Centenary meeting of Old Quintinians Lodge No.3307, 18th October 2008
Response by W. Bro. Harold Beck to the Toast to the Visitors
Worshipful Master, Deputy Metropolitan Grand Master, Brethren Polyboys, Brethren All.
Thank you W.Bro. John Merrills for the way you proposed this Toast. Yes, my two younger brothers stayed at different times at the Hostel set up and run by your mother and father at Glen Lyn in The Avenue, Minehead, and would have known you as a very much younger boy in the household. They may well have been the bane of your parents while I must have been the despair of your father as he tried to teach me Art.
I understand there are seven of us here in this splendid gathering who were at the Regent Street Polytechnic Secondary School. Three of them - Cliff Jones, Bob Fletcher and John Merrills - are members of the Lodge and four - Phil Haig, Stuart Catchpole, George Todorovitch and myself - are visitors.
There are many, many anecdotes we collectively could tell from first-hand experience of the Masters and boys of the School but I would prefer to say something about the invaluable part played by Freemasonry in general and this Old Quintinians Lodge in particular in promoting the well-being of the School.
Around 1900 there was much written in the Polytechnic Magazine about the Poly becoming involved in Freemasonry. It was decided in favour so in 1901 the Polytechnic Lodge was formed. Then in 1903 the Robert Mitchell Lodge was Consecrated. Old Quintinians Lodge was the third. Two more Lodges , the Kynaston Studd and Langham followed.
It is clear that in those days Freemasonry in general was regarded as an extension of the Polytechnic Institute - for example only three years after he was initiated Robert Mitchell had a Lodge named after him in recognition of his tremendous services to the Polytechnic Institute. Likewise Old Quintinians Lodge, recruiting members from School staff and former pupils, was regarded as an extension of the School - there was for example a prize given to pupils which required the signatures of both the W.M. of this Lodge and the Headmaster of the School.
LCB Seaman, a pupil at the School who became one of its Masters, provided in his history of the School (The Quintin School 1886-1956) a fascinating series of pen portraits of the Masters as he saw them, both in the classroom and in the staff common room. In essence he considered them to be a bunch of talented eccentrics. Take for example the following brief extracts from LCB Seaman's writings:-
Jacko Andrews (J.W.) The cutting edge of his tongue carved for him a great silence wherever he went. There were times when one felt almost as sorry for the mathematical problems he so mercilessly dissected as one did for oneself and for one's petrified classmates. He was your Worshipful Master in 1929.
(I am here using the names by which we referred to them among ourselves as schoolboys. Of course we did not call them by those names to their faces - we would address them as Mr. or Dr.).
Jimmy Hough (J.S.) energetically concerning himself with the preparatory school, football, the choir and mathematics, a robust critic of pretty well everything, but with a bite rather less harsh than his bark. He was your Worshipful Master in 1933.
Joey Lambert (J.B.) made nonsense of the notion that schoolmasters were by nature embittered frustrated creatures. By Hector and Lysander (his favourite exclamation) he enjoyed being a schoolmaster if ever a man did. He was your Worshipful Master in 1932.
Charles Eckersley (C.E.), who was an initiate in your Lodge in 1923 but did not rise within it, was internationally famous as an authority on the teaching of English to foreigners. In the staff common room he "would be contemplating his locker studiously, wondering whether he had time to smoke a half-cigarette, a three-quarter-cigarette or a complete one - he kept a supply of varying lengths, to be used according to the length of time at his disposal between lessons".
Before the war the catchment area for Masters and pupils was very wide (e.g. Kensington, Uxbridge, and the South Coast). When School broke up each day in the mid-afternoon everyone - the talented eccentrics who were our Masters as well as the pupils - went their separate ways.
We know from wartime records of the Exmoor Lodge in Minehead that 13 - at least half the Masters - were Freemasons and 6 of them were members of this Lodge. Bringing a substantial proportion of staff together to work together in harmony in the Temple at 309 Regent Street and then taking refreshment together must have contributed greatly to the corporate spirit - to the harmony - among the School staff in their jobs as teachers.
