Celebrating 300 years
Tuesday, 13 March 2018 13:30

The rebuilding of the Soane Ark

To bring the union of the Grand Lodges into being, Articles of Union were agreed that laid the foundations of the United Grand Lodge of England. As such an important document, it was to be carried into each Quarterly Communication of the Grand Lodge by the Grand Registrar. Sir John Soane (1753-1837) offered to produce an ‘ark’ to stand in front of the Grand Master’s throne into which the document could be safely placed while the meeting was in progress

Soane was one of England’s greatest architects. He became a Freemason and, after the union of the two Grand Lodges in 1813, was the first person to hold the new office of Grand Superintendent of Works. As such, he was the professional adviser overseeing the maintenance and development of Freemasons’ Hall in London.

The first work Soane produced for Grand Lodge was what became known as the Ark of the Masonic Covenant. It was an impressive piece of furniture, triangular in shape with an Ionic, Corinthian or Doric column at each corner and surmounted with a dome topped by Soane’s signature lantern.

The ark stood in front of the Grand Master’s throne from 1814 until 1883, when disaster struck. A fire broke out in the old Grand Temple, gutting its interior and destroying the portraits of former Grand Masters, as well as most of the furniture and Soane’s ark. Much was done to reconstruct the interior of the room and reinstate the paintings and furniture, but the ark was not replaced.

One of Soane’s 20th-century successors as Grand Superintendent of Works was architect Douglas Burford, who hoped one day to persuade Grand Lodge to have a replica constructed. It took 30 years for that dream to finally become a reality, and Burford was delighted to learn that, as part of the Tercentenary celebrations, Soane’s ark was to be reconstructed.

The project was one of cooperation between The Library and Museum of Freemasonry, Sir John Soane’s Museum, the Factum Foundation for Digital Technology in Conservation and master wood carvers Houghtons of York. Their combined efforts produced a superb and accurate reconstruction of one of the lost treasures of Grand Lodge.

After appearing in an exhibition at Sir John Soane’s Museum, the ark was transported to the Royal Albert Hall for the great Tercentenary celebration, where it was dedicated by the Grand Master. Afterwards, like the original, it took its place in the Grand Temple as a permanent memorial.

Published in UGLE

A renewal  of pride

For Director of Special Projects John Hamill, the Tercentenary celebrations have been an opportunity to reflect on the past, enjoy the present and plan for the future

One thing that I hope will come through to readers of this special souvenir edition of Freemasonry Today is that not only were the celebrations successful, but also that the brethren, their families and friends who attended them had a great deal of enjoyment in taking part – whether it was at the dramatic performance and ceremonial at the Royal Albert Hall or one of the many smaller local events.

The activities that took place around the country and in our Districts overseas were worthy of such a notable anniversary. But the celebrations were not limited to our own members. Many of our sister Grand Lodges around the world regarded the anniversary not just as being the Tercentenary of the Grand Lodge of England, but also the Tercentenary of the start of the organised, regular Freemasonry of which they now form a part.

Throughout the year there was a steady stream of visitors from other Grand Lodges who came to Freemasons’ Hall in London, simply to be here during a very special year and to say thank you to the ‘Mother Grand Lodge’.


Sometimes we take ourselves a little too seriously and forget that Freemasonry is to be enjoyed. We take great pride in our work and carry it out with dignity and decorum, but even within the confines of a lodge meeting there are times when humour and gentle banter has its place.

We should keep in mind that part of the Address to the Brethren, given at each Installation meeting, in which we are reminded that we should ‘unite in the Grand Design of being happy and communicating happiness’. A great deal of happiness was communicated during the Tercentenary celebrations. That is something we should preserve and build on in the future.

When attending major celebrations as Pro Grand Master, the late Lord Farnham would often say that there were three things we should do at special anniversaries: reflect on the past, celebrate the present and plan for the future. Were he still with us, I think he would agree that we have followed his wish list during the Tercentenary year.


