St Helens Catenian Circle History by Ron Parr continues….

Click Here to read Circle History Foreword

Click Here to read Circle History Part One

Click Here to read Circle History Part Two

The first St Helens Council Meeting was held on June 23rd 1914 at the Royal Raven Hotel…

The members present were the elected officers of the Circle. Additional councillors as we have today were obviously not required. At this first council meeting the discussions concentrated on the first annual dinner. It was decided to write to the Lord Mayor of Manchester inviting him to be the principal guest at the dinner and asking him what free dates he had between October 1st and November 8th 1914. Interestingly the council decide to wait to hear from him before contacting the Archbishop of Liverpool to ask him to come along as a guest. After all, at this period in the life of the Association the relationship with the Church Hierarchy was good.

Why the Lord Mayor of Manchester? Why was he the preferred principal guest? Why not the Mayor of St Helens? The question begged further research and revealed that in 1914 the Lord Mayor of Manchester was Alderman Sir Dan McCabe, the first catholic Lord Mayor since the Reformation. Records show that he was elected in 1913 and was so popular that he was returned to office for a second term. Furthermore he was a Catenian, a member of Manchester No 1 Circle, he was no doubt, ‘proudly Catholic’. The Protestant press had a field day when, on Mayor’s Sunday, he chose to attend his own church rather than a service in the Anglican Church.

The Circle minutes record that both their Lordships responded and expressed their willingness to attend our first annual dinner. Sadly there is no record of the actual date, nor if it was successful. I have also checked back issues of our local papers (remembering that one of our brothers owned one of the local papers) but with no success.

In those early years the meetings were somewhat different than those of today. The evening was divided into three parts. Firstly, there was the business meeting. The President opened the meeting and then initiated new members. This was immediately followed by reading out the names of recently deceased brothers and the recitation of the De Profundis for the repose of their souls. Then followed a half hour or so given over to ‘social activities’ when most circles allowed one or two drinks, a smoke and a sandwich. The third and main item of the evening was the social element, when there was often a lecture, debate or discussion and very often, musical entertainment.

Peter Lane, in his book, suggests that a Catenian time traveller would be surprised to find that almost every brother was expected to make a contribution to the evening’s entertainment, be it song or verse. One example of this form of self- entertainment existed at Waterloo Circle (this circle was founded in 1920 and lost its charter a year or so ago). Up to its demise, the Circle hosted a smoking competition aptly named the ‘Waterloo Smoker’ in which all participants were issued with a new clay pipe and a fill of tobacco, the winner being the person who managed to keep his pipe burning for the longest. This was followed by some form of entertainment. Jim Finnegan, a brother of Waterloo and Ormskirk Circles told me that his sister, now in her nineties, used to sing at the ’Smoker’ when in her late teens and early twenties.

Peter Lane in his ‘History of the Association’, states that “musical evenings continued to be the normal pattern for social evenings with brothers and their guests playing the piano, singing a few arias and light classical airs”. But in May 1924 a series of reports gave a forewarning of the demise of this form of entertainment. It would seem that in Waterloo, Manchester, Glasgow and Liverpool Circles, brothers were spending some part of their meeting ‘listening in’ to the wireless!

In July 1915 the Circle resolved that an Entertainments Committee, consisting of Brothers Ashcroft, Davies, Shacklady and Seddon, be formed to “organise and arrange the social part of the programme at monthly circle meetings”.

In December 1915, Father Hungerford Pollen SJ of St Joseph’s, Oakwood Hall, Romily gave a talk on ‘Retreats For Laymen’. One must assume that he was visiting the Jesuit priests at Lowe House and didn’t travel all the way from Romily to give his talk!

On Wednesday November 21st 1917, 13 brothers from Wigan Circle visited St Helens. It is recorded (in Catena) that at the social part of the meeting Reverend Father Riley, Rector of Lowe House, expressed “his joyful surprise to see such a happy gathering of brothers”. The musical part of the evening was provided by Brothers Webster, Healy and Wood of Wigan Circle and also by Brothers Conlan and Ashcroft of St Helens. A Private Grimes and a Mr Joe Farrell, both non Catenians, provided further entertainment.

These were the early days of our association when brothers listened to proposals for the development of new circles, changes to procedure and the involvement of Catenians in social and educational matters. In the very early editions of Catena it is interesting to note how many circles were engaged in deep and serious discussions on the provision of secondary education for Catholic children.

