Gentlemen on the move
In January 2013, Freemasons’ Hall hosted its first menswear fashion show for heritage label Hackett. Miranda Thompson witnesses the transformation of the masonic headquarters into a grand hotel
‘You’re looking great!’ The shout cuts through the vestibule at Freemasons’ Hall, today lit softly in blue. A man takes hold of a luggage cart and trots through the high iron gates, twirling in his checked trousers as he reaches the end.
Welcome to the Autumn/Winter 2014-15 Hackett menswear fashion show, the first time the clothing brand has ever displayed at Freemasons’ Hall. Today, the vestibule and its surrounding quarters are appearing as ‘Hotel Hackett’. ‘The Hall has one of the finest and most dramatic Art Deco interiors in London, reminiscent of the grand hotels of the period,’ says Jens Kaeumle, creative director at the menswear label.
‘It felt a perfect fit to host the show, and the stunning backdrop is ideal for a collection inspired by the glamour of travel.’
It’s two hours before the first model walks and the vestibule is buzzing. Spotlights illuminate the intricate tiles before the Grand Temple as men with ponytails untangle wires and black-clad assistants carefully lay out branded goody bags on the white-block seats. In keeping with the travel theme, stacks of luggage are artfully arranged around the interior and bellboys in small hats and sharp suits line the stairs.
But the Hall’s Hackett makeover stretches beyond the vestibule. Classic tweed jackets hang in the Robing Room, where the steam hiss of an iron punctuates the calm atmosphere, while the Grand Dressing Room houses hair and make-up – models old and young sporting neat beards and shorn crops wait their turn for the mirror. In the corridor, a model is being put through his paces: ‘Walk, walk and turn,’ he’s instructed, his black shoes gleaming like the polished wooden floor.
‘Doesn’t it look wonderful today? They’ve really used the building as a backdrop,’ says the Hall’s Head of Events, Karen Haigh, as she surveys the scene. ‘The lighting and the way they’ve set it out, it’s masculine but elegant.
And the iron doors look amazing under those lights.’
Freemasons’ Hall is no stranger to high fashion: every February and September during London Fashion Week it hosts Fashion Scout, a platform for new creative design talent featuring a packed schedule of shows.
‘I’m very conscious that this is a peace memorial, a working building, and we have to be sensitive to members. We only take on events that are right for the building.’ Karen Haigh
‘It’s evolved into something quite special,’ Karen says. ‘Everyone knows Freemasons’ Hall houses the new designers. We used to have a few men’s events tagged onto the end of Fashion Week, but I think it’s great that they’re taking off like this.’
A perfect fit
What began as a side venture at Freemasons’ Hall has blossomed. When Karen was initially asked to investigate whether the hosting of external events could bring in extra revenue to benefit the building, nobody guessed the scale to which it would grow. In 2013 the Hall hosted one hundred and twenty-five events, among them daily conferences, the Aston Martin one-hundredth anniversary and even the UK Lingerie Awards.
Why is the United Grand Lodge of England (UGLE) happy to hold events as eclectic as this? ‘They send out a message that the building is accessible. It gets rid of the myth of closed doors,’ Karen explains. And despite the mix of people filling the building today, it’s clear that the Freemasons are always the priority. ‘We’re very sensitive,’ she says. ‘We don’t want to disturb lodge members, so we work around them. We do soundchecks to make sure the rest of the building isn’t affected. And we’ve even run tours when there’s been filming.’
While it’s clear just how much UGLE enjoys welcoming these events, Karen always carefully curates the line-up. ‘I’m very conscious that this is a peace memorial, a working building, and we have to be sensitive to members,’ she explains. ‘We only take on events that are right for the building.’ So what made Hackett a good fit? ‘I think the brand ties in well with the heritage of the Hall,’ Karen says. ‘You’ve got a very old, traditional building that is something like a gentleman’s club, and then you’ve got the young men coming into it. It’s a nice juxtaposition. It shows we’re not fuddy-duddies – that’s the big thing. A lot of the younger members like that we’re not just seen as old-fashioned.’
Back in the vestibule, where every seat is filled and extra space absorbed by those standing, it’s time for the fashion to take over. Lights dim, conversation fades and faces crane toward the iron gates as a bellboy emerges on the catwalk, pushing the luggage carrier at just the right speed. Forty models follow him in turn, each cast from a roll-call of characters that you might encounter in the lobby of a glamorous hotel, from the nattily dressed CEO to the gentleman explorer, a nod to the age of adventure, and former rugby player Thom Evans, who steps out in a grey overcoat and tailored trousers.
