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When and where did Freemasonry begin?Freemasonry is the oldest, largest and most widely known fraternal organisation in the World. It has its origins in antiquity and has in some ways descended from the associations and guilds of ‘operative masons’, the cathedral builders of the Middle Ages, who travelled throughout Europe and Britain employing the skills of their craft.The organisation, as we know it today, began in England in 1717 when cathedral building was in its decline and the ‘operative masons’ or ‘freemasons’ as they were known, began accepting men who were not member’s of the mason’s craft, calling them ‘speculative masons’ or ‘accepted masons’.England and Wales are divided into 47 Provinces of which East Lancashire is the second largest. The Provincial headquarters is at Freemasons’ Hall, Bridge Street, Manchester. The Masonic Hall is a Grade 2 listed building and has a small Museum which is opened to the general Public Monday to Friday. There are a further 28 Masonic Halls throughout the Province, serving over 250 Lodges and catering for a total membership of almost 9,000 Brethren.What is the purpose of Freemasonry?The basic purpose is to make good men better husbands, fathers, brothers, sons, friends and neighbours. Freemasonry tries to place the emphasis on the family and on the individual man by strengthening his character, improving his moral and spiritual outlook and broadening his mental horizons. Freemasonry tries to build a better world by promoting those ideals.Is Freemasonry a secret organisation?Contrary to belief, Freemasonry is not a secret organisation. Membership is open to all men of good reputation, irrespective of race or creed. However, the candidate must express a belief in a Supreme Being (God). Freemasons come from all walks of life and openly acknowledge their membership. Members are free to talk about their membership and are willing to answer any questions about the society.How much time is involved in being a Freemason?Most Lodges meet between four and eight times a year, between September and May, during an evening. Meetings usually last for up to two hours, and are normally followed by a three course evening meal, and the opportunity to socialise with other members and guests.Why should I consider joining?Freemasonry is fun as well as having a serious side, with many social events run by local Lodges as well as larger events bringing many people together. It presents an opportunity to develop new and lasting friendships, and offers a means of strengthening family bonds providing a happy social life for members and their families and friends.CharityFrom its earliest days, Freemasonry has been involved in charitable activities. It provides support for many widows and orphans of Freemasonry as well as others within the community. Nationally, over the past five years, Freemasons have raised over £80 million for a wide range of non-Masonic charitable organisations such as the British Heart Foundation, Cancer Research and Local Hospices throughout England and Wales.Our organisation is consistently amongst the first to offer monies and aid to disasters around the world without regard to politics or religion. We are able to bring relief from suffering and much needed help in the reconstruction of communities across the globe.To find out more about Freemasonry, log on to www.pglel.co.uk or call the helpdesk on 0161 832 6256.This information is taken from our pamphlet – "Freemasonry in East Lancs. A question of understanding".