Creating “Masonry Universal” – A Lodge’s success story

By W Bro Chris Connop PSGD

As can be seen on the front of our summons, Highgate Lodge No 1366 was consecrated on the 25th of September 1871, when a few brethren came together in the Gate House Pub in Highgate, a pub that still stands today. It is often falsely assumed that it was in some way attached to the famous Highgate School, but its origins were, in fact, much more downmarket! 

All the evidence suggests that it was not a very successful Lodge, and certainly not a Hall Stone Lodge. At last, however, it is now enjoying great success. The current incarnation of the Lodge dates from the installation meeting that took place on Monday, the 11th of November 1996. The meeting was the culmination of three years of planning, often in a rented room at the Civil Service Club. Initially two, later four and finally, twelve brethren had a dream that they could consecrate a Lodge with a membership that was both international and multicultural. 

The dream took shape when Bros Chris Connop and Hasu Joshi met in a pub in Harringay’s Green Lanes. There, the two grand originals shared their ambitions with two masonic friends of theirs, Bros Stephen Richards and David Major. Shortly afterwards, at least twelve brethren showed an interest. They came from various Lodges around London and Middlesex.

Initially, it was but a mere group of friends who imagined it would be good fun to be in the same Lodge together. The group included Philip Hemsworth, who was scheduled to be director of ceremonies. Sadly, Bro Philip has passed away, but he is still remembered by the Brethren, and at each installation meeting, the "Philip Hemsworth baton" is presented to the new worshipful master.

In the late 1990s, the Metropolitan Grand Lodge of London did not exist, and London was managed by the London Office. There, the Lodge initiated contact with Norman Grimes, who was in charge. He promptly offered his support and, to this day, remains an honorary member. Back then, he made it clear, however, that it would not be appropriate to consecrate a new Lodge when there were so many ailing London Lodges on the intensive care list. The Brethren would have to join one of the failing Lodges. Bro Norman provided a list that included Highgate, a Lodge on the brink of handing in its Warrant. It was chosen because it met at Freemasons’ Hall, which made it more accessible to various brothers. Bro Grimes also told us that it was an Emulation Lodge, the preferred ritual of the group. All twelve joining members were balloted for and accepted as members on the 11th of November 1996. At this meeting, only six members of the original Lodge remained. The group of joining Brethren outnumbered them. The London Office was very pleased with the ease and goodwill of this takeover.

Peace was fragile, though. The working of the Lodge soon became a bone of contention. Most of the group were Emulation Freemasons and were therefore surprised to discover that Highgate was a Taylor's Lodge, contrary to the advice previously received. The joining members were determined to adopt Emulation working, and this, sadly, led to the first resignation. One Brother felt that the Lodge should not be moving away from Taylor's. 

"Nevertheless," says Bro Chris, "we had been an Emulation Lodge from the moment we took the senior offices." At that time, he had begun working at Freemasons’ Hall, originally as Personal Secretary to the Grand Secretary, Commander Michael Higham RN, but his role gradually increased to become more involved in communication and the public image of Freemasonry.

Bro Chris and the team then attracted new candidates from various sources with a focus on those with international connections, as they were ideal for this Highgate Lodge. Soon, the Lodge was able to recruit many outstanding candidates, many of whom ultimately became worshipful masters and are still involved with the Lodge. 

And so, the transformed Highgate Lodge had a very healthy start. The first initiate was Dip Patel, who became a very effective treasurer for many years. He was introduced by some Masonic friends in Middlesex whose Lodge was centred around the Anglican Church in Ruislip and was, therefore, likely to find a more comfortable home in Highgate.

"We like to think that our Lodge has achieved what it set out to achieve. We are proud to be members of a genuinely multicultural Lodge, often labelled 'United Nations of Freemasonry."

Over the years, brethren of the Lodge have represented or been citizens of an enormous number of countries: Albania, Austria, Belgium, Brazil, Bulgaria, Croatia, Germany, Greece, India, Iran, Ireland, Italy, Lithuania, Montenegro, The Netherlands, Poland, South Africa, Serbia, Slovenia, Turkey, The UAE, and Ukraine. Many of these brethren show great commitment and fly in, especially for the meetings.

Of course, all brethren are distinguished in their own way! But, to mention just a few:
          – Dr R. Vujacic was initiated in Highgate and subsequently became Grand Master of the Regular Grand Lodge of Serbia.
                 This helped to raise the status of Highgate in the eyes of Eastern European Freemasons, particularly in Serbia.
                 For a time, he served as Montenegran Ambassador to Germany.
          – Valentin Inzko, An Austrian diplomat who served as High Representative for Bosnia and Herzegovina.
          – Frank Zupanic has been in charge of Air Traffic Control in Slovenia.
          – Dr Markus-Johannes Handl is an eminent plastic surgeon in Vienna.
          – Dr Hendrik Huthoff is a research scientist currently working in Germany.
          – Omaid Hiwaizi is now the Metropolitan Grand Communication Officer.
          – Our master Franz Fischmeister is an eminent jeweller in Vienna.
          – Orson Francescone was appointed Metropolitan Grand Steward.
          – Stan Smith, the outstanding Almoner for a number of years, is now a Senior Mason in Essex.
          – A former member, Pascal Gregoire, is now the Belgian Ambassador to Saudi Arabia.

In keeping with the international perspective, the Lodge has undertaken many trips abroad, often coinciding with the year in the Chair. For example, when Ranko Vujacic was in the Chair, he was working in a senior position within the United Nations in Vienna. He invited the Brethren to a memorable and enjoyable weekend, entertaining them at the UN Headquarters. Henk Vermeulen took them to The Netherlands on two occasions.

They attended a Lodge meeting in Deventer. Michael Berns organized a trip to Munich, Emil Nikolov to Sofia, Bulgaria, Orson Francescone to Dublin, and Frank Zupanic to Slovenia. 

Particularly memorable was the visit to a Turkish Lodge in Tirana, Albania. The Lodge is particularly proud that it was a sponsoring Lodge of the Regular Grand Lodge of Macedonia in Skopje, where Bro Chris acted as grand inner guard. A large group of Highgate members went over there to enjoy the consecration, a rarely performed ceremony.

Grand Lodge invited Highgate to be a sponsoring Lodge as it had been one of the twelve Lodges which undertook the initiation, passing and raising of 23 brethren from Macedonia before they went on to form a regular Lodge in their country. Unfortunately, the outgoing Secretary, Samir Baqui, was not able to be present to celebrate, but no report of the last 25 years of Highgate would be complete without highlighting the magnificent job he has done through the last ten years. To be Secretary of Highgate is a real challenge, given the nature of the Lodge. No one could have performed the role better. He will be a tough act to follow. 

The last two and a half decades are proving to be the golden age of Highgate. This special Lodge is undoubtedly one of the success stories of London. The members are proud of the values Highgate demonstrates – tolerance, mutual and international understanding, harmony, and friendship.

The Lodge meets on five Saturday mornings and Arena readers are welcome to go and visit anytime.

This article is part of the Arena Magazine, Issue 50 December 2022 edition.
Arena Magazine is the official magazine of the London Freemasons – Metropolitan Grand Lodge and Metropolitan Grand Chapter of London.

Read more articles in the Arena Issue 50 here.