The classic British attire on show spans a classic colour palette – warm blush jumpers, soft grey beanie hats, dark checks – and, of course, a selection of suitcases.
In a matter of minutes, Jeremy Hackett himself takes to the catwalk, tipping his bowler hat to a roar of approval, and then it’s all over. It’s just as Karen says: ‘You’d never put Freemasons and fashion together, but isn’t it lovely?’
Not just men’s fashion
While Freemasons’ Hall provides a fantastic venue to showcase men’s fashion, it’s equally comfortable recognising the top names in the lingerie sector. Held at the Hall in December, the 2013 UK Lingerie Awards was a spectacular night of drama and entertainment in the company of industry stars and celebrities from across the country. Hosted by Sky Sports News presenter Millie Clode, the event crowned Debenhams the UK’s Favourite Lingerie Retailer of the Year.
We're delighted to announce that Freemasons' Hall, Great Queen Street, London, has won a COOL Venue Award 2014!
The star-studded industry event was held last night at Ministry of Sound, which was also the winner of the award for COOLest Bar and Club.
Freemasons’ Hall won the award for COOLest Venue for AGMs, beating off stiff competition from other nominees including the Savoy (who won the award last year), the Dorchester, Emirates Stadium, RSC Stratford-on-Avon, HAC, Indigo 2, Somerset House, the Corinthia, One Wimpole Street and the Magna Science Centre.
Barry Seamen (pictured), Chief Executive of Richmond Creative Events accepted the award on our behalf.
Freemasons' Hall welcomes back London Fashion Week for 2014!
The great and the good of the fashion world were out in force over the past week for London Fashion Week. Here are a few images of what went on in and around Freemasons' Hall.
New advert for Cadbury Dairy Milk features our very own Freemasons' Hall in a supporting role!
In the video, which was directed by Ben Winston, comedian James Corden lip-syncs to Estelle's Free.
Arian Jessop from Ayton Lodge No 9595 has walked to Freemasons’ Hall in London from York, fundraising over £1,300 for his Province’s current Masonic Samaritan Fund (MSF) Festival Appeal
Covering 245 miles over 14 days, Adrian updated a daily blog and shared pictures of his journey online with masons from the Province of Yorkshire, North and East Ridings. He said: 'Now I have completed the walk, I feel absolutely elated. I have been bowled over by the support from my family, colleagues and friends, both masons and non-masons.'
'None of us know if or when we may need to call on help, suffer an illness or disability where treatment is limited or not available. This was my way of supporting a fantastic charity achieving great things by helping others. I have many lasting memories from this walk and I met many new friends along the way. Thank you to all that have followed my progress and supported me through sponsorship.'
Willie Shackell, President of the MSF said: 'Having watched his progress with great interest, we were delighted to welcome Adrian to the MSF’s office and offer our sincere thanks for his incredible effort on our behalf.'
Behind the scenes
As the masonic adviser in the private office, John Vazquez is the Mr Fix-it of Freemasons’ Hall, providing all the expertise, support and sometimes regalia to make sure that lodge meetings go without a hitch
Q: How did you come to work at Freemasons’ Hall?
A: Before I was called up to national service in Spain in the 1970s, I was working for a retailer in Oxford Street. My mother used to work at Freemasons’ Hall cleaning the Grand Temple and when I returned to the UK, she said there was as a job going as a porter. I took the role in 1980 and thought I’d eventually get back into retail management, but here I am thirty-three years later. I got to know the people and enjoyed it. Back then it was very family oriented and sometimes you felt that you’d rather stay in the Hall than go home.
When I first walked into the building, I thought how wonderful it was – I was amazed by it and still am. It’s not what you expect; there are lots of cubby holes and even now I’m discovering new things. My favourite place is room seventeen; everyone likes the Grand Temple and room ten, but I like room seventeen’s old-fashioned wood panels and the antique furniture.
‘I am still amazed by the Hall. It’s not what you expect; there are lots of cubby holes and even now I’m discovering new things.’
Q: What was your first lodge?
