Celebrating 300 years

Finding Freemasons

A digitisation project between the Library and Museum and Ancestry will make searching for masons from the past much easier

The world’s largest online family history resource, Ancestry has transcribed over two million records of Freemasons in the English and Irish Constitutions using the membership registers of the United Grand Lodge of England and the Grand Lodge of Ireland. 

The names have created a searchable online database of Freemasons from the 1750s to the early 1920s. The database and images from the Grand Lodge registers are being made available via Ancestry’s website. This will provide information about individual lodge affiliation, as well as address and occupation details. 

It has often been difficult to track down the names of individual Freemasons if there were no details of their lodge. Grand Lodge’s main communication was with lodge secretaries and there was no reason for the organisation itself to create an alphabetical index of members. 

It will now be much easier for family historians, researchers and those writing their lodge histories to access this information. 

Ancestry provides a pay-per-view or subscription service and free access will also be available in the Library and Museum. Further details are available on the Library and Museum’s website and at www.ancestry.co.uk

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Two million historic Freemason records published online

Newly digitised collection offers fascinating insight into one of world’s most intriguing organisations 

More than two million historic Freemason membership records have been published online for the first time, revealing the names of some of the most famous and well-connected men in British history. 

Digitised by Ancestry, the world’s largest family history resource, the UK and Ireland Freemason Membership Registers 1733-1923 span 190 years and offer fascinating insight into the inner workings of one of the world’s most intriguing organisations.

Rich in detail, each record reveals the Freemason’s name, profession, residence, date of initiation or date that they joined the organisation, age at initiation and lodge location. Accordingly, this collection will be of vital significance for anybody looking to locate, or find out more about, a Freemason ancestor.

The records also feature numerous famous Freemasons, including: 

Oscar Wilde – Following his initiation on the 23 February 1875, Irish-born Wilde is listed as a member of the Apollo University Lodge, Cambridge. A novelist, essayist, and one of the most popular playwrights of his time, his novels The Picture of Dorian Gray and The Importance of Being Earnest remain popular today. 

Sir Henry Wellcome – Scientist, businessman, philanthropist, archaeologist and collector, Wellcome is best known for his pioneering approach to medical research. His legacy, the Wellcome Trust, continues to provide grants to pharmacology departments to educate and train young researchers.

Winston Churchill – Appearing in the records at the age of 26, Churchill was initiated into Studholme Lodge on the 26 May 1901. He went on to become a British statesman, orator, author and eventually prime minister across the years 1940–45 and 1951–55. Many credit ‘British Bulldog’ Churchill for leading the country to victory in World War II.

Joseph Rudyard Kipling – Writer, poet, and novelist, Kipling's works of fiction include children’s favourite The Jungle Book and Kim. Born in Bombay, Kipling was initiated in the Lodge of Hope and Perseverance No 782, in Lahore in 1886. 

Novelists and scientists aside, further analysis of the records reveals that engineers, merchants and clerks were the most common professions of English Freemasons. Similarly, in Ireland, farmers, clerks and engineers make up the top three most frequently occurring member roles. A plethora of other professions also appear, not least 14,882 ‘Gentleman’, and even a solitary ‘Cloth Shrinker’. 

'As freemasonry approaches its 300th birthday in 2017, we are pleased to be able to provide access to details of past members. The records demonstrate the extensive involvement which Freemasons have had in British society at national and local level and I hope that they will provide a fascinating insight.' - Diane Clements, Director of the Library and Museum of Freemasonry

Miriam Silverman, Senior UK Content Manager from Ancestry comments: 'We’re delighted to be able to offer people an online window into a relatively unknown organisation. Whilst we can’t reveal the inner workings of Freemason ceremonies, what we can tell you is the details of over two million historic members. So, if you want to find out more about a Freemason ancestor or locate a famous member, now is the perfect time to get online and start your search.'

