Celebrating 300 years

A not so secret look at Freemasonry in Berkshire

Saturday, 20 May 2017

300 years of heritage on display at Reading Museum from 14th February to 27th May 2017

Freemasons have been a part of the community in Berkshire since at least 1724 and a display of Masonic artefacts spanning 300 years will be on display in Reading Museum from 14th February to 27th May 2017.

The Tercentenary is not only an important historical landmark; it is celebrating 300 years of Freemasonry and its heritage. The display reveals how Freemasonry has developed in the local community from the 1700’s, the core values of the organisation and the role it plays in society, including the charitable works undertaken.

The display includes items from the Napoleonic and First World Wars and of particular note is a Master’s chair dating from about 1800. It has an ornate painting on the back containing Masonic symbolism (squares, levels, pillars, columns, chequered floor) and is thought to have been made by a Scandinavian carpenter who was a Napoleonic prisoner of war.

In addition, one of Oscar Wilde's Masonic membership certificates, on which Wilde's 'Masons Mark' can be seen, is on disply. On temporary loan from the vaults at London’s Museum of Freemasonry, this is the first time ever that Oscar Wilde’s certificate has been put on public display. Originally initiated into Oxford University's Apollo Lodge, his connection with Reading was his infamous incarceration in the town prison 1895-1897 and his writing of ‘The Ballad of Reading Gaol’.

There was a reception to mark the official opening of the exhibition in Reading Museum on Monday 13th February 2017 attended by The Lord Lieutenant and High Sheriff of Berkshire, The Pro Grand Master MW Bro Peter Lowndes and a number of Mayors from Berkshire local authorities. Martin Peters, the Provincial Grand Master for the Masonic Province of Berkshire formally opened the exhibition.

On Saturday 29th April, Mark Dennis, Curator of the Museum of Freemasonry at Freemasons' Hall in London will give a public talk in Reading Museum to coincide with the exhibition.

Martin Peters, Provincial Grand Master for Berkshire commented: 'Freemasonry is more relevant today than it ever has been, particularly with regard to its community involvement and contribution to local good causes. I am delighted that we have been given the opportunity to present Freemasonry in this way and on behalf of our 3,000 members in Berkshire I thank Reading Museum for showcasing our work.'

Cllr Paul Gittings, Reading Lead Member for Culture, Sport and Consumer Services, said: 'I'm delighted to see the Berkshire Freemasons have put together this fascinating glimpse into local Freemasonry heritage, hosted at Reading Museum, to mark 300 years of national Freemasonry. It is great to see this organisation’s rich history made accessible to the public.'

Brendan Carr, the museum’s Community Engagement Curator said: 'It has been intriguing to work with the local freemasonry community to produce this display. It is a story weaved into Berkshire’s wider social history over three centuries. The Museum is about presenting the facts and using real objects to promote understanding. I hope that this not so secret look at 300 years of heritage will dispel some of the myths that have built up around Freemasonry.'

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