A: I became a member of the staff lodge, Letchworth, after the bylaws had changed to allow ‘downstairs’ staff to become full members. I then joined the half English, half Spanish St Barnabas Lodge. It was a dying lodge, maybe fourteen or so members, but it’s up to around fifty-two now. I get to meet such a wide variety of people – that’s the great thing about Freemasonry.
Q: When did you start helping to run events?
A: After becoming foreman porter, my job changed to deputy lodge liaison officer. When Nigel Brown came in as Grand Secretary, it developed into the role I have now: using my knowledge to look after the masonic events in the building. From Grand Lodge through to Provincial lodge meetings, I’m always in the background making sure everything is working.
My job is to ensure each day is perfect. I help set up rooms, making sure all the props are there, as well as providing advice. I want to make all the masons watching feel comfortable and for them to walk out with a smile on their face, saying what a wonderful day they’ve had. I’m a calm person and I say to people when they come for a meeting, ‘Don’t worry. If I look anxious, then start worrying, but until then assume everything’s OK.’ I try not to get too stressed.
‘I don’t have an average day, it’s not like working in an office. One side of my job is practical – it’s a good thing I was in the Scouts.’
It doesn’t matter who you are, I will treat you in the same way. It goes back to the principles of Freemasonry and it’s a wonderful thing about the Craft. You do get individuals who think they’re special and need reminding of where they are, that this is not their building: it’s mine and they should behave! I’m lucky that I’ve been here a long time and people know me, so if I say something is going to happen, then it will.
Q: How would you describe your job?
A: I’m a Mr Fix-it. I don’t have an average day and it’s not really like working in an office. One side of my job is practical, like replacing broken chairs, and I’m responsible for all the regalia, making sure it’s clean and repaired – it’s a good thing I was in the Scouts. But my job is also about understanding Freemasonry, knowing what you can and can’t do in a ceremony. If I know I can’t do it, then I know someone else probably can’t either. A lot of people do take my recommendations, but it’s only advice.
When we started hosting non-masonic events at the Hall, the Grand Tyler Norman Nuttall and I used to organise them. As demand increased, the external events were given to Karen Haigh to oversee and I now work closely with her to make sure our masonic and non-masonic events don’t clash. When we first held things like Fashion Week here, there were a few raised eyebrows from masons coming to the Hall, but I think they’re used to it now.
Q: Have things changed since you joined in 1980?
A: Freemasonry has opened up quite a lot, as much as people think it hasn’t. When I first came here you weren’t allowed to go to the Library and Museum unless you were a mason or accompanied by one. While basic masonry hasn’t changed, the people around it have. Younger masons are looking at things in a different way, which is good.
Freemasonry was here before I came and it’ll be here after I’m gone – just like this building. To me it’s a privilege and honour to come and work here. It was fantastic to be part of the two hundred and seventy-fifth anniversary celebrations in 1992 at Earls Court. There was a lot to organise; we had to set the arena up as the Temple and two lodges, but we got it done. It’s the same with the three hundredth celebrations. I won’t panic and I’m actually looking forward to it. We will make masons proud.
Grand Lodge statement on masonic emblem
Complaints have been received about an advert offering for sale cufflinks and lapel pins in the form of a replica of the Hall Stone Jewel. Informal approaches had previously been made to the individual concerned, advising that the design was inappropriate and requesting that he ceased to market the items.
The Board of General Purposes concluded that the design in this context is altogether inappropriate. The device is inextricably associated with Freemasons’ Hall, which was built as a memorial to masons who gave their lives during World War I.
Except in the case of the small number of brethren still living who subscribed to the Masonic Million Memorial Fund and thereby qualified to wear an individual jewel, the privilege of wearing the Hall Stone Jewel is now restricted to the Masters of lodges whose donations to the Fund averaged 10 guineas per member, and the Provincial or District Grand Master of the Hall Stone Province (Buckinghamshire) and the Hall Stone District (Burma). The Board considered that turning such an iconic emblem into an item of personal adornment was in the worst possible taste and deeply disrespectful to the memory of the many fallen members of the Craft.
It also noted that a donation to ‘Masonic Charity’ is promised for every sale made, which it regards as an attempt to give respectability to an enterprise that appears to have been undertaken for personal gain. The Board recommends that brethren of this Constitution neither purchase nor wear such items.
