Celebrating 300 years

What’s heritage worth?

While historic masonic items may not have huge monetary value, Director of Special Projects John Hamill explains why they are still national treasures

A few years ago the Library and Museum of Freemasonry, with incredible assistance from a dedicated team of brethren in the Provinces, conducted one of the largest national archive surveys that has ever taken place in this country. The result was a formidable database of all the lodge and chapter records in masonic hands in this country. It will be a veritable gold mine for future researchers into English and Welsh masonic history and is also proving to be a major source for local historians.

The survey was limited to ‘words on paper’ and, partly because of time constraints, did not include regalia, furniture, masonic equipment or artefacts. That leads me to one of my hobby horses: that masonic historians in the past have primarily depended on only the written records that are available and have largely ignored what can be learnt from non-documentary items.

During the twenty-eight years I was involved in the Library and Museum, I was privileged on many occasions to be invited to speak in the Provinces. 

I soon developed a habit of arriving early, if visiting a masonic hall I had not previously attended, in order to have a look at what they might have hanging on their walls or in, often dusty, display cases. I soon began to appreciate the wealth of material that still survived and began to keep notes of anything unusual or rare. I also began to realise that very few of those running the halls were aware of the treasures in their custody, or that some of them had a monetary value.

Happily, that neglect and ignorance has been changing since the late 1990s with the creation of the Masonic Libraries and Museum Group, which is formed of dedicated volunteers with a love of masonic history. The group has gradually persuaded their respective Provinces that they have collections of importance, which should be properly catalogued and looked after because they form an important part of our heritage – and in many cases, include items that are irreplaceable.

History for sale

A recent auction sale in south London illustrates the value certain masonic objects can have. The first part of the sale was probably the last major collection of masonic jewels and artefacts in private hands in this country. Formed by Albert Edward Collins Nice between the 1930s and his death in 1969, it was rich in eighteenth- and nineteenth-century jewels, which, in addition to having masonic importance, were superb examples of the jeweller and silversmith arts. Competition was fierce and some surprising prices were paid for the star items.

The Antiques Roadshow and its many spin-offs have given the public a false sense that because something is old it must be worth money. Monetary value, however, is not everything. Particularly in a specialist area, an item can have very little monetary value to the outside world but be of major importance to the history of the organisation concerned. In my early days in the museum, people would wander in with an item and ask what it was and if we would be interested in having it. Today, thanks to antique-valuing programmes on television, they ask what it is and what it is worth!

We live in an age in which the importance of our heritage in all parts of our lives is being increasingly recognised. We took the major step of finding out, and taking steps to preserve, our archival heritage in Freemasonry. Perhaps now is the time to take the same steps in relation to the treasures, in the widest sense of that word, that rest in our buildings.

‘An item can have very little monetary value to the outside world but be of major importance to the history of the organisation concerned.’

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Garibaldi in London

To mark the one hundred and fiftieth anniversary of Garibaldi’s trip to London, the Library and Museum explores his extraordinary impact on Victorian society

In April 1864 the Italian patriot Giuseppe Garibaldi arrived in Britain. His leadership of the Expedition of the Thousand in southern Italy in 1860 had already captivated public opinion. On his arrival Garibaldi was greeted by vast crowds, met the Prince of Wales and dined with the nobility. The Italian also met with exiled revolutionaries, working men and those who had fought alongside him in the struggle for Italian unification. 

Garibaldi was ruler of the Supreme Council Grand Orient of Italy based in Palermo, so English and Scottish Freemasons also responded to his visit. He received a deputation from Polish National Lodge, No. 534, led by its Master, the artist Sigismund Rosenthal, and the lodge presented him with one of its distinctive lodge jewels. 

While Garibaldi was at the theatre, one of his entourage, Giuseppe Basile, attended a meeting of Salisbury Lodge, No. 435, in Soho. He relayed Garibaldi’s request for membership of the lodge, which was agreed. Towards the end of his trip, Garibaldi also visited Colonel John Whitehead Peard, known as ‘Garibaldi’s Englishman’ and a member of Fowey Lodge, No. 977. 

Garibaldi’s ‘celebrity’ was marked in contemporary media and through souvenirs. The summer exhibition at the Library and Museum will include many of the items associated with him, including one of his swords, now in the possession of an English lodge, Italia Lodge, No. 2687. 

