The brethren of Morecambe Lodge No 1561 were honoured by the presence of Assistant Provincial Grand Master David Grainger for the celebration of John Carr Altham’s 60 years as a Freemason. David was accompanied on this commemorative occasion by the Lancaster and District Group Secretary Scott Devine, grand officer Tom Holroyd and acting Provincial grand officer Stewart Aimson. Ensuring the smooth running of the festivities was Provincial Deputy Grand Director of Ceremonies Barry Fitzgerald.
When it was time for the principal guest to enter the lodge room it was to the surprise of all that the Provincial Grand Director of Ceremonies Keith Kemp entered to announce that the Provincial Grand Master stands without and demands admission. The WM Ian Macluskie warmly greeted the PrGM Tony Harrison and as is customary offered him the gavel. Tony thanked Ian for his kind and warm welcome but would return the gavel as it was his intention to come for a relaxing evening.
Following the requisite salutations, the WM offered the gavel to the principal guest David Grainger, who politely answered that it was his intention to retain the gavel on this special evening just for a short while. Having asked for the celebrant to be placed before him and making sure he was sitting comfortably, David embarked on a fascinating and comprehensive biography.
He began by remarking that it was a very different world from today when John took his first breath in October 1932. George V was on the throne and Ramsey MacDonald was the Prime Minister.
John was the second child born to his mother and father Gladys and Robert, having already had a daughter, who they named Doris. Robert ran the family business of Mrs JC Altham and Sons (Lancaster), a ship chandler which had been founded in 1856 by his great grandfather. Ship chandlers is a retail dealer who specialises in supplies or equipment for ships and the family business has furnished supplies for vessels such as ore carriers and tankers when they used to dock at Heysham Port. Nowadays a great deal of the business comes supplying the wind farms and gas rigs in Morecambe Bay.
John’s early schooling was in Morecambe, completing his schooling at Lancaster Royal Grammar School. Having been awarded the School Certificate, John left school at the age of 16 and freely admits that his main achievements at school were taking part in school plays and avoiding rugby.
Upon leaving school, John went to work for a firm of ship chandlers in Leith, Edinburgh, prior to going into the family firm. At the age of 18 National Service called and John joined the Royal Navy, becoming a sub lieutenant after being selected for a National Service Commission. During his service, John remembers meeting two of the three survivors from the sinking of HMS Hudd, when 1,415 men lost their lives in the Denmark Straits.
John’s association with the Royal Navy did not finish at the end of his National Service as he became a member of the Royal Navy Reserve, ending his service in 1977 with the rank of Commandeer RNR. John was awarded the Reserve Decoration in 1967 and it was presented to him by Lord Mountbatten.
Following National Service, John joined the family business in Lancaster, eventually becoming managing director in 1954 until his retirement in 2002. The family business is now run by his daughter.
In 1958, John married Linda Margaret Parker and have celebrated their diamond wedding anniversary this year. At this point David offered John and Linda the very best wishes on behalf of all the brethren present. John and Linda have been blessed with two children, their daughter Jane and Robert their son. They have also been fortunate to have five lovely grandchildren.
It is apparent John has a very high sense of civic duty given the amount of societies and organisations he belongs to. John has been treasurer of the Sailors Children’s Society 1953-1960, a member of Morecambe Round Table 1951-1972, being its president in 1960, a member of the Old Lancastrian Committee 1960-2006 and president of the Old Lancastrian Club in 1990. John was appointed to the Morecambe Magistrates Bench in 1971 and served on the Lancaster and Preston Branch before retiring in 2002. John was also chairman of the Juvenile Bench for eight years and chairman of the North West Magistrates Association. In 1991, John had the honour of being presented to the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh at a reception in St James’s Palace. John is also a member of the Occasional Singers at Lancaster Priory and was honoured with an audience with Pope John Paul in 1985.
John’s Masonic journey started in February 1958, when he stood poor and penniless at the door of Morecambe Lodge. It was at this juncture that the secretary read the minutes from that meeting. John’s uncle initiated him and it was his father who gave the ‘charge after initiation’.
Being passed in May of that year, he was raised by his father in June 1958. John became WM in 1974 and served as treasurer from 2005-2007. John has been a member of Old Lancastrian Lodge No 7451, a member of Plantagenet Lodge of Installed Masters No 9357 and a member of another Masonic Order. John holds the Provincial rank of PPrGSuptWks and was made an honorary member of Morecambe Lodge in 2014.
On concluding his address, David asked the group secretary Scott Devine to read the commemorative certificate which the Provincial Grand Master Tony Harrison had caused to be issued. After which, but in a change from the normal procedure, David asked the PrGM would he honour the occasion and present the certificate to John himself. Tony congratulated John, wishing him the health to enjoy many more years in Freemasonry and hoped he would see him on many more occasions in the future. Tony then asked the brethren to show their appreciation of John’s significant achievement with a round of applause. On receiving his certificate John thanked Tony for taking the trouble to come and greatly appreciated his presence this evening.
John was invited to accompany David on his retirement from the lodge and was then afforded the place of honour at the ensuing festive board in the Morecambe Masonic Hall dining room. Toasts and accolades flowed swiftly and smoothly under the skilful direction of Barry Fitzgerald. It was Scott’s pleasant responsibility to toast the health of the principal guest David Grainger, praising him for all the hard work that he does, both for the group and in the Province. In reply David was keen to point out that this evening was about John Altham and so kept his reply short, thanking the secretary of Morecambe Lodge for his work this evening in making it a success as well as thanking Tom Holroyd, Stewart Aimson and Barry Fitzgerald for their support.
It then fell to the WM Ian to heap further praise on John, remarking that it was an honour to be able to be part of his jubilee celebration. John, amid humorous tales of his past life, thanked each and every person for joining him in celebrating a memorable and highly enjoyable evening.
A very enjoyable celebration concluded with the announcement that the raffle had raised £180.
Article and photographs by Paul Thompson.