interested to see the results.’

Those results were clearly not quite up to snuff in his view, for he continued:

‘1 should, however, be still happier if all the Secretaries and Scribes E would agree to adopt these suggestions. I am sure it would be for the good of the Province and I venture to think that the fact that it has not been done in the past is not a valid reason for not making a very useful and beneficial change.’

Thirkill never shrank from making perfectly clear what it was he wanted.

A subject which Thirkill returned to several times during his Mastership was the issue of the Isaac Newton Masonic Hall and the possibility of somehow finding a single home. suitable for all the City Lodges, Chapters and ‘Side’ Degrees. The basic details of the long struggle to achieve this end are contained in the little booklet ‘Town, Gown and Bateman Street’ which I wrote in 1982 at the request of the Council of Management. It was based on the original report I prepared in 1969 for the then Chairman of the Masonic Hall Company, E.G.J. Wright of Cantabrigia, but it does not dwell on the constant encouragement that Thirkill gave to the scheme. Thirkill’s Provincial addresses of 1954, ’55, ’56 and ’57 all refer, at lesser or greater length, to the idea and to the pro gress made or, more realistically, to the lack thereof. The 1955 speech was the most detailed, in which he outlined the plans for refurbishing the Masonic Hall and offered his Province five questions to answer, ranging from the need for such a centre to the raising of finance for it. Sadly, his hopes foundered on the long negotiations over the compulsory purchase of the Isaac Newton Masonic Hall and the delays in Council plans. He was much in favour of a Limited Company being formed to operate a Masonic Hall scheme and was glad when INUL talked about setting one up. However, in the end it was the City Lodges, led by W.Bro. Wright, (‘Eric’ of Cantabrigia, not to be confused with ‘Ernest’ of Caldwell), that set up the Masonic Hall Company. Eric Wright approached Thirkill and found him not only willing but eager, so there was no difficulty in arranging a meeting in Thirkill’s rooms for interested parties in 1959. In 1963 ‘Thirks’ returned to the subject again, because Peter Claridge, one of the INUL Trustees, had prepared an encouraging report which was presented to the Lodge and to Thirkill. At the time INUL had an offer of a City site and a cash sum for building. ‘Thirks’ was so convinced by the proposals therein that he said in Provincial Grand Lodge that he thought work on the proposed new site might start ‘in the coming session’. He was disappointed.

Thirkill’s health was beginning to fail and in 1967 Provincial Grand Lodge met without him for the first time since he took over. He did not attend again. W.Bro. Dr H.E. Nourse, who had succeeded Riddiough as Deputy on the latter’s unexpected death in 1959, took the Chair. There was no mention of the Masonic Hall problem in Nourse’s short address, but work was going on apace in the Hall Committee and it was in that year that Cheshunt College first appeared as a firm possibility. Nourse was able to announce at the 1968 Provincial meeting the successful purchase of Cheshunt College by INUL and the Masonic Hall Company and the first Lodge meetings therein. It was and is a matter of the greatest importance to our Province but, as I have indicated, it is covered in detail elsewhere and there is no point in repeating it here. Thirkill’s interest and support is perhaps suitably acknowledged by the fact that his portrait hangs over the fireplace in the lounge bar of the Cambridge Masonic Hall. It is a good likeness but a distinctly fraudulent portrait. Copied from a picture of Thirkill in his study in Clare College, it places him in an imaginary room with a view (through a non-existent window) of the new Masonic Hall he so dearly wanted but never actually attended. It suggests that he shared the satisfaction of knowing the new Cambridge centre. It was presented to the Hall by W.Bro. Douglas January, the Estate Agent who was the principal driving force behind the purchase of the property.

The same year also saw the Newmarket Masonic Hall finally all paid for. The system used in Newmarket was never quite the same as other Masonic centres and the building functioned as a Club, with a number of non-Mason members. Nevertheless it provided an excellent centre with a very pleasant and impressive Temple that, though small, is elegant and by no means the most restricted in the Province. As for the Dining-room, that is second to none. Mind you, the situation of the Temple, so many feet below the level of the Car-park at the rear, did produce a nasty shock in July of 1989. During a violent rain storm there was a Report. A stream of water entered the Lodge (evading the ‘Tyler and Inner Guard by coming under the door) and the room flooded to a considerable depth! The meeting of Granta Lodge was hastily adjourned to the Dining room and completed there. It was a major talking point for some time after.

