The conception and explanation of the copper banner base used in the temple at Ashwell House, St Albans
In his own fascinating words, W Bro Gary Higginbotham, of North Watford Lodge 6918, tells the full story of the base.
“A lewis in the true sense, I have lived with this magnificent piece of craftsmanship most of my life, in fact when the base was not on masonic duty, it was used by my mother as a jardinière, in the living room at home, and until I became a freemason myself, did not fully understand its true significance.
My reason for committing this to paper is so that its conception and explanation would not be lost, and would now be available for all to fully appreciate. Up to this point in time, all the reasoning and significance was held in the memory of the artificer, if I may be allowed to use the term, who designed and crafted this most wonderful piece of metalwork.
This masonic craftsman is my father, W Bro Frederick W. Higginbotham.
I would like to start by offering a brief history, so far, of W Bro Fred
Born 6th November 1925 making him now 85 years young and currently residing at 20 Shorthedges Close, Northleach, Gloucestershire.
Dad has been a coppersmith / metalworker all his working life, having served in the Royal Navy, at the end of WW11, and saw action as Petty Officer in the engine room on board HMS Belfast, and was a member of the crew when the Belfast relieved Shanghai.
His father, my grandfather, saw that he was initiated into Freemasonry, along with his two elder brothers into The Sunset Lodge 5788 on November 8, 1952, where he went on to sit in the chair of King Solomon three times, to try and keep the lodge alive.
His further achievements as a Freemason are PPAGDC (Herts), PPSGD (Glos), LGR, PPGSwdB ([Bucks) MMM, P Com (Bucks) RAM and PZ.
As I have already stated, Dad was initiated into The Sunset Lodge 5788 (London), he was also a member of The Temple Chapter 101 (London), Missbourne Lodge MMM 1087 (Bucks), Merleau Weir Lodge 1510 MMM /RAM (Bucks) (and a founder member), The Three Rivers Lodge 9078 (again a founder member) and the Prince of Wales Lodge 951 (Gloucs) of which he is a current member.
Although ill health prevents Dad from attending regularly, he is still active, after nearly 60 years, and attends when he feels fit enough. As far as I am aware, masonry has been and still is a very important part of his life.
The following is a verbatim transcript of the description I requested of my father, knowing there was a chance it could be lost:
“This is the explanation of the Base, Banner and Stave that I crafted and presented to The Sunset Lodge 5788 (London), my mother lodge, which unfortunately had to return its warrant around 1998.
The banner dedication ceremony happened some 40 years ago, around 1970.
When the lodge had to return its warrant, I successfully managed to retrieve the Base and Stave.
After much thought I donated and presented to Ashwell House the Base, to enable lodges to display their banners. The Stave, I donated and presented to the lodge that I am at present a member, The Prince of Wales Lodge 951, which meets at the Stow on the Wold masonic centre in the province of Gloucestershire.
“I was first contacted by a past of the Sunset Lodge, to design a banner, and become his agent to see the project through to fruition. I subsequently agreed, and did several sketches, the final design was then submitted to Grand Lodge for approval. This was then duly returned to me with the seal of Grand Lodge and the Grand Secretary’s signature.
“This enabled me to start my embroiderer on the banner. After three or four weeks, the lady in question contacted me in a very distressed state, “would I inspect her progress, as she felt the standard of her work was not good enough”.
On viewing the progress thus far, it was obvious to me that her worries were unfounded for the quality was truly magnificent. To reassure the lady I said that I could craft a base and stave, to hang the banner from, to compliment her work and that I would be proud to be associated with it.
This seemed to satisfy her anxieties and she agreed to continue and complete the banner. She was after all embroidering on velvet, in itself a very difficult task. On my way home I thought to myself, what have I let myself in for, originally I was not requested to make a base or stave.
Freemasonry covers such a vast field for thought and design; it did not take me too long to settle on a plan of construction.
My thoughts turned to The Second Temple at Jerusalem, which was constructed on the form of a pentagon, a five sided object; from the pentagon, over a height of six inches, I transformed this to a diameter, this gave me five equilateral triangles, when defined gave me the first, second and third degrees. I then made a triple swaged collar, representing the Worshipful Master, the Senior and Junior Wardens.
In turn this is connected to a ten sided object, called a decagon, this represents the perfect lodge, you have the Worshipful Master, senior and Junior Wardens on the collar and the decagon represents the seven master masons, two fellow crafts and an entered apprentice.
I then transformed the decagon into a sphere, made up of equilateral triangles, to show how quickly a lodge can multiply. I felt at this point the base needed to gain height.
My thoughts turned to the two great pillars, which were placed at the porchway or entrance of King Solomon’s Temple. It was not possible to have both of these pillars on the base, so I settled to have one on the base, which represents the left hand pillar and the second pillar I incorporated on the top of the stave.
“Having decided to use one pillar on the base, with its chapiter. I then completed the pillar with a sphere, constructed in two halves, representing the celestial and terrestrial globes, pointing out masonry universal. They were considered finished when a network or canopy was thrown over them, represented on the base by the filigree finial.
Having completed the base my thoughts then turned to the stave.
In regard to the timber I would use. The temple at Jerusalem was constructed with the use of cedar, and was transported from the forests of Lebanon by barge, Cedar being a very durable material against the weather. When joining the trusses and joints with dowels and wedges, the builders found that the joints fractured, consequently they had to select a different wood for this purpose; the material they chose was Ramin, a much closer grained timber. Naturally this was the material I selected for the stave.
The stave I constructed eight feet long, and one and a quarter inches in diameter, for ease of carriage and stowage, I divided the stave into three equal parts, which were connected together by brass thimbles. The next part I manufactured was that which the banner would hang on, which I made as a brass collar with a shepherds crook, representing the 23rd. Psalm.
The finial I constructed with the second pillar, to which then I attached the Square and Compasses, with the letter “G” in the centre. The square being the implement which forms the rude and proves the perfect mass. The compasses to keep us in due bounds with all mankind, particularly our brethren in freemasonry. The letter “G” denoting God, the Grand Geometrician of the Universe, to whom we must all submit, and whom we ought humbly to adore.
And a final word from W Bro Gary:
I truly believe this to have been a labour of love, and shows the amount of knowledge and learning that my father, from humble beginnings, has gained, and knowing that W Bro Fred spent over 100 hours, transforming what was originally a used domestic hot water cylinder, into something so significant and so magnificently crafted.
Subsequently father has manufactured many other masonic items.
As you stand in the temple at Ashwell House, many of the banners are hanging from crossbars that father has made.
He also manufactured the lodge furniture for Merleau Weir Mark lodge, where he was founder. For his current lodge, Prince of Wales, father has refurbished the existing banner metalwork, and supplied the stave to carry the new banner for the lodge’s 150th anniversary.
One other very significant piece of regalia that father has manufactured, from his garage in his retirement is the chain of office for the Court Leet of Northleach, as worn by Earl Bathhurst, who presides, this having never existed since the charter was granted in the 1200s.
I am sure there are many more items in existence – these are just the pieces I aware of.
I hope very much this is all of interest, and as a final comment from myself, please remember that everything described here, and perhaps what anyone might be able to view, were made by hand, with no more than basic hand tools, a lot of knowhow and an immense amount of skill.
As a very final addition to this, not only is father extremely skilled with tools in hand, he is, even now, still renowned for his ability with the masonic ritual, being still able to offer the explanation of the tracing boards in all three craft degrees. I believe that one of his most memorable moments in a long and distinguished career is to have initiated, passed and raised me.”