We were very pleased to host the Observer Food Monthly Awards 2014 here at Freemasons' Hall last night!
Our beautiful Art Deco headquarters is again participating in Open House London
Open House is your opportunity to get out and get under the skin of the amazing architecture in every London neighbourhood. On the 20th and 21st September there will be over 800 buildings, neighbourhood walks, architects' talks, and much more – enjoy your weekend!
On their website Freemasons' Hall is described as have a 'monumental classical exterior belying elaborate and varied interior decoration: extensive use of mosaic, stained glass, decorated ceilings and lighting.'
Find out more here: www.openhouselondon.org.uk
Some fantastic images taken in and around Freemasons' Hall over the past week, during London Fashion Week and Fashion Scout!
Keep checking this page for more photo updates.
And a big thank you to the following for letting us use your images:
Covent Garden Tube station has named one of their plant pots after Freemasons' Hall! Thanks Covent Garden!
Keep calm and carry on
Director of Special Projects John Hamill argues the case for a national scheme that would record how Freemasonry helped during World War II
Such has been the media’s concentration on commemorating the centenary of the start of World War I that those events rather overshadowed the seventieth anniversary of the D-Day Landings – probably the last major commemoration of that event, as its survivors are now all in their late eighties and nineties.
World War II did not come as such a major shock as World War I. Indeed, to many of us, it was not a question of if, but of when war would break out.
It was also to have a far more devastating effect on those who stayed at home, and had rather more impact on Freemasonry than its predecessor.
In 1939, Grand Lodge still met on the first Wednesdays of the usual months, so a meeting took place within four days of war having been declared. A circular sent to all lodges then suspended all masonic meetings until further notice. There was a determination to ‘carry on as normal’ and, by the end of September, it was agreed to resume meetings.
At the Quarterly Communications in September and December 1939, emergency resolutions were passed to cover the crisis – giving Masters the authority to alter the dates and meeting places of their lodges as circumstances required. As the war progressed, there were further changes, not least the suspension of paying subscriptions and dues by those who were on active service.
Once aerial bombing began, it was suggested that lodges should meet during the day to avoid their members being exposed in the evenings. With the rationing of food and material, dress and regalia codes were relaxed, and it was proposed that post-meeting refreshments should be kept to a minimum.
With the scarcity of all sorts of raw materials, not least precious metals, in 1940, Grand Lodge suggested that brethren might like to sacrifice their personal masonic jewels to assist in the war effort. At that time, Stewards’ jewels for the Charity Festivals were solid silver, and founders’ and Past Masters’ jewels were usually gold. The brethren met the challenge, and in 1941, Grand Lodge was able to announce that £20,000 had been passed to the Treasury for the war effort.
Freemasons’ Hall in London had been built as a memorial to those brethren who fell in World War I and was initially known as the Masonic Peace Memorial. It survived the Blitz largely undamaged as other parts of Holborn and Covent Garden were destroyed. Until the post-war rebuilding of London, the tower of Freemasons’ Hall was one of the tallest structures in central London and it was apparently used by German pilots as a landmark to help guide them across the London sky.
During the Blitz, the people of London sheltered in the Underground at night. The workers from Covent Garden Market and the occupants of the local Peabody Buildings preferred the basement of Freemasons’ Hall, which had been cleared of all the archives and other papers, to Holborn Underground station. Whether this was connected with the fact that each morning the then Grand Secretary Sydney White and his Secretary, Miss Haigh, provided tea and sandwiches for them, history does not record.
A greenhouse was even built on the Grand Temple to grow soft fruits and vegetables.
Just as there has been a national scheme to record what people at home and in the services did during the war, should we not have a similar project for Freemasons? If so, we need to hurry; many of those who took part in World War II will not be with us for much longer, and their memories are irreplaceable.
‘World War II did not come as such a major shock as World War I. Indeed, to many of us it was not a question of if, but of when war would break out.’
Letters to the Editor - No. 28 Winter 2014
Keep calm and record
In the autumn issue of Freemasonry Today, John Hamill suggests that there should be a project to record what Freemasons contributed during World War II both at home and abroad. He reminds us that time may be against us. However, I trust he is aware that Grand Lodge should already be in possession of a significant quantity of records of what brethren contributed during that period.