During the lead-up to the celebrations, we certainly reflected on the past. The history conference in Cambridge organised by Quatuor Coronati Lodge, No. 2076, in September 2016; the new exhibition gallery at the Library and Museum in London; the splendid celebratory book The Treasures of English Freemasonry 1717 – 2017 and the amazing performance at the Royal Albert Hall will all be permanent records of that reflection. To this we should add the exhibitions that were mounted in masonic premises and public museums around the country, and the many talks given by masonic historians.

We celebrated in style, as the events recorded in this issue show. Our grateful thanks should go to everyone at both national and local levels who put so much work into making the celebrations a success. It was hard and, at times, exhausting work, but not without its moments and well worth the effort given the obvious enjoyment of those who attended.

As we reflected on our past, so we looked forward, too. The Membership Focus Group and its successor the Improvement Delivery Group, the University Lodges Scheme and the growing network of young masons groups across the country are all focused on the future.

As the Pro Grand Master said in his review of the year in December, we can now move forward from here with enormous self-belief. One of the intangibles that the Tercentenary celebrations has produced is a renewal of pride in Freemasonry among the members. These are all things that we should foster and build on so future generations can enjoy Freemasonry, as we and our predecessors have done.

‘The activities that took place around the country were worthy of such a notable anniversary’

Published in Features
Wednesday, 13 December 2017 10:11

Pro Grand Master's address - December 2017

Quarterly Communication

13 December 2017 
An address by the MW the Pro Grand Master Peter Lowndes

Well Brethren, what a year, and if you are anything like me you are looking forward to putting up your feet over the Festive Season, and actually reconnecting with your family. Having said that it has been an enormous privilege to have been Pro GM during the Tercentenary year and I am sure that the Deputy and Assistant GMs will echo that sentiment in respect of their important contributions.

I do not propose to give you a résumé of the whole year. That would be impossible and you would never get to lunch. At the outset Provinces and Districts were asked to concentrate on coming up with events in their own jurisdiction which their Brethren could join in and enjoy. Dare I say, Brethren, they all did this in spades and I include our Groups of Lodges in that. Quite rightly there was often a significant charitable aspect to these events. I should add here that this was greatly enhanced by the imaginative input from the MCF with their multitude of grants across the Provinces. The Rulers and Past Rulers have endeavoured to meet your requests and you, Brethren, wherever we have been, have looked after us with incredible kindness and generosity, thank you so much.

Since our last Communication, we have had the Grand Ball and our major celebratory event at The Royal Albert Hall, at the end of October. 

The events of the 29th to 31st October were a resounding success and I must congratulate and single out Keith Gilbert and his team for the superb administrative arrangements throughout.  Diane Clements and the Museum staff who managed to collect, catalogue and display the many gifts brought by the 133 Grand Masters from around the world amazingly quickly, I think in under one hour! These are now all displayed in the Museum.  And, finally, to James Long and his team who took us all by surprise at the Royal Albert Hall with an amazing and uplifting performance of Masonry across the three Centuries. The whole “London” experience was way beyond, certainly, my expectations and from the comments we have had since, it all simply astounded our hundreds of visitors from overseas. Well done indeed.

Brethren, has there ever been a better time to be a Freemason. I really believe that during the year we have learned so much about how to talk about our Freemasonry with non-members, helped enormously by the Sky Documentary which has opened our eyes and made the general public more receptive. I would love us to have had more editorial control over the end product, but that would, perhaps, have defeated the object. Nonetheless I think we can go forward from here with enormous self belief and pride

We look forward now to 2018, continuing the work of the Improvement Delivery Group and capitalising on the successes of this year, rewarding those who have worked so hard throughout the current year at our March Communications and remembering the fact that it is 100 years since the end of WW1 after which this magnificent building was built as the Masonic Peace Memorial to recognise the sacrifice of over 3,000 English Freemasons who fell in that war.

Brethren, thank you for all your endeavours this year and I wish you a most enjoyable and relaxing Christmas with your families and send you all my good wishes for 2018.

Published in Speeches

The Library and Museum of Freemasonry is pleased to welcome Dr Vicky Carroll as its new Director

Carroll, who started at the end of November, replaces Diane Clements when she retires in December. Carroll has most recently been working for the City of London Corporation as the Principal Curator of Keats House in Hampstead and as the Head of the Guildhall Art Gallery.