The exhibition at the Library and Museum runs until 29 August 2014, Monday-Friday. Admission is free

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Garibaldi in London exhibition now open at the Library and Museum of Freemasonry

Start: May 19, 2014
End: August 29, 2014

In April 1864 the Italian patriot, Giuseppe Garibaldi, arrived in Britain. On his arrival he was greeted by vast crowds,  met the Prince of Wales, dined with politicians and the nobility and was seen by thousands of ordinary working people at specially organised rallies. He planted trees, signed visitors books and was awarded honorary memberships. His celebrity was marked by the response of contemporary media, the production of souvenirs and the publication of books. This exhibition at the Library and Museum of Freemasonry retraces his visit and explores Garibaldi’s extraordinary impact on mid Victorian society.

The exhibition is arranged in association with the Organising Committee of the Giuseppe Garibaldi 150th Anniversary 1864-2014.

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Message from madras

Among the more unusual items in the archives of Grand Lodge is a fragile letter written in Persian, attached to an illuminated English translation

In 1778, a letter was written in Madras by Ghulam Hussainy, Umdat-ul-Umra, the eldest son of the 8th Nawab of the Carnatic in southern India, to George, 4th Duke of Manchester, Grand Master of the Premier Grand Lodge of England (the Moderns). This followed his initiation, when Grand Lodge had presented to him, as the future Nawab, a masonic apron and finely bound Book of Constitutions. 

The importance of this letter was recognised in 1836 when it was displayed at Freemasons’ Hall at the time of the initiation of Mohamed Ismail Khan, ambassador to India’s King of Oudh. But it was then deframed and so, by the early twenty-first century, the letter, written on fragile Indian paper, was in poor condition (as illustrated above left). 

A specialist conservator has been able to preserve the document and the Library and Museum has commissioned photographs of it, which can be used to study the letter’s contents. In addition, a transcript has been attached to the catalogue record to enhance access to the information it contains. The conservation work was funded by the Association of Independent Museums’ Pilgrim Trust Conservation Scheme.

The Library and Museum is open Monday-Friday, and admission is free.

Published in Features

A chance to get up close and hands-on to some of the hundreds of commemorative medals researched for a Library and Museum project last year

During 2013 the Library and Museum of Freemasonry catalogued more than 1,500 commemorative masonic medals from across the world in a project entitled Celebrating Medals.

The two cataloguers, Suzannah Musson and Nina Nethercott, were the first people to look at this collection in detail since it was acquired in the early 1900s. They also organised and presented a series of talks, some of which you get the chance to hear again for free on 25th February (details below), and a display in the Library and Museum, which will also be available to view.

Celebrating Medals: free talk at the Library and Museum of Freemasonry

Tuesday 25th February
6pm-7.30pm
Location: Library and Museum, 60 Great Queen Street, London, WC2B 5AZ

Tickets are free but must be pre-booked by emailing This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.


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On show at the Library and Museum, the Sussex Plate silver candelabrum reveals details about the union of the Grand Lodges in 1813

One of the Library and Museum’s greatest treasures has a prominent role in its latest exhibition. The Sussex Plate is a large silver candelabrum, which was presented to the Duke of Sussex in 1838 to mark his twenty-five years as Grand Master of the United Grand Lodge of England. 

At the centre of the Sussex Plate, set within a circular temple, is a six-sided plinth supporting a cushion, on which is a Volume of the Sacred Law, a set square and a compass. The figure of Apollo is mounted on the top of the temple dome, around which is a frieze featuring the twelve signs of the zodiac. Outside sit four figures: Astronomy, Geometry, Sculpture and Architecture.

The temple is mounted on a four-panel base decorated with pomegranates, olives and corn. Two of the panels depict biblical scenes and the third, an inscription. The fourth is unusual in representing the union between the premier and the Atholl Grand Lodges in December 1813, two hundred years ago, showing the two Grand Masters – the Duke of Sussex and the Duke of Kent – with their Grand Officers. Although this image is much later than the event, there are no other depictions of the union. The depiction is best seen in one of a series of reproductions published in the Freemasons’ Quarterly Review in 1838. The two Royal Dukes can be identified from their portraits – the Duke of Sussex shown facing out. 

Excellent Companions: Celebrating the Royal Arch is open from 14 October 2013 to 2 May 2014, Monday-Friday. Admission is free.

Published in SGC

Freemasonry explained in Yorkshire

Thanks to a donation to Harrogate’s Royal Hall, a masonic exhibition has returned a portrait of Henry Lascelles to Yorkshire

The Royal Hall at Harrogate, one of the finest Edwardian theatres in the country, is a Grade 2 listed performance hall and theatre. With support from many local benefactors, led by industrialist Samson Fox, the building opened in 1903 as the Kursaal. Designed by Robert Beale and Frank Matcham, one of the most prolific theatre architects of his time, it was loosely based on the design of the Ostende Kursall in Belgium. 