To search the UK and Ireland Freemason Membership Registers 1733-1923 and more than 16 billion historical records worldwide, visit www.ancestry.co.uk 

A part of the launch, Sir Tony Robinson took a tour of Freemasons' Hall with Dr James Campbell who was able to debunk some of the common myths surrounding Freemasonry

 

 

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Command performance

Robert Henderson-Bland was an actor, soldier, poet and Freemason. Director of the Library and Museum of Freemasonry Diane Clements traces his fortunes during World War I

It is 100 years since Canadian doctor Major John McCrae wrote his poem In Flanders Fields, the first line of which, ‘In Flanders fields, the poppies blow’, was to be an inspiration for the poppy as a memorial. The same year, 1915, also saw the death of one of the best-known war poets, Rupert Brooke, who wrote five sonnets in late 1914 that helped make him famous, including The Soldier. Somewhat forgotten now but also an active and frequently published poet in his time was Freemason Robert Henderson-Bland (1876-1941).

Henderson-Bland’s first war poem, published in August 1915, was inspired by the Scots Guards and includes the following lines, written before the idea of a War Graves Commission had been developed:

‘Let someone mark the place whereat they fell,
And hedge it round, for in the after-time
Their fame will draw the many who would dwell
Upon those deeds that made an hour sublime.’

Henderson-Bland was best known as an actor, working in the early 1900s with leading theatrical figures such as Lily Langtry and Herbert Beerbohm Tree. On 26 April 1912, as he records in his autobiography, he received a telephone call asking him to take the role of Jesus Christ in a new film to be made in and around Jerusalem. Directed by Sidney Olcott, From the Manger to the Cross became one of the most significant films of the silent era. 

It was Beerbohm Tree who had recommended Henderson-Bland for the part, as he considered that the only man who could play Christ was a poet. Although controversial at the time, the film was eventually praised by leading religious figures, and it has since been designated culturally, historically and aesthetically significant by the Library of Congress. It was revived in London in 1926 when it was shown at the Royal Albert Hall every day for three months, and the Bishop of London supported the showing of a sound-enhanced version, stating that he considered it to be ‘a most beautiful film’. 

A few months before Henderson-Bland went to Jerusalem to make the film, he was initiated in Green Room Lodge, No. 2957, one of several London lodges with theatrical connections. His raising was delayed until filming was complete, in November 1912. In November 1913, he presented a souvenir of his time in Jerusalem to the lodge – a gavel made from stone quarried ‘from Solomon’s Mines’, with its shaft made of olive wood grown on the Mount of Olives. 

Theatre of war

When World War I broke out in August 1914, Henderson-Bland, aged 40, was acting in America. He returned to Britain to join the Gloucestershire Regiment, initially in Britain and then, from July 1916, in France, where he served until he was wounded in April 1918. By the end of the war he had been promoted to captain. After the war, Henderson-Bland became involved with veterans society the Ypres League, working to promote the organisation in America. He continued with his Freemasonry, joining, in 1927, another lodge with theatrical links, Drury Lane Lodge, No. 2127, where he was installed as Master in March 1937. He died in August 1941 as the result of an air raid. 

Henderson-Bland knew many who died in the war. One friend, also a Freemason (Drury Lane Lodge), was poet Arthur Scott Craven, who had joined the Artists Rifles and was killed in action in April 1917. Before the war, Henderson-Bland had dedicated a book of poetry to him. He wrote the following poem after his death and it was published in June 1917:

‘O all my youth came singing back to me
When first I learnt that you were dead, my friend.
What of the years when you and I did see
In life a splendour daily spilt to mend
Our souls grown tired of trivial delights?
Not lost to you the glimpses of the heights,
For you went gladly where the worst is surely best.’

The gavel presented by Henderson-Bland to Green Room Lodge is on display as part of the Library and Museum’s Spotlight: Freemasons and Entertainment exhibition, which runs until 13 February 2016.

A book written by Library and Museum staff, English Freemasonry and the First World War, is available from the shop at Freemasons’ Hall or online at www.letchworthshop.co.uk 

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Reel attraction

To preserve captured moments in the history of Freemasonry, the Library and Museum is digitising masonic films to enable anyone to view them

The Library and Museum stores and cares for collections of older records on behalf of Grand Lodge and the masonic charities. Among these are films such as a 1929 newsreel of a ceremony marking the extension at Treloar Hospital in Hampshire, and a film made for the RMBI in 1978 entitled Life in Our Homes. 

Former head of the East Anglian Film Archive David Cleveland was asked by the Library and Museum to undertake a survey of the film reels to identify duplicates, and to advise on methods of destruction for some of the duplicate material. 

