London beneath the covers
London Hidden Interiors author Philip Davies gives an exclusive tour around some of the capital’s best conserved and least known interiors – including Freemasons’ Hall
Aldwych Underground Station
Strand, WC2R 1EP
Listed: Grade II
Aldwych Underground Station opened as Strand on 30 November 1907, rechristened Aldwych in 1915. An oddity from its inception, the Aldwych branch operated a shuttle service between Holborn and Strand; various extensions were envisaged, so the station was built, but they never came to fruition, leaving Aldwych as a dead end.
Built on the site of the old Royal Strand Theatre, the station was designed by Leslie Green using the familiar ox-blood terracotta blocks. Three lift shafts were completed in the expectation of expansion, but only one was fitted out with lifts, which still survive. As early as 1917, the eastern tunnel and platform were closed, and used as secure wartime storage for pictures from The National Gallery. After the First World War, passenger demand remained low, and closure was mooted as early as 1933.
From 1940 to 1946 the station was used as an air-raid shelter, and the tunnels for storing the Elgin Marbles and other valuables from the British Museum. The station finally closed on 3 October 1994. Today it is used for training and as a film location, with old tube stock permanently stationed at the branch. It is reputedly haunted by an actress from the theatre that once occupied the site.
‘From 1940 to 1946 the tunnels were used to store valuables from the British Museum’
60 Great Queen Street, WC2B 5AZ
Listed: Grade II*
Known as the Masonic Peace Memorial, Freemasons’ Hall was built as a tribute to its 3,000 members killed in the First World War. Its design is the result of an international architectural competition launched in 1925, won by Henry Victor Ashley and Francis Winton Newman, who had extensive experience designing banks, factories, housing and hospital extensions.
The Grand Lodge of England had been based in Great Queen Street since 1774, where Thomas Sandby designed the first purpose-built Masonic Hall in the country in the form of a Roman Doric temple embellished with masonic symbols.
Originally Ashley and Newman intended to retain Sandby’s hall, but it was demolished in March 1932 after serious defects were found. The gigantic new complex was faced in Portland stone and designed on an heroic scale. No expense was spared on the sumptuous interior, which is finished in neo-Grecian style in marble, bronze, mosaic and stained glass imbued with masonic symbolism.
Set on a diagonal axis, the ground floor comprises the grand entrance hall and museum, and a marble staircase lit by full-height stained-glass windows leads to a huge marble-lined vestibule. Facing west is the war memorial window and Roll of Honour, which is housed in a bronze casket by Walter Gilbert, who designed most of the metalwork in the building.
The awe-inspiring Grand Temple – entered through bronze doors each weighing 1.25 tons – is crowned by a celestial canopy surrounded by a mosaic cornice, which depicts allegorical figures with different orders of classical architecture. Elsewhere, the Boardroom is panelled in hardwood and lit with stained glass, while Lodge Room No. 10 has huge arched bays carrying a domed roof.
‘No expense was spared on the sumptuous interior, with bronze, mosaic and stained glass imbued with masonic symbolism’
Southampton Row, WC1B 4DA
Listed: Grade II
Some of the worst poverty in London was previously to be found yards from the site of Freemasons’ Hall. The shocking mortality rates of Victorian Britain prompted the less fortunate to form burial clubs, so they could afford a decent funeral for their loved ones as an alternative to the pauper’s grave.
The early societies were unregulated. Many collapsed from mismanagement or fraud, but a number of reputable societies emerged, one of which was the Liverpool Victoria Friendly Society. Formed as a burial society in 1843, its business was based on ‘penny policies’ collected door-to-door. Like several other societies, Liverpool Victoria grew into a huge financial institution, the sheer opulence of its building rivalling those of the great banks.
Victoria House, the headquarters of Liverpool Victoria, involved the clearance of an entire street block of Georgian houses on the east side of Bloomsbury Square, making way for the huge Grecian-style, Beaux Arts palace. Designed by Charles W Long and erected over thirteen years between 1921 and 1934, it exuded the twin values of dignity and security, as expected of the headquarters of the great financial institutions.
Beneath the heroic marble entrance hall is a large basement ballroom, fitted out in Art Deco style with chrome, silver leaf and mauve-coloured lighting – a sharp contrast to the chaste Greek classicism of the upper floors. A suite of mahogany-panelled Grecian-style boardrooms are found on the third floor, some of which have eighteenth-century marble chimney pieces salvaged from the houses that once stood on the site.
Shortlisted in 1998 as a potential new City Hall for the Mayor of London, it was refurbished by Will Alsop, retaining the historic interiors.
