Many years ago I won a contract based in Swindon and it was far enough away from home that I had to stay over at a Hotel in the Old Town. I could get to where I was working by public transport and so I travelled by bus to and from work and on Monday and Friday got the train to and from Swindon.
One Friday night I was travelling back to the station when I saw this older chap with a small brown case, a dark suit and tie. I remember thinking to myself “It’s a bit late to be going to a funeral?”. At the next stop, quite close to my Hotel, he got off and I twigged that he must have been a Freemason. The following week I spoke to the Landlady of my Hotel saying that I’d seen this man and wondered where the Masonic Meeting he might be going to was. Her husband had been a Mason and she pointed out just along the road where the Masonic Centre (The Planks) was and so I took myself off there that evening and knocked on the door and met the Centre Manager and had a long chat over a few pints about who met there and it was brilliant as I was introduced to several Masons who were there and they gave me details of their Lodge meetings and contacts.
Typically, Freemasons are a welcoming bunch and I got invited to a meeting the following week. These meetings always started at very reasonable hours allowing me to get back to the Hotel, get changed and be in time for the meeting, I could just turn up and order a meal for other meetings too. I was made very welcome and it was somewhat disconcerting that as I was a new Provincial Grand Steward, with a Red Apron, I was often made to sit to the right of the Worshipful Master with the Grand Officers! The DCs were very insistent that I was well looked after! I was also often asked to respond to the Visitor’s Toast a fair number of times which was not an onerous task at all as the welcome I received at every meeting and the warmth of the members made it a pleasure.
There were lots of meetings and I worked there for around a year. Some members came to West Kent to see us which was very nice of them and I had a really lovely time there, so hospitable and friendly and that’s one of the great things about Freemasonry, you have like-minded people around the country and you are made to feel welcomed and “one of the family”. The Lodges there met more often than we do and they were very tightly knit, regular events including a monthly Sunday Lunch with the widows of the Lodges also seemed to bring a community feel to their meetings and to hear the Almoner working out a rota of members to help out the older and sick members and widows with transport, shopping etc was a real eye opener.
I have very fond memories of Methuen Lodge No. 8692, the first I visited and who welcomed me and introduced me to all the other Lodges there. Their Secretary made sure that I met all the other members of the Lodge and also connected me to the Secretaries of the other Lodges meeting there. I visited (in no particular order) Royal Sussex Lodge of Emulation No. 355, Gooch Lodge No.1295, Pleydell Lodge No. 4687, Harry C Preater Lodge No. 8204, New Temple Lodge No. 8435 and last but not least George Duke of Kent Lodge No. 8788. The Provincial Website for Wiltshire is here https://www.pglwilts.org.uk/.
All things come to an end of course and I completed my time there but have fond memories of some great meetings and of course the caring and welcoming attitude of those wonderful Wiltshire Brethren.