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Stepping inside the world of Croydon's Freemasons

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FREEMASONS have had a reputation for secrecy in the past.

But now the Croydon Masons have opened their doors, to give the Advertiser a behind-the-scenes look at what goes on at their temple, in Oakfield Road.

Many of you might imagine dark halls, secret corridors and elderly, middle-class white men drinking a gin and tonic at the bar.

But, according to Jim Cook – a Freemason in Croydon for more than 25 years – what you would actually find is a club which celebrates friendship, community and charity, with people from, it would seem, many walks of life.

"People think we have secrets to reveal" said Mr Cook, "but to be honest, we don't have any secrets."

The Masons are currently recruiting for new members; men to carry on the generations of tradition that they represent.

Mr Cook, who was born and bred in Addiscombe, said: "I have loved my time as a Mason, I have met some of the best people I have ever met here, and there are so many different walks of life.

"It enables me to get to know people that otherwise I would never have met. I am immensely proud of the Masons and we want to shake off this idea that we have secrets, that we have rituals, that we are not open.

"For a long time there was a cloud of secrecy over the organisation, but we are very proud of what we do and we want to share it."

As Mr Cook guides the Advertiser through the Masonic temple, pointing out a banner here or the meaning of a particular object there, he explains: "The Masons used to be very public, they would have parades through the streets.

"Then in the Second World War, the Nazis tarred the Freemasons just as they did the Jewish or the Polish or the Romani, and I think the secrecy came from there.

"Some members also enjoyed that part of it I suppose, but we are eager to move away from that.

"Obviously in our meetings we have certain things that are private, but is that not the same with any club or society?"

The Croydon Lodge of Freedom seems to be mostly split into two different areas; the public area, the dining room, the bar, all places that can be hired out to anyone for a wedding, wake or any event you wish. ("Brilliant catering", adds Mr Cook).

But go upstairs and this is where you will find the Temples; one big, a few small.

Small blue chairs line the room, with three large throne-like seats placed in there too.

Large pieces of stone – some rough, some smooth – are placed on a pedestal next to these chairs, along with different crafted candlesticks, each representing a different style of architecture.

The walls are lined with banners and tapestries, along with portraits of past Masters in full regalia.

"The Masters of the Lodge will sit in the large chairs during the meetings," explains Mr Cook.

"Each candlestick represents a different architecture. One stone is rough, another smooth, and this represents to us learning your trade. The carpet is also black and white chequered, and to us this represents your path through life. Sometimes you will have black periods, sometimes white periods."

These symbols are scattered throughout the Lodge and seem to be the foundation of what Freemasonry is about.

Mr Cook touches on the private meetings that are held four times a year, saying: "These will take the form of one-act plays that display an allegory as such; a lot of what we do is very symbolic.

"But what I love about Freemasonry, as I said, is the fact that you don't talk about politics, or religion. You must believe in one supreme being but that can be anything that is special to you.

"In Israel, the Master of the Grand Lodge there is a Palestinian, which just proves my point."

Older members may be hesitant to welcome in photographers to their Lodges, but younger members know that if they want Freemasonry to continue, they must modernise.

Mr Cook explained: "I have literally just finished the Surrey province Freemason site. If you're not on the internet, you might as well not exist, and we want to show people what we're about.

"People can hire our rooms downstairs. Many people who are not Freemasons have seen our temples, we really don't have any secrets. I am just so passionate about Freemasonry and if a younger man was interested in joining, I would tell him to do it, because you will make lifelong friends. It's not just about old middle class white men anymore, it's about everybody.

"You can go to Cuba and find a Masonic Lodge. Six million people throughout the world can't be wrong. I just feel we've got so much to offer."

Stepping inside the world of Croydon's Freemasons


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