Freemasons’ Hall is one of London’s landmark buildings and, as part of the process of maintaining it, there are a small number of highly skilled artisans working there.
The skill base is maintained partly by recruiting junior craftsmen and training them to a level not usually found elsewhere.
A recent recruit as a junior painter is Arthur Smith. He is just 18 and last year started an NVQ course at Lambeth College in Painting and Decorating. He has done so well that he was asked by the college, as part of their Ofsted inspection, to allow the inspector to visit him during his work at Freemasons’ Hall. With Arthur about to progress to the second year, the college is now considering entering him into various local, national and European skills competitions.
Annual General Meeting of The Freemasons' Grand Charity
13 June 2012
An address by the President of the Grand Charity, Richard Hone, QC, and the Chief Executive, Laura Chapman
President (Richard Hone, QC):
Deputy Grand President and members, welcome to what for the Grand Charity is its 32nd Annual General Meeting, and which is my first as President, after serving nine years on the Council between 1997 and 2006. I want to start by paying tribute to the work of my predecessor, Grahame Elliott, who in his six years of office saw the 25th and 30th anniversaries of the founding of The Grand Charity. It is really the man himself I want to praise because he presented such a genial and friendly face of the Charity that will long be remembered, especially by the Provinces, which he often visited. Like all good leaders, he does have his idiosyncrasies and his ability to go off script is unrivalled, but we loved him for it. Perhaps most importantly, he played a key role in moving the four charities in to a single office space in Freemasons’ Hall which has created a sea change of mutual co-operation between our four charities, upon which it will be my happy task to build. On behalf of the Council of the Grand Charity and the staff for whom he cared so deeply, I extend our warmest good wishes to Grahame Elliott in his retirement. He is a hard act to follow but it is reassuring to know that he remains part of the team as a Past President.
I have mentioned the move of all four charities in to the new purpose built offices here at Freemasons’ Hall. The physical proximity means that it is much easier for inter-communication – we are after all in the same business – organising Masonic charity from cradle to grave. One of the most striking things I have noticed since my return to Grand Charity last year, has been the inauguration of Freemasonry Cares as a form of umbrella for all four charities. Yes, Freemasons really do care, and the way in which we care is exemplified by the Royal Masonic Institution for Girls and Boys, by the Masonic Samaritan Fund, the Royal Masonic Benevolent Institution and The Grand Charity. The four Presidents now meet regularly and I am particularly excited that over the next five years, over which I hope to serve as President of the Grand Charity, we foresee a culmination of co-operation, the integration of some of our common services under Freemasonry Cares, as well as cross fertilisation of resources and more joined-up thinking about what we are doing. What is fundamental is to maintain the individual identities of the Charities and the proud traditions of the existing institutions built up over nearly 300 years, but to make sure that the excellent work that we do is delivered more efficiently and without duplication. This on-going process has been enormously promoted by the truly fraternal co-operation between the four Presidents and, most importantly, their chief executives, so you may be assured, it is a consensual exercise, promoted by working together in one location. I am not a great one for slogans – the day job rather puts a stop to that – but what I do want to promote is a sense that Masonic charity as a whole is a terrific force for good. We should all draw strength from that and make sure the public properly understands the good we do. Masonic charity represents over £20 million a year. My task as President of the Grand Charity is to ask continuously: how can we make it even better? I for one shall never forget that, important as London is, our heartland is in the provinces. One only has to look at the recent Grand Charity Festivals in Essex and South Wales to see where our greatest support lies. We must never forget the provinces.
The past year has once again been good for the Charity. The cost of Masonic grants to individuals and families for their daily living costs, amounted to £5.3m. Grants to non-Masonic charities have continued to be given in a way that we all hope everyone approves. I am particularly pleased that the non-Masonic grants in 2011 reached nearly £3m. This is what we must build on, to dispel the myth that Freemasons exist only to look after our own. I repeat the refrain: We are a terrific force for good. One of my tasks as President is to ensure that every member should feel a real sense of pride in the fantastic support we give to national charities and also to emergency grants for international relief where we are acknowledged to be leaders in the field: “He who gives quickly gives twice” was an aphorism of one early Grand Master. It was good to read that we are strongly commended in the recent report entitled: The Future of Freemasonry.
