In this article W. Bro. Don Peacock interviews W. Bro. Aubrey Newman, one of the leading Masonic Historians of our time and of course a prominent member of the Province of Leicestershire and Rutland. We commence with the citation issued by Grand Lodge in 2017, which gives some of the background to Aubrey’s career.
13 SEPTEMBER 2017 ORDER OF SERVICE TO MASONRY CITATION FOR W BRO PROFESSOR AUBREY NORRIS NEWMAN, PJGD
Bro Aubrey Newman was made a mason in December 1967, just after his 40th birthday, in John of Gaunt Lodge No. 523, in Leicester, serving as its Master in 1981 (and again in 2000, after putting in a five year stint as Secretary from 1994 to 1999). In 1984 he joined Lodge of Research No. 2429, also in Leicester, becoming its Master in 1996. In 1990 he became a member of Quatuor Coronati Lodge No. 2076, the Premier Lodge of Masonic Research, and was its Master in 1998. He was exalted into the Royal Arch in St. Martin’s Chapter No. 3431 in 1984, becoming its First Principal in 1990. He is a Past Provincial Junior Grand Warden, as well as a Past Provincial Grand Scribe N, of Leicestershire and Rutland. In 2004 he received the rank of Past Assistant Grand Director of Ceremonies, and in 2016 was promoted to Past Junior Grand Deacon.
As a lecturer, and in due course Professor, in History at the University of Leicester, Bro Newman has had a distinguished academic career and is now an Emeritus Professor of the University. His particular specialities are the Eighteenth Century and British Jewish History up to the present day, in which connection he is a Vice-President (and former President) of the Jewish Historical Society of England. In 1990 he founded what is now the Stanley Burton Centre for Holocaust Studies at Leicester – the oldest holocaust research centre at a British University – of which he remains as Honorary Associate Director. He has the additional distinction of having the annual Aubrey Newman Lecture, instituted in 2006, named after him.
As might be expected from his background, Bro Newman’s outstanding contribution to Freemasonry has been in the area of masonic research, covering such diverse matters as the history of the Provinces, and Jews in English Freemasonry. He was Prestonian Lecturer in 2003 (The contribution of the Provinces to the development of English Freemasonry) and for over ten years has chaired the Editorial Committee of Quatuor Coronati Lodge. Most recently, he was the joint organiser of the highly successful Tercentenary Conference in Queens’ College, Cambridge in September 2016, the proceedings at which have recently been published in a volume (running to over 700 pages) Reflections on 300 Years of Freemasonry. Though he is now in his ninetieth year, his researches continue.
Bro. Don - Bro. Aubrey, you and I have collaborated on a number of projects including the History of our Province and you have told me some of your own personal history but I am sure there is much more you could tell us.
Firstly, Bro. Aubrey could you tell us a little about your formative years and what influences directed you to an academic career as an historian?
I suppose that I took it for granted that I would go to University; my parents wanted me to read Medicine but I dislike blood and in Scottish Universities the course for the first two years included detailed practical anatomy. And when I was due to graduate I had the option – of doing my military service or going on immediately to Oxford. I decided to do my national service first and once I had started Oxford I just continued reading History. At Oxford there was a gap of time between the end of the exam period and the viva examination. I decided to kill time by sitting for the Civil Service entrance. There were two parts to that – up to 1,000 marks for the written exam and three hundred for the intensive interviews.. I discovered later that I had 700 plus for the written exams but less than 70 out of 300 for the interviews. They obviously decided that I was NOT Civil Service material. I don’t think that there was anyone else who had such a wide difference between the two elements of the exam. After that, there was not very much I could do with a History degree but teach, preferably in a University. There were no jobs being advertised for four years but eventually I got Leicester, where I have been since 1959.
Secondly, you are renowned as a Historian specializing in the Holocaust and you have lectured extensively on this subject as well as being Emeritus Professor at the Holocaust Centre at Leicester University. Would you like to tell us more about this and how your own researches were influenced by events that happened in your family circle?
