Celebrating another fantastic Year in East Kent

Experience the unity and creativity at our Annual Provincial Craft Meeting, a pivotal event that brings together over 600 Freemasons from across East Kent and beyond.


An Observer’s observations

I’ve been to lots of Provincial Grand Lodge meetings over the years.

Back in the 1990s we’d hire a minibus and motor down from Maidstone to Margate and the famous Winter Gardens. After the meeting we would chug back to Charing for a pub meal. All very enjoyable – and you felt that you really ‘belonged’.

Nowadays we meet at the County Showground at Detling, in the enormous marquee that is the Clive Emson Conference Centre. Long before we all turn up, the Provincial Office team and the Provincial Escorting team will have been hard at work organising and rehearsing. There’s the seating to be arranged for the Distinguished Visitors, the Grand Officers and those receiving Provincial appointments and promotions. The Choir will be practising for one more time. The Stewards will be rehearsing their perambulations. The Provincial Grand Secretary will be checking that his notes are in order. And so on, and so on. The whole thing has been planned for months and will be carried out with the professional skills of which we can all be proud.


Welcoming the Members to the Meeting, 2 of the Provincial Grand Stewards

From about 1300hrs there is a trickle and then a steady flow of Freemasons arriving at the Centre. I got there at about 1345 and found the ‘Reception’ area already crowded. Time for a quick drink – tea for me – and then to the signing-in and a chance to meet and greet. There’s old Fred: crikey, he’s looking well; must go and have a chat.

Slowly but surely the Provincial machine clicked into gear. “Please be in your seats by twenty past two” came the request over the Tannoy – sorry – public address system. Masons scurried to don their aprons and regalia. Outside the main Lodge Room, Grand Officers were answering the roll call and being lined up. Distinguished Visitors were being treated likewise: most important that everyone should proceed in the right order, to avoid confusion when reaching their seats.

Grand Officers were all in place by 1440hrs, Distinguished Visitors by 1447, Past Leaders by 1450 and Active Officers by 1459. Finally, our Provincial Grand Master, Neil Hamilton Johnstone, was escorted in and took his seat. The Choir, with piano accompaniment, sang an anthem most beautifully. The PGM opened the Provincial Grand Lodge at 1505. The Festival was under way!

In his opening remarks, the PGM was sad to announce that 115 brethren had died during the past year. We all stood as the Provincial Grand Chaplain the Rev Howard Pashley led a prayer in respect of departed merit. The PGM then welcomed the Guests and Visitors, “many of whom have travelled a long way to be with us”.

And so to Item Four on the Agenda. David Heley proposed, and Barry Cleaves seconded, that the Minutes of the last Provincial Grand Lodge Meeting be approved – which they duly were.  The Provincial Grand Secretary’s Report was also approved – nem con, as far as I could see!

Mark Bassant and Peter Rhodes were proposed and accepted as Trustees to the Masonic Charitable Foundation.

The Accounts and Treasurer’s Report were adopted, no doubt to the relief of our Provincial Grand Treasurer, William Daniels. William was re-elected as Treasurer for the ensuing year.

Our PGM had much pleasure in re-appointing Philip Neil South as Deputy Provincial Grand Master, and he was saluted accordingly.

The PGM next paid tribute to Assistant Provincial Grand Master Mark Bassant who was standing down after six years in the role. He re-appointed Mark Costelloe, Duncan Rouse and Trevor Carter as APGMs. They were then saluted accordingly.

So – who was going to take Mark Bassant’s place?

The PGM was pleased to announce that he was appointing Peter Ronald Rhodes, currently the Province’s Grand Charity Steward. Peter “has the experience, enthusiasm and ability” to fulfil the office of APGM. An Escorting party was then assembled. Mark Costelloe, Duncan Rouse, Paul Rhodes (Peter’s brother), Peter’s fellow members of the Royal Kent Lodge of Antiquity No.20 Brian Morris and David Haddell, and Matt Fothergill of the Spirit of Rugby Lodge No.9922, left the Lodge Room and then returned with Peter, who looked very dapper (and with a nice haircut!). Director of Ceremonies Andy Stevens presented a scroll to the PGM, who confirmed that it was in order and requested Provincial Grand Secretary David Graeme to read the patent.