She has also managed London’s William Morris Gallery in Walthamstow, leading the delivery of its Heritage Lottery Fund-assisted redevelopment in 2011-13.

‘I am looking forward to this new challenge, building on the recent successful re-display of these wonderful Designated collections so that we can engage with an ever-wider audience,’ Carroll said.

Published in UGLE

When memories are made

With the masonic world coming to London in October to celebrate 300 years of Freemasonry, John Hamill reports on a very special meeting to honour the creation of the first Grand Lodge

The Tercentenary celebrations reached their peak on 31 October, when more than 4,400 brethren attended an especial meeting of the Grand Lodge at London’s Royal Albert Hall. In addition to brethren from overseas Districts, there were more than 130 Grand Masters from all parts of the world – the largest gathering of Grand Masters ever to have been held.

These visitors and guests from other Grand Lodges met at Freemasons’ Hall on 30 October, where they were welcomed by and introduced to HRH The Duke of Kent, with many presenting gifts to mark the Tercentenary. These were displayed in the Library and Museum. Later that evening, guests attended a reception at Mansion House, official residence of The Lord Mayor of London, Dr Andrew Parmley.

Those able to get tickets for the Royal Albert Hall will long remember this special event. Proceedings began when Grand Lodge was opened and called off in a side room. Following the fanfare, the Grand Master entered the Queen’s Box to huge applause, accompanied by HRH Prince Michael of Kent. The visiting Grand Masters were then introduced, while their location and Grand Lodge seals were gradually added to a map of the world projected on two large screens.

As it was an especial meeting, there was no formal business, and entertainment was provided by actors Sir Derek Jacobi, Samantha Bond and Sanjeev Bhaskar, with screen projections exemplifying the principles, tenets and values of Freemasonry. The performance gave insight into Freemasonry’s history over the last 300 years with reference to the famous men who have graced it with their presence. Those who organised this memorable performance deserve great thanks.

At the end of the evening, the Grand Master was processed onto the stage. The Deputy Grand Master read out a message of loyal greeting sent to Her Majesty The Queen, and the response received. With the assistance of the Grand Chaplain, the replica of Sir John Soane’s Ark of the Masonic Covenant was dedicated. The Pro Grand Master congratulated the Grand Master on his 50th anniversary in that role and thanked him for his service. In response, the brethren rose and gave the Grand Master a prolonged standing ovation. He was clearly touched. The Grand Master was then processed out of Royal Albert Hall with his Grand Officers.

Afterwards, nearly 2,000 attendees were bussed through London’s rush-hour traffic to Battersea Evolution for a reception and banquet, which will be long remembered. The activity at the Royal Albert Hall was streamed online to the Grand Temple at Freemasons’ Hall, where nearly 1,000 brethren and ladies (including the wives of our official guests) were able to watch the ceremonies. They then attended a special dinner in the Grand Connaught Rooms chaired by Earl Cadogan, who was assisted by senior members of the Metropolitan Grand Lodge of London.

It was a remarkable occasion, and all who were involved in organising it are due our grateful thanks for such a fitting celebration of the Tercentenary of the first Grand Lodge in the world.


A grand occasion


The Tercentenary event at the Royal Albert Hall, which I was fortunate enough to attend, was a stunning occasion, and I can thoroughly recommend the broadcast footage of it to you. Do find time to watch it; all you need to do is to click on rah300.org and register. The whole event made one very proud to be a Freemason.

Mike White, St Barnabus Lodge, No. 3771, London


I write to express not only my total, complete and utter satisfaction with a wonderful event, but also to congratulate all involved at UGLE for organising such a magnificent and memorable occasion. The masonic world was set alight.

It is very clear that the effort to create and deliver such an event was even greater than could have possibly been imagined. All my brethren and I are still buzzing and we have been unable to stop talking about the day.

It was a great pleasure as Provincial Grand Master of Yorkshire West Riding to have led a large delegation of my brethren to join with those from all of the Constitution, and also from all over the masonic world, at the Royal Albert Hall. The whole presentation was absolutely splendid and a credit to all those involved in writing, creating and delivering such a stupendous event.

