Provincial Grand Lodge of Dorset

The official website of Dorset Freemasonry


For Province P0060 - Province of Dorset.


May. 2017

Freemasonry celebrates 300 years in Dorset (but it's not all secret meetings and funny handshakes)

It is probably the largest fraternal organisation in the world, with 49 'lodges' in Dorset alone. Yet an air of secrecy still surrounds freemasonry, which is celebrating its 300th year in the county during 2017.

Masons across the county are preparing to take part in numerous high profile fundraising events and parades, in a bid to dispel the myths surrounding the organisation and share its ethos with the community.

'The whole concept is people joining together with a common interest,' explains Dorset's Provincial Grand Master, Richard Merritt.

'It's a hobby - it's like any other club. People join for many reasons - sometimes through their family, sometimes just an enquiring mind, some just to see what it's all about, others who are looking for something new in terms of their circle of acquaintances and friends.

'Some of those that join take great pleasure out of the history element, others take great pleasure from the ceremonial element, others from companionship, sharing of a common purpose and common interest.'

The lodges throughout Dorset vary in how regularly they meet, but most come together several times a year to go through the organisation's correspondence, accounts, updates on members and their families and reports of charity work and community projects.
It's the latter two aspects of freemasonry which today's members are especially keen to promote.

'We play a very positive part in the local community,' explains Mark Burstow, who has been a mason for the last five years.
'A lot of our work is outward facing - we are looking to how our people can benefit others in our society. It's the idea of people getting something for themselves by taking part in great activities, thinking about the welfare of others.'

Projects undertaken by masons in the county include fundraising for the Dorset and Somerset Air Ambulance, a scheme to install defibrillators at each of their lodges, and a campaign to provide free adventure holidays for children throughout the UK.

Both Richard and Mark recognise the need for greater transparency in freemasonry and the lodges now regularly host open days, organise public parades in their full ceremonial regalia and ensure their members' wives and partners are kept fully informed - although some lodges for women do also exist.

However there are still some traditions which are kept behind closed doors. These include the ceremonies introducing a member to freemasonry - whereby they are taught the principles of moral truth and virtue, nature and science and encouraged to form a greater understanding of themselves in a bid to become a more respectable, discerning member of society, and also those secret handshakes.

The latter, explains Richard, are merely a number of hand signals created in the very first days of the organisation, when many of the founding stonemasons could not read or write, so instead used gestures to communicate their level of skill. These were kept secret so that a mason could not pretend he was at a higher level than he actually was and today remain private simply for the sake of tradition.

Other aspects of freemasonry became secret for very different reasons during the 1930s when the Third Reich believed the organisation to be a threat to their own design, and began persecuting members.
'Fear was such that freemasonry went underground,' says Richard.

'Meetings started to be held very privately, for fear of being persecuted. It happened that an invasion did not take place, but by the time the end of the war came, the freemasons had got into the habit of meeting in dark, covert places.

'We are now paying for 75 years of secrecy.'

It is hoped this year of celebration will help dispel many of the myths surrounding freemasonry and the organisation has welcomed the making of a five-part Sky One series, Inside Freemasonry, which began on April 17.

Richard, who became a mason in 1983 and is now 71, is confident the organisation will continue for many years to come and hopes others will gain the benefits he has from being a member.
'I enjoy many aspects of freemasonry,' he says.

'I'm fascinated by its history, its ethos, its principles and I always admire the support that's given from the organisation to so many diverse organisations both locally and nationally and worldwide. It literally covers the world.

'It's been a big slug of my life. But I chose it because of the opportunities given to me. Generally speaking, it is an opportunity I would not have missed. I feel quite satisfied and indeed privileged to have been part of an organisation for so long.'

Emma Joseph, Daily Echo