A picture of the Provincial Grand Master Neil Hamilton Johnstone, with the Assistant Provincial Grand Masters, Peter Rhodes Holding his citation.

The image shows WBro Peter Rhodes second from the right. 

There was a little commotion in the south-east corner of the dais where the Distinguished Visitors were seated. One of them had been taken ill. The PGM ordered a suspension of the Ceremony while the brother received treatment and the Provincial Grand Communications Officer Paul Gear got a mop and cleared up. I don’t recall seeing that on his job specification! Anyway, we were pleased to hear that the brother was okay, and the Ceremony then resumed.

Peter Rhodes then recited his Obligation. The PGM invested him, and we all saluted Peter in the usual manner.

Now, at 1600hrs, it was time for another of the highlights of the afternoon: Appointments and Promotions.

The PGM appointed and reappointed his Active Provincial Officers.

He thanked Andy Stevens for the seven years he had served as Provincial Director of Ceremonies. He recognised the “immense amount of work” that Andy had done behind the scenes. He congratulated Andy on “surviving for those seven years” and wished him well. We all applauded.

Andy pictured here on the left

Andy’s successor, Graham Cuthbert, was now ‘in charge’. His first task was to call on the Deputy Provincial Grand Directors of Ceremonies, Peter Martins and Robert Close, to get the Provincial Grand Stewards to start the ‘Carousel’.

This is when those being appointed to Provincial Grand Rank and those getting promoted are escorted by the Stewards to the PGM one at a time to receive their honour. It was nice to see the PGM come down from the dais to greet any brother who had difficulty walking. It was also pleasing to see that some of the brethren appointed had not been through the Chair and had therefore earned their Rank by hard work in other ways.

The Carousel ended at 1657hrs. It had all gone very smoothly. Well done, chaps!

Our new, Provincial Grand Ditrector of Ceremonies, WBro Graham Cuthbert
Andy and gang with gifts and boxes of chocolates on a table.

Next was an item not on the Agenda: an Address by Andy Pilbeam, Past Master of Martello Lodge No.8712 and President of the East Kent Chapter of the Widows’ Sons. “I’ll keep it short and sweet”, said Andy, “just like me”. The Widows’ Sons were motor cycling Masons. They were not a Lodge, but full members all belonged to Lodges. The group was recognised by the United Grand Lodge of England and had its own charter mark. Currently there were forty-three ‘chapters’ in the UK, with forty-three full members in the Province of East Kent. In 2023 they had raised £148,000 for charity. [Applause] In East Kent in the past year, members had raised £8,500, of which £6,500 was for toys and £1,000 for Easter Eggs. Having mentioned some of the upcoming Events planned, Andy said that we could contact ‘Bluebell’ (Jason Davies-Baker of Belvidere Lodge No.503, also Chapter Road Captain and Tyler) via the Widows’ Sons website for further information. The Widows’ Sons, he said, really ENJOYED what they did. And, with a final flourish, he presented a donation of £250 towards the Province’s 2025 Festival. [More applause]

Andy  pictured second left in the picture.

Roger Waltham also presented a cheque from Rose Croix, bringing their contribution up to £4,500. [More applause]

Another special moment was the PGM’s Awards for Merit. This year they were given to Hundred of Hoo Lodge member Peter Horn and Invicta Lodge member Martin Phippen.

At 1718hrs the PGM rose to address us all.

He started by congratulating all those who had been appointed or promoted. He paid a special tribute to retiring APGM Mark Bassant for “the tremendous amount of work he has done” and looked forward to him continuing his good work as Chairman of the 2025 Festival Committee. He also praised retiring Provincial GDC Andy Stevens again and welcomed Graham Cuthbert as Andy’s successor.

