Son of the soil celebrates diamond jubilee

Vale of Skelmersdale No 8719 celebrated 60 years in the Craft of honorary and founding member of the lodge Thomas Newton PPrJGW. This was a very special occasion for Thomas, guests and the members. The proceedings were led by Assistant Provincial Grand Master Robert Wright accompanied by Mark Barton PrDGDC and Ian Halsall PrDGDC (Des) who were supported by grand officers Brian Fairhurst, Stanley Sutch, William Cox, William Swindlehurst, Frank Umbers (Ormskirk and Bootle Group Chairman) and Malcolm Alexander. Also in attendance were acting Provincial grand officers Paul Hardman PrSGD, Malcolm Sandywell  PrAGDC, Liam Mawdsley  PrGStB and John Doyle  PrGStwd.

Robert (left) congratulates Tom.

Robert (left) congratulates Tom.

After transacting the initial business of the lodge WM Michael Hennessey, welcomed Robert into the lodge, thanking him for his attendance on this very special occasion. On accepting the gavel of the lodge and taking his place in the master’s chair, Robert began by saying: “Brethren, it is always a pleasure to have a celebration in any part of our lives. Our memories over the years are punctuated by celebrations be they birthdays, marriage, children or anniversaries. It is a time to share our joy with others.  It is therefore very pleasing to see so many brethren here this evening.  You are all very welcome, and I thank you all most sincerely for your support of our celebrant tonight. It is my honour to lead this celebration tonight of 60 years in Freemasonry of a very distinguished brother who has freely given his time and energy to the welfare of his family, to his business and to Freemasonry. This celebration brethren, is a special one as indeed are all 60th celebrations and I hope that this will be a celebration which not only you will remember but will stay with our celebrant for many years to come.”

Robert then asked the Provincial Deputy Grand Director of Ceremonies to seat Thomas in front of him before asking: “May I call you Tom?”

Continuing Robert said: “Well Tom sit back as we serve up a story of your long life so far, full of tales of hard work, times of great happiness and even some disappointments, all of which you have faced and are still able to recall with great humour. You were born on Tuesday 4 July 1922 so you are 94 years young and look very well on it so I think the secretary had better start planning for your 70th.”

Tom was born in 1922; George V was on the throne, the British Empire was at its largest, covering over a quarter of the world and ruling one in four people. Politically, The Irish Free State was established, British troops withdrew from Ireland but the Northern Ireland Parliament voted to remain as part of the United Kingdom. The BBC was formed and began transmitting radio services first in London and then from major cities in the UK for which a licence fee of 10 shillings was charged. Howard Carter discovered the entrance to King Tutankhamun’s Tomb in the Valley of Kings in Egypt. Depending on your point of view, good or bad, Branston Pickle was first produced. Born that year was Tommy Cooper, Alistair Maclean, Christopher Lee, Max Bygraves, Tom Finney the footballer and who could forget Freddie Laker who pioneered low cost flying.

More importantly, Robert said that John and Edith Newton were blessed with a son on American Independence Day and our story begins in earnest.  Tom grew up at the family home, Newbridge Farm in Simonswood near Rainford. His father ran the farm whilst his mother looked after Tom and his brother James. Tom attended Bickerstaffe Elementary School and to get there he had to walk three and a half miles. At the age of 14 Tom qualified to go to Ormskirk Grammar School but his father wanted him to work on the farm so that’s what he had to do. Farming in the 1920’s was hard work and selling the produce was even harder. Robert said that Tom remembers his father about 1928, selling potatoes to the Co-op for only £1 a ton. To put that in perspective that is 2,240lb or 448 bags of 5lb or about half a penny per bag in old pounds, shilling and pence. Not much reward for a lot of back breaking hard work

A memento of Beacon Lodge treasured by Vale of Skelmersdale.

A memento of Beacon Lodge treasured by Vale of Skelmersdale.

During his younger years Tom played football for Bickerstaffe in the Ormskirk League and travelled all over the county on his bike to get to matches. Long hours were spent working on the farm which was a mixed arable and poultry farm. Tom has been a farmer all his life with all the trials and tribulations involved. The farm was originally owned by Lord Sefton, as was most of the land north of the railway at Rainford; but inheritance taxes after the death of the 6th Earl in 1930 meant he had to raise funds by selling land and tenant farmers were told to purchase the land or move away. So money was borrowed and Newbridge Farm, all 56 acres, was acquired by the family.

