Celebrating 300 years

The Temple Builder

For Alexander Burnett Brown, architecture, charity and Freemasonry were inextricably entwined. Philippa Faulks finds out about the man who built an opulent temple inside London’s Great Eastern Hotel

In 2000, the Conran group was mid-way through renovations of a jaded hotel just south of Liverpool Street Station, London. Puzzled by what appeared to be an additional room on the blueprints, the builders broke down a wall to reveal the double doors of a magnificent masonic temple.

Media intrigue ensued, dubbing the discovery a Dan Brown-style mystery. But for those in the Craft, the temple was an open secret; many masons had long been privy to the Great Eastern Hotel’s Grecian Temple, created in 1912 by architect and eminent Freemason Alexander Burnett Brown.

Born on 25 May 1867 in Newcastle, Northumberland, Brown’s parentage is unknown, but the census of 1871 recorded him as living at Ryde, Isle of Wight, with his grandparents.

Brown was a scholar at Charterhouse school, Godalming, Surrey, and left in 1883 prior to joining the Royal Artillery in 1885. Six years later, the 1891 census describes him as an ‘architect and surveyor’. In 1893, he married Amy Elizabeth Reynolds from Buckinghamshire; they had two sons, Alexander Denis and Geoffrey Trevor.

Brown served as aide-de-camp to the Governor and Commander-in-Chief in Gibraltar from 1893 to 1900, and took part in the China Relief Expedition in 1900, promoted to Major in the same year. His architectural career led him to be elected as Fellow of the Royal Institute of British Architects and The Surveyors’ Institution, and he formed a business partnership – Messrs Brown & Barrow – with Ernest Robert Barrow.

A MAN OF OFFICE

Brown’s masonic career was as varied as it was long. He was initiated in Sir Francis Burdett Lodge, No. 1503, Middlesex, on 8 November 1893; passed on 14 February 1894, and raised on 11 April that same year; and served as Worshipful Master in 1897.

He went on to be a founding and joining member of numerous lodges in and around London. Brown also served as the Provincial Grand Secretary of Middlesex, as well as Deputy Provincial Grand Master and Provincial Grand Master of Middlesex.

In 1906 he was appointed Grand Superintendent of Works by the United Grand Lodge of England, serving until 1934 with promotions to Past Grand Deacon and Past Grand Warden along the way. His masonic memberships also extended to the Royal Arch and Mark Masonry, and he was a 32nd Degree mason in Ancient and Accepted Rite.

Brown’s support of masonic charities and institutions was just as prolific. He was Vice-Patron of the Royal Masonic Institution for Boys; Patron of the Royal Masonic Institution for Girls; and Chairman of the Building Committee for the new girls’ school in Rickmansworth. He also served on the Board of Management and Committee of the Royal Masonic Hospital, and was an assessor of the architectural competition for the new masonic hospital at Ravenscourt Park.

MASONRY ON TRACK

Brown’s masonic and architectural careers proved harmonious. While Grand Superintendent of Works, his firm Messrs Brown & Barrow was instructed by the Great Eastern Railway (GER) to create the Grecian Temple in the Great Eastern Hotel.

Freemasonry was flourishing and several hotels owned by the railway companies had established close links with the Craft, incorporating masonic rooms into their fabric. In 1901, the Great Eastern added an Egyptian-style temple in the basement, but by early 1912 had decided to create another on a much grander scale, on the first floor.

Using the initial designs made by the chairman of the GER, Freemason Lord Claud Hamilton, Brown and Barrow set about creating a Grecian-inspired masterpiece. This feat, according to author Mark Daly (London Uncovered, 2016), was accomplished through the personal financing of Lord Hamilton, his family and other railway directors.

No expense was spared, with the temple costing around £50,000 – over £5 million at current prices. Marble of the highest quality was used for the columns, wall panelling and flooring, and lavishly carved mahogany chairs sat beneath a dazzling sunburst ceiling.

The Grecian Temple was formally dedicated on Tuesday, 5 November 1912, with the ceremony performed under the banner of Bard of Avon Lodge, No. 778. The Dedicating Officer was Grand Secretary Sir Edward Letchworth, with Brown acting as Worshipful Master. Many lodges have since graced the temple – notably Caledonian Lodge, No. 134, which met there from 1920 to 1947.

The magnificent temple remains unchanged today. The Andaz London Liverpool Street hotel now occupies the building and proudly offers the temple as a venue for events ranging from fashion and art shows to promotions for HBO’s Game of Thrones.