We are most grateful to Grand Lodge for allowing us to hold our Annual General Meeting during this Quarterly Communication. I sense there is a real enthusiasm for the work of the Grand Charity and in spite of these really difficult economic times, involving real family hardship, the report for last year shows that I take over a Charity in a good state. Long may that flourish. I am sure that we were all enthused by the marvellous events of the Diamond Jubilee with the concepts of dedication and service to others which resonate so strongly with Freemasonry and our unwavering support of the Grand Master and Her Majesty the Queen. That is why I am so pleased that we are giving support to the Prince’s Trust. I look forward to reporting an even better year in 2013.
Item 3 on the Agenda concerns the 25 non-Masonic Grants set out on pages 7 to 12, but before seeking their approval, I should like, with your permission Deputy Grand President, to ask Laura Chapman, the Charity’s Chief Executive to say a few words.
Chief Executive (Laura Chapman):
Deputy Grand President and members – As the President has just emphasized, Freemasonry is a terrific force for good and that is nowhere more evident than in the grants that the Grand Charity gives to national charities. The decisions on which charities to support are easy for the Council to make because they are driven by the views of the Craft on the causes you want to support and the impact you wish to achieve.
Masons are very clear that you wish to support people in need, who are vulnerable and coping with terminal illness, disability and frailty or who are excluded from participating fully in society because of ill health or disadvantage. You want your charitable support to be given to people, not to animals, the environment or the arts.
And, not surprisingly as many of you are businessmen, professionals or simply careful with your pennies, you want your charitable investment to make a maximum return both for the individuals concerned and for society as a whole, by helping those ‘at risk’ to help themselves rather than becoming dependant on the state for long term welfare support.
Of those at risk, unemployed youth, now nearly 22% of 15 to 22 year olds in the UK are particularly vulnerable. Disproportionately represented in this group are some of the most disadvantaged and excluded young people in this country, who, even in the most prosperous economies, are less likely to find employment.
Presented for your approval today is a grant for £250,000 to the Prince’s Trust to help address the crisis of youth unemployment. His Royal Highness The Prince of Wales set up The Prince’s Trust in 1976 and today it is one of the UK’s leading charities in supporting young people who face the greatest challenges to become financially and socially independent.
The Grand Charity’s quarter of a million pound grant will fund projects to help these young people to find sustainable employment or re-engage with education. Five thousand pounds of this grant will be distributed to each of the 47 Masonic Provinces and the Metropolitan Grand Lodge of London to present for the relevant project in their area, thereby creating local publicity for Masonic charitable giving.
The Council of the Grand Charity is especially pleased in this year of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee to be able to recommend a grant that is so closely associated with the work of the Royal Family and embodies so faithfully the force for good that is Freemasonry. The President will now seek your approval for this and the other non-Masonic grants recommended by the Council.
Non-Masonic Grants approved at the Grand Charity’s Annual General Meeting
13 June 2012
a. £50,000 to Cancer Research UK to fund a research project on pancreatic cancer at Barts, London.
b. £60,000 over two years to Diabetes UK to fund a research project on Type 1 diabetes at King’s College, London.
c. £50,000 over two years to Barnardo’s to fund the salary of a project worker in the service aimed at preventing sexual exploitation in Plymouth.
d. £60,000 over two years to Buttle UK to fund the development of the Quality Mark for Care Leavers in higher education.
e. £16,000 to CHICKS to fund the salary of a supervisor to work with disadvantaged children at residential retreats in Devon.
f. £25,000 to Children our Ultimate Investment UK to fund the Teens and Toddlers programme in Manchester.
g. £30,000 to Outward Bound to fund a bursary scheme enabling disadvantaged young people to participate in three week adventure activity courses.
h. £20,000 to Street League to fund the A-Z Academy programme in Croydon.
i. £250,000 to The Prince’s Trust to be distributed to Provincial and Metropolitan Grand Lodges for local presentations to fund work-related activities for disadvantaged young people.
j. £25,000 to Calvert Trust Kielder to fund bursaries for severely disabled adults at an outdoor activity centre.
