"The Shire Oak affair" was first published in Leeds Other Paper on 12 December 1986 and in a KDIS Special: "The Brotherhood Betrayed".

Leeds masons and councillors in land deal

TWENTY years ago 12 local masonic lodges became involved in the setting up of a property company that bought a parcel of land next to a proposed by-pass for Headingley.

Many of the individual freemasons who bought shares in this company figured prominently in public life on Leeds Council, which at the time backed and was responsible for the road scheme. Many were also prominent businessmen.

The '1 in 12' Publications Collective, which earlier this year published an influential book on Freemasons in Bradford, has now untangled the web of ...

The Shire Oak Affair

In 1963 the Yorkshire Evening Post reported that Leeds City Council had "passed a resolution of the Town Planning and Improvements Committee recommending the making of the City of Leeds (Headingley Bypass) Compulsory purchase order'."

It was the first stage in a grandiose plan to drive a multi-lane highway through Headingley and into the city centre. That dull resolution - which set in motion the council's compulsory purchase of land and property lying in the bypass' path - also holds the key to a network of Freemasonic activity in the city involving senior councillors, prominent businessmen, lawyers and members of Parliament.

In 1966 the "Shire Oak Property Company Ltd" was formed and purchased 5 acres of land at 64 Headingley Lane for 30,806. Half of this land was already earmarked for purchase by the council for the road scheme.

[The Shire Oak plot]

Once the bypass had been built, the remaining 2 1/2 acres would be prime building land yielding, an impressive profit for Shire Oak and an equally impressive dividend for its shareholders,

But Shire Oak was no ordinary property company. The major part of its 60,000 shares were held in trust by each of the 12 masonic lodges meeting in the masonic hall at Gt. George Street - headquarters of the Provincial Grand Lodge of Yorkshire (West Riding).

Each lodge in turn encouraged over 400 individual masons to purchase shares in the company - including the present Provincial Grand Master. Annual General meetings were held in the masonic hall and, as could be expected, all four of its initial directors were also directors of the Leeds Masonic Hall Co. Ltd.

These included John Bromley, the solicitor from Bromley and Walkers, who remained a director when the company was finally wound up in 1982. Early in our inquiries we tried to interview him on the phone, but although he was clearly disturbed by our questions he would not discuss the company.

It wasn't until January 1971 that the council compulsorily purchased the 2 1/2 acre's of land required for the road improvement. In the intervening five years the 'property boom' had started in a big way and the council had to pay 23,500 for the land.

Now, without the bypass, Shire Oak's valuable plot of land would remain "land-locked", that is it would have no direct road access. They were however confident of their ability to guarantee that the road would be built, since the 1970 council included amongst its members:

1. John Astle JP - councillor, alderman, sat on the Transport Committee and Traffic sub-committee. Excelsior Lodge's trustee for the Leeds Masonic Hall Co. with 200 personal shares in Shire Oak.

2. Irwin Bellow JP - councillor and alderman with 100 personal shares in Shire Oak. He later became leader of Leeds City Council. After the last General Election he was turned into Lord Bellwin by Margaret Thatcher and became Minister for Local Government.

3. Donald Bradley - Councillor and alderman sitting on the powerful Finance and Planning committee. Morning Star Lodge's trustee for Leeds Masonic Hall Co. holding 1,770 shares in Shire Oak in trust, as well as 200 personal shares.

4. Allan Bretherick - councillor, alderman and Lord Mayor and personal shareholder in Shire Oak.

5. Harold Jowitt - councillor and alderman sitting on the Finance and Planning sub-committee with 200 shares in Shire Oak.

6. Donald Wolstenholme JP councillor and--alderman with 100 shares in Shire Oak.

7 & 8. Peter White and Mrs Jessie White - husband and wife who were both councillors. Peter White, political agent for Sir Keith Joseph M.P. (Leeds North East), held 60 shares. Jessie White now has a CBE and still sits on the council.

9. Mrs Margaret Suttenstall - a councillor whose husband John held 100 shares.

10. Alfred Vickers - councillor with 80 shares in Shire Oak.

In addition to these councillors with a direct interest in the company the council also contained prominent freemasons whose lodges stood to benefit from Shire Oaks success:

11. Sydney Simmonds - councillor alderman and director of Leeds Masonic Hall Co.

12. George Somers - councillor, alderman and director of Leeds Masonic Hall Co.

Other shareholders included:

13. Bernard Lyons JP - councillor until 1965 (ousted in a power struggle with council leader (Lord) Frank Marshall). Deputy Lieutenant of West Riding from 1971.

14. Joseph Hilley MP - MP for Pudsey, 1959-74. Deputy Lieutenant of West Riding from 1971. Made honorary alderman for Leeds 1970.

Hiley's fellow Tory MP, Sir Donald Kaberry (Leeds North West), former vice chairman of the Conservative Party and now Lord Kaberry of Adel, didn't hold personal shares in Shire Oak, but his lodge held them in trust. He was a very important local freemason and a director of Leeds Masonic Hall Co. His constituency included Headingley and when angry residents approached him in 1972 complaining about the proposed bypass, his reassuring response was reported in the YEP (3.8.72) under the headline; "I'll keep an eve on these road plans - M.P."