On 15 May 1946 the Board of General Purposes instructed each lodge to ‘collect detailed information and prepare a report to be incorporated in the minute book of the lodge, and a copy to be sent to the Grand Secretary for preservation in the records of Grand Lodge’. The Board asked for details of each brother’s service, including those who were disabled or made the supreme sacrifice. It also asked for information on the effect on meetings and attendances, plus any losses of records or property.
In the 1946 minute book of my mother lodge, Telephone Lodge, No. 3301, there is a copy of the report sent to the Grand Secretary and it makes fascinating reading. Noting that many of our members stayed in Britain as they worked in a reserved occupation, it nevertheless records that many brethren served with the Home Guard, in civil defence, as fire wardens or as business premises wardens. It records that brother HR Harbottle was appointed OBE for his contribution to the GPO War Group, while brother Shipton is recorded as having worked on ‘radar and secret devices’. It tells of the need to move meetings to the summer months during daylight and that all dining ceased. Finally, the lodge reported no loss of property except the lodge’s printing dies, which were at the printers when it was blitzed. This report formed a rich resource when I was updating our lodge history for our centenary in 2008.
So not only should Grand Lodge’s archives have all these reports, but lodges should find a copy of their own contribution in their minute book.
Peter Walker, Telephone Lodge, No. 3301, London
John Hamill replies
I am aware of the reports asked for by Grand Lodge. Sadly, less than a third of lodges supplied the requested information. Those who did gave the basic information but what I was suggesting was recording personal impressions to give a human face to the basic records.
I know from talking to brethren over many years that there are fascinating stories that will be lost when those individuals are no longer with us.
The restoration of the Grand Temple pipe organ at Freemasons’ Hall is helping to preserve a vital piece of this Art Deco building’s history. Charles Grace tells Sarah Holmes how the project came about
With a firm grip on the scaffolding in front of him, Charles Grace takes a moment to appreciate the elevated view over the Grand Temple. Behind him, a golden wall of freshly gilded organ pipes stand caged in a rigid rig of steel rods and orderly wooden planks.
It’s been a particularly busy year for the senior Freemason, who has been overseeing the restoration of the Grand Temple’s pipe organ. Although the work has been progressing steadily since January 2014, few masons will have noticed anything different going on at Great Queen Street. For Charles, this is a good thing. Despite the size of the project, he has gone to great lengths to make sure that the renovation work doesn’t disrupt the normal running of Freemasons’ Hall.
As a long-serving member of the Committee of General Purposes, Charles played a central role in the decision to renovate, rather than replace, the Grand Temple’s eighty-one-year-old organ. ‘It’s part of the heritage of Freemasons’ Hall, so we have a duty to protect it,’ he says. ‘This building pays tribute to more than 3,000 Freemasons who lost their lives in World War I, so it’s apt that the organ is being restored during the centenary year of that terrible conflict.’
The idea for restoring the organ first came about in 2009 when an inspection by the organ consultant, Ian Bell, revealed the need for extensive repairs. With most organs requiring a professional overhaul every twenty-five years, the Grand Temple’s organ had survived three times longer than that thanks to the constant temperature and humidity levels as well as its dedicated maintenance. Nevertheless, eighty years of accumulated wear threatened to irreparably damage the tonal accuracy of its pipes.
But now, thanks to funding from the Supreme Grand Chapter’s reserves, the organ will be restored to its former glory with roughly half of the money being spent on cleaning, repairing and re-voicing the existing mechanisms, which include an astounding 2,220 pipes and forty-three stops. The remainder of the funding will be spent on mounting a new case of some four hundred pipes on the east wall of the Grand Temple.
The result of all the renovation work will be a clearer, louder sound, and a focal point from which the organist can lead the Grand Temple’s 1,700-strong congregation in song. It’s a rousing quality that the present organ peculiarly lacks.
‘This is quite an unusual design,’ explains Charles. ‘Most organs have a focal point, but the present instrument comprises two cases of pipes that shout at each other across the dais. When the Grand Temple is full and everyone’s singing lustily, it’s difficult for those in the west to hear the organ, so the new case will make a huge difference, as well as giving the Grand Temple an extra visual wow factor.’