k. £55,000 to Combat Stress to fund community outreach teams to support ex-Service personnel with mental health problems.
l. £90,000 over two years to Dementia UK to fund a Chief Nurse post to develop training for specialist dementia nurses.
m. £25,000 to Dogs for the Disabled to fund the PAWS service for children with autism.
n. £50,000 to Help for Heroes to fund the development of therapeutic gardens at four recovery centres for wounded Service personnel.
o. £25,000 to the Huntington Disease Association to fund the regional care advisory service in the north west of England.
p. £18,000 to I Can to fund a primary school project supporting children who struggle with speech and language skills.
q. £25,000 to Jubilee Sailing Trust to fund a bursary for a severely disabled crew member.
r. £12,000 to Living Paintings Trust to fund a catalogue of Touch to See books for pre-school children.
s. £30,000 to Music in Hospitals to fund live concerts for older people in healthcare settings.
t. £10,000 to PHAB to fund residential outdoor activity courses for disabled young people.
u. £30,000 to the Rainbow Trust Children’s Charity to fund a family support worker in Manchester.
v. £22,000 to Rett UK to fund a Family Guide publication for families who have a child with Rett Syndrome.
w. £25,000 to Special Olympics UK to fund the salary of the volunteer development manager.
x. £25,000 to TB Alert to fund a project to raise awareness of the rising prevalence of tuberculosis amongst local organisations which work with vulnerable people.
y. £30,000 to Young Minds to fund the development of the charity’s use of internet technology to provide support services to young people with mental health problems.
Was St Paul's Cathedral built by a mason?
With Christopher Wren’s membership of the Craft remaining disputed, Dr James Campbell explains why he chose this subject for his 2011 Prestonian Lecture
Sir Christopher Wren is so well known he hardly needs an introduction. He is England’s most famous architect, the designer of St Paul’s Cathedral. Indeed, up until the age of the railways he was England’s most prolific architect, designing more buildings in his 90 years than any other.
But what makes Wren really fascinating is that he turned to architecture rather late, having already made a considerable name for himself as a mathematician, astronomer and experimental scientist. He was a founding member of the Royal Society and later its president. He carried out the first intravenous injection, was one of the three men who suggested to Newton that gravity obeyed the inverse square law, and was a professor of astronomy at the age of 26. His contemporaries universally described him as startlingly brilliant. Indeed, the more you learn about Wren the more engaging he becomes.
My interest in Wren dates back to 1987, when I first arrived as an undergraduate in Trinity College, Cambridge, and discovered the magnificent library he built there. It sparked a lifelong interest in Wren and another in the architecture of libraries. An interest in Wren served me well and I eventually did my PhD on him and became an architectural historian. One topic kept coming up in my research on Wren: that of his link with Freemasonry. Authors were completely divided on the subject. Many, of course, simply ignored it entirely, but others could not make up their minds whether he was or was not a Freemason, let alone whether it had any effect on his architecture. That uncertainty continues to this day.
A CONTESTABLE TOPIC
If you go on the UGLE website and look at the lists of famous Freemasons, Wren’s name is nowhere to be found. Writers on the subject have also varied in their opinions. John Hamill said in The Craft that the case is ‘unproven’; David Stevenson has said in the past that there is no evidence; while Lisa Jardine, Wren biographer and distinguished historian, is in no doubt that he was. When you look further back – at the eighteenth century – the books of the time all state that Wren had not only been a Freemason, he had been the Grand Master. Some even go so far as to claim that Wren initiated Peter the Great of Russia and William III of England.
The Prestonian Lectures is the only series of lectures officially sanctioned by UGLE. Every year a new lecturer is appointed by the Trustees and announced in Grand Lodge. They choose their own topic. The subject should be suitable for delivery in open lodge or to a wider audience and should be of the broadest possible interest. Wren’s membership of the Craft seemed to me to be ideal and I am pleased that the Trustees agreed.
William Preston (1742-1818), after whom the Prestonian Lectures is named, had been interested in Wren. Preston was convinced Wren was a Freemason and wrote on the subject. He even went as far as buying what he thought was a portrait of him for his lodge. It is now known to be a portrait of the architect William Talman, and it still hangs in Freemasons’ Hall with a plaque wrongly labelled as Wren.