Over the years, the Royal Hall has provided a superb home for the Annual Meeting of the Provincial Grand Lodge of Yorkshire, West Riding, the first one being held in 1937. However, its masonic links go back to the Royal Hall’s origins. Samson Fox, Robert Beale and Frank Matcham were all Freemasons, as was Julian Clifford, the Royal Hall’s musical director for many years, and Alderman David Simpson, four times Mayor of Harrogate, who laid the foundation stone in 1902.

In 2001, the Royal Hall Restoration Trust was formed to raise funds towards the restoration of this important National Heritage building. Supported by the actor Edward Fox, a great-grandson of Samson Fox, donations were received from local benefactors, Harrogate Borough Council, Harrogate International Centre and the Heritage Lottery Fund which allowed for a fully authentic interior redecoration and the restoration of the Dress Circle. In 2008, the patron of the Royal Hall Restoration Trust, HRH the Prince of Wales, led the Hall’s official re-opening.

Since that time, the Trust has remained in existence to continue with those improvements not included in the major project, including the further development of the Heritage Lounge. In 2010, the Province of Yorkshire, West Riding, was pleased to make a generous donation towards the Restoration Fund, and, in particular, towards the refurbishment of the Heritage Lounge.

Part of this work included the provision of a run of seven large display cabinets, some of which the Trustees intended to fill with items of interest from those heady days when the Royal Hall attracted many outstanding 'stars' of international reputation.

Furthermore, another part of the refurbishment included an ambitious project to provide a 2 screen audiovisual system which would show different aspects of Harrogate and the Royal Hall.

As the Royal Hall, including the Heritage Lounge, is a feature of the ‘Harrogate Heritage Trail’, it is open to the public on a good number of days each year. It is also used for a variety of corporate events and as a bar during concerts or other performances held in the Hall.

When the Trustees, therefore, offered us the long term use of two of the display cabinets to house a masonic exhibition and also the opportunity to develop a module to be incorporated into the audio-visual system, W Bro Martin Stray, Assistant Provincial Grand Master, had no hesitation in gratefully accepting this very generous offer. After all, this would be the first time that a permanent exhibition of Freemasonry would be available for public viewing in a non-masonic context.

It soon became clear that there was much work to be done if we were to develop an exhibition of which the Province would be proud, hence we – W Bro Stuart Ross and W Bro Peter Smith – were commissioned in July 2011 with the task of making it happen.

Immediately we busied ourselves finding out exactly what was available in the way of interesting items suitable to be included in the exhibition. A trip to the Library and Museum of Freemasonry at Grand Lodge proved to be a very positive starting point. Diane Clements (Director) and Mark Dennis (Curator) offered invaluable assistance in creating a wish list of available items. Rooting through various cellars, cupboards and other dark and mysterious places around the Province soon unearthed further treasures which could be included. 

Early in the project, from research pursued by W Bro Stray, we were made aware of a magnificent portrait of George Lascelles, 6th Earl of Harewood, who was Provincial Grand Master of Yorkshire, West Riding 1926–1942, Pro Grand Master 1935–1942 and Grand Master 1942–1947. This portrait was commissioned by the Province in 1937 and to which each of its lodges subscribed. The portrait was painted by Sir William Nicholson and presented to the Earl to be hung in Freemasons’ Hall, London. 

Having expressed our interest in bringing this painting back to Yorkshire, representations were made to the Board of General Purposes, which agreed to the loan for an initial period of five years. This is the first occasion that the portrait has been seen outside London since it was presented all those years ago. Whilst we were naturally delighted to hear this news, it very soon became apparent that moving a fifteen foot painting from London to Harrogate was not going to be such an easy proposition. However, that was a problem for the future!

Having instigated our search for interesting exhibition items, it now became important to switch our attention to the development of our audio-visual module and to define the structure and content. We settled on the module being split into three parts i.e. an introduction, then two options: ‘What is Freemasonry’ and ‘Freemasonry and the Community’. 

From the start, we were clear that everything to do with this exhibition was to be aimed at non-masons. With this in mind, suitable text was prepared for each of the three modules and appropriate images sourced or created to support our message. When the text had been recorded as an audio file, the software company had all that they needed to work their magic on our base material, which they did with great skill. The final flourish to the module was the development of an interactive keyboard, which appears on the touch screen at the end of each module, allowing for the entry of a name and email address for anyone wishing to receive more information. Data collected in this way is then immediately sent via the internet to the Provincial Office at Bradford. 