It was tremendous to hear the news of the new Royal baby, Prince George. You will be glad that a message of congratulations was sent on behalf of members to Their Royal Highnesses The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge.
Talking of good news, it is heart-warming to hear, as I go around the Provinces and Districts, more and more members speaking openly about the fun of membership as they enjoy, each in their own special way, their hobby, Freemasonry. This enjoyment is becoming infectious, helping to both recruit and, importantly, retain members. Together with the increasing support from family members, this is a clear reflection of the success of the current initiatives that are making sure there is a relevant future for Freemasonry.
In this autumn issue, we take a ride with the Showmen’s Lodge to discover that the ties binding Freemasons can also be found in the people who run the waltzers and dodgems at the fairground. We go on the road with a welfare adviser from the Royal Masonic Trust for Girls and Boys, as she helps a family get back on its feet. We also meet Mark Smith, a Provincial Grand Almoner, and find out that while masonic support can involve making a donation to a worthy cause, it is also about spending time with people in your community.
I mentioned hobbies earlier, and to thrill anyone with a taste for classic cars we get in the driving seat with Aston Martin as it celebrates its one hundredth birthday at Freemasons’ Hall. There is also an interview with Prestonian Lecturer Tony Harvey, who has been travelling around the UK to explain how Freemasonry and Scouting have more in common than you might first think. I believe that these stories and features show why Freemasonry not only helps society but is also very much a part of it.
On a final note, I was pleased to have had the opportunity to speak on Radio 4’s Last Word obituary programme about the late Michael Baigent, our consultant editor. He was a good friend with an enormously inquisitive mind, about which John Hamill writes more fully later in this issue of Freemasonry Today.
‘It is heart-warming to hear, as I go around the Provinces and Districts, more and more members speaking openly about the fun of membership.’
Driving the British way
Founded in London in 1913, Aston Martin celebrated one hundred years of manufacturing the world’s most luxurious and recognisable sports cars at Freemasons’ Hall. With James Bond’s DB5 pulling up outside, we take a look inside a very exclusive birthday party
On a hot summer Saturday night in mid-July, a glittering black-tie party for one thousand Aston Martin owners and invited guests descended on Freemasons’ Hall on Great Queen Street to celebrate one hundred years of the classic car marque. With Downton Abbey’s Joanne Froggatt and Allen Leech in attendance, the event featured entertainment from Radio 1 DJ Benji B, composer Grant Windsor and the Deviation Strings ensemble.
The celebration in the capital was the culmination of a week-long programme of centenary activity that included driving tours across Europe as well as a host of events at the brand’s Gaydon headquarters in Warwickshire. Over the same weekend, tens of thousands of enthusiasts had made the trip to London’s Kensington Gardens to witness the largest gathering ever of the iconic British cars. On display in the Royal Park or at nearby Perks Field were as many as five hundred and fifty Aston Martin models – worth around an estimated £1 billion in total.
Classics old and new
Aston Martin CEO Dr Ulrich Bez said: ‘Exclusivity is a key part of the Aston Martin mystique – we have made only around sixty-five thousand cars in our entire one hundred-year history to date – so to see so many of these rare beauties gathered together in London was a truly historic occasion.’
Themed car displays told Aston Martin’s remarkable story. The event’s centrepiece, the Centenary Timeline Display, on the Broadwalk, took visitors on a one hundred-year journey from the origins of the brand in Henniker Mews, Chelsea, to its current global headquarters in the Midlands.
Every significant Aston Martin road car was represented, from ‘A3’, the oldest surviving car, which dates from 1921, to the Centenary Edition Vanquish, and the thrilling new V12 Vantage S and Vanquish Volante. The exceptional CC100 Speedster concept model, meanwhile, provided a tantalising glimpse of the potential shape of the brand’s cars in years to come.
Elsewhere in the park a Centenary Selection display showcased the diverse and highly bespoke nature of the brand. This varied line-up revealed cars rarely seen outside of private collections, including a brace of new Zagato models, a trio of Bertone Jets, and a number of other unique cars commissioned over the years by passionate customers worldwide.
To top it all, Aston Martin’s association with James Bond was marked with a display of seven of the movies’ cars. Back at Freemasons’ Hall, actor Ewan McGregor posed happily alongside a DB5 from the latest Bond blockbuster, Skyfall, adding a flourish of Hollywood glamour to an evening that celebrated a car marque with true star quality.