Brown died at the sanatorium at the Royal Masonic School for Girls in Hertfordshire on 1 April 1948. He would likely be proud that his beautiful creation is still being enjoyed by so many.

LETTERS TO THE EDITOR - NO. 40 WINTER 2017

The Temple in the Hotel

Sir,

Readers of ‘The Temple Builder’ article in the last issue might be interested in further information about Alexander Burnett Brown’s interesting masonic career. His architectural career aside, he was Deputy Provincial Grand Master of Middlesex when HRH The Duke of York was the Provincial Grand Master, and became Provincial Grand Master when HRH became George VI on the abdication of his brother, Edward VIII.

Right Worshipful Brother Alexander Burnett Brown was held in very high esteem by the brethren of Middlesex, so much so that a lodge was consecrated in 1945 as Alexander Burnett Brown Lodge, No. 6133, in his honour. Both his sons were the lodge’s First Master and Senior Warden.

It is unfortunate to record that from 1996 the lodge began to fail despite strenuous efforts. In 2000, I had to inform the Province of the situation, and the Warrant was duly surrendered.

David A Walters, Middlesex Masters Lodge, No. 3420, Staines, Middlesex

Sir,

I very much enjoyed the article on Alexander Burnett Brown, architect and eminent Freemason, especially with reference to the Grecian Temple at the Great Eastern Hotel. I was initiated in that Temple in September 1981 into Semper Fidelis Lodge, No. 4393. The most memorable part of the ceremony was descending the magnificent winding staircase into the Temple.

Within a couple of years, the lodge had to leave the Great Eastern Hotel and move to Great Queen Street as the then-owners found it not economical to have lodge meetings on Saturdays. I would be interested to obtain a copy of any photograph of that winding staircase as a reminder of my 36 happy years in Freemasonry.

Geoffrey Cathersides, Fraternitas Lodge, No. 6046, East Kent

Sir,

For me it was especially interesting to read the article on the Grecian Temple in the autumn edition of Freemasonry Today. Having served in the Rifle Brigade, I became a joining member of its London Life Brigade Lodge, No. 1962, in 1975. I have a vivid memory of my first visit, descending the marble staircase into the temple and being in awe at the ceiling, furniture and surroundings.

I deem myself very fortunate to have had this experience. Sadly, thereafter it was closed to Freemasonry. However, being a listed structure the Grecian Temple will remain unique.

Bernard Dribble, Wellington Lodge, No. 341, Rye, Sussex

Published in Features

Building of the year

Influenced by architecture in the Netherlands and the US, the Royal Masonic Hospital won an award for its modern design in 1933

The 1930s saw several significant new masonic buildings in and around London. Freemasons’ Hall on Great Queen Street was under construction from 1928 with its formal opening in 1933. The foundation stone of the Royal Masonic School for Girls at Rickmansworth was laid in 1930 and the building itself opened by Queen Mary four years later. 

Architecturally the most significant of these buildings was the Freemasons’ Hospital and Nursing Home, opened at Ravenscourt Park in July 1933 by King George V and Queen Mary and then renamed the Royal Masonic Hospital. 

The hospital was designed by the leading architectural partnership of Sir John Burnet, Tait & Lorne, with Thomas Smith Tait as the lead architect. His design was modern, influenced by trends in the US and the Netherlands, and it won the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) Gold Medal for the best building of the year in 1933. The same firm designed the Nurses’ Home on an adjacent site, which was opened in 1938.  

The current exhibition at the Library and Museum, Healing Through Kindness, marks the centenary of the formation of a masonic hospital, and includes pictures and more details about the award-winning building

Published in Features

The Library and Museum’s latest temporary exhibition marks the centenary of the opening of the Royal Masonic Hospital

This first opened in late 1916 to take casualties from the First World War. In 1933 the hospital opened at a new site at Ravenscourt Park in West London where its award winning Modernist building broke new ground in hospital design. It then played a role in the Second World War treating over 9,000 personnel. The hospital and its staff were pioneers of many medical treatments and its nurse training facilities were renowned. The buckle worn by the hospital’s nurses featured masonic symbols. By the late twentieth century the financial and operational challenges faced by the hospital proved too much and it closed in 1996.