When war came the lives of our Masters changed completely. They had to move their wives & children to Minehead and they became responsible 24/7 for we pupils. The dedication shown by the Masters - and their wives - in ensuring the well-being of we pupils was I am sure due in no small measure to the Masonic backbone of the School.
The use of Minehead's Masonic Hall for teaching purposes was perhaps the first benefit of the Masonic connections.
Next, the integrating effect of Freemasonry was greatly enhanced by the welcome the 13 Masters received from Minehead's Exmoor Lodge No.2390. They were made Hon. Members for the duration. One of your members, Bro. Checkley was Organist and another, J.B. Lambert, with H.J. Beadon of Polytechnic Lodge delivered the 2nd Part of the 2nd Lecture at the Golden Jubilee of Exmoor Lodge in 1941.
I am sure, also, that the involvement in Minehead Freemasonry of the Masters who were Masons contributed greatly to the excellent relations between the School and the Minehead community.
The two key figures during the evacuation were the Dr. B.L. Worsnop (or Nobby, as we called him) and the President of the Polytechnic, Sir Kynaston Studd.
Bernard Worsnop (Dr. B.L.) was a pioneer researcher into X-rays. He was recruited from King's College London into the Poly to head the Maths & Physics Department and then became Headmaster of the School. He showed wise leadership of the School in the very difficult circumstances of the war and the adjustment to peace. Nobby Worsnop was an initiate of Kynaston Studd Lodge and joined Old Quintinians Lodge in 1946. He did not proceed to the chair but in 1951 he acted as W.M. in a ceremony which has proved very important for the Lodge at its Centenary, namely the Initiation of fellow-evacuee Cliff Jones!
Sir Kynaston Studd (J.E.K.). Presiding over the Poly and like Quintin Hogg taking a close interest in the School was your first Worshipful Master. There is much on record about him but perhaps his involvement with the School during its evacuation is not so well known. He was 81 when the war started but made the journey to Minehead by road (poor roads and with signposts removed for fear of invasion) several times. He addressed the School at a Sunday morning service in the hall of the School we shared with the Minehead people. He also found time during one of the visits to attend a cricket match, which proved to be very beneficial. We learn from an account of the match given by two Masters in the Summer 1941 issue of The Quintinian that the School team was playing Timberscombe, a small village near Minehead, and were elated when they got their opponents all out for 57. This turned to despair when they lost 6 wickets for only 9 runs. At this point Sir Kynaston, who was President of the MCC, reminded them that no match was lost until the last man was out and the last two batsmen then turned the match around and won.
On a personal note I see Sir Kynaston from another perspective. I was initiated in a Cambridge Lodge and go regularly to its meetings. For all the time I was at the School Sir Kynaston was Provincial Grand Master of Cambridgeshire. I see his portrait frequently at the Cambridge Masonic Hall - indeed, being only 14 when Sir Kynaston addressed us on the day we were evacuated, I take pleasure in pointing out to my Cambridge Brethren that, looking at the series of portraits which adorn the walls of one of the rooms, I can go one further back than any of them in remembering Past PGMs. There is a Kynaston Lodge and a Kynaston Chapter in Cambridge.
You may like to know that on 1st September 2009 we evacuees will be dining in the Fyvie Hall at 309 Regent Street , now the University of Westminster, to mark the exact 70th Anniversary of the School's evacuation. As none of us were under 11 years old it follows that all of us are octogenarians. We would like to march, accompanied by policemen, from 309 Regent Street to Oxford Circus Underground station, as we did in 1939, but alas we would be a motley line of mobile, bent, limping and perhaps crutch-aided old gents. So we will content ourselves with being back in dear old 309 Regent Street enjoying a meal which will definitely not include dried eggs, Spam or other wartime dishes!
Now to do the job I am supposed to do in responding to the Toast to the Visitors, that is to express the thanks of all the Visitors, not just the Poly boys, for the privilege of celebrating with you this great occasion of your Centenary. We have enjoyed a very friendly reception, the work in the Temple was relaxed but dignified and we have shared in your excellent Festive Board. On behalf of all the Visitors, thank you.