The craftsmen undertaking the restoration are from Durham-based organ builders Harrison & Harrison – a company responsible for rebuilding and maintaining some of the UK’s most famous organs, including those at the Royal Festival Hall and Westminster Abbey. Their experience of working with traditional organs is reassuring to Charles, who is eager that the new section remains consistent with the look and sound of the original. The new pipes will be made from a tin-and-lead alloy in keeping with the design of Brother Henry Willis, who built the organ in 1933.
‘I’d love to get a series of subscription concerts going as we’re transforming a good organ into a magnificent one.’ Charles Grace
It’s an extensive undertaking for Harrison & Harrison, who also face the added challenge of working around the Grand Temple’s busy schedule of events.
‘It’s been quite a juggling act to make sure we don’t interfere with the day-to-day running of the Grand Temple,’ explains Charles. ‘We’ve relied on the occasional spare periods of time to carry out some of the work. But from mid-December, when the Temple is quietest, we’ll be able to get the bulk of the work done.’
Fortunately, much of the early work has been completed in Durham, where the existing organ and console were moved for cleaning and repairing in January. ‘It’s a vitally important part of the renovation process,’ explains Andy Scott, head voicer at Harrison & Harrison. ‘As soon as the dirt starts to build up, it can dull the pitch and sound quality of the pipes, and adds to the deterioration of the worn mechanism, causing notes to stick on or not play at all.’
The length of the pipes, as well as the material they’re constructed from, both play a fundamental role in determining their pitch – so it’s important that the correct techniques are used to clean them.
The longer, wooden pipes, which create the deeper notes, can reach up to sixteen feet in length, and have to be vacuumed and varnished. Meanwhile, the shorter metallic pipes, which create the higher notes, and can be as short as a few inches, have to be soaked and scrubbed in soapy water.
The pipes will then be returned to the Grand Temple and divided between chambers hidden in the opposite walls of the eastern dais. The case containing all the new pipes will be mounted on the east wall above the console, facing directly down the Grand Temple.
Like the other two cases, the new case will be decorated with the same elaborately carved Art Deco motifs and poly-resin embellishments. A grille of eighteen pipes, all gilded in gold leaf, will be visible at the front. ‘It takes three different crafts alone to build its case,’ explains Charles. ‘That’s how complex a pipe organ is. It’s more than just an instrument – it’s an actual fixture of the building.’
As well as the pipes, Harrison & Harrison must also refurbish the whole mechanical structure, including the enormous wind chests that sit underneath the pipes. By driving pressurised air through the pipes, the wind chests help to produce the organ’s distinctive, multi-tonal sound. Electric blowers located underneath the Grand Temple supply the wind chests with air.
‘It takes three different crafts to build the case. That’s how complex a pipe organ is. It’s more than an instrument – it’s an actual fixture of the building.’ Charles Grace
‘Each pipe produces a single note,’ explains Charles. ‘All pipes are arranged in ranks of common sound and pitch, and when the organist wants to play a particular rank, he selects the corresponding stop. This releases air from the wind chest to a particular rank of pipes. The keys on the main console then control which pipes the air passes through.’
It’s a thoroughly complicated system, and one that has taken Charles hours of surfing the web and scouring YouTube videos to understand. As part of the renovation, a new electronic feature will be fitted that allows the organ to store digital recordings of the music played on the keyboard. This means that a wide range of pre-recorded music will be able to be played on the organ at the touch of a button.
It’s something that will add impact to the public tours of the Grand Temple, and is a key example of the way in which the latest renovations not only safeguard the heritage of the Freemasons’ Hall, but also enhance it.
With all things going to plan, the restoration work is due to be completed by March 2015 and Charles hopes that the new organ will become a symbol of celebration not just for United Grand Lodge’s approaching tercentenary, but for everyone who visits the Hall.
‘I’d love to get a series of subscription concerts going, as we’re transforming a good organ into a magnificent one – so I’d hope a few great organists would play here,’ says Charles.
In keeping with this vision, Charles hopes to establish a partnership with the Royal College of Organists to give aspiring musicians an opportunity to rehearse and perform on the Grand Temple’s amazing instrument.