The lectureship Preston founded went into abeyance in the nineteenth century and was revived in its present form in 1924. Since then there have been eighty-two Prestonian Lecturers. Each is entitled to wear a distinctive jewel bearing Preston’s image. In their year of office they give ‘official’ deliveries to lodges chosen by the Board of General Purposes and unofficial deliveries to any lodges that ask for them.
Wren’s membership of the Craft has never been a subject of a Prestonian Lecture before, but is not an infrequent subject of masonic lectures. Most of those I have read are, I am afraid, rather confused.
Most lecturers rely heavily on Robert Freke Gould’s History Of Freemasonry (1883-87), which devotes over fifty pages to demolishing the previously held beliefs that Wren was a Freemason. Few lecturers bother to return to the original sources or look into more recent discoveries. This became my aim: to present clearly how the confusion had arisen and what we now know, and in presenting the evidence to allow the audience to make up their own minds.
Some history is straightforward. Through a series of reliable sources we are able to say unequivocally that something happened on a particular date. Other matters are not so straightforward – vital pieces of evidence are missing or unreliable. This is the case with Wren. The result is a fascinating story of detective work and of shifting views in history.
THE IDEAL SUBJECT
Wren lived around the time that Freemasonry emerged in the seventeenth century, so the question of his membership also brings up the issue of what Freemasonry was at the time he joined. It therefore provides a fascinating glimpse into the problems we have in studying all parts of early Freemasonry’s history.
Also bound up with this subject is the history of Lodge No. 2, the Lodge of Antiquity, which met near St Paul’s Cathedral. Preston was a member of this lodge in the late eighteenth century and it has a number of artefacts associated with Wren. A lecture on Wren is thus an excuse to go into the history of this wonderful lodge and its origins.
Lastly a lecture on Wren and Freemasonry is an ideal opportunity to ask the question of whether it had any effect on his architecture. Are there any masonic symbols hidden in the works of Wren?
These then were the reasons I chose Wren as the subject of the 2011 Prestonian Lecture and it was a most enjoyable year. I gave lectures all over the UK, and I even went as far as India. One highlight was being asked to give a lecture to the Christopher Wren Lodge in Windsor, which hired the town hall Wren designed for the occasion.
Modernising Wren’s hospital
The proceeds of the Prestonian Lecture and the booklet that accompanies it go to charity. Half of the proceeds from Dr James Campbell’s lecture are going to The Royal Hospital Chelsea. The hospital is undergoing a major restoration and is seeking funds to adapt Wren’s building to modern living. The other charity is the Royal Masonic Trust for Girls and Boys. So far, James has raised more than £6,500 thanks to the generosity of the lodges who have supported the lecture. The sale of the booklet will hopefully raise more. Was Sir Christopher Wren A Mason? contains the complete text of Dr James Campbell’s 2011 Prestonian Lecture and is available from Letchworth’s in Freemasons’ Hall (letchworthshop.co.uk) for £7.99.
With football and the Olympic Games dominating the news this summer, the Library and Museum’s latest exhibition at Great Queen Street celebrates freemasons’ sporting achievements.
Many freemasons have been active amateur or professional sportsmen, or have been involved with the administration of all types of sport. Did you know that the only man to win an Olympic Gold Medal and be awarded the Victoria Cross was also a freemason? The exhibition will be your chance to see Sir Alf Ramsey’s Masonic apron, along side medals from several Olympic Games.
The exhibition runs from 2nd July until the end of the year, and further details are available on the Library and Museum's website.
Dr Ric Berman will talk about his new publication "The Foundations of Modern Freemasonry" (Sussex Academic Press 2012) on Wednesday 20 June at The Library and Museum of Freemasonry, Freemasons’ Hall, 60 Great Queen Street, London WC2B 5AZ.
Using largely unexplored original sources, many of which have recently become available in digital form, Dr Berman highlights how freemasonry expanded from its London hub using a range of networks and associations.
Some, such as the Royal Society, are familiar to Masonic researchers; others including the London and provincial scientific lecture circuit and the London magistracy, are investigated for the first time.
