Brethren from Park Hall Lodge No 8375 and the Ormskirk and Bootle Group gathered together to acknowledge and appreciate the achievement of John Allwright as he marked his 50 years in Freemasonry at Ormskirk Masonic Hall. Leading the celebrations was Assistant Provincial Grand Master Robert Wright together with grand officer Malcolm Alexander. In attendance were acting Provincial grand officers Malcolm Sandywell, Paul Hardman, Liam Mawdsley, John Doyle and Peter Martin. Representing the group was John Marsden (Ormskirk and Bootle Group Vice Chairman)
Also joining in the festivities and ensuring the smooth running of the proceedings was Malcolm Bell, Provincial Deputy Grand Director of Ceremonies.
On opening the lodge, Stuart Cunningham, who was standing in for WM John Glover who was sunning himself on holiday, quickly ensured that the main item of the evening’s business was reached without undue delay. After welcoming Robert Wright into the lodge, Stuart gladly surrendered the gavel and set the stage for an interesting and illuminating address by Robert, in preparation for which John Allwright was comfortably seated before him by Malcolm Bell.
Robert began by saying: “Brethren tonight is indeed a very special occasion. We are here to celebrate 50 years in Freemasonry with a brother who richly deserves this special night. It is therefore very pleasing to see so many brethren here this evening, who want to share in this celebration, and I thank you all most sincerely for your support of our celebrant tonight. It is my honour to lead that celebration, and tonight brethren, I hope to lead you through a most interesting story; a tribute to triumph over adversity, care and dedication not only to Freemasonry but to family and the community. This celebration brethren, is unique, because it is about one person’s life and no other – there is much of which I am sure the members of Park Hall Lodge will not have known – which I hope, that not only you will remember, but will stay with our celebrant, for many years to come.”
Robert addressing John said: “WBro John Fitzgerald Allwright PPrJGD are you seated comfortably. May I call you John? Well John – please sit back as we celebrate with you.”
Continuing, Robert said; “I will be printing a picture of success, Scouting around your support for others, Travelling with you on your journey of life and adventures – so far. Here brethren are the clues of the story we have to unfold as we go back in time. Please don’t look so serious John this is not a matter of life or death – just life – yours!!”
Robert informed the brethren that John was born on Tuesday 9 April 1935 in Twickenham Middlesex; a year when, if you ignore the announcement of the formation of the German Luftwaffe, and Stanley Baldwin certainly did, other events of interest included the formation of The Ramblers Association, the first greetings telegram was sent, speed limit reduced to 30 mph, Cats Eyes were introduced and the driving test became compulsory. Malcolm Campbell broke the Land Speed Record at Utah Salt flats, the board game Monopoly went on sale for the first time and Rowntrees introduced their crispy chocolate bar Kit Kat. Also born that year was The Grand Master, His Royal Highness, The Duke of Kent.
More importantly Robert said that Joseph and Doris Allwright gave birth to their son John. His father was a photo engraver, a career that John followed him into later. John was diagnosed with Spina Bifida; a birth defect where there is incomplete closing of the backbone and membranes around the spinal cord. This affected his right leg and resulted in many orthopaedic operations in his school years to improve better mobility, which were successful. In 1940 aged only five years old, with his younger sister Suzanne, John was evacuated to a small village in Shropshire called Clun, on the Welsh Borders.
They stayed with the local doctor and John well remembers going with him on house calls in his green Austin car. During the evacuated years of 1940 to 1943 John and his sister were only able to see their parents once or twice in all that time. John’s father served in the Home Guard and became Company Sergeant Major.
Continuing, Robert said that John returned to London to experience the doodlebugs and even now remembers the sound they made, which was so distinctive and chilling. John attended The Polytechnic in Regent Street London which later became the Quintin Grammar School. The school had a great history and tradition in educating boys. On leaving school at 15, he started his apprenticeship in photo engraving at Johnston Engineering in Cock Lane, London (close to Fleet Street) whilst at the same time undergoing more leg operations. These left John in plaster for nine months; at the same time he attended night school and gained his City and Guilds Qualifications. John was called up for National Service but was declared medically unfit. He decided that in order to strengthen the muscles in his leg he would take up cycling and so with his wanderlust completed a youth hostelling ride of 1,000 miles through Belgium, Holland down the Rhine and through the Ardennes.
John completed his apprenticeship in 1957 aged 22 years and as British craftsmen were highly respected he easily found work in Paris. Unable to obtain a work permit he returned to the UK. At the time the printing industry was heavily controlled by unionisation, and through them, John successfully applied for a job in the photo plate making department at ‘The Mercury Newspaper’ in Hobart, Tasmania. As you do! There, the Australian Government sought John out for National Service. In order to settle the issue he had to declare his status as medically unfit in the UK; which happily they accepted.