‘It’s a fantastic opportunity to open ourselves up to the public, and to get this incredible organ being played more than ever,’ says Charles. ‘We need to make the most of it.’
The original surround sound
A pipe organ produces music through a vast array of real pipes placed in different locations around the room, effectively making it one of the first surround sound systems. In contrast, electronic organs only simulate the sound of the pipes from a central loudspeaker. The result is noticeably flatter and lacks the true fullness of many individual pitches blending together.
Letters for the Editor - No. Summer 2016
The spring issue of Freemasonry Today contained letters from two brethren asking about the specification of the splendid refurbished Willis III organ in the Grand Temple at Freemasons’ Hall, London. A downloadable colour leaflet containing this is available under ‘H&H specifications’ from the website of Harrison & Harrison (www.harrisonorgans.com), the firm that carried out the work, and more information can be found online in the National Pipe Organ Register.
Carl Jackson, Grand Organist from April 2016, St Cecilia Lodge, No. 6190, London
In the spring issue there were two letters relating to the specification of the organ at Great Queen Street.
May I suggest they go to the National Pipe Organ Register at www.npor.org.uk, which has the details your correspondents want – although it has not been updated to the new rebuild. The site has details of thousands of organs in the UK, which can be searched for by name or postcode or reference number (Great Queen Street is N16533).
Peter Edwards, Sutton Coldfield Lodge, No. 8960, Sutton Coldfield, Warwickshire
Letters for the Editor - No. Spring 2016
I would like to congratulate all those involved in the refurbishment of the pipe organ in the Grand Temple at Freemasons’ Hall and the excellent write-up in Freemasonry Today. I am 86 years of age and partially disabled. I joined the John Compton Organ Company, London as an apprentice in 1944, and trained as a voicer and tuner under John Degens, a former Walkers employee. After two years’ national service I then spent the next few years as a voicer and tuner for Nicholson of Worcester. I would very much appreciate knowing the specifications of the magnificent organ.
Doug Litchfield, Zetland Lodge, No. 1005, Gloucester, Gloucestershire
Recent articles in Freemasonry Today about the organ refurbishment are much appreciated. Lodge organists and organists in general would, I feel sure, appreciate even more to see the full specifications, old and new: that is, names of stops to each department, list of accessories, etc, so as to get a sense of the full tonal architecture and its possibilities, past and present.
Malcolm Dilley, Warton Lodge, No. 8411, Carnforth, West Lancashire
Letters to the Editor - No. 30 Summer 2015
I read the articles by both Charles Grace and Ian Bell regarding the Grand Temple Willis pipe organ restoration with great interest. I am a masonic organist in the South Wales Province, where most masonic centres are furnished with electronic or digital organs.
Your articles reveal that there are two other Willis pipers in the Great Queen Street building but that they are not in working order. I visited Great Queen Street last November to play the organ for the installation ceremony of the American Lodge. The ceremony was allocated to Lodge Room No. 8 where I was horrified to find that the organ was little more than a squawk box. I looked into several of the other lodge rooms to discover similar disappointing instruments.
Whilst the Grand Temple organ restoration and necessary enhancement is to be applauded, I wish to have the Great Queen Street management reminded that if ceremony’s musical accompaniment and enhancement is really desirable, then it is absolutely necessary to encourage masonic brethren to aspire to be a lodge organist by furnishing the best tool for the purpose, and that a pillar of attainment as a lodge organist might be to eventually play the Grand Temple organ.
Michael Hayes, Venables Llewelyn Lodge, No. 3756, Porthcawl, South Wales
Charles Grace, Project Manager for the Grand Temple organ restoration, responds:
We have recently evaluated two one-manual organs and decided on the Viscount Cadet, 10 of which are being delivered in mid May and 10 in September, funded by UGLE from the normal charges made to lodges and chapters for room hire and storage.
The organs, which are versatile enough to be played by all masonic organists, will be installed in most of the lodge/chapter rooms. The choice of organ in No. 10, where a larger instrument is required, is under consideration.
