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The social circuit: Freemasonry and Isle of Man TT racing

The social circuit

 ‘Motorcycling is about friendship and it engenders a spirit of. There is a similar fraternal bond between Freemasons’

When king of speed Charlie Collier won the first Isle of Man Tourist Trophy (TT) race in 1907, he wore a three-piece tweed suit and was almost disqualified for having pedals on his bike. In the early days of TT, it wasn’t uncommon to have to get off and push, and the Mountain Circuit was basically a horse-and-cart track; it was the duty of the first rider around in the morning to open the gates along the way, and the last rider was responsible for shutting them.

Collier’s average speed of 38.21mph may seem painfully slow by today’s standards but the race was groundbreaking. From these rudimentary beginnings, the event has developed into a world-famous annual spectacle, and remains one of the most exciting road races on the motorcycle racing calendar. Now, 105 years since TT’s birth, a lodge on the island has been consecrated to celebrate this illustrious history.

With many arriving by bike, 171 people came from all over the UK to take part in the consecration ceremony on 14 July. ‘The Provincial Grand Master of Hampshire and the Isle of Wight rode up here with his wife on pillion, and the next day we took him for a guided spin around the TT track. It was a fantastic day,’ enthuses Nigel Bowrey, Director of Ceremonies at the Isle of Man Tourist Trophy Lodge. ‘After the formal ceremony and the festive board that followed, we sat around until midnight exchanging motorcycling tales.’

A past racer who has owned 37 bikes, Nigel has toured North Africa down to the Sahara, as well as undertaking a two-month tour in Australia covering nearly 8,000 miles. ‘I think my most epic journey was a 10,000-mile trip across America and back.’

Brotherhood of the road

The connection between motorcycling and Freemasonry might seem a stretch, but there are striking similarities in their code of conduct and behaviour. ‘When you pass a motorcyclist on the road you wave at one another. It is totally normal to engage in conversation with someone on a bike that you meet at a stop, because motorcycling is about friendship and it engenders a spirit of ,’ explains Nigel.

‘And there is a similar fraternal bond between Freemasons where you have a huge network of people you can rely on, even though you don’t necessarily know one another at the outset.’

The Isle of Man link between Freemasonry and motorcycling reaches back to the turn of the century. In 1912, Lieutenant Governor Lord Raglan, one of the men responsible for initiating road races, became Provincial Grand Master of the Isle of Man, perhaps forging the first connection. Today, the members of the TT Lodge are all motorcycle enthusiasts, many of whom are still heavily involved in the TT race and other motorcycle events that take place annually.

With several other UK lodges sharing a passion for biking, the TT Lodge is in good company. The surge started in 2000 with the consecration of the Lodge of the Chevaliers de Fer, No. 9732, in Basingstoke. There is also the Sussex Motorcycling Lodge, No. 9871, consecrated in August 2012. Some lodges are named after TT alumni, including the Mike Hailwood Lodge, No. 9839, the Graham Milton Lodge, No. 9796, and the Joey Dunlop Lodge of Mark Master Masons, No. 1881. Freemasonry in the UK often has to work hard to retain, let alone increase, membership, but the motorbike lodges are thriving.

‘We want to broaden our appeal, particularly to younger people. It’s been the success of the other biking lodges that encouraged us to set up the Isle of Man Tourist Trophy Lodge,’ says Nigel. ‘We want to say to people, “We’re not a bunch of tired old masons, we’re a bunch of active motorcycle enthusiasts with an associated interest in Freemasonry.’”

Need for speed

The Motor Car Act of 1903 set the speed limit in the UK at 20 miles per hour. Of course, most cars couldn’t go this fast, and most people didn’t have cars, but for the Automobile Club of Great Britain and Ireland, it was a severe dampener. How were they to test their new, ever-more powerful machines, if they were limited to crawling around country lanes?

So the club plotted. Secretary Sir Julian Orde had a bright idea: his cousin Lord Raglan was the Lieutenant Governor of the Isle of Man. The Manx Government was autonomous and not bound by the same laws, so with some gentle persuasion from Lord Raglan, they were encouraged to permit public roads to be closed so ‘high speed reliability trials’ could take place.

In 1904 the International Car Trials were held there, with motorbike trials added a year later. The first 125-mile race was won by JS Campbell in four hours, nine minutes and 26 seconds, with an average speed of 30.04mph, despite a fire in the pit stop.

Letters to the editor – No. 21 Spring 2013

 

Motorcycling lodges 

 

Sir,

 

I was interested to read the article on motorcycling lodges in the winter 2012 edition. I had always understood that Harry Rembrandt (Rem) Fowler won the first Isle of Man TT race in 1907 as I was distantly related to him. I was therefore surprised to see Charlie Collier credited with that distinction.

 

After a little research, I discovered that in 1907 two races were held on the TT short course, with Harry Rem Fowler winning the twin cylinder class on a Peugeot-engined Norton at 36.22mph and Charlie Collier the single cylinder class on a Matchless at 38.22mph. They each set the fastest lap in their respective classes, Fowler at 42.91mph and Collier at 41.81mph. The TT short course was used for only four years, and in 1911 the TT race moved to the mountain course, which is still used today.

I am still in frequent contact with Rem’s granddaughter – my cousin, who still has some of his memorabilia. Incidentally, Rem died in 1963 and is buried in the churchyard of St James the Great in Shirley, Solihull, Warwickshire.

 

John Hayward, Lodge of Faith and Hope, No. 4772, Edgbaston, Warwickshire