We must also remember that when our Circle was formed World War 1 had just started and must have occupied the minds of most people and our Circle brothers would be no exception. Belgian refugees were arriving in England, many of them being housed in the North West. Indeed 2000 came to Manchester and Brother Dan McCabe, Lord Mayor of Manchester and as previously mentioned, a Catenian, organised a Belgian Refugee Committee to find homes for them. He was greatly assisted by The Grand Secretary, Joe Shepherd, who called upon Catenians to help in this humanitarian work. Brother Shepherd was later to receive the C.B.E. and a medal from the King of Belgium for his work.

St Helens Circle played some part in this task. Our records show that the Secretary sent letters to all the clergy enquiring what action they were taking and to urge them to seek a meeting with the Mayor of St Helens to “ensure that all Belgian Catholic refugees  shall be safeguarded both in their religion and otherwise”. Two brothers from Wigan Circle (Baron and Webster) attended a circle council meeting at the Royal Raven Hotel to explain how the Wigan Belgian Refugee Committee was operated and funded.

The St Helens Newspaper and Advertiser records that on October 16th 1914 a deputation of priests and Catholic gentlemen had a meeting with the Mayor, Sir David Gamble. Brothers Frodsham, Hollingsworth and Baron were members the delegation. As a result of the meeting a committee was formed, chaired by the Mayor, to give help to the refugees. The Newspaper further records that the first group to arrive in the town were housed at The Elms, Cowley Hill Lane, having been met at Dover ‘by Mr F.P. Dromgoole and two nuns from Notre Dame’. This house, which still stands, was loaned to the committee by the representatives of the late Mt T. Brewis. It had nine bedrooms and had been equipped with 22 beds to house between 45 and 50 refugees. As a matter of interest, the committee had looked at the Mansion House in Victoria Park but found it to be in a filthy state and therefore rejected it!

Soon after formation the Circle Council must have been aware of the need to increase membership because at the Council Meeting held on 23rd June 1914, it was agreed that Bro. Dromgoole should ‘see to the Ballot Box’. By  this I assume he was authorised to purchase it. One wonders whether or not the ballot box used today is the one purchased in 1914. Personally I believe it is. Those of us who have seen and used it would agree that it is certainly old and somewhat battered. It was first used at a council meeting held on October 9th 1914 when voting took place on the admission of Messrs Kean, Glover, A. Dromgoole, H. Chisnall and A. Shacklady (the father our present Brother Basil Shacklady). These gentlemen were enrolled and initiated on December 8th 1914. Today, brothers are only enrolled, initiation is no longer carried out. So what happened at an initiation? Was the ceremony similar to today? Sadly I am unable to comment despite extensive research. Our minutes do record however that at the Circle Meeting held on January 15th 1915, the five new brothers mentioned above were ‘shown the signs of recognition’’.

The Circle Roll, which only appears at Circle meetings when a new brother is to be enrolled, is the original roll signed by our founding brothers when the Circle was first inaugurated. At the top of the Roll are words to the effect that each brother signing it, promises that he will not divulge what goes on at a Circle meeting. In the early years of our Association a brother, when he attended his second meeting, was shown the signs of recognition that could be used to indicate to another that he was a Catenian.

I have researched this and as far as I can ascertain, one of the signs was to pull the knot of one’s tie slightly to the left and if the other person was a Catenian he would pull his tie slightly to the right. In today’s world we would probably be very amused at the thought of men walking down a busy street pulling ties to the left and the right! We must remember however that our founding brothers lived in a business world dominated by freemasons, many of whom were anti Catholic. There may have been other signs of recognition but as yet I have been unable to trace them and it is to be noted that there was no widespread agreement on the use of signs of recognition. Some circles considered them ‘inadequate and undignified’ whilst others wanted them retained as important emblems of our Catenian identity.

Signs were also used on business and visiting cards. One wrote one’s Roll Number, Circle Number and year of enrolment one above the other at the side of the card. The recipient, if he were a Catenian, was supposed to do whatever he could to help a brother.

If a brother happened to be late for a meeting or if he were a visitor, a sign of recognition was necessary. He would be required to knock at the room door, which was guarded, by ‘The Tyler’ (in 1908) or ‘Brother Guard’ (from 1909). He would quote his Roll Number, Circle Number and Province to the Guard so that his credentials could be checked from the Association’s year Book before being allowed to enter.

St Helens Circle History Part Four


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