Letters to the Editor – No. 29 Spring 2015
Direction in the Temple
You published two letters in the last issue on the subject of the square and compasses being upside down on the organ cases in the Grand Temple. I too made enquiries of those who might know the answer, but regrettably it remains a masonic mystery. On the bright side, I can reveal that, in the same position on the new case being erected on the east wall above the organ console, there will be a Royal Arch triple tau – and I will ensure that it is the right way up!
Charles Grace, Project Coordinator, Grand Temple organ restoration
‘The earth constantly revolving on its axis in its orbit round the sun, and Freemasonry being universally spread over its surface, it necessarily follows that the sun must always be at its meridian with respect to Freemasonry.’
Similarly, the square and compasses will always be the right way up with respect to Freemasonry. Given that the building was built as a memorial to those Freemasons who died in the First World War, and that some may have been from other parts of the Commonwealth, it is perhaps possible that the square and compasses was positioned accordingly.
Mark Northway, Suffield Lodge, No. 1808, Aylsham, Norfolk
Letters to the Editor - No. 28 Winter 2014
Compass and square
I am a young Master Mason. However, in your otherwise interesting and informative account of the restoration of the pipe organ in the Grand Temple of Freemasons’ Hall, the square and compasses adorning the organ case (while beautifully gilded) are clearly upside down. Does this pertain to some ancient and mysterious side order, of which I am neither a member nor even aware, or perhaps has it just been affixed the wrong way up?
Tim Myatt, Apollo University Lodge, No. 537, Oxfordshire
In discussion with a number of brethren in my lodge, we are curious to know why the square and compasses visible behind the left shoulder of Charles Grace are upside down. The popular view among us all is that they are positioned to face in the direction of the Great Architect, in whose glory the beautiful music that emanates from this magnificent instrument is played. None of us considers it to be an error of any kind – knowing as we do that no such fundamental mistakes are likely to have been made by those who either commissioned or made the instrument. We look forward with great interest to any information you are able to provide.
Guy R Purser, Pagham Lodge, No. 8280, Sussex
Note from the Editor
Having received several queries about the compass and square visible in the picture of the Grand Temple organ in the autumn issue of Freemasonry Today (page 29), we enquired of our best in-house historians. Unfortunately, nobody seems to know of any reason why, on the Grand Lodge organ, the square and compasses should be orientated in the opposite way to how they are normally depicted.
There was in the past a tradition among some craftsmen to incorporate a deliberate mistake as an act of humility so as not to vainly compete with the perfection of God’s creations, but we have no idea whether this was the intention in this case. We do know from an original photograph, however, that it has been that way since the organ was installed. We will be pleased to hear from readers of any theories on this mystery.
From living in New York to showcasing her final university collection at Graduate Fashion Week (GFW), young designer Rebecca Swann is already making footsteps in the fashion industry
But things are set to get even better for the former Nottingham Trent University student, as she has been chosen to take her handmade garments to the catwalk at London Fashion Week (LFW).
The 23-year-old says: 'After showing at GFW in May I was approached by a company a month and a half later called Fashion Scout London. They invited a handful of students to take our collections to London and show it to a panel of judges. The prize was to showcase at their show at London Fashion Week.'
After being selected as one of the final few, Rebecca is now busy preparing to showcase three of her outfit designs on September 12 to 16 at the Freemasons’ Hall in Covent Garden, as part of the Graduate Showcase.
Along with much of the country, the lights went out and Freemasons' Hall was plunged into darkness at 10pm last night to commemorate the moment that Great Britain declared war on Germany one hundred years ago
A single candle illuminated the Memorial Shrine, which commemorates the 3,225 brethren, who died on active service in the First World War and in whose memory the building was raised.
Behind the shrine is the stained glass memorial window whose theme is the attainment of Peace through Sacrifice, with the Angel of Peace carrying a model of the tower of the building.
The bronze memorial casket, which was designed by Walter Gilbert, contains the memorial roll, at the corners of which are gilt figures representing the fighting services.
Images courtesy of Colin Clay Photography
Letters to the editor - No. 26 Summer 2014
Men of honour
My grandfather was initiated on 9 November 1908 into Royal Rose Lodge, No. 2565, a military lodge formed by officers from the Royal Fusiliers (City of London Regiment).
He appears on the masonic roll of honour.
