With visitors invited to explore Freemasons’ Hall, director of the Library and Museum Diane Clements explains to Caitlin Davies how this is leading to greater transparency
Covent Garden is one of London’s tourist hot spots and this sunny Saturday in September is no exception. The area is crowded with people sightseeing, shopping and visiting bars. But at the end of Long Acre, where it meets the corner of Great Queen Street, is another city attraction altogether. It’s a large, almost monumental, stone building with little to identify its purpose to those who don’t know.
Come a little closer, however, and a plaque states it was opened in 1933 by Field Marshall HRH The Duke of Connaught, Knight of the Garter and Most Worshipful Grand Master. This is Freemasons’ Hall and today it sports a welcoming sign as part of the annual celebration of the capital’s architecture – ‘Open House London’. Now in its twentieth year, the scheme has seven hundred and fifty buildings opening their doors for free, from iconic landmarks to private homes. A steady stream of people head through the Tower entrance to Freemasons’ Hall, where a steward hands out a leaflet. ‘Welcome to Freemasons’ Hall,’ he says. ‘It’s a self-guided tour.’ ‘People often walk or cycle past and have never been in,’ says Diane Clements, who is overseeing today’s proceedings and is director of the Library and Museum of Freemasonry. ‘People don’t know what they’re going to see – there is a sense of amazement when they get inside, the building is far more elaborate than you might think. The fact that they can come in shows how open we are and helps address misconceptions about Freemasonry.’ Diane has run the Library and Museum for thirteen years, and relishes the opportunity to work with a world-class collection of objects that have interesting stories to tell. ‘The public has a continuing desire to learn about Freemasonry. I’d like to think the Library and Museum has played a part in improving their understanding.’
Wandering at will
Each year thirty thousand people visit the Library and Museum, and most come for organised tours of the Grand Temple. Freemasons’ Hall has taken part in Open House London since 2000 and the logistics of running the event are considerable. ‘For Open House we couldn’t get enough people through the doors using our usual guided method,’ explains Diane, ‘so it’s the only time you are basically given a leaflet and left to look around.’ Her role is to make sure that the two thousand, five hundred visitors on Open Day have ‘an enjoyable and informative visit’, and over the years she’s learnt to always ‘wear comfortable shoes’.
On the right of the cloakroom a sign shows visitors where to start, then there’s a murmur of voices and creaking of knees as people go up the stairs. The building has a library feel to it, but this changes in the first vestibule, which is flooded with glorious yellow light reflected from the stained glass windows. A man crouches to take a picture of a small golden figure, part of the shrine designed by Walter Gilbert. Meanwhile, a woman from West Sussex says she wasn’t sure what to expect: ‘My dad is in a lodge and I always thought he just meant he went to a room somewhere. But it’s fantastic. It’s really beautiful.’ Another visitor, Dermot, just happened to walk past this afternoon. And what did he imagine was inside? ‘That’s the thing,’ he replies, ‘I didn’t know what to expect.’ For a lot of people it is curiosity that has brought them here today.
‘All our buildings are chosen for the quality of their architecture, that’s our criteria,’ explains Victoria Thornton, director of Open-City, which runs Open House London. ‘Some, like Freemasons’ Hall, may have a quiet façade, behind which lies real exuberance.’
In the second vestibule, steward Peter Martin is presiding over a table of free literature and says the event is even busier than last year. Eric from Kent has been to several Open House events today. ‘I started at Lloyds and worked my way along Fleet Street. I’ve seen Unilever and Doctor Johnson’s house… the stained glass is awesome here.’
The question of gender is a popular one. In the third vestibule a woman asks a steward if only men can join Freemasonry. He explains women can join one of two Grand Lodges in England, but they are not allowed in the men’s Grand Temple, and vice versa.
In the Grand Temple there are fold-down seats like a theatre and it’s here that many visitors take the opportunity for a rest. Voices are respectfully hushed. ‘It is contemplative,’ says Diane. ‘There’s never a huge noise in here. It’s not like the Sistine Chapel – we don’t have to say “Quiet please.”’ One steward answers a barrage of questions about rituals and pledges. ‘Is it true the Queen is a Freemason?’ asks one visitor. The answer is no.
An outside walkway leads to the Library and Museum where an exhibition traces the relationship between Freemasonry and sport. The tour ends at the exit on Great Queen Street, where members arrive for their lodge meetings and are watched with interest by departing visitors, one of whom takes a final snap.
Wiltshire Grand Superintendent David Blanchard has received strong backing for the Royal Arch Masons 2013 Bicentenary Appeal in support of the Royal College of Surgeons, improved by a further £500 donated at the First Principals Chapter.
There were presentations by a number of college representatives, including head of research Martyn Coomer; Priyan Landham, who specialises in orthopaedic (trauma) surgery; and Nishith Patel, a heart surgeon who is researching kidney failure after cardiac surgery.
Patrick Dunachie, a student at Hereford Cathedral School, has beneﬁtted from a Chorister Scholarship from the Royal Masonic Trust for Girls and Boys since the age of seven, and now has a place to read music at King’s College, Cambridge, following his brother Liam, a music scholar at Trinity College.
Patrick said that it was hard to overestimate the importance and beneﬁt of the scholarship, which was a great privilege. The Dean of Hereford, the Very Reverend Michael Tavinor, thanked Herefordshire Freemasons for their continuing valuable support.