First impressions as I saw the set were, ‘Wow, this is going to be good.’ And it was! As the cast appeared on stage, I believed them to be amateur volunteers who were going to do their best, and then thought, ‘He looks a bit like Derek Jacobi.’ Then it dawned on me that it was indeed the great knight of the stage himself. There were few dry eyes as we sang I Vow to Thee my Country, Cwm Rhondda and The National Anthem. On to Battersea Evolution for a wonderful meal. We then floated back to our hotel with so many stories to share. What a day, how lucky we are to have been Freemasons at this moment in time. Many thanks.

David Pratt, Legiolium Lodge, No. 1542, Castleford, Yorkshire


May I congratulate everyone involved in the Tercentenary celebration on Tuesday, 31 October 2017 at the Royal Albert Hall. Not only was I fortunate enough to be selected to attend, I was in one of the best seats in the house to not only enjoy the play and presentations, but also to truly appreciate the amount of work that went in to creating them.

Truly outstanding and a credit to all involved. With thanks and admiration for the day.

George Waldy, Bourne Lodge, No. 6959, Bournemouth, Dorset


On 31 October 2017, I felt like Charlie when he got a golden ticket. Mine was to be in The Grand Temple at Freemasons’ Hall for the live screening of the Tercentenary celebrations from the Royal Albert Hall. How honoured I felt. I could feel that I was part of something very special.

Firstly, I must give a huge thank you to the stewards who kindly escorted me from the front door to the Grand Temple and to a seat with a great view. The quality of the recording was excellent and I am certain that we saw a lot more than if we were at the Albert Hall. The atmosphere was incredible and I cannot say how privileged I felt to be part of your special day.

You could have heard a pin drop as everyone watched with great interest and when, spontaneously, most of the men joined in singing the hymns. It made you realise just how wonderful an organisation Freemasonry is. Well done, guys, and happy 300th birthday UGLE. May you go from strength to strength.

Ruth Wright, Honourable Fraternity of Ancient Freemasons


I write to congratulate all for the Freemasons’ 300th anniversary show that was online. For most of us Down Under and in other parts of the world, it showed the world a great story and what Freemasonry’s aims are about. Congratulations to the team who wrote the script for the anniversary show. If this does not bring in members to the order, then what do we have to do?

Mike Burrell, Lodge Combermere, No. 752, (Unattached), Vict., Australia

Published in UGLE
Tuesday, 12 December 2017 00:00

Midsummer and midwinter memorabilia

Season’s greetings

The Library and Museum collection includes items that reflect the masonic celebrations of midsummer and midwinter

Feemasons have historically celebrated two feasts of Saint John: the feast of John the Baptist on 24 June, and that of John the Evangelist on 27 December, roughly marking midsummer and midwinter. Several important masonic events have taken place on those days, including the first meeting of the Grand Lodge on 24 June 1717 and the union of the two English Grand Lodges in London on 27 December 1813.

A few years ago, following the death of masonic author Frederick Smyth, the Library and Museum received a wooden block with a metal printing plate from his estate that he had used to create his own individual St John’s Day cards.

Towards the end of the 19th century, the members of Quatuor Coronati Lodge, No. 2076, produced a series of cards to mark the occasion, some of which are shown in the photo gallery above.

Published in UGLE

Grand Masters from around the world come bearing gifts

When Grand Masters from around the world came to Freemasons’ Hall as part of the United Grand Lodge of England’s Tercentenary celebrations last week, many of them also came bearing gifts

Around 90 gifts were presented to the UGLE’s Grand Master, HRH The Duke of Kent, who spent time inspecting this wonderful selection which ranged from a ceremonial sword and bronze stag, through to a collection of Russian dolls depicting the Grand Master himself.

The gifts have now been put on display in The Library and Museum of Freemasonry for anyone who visits Freemasons’ Hall to see.

As you can see from the gallery at the top, the array of thoughtful gifts was vast.