Holocaust came by accident. I was originally a specialist in 18th century political history, prepared however to teach anything from 1500 to the present time. But sometime in the late 60s the then Chief Rabbi visited Leicester; I was introduced to him as Dr Newman. When he realized that I was not a mere medic but an academic I was summoned back to the presence and told that a training college for Ministers had just lost its resident historian; he instructed me that I had to come down to London and teach there one afternoon a week on Modern Jewish History. When I said that I knew nothing about it he told me that I could always read it up in advance!! A little later the University started to modify its syllabus and I was asked to lay on a course in modern Jewish history for its (largely non-Jewish) students. Later on, in the early 80s I was invited to spend a semester in an American University teaching a course on the Holocaust. Accordingly when I came back to Leicester I was asked to create a special course on The Holocaust. But I have never claimed to be an expert on that subject nor to have conducted research on it. I merely liked teaching and the class proved to be popular.
But so far as I and my family are concerned my father came to this country when he was a child, and if any of my family perished in the Holocaust I have no knowledge of it.
Could you tell us about your interest in Freemasonry and how you came to join the Order?
My father was a Freemason in Glasgow, Montefiore Lodge, and served for many years as its Treasurer. But my mother was reluctant about becoming the principal guest at the Lodge Ladies’ Night, so that my father never had the opportunity of becoming Worshipful Master. But he did become quite prominent, and when the Grand Lodge of Israel was founded under the auspices of the Grand Lodge of Scotland in 1953 he was included in the delegation from Glasgow, and presented the new Grand Lodge its official Volume of the Sacred Law. By this time I was living away from home and never had the opportunity - or even desire – to join his Lodge. But the year before I came to Leicester I was teaching part time at Nottingham University and learnt of the problems they were having in establishing a University Lodge there. But I never took seriously the possibility of becoming a Freemason myself until I met various persons in Leicester who were in the Craft. Their example led me to consider it, but I decided not to start the process until I was properly established in my career in the University and no longer on one-year contracts. At that stage it transpired there was a waiting list for initiation; my sponsors were members of John of Gaunt Lodge, but it was not until I was 40, in 1967, that I was eventually initiated. As I have already indicated, it was on that night that I realized a link between my academic interest – the politics of Eighteenth-century Britain - and my Freemasonry.
Over the years I also increasingly became interested in the founder of John of Gaunt Lodge, William Kelly, but my first opportunity of Masonic Research came when I was invited to deliver a lecture to the Loughborough Lodge of Installed Masters on ‘Fit and Proper Persons’, the subject being individuals who became Freemasons in the eighteenth century. It was this which led to an invitation to deliver a version of that lecture to the Leicester Lodge of Research and indeed also to an invitation from the then secretary of the Quatuor Coronati Lodge, Revd. Neville Barker Cryer.
What particular Masonic subjects are of interest to you as an historian? You have specialized a lot on the career of William Kelly a Past PGM of our Province and used that research to write many interesting papers that have told us more about him as a person and a Freemason. Can you sum up your appreciation of him as a PGM and leader of other Degrees in our Province?
I am interested in why individuals became Freemasons. It is, I think, linked with social status. Certainly the difference between the so-called Moderns and Antients in the 18th and very early 19th century is so linked. And the arguments during the nineteenth century over Provincial Grand Masters are equally linked to social background and status. In that context William Kelly sticks out from his social origins and his own obvious ambition. He clearly had inspired great affection in the Province, as shown not only in the way he secured his appointment as Provincial Grand Master in the Mark Degree but also in the way in which Lord Zetland had no alternative but to appoint him Provincial Grand Master in the Craft. His continuing involvement with, and over, all the degrees which subsequently appeared in Leicester testifies to the way in he dominated Masonry. In looking at the range of Grand Officers during the last quarter of the century I am sure that there was no one like him.
You have deservedly had many honours in the Craft and the most recent was the award of the Order of Service to Masonry (OSM). This is a very rare award and must have given you great satisfaction.