Pro Grand Master Peter Lowndes explains why 2017 will be a unique opportunity to share masonic pride across the nation
As the masonic fraternity is a single, indivisible fellowship that is neither divided nor affected by local or national boundaries within our constitution, the word ‘united’ is extremely appropriate as we move forward to our three hundredth anniversary celebrations in 2017. Hence, Metropolitan Grand Lodge, the Provinces and Districts are united as part of one fellowship – that of the United Grand Lodge of England.
Celebration for all
So how should we be working together to plan the 2017 celebrations, remembering that this is just over four and a half years away? From the very outset, I want to make it clear that this is a celebration for every one of us – for the members throughout the English constitution, both here and in the Districts.
Celebrating three hundred years is a once in a lifetime event for us all, as is appropriately marking this wonderful achievement and, of course, being the first Grand Lodge to do so. We have seen two great events this summer – that of Her Majesty’s Diamond Jubilee and the Olympic Games. Both these events proved highly successful and raised the morale and spirit of our nation. That is exactly what I want the members’ 2017 celebration to achieve for our united fraternity.
I am convinced that by working through the Metropolitan Grand Master and the Provincial and District Grand Masters we will encourage a large participation in this great occasion. Although there is much detail to be planned and to be communicated to you for your own planning, the main event will certainly include partners.
We are proud to be Freemasons and 2017 is a great opportunity to show that pride not only to our families and friends, but to the non-masonic community as well. To this end it will also be the natural culmination of the open public relations strategy we have embraced.
The Association of Medical, University and Legal Lodges (AMULL) celebrated its 12th annual festival at Lincoln’s Inn in London, in the presence of Deputy Grand Master Jonathan Spence, his wife Almudena and Metropolitan Grand Master Russell Race.
This year’s host was the Chancery Bar Lodge, No. 2456, whose meetings are held in Lincoln’s Inn. The day included a lecture: ‘For Valour – The Victoria Cross’, by Mark Smith. An ecumenical service was held in Lincoln’s Inn Chapel, led by the Reverend Alan Gyle, with the address by the Venerable Peter Delaney. This year’s AMULL bursaries went to Michael Mather (Universities Lodge, No. 2352, Durham) and Daniel Glover (University Lodge of Liverpool, No. 4274).
Three years of planning – following a suggestion by Jim Morris of St Clair Lodge, No. 24, in Belleville, Illinois – resulted in a trip by English masons to St Louis, Missouri, that involved four degree demonstrations in 10 days. Members of ﬁve London lodges, three from Essex, and one each from West Kent and Cambridgeshire, formed the nine-strong demonstration team. One demonstration was held in St Louis and three in Belleville.
Lancaster and District Freemasons donated £24,000 for prostate cancer research after a campaign set up by Peter Pemberton, of Pilling Lodge, No. 7879. Jack Bacon, from Prostate Action, said, ‘I am extremely grateful for this magnificent and generous donation from the amazing campaign by the masons of Lancaster and District.’
Derek Dinsmore has taken over the role of Grand Chancellor, in succession to Alan Englefield, who has been appointed Sovereign Grand Commander of the Ancient and Accepted Rite (Rose Croix). Alan was the first person to be appointed to the new post of Grand Chancellor in 2007. As Grand Chancellor, one of his duties was to assist the Grand Master and the Rulers representing Grand Lodge on formal visits overseas and at international gatherings.
At the annual investiture this year, the Grand Master, HRH The Duke of Kent, said that Alan had made ‘an invaluable contribution to bringing us closer to other Grand Lodges around the world, as well as to maintaining our position as the Mother Grand Lodge’.
Derek was initiated into Chevron Lodge, No. 6021, in 1970 and is a member of the Grand Master’s Council, the Board of General Purposes and the Committee of General Purposes. He is a member of the Royal Arch, Rose Croix and other Orders. He spent much of his childhood on a family farm in West Wales and later joined Debenhams. In 1974 he started an agency to market products of European fashion houses in the UK and Ireland and spent the last 11 years of his working life as chief executive of Betty Barclay (UK) Ltd. Married with two sons and five grandchildren, he retired in 2000.
The UK’s party mood, evident throughout the summer of 2012, continued as the Province of Warwickshire celebrated the finale of their Festival on behalf of the MSF.
Provincial Grand Master David Macey handed over a cheque for £3,159,870 and thanked the members and their families for their generous support. Hugh Stubbs, President of the MSF, encouraged those present to use their new-found awareness to identify others in need of health and care support.
How the Masonic Samaritan Fund is giving a new lease of life to a Leicester couple...
Sue Jacobs suffers from lymphedema and spinal stenosis, which causes persistent agonising pain and weakness in her lower back. She suffered constant falls getting around her home and underwent major spinal surgery last year to prevent the gradual loss of feeling in her legs. The surgery has hopefully prevented further paralysis but has left her requiring a wheelchair. Her husband Mike’s search for help led him to the MSF, who welcomed an application for a wet room, entry ramps and a custom-designed power chair for Sue.
‘The support from MSF more than exceeded our expectations and has taken the burden of worry from our minds,’ said the Jacobs. The grant has given Sue a new lease of life, as she is now able to navigate her home unaided. ‘The wet room has given me my independence back and my power chair allows me to move around freely,’ said Sue. Mike is also delighted. ‘It felt like the MSF were bending over backwards to help Sue. We are so very grateful for their assistance and support.’