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Changing of the Guard

As the new Grand Master of the Honourable Fraternity of Ancient Freemasons, Carol Cole tells FMT what drives her passion for the Craft.

Carol Cole, Grand Master of the Honourable Fraternity of Ancient Freemasons (Freemasonry for women) in her Masonic Regalia


The first time Carol Cole heard about the existence of women Freemasons was after a PTA meeting at her daughter’s primary school in 1991. Carol had put a series of difficult questions to the headmistress, after which an impressed mother took her to one side. ‘She asked if I’d be interested in Freemasonry,’ recalls Carol, the new Grand Master of the Honourable Fraternity of Ancient Freemasons (HFAF). ‘I said “not particularly”, but she thought I might enjoy it and invited me to a social event. After about 18 months, I joined Grace Bilantz Lodge.’

Grace Bilantz Lodge no. 34 is named after a former Grand Master of the HFAF. The Lodge has produced more Grand Masters than any other, with Carol elected to Grand Master Designate in October 2023 and Enthroned as Grand Master in January of this year. She heads an organisation of 800 members, having won more than 75 per cent of the vote in an election that is held every four years.

We meet in an office at Freemasons’ Hall, where Carol will later take her first Grand Lodge. She is relaxed about the occasion, as you would expect from this experienced Freemason and successful businesswoman. Born in Plaistow, Carol’s career was in shipping and she ran her own business from her mid-20s until the early 2000s. She enjoyed the work, finding it intellectually stimulating, but also relishing the fact it gave her parity with position and wage. That desire for independence also informed her decision to run for Grand Master of the HFAF.

‘I needed to work,’ she says. ‘I didn’t expect or want anybody to support me. I have always worked in a men’s environment and sometimes the differences in pay rankled. One way I got around that was by forming my own company so I could pay myself what I chose. I did that while remaining a woman – I am a woman, a mother, a wife, a grandmother and a great-grandmother.’

Carol’s mother died when she was young and she was raised largely by her paternal grandparents. Her grandfather would remind her that she was as good as anybody else, no better but no worse, encouraging her to trust and believe in herself. Carol also abides by the Nolan Principles of public life – selflessness, integrity, objectivity, accountability, openness, honesty and leadership. ‘These all relate to Freemasonry and are values that every organisation should respect,’ says Carol. ‘It means there is always somebody looking over your shoulder.’

As Grand Master, Carol’s priority is to find a new headquarters. The Order’s old base in north London was sold in 2023, and it’s her disagreement with this decision that inspired her to run for Grand Master. Carol wants a permanent home that will allow members to hold meetings and social events whenever they desire. She has already considered a couple of buildings, and while she would like to lease or purchase a building within two years, she won’t be hurried into making a rash decision. ‘We are scattered in and around London – places such as Harrow, Southgate, Aldgate and Radlett,’ she says. ‘We are not cohesive. You cannot have a fraternity without a home. I believe we need one to be independent and I don’t want to rely on anybody other than ourselves.’


Carol Cole, Grand Master of the Honourable Fraternity of Ancient Freemasons (Freemasonry for women)


Carol put herself up for election, convinced she could make a difference. ‘I don’t think you should criticise unless you can offer an alternative,’ she says. ‘I put my name forward as I wanted to start a conversation, but did not in my wildest dreams think I would win. I like democracy and the idea that everybody should have a say as we all pay the same fees.’ She pauses, before adding with a grin, ‘During the English Civil War, I think I would have been on Oliver Cromwell’s side. I am a traditionalist, but I’m not a great fan of the status quo.’

This rebellious streak makes Carol a fine match for the HFAF, which was formed in 1913 so that women Freemasons could practice the Royal Arch. For decades, the HFAF remained outside the Masonic establishment. Although it is now aligned with UGLE, the HFAF remains a proudly independent organisation. That is why the lack of headquarters has been such a motivating cause.

As both men’s and women’s Freemasonry tackle the membership gap, Carol believes a new base will help attract new members and allow the Order to have meetings at more convenient times. She likes the idea of increasing democratisation by allowing members a vote on which good causes to support. Ultimately though, she wants to reframe the way Freemasonry is viewed. She feels that her own love of Freemasonry has a spiritual dimension. ‘I am contemplative and look inside myself – that is what Freemasonry does for me,’ she says. ‘We talk about the centre and “a point within a circle round which the Brethren cannot err”. I believe the centre is not physical; it’s the centre of you as a person. It is connected to your core beliefs and instincts as a person, and that encourages personal growth.’

This is something that Carol believes is relevant for contemporary society, where younger generations demonstrate a constant hunger for self-improvement. She feels Freemasonry allows these different generations – as well as people from different social and religious backgrounds – to mix, helping to heal some of the fractures in the society. And women-only Freemasonry has an additional role to play, providing a forum for women to develop their confidence in a secure environment.

‘So many women in my own Lodge were so timid when they joined, but have since gained such confidence from being able to speak out openly in a way they might not have felt at work or home or in their chosen religion,’ she says. ‘Some of my best and most rewarding friendships came from my own encounters with older Freemasons who made me laugh and taught me a great deal. I respect them and gained more respect for myself by emulating them. These women have given so much to Freemasonry and I feel I am standing on their shoulders. What they achieved is remarkable and now I want to give something back.’


Carol Cole, Grand Master of the Honourable Fraternity of Ancient Freemasons (Freemasonry for women) in her Masonic Regalia

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