Dr Berman will also consider what implications this research has for the development of freemasonry after 1750, which is his current area of research.
District Grand Masters, District Grand Superintendents, and other District Grand Officers, gathered for the Third Conference of the Central Masonic Charities and District Grand Lodges at Freemasons' Hall on Tuesday 24 April. Due to the increasing popularity of this annual event, the setting has now moved to Lodge Room No.1 to accomodate over fifty representatives from the Districts as well as representatives from each of the four central masonic charities.
Hugh Stubbs, President, Masonic Samaritan Fund, welcomed all members on behalf of the four Central Masonic Charities, and gave an introduction before members broke for the first of the group discussions.
Walter H Scott, District Grand Master, Jamaica & the Cayman Islands, spoke on the relationship between his District and the Central Masonic Charities, which led into the second group discussion.
Following lunch, James Bartlett provided an update on the Mentoring Scheme and, in particular, the Ambassadors for Freemasonry Scheme, and a presentation was given by Nick Cripps on the selection of Personal Mentors.
As Parade's End becomes the latest high-profile production to shoot at Freemasons' Hall, Oscar-winning producer David Parfitt tells Luke Turton why he enjoys filming there
Benedict Cumberbatch is in earnest conversation with a colleague as he hurries down a long corridor that leads to the huge bronze doors opening into the Grand Temple at Freemasons’ Hall. Cutting a dash in an Edwardian three-piece suit, the actor abruptly stops when a small woman with a big voice bellows, ‘Cut!’
Cumberbatch is shooting a scene for the BBC adaptation of Ford Madox Ford’s Parade’s End novels. Set between the twilight of the Edwardian era and the end of the First World War, the tetralogy charts the love triangle between English aristocrat Christopher Tietjens, played by Cumberbatch, his beautiful but cruel wife Sylvia, and Valentine, a young suffragette he falls in love with. The two central novels follow Tietjens’ exploits in the army in France and Belgium, as well as Sylvia and Valentine in their separate paths over the course of the war.
An imposing art deco building in Covent Garden, Freemasons’ Hall has had a close working relationship with Film London, which aims to grow the capital’s film industry, since 2001. Today, it is doubling up as – among other things – the Department of Statistics for Parade’s End. ‘This is supposed to be the lobby of one of the most modern government offices and that’s meant to be the outside world,’ laughs Oscar-winning producer David Parfitt as he points behind the camera to the Grand Temple. ‘The novels are set between 1912 and 1918, so we’re slightly ahead of ourselves with Freemasons’ Hall. But the architecture is classic enough for it to look like a modern building from about 1910.’
With a career that has seen him working alongside Kenneth Branagh and Robert De Niro in 1994’s Frankenstein, and Gwyneth Paltrow and Dame Judi Dench in Shakespeare in Love in 1998, Parfitt has recently finished post-production on My Week With Marilyn. ‘The scale of the shoot is not dissimilar to Marilyn but that was eight weeks and this is nearly seventeen. We’re on day seventy now, which is tough,’ says Parfitt. ‘We’ve shot in the Home Counties, in Yorkshire, Belgium for six weeks, and chose Freemasons’ Hall when we got back.’
Next to the Department of Statistics, in the Grand Temple’s entrance hall, builders are putting up a mini set of a Belgian drinking club for a scene to be shot later in the day. Parfitt explains that the crew didn’t get all that they needed at the end of a very busy shoot in Belgium. ‘But it’s a fairly close-up shot and we’ve brought along one piece of the set. We’ll patch the sequence together in post-production.’ The builders are politely but loudly requested to stop hammering and drilling while Parfitt and his crew shoot the corridor scene again.
finding the right fit
‘Stand by to shoot. Rolling. And action!’ Cumberbatch strides down the corridor with Stephen Graham, who currently plays Al Capone in Boardwalk Empire. Pulled along on a trolley by a frantic assistant, the camera hurtles down the passage in front of Cumberbatch and Graham, but something isn’t right. ‘Reset, go again!’ The camera is rolled back and the scene starts once more, with the two actors hitting their marks perfectly for what must be the twentieth time that morning. Finally, the director is happy and it’s time for a break. The actors retire to the Grand Temple, now a temporary changing room.