‘It exuded the twin values of dignity and security, as expected of the headquarters of the great financial institutions’
The British Optical Association Museum
41-42 Craven Street, WC2N 5NG
Listed: Grade II
Founded in 1901 by the optician J H Sutcliffe, the British Optical Association Museum is now hosted by the College of Optometrists, after a peripatetic existence over the past one hundred years. It was first opened to the public in 1914 at Clifford’s Inn Hall, prompted by Sutcliffe’s desire to establish ‘An Optical House Beautiful’ in line with the fashionable concepts of the Aesthetic Movement. Later it moved to Brook Street and then to Earl’s Court before arriving at its current location in 1997, a fine early-Georgian house built c1730, with a replica extension erected in 1988.
Sutcliffe’s legacy is a quirky collection of more than eighteen thousand items relating to ophthalmic optics, the human eye and visual aids, as well as archival material, paintings and prints. The museum display is a fascinating juxtaposition of old and new objects, including the spectacles of famous personalities from Dr Johnson to Ronnie Corbett, and the sides of Dr Crippen’s glasses, the lenses missing after he tried to use them to cut his own throat in prison in a failed suicide attempt.
The cabinets house an extensive collection of porcelain eyebaths, binoculars, spyglasses and jealousy glasses with sideways mirrors to allow the owner to discreetly eye up potential suitors. Look for the dark adaptation goggles with red lenses used by Second World War pilots to adjust their night vision prior to take off, and the early revolving self-service cabinet of spectacles made by the Automatic Sight Testing and Optical Supply Co Ltd in 1889.
‘Sutcliffe’s legacy is a collection of more than eighteen thousand items … a fascinating juxtaposition of old and new objects’
James Smith & Sons
53 New Oxford Street, WC1A 1BL
Listed: Grade II
In 1830, James Smith established this famous firm of umbrella makers in Foubert’s Place, off Regent Street. In 1857, his son opened a shop at 53 New Oxford Street, followed rapidly by six other businesses elsewhere in London, including a hatter and barbershop. From their branch in the tiny passageway at Savile Row they sold umbrellas to many of the leading figures of their day, including Lord Curzon and Bonar Law.
The company was one of the first to use the famous Fox steel frames, named after Samuel Fox, who created the first steel umbrella frame in 1848. In addition to umbrellas, Smith’s has specialised in making canes and military swagger sticks, as well as bespoke items such as ceremonial maces for tribal chiefs in South Africa, Nigeria and elsewhere.
The superb shopfront and interior is a beautifully preserved example of a high-class Victorian West End shop, with cast-iron cresting to the faceted gilt and glass fascias, inscribed brass sills, elaborate black and gilt lettering to the upper panels of the windows and a splendid traditional box sign. Inside, the original mahogany counters and display cases are stocked with an array of canes, sticks and umbrellas, most of which are still manufactured in the basement. James Smith & Sons is the largest and oldest umbrella shop in Europe, and its shopfront and interior one of the landmarks of central London.
London Hidden Interiors by Philip Davies is an English Heritage book published by Atlantic Publishing, £40, available from booksellers everywhere. All pictures courtesy of English Heritage. www.londonhiddeninteriors.co.uk
‘The superb shopfront and interior is a beautifully preserved example of a high-class Victorian West End shop’
I have long been fascinated by the study of the source and development of words, and with this comes a realisation that a word can be interpreted in several different ways. I mention this in relation to the challenge of explaining Freemasonry. This is something that remains at the forefront of my mind with all our communications – not least the recent successful media tour.
Due to the fact that we are not prescriptive, it is hard to explain Freemasonry while avoiding jargon. This has led us to explain our principles as kindness, honesty, fairness, tolerance and integrity. These words clearly explain our essential nature.
As you know, we had an excellent reception from local media and I have valued the feedback and support from fellow members. It is fair to say that some members were surprised at some of the words I used in interviews and this brings me back to my earlier point on how people analyse words.
Most interviews were very short, with the interviewer having researched Freemasonry on a strange website. So I used words like ‘fun’ when describing Freemasonry. I would not change the word in the context that it was said, but what I meant was that I find Freemasonry ‘enjoyable and rewarding’.
Another example of describing Freemasonry comes from one of the pieces from our ritual that ends with being happy and communicating that. ‘Happy’ is another word that can mean many things but I know as Freemasons we can embrace it.
I hope you will find something to make you feel happy among the features that make up this issue. Worcester Cathedral’s first female stonemason apprentice reveals how masonic support is helping her. As the Royal Arch marks its two-hundredth anniversary in 2013, we look at how members and the chapters are helping the Royal College of Surgeons. And as smaller charities struggle in this economic climate, we shine a light on how Freemasons are helping swimming pools stay open, challenging discrimination and supporting air ambulances. These are all stories that show Freemasonry at its best.