Published in UGLE

The Grand Temple at Freemasons’ Hall was the setting for the largest gathering of Grand Masters from all corners of the world on 30th October

For the United Grand Lodge of England’s Tercentenary celebrations, Grand Masters from over 130 foreign Grand Lodges were welcomed by UGLE’s Grand Master, HRH The Duke of Kent.

HRH The Duke of Kent then addressed all those present: 'Ladies, Gentlemen and Brethren, I am delighted that so many of you have been able to come to London to celebrate our Tercentenary anniversary with us. Indeed, I am advised that this is the largest gathering of Grand Masters that there has ever been.

'I am so pleased to have this opportunity to greet you all this morning in the relative peace and tranquillity of our magnificent Temple within Freemasons’ Hall, and it is most important to me that I meet you all.

'May I also thank you for your gifts which we will have the chance to see in the Museum after this meeting. Thank you again for your support.'

Dressed in their formal Regalia, they bought kind words and greetings – and some brought gifts to commemorate the Tercentenary – for the Grand Master, which the Library and Museum of Freemasonry will soon be putting on special display for visitors to see.

Events were then set to continue into the evening when the Grand Masters, along with their guests, attend a reception held at the Mansion House, with a welcome by the Lord Mayor of London Andrew Parmley and Pro Grand Master Peter Lowndes.

Published in UGLE

A new and exciting exhibition opened in Leicester on Friday 6th October 2017, as local Freemasons marked the celebration of the 300th anniversary of the formation of their governing body, the United Grand Lodge of England

The exhibition provides insights into what Freemasonry is all about and how it has become a significant social institution that is supportive towards local communities.

Freemasonry, What’s it all About? explores the intriguing relationship between present, past and the future of Freemasonry across Leicestershire and Rutland. The exhibition covers well known historical figures and Freemasons of Leicestershire and Rutland through the years and showcases current into Freemasonry and its members, as well as featuring a look into the future of Freemasonry.

This welcoming local journey through Freemasonry shares personal stories and insights of Freemasons across the ages, particularly those that have affected the counties of Leicestershire and Rutland.

The Provincial Grand Master of the Leicestershire and Rutland Freemasons, David Hagger, said: ‘Freemasonry provides a unique environment for people from all backgrounds to learn skills, make lasting friendships and achieve their potential. This exhibition is an exciting project and I hope it will lead to further interest and a better understanding of our historic fraternity.’

The exhibition is a collaborative project between Leicestershire and Rutland Freemasons, Newarke Houses Museum and the Leicestershire and Rutland Record Office, bringing together a varied and engaging exhibition for all. The exhibition has been kindly constructed by volunteers at the WMG Academy for Young Engineers, Coventry with printing by Gartree Press Ltd, Leicester.

Freemasonry, What’s it all About? has been developed and created by a young and exciting local curator, Sophia Kyprianou in conjunction with local Freemasons. She commented: ‘Throughout my time working on the exhibition I have been amazed at how much Freemasonry is supportive, committed and involved at the heart of so many local communities across the counties. Unearthing stories from past and present Freemasons has been incredibly interesting and is something I am keen to share with the public in a creative way throughout the exhibition; giving an insight into what Freemasonry is and how it continues to be an integral part of modern society.’

The exhibition was formally opened by the Pro Grand Master of the United Grand Lodge of England, Peter Lowndes on a visit to the region.

Freemasonry, What’s it all About? is at Newarke Houses Museum, The Newarke, Leicester, until the 31st January 2018. The exhibition is open Monday to Saturday from 10am-5pm, and Sunday from 11am-5pm.

For further information about the exhibition and venue, please click here.

Part of our lives

A new exhibition of photography by Laura Gallant called Freemasonry: part of our Lives opened this week at the Library and Museum of Freemasonry

The exhibition captures the testimony of those Freemasons photographed, for whom Freemasonry is "part of their lives". It provides a fascinating insight into Freemasonry's appeal across generations, underlines the variety of motivations that prompt membership and highlights how much enjoyment its members derive in practising "the Craft".

The exhibition runs from 14th September until 10th November.

The Library and Museum is open Monday to Saturday 10am to 5pm, and also Sunday 17th September for Open House London

Admission free

Published in UGLE
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