Having shot at Freemasons’ Hall over 1994-95 for The Wings of the Dove, which starred Helena Bonham Carter, Parfitt is keen to make as much use of the building as he can. ‘We’ll make the upper balcony into a grand opera box,’ he says pointing upwards enthusiastically in the entrance hall. ‘The Hall is unique architecturally – it’s in London so it’s accessible and there’s always a part of the building you can use. We were looking at Victoria House, up the road, as a possible location but you can only use that at weekends,’ says Parfitt, adding that experience has taught him to view buildings like Freemasons’ Hall in a very different way. ‘You’ve got to stand back and not be fooled by the geography of the building. When we first came into the Hall, we all had to come up the stairs into this area. We’ve now decided that, for the purposes of Parade’s End, this is ground level so you don’t have to worry about shooting the stairs. It’s all about making those leaps and using specific elements rather than being slavish to the layout.’
Adapted for television by British playwright Tom Stoppard, the five-hour series is due to air in the second half of 2012 on BBC2. We can look forward to a stunning rendition of the novel, with Cumberbatch joined on screen by the likes of Rupert Everett and Miranda Richardson. Viewers can also get extra points for spotting Freemasons’ Hall in
its many supporting roles.
As Provinces around the UK welcome university students into the Craft, the biennial Universities Scheme Conference focused on why students are vital in ensuring the future of Freemasonry
More than 130 brethren gathered at Freemasons’ Hall, London, for the third Universities Scheme Conference. The Scheme is a pioneering initiative by Grand Lodge under the auspices of the Assistant Grand Master, David Williamson, to help forge links between well-placed, enthusiastic lodges and the many students – as well as other young people – seeking to become involved in Freemasonry.
There are currently 50 lodges under the Scheme across England and Wales, the West Indies and South Africa. In 2010 these lodges held 159 initiations of candidates found through the Scheme, and between them had over 300 members who were under 30. This year, the conference included presentations on recruitment, retention and break-out sessions on making masonry affordable.
A tremendous level of Provincial support has greatly contributed to the success of the Scheme. Five final-year students at the University of Bath have been initiated by St Alphege Lodge, No. 4095, Province of Somerset. Meanwhile over in Leicestershire and Rutland, Wyggeston Lodge, No. 3448 has forged links with Leicester University students.
The mood of the day was encapsulated by Mike Jones from the University Lodge of Liverpool: ‘Student recruitment is an ongoing process. You need to engage with students not only when they make their first enquiry, but all the way through the application process. You need to mentor them so that they feel comfortable.’
Go to www.universitiesscheme.com for more details on the conference
As UGLE’s Communications Advisor, Susan Henderson’s job is about managing relationships – from dealing with unusual enquires to overseeing information flow
How did you come to work for UGLE?
I’d just moved back to London and popped into an agency looking for a job. They sent me for an interview around the corner at ‘a charity’. As I walked along the road, I realised it was Freemasons’ Hall, as I had recently been reading about Freemasonry. I was interviewed by Director of Communications, John Hamill, for the role of his PA and got the job. This was in 2002 and it couldn’t have worked out better in that I’d been wanting to find out more about Freemasonry and there I was sitting with one of the foremost experts.
Did your previous experience prepare you for your new job?
Before UGLE, I worked in different areas – from social services, to model agencies and advertising. I last worked for the BBC on news and before that on Comic Relief, sharing an office with Richard Curtis, who wrote Four Weddings & A Funeral. These experiences gave me a good overview of how organisations work and where to find information.
How did you become a female Freemason?
I’d been here a few years before I realised there were regular women’s grand lodges and I wondered if I should join. The Grand Secretary at the time knew I was interested and introduced me to the master of a female lodge who put me forward as a candidate. I already had preconceptions of Freemasonry’s ancient traditions, the rituals and origins and the idea of the knowledge that could be imparted, and the experience was pretty near to what I’d imagined. I’m now a junior warden and am steadily learning more. With Freemasonry, you’re thrown in with varied people who you wouldn’t be otherwise – it’s good for you.