It is a very great honour indeed, but there is an even greater aspect of it. I gather that each jewel, which has to be returned eventually to Great Queen Street, is tailored to each recipient, and that the particular jewel which I wear, previously was worn By W Bro F. Smyth, a very noted Masonic historian. Wearing this particular jewel is indeed a very great honour, over and above that of being admitted to a very select group. The citation suggests that it has been my work as a Masonic historian which has led to this honour, and indeed I am very proud of the contribution I have been able to make to an understanding of Masonry within the framework of English society. I was recently also lucky to have had a volume of my collected Masonic papers published by Lewis Masonic. This gives me great pleasure because it is evidence of my overall desire to spread more widely an understanding of our Masonic history.
Many years ago my father gave me a warning not to allow my Freemasonry to take over too much of my academic life. Instead of that happening I have been able to combine both of these aspects of my life into one long career. And I have even been able to combine that with a tribute to my father. As I indicated earlier, my father had the honour of helping to represent Scotland at the foundation of the Grand Lodge of Israel. Fifty years later I was invited by that Grand Lodge, as part of its Fiftieth celebrations, to deliver my Prestonian Lecture at a special meeting of the Israeli Lodge Montefiore. All the visiting Grand Masters were invited by the Grand Lodge of Israel to be present, even though the subject was the relationship between English Freemasonry and the English Provinces, and even though some of them did not speak English. I suspect that I had the opportunity of sending more Grand Masters to sleep at the one time than anyone else has ever done. At the meeting of the Grand Lodge of Israel next day the Grand Master presented a special jewel to all those who had been present at the foundation ceremonies. Suddenly I realised that my name was being called out; I was being given one of those medals to add to the medal which my father had been given and which I had inherited. I now have them on the same ribbon, and on my now infrequent visits to Lodge Montefiore it gives me great pride to wear those two jewels, a tribute to my father as well as to my own career.
In addition to having been awarded the Grand Master’s Order of Service to Masonry I have been very fortunate in two other fields. Some nineteen years ago I was asked by Joh Hamill, a very distinguished Masonic historian as well as ‘high up’ in the Grand Lodge hierarchy how I would react to an invitation to deliver a Prestonian Lecture, and if so what my theme would be. I was surprised at the suggestion but offered a paper on the part played by The Province in the overall structure of English Freemasonry. The title seemed satisfactory but I heard no more for two years when I was informed of my appointment. In the course of my delivery of the lecture I visited a number of Provincial Grand Lodges, including the most senior Provincial Grand Lodge, that of Cheshire, as well as leading Masonic centres all over the country. I believe that it was this appointment which eventually led to my being given Grand Rank, since, as I was frequently told, it did not come from a Leicestershire recommendation. My interest in one Provincial figure in particular, William Kelly, led to my being invited to deliver a lecture to Mark Grand Stewards Lodge on Kelly and the way in which he ‘invented’ a Mark Province, that of Leicestershire, Derbyshire, Northamptonshire, and Rutland. Further researches in the papers of William Kelly and the early history of the Mark Degree led to my invited to deliver a second lecture to Mark Grand Stewards. These researches in Mark Masonic history led to an almost unique event, my being awarded Mark Grand Rank and being invested ‘in the field’ after a lecture I delivered in Leicester at my Mark Lodge’s Sesquicentennial meeting.
My aim has always been to explain Freemasonry to as wide a range of Freemasons as I can. Freemasonry has always flourished through the activities of the ordinary Freemason. His initiation, his membership, his interest in Freemasonry has made Freemasonry flourish, and if I have introduced individual Freemasons to a deeper understanding of our beloved institution then I can feel that I have truly earned the honours I have received; if I can get the Freemasons of Leicestershire and Rutland to appreciate the significance of the inheritance they have received from past Freemasons living in Leicestershire and Rutland – including its fine Masonic Hall – then I will feel that my original commitment has been amply fulfilled.
Well, that is a really fascinating and interesting story and I thank you Aubrey for sharing it with the members of this Province and the Craft at large.
If you want to share more masonic thoughts with Aubrey, why not read his book Some Masonic Musings, his collected Masonic writings?