THEY are famous for closely guarding their mysterious rituals, but now Croydon's aging Freemasons are on a publicity drive in a desperate search for young blood.
In an unprecedented move, one of the borough's long-established lodges has decided to open its doors to "a new generation" fearing their secrets may die out.
The Croydon Lodge of Freedom was established during the Second World War, and along with other lodges throughout the world, has flourished in the shadows.
One-time Master David Dawson, 82, has been a member of the Croydon Lodge of Freedom for 50 years in September, and has told the Advertiser just what a young man could expect if he joined the group.
"People used to find out about us through word of mouth but that seems to have faded, as it has with many clubs and societies nowadays.
"We are an aging group and we don't have enough young people joining; we want a new generation of Freemasons to carry on our rituals. To my knowledge we haven't publicly recruited in this way before; it is unprecedented."
Freemasonry is often quoted as a closed society, but Mr Dawson said that this is not the case.
"We don't like to use the word secret, but we have certain private matters which we keep to ourselves, although they are only relevant to ourselves and they are no threat to society.
"There is knowledge and information we have that has been passed down the Freemasons through hundreds of years.
"There have been books written and every now and then someone will make a TV programme, not all being correct.
"There have been times where people have got themselves some infamy from publishing our secrets.
"Anyone around the age of 25 or over would be perfect. I have enjoyed my 50 years here and made many friends.
"We can offer comradery, brotherly love – you always have someone there to support you.
"It is also very social; we have four dinner events a year and a formal ladies night as well. But it is necessary for our members to believe in a supreme being, no matter what their faith. It is a commitment in some aspects, especially if you want to progress, but it will give you confidence."
The Freemasons are also known for their charity work, with the United Grand Lodge of England having donated £75 million last year, beaten only by the National Lottery.
Mr Dawson said: "That money all comes out of our pockets and one of the things I have most enjoyed is seeing my donations to charity being well used.
"I have loved my time as a Freemason, I was Master of the lodge at one point and it is good to know I am part of something that is hundreds of years old.
"We are looking for a new generation of Freemasons; our group is getting too old and we want the young men to come through before we fade off."
David believes he is the oldest freemason in the group, while the youngest is Jamie Arnold, 36, who was initiated in September 2011. He told the Advertiser: "As a young, new Freemason I have found it challenge but it has helped my confidence grow and created a desire within me to learn and fulfil my potential.
"I have made a number of new friends and am enjoying the experience; I would encourage other young men to join us."
The annual membership fee is £205 and this includes four evening dinners.
To learn more visit the Masonic Centre in Oakfield Road, Croydon, on April 27 from 2 to 4.45pm.
Refreshments will be provided.
A tour of the centre will be arranged and wives and partners are also welcome. Free car parking is available in Stanton Road.
Visit www.freedom5878.org.uk for more information.
- Freemasonry is a fraternal organisation that initially arose from the loose organisation of medieval stone workers working in the medieval building industry.
- Early organisational forms included "lodge" incorporations and craft guilds.
- Freemasonry now exists in various forms all over the world, with membership estimated at around six million.
- There are approximately 150,000 members of the Grand Lodge of Scotland and Grand Lodge of Ireland, more than a quarter of a million under the United Grand Lodge of England, and just under two million in the United States.
- The first Grand Lodge, the Grand Lodge of London and Westminster (later called the Grand Lodge of England), was founded in June 24 1717, when four existing London lodges met for a joint dinner.
- Masons conduct their meetings using a ritualised format.
- Candidates for regular Freemasonry are required to declare a belief in a supreme being.
- The discussion of politics and religion is forbidden within a Masonic Lodge.
- In the ritual, the supreme being is referred to as the "Great Architect" of the universe.
- Freemasons use signs, grips or tokens, and words to gain admission to meetings and identify legitimate visitors.
- Some examples of Masonic charities include homes that provide sheltered housing or nursing care, education with both educational grants or schools, such as the Royal Masonic School, which are open to all and not limited to the families of Freemasons, and medical assistance.