The exhibition is open Monday to Saturday 10am to 5pm, and runs between April 25th 2016 and April 7th 2017

Published in More News

A centenary of medical care

The history of the Royal Masonic Hospital and the work done by its staff is the subject of the latest exhibition in the Library and Museum

The First World War created a host of new charitable causes for which Freemasons and their lodges raised funds. The health and care grants that are provided today have their origins in the work of the Freemasons’ War Hospital in London’s Fulham Road. The hospital accepted its first 60 patients in September 1916 and treated over 4,000 members of the armed forces during the course of the war. 

The premises reopened as the Freemasons’ Hospital and Nursing Home in 1919, providing care for 46 inpatients who were Freemasons, their wives or dependent children. Having outgrown its original site, in 1933 the hospital moved to Ravenscourt Park. The new building was opened by King George V and Queen Mary, and renamed the Royal Masonic Hospital.

Staff at the hospital pioneered many modern medical treatments, and it was known for its nurses’ training. The Wakefield Wing, with new physiotherapy and pathology departments, accommodation for nurses, and a chapel, opened in 1958, and a new surgical wing in 1976. When the hospital closed, its Samaritan Fund, which helped Freemasons afford private treatment, was taken on by the Masonic Samaritan Fund

The exhibition opens spring 2016 and can be visited Monday to Friday, 10am-5pm

Published in More News

Letter from Spandau

Correspondence sent over a hundred years ago reveals what life was like for masonic prisoners in Ruhleben camp. Director of the Library and Museum of Freemasonry Diane Clements opens the archive

On 18 December 1914 an extraordinary document arrived at Freemasons’ Hall in London addressed to Sir Edward Letchworth, the Grand Secretary. It began: ‘We, the undersigned brethren, at present interned with other British civilians at the concentration camp at Ruhleben, Spandau, Germany, send hearty good wishes to the Grand Master, officers and brethren in Great Britain, hoping that we may have the pleasure soon of greeting them personally.’

Among the ‘undersigned’ was Alexander Cordiner from South Shields, master of SS Heworth, a cargo ship berthed near Hamburg when war broke out in August 1914. He was just one of more than 10,000 British nationals living, working or on holiday in Germany who were interned by the German government as enemy aliens. 

Many were taken to the Ruhleben camp at Spandau, west of Berlin. The camp was situated on a racecourse with barracks built in and around the stables to house the 4,000-5,000 internees. Ruhleben was run by the inmates who quickly established a church, library, sports and social clubs, a postal service and camp magazine. 

The letter was written by Walter P Goodall of Lodge of Freedom, No. 77, Gravesend, and accompanied a list of more than a hundred Freemasons. On 13 February 1915, he sent a second letter with another forty-five names. Together, they detailed Freemasons who were members of lodges in England, Australia, Egypt, Hong Kong, Ireland, Scotland, South Africa, South America, the United States, the West Indies and even Germany. 

In August 1915 another internee, Percy Hull, wrote to Grand Lodge to advise that there were now about two hundred Freemasons there, the majority receiving few if any food parcels. His letter helped to launch a campaign to support the internees. Alfred Robbins, President of the Board of General Purposes, welcomed the formation of what became known as the Ruhleben Fund, stating: ‘They are prisoners of war only in the sense of being detained during wartime; and their case is particularly hard because their businesses have been ruined and they and their families brought near to destitution.’

Parcels of support

The Fund enabled parcels to be sent every fortnight, which provided each masonic internee with three parcels over an eighteen-month period. Grand Lodge approached Sir Richard Burbidge, the managing director of Harrods, Knightsbridge, and parcels were sent to Percy Hull for distribution. One internee, S F Sheasby, reported in 1917 to the Old Masonians Gazette that they contained tea, coffee, cake, biscuits, potted meat and oats. By December 1917, more than £6,700 had been received for the Ruhleben Fund, the equivalent of about £250,000 today. 

Three of the internees at Ruhleben are remembered on a large ceramic plaque, which was originally installed in the Royal Masonic Hospital and funded by the Ruhleben internees. Charles Fryatt of Star in the East Lodge, No. 650, Harwich, was a Merchant Navy captain who was briefly sent to Ruhleben in 1916 after his ferry, SS Brussels, was captured by German destroyers. 

Fryatt had successfully defended two of his ships from German U-boat attacks a year earlier and had been rewarded for his actions with gold watches from both his employers, the Great Eastern Railway Company and The Admiralty. The latter watch was inscribed: ‘Presented by the Lords Commissioners of the Admiralty to Chas. Algernon Fryatt Master of the SS Brussels in recognition of the example set by that vessel when attacked by a German submarine on March 28th, 1915.’  This inscription was used as an excuse by the German authorities to try Fryatt at a court martial and subsequently execute him.