In 1960 John moved to New South Wales and found work at Hartland and Hyde, a photo engraving company in Sydney. He let nothing stop him physically and whilst there did a great deal of bush walking in the Blue Mountains near Sydney. He also helped to renovate youth hostels and even joined a rowing club, (a sport John had done at school). Before returning to the UK he took the opportunity to spend three months hitch hiking around both North and South Islands of New Zealand.
Robert smiling said: “Good job you were still single as in 1961, aged still only 26, you decided to take the long route back to the UK by travelling overland from India. This you did on a bus called ‘The Indiaman’ run by Garrow Fisher Tours (Kingston) Ltd. Garrow Fisher was an intrepid Irishman who insisted his travelling was called an expedition not a tour as his guests should not expect any molly coddling. I think the word primitive may easily be used to describe conditions but in the same breath, unlike today where travel is checked for health and safety, it must have been an exciting, exotic and character building experience.”
On John’s return to the UK Robert said that the company asked John to return to India on another of their expeditions and be in charge of six Dormobile Land Rovers; accompanying two full buses travelling overland to India from the UK. This he agreed to do, however what he didn’t say, was that he couldn’t drive. Robert said: “Brethren you will have guessed by now that nothing much stopped John, so he had to quickly learn, and following a week-long course at Land Rover to learn about all the mechanics and four weeks before departure having passed his driving test, he was declared in the brochure as the experienced driver and mechanic.”
In 1964 John returned to work in Weybridge, Surrey. Whilst there, helping the local amateur dramatic/operatic society as a stagehand, he met the star Elizabeth, his future bride, who ironically was at the time dressed in a bridal gown in the production of the Gilbert and Sullivan Opera, Trial by Jury. A romance blossomed and they were married on the 1 January 1966. Elizabeth was a Domestic Science Teacher, and they have three children Jonathan, Jane and Gareth.
In 1968 John moved to Parbold and joined SD Graphics Ltd (part of British Insulated Callender Cables BICC now Balfour Beatty). He was appointed Technical Manager and the job involved travelling throughout Europe and the UK. He was made redundant in 1988 and not accepting this he became involved in quality assurance, obtained the necessary qualifications and joined Bowater Labels Ltd part of the Rexam group as a Quality Assurance Manager. Sadly on their closure in 1996 he was made redundant once again and took the lifestyle choice to retire at 61.
Turning to leisure activities Robert said that when Johnathan his son joined the local scout group John volunteered to assist as group treasurer, then as Ormskirk and District treasurer; a post he has just relinquished after 27 years. John was captain of his team at the Ormskirk Crown Green Bowling Club and was known as the fair weather captain. He used to watch the weather, and if rain was forecast later he made sure he was selected early. John enjoys walking and certainly advocates the maxim, ‘if you don’t use it you’ll lose it.’
Robert said that John’s philosophy in life is, ‘there is always someone worse off than yourself.’ Elizabeth who is now President and a life member of Southport Spotlights Musical Theatre Society also persuaded you to become treasurer for them for a number of years. They now have five grandchildren Benjamin, Amelia, Harrison, Holly and Carys and also a step granddaughter Katie. John is a proud family man and rightly so, and they certainly have a full house at Christmas.
Moving on to John’s life in Freemasonry he was initiated into Old Quintinian Lodge No 3307 on the 11 February 1967 by his father and was passed and raised in the same year. That makes him a Lewis Mason; the son of a Mason who is entitled to be made a Mason above any other. His father in law was also a member in Freemasonry.
Old Quintinians Lodge was John’s old school lodge and originally they met on a Saturday at the school before moving to The Café Royal London. The lodge now meets at Gt Queen Street. One of the great advantages of travelling round the UK for work is that time can be spent learning and reciting ritual. Robert said we can all relate to that story brethren, either on dog walks or on the train to work.
In Old Quintinians Lodge there were a number of members who held grand rank. With their experience of Freemasonry they realised that as John was travelling long distance to London four times a year he would benefit from being in a lodge more local to his home. Now at that time you had to ask to join a lodge and so John received a note from the local Parbold butcher, Jimmy Swift, unusually wrapped round a piece of meat, which said, “I would like to meet you on a subject of mutual interest.”
The outcome was that John became a founder member of Park Hall Lodge when it was consecrated in 1971 and became WM in 1974; treasurer two years later and following that secretary for a number of years. John’s son, Johnathan, also joined Park Hall Lodge although not now a member. John became a member of Harmony Chapter in 1976. He joined Lodge of Harmony No 580 in 1980 and in that year was appointed to Past Provincial Junior Grand Deacon. Due to changes in circumstances over the following years John resigned from his lodges but happily re-joined Park Hall Lodge in 2006 and is now playing an active role, previously as group representative and currently as treasurer; with the support and appreciation of all the brethren.
Robert was delighted to have the chance to honour such a worthy Mason and invited John Marsden to read out the 50th celebration certificate from the Provincial Grand Master, which Robert subsequently presented to John.
As would be expected following such a memorable evening, the friendship and banter at the festive board proved a fitting end to what had been a very special occasion for John and all who attended.
Article and photographs by Barry Hewitt.