Friday, August 23, 2013

Sights and Places: Freemasons' Hall

It's been quite a while since I've posted anything from this series so I've come back with another example of beautiful architecture, the Freemasons' Hall in London, England. Its interior has been described as a "kaleidoscope of intensely-decorated corridors."

This building is located on Great Queen Street and serves as the headquarters of the United Grand Lodge of England as well as the principal meeting place for Masonic Lodges in London. The Grand Lodge has been located at this location since 1775, but this building is not the original and is in fact the third building.

In the early recorded years of Freemasonry, the Brethren didn't meet like we did today. Today most Lodges meet in buildings owned by the Masons and reserved strictly for their use, but in the early days this was not so. In the early years Lodges met either in private homes or in taverns where rooms could be rented out. Meeting in such public places required the transporting, and emplacing and displacing of Masonic paraphernalia. This led to the Brothers looking for establishing a permanent facility for Masonic use.

Although England leads Freemasonry with many firsts, the first Masonic building was actually built by French Freemasons in 1765 in Marseille. The first building in England was planned back in 1769 by the Premier Grand Lodge (Moderns) and after raising funds from its members purchased a plot of land on Great Queen Street. This site consisted of a tavern house fronting the street with a garden behind leading to a second house. Thomas Sandby won a competition to design the Freemasons' Hall which was built over the garden that linked the house and tavern. The newly built Freemasons' Hall is dedicated 23 May 1776, and was an important building, both for Masons and the public; as it was could be rented out for concerts, balls, and other such events for philanthropic societies such the Anti-Slavery Society and others.

In the 1820s, Sir John Soane, Grand Superintendent of Works, extensively remodeled the building. In the 1860s, Frederick Pepys Cockerell extended the building to the East and part of this fa├žade still exists as part of the Connaught Rooms. In 1883 a fire damaged the building which would lead to its demolition and rebuilding in the 20th century.

In 1919 the Masonic Million Memorial Fund was established with the goal of rebuilding the Freemasons' Hall as a memorial those Masons who lost their lives on active service in WWI. 1925 was a busy year for the British Masons as the competition was launched and won by the partnership of Henry Victor Ashley and F. Winton Newman, but also the Most Worshipful Grand Master held a lunch where around 7,250 Brothers attended a lunch and raised over £825,000 for the building fund. The work on the building started in 1927 after the cornerstone laying on the 14th of July and continued into 1933, and stands as one of the finest examples Art Deco in England. On 19 July 1933 over 5,000 Masons congregated at the new Hall and the building was dedicated to Masonic service by the Grand Master, Prince Arthur, Duke of Connaught. It was originally known as the Masonic Peace Memorial, but was changed to Freemasons' Hall at the outbreak of WWII.

This building covers 2.25 acres and contains the Grand Temple, 21 Lodge rooms, a Library and Museum, various administrative offices, storage spaces, archives, and a Masonic shop. The Grand Temple is the meeting place for the Grand Lodge as well as the Grand Chapter (Royal Arch Masons), Provincial Grand Lodges, and other Masonic and non-Masonic organizations. Before one even enters the Grand Temple, he is met with an imposing set of Bronze doors, each weighing 1.25 tons that are decorated with scenes relating to the building of King Solomon's Temple. These doors lead into a room that is 123-ft long, 90-ft wide, and 62-ft high that can seat up to 1,700 people. Mosaic work covers the ceiling and in the corners there are depicted the Arms of Prince Arthur and the four cardinal virtues: Prudence, Temperance, Fortitude, and Justice. This room houses a large pipe organ that was built by Henry Willis & Sons, a leading British organ builder. This room is open to the public and is something to be seen on tours given throughout the Freemasons' Hall.

The numerous Lodge rooms are highly ornate and no two are identical in design. Some of the more notable rooms are Temples #1, #10, #17, and #23. Temple #1 contains portraits of former Grand Masters and can seat up to 600 people. Temple #10, located beneath the clock tower, is designed with a combination of classic Art Deco with Egyptian designs, and is home to an impressive domed ceiling. Temple #17 is very ornate with a large ante-room that is used by most ancient Lodges as well as 3 of the remaining 4 Lodges that founded the 1717 Grand Lodge. Temple #23 is the smallest of the Lodge rooms, allowing only 25 people to be seated, and contains portraits of former Grand Secretaries. There isn't too many labeled pictures to be found as the Lodge rooms are usually not for public tours as they are in constant use.

Also housed in this Hall is the Library and Museum of Freemasonry which is a library, archive and registered museum in central London covering Freemasonry. The Library and Museum is also a Charitable Trust that is registered with the Charity Commission. The Museum houses a collection of objects with Masonic designs and some of these items have belonged to famous Freemasons such as King Edward VII and Winston Churchill. The Museum also contains the most comprehensive collections of friendly societies (like the Oddfellows) material in the UK. The Library is located on the 1st floor of the Freemasons' Hall and is home to a very comprehensive collection of printed books and manuscripts over everything concerning Freemasonry in England, but also contains a great deal of material on Freemasonry, friendly societies, esoteric, and mystical traditions from around the world. This is also open to the general public during the hours of 10am-5pm (M-F).

Like the original Masonic Hall, the Freemasons' Hall is also used for public events such as concerts and musical events as well as filming for TV shows and movies.

This is definitely on one of one of the places I can't wait to visit. I think going here, I would outdo the amount of pictures taken versus my trips to Philly and Italy in 2011.


1. Freemasons' Hall. n.d. 

2. Freemasons' Hall, London. n.d.'_Hall,_London. 

3. Freemasons’ Hall, London: A History. n.d. 

4. History of Freemasons' Hall. n.d. 

5. Ian. Freemasons Hall ~ an Art Deco masterpiece in central London. February 14, 2013. 

6. Masonic Temple. n.d. 

7. Tours of Freemasons’ Hall. n.d. 

8. Wolff, Stephanie. The Freemasons Hall, home of The United Grand Lodge of England: Uncovering a few hidden treasures. November 18, 2010.

1 comment:

  1. I think, directly outside they had a cafe where they serve snacks and wine- although we went the cheap route for dinner (a food truck on the side of the street!) I want to come back here again.
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