The second name is that of Edward Russell, a merchant seaman and member of the Earl of Yarborough Lodge, No. 2770, in Grimsby who died of natural causes in the camp in December 1917. The third name is that of Alexander Cordiner, the SS Heworth master and a member of St Hilda’s Lodge, No. 240, South Shields, who had been at Ruhleben since late 1914 and died there in March 1918. The plaque is now on display at the Library and Museum of Freemasonry in Freemasons’ Hall, Great Queen Street.

Letters to the Editor - No. 30 Summer 2015

Ruhleben remembered

Sir,

I was interested to read the article in the spring issue of Freemasonry Today about Ruhleben camp. My grandfather, John Clegg Fergusson, was a master dyer. He left Batley in the West Riding of Yorkshire with his wife and son, Alex, in the mid 1890s and settled in Germany where he was manager of the dye house in a textile mill, and was joined by his apprentice from Batley, Clifford Leach.

On the outbreak of war, my grandfather and Clifford Leach were detained in Ruhleben camp as ‘guests of the Kaiser’ – enemy aliens. It was decided to allow my grandmother and her two younger children to travel home. My grandfather was eventually repatriated in 1916 but the story did not stop there. 

Clifford Leach, my father and his brother were all to become members of Trafalgar Lodge, No. 971, in Batley. Clifford Leach’s son, Harry, followed his father into the textile industry and when he was a member of a lodge in Manchester I visited him there, and he made the journey across the Pennines to visit my mother lodge in Morley.

Harry’s death a few years ago brought an end to a friendship between the Leach family and the Fergussons that had lasted for over a century, a friendship in which both Ruhleben camp and Freemasonry played a part.

James Fergusson, Lodge of Integrity, No. 380, Leeds, Yorkshire, West Riding


Sir,

I greatly enjoyed your article by Diane Clements, ‘Letter from Spandau’, in the spring issue. I wish that I had known it was to appear as I could have supplied a little more information. 

You may be interested to know that the Percy Hull mentioned went on to become Sir Percy, knighted for his efforts in resurrecting the Three Choirs Festival after World War II. During Hull’s internment, Dr George Robertson Sinclair (see ‘Elgar Connection’, p9 in the same issue), Grand Organist and Organist of Hereford Cathedral, died suddenly and Hull, at that time his assistant, was appointed in his place. 

Not only did Sir Percy follow Sinclair into the cathedral post, he also followed him as Grand Organist. I had the honour of conducting the cathedral choir at the dedication of his memorial in the cathedral as well as the Herefordshire Orchestral Society, in which Lady Hull played.

Robert Green, Cantilupe Lodge, No. 4083, Hereford, Herefordshire

Diane Clements, Director of The Library and Museum of Freemasonry, responds: 

Several people have mentioned Percy Hull’s later career. We have such limited space in Freemasonry Today that we are not able to develop articles as fully as possible but I appreciate all the information readers provide.

Published in Features

Historic badge of honour

A masonic emblem of professional excellence in healthcare hints at the history of the MSF

A key part of masonic history has been caught on camera as Her Majesty the Queen left hospital in March. The nurse escorting the Queen out of the ward at King Edward VII’s Hospital was photographed wearing the signature belt buckle and masonic jewel that shows she trained at the Royal Masonic Hospital, London.

The MSF was established in 1990 to take on the role of the Samaritan Fund at the Royal Masonic Hospital and since the closure of the hospital six years later, the MSF has maintained the spirit and ethos of the original Samaritan Fund. King George V and Queen Mary opened the Royal Masonic Hospital in 1933, and a School of Nursing was established there in 1948. It quickly gained a reputation for producing highly skilled nurses whose silver belt buckles became a distinctive honour amongst the profession.

Call 020 7404 1550 to support the work of the MSF

Published in Masonic Samaritan Fund
Wednesday, 13 June 2012 01:00

Gold doesn't tarnish

Susan Snell, Archivist and Records Manager for the Library and Museum of Freemasonry, reveals connections between the Craft and the Olympics

The London 2012 organisers revealed in 2011 that they received applications for more than 20 million tickets from 1.8 million people for the Olympic Games – more than three times the 6.6 million tickets available to UK sports fans. Compared with this mad scramble for tickets, attendances at the first London Games were low according to The Times on 18 July 1908. Expensive ticket prices, ranging from five shillings to a Guinea (£45 to £60 in today’s money) were blamed for poor sales. 