Charles Arthur Murray was a volunteer soldier who fought in the Boer War for the Royal Fusiliers and subsequently in the Great War, where he was killed in 1915. Apart from his campaign medals, he was awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal just before he was killed by shrapnel. This was awarded as a result of his actions in preventing the slaughter of German troops who had surrendered when his battalion engulfed a German trench.
As a result of an email discussion with my cousin (sharing the same grandfather), we visited his grave last June. As part of the tour we had a personal trip to his marked grave in Windy Corner, Cuinchy, the Guards Cemetery in Northern France and we laid a wreath. We think we were the first family members to do so. It was very moving, as you can imagine.
This trip to France stimulated me to make further enquiries and I contacted the very helpful Secretary of Royal Rose Lodge, Colin Woodcock. His records also produced my grandfather’s brother, Henry Murray, who I discovered had been initiated and passed on the same dates as his brother, and who became Master in 1922. Colin Woodcock invited me to attend Royal Rose, which I did on 13 November in the company of eight members of my lodge, Sunbury Lodge, No. 1733.
What a special occasion that was – to make the link going back over ninety years.
A wonderful welcome was given to all of us by Royal Rose, which subsequently granted me the great privilege of honorary membership. My request to give the visitor’s speech was granted, as I wanted the opportunity to record how Freemasonry benefited me.
As a result of my grandfather being a Freemason, his three sons were enrolled in the masonic school and received a good education. This enabled them to become professionals in their employment and, in turn, give their own sons a good start in life.
I would not be in a good position today if it were not for that.
We at Sunbury hope to welcome brethren of Royal Rose to our April meeting, where they will be gladly received.
John Murray, Sunbury Lodge, No. 1733, Staines, Middlesex
Charles Arthur Murray, 1915
Taking the right approach
Pro First Grand Principal Peter Lowndes emphasises the importance of making ritual enjoyable and marks the Royal Arch’s achievements
Grand Rank does come with responsibilities. For example, you have a duty to be mindful of both recruitment and retention in the Order. On recruitment, I would first ask who among you does in fact recruit and, to those of you who do recruit new members, are you sensitive to the right time to approach each potential exaltee? This sensitivity is also a challenge to Royal Arch representatives in Craft lodges and emphasises the reason why this is such an important appointment.
Those of you who do not recruit, why not? Recruiting to the Royal Arch is, after all, simply a matter of persuading someone to extend their knowledge about a subject of which they are already partly aware and enjoy. It is not introducing them to something completely alien.
On retention, you can help by actively showing your enthusiasm for and enjoyment of the Order. Also, by guiding the new Companion through the various stages of his progression, making sure that, wherever possible, the work is shared, so that the ritual is enjoyed by him and does not become a burden to him.
‘Those of you who do not recruit, why not? Recruiting to the Royal Arch is, after all, simply a matter of persuading someone to extend their knowledge…’
In October last year we celebrated the Bicentenary of the Holy Royal Arch. The First Grand Principal announced then that the Royal Arch Masons 2013 Bicentenary Appeal for the Royal College of Surgeons had exceeded £2 million and that the appeal would remain open until the end of 2013. Companions, as you have already heard from the President of the Committee of General Purposes, the figure is now £2.5 million. This is a wonderful achievement and a great credit to the Royal Arch.
I turn now to the Grand Temple organ restoration project, which is a Royal Arch initiative using existing funds. Designed and built by Henry Willis and Sons, the organ has been in place since Freemasons’ Hall was opened in 1933. It is possibly the largest complete, unaltered Willis instrument in full working order after eighty years. It is, however, in need of substantial restoration.
English Heritage and Camden Council have agreed to the restoration plans with full completion in early 2015 – in good time for the Craft’s Tercentenary in 2017. Not only will this fine organ be restored, the Royal College of Organists will also be approached to investigate the possibility of encouraging young organists to use the Grand Temple Organ, as well as conducting organ recitals that are open to the public.
Attention to retail
With Freemasons from across the world flocking through its high-arched doors, Letchworth’s is proving to be a popular draw for visitors. Manager Kevin Duffy reveals why the shop at Freemasons’ Hall offers so much more than souvenirs
What attracted you to the position of shop manager?
I applied to work in Letchworth’s eleven years ago.
