For many years Didcot has been the odd one out among our neighbours for not having its own masonic lodge. Abingdon has had a lodge since 1863, Wallingford since 1881 and Wantage since 1904.
That changed last month when a group of local masons got together to create Didcot Lodge, the 9995th lodge in England and Wales and the 100th in the masonic province of Berkshire. (Freemasons organise themselves on the old county boundaries and Didcot has only been an Oxfordshire town since 1974.)
I spoke to Maurice Dixon, the lodge’s first Master to find out more about Freemasonry.
What is Freemansonry?
“Freemasonry is one of the oldest secular social and charitable organisations in the world and its roots lie in the traditions of the medieval stonemasons who built our castles and cathedrals. The lodge carries out traditional ceremonies that encourage members to be more tolerant and respectful and actively fulfil our civic and charitable responsibilities.”
What’s the truth about the secrets and handshakes?
“That’s usually one of the first things people ask. We do have some traditional secrets that are shared during our ceremonies and this is because when mediaeval stonemasons were employed to build castles and cathedrals, they had to travel to find work and they needed to be able to prove they were qualified to work on those important buildings. When the building work started to decline, the guilds started admitting honorary members and the traditions of Freemasonry grew from there. The secrets aren’t particularly secret (and they won’t unlock hidden treasures anywhere) as anyone can find them on the internet if they search carefully enough.”
Why is freemasonry only for men?
“It’s not. There are many women Freemasons, our nearest female lodges are in Newbury and Witney. We have our own traditions and backgrounds and while we work closely together, our formal meetings are held separately. Many of the suffragettes were Freemasons.”
Why are people interested in freemasonry these days?
“Some are interested in the traditions and ceremonies, others are looking for a good way to meet others and make friendships and others are really interested in the charity work.”
I’ve never seen masons out collecting money for charity, what do you do?
“You will never see us out collecting in public. All the money we raise is from our own events. Each time we meet we take a collection and have a raffle. For example, when we were consecrated in October, around 80 members from across the province attended and between them they donated over £1,000.”
What do you do with the donations?
“The Master of the lodge gets to choose the charity for the year. Our aim is to support local good causes, especially smaller charities that don’t get the support that national charities get. This year we will be supporting Didcot Train and we have been delighted to hand over that first £1,000 earlier this month. We plan to raise even more for them in the coming year.”
What are your plans for the coming year?
“At our first meeting we initiated two new members into freemasonry and in December we will admit a third. As well as our formal meetings, we really enjoy getting together to socialise. Covid delayed our opening and so we have been taking every opportunity to get together in town. We’ve been frequent visitors to the Prince of Wales, Station Garden, Kolkata and Club Rio. A group of us attended the Mayor’s Barn Dance and we hope to support other similar town events.”
If anyone wants to get in touch, how do they contact you?
They can email firstname.lastname@example.org or get in touch via our Facebook and Twitter pages @DidcotFreemasons.