AFTER 28 years as a freemason, George Laws is backing a policy of openness in the movement - and now he has gone a step further by compiling a book on freemasonry.
Mr Laws, who holds the rank of past provincial junior grand warden, retired last year from the voluntary position of company secretary of the Wallsend Masonic Hall Company.
The hall is used by 14 freemasons’ lodges, totalling around 550 members.
“We have been doing a lot of revamping and redecorating of the hall and a lot of members were asking questions about the place so I thought it was very necessary to make information available to masons and local history people,” said Mr Laws. “Freemasonry both nationally and locally has embarked on a campaign of openness through the Freemasonry in the Community initiative, and that was also part of the motivation for the book.
“It is all part of trying to dispel the misinformation and mystique and get over to people that masons are just ordinary blokes pursuing an interest which is relatively private.
“But there is 100% more information available now than when I joined the craft. I knew nothing about freemasonry when I joined through the family route.”
Mr Laws, who lives in Wallsend and ran a business in the engineering and building maintenance sector, added: “Some people within freemasonry in the past have not helped because they made a big deal about secrecy, and secrecy always arouses suspicion.”
Mr Laws, who has twice been master of the Wallsend Segedunum lodge, has not revealed all in his book.
“I have gone as far as it is realistic and sensible to go and I hope it awakens people’s curiosity. Freemasonry is not a secret society but it is a society with secrets,” he said.
“It is about like-minded men who want to lead a decent life getting together and enjoying each other’s company while working for the good of the community and raising money for all sorts of charities.” On the wearing of Masonic regalia, such as aprons, Mr Laws said: “It is nothing more than tradition, like judges wearing wigs and long gowns.”
On the suggestion that freemasonry confers certain “advantages”, he said: “That is frowned upon. We are told that there is no way you should seek advantage through the fact that you are a mason.”
He also outlined the origins behind some Masonic rituals.
He said: “Having one leg of your trousers rolled up shows that you are not manacled and are a free man, while an open shirt with the left breast showing confirms you are not a woman. There are recognition signals in a handshake but these are from the days of the original stone masons.”
Gone are the days when would-be masons had to wait to be invited to join.
Mr Laws said: “Nowadays a person can make their own approach and our lodge holds gentlemen’s open invitation evenings where people can learn about freemasonry.
“Freemasonry is open to everyone, and in my lodge there are all sort of people, although you must not have a criminal record.”
A History of Freemasonry in Wallsend is published by Summerhill Books at £9.99, with this month marking the 120th anniversary of the laying of the foundation stone of Wallsend Masonic Hall.