Current recommendations are for the transfer of reel film to digital media for long-term preservation. The process is costly but the Library and Museum has received support from London’s Screen Archives (LSA), which transferred 16 film titles to digital media at no charge, courtesy of the British Film Institute’s Unlocking Film Heritage Digitisation Fund. The digitisation was completed by Prime Focus in London’s Soho.

All 16 titles will be accessible with full descriptions at the LSA website. After copying, the reel films are kept in specialist storage at the London Metropolitan Archives. With half of the film titles in its collection now available online, the Library and Museum is working on ways to preserve the rest of its film collection. 

Films can currently be viewed at the BFI Player portal: http://player.bfi.org.uk/search 

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The latest exhibition in the Library and Museum starts this week on Monday 8 June and turns the spotlight on Freemasonry and entertainment

During the 1700s, as Freemasonry grew in popularity, it began to attract new members from increasingly diverse social backgrounds. Masonic lodges had always attracted men whose work could take them anywhere in the country, such as mariners and merchants, who would find security and friendship within the fraternity. The stage was no different and throughout the 1700s, there are many examples of members of the theatrical or musical professions enjoying or seeking membership of lodges. The 1800s saw the development of 'class lodges', which were lodges for men with a common interest, background or occupation. 

In 1863 Maybury Lodge No. 969 was formed for Freemasons connected to the Royal Dramatic College in Woking, a home for retired actors. This was the first of many lodges associated with the theatrical profession that would open in the next 100 years.  

This exhibition examines over twenty lodges associated with theatre, music and entertainment from lodges for Victorian pantomime stars in London's Drury Lane to musical hall bohemians in Birkenhead.  

Throughout the exhibition you will also find items relating to many theatrical and musical 'stars' of their time: ventriloquists, actor managers, the original Charley's Aunt, music hall and vaudeville comedians, composers and conductors, a star of the silent screen and two rock music legends. 

Start: 8 June 2015
End: 13 February 2016

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The happy means

We hear a great deal about diversity and inclusivity these days but, as Director of Special Projects John Hamill explains, they are in the foundations of Freemasonry

 There are many theories about the origins of Freemasonry. The one that I favour suggests that it was formed and developed by a group of men who, knowing what divided people, were looking for a means of bringing men of diverse backgrounds together. They wanted to discover what they had in common and find out how to build on that commonality for the good of the community.

The period in which Freemasonry was developing – the late 1500s and 1600s – was one of great religious and political turmoil. Those differences split families, eventually leading to civil war; the execution of the king; a republic under Cromwell; the restoration of the monarchy; and the beginnings of our present system of constitutional monarchy. 

Religion continued to impact people’s lives long after the turmoil. Under the Test Acts, those who were not members of the established church could not take public office or public employment, or enter the universities or Parliament. Roman Catholics and Jews could not even move more than 10 miles from home without a licence from the magistrate.

Once Grand Lodge was formed in 1717 and began keeping central records, evidence emerges of the diverse nature of lodge membership. In 1723, 1725 and 1728, Grand Lodge asked its lodges to submit returns of members, which were copied into the Grand Lodge’s first Minute Book. When the Premier and Antients Grand Lodges began to keep central registers, the horizon expands still further.

In recent years, work has been done relating such membership lists to the poll and rate books, as well as the Huguenot and Jewish archives. It has shown that the London lodges were diverse and inclusive, with significant representation from the Huguenot, Jewish and non-conformist populations in London.  

Having worked at times on a daily basis with the 18th- and 19th-century membership registers during my 28 years at the Library and Museum, I can state unequivocally that the membership of English Freemasonry has always been a microcosm of the society in which it exists. There is a myth that Premier Grand Lodge was mainly an aristocratic and upper-class organisation; while its Grand Masters were noblemen or Royal Princes, its registers show that lodge members were a cross section of the community in which the lodge met.

Nor was race a bar. In 1784 a group led by Prince Hall and describing themselves as ‘free blacks’ from Boston, Massachusetts, applied to Premier Grand Lodge for a warrant, which was granted under the name of African Lodge, No. 459. 

Although the Slave Trade Act of 1807 had abolished the trade in slaves, it was not until the Slavery Abolition Act of 1833 that owning a slave was made illegal in the colonies. In 1840 the English lodges in Barbados petitioned Grand Lodge for a change in its Book of Constitutions. The rules required each candidate to declare that he was ‘free born’. The lodges in Barbados stated that they had a number of educated blacks who would be good Freemasons but had not been born free. Without argument, Grand Lodge simply removed the word ‘born’ from the declaration to enable them to join.