How does your relationship with the Provinces work?
We were doing MQ Magazine and I started helping more with the editorial. That merged with Freemasonry Today to make the magazine we have now and I took on the duty of liaising with the Provincial information officers in gathering stories. They have an important role in bringing to our attention anything that might be of interest in terms of local events or any problems. They also disseminate information from Grand Lodge and have been doing a great job in getting our message out to the local press and communities.
How do you deal with negative press?
National newspapers are in the habit of making slurs about Freemasonry, which it’s very difficult to do anything about. We are an unincorporated organisation, so have no protection under the libel laws. If they make a statement that is untrue or defamatory we can write to them to make a correction but they’re under no obligation to print it. The best way to counter these perceptions is therefore to put out lots of positive information about Freemasonry and hope that it will enable more people to recognise the negative remarks as nonsense.
Where does this negativity come from?
In the Second World War, Freemasons were being sent to concentration camps in Germany and it was decided that Freemasonry should keep a low profile in the UK in case of invasion. Before this, the sight of Freemasons laying foundation stones or participating in parades was common. After the war, the low profile became a bit of a habit. The Cold War also made spy novels popular and these would sometimes cast Freemasons as key characters, so the idea caught light in the public imagination that Freemasonry was a secret organisation. We became aware of this and tried to counter it but the image portrayed in fiction is – to some people – more interesting and exciting than the truth.
What else do people believe?
We get some crazy questions asked through the website – for example, if I join Freemasonry, will I gain magical powers or will it make me rich? A few people have the bizarre idea that Freemasons are reptilian aliens. The more sane anti-masonic ideas tend to be that Freemasons use their membership to gain personal advantage in their careers. When you think about it, that’s the daftest of all because if people want to conspire or do each other favours, they can do that at any time and at any place – in the pub, the golf club, or across the garden fence.
So there are still big misconceptions about Freemasonry?
People misunderstand what the obligations are and what should be kept private. There is no obligation to favour other Freemasons and the only tangible privacy relates to the signs and passwords that give you the right to be present in a particular degree ceremony. They are no more sinister than pin numbers and are used only in the lodge. The passwords and signs are believed to have originated through medieval stonemasons who travelled around the world looking for work and needed to prove their level of competence when they arrived at a distant lodge.
Can Freemasons help counter these opinions?
Some members are overly defensive about Freemasonry because of anti-masonic attitudes. We need to help our members deal with this, to help them calmly explain that it’s not just an organisation for white Anglo Saxon Protestants. In Ireland it used to be said that there were only two things that united them – rugby and Freemasonry. There’s always been one United Grand Lodge with Catholics and Protestants attending without a problem and it’s little things like this that members can tell their friends.
Is your job largely about countering negative opinions?
Not at all. Most questions are from people who want to know about Freemasonry and I spend a lot time answering those. If I answer 30 emails a day that’s 7,800 people a year who will have received a good response, which is invaluable. People don’t think M&S or Selfridges are good companies because they have a nice leaflet or website, they like them because they know they’ll get good service and that’s the best form of publicity. People are too sophisticated these days to be influenced by public relations spin. They go on word of mouth or direct experiences. Days, weeks, years later a casual conversation in a pub about that experience will mean a good impression of Freemasonry is being spread.
Does Freemasonry need to change?
Organisations that follow the whims of the day tend to lose their identity and, to use a marketing term, Freemasonry’s unique selling point is its ancient traditions and its symbolism is its branding. We would be fools to tamper with that. Our strength is that we have remained much the same through many political changes and fashions. I’d personally like everyone to understand that we are not even allowed to discuss politics or religion in the lodge, so can hardly be colluding; that there have been established female lodges for over 100 years; and that we’re not just recently jumping onto some politically correct bandwagon, but have always been a welcoming universal brotherhood.
When Freemasons’ Hall hosted the launch party for West End musical Rock of Ages, Anneke Hak slipped past the celebrities to find out what goes on behind the scenes
Jeremy Clarkson schmoozes with paparazzi on the purple carpet while Ronnie Wood’s ex-wife Jo Wood mingles with friends in the foyer. Glasses clink together, Champagne flows and loud chatter fills the room as the band takes centre stage in the Grand Temple. All the while, everyone is wholly oblivious to the fact that just one hour ago their spectacular venue, Freemasons’ Hall in London’s Great Queen Street, was a picture of organised chaos.