‘The challenge of explaining Freemasonry remains at the forefront of my mind’
Letters to the editor - No. 22 Summer 2013
Charity for all
Sir, I read with interest the last paragraph of the Grand Secretary’s forward in the last copy of Freemasonry Today.
Peter Borst, Ludgrove Lodge, No. 7766, Cheshunt, Hertfordshire
Cherwell Chapter, No. 599, has celebrated its 125th anniversary at Banbury in Oxfordshire, in the presence of Grand Superintendent Stephen Dunning. Provincial Officers were also in attendance for a demonstration of the history and meaning of the various offices and artefacts of a Royal Arch Chapter. Companions received a copy of a 110-page commemorative book, which contained the history of the chapter and the text of the anniversary ceremony.
Following treatment for a stroke, Michael Johnson, an Assistant Provincial Grand Principal in Essex Royal Arch, noted that the stroke unit at Colchester Hospital had only one QuickMove hoist. Michael asked if the chapters for which he was responsible could donate towards the supply of a second hoist; the money was raised and Michael was at the Colchester Hospital presentation. The Province bought two further hoists – about £1,700 each – and presented these to the Southend and Basildon Hospital stroke units.
After Michael passed away, it came to the attention of local Freemasons that the rehabilitation kitchen used by patients in the Colchester unit was in a poor state. Thanks to local masonic donations, including a sizeable amount from Essex Provincial Grand Stewards Lodge, No. 8665, the kitchen was refurbished at a cost of £7,390. The handover of donations was made by Grand Superintendent John Webb in the presence of Michael’s widow, Vikki, and his two sons. A plaque was placed in the kitchen in Michael’s memory.
Bath Masonic Hall opened its doors to BBC’s popular Flog It! programme. In the search for hidden treasures, the public are invited to bring along up to three antiques and collectables to the Flog It! valuation days. Once valued, the owner and team of experts decide whether an item should go forward for auction. If the item is chosen, it is sold a few weeks later – often with the owner making a tidy sum.
When Folkestone mason Mike Lawrence’s wife joined the Shorncliffe Military Wives Choir, Mike set out to raise £1,250 for a PA system to enhance their performances, arranging 14 lectures in both the East and West Kent Provinces to achieve the target.
Choir members at the Masonic Centre, Grace Hill, packed 113 boxes of presents for the Royal Gurkha Rifles – normally based at Shorncliffe Camp, but currently on active duty in Afghanistan.
The Freemasonry in the Community diesel 12-seat Renault Master minibus has been handed over to the Weston and District Community Transport group. It has air conditioning and a power-operated wheelchair lift located at its rear. The minibus was acquired by Somerset Freemasons in 2010 and has since completed 130 respite day trips, carrying about 1,250 people in total.
The handover was made by Somerset Provincial Grand Master Stuart Hadler to Weston and District Community Transport trustees chairman David Ray in the presence of the Mayor and Mayoress of Weston, Cllr David Hitchins and Mrs Carol Hitchins. Somerset lodges have contributed to the running costs and the vehicle will be driven by a team of masonic volunteer drivers.
Bucks mason David Peck has been honoured for his essay exploration of the Nazi threat to British Freemasons in World War II, receiving the Norman B Spencer Prize from the world’s pre-eminent masonic research group, Quatuor Coronati Lodge, No. 2076
David won £100, which he donated to the Freemasons’ Hall Library and Museum, and has been invited to join the research group. ‘Possibly the biggest threat Freemasonry has seen in the last century was that of the Nazis. There is every reason to believe that we would have suffered persecution in England if Operation Sealion – Hitler’s plan to invade England – had gone ahead.’
Chairman of the Bucks Association for Masonic Research, David’s previous projects include investigating the Order’s origins and development in Malta.
Pensioners in Milton Keynes were treated to a charity Christmas lunch by local masons when representatives of 14 groups laid on traditional fare for around 100 people who live in sheltered housing near the Masonic Centre at Bletchley.
The guests included Valentine Eggleton, 82, who was awarded the British Empire Medal for his voluntary work in disabled sport in 1991.
The 2012 Classic Motor Show at Birmingham’s NEC was the biggest in its history, with a record visitor attendance of more than 60,000 over the 3 days. For the 7th consecutive year the Masonic Classic Vehicle Club had a stand at the event, resulting in the recruitment of a record 30 new members. The Club also held its annual meeting, chaired by Club President and former Essex PGM Sir Neil Thorne, in a private room provided by the show organisers.