When lodges began to proliferate in India in the 19th century, as well as in Africa and Asia in the early 20th century, they were not expatriate lodges. Rather, they welcomed the local populations and, particularly in India, were the one place that Europeans, Muslims, Sikhs, Hindus and Parsees could meet together and build bridges between their communities.

By being diverse and inclusive, Freemasonry indeed became, in Dr James Anderson’s memorable phrase of 1723, ‘the happy means of conciliating friendship amongst those who must otherwise have stood at a perpetual distance’.

‘There is a myth that Premier Grand Lodge was an upper-class organisation; while its Grand Masters were noblemen, lodge members were a cross section of the community in which they met.’

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In the spotlight

Opening in June, the Library and Museum’s latest exhibition looks at the longstanding links between Freemasonry and entertainment

 The association between Freemasonry and the entertainment profession during the Victorian period is well known. The connection was embodied by men such as Sir Augustus Harris (1852-1896), actor and theatrical impresario, lodge founder and Grand Treasurer. 

He and his circle of theatrical figures feature in a revealing press cartoon from 1891 (above). 

Harris was particularly associated with the Drury Lane Theatre, where he staged elaborate pantomimes. He was a founder of Drury Lane Lodge, No. 2127, in 1885, which met in the theatre itself. After his death in 1896 at the age of 44, his wife married Edward O’Connor Terry, another actor, theatre proprietor and Freemason. Terry’s initials are shown entwined on the founder’s jewel for the lodge that was formed in 1898 and named after him. 

Terry was a Past Master of Lodge of Asaph, No. 1319, which formed in 1870 and met in the afternoons to permit its membership of musicians and actors to continue with their regular jobs in orchestras and theatre in the evenings. 

Spotlight: Freemasons and Entertainment 

The exhibition runs from 8 June 2015 to 13 February 2016, Monday–Friday, 10am–5pm. 

Admission is free

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Freemasons’ Hall is closed over the Easter period and there are no tours on Friday 3rd April, Saturday 4th April or Monday 6th April 2015

The final stages of work on refurbishing the organ in the Grand Temple are now being completed and this will also severely  limit the availability of tours until the end of April 2015. Please telephone on 020 7395 9257 or email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. to check when tours are available in order to avoid disappointment. 

The Library and Museum will be open as usual from 10am to 5pm Monday to Friday except for the Easter closure. 

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More than a memory

The written records generated by masonic lodges and chapters can give revealing insights into the masonic people, places and events of an era that would otherwise be lost

When a lodge or chapter ceases to meet and is erased, the lodge is asked to return its records (usually via the Provincial or Metropolitan office) and they are sent to Great Queen Street, where the archives team at the Library and Museum ensure that the records are preserved. Materials are cleaned, sorted, repackaged and catalogued to safeguard the legacy of the lodge.

The Library and Museum has recently created a display for Albert Coveney Lodge, No. 3519, which met in Birkenhead in the Province of Cheshire, revealing the history of the lodge from creation to its erasure in February 2013. The lodge was formed in 1911 and was named after the Provincial Senior Grand Warden Albert Coveney (1846-1912). Coveney had become a Freemason in Combermere Lodge, No. 605, in 1874 and worked for the local brewery. He was a member of several lodges in the Province. 

The records include a complete set of minutes together with declaration books, attendance books and summons to its important meetings. Lodge minutes sometimes reveal objects that have since been lost. At the end of the First World War, the lodge produced a memorial tablet with a Roll of Honour listing members who had served and the lodge’s two casualties. The tablet was unveiled in 1921 but is now known only from a photograph. 

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Inspired by Freemasonry

The Library and Museum is one of seven London archives that has taken part in a collaborative project between Poet in the City and Archives for London, funded by Arts Council England

The project, Through the Door, encouraged leading poets to explore archive material and then produce new work, with the aim of sharing the capital’s heritage more widely, as well as introducing poetry and the archives to new audiences.

The Library and Museum worked with David Harsent, who recently won the TS Eliot Prize for poetry. He produced six sonnets and a shape poem inspired by masonic archives. 

All the poems have been published in a book called Through the Door, which is available from Letchworth’s shop, and some of the archive material is currently on display in the museum.

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