I’d managed high street stores before; I’m not a mason myself, but the idea of working for Freemasonry was intriguing. The shop was much smaller then, perhaps twelve foot by twelve foot with some cabinets and a till. There was nothing there really, but Diane Clements (Director of the Library and Museum) handed me the keys and said, ‘Off you go.’ It was the perfect challenge.
How have things changed in the shop?
For one thing, it’s three times bigger! We’ve just completed our third refit to include a clothing section and a jewellery counter. What started as a modest collection of Grand Lodge publications has expanded into nine different product ranges, including regalia, homeware, audio and the usual quirky gifts like teddy bears, book lights and heraldic shields.
Why has the shop been so successful?
The shop wouldn’t be anything without the knowledge of the Freemasons in this building. With so many products, it’s impossible to know everything about all of them, so I rely on the expertise of the people around me. Whether it’s a London Grand Rank Association volunteer relaying customer requests or somebody from the Library and Museum giving me advice about regalia, I listen to what they have to say. All that has come together to produce the incredible shop we have now; it’s been a communal effort to get to where we are.
How has the internet affected sales?
Some people see it as a threat, but for Letchworth’s it’s been a massive advantage as so many members live outside London. Ever since we launched the website eight years ago, the number of overseas visitors has also grown tremendously. It’s been a fantastic resource for spreading the Letchworth’s name, as well as bringing in sales of its own. In 2007, online accounted for twenty per cent of all sales, but today it brings in just under half when combined with mail order. It’s fantastic when you get visitors from the other side of the world coming in and saying they wish they had something like this where they come from. They also spend more than the British customers; average spend for overseas masons is from £70 to £80, but for UK Freemasons it’s from £20 to £30.
Is there competition in the world of masonic retail?
There’s a friendly rivalry with the external masonic shops, especially those based across the road from us. We all want Freemasonry to be a good experience.
All the profits that we make in Letchworth’s are gift-aided to support the work of the Library and Museum.
Are masonic items always high quality?
There are always some companies out there who try to get involved in any market in the cheapest way possible. You can tell in an instant if it’s a poor product, and we won’t touch it. If you stock bad-quality products, word will spread – one customer will tell ten others and then your business goes backwards. On the flip side, if you provide good products and great service, it cements a good reputation.
‘The shop wouldn’t be anything without the knowledge of the Freemasons in this building... it’s been a communal effort to get to where we are.’
How has Freemasonry changed over the past decade?
Freemasons’ Hall has become much busier, and that’s had a direct impact on the shop. Seven years ago, the building had maybe six lodge meetings on a Saturday; now there can be up to twenty-nine. There’s also a more open feel about the Hall. That’s probably down to the public tours and an increased international interest in Freemasonry.
What’s your favourite part of working at the shop?
I love working here, but it’s the people who really make it. The camaraderie is what helps drive the business forward. I rely so much on the input of my staff and volunteers, especially when it comes to expanding the range. My performance as a manager is very much tied up with theirs, and fortunately we have a dynamic team.
What does the future hold?
My ultimate goal is to keep developing the shop.
You’ve always got to keep moving forward in business, and that’s what I strive to do by challenging the staff, volunteers and United Grand Lodge of England (UGLE) to keep coming up with new ideas. We could easily fill a shop three times the size of what it is now. But we wouldn’t fill it with any old product; it would have to have good-quality stock that I would be proud to sell.
How it all began
Past Junior Grand Deacon and long-time member of the UGLE team, Ken Garrett recalls Letchworth’s early days
Our first purchases were very modest and in line with items that could be found in most museums and buildings open to the public – key rings, coasters and a set of postcards of sites within the building. We were able to back these up with the Grand Lodge publication Freemasons’ Hall, which had colour slides and an explanation of most of the photos.
We recruited sufficient brethren from the London Grand Rank Association to man the shop full-time, then we waited to see what the outcome would be. After a slow start the shop got accepted, first by visitors and then – somewhat reluctantly, it seemed – by members, who usually only made a quick visit before going to a meeting. We steadily increased the number of items for sale as demand arose.
From small beginnings, Letchworth’s has blossomed into a major shop and I trust fulfilled the hopes of all who recall its birth.