Having hosted some of the biggest events in the British social calendar, including London Fashion Week catwalk shows, Freemasons’ Hall isn’t afraid of glitz and glamour, it oozes it. However, the Rock of Ages launch party was a very different beast.
On 28 September, the production team had only a three-and-a-half hour slot between the departure of 700 Freemasons visiting from the Provincial Grand Lodge of Hertfordshire at six in the evening, and 1,000 party guests arriving at 9.30pm. In this small time frame, they had to transform the building into a venue fit to celebrate a musical that takes audiences back to the times of big bands with big egos playing big guitar solos and sporting even bigger hair. The Grand Temple in Freemasons’ Hall needed to be fitted out with a dance floor, disco ball and stage for a rock band to perform on. No mean feat, especially considering how precious the Grade II-listed building is to hundreds of thousands of Freemasons.
Helping smooth the proceedings was Lee Batty, Production Manager at Stoneman Associates. As Freemasons left the Grand Temple, Batty’s team moved in, quickly assembling their scaffolding to start the mammoth task of hoisting the lighting and glitter ball 93ft to the top of the Temple roof, before focusing their attention on the dance floor and rock band sound check. ‘We did a little bit of prep work the day before,’ Batty reveals. ‘Well, I say a little bit, we worked eight hours to programme all the lighting, and then when we got into the venue we had to go hell for leather to get it all up and working.’
Technicalities of transformation
Of course, moving scaffolding, heavy lighting and sound equipment around an 80-year-old building, and one of the finest Art Deco creations in the country, can prove challenging. ‘I’ve not worked at Freemasons’ Hall before,’ says Batty, ‘but I’ve done events in historic palaces and English Heritage properties over the years. So I’m aware that you have to look after furniture and any element of the building that’s been there for a long time – you have to be very careful.’
As a result, every little detail is thought about months in advance, and some elaborate ideas are thrown straight out. Karen Haigh, Head of Events at Freemasons’ Hall, explains, ‘There was talk about hanging some Harley Davidsons from the ceiling at one point. I feel anything is possible, so long as I know it’s going to be safe.’
As the last piece of purple carpet is laid, the Rock of Ages signs go up and the façade of the glorious building is lit from below, Matthew Quarandon, Director of Moving Venues, makes sure all of his staff are in place to welcome the guests with food and drink, and one thing he can’t help but notice is how easy-going everything is. ‘Freemasons’ Hall seems to be very liberal,’ says Quarandon, who’s used to working in old, protected properties. ‘They’re allowing us to push cages across old stone floors and serve red wine on their marble floors upstairs.’
Most excited about tonight’s event has to be Grand Secretary Nigel Brown, who praises the great job Karen Haigh does booking events for the Hall and thinks these nights are the perfect opportunity to show the public that Freemasonry isn’t about secret handshakes. ‘Can you imagine, you’re at a dinner party and the lady next to you says, “You went into Freemason’s Hall? What did you go in for? A fashion show!”’ laughs Nigel. ‘It’s breaking all these myths and, although being teased about Freemasonry doesn’t matter much, people are often making a decision based on false impressions. I think hosting these events is changing people’s preconceptions.’
Batty admits that the mystery surrounding the organisation is a great reason to hold events like the Rock of Ages party at Freemasons’ Hall. ‘It’s nice that people come in and see it in a different light,’ he says. Karen Haigh agrees: ‘The best thing about it is that you bring a group of people that have never been in the building before and they come in and say, “Oh, wow!” It’s like opening a little package.’
So, after months of planning, which began back in June, how does it feel when it all finally comes together? ‘You get a massive buzz from the final product,’ admits Batty. ‘The response that we got when we opened the main doors to the Grand Temple was worth all the pressure.’
As the guitar amplifiers and purple carpet are packed up and glasses of half-drunk Champagne cleared away, all the hard work and preparation has paid off – the Rock of Ages launch party has been a brilliant success. So, the only question left now is when’s the next one?