Robert went on to say that in 1950 Tom rented and eventually bought one of the farm labourers houses in Rainford, about three miles from the farm and he has lived there with his family ever since. Diversifying, on the farm Tom kept six caravans which were used by Liverpool families for a weekend away. Facilities were basic, so he set out to improve matters by providing mains water, electricity and sewerage drains. Connection to the relevant services involved him digging a trench and laying pipes. This he did by hand – all 100 yards of digging; (quite a feat, a true son of the soil). Tom also got a licence to store 25 caravans on the site.  He farmed 3,000 chickens and sold the eggs far and wide. Robert stated that then, as now, chickens are subject to diseases which can wipe out a whole flock. Fowl Pest or Newcastle Disease is a contagious, fatal viral disease. Even now there is no treatment and once contracted it spreads rapidly. Tom suffered this twice in his career and came back from the first disaster but suffered a second. So in 1983 he decided it was time to sell the farm; except the field with the caravans, paying off all liabilities, and at 61 years old, take retirement, which he has enjoyed now for 33 years. He has also kept bees and still enjoys honey every day. When they say farmers should diversify Tom has certainly embraced that in his life.

At this juncture Robert with a wry smile on his face told the only farming joke he said he knew: “A young man new to farming went to the wholesalers and purchased 5,000 chickens. Two days later he went back to the wholesaler and purchased another 5,000 chickens. The proprietor said: “By gum ,you must be doing okay. To which the farmer replied: “I am not so sure as I maybe planting them too close together.”

Robert, turning to matters of the heart, said that Tom met the love of his life, Marion, a local girl at the village dance during the war. Exempt from being called up for National Service as he was in a protected and vital occupation. They were married on the 2 April 1945 and enjoyed nearly 70 years of happy marriage before Marion sadly passed away in 2014. Tom has a daughter Christine who lives in Woking, three grandchildren Martin, Johnathan and Christopher; three great grandchildren Louise, Amy and Christopher; and one great great grandchild Stanley and is very proud of them all.

Despite a very busy life Tom still found time to play bowls for Rainford North End for many years. In his younger days, he was a very active member in the Young Farmers Club; but when at 25 he became too old, he looked around for an alternative and eventually found Freemasonry.

Tom’s certificate celebrating 60 years.

Tom’s certificate celebrating 60 years.

Tom was initiated into Beacon Lodge No 6072 on the 4 Feb 1957 here in Ormskirk. He remembers the instructions were to turn up and make sure he had clean knees!! Tom became WM in 1974 and received his first appointment to PPrJGD and subsequently was promoted to the very high rank he now holds of PPrJGW in 1994. He has also been a member of Stanley of Bickerstaffe Royal Arch Chapter No 3511 and was first principal in 1980 receiving the rank of PPrAGSoj in 1988 and further promotion to PPrGSoj in 1997.Tom has also been a member of Lodge of Chivalry No 3974 and during his Masonic career he has been active in 10 other Masonic orders and received awards of rank, recognising his impressive level of commitment.

Robert recounted a whimsical story told to him by Tom about the time he went to The Grand Lodge of Scotland and at the festive board saw that Haggis was on the menu. Being a country lad from Lancashire he had no idea what it was. He believed the reason given for the meal being delayed was that they were out catching one. It was a relief to Tom when they eventually paraded it in and he realised what it was. Tom doesn’t remember too much about the evening due in no small part to the generous hospitality in liquid form. Robert summed up by saying: “Although now you are an honorary member of this lodge you have certainly committed to, and enjoyed, your involvement with Freemasonry over the years and we are all here to also recognise that, and to celebrate your achievement of being a brother amongst us for 60 years.”

At this juncture in the celebration Robert asked Frank Umbers to read the celebratory certificate from the Provincial Grand Master which is an acknowledgement of the Province of West Lancashire’s great appreciation of Tom’s 60 years of membership and service to the Craft.

Robert concluded by saying: “Thomas Newton PPrJGW of the Province of West Lancashire you have set an example to us all in your life, a life full of hard work, commitment to family, success in business and dedication to Freemasonry. It gives me great pleasure to present to you this certificate recording your achievement of 60 years in Freemasonry and to wish you on behalf of all the brethren here the best of health to enjoy many more years in our company. Brethren, once again please join with me in your warmest congratulations.”

Article and photographs by Barry Hewitt.

Robert and Tom (seated) surrounded by grand and acting grand officers.

Robert and Tom (seated) surrounded by grand and acting grand officers.

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