To the north and west our Wisbech brethren were also involved in 1968-69, with a very important site purchase which developed fully later on under Harry Nourse. It was, all in all, a very upbeat period that Thirkill could appreciate in spite of ill-health keeping him from much travel or work around the Province. For the last three years Dr Nourse carried the main burden of active work. This post-war quarter century of pretty vigorous Masonic activity was starred here and there by the sort of happy anniversaries that we prize. Apart from the excitement and splendour of the Coronation itself (and Thirkill attended the Raising of Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, in that year) the great event was, for this Province, the Bicentenary warrant of Scientific Lodge No. 88, running from March 29th 1754, the granting of which was announced in February 1954. The actual celebration was splendid indeed. The Grand Master, accompanied by the Grand Secretary and a suitable retinue, himself attended for the occasion. A service of Thanksgiving in Holy Trinity Church, Cam-bridge, in the morning was followed by a Lodge meeting in the Guildhall at which some 300 Brethren attended. The Brethren met in evening dress, with the Officers wearing their traditional Court Dress now worn only on Installation nights. The Earl of Scarbrough was delighted to see it and addressed the Brethren very pleasantly before presenting the Bicentenary warrant to the WM. Later, 250 gathered in Trinity College for the celebration dinner. In the Lodge minutes, prior to this meeting, is a motion allocating L300 expenses to the sub-committee responsible for organising the Centenary meeting and one to transfer 100 guineas from Lodge funds to the WM’s list for the Royal Masonic Institution for Girls, as a gesture to mark the Bicentenary. However, the record of the Bicentenary dinner, as presented by W.Bro. C.A. Mole in a 1968 addendum to the Lodge history, says that as a special thank offering the Brethren had transferred L1,000 to his list! At Provincial, Thirkill (rounding down by just over ten pounds) announced that Scientific had raised the superb sum of L1,200. Clearly these references must be to the total Master’s List, which was not complete at the time of the Bicentenary meeting, rather than to the special Lodge grant. Bro. Mole, who became Provincial Grand Secretary on the retirement of ‘Tommy’ Thompson, was the WM of Scientific during the Bicentenary year. He had been welcomed back into the Lodge in January 1946 after 3 years in India and reached the Chair at that fortunate time to receive the Bicentenary Warrant. (Cecil Mole has important links with warrants! He it was who, having Installed V.W.Bro. Jeremy Pemberton, President of the Board of General Purposes, as his successor in the Chair of Cambridgeshire Installed Masters’ Lodge in 1974, discovered to his horror that he had neglected to bring with him the warrant of the Lodge. Since he was Provincial Grand Secretary at the time it was a matter of acute embarrassment to him and, needless to say, great entertainment to his friends and Brethren. The meeting was saved from illegality by a verbal Dispensation being issued, equally unconstitutionally, by Sir James Stubbs the Grand Secretary, seated near the W.M.’s right. The story has gone into folk-lore, but it really did happen. I was there.)

In 1960 came the Centenary meeting of United Good Fellowship, and that of Isaac Newton University Lodge in 1961. Both were great occasions for the Province. At Wisbech the Historical committee had continued its work and provided the material for a short commemorative booklet. The meeting itself was on the 23rd March, and Thirkill presented the Centenary warrant to their WM, E.V.G. Allcoat. Over 200 Brethren were seated at the banquet and the printed seating plan shows a certain Bro. Colin H. Hutchinson discreetly low down the pecking order! Thirty-six years later he has kindly agreed to pen a Foreword to this small work. The guests came from all over this and our neighbouring Provinces and it seems to have been much more of a ‘Provincial’ festival than the INUL celebration which followed in June of the next year. The Grand Master turned out for INUL’s Centenary, a special meeting at the end of June 1961, and was pleased to accept honorary membership of the Lodge, proposed by Thirkill. There was no normal business, simply the reading of the Consecration and the Jubilee minutes, the presentation of the warrant and an Oration by Lord Bishop Herbert. Although the meeting was held in the Isaac Newton Masonic Hall, the banquet was held in St. John’s College and was a veritable feast. Unfortunately, the blight over the future of the Masonic Hall and the somewhat dilapidated state of the fabric rather prevented the occasion from being quite as splendid as it might have been.

Nevertheless, three such meetings during his period of office was enough to give the cream on Thirkill’s very fruitful twenty-five years. He and a good number of his Masters also managed to attend the 250th Anniversary of Grand Lodge in 1967, although his health was then poor. He was a kindly, sociable man. His dinner parties — and it was fairly easy for the Master of a Cambridge College to entertain to a very high standard — were renowned and numerous and, in those active years after he had retired from his College post, though he continued to live in Clare, he attended Lodges, particularly the City ones, on every possible occasion. He enjoyed the company. Before his illness his memory for people was phenomenal. Our present Deputy PGM recalls that, a few days after his own Initiation in 441 at which ‘Thirks’ had been present, he saw Thirkill in King’s Parade. ‘Why, Brother Kidman!’ cried the Provincial Grand Master. ‘How nice to see you. And what did you think of your Ceremony the other night?’ Illness sadly shaded the later years and Sir Henry Thirkill finally resigned his Provincial office in September 1969. Dr Nourse became Deputy Provincial Grand Master-in-Charge.

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