Thankfully, visits by the Royal Family boosted gate returns to the 1908 Games, with over 20,000 people attending the White City Stadium, constructed by the entrepreneur and Freemason, Imre Kiralfy. The masonic connections do not stop there. A keen sportsman and Freemason, Lord Desborough fenced at the unofficial Athens Games of 1906 and served as a member of the International Olympic Committee until 1913. Desborough was initiated in Apollo University Lodge, No. 357, Oxford, on 23 February 1875, the same day as Oscar Wilde.

THE GAMES BEGIN

The 500 British athletes at the opening of the Olympic Games wore caps and blazer badges manufactured by the masonic regalia company, George Kenning & Son. Britons achieved sporting success in real tennis (jeu de paume), athletics, swimming, boxing, tug of war and cycling, with several masonic participants, including Richard Wheldon Barnett of St Alban’s Lodge, No. 29, London, who represented Great Britain in the rifle, military pistol class competition.

This was just the beginning of the 1908 success stories. A Great Britain team won the gold medal in the Olympic football competition, with Vivian John Woodward, an amateur player at Chelsea and Tottenham Hotspur football clubs, scoring the second of two goals. Woodward, from Clacton, Essex, worked as an architect with his father and later designed the Antwerp stadium for the 1920 Olympics. Four years after his Olympic triumph, he was initiated in Kent Lodge No. 15, London.

Sir John Edward Kynaston Studd carried the British team flag and most track and field events were organised by the Regent Street Polytechnic, founded by Quintin Hogg. Studd became honorary secretary of the Polytechnic from 1885 and after Hogg’s death, president. Many sportsmen, including Studd, joined Polytechnic Lodge, No. 2847, after it was consecrated in 1901.

Studd and others formed Athlon Lodge, No. 4674, in 1924, the year Harold Abrahams won an Olympic gold medal in the 100 metres, as featured in the film Chariots Of Fire, beating an American, Charley Paddock, and another British athlete, the New Zealand-born Freemason, Sir Arthur Espie Porritt. Bronze medal winner Porritt, who later served as Governor-General of New Zealand, became a consultant surgeon and then chairman at the Royal Masonic Hospital from 1974 to 1982. Athlon Lodge member Abrahams and Porritt dined together on 7 July at 7pm every year to celebrate the anniversary of their double medal success in 1924, until the former died in 1978.

BRITISH SPORTING SUCCESS

With the 1908 Games encouraging participation in competitive sports, Britons excelled at subsequent Olympic competitions. The Thames-based rower, Jack Beresford, won a silver medal in the single sculls at the 1920 Olympics and then won medals for rowing at each of the four subsequent Games. He carried the British flag at the opening and closing ceremonies of the controversial 1936 Berlin Olympics, where he won a gold medal in the double sculls. He was initiated as a Freemason in Argonauts Lodge, No. 2243, London, in 1944.

Forty years after its first visit to UK shores, the Olympics came to London again. Ernest James Henry ‘Billy’ Holt, who was initiated in Black Horse of Lombard Street Lodge, No. 4155, in 1922, served as director of organisation for the 1948 London Games. Holt, Master of Athlon Lodge in 1938, had coached the long-distance athlete, Gordon Pirie.

Cycling Freemasons, Gordon ‘Tiny’ Thomas, formerly of Lodge of Equity, No. 6119, Yorkshire West Riding, won a silver medal in the team road race and Tommy Godwin, formerly of Lodge of St Oswald, No. 5094, Worcestershire, won bronzes in the 1km time trial and in the team pursuit. Godwin coached the British cycling squad at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics and will be an Olympic torchbearer in Solihull in July, aged 91. This blend of local and national interests, where Olympic and masonic aspirations combine, points to a time when members and non-members can enjoy the pleasure of a game well played, and a race well run.

 Sport by all
The Paralympic Games, which began at Stoke Mandeville Hospital in 1948 also have masonic ties. Professor Guttman, director of the National Spinal Injuries Centre at the hospital, encouraged WW2 veterans to play sport for rehabilitation. The Middlesex Masonic Sports Association has supported Paralympians, including Tracy Lewis, basketball, and Anthony Peddle, weightlifting, at the 1992 Barcelona Games, while the Grand Charity contributes to WheelPower (formerly the British Wheelchair Sports Foundation).
Game, Set and Lodge: Freemasons and Sport exhibition at the Library and Museum on Great Queen Street runs from 2 July-21 December 2012
Published in Features

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