There was, he said, much interesting and exciting activity taking place in the Province. Among the Events he was looking forward to were the Consecration of the Motor Cycling Lodge No.10048 in June and the Cornwallis East Kent Freemasons’ Charity awards at Canterbury in November.

Drawing our attention again to the 2025 Festival, he reminded us that there were twenty months left before the Festival ended, and encouraged Lodges to give to the Festival now, when their donations could attract as much as 7% notional interest.

Each of the eight Groups in the Province were appointing Community Liaison Officers, whose job was to raise awareness of Freemasonry by the general public and thereby attract more members. “We should take every opportunity to tell people what we do and the enjoyment we get from it.”

The Membership Challenge was real and continuing. It was especially important to keep in touch with Lodge members who had not been attending regularly.

The Provincial Choir

Finally, the PGM gave a huge ‘thank you’ to our Visitors from other Provinces and to those who had helped in organising the day. He gave special thanks to the Choir, acknowledging the blow they had suffered with the loss of Michael Robin Bailey.

At 1730hrs we gave Alms, accompanied by the Choir singing “Be Still, My Soul”.

There being no other business, the PGM declared the Provincial Lodge closed at 1739hrs.

Once the Exit Procession was over, we gathered up our bits and pieces and made our way out of the Lodge Room. Time for some more circulating or to say goodbye to those who were not staying for the Festive Board.

Four hundred of us then assembled in the Dining Room for our evening meal – braised brisket of beef or baked aubergine for the main course. Tony Eldridge led the Choir in an amusing rendition of “A DC’s lot is not a happy one”.

Our Provincial Grand Master Neil Hamilton Johnstone addressed us all. He once again welcomed Peter Rhodes and Graham Cuthbert to their new roles, and congratulated all those who had been appointed, promoted or received the Award for Merit. He praised the work of the Light Blues Brothers (Masons who had not yet received a Provincial Grand Rank): “they are an essential part of what we do”. His diary was pretty full, as always, what with the Garden Party, consecrating the new Lodge, the Provincial Ball, and so on – leaving precious little time for any divorce proceedings (!). [Much laughter] As if to assuage that thought, he was given a huge bouquet of flowers to take home to his wife Margaret.

At 2044hrs the Provincial Executive proceeded out of the Dining Room. We said our goodbyes and looked forward to our next meeting.

I caught up with our new Provincial GDC Graham Cuthbert. How did he sum up the day? “I’ll admit it was a bit nerve-wracking, but we got there.”

And our PGM? “Whatever we say and whatever we do, in the final analysis it’s all about our Members.” Quite so. And, just as on those old minibus trips, I for one still felt that I really ‘belonged’. 

John Ray

Scenes from the Annual Provincial Craft Meeting

Celebrate the Bond of Friendship and the World of East Kent, at Detling Showground

The Choir
Brother Sam Watson
Group Photo

What Our Brethren Say

‘The annual provincial craft meeting was a remarkable experience. It truly highlighted the strength and unity of our community. I felt a renewed sense of camaraderie with my fellow brethren.’

John H., Ashford

‘Attending the event at Detling Showground was uplifting. It’s incredible to connect with so many members from different areas, all coming together with such harmony and purpose.’

Michael T., Canterbury

‘This year’s meeting not only fostered unity but also deepened my appreciation for our traditions and values. The sense of brotherhood was palpable.’

Richard S., Maidstone

‘Every moment spent at the provincial craft meeting was inspiring. The discussions, the shared experiences, and the collective spirit of brotherhood were truly significant.’

Edward G., Dover

Join Our Province

Discover the heart of Freemasonry at our annual provincial craft meeting in Kent. This event brought together over 600 brethren, celebrating our rich traditions and shared values. Don’t miss this opportunity to connect, learn, and grow with us.