The 157th ‘Grand Ball and Banquet’ which was held at the Macron Stadium at Bolton, was hailed yet again as an overwhelming success. Almost 500 ‘party people’ joined the President of the event, Provincial Grand Master Tony Harrison and his wife Maureen in a great ‘night out’ that was both visually spectacular and, to quote one participant, ‘a cracking, good do!’ As usual, all the gentlemen wore full Craft or Royal Arch regalia, with masters and first principals proudly wearing the collars of office from their respective lodges and chapters.
The Chairman and vice chairman of the Ball, John Lee and Jonathon Heaton who are respectively the Provincial Senior and Junior Grand Wardens, together with their wives Kathryn and Sarah joined Tony and Maureen in welcoming guests at the reception before the dinner. Present masters and first principals of lodges and chapters, together with their partners gathered in the Hall of Fame Suite where there was a very happy and lively atmosphere, mirrored by the many other guests who were enjoying a drink and chat in the adjoining Lion of Vienna Suite, in the company of the Assistant Provincial Grand Masters and Assistants to the Provincial Grand Principals.
Once all the guests had taken their places in the main dining suite, the principal guests and their ladies were formally introduced by Provincial Deputy Grand Director of Ceremonies Malcolm Bell and they processed into the hall to loud applause. A very appropriate and humorous toast was given by the Provincial Chaplain, Rev Canon Godfrey Hirst, prior to the banquet being served. ‘Heathcote & Co’, the event caterers once again provided a four-course menu that met the high standards usually associated with the ‘Macron Convention Centre’ both in terms of quality and service.
With the diners happily relaxing for a short time after the excellent meal, the Grand Ball Chairman, John Lee welcomed everyone. He began by saying:” Can I extend to you all a very warm welcome to this the 157th Grand Ball, and of course, to this iconic venue here in Bolton. This is, without doubt, the premier social event of the Masonic calendar, so let me begin by thanking you all for making the effort, taking the time to be present and for parting with your hard- earned money to make this such a wonderful event and spectacle.”
He continued:” My thanks must rightly be extended to those brothers who have put this stunning event together. I refer to the organisational committee namely Andrew Wiltshire, Tony Bent, Peter Pemberton, Ian Walton and my vice chairman Jonathan Heaton. Furthermore, to the staff of the Macron for looking after our every need and also to those exceptionally hard working directors of ceremonies for steering us in the right direction under the watchful eye of our Deputy Provincial Grand Director of Ceremonies Malcolm Bell. Please let us not forget the wonderful musical accompaniment provided by Ray Dainton during the meal we have so much enjoyed.
That meal has now been consumed so let us enjoy the ‘Grand March’ and our fabulous band ‘Groovething’, and more importantly, each other’s company. If the Great Architect of the Universe is watching from above, the very least we can do is entertain him or her. I trust you will all continue to have a fantastic evening and many thanks again for your unconditional support. Thank you.”
With those inspiring words of encouragement fresh in everyone’s memory, the team of DC’s quickly oversaw the gathering of the distinguished guests onto the ‘starting grid’ of the ‘Grand March’ chequered pavement. As usual, Tony and Maureen were in ‘pole position’ and flanked by Philip and Anne Gunning on one side, with Danny and Kath Jones on the other. As the first musical notes rang out, the march began with literally hundreds of couples being led the length of the dance floor by those dual masters of choreographic intricacy, Neil MacSymons and Barrie Crossley. As the serried ranks advanced towards the stage area with the seemingly unstoppable force of a mini tsunami, out stepped the brave figure of Malcolm Bell who deftly authorised the use of a ‘legal U turn’, which action promptly saved the day!
It would prove almost impossible to describe the apparent combination of chaos and precision that typifies the ‘Grand March’ but it’s undoubtedly the most eagerly anticipated feature of this annual event. The row upon row of exuberant and laughing participants, once again proved the enjoyment and fun that this march adds to a great evening.
At the end of the march, or more accurately, when the majority felt unable to ‘march’ any further the exhilarated and noisy assembly returned to their tables and the brethren were able to remove their regalia. One wag was heard to remark that ‘the only way he was going to be restored to his personal comforts was if somebody brought him a settee to lay down on’!
The night then moved into top gear with the band providing a popular mix of music which enabled some of those on the dance floor to prove that, the Province of West Lancashire really has got talent! As the night all too quickly reached its climax, Jonathon Heaton thanked everyone for making the evening such a success and encouraged them to return in even greater numbers next year. At the end of expressing further thanks to the many contributors to the Grand Ball’s organisation, he wished everyone a safe homeward journey.