 

INTEREST

Two months later the YEP announced that work on the bypass would start in 1975.

Despite detailed and protracted inquiries we were unable to find any instance of these figures declaring their interest in the Shire Oak Property Company Ltd.

In 1973 the scheme's opponents, frustrated by the council's determination to back the road scheme, decided to stand eight candidates in the municipal elections and took a sizeable share of the vote in Tory stronghold Weetwood. The Shire Oak backers must have had considerable faith in their political clout in favour of the road, because the opposition was very strong.

Indeed, even then, the Headingley bypass was an on-off saga stretching back almost 20 years. It has, of course, been resurrected and ditched on occasions since.

Following Government reorganisation, responsibility for the scheme passed to the new County Council but, fortunately for Shire Oak, the County Council was as enthusiastic as Leeds Council about the road - after all, Leeds had established its reputation as "Motorway City".

In 1976 a bouyant Shire Oak applied for planning permission to build on their land.

At the very moment that it seemed the Freemasons were going to make a killing - disaster struck! The Labour government, facing a growing financial crisis, announced massive cutbacks in its road improvement plans.

The County Council was forced to axe 30 million from its budget and the bypass was put on ice. Shire Oak withdrew their planning application - with the result that we were unable to discover their proposals.

Things went from bad to worse. A 1977 report recommended that the bypass scheme should be held over until "at least" 1982. Shire Oak had already gone into voluntary liquidation.

It was a difficult and slow death for Shire Oak. What should have been 2 1/2 acres of some of the most prime building land in the city took over four years to sell.

Without the bypass the land remained land locked, and although estate agents Howard Burton & Associates managed to interest several potential clients, they would not make a firm offer until this problem was resolved.

Attempts to buy property on Shire Oak Road to build an access road failed, and the only alternative access was through land held by the "Little Sisters of the Poor". For some reason the sisters stubbornly refused the brethren's requests.

Finally a client was found by the estate agents for whom the "Little Sisters" would allow a road to be constructed across their land. The WPHT Housing Association built an award winning "Carers" sheltered housing project.

But although the land would have been worth in excess of 120,000 (according to information supplied by the Halifax Building Society Research Department) in 1982, when it was finally sold, WPHT picked it up for a mere 42,000.

Liquidation completed, shareholders received 83p for each 50p share - a profit of 66% but little when the rampant inflation of that period is taken into account. Had everything gone according to plan they should have made a profit of around 300%.

The period covered by the Shire Oak affair saw a number of scandals involving masonic activity, such as the notorious Poulson affair and the London Porn Squad trials.

So shrouded within the secret world of the Freemasons were the activities of this company, that we would never have discovered them had it not been for a single reference to an unsecured loan of 2000 made by them to the Leeds Masonic Hall Co. in 1976.

The influence of the Freemasons throughout the fields of civic and public service came as a shocking revelation. Even though the movement is presently in decline, only a full and open public inquiry can now reveal the extent to which this secret society has corrupted those in public office.


Notes:

The Masonic Accountants

The first registered office of the Shire Oak Property Company Ltd. was the offices of chartered accountants WL Gallant, Mclaren & Co at 24 Lower Basinghall St.

In 1973, Gallants merged with the firm of Pannel Fitzpatrick & Co, and Shire Oak moved to their offices at Atlas Chambers, King St.

In 1980 Pannels changed their name to Pannell Kerr Foster whose offices are now at Pannell House, 13/19 St. Pauls St.,

Pannels are an old and prestigious Leeds firm. Their connection with the Leeds Masonic Hall Co. dates back to the last century. They serve as a training centre under contract to the Institute of Chartered Accountants, and senior partner DJ Lewis is honorary secretary to the W. Yorks Society of Chartered Accountants.

Another senior partner, Ronald Harrison, was a personal share holder in Shire Oak.

Pannels provided Shire Oaks liquidator, Leslie Moxon. Although the liquidators fee was a modest 345, Pannels fee for "secretarial" services was almost 4000.

The estate agent employed to handle the land sale was Howard Burton & Associates. Although estate agents fees are normally between 1% and 2% (according to several leading local valuers), because of the difficulties encountered, Burtons fees were. pushed up to a staggering 11 % (4,600).

Solicitors for Shire Oak were Bromley & Walker.


 Another shareholder in both Shire Oak and the Leeds Masonic Hall Co. was prominent Tory businessman and freemason Sir Jack Lyons a man who is presently at the centre of the Guinness corruption scandal.

Guinness directors arranged to illegally buy some of their own shares to bump up the price for the takeover of whiskey manufacturers Distillers. One of these was Sir Jacks off the shelf company J. Lyons-Chamberlayne, which was paid 300,000 in fees. Sir Jack Lyons admits to receiving "in excess of 2 million" personally.

Lyons was also UK advisor to Bain & Co. who acted as "consultants" for Guinness. When the scandal blew, Bains sacked Lyons just a fortnight after he'd entertained Maggie Thatcher at a private dinner.


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