Meanwhile, having agreed on a goodly number of artefacts from the Library and Museum of Freemasonry, it was time to look at what would be available from some of our local Lodges. We were fortunate in that De Grey and Ripon Lodge No. 837 agreed to lend us the Provincial chain, jewel and apron of the Earl de Grey and Ripon (later the Marquess of Ripon), Provincial Grand Master 1861–1874 and Grand Master 1870–1874. We then raided the Provincial archives where we found a wonderful set of Consecration Vessels, some charity posters and the beautiful Registrar’s Purse. Finally, we found some interesting items from Philanthropic Lodge No. 304.

Once transport had been arranged to bring the portrait and artefacts from London to Harrogate, we then had to consider just how the portrait was going to be raised some thirty feet in the air without damaging it. The weight of the portrait was such that special brackets had to made and cemented into the wall so that the portrait could hang safely. These brackets could only be fixed in position with the help of a scaffolding tower. Once the cement was set, the portrait would need to be hoisted up the wall and hung on to the brackets. All this had to be carefully timed to coincide with the portraits’ arrival from London.

With the portrait in place and the artefacts chosen, one would have thought that there was very little more to do other than arrange the displays in the cabinets. However, before that could be done, loan agreements had to be drafted for all the items which were to feature in the exhibition. Each artefact needed to be described in great detail, indicating any damage, and in most cases photographic evidence was required to support the description and value.

Once insurance was in place, the displays and information cards for the individual items could progress. We decided to use quite different approaches to the displays in our two allocated display units. 

Firstly we decided that the public would be interested to see items that a Freemason would himself use or see on a regular basis as a member of the Craft. Hence the main feature of the first cabinet is a Mason’s case overflowing with items of regalia, dress, jewels and other printed ephemera. 

A full box of working tools is to be found nearby, together with a number of ceremonial mauls and trowels commemorating the laying of various Foundation stones around the Province. This part of the display is supported by a superb collection of interesting glassware and ceramics, including a collection of Leeds Creamware complete with masonic symbols and two rather interesting ‘dice’ glasses.

The second cabinet holds a more limited number of larger, spectacular items, with the central focus being the Registrar’s Purse. This purse is a replica of the one belonging to United Grand Lodge and was used by the Provincial Grand Registrar to carry official documents on ceremonial occasions. This magnificent piece is a work of art in its own right and was created from silk velvet, using stump work with raised gold bullion thread, plate and sequins.

The purse is complemented by a set of decorated gilt Consecration vessels, comprising the Cornucopia (for corn), the two Ewers (for wine and oil) and the Salt. 

The colourful Provincial Grand Master’s apron and chain, used by the Earl de Grey and Ripon, then show an interesting contrast with the light blue Master Mason’s apron in the adjoining cabinet.

To provide an eye-catching backdrop to the displays, a series of superbly ornate Charity certificates from the late 19th Century were borrowed from our Provincial archives and attached to the back wall.

The exhibition opened on the occasion of the Annual Meeting of the Provincial Grand Lodge on May 29th 2013, when many of the distinguished visitors and brethren attending the meeting were able to view the exhibits, watch the audiovisual presentation and admire the portrait of the Earl of Harewood on its return ‘home’. Seeing the way the exhibition was received made all the hard work and effort worthwhile, but it must also be remembered how important the support of both Harrogate Council (particularly the Royal Hall staff) and the Library and Museum of Freemasonry had been to the overall success of this development.

The exhibition is now open to the public on various days throughout the year and is also usually available for those attending events and performances in the Hall. If you would like to see the display, visit the Royal Hall website: www.royalhall.co.uk and follow the link to Royal Hall Open Days.

Very shortly after this exhibition had been completed, the opportunity arose for another exhibition to be created at the Bradford Industrial Museum. This exhibition has the double benefit of a much greater floor area to work with and an impressive attendance of around 40,000 adults pa.

At the time of writing this article, we are in the process of selecting and agreeing the items to be displayed, creating the loan agreements and putting the finishing touches to what will be yet another opportunity for the non-masons within this Province to share in the wonderful history of Freemasonry.

The exhibition, entitled 'A masonic Experience: Freemasonry Explained' is on schedule to open to the public in early December. Once again, we are indebted to the Library and Museum of Freemasonry for their continued support. We also appreciate all the hard work and effort from the staff at the Bradford Industrial Museum and the Bradford lodges: their assistance has been invaluable in helping to create this exhibition.

A month of masonic medals

Medals have been created since the earliest days of Freemasonry in the 1700s. The Library and Museum of Freemasonry's collection of over 1,000 medals from across the world has recently been catalogued for the first time. During Medals Month in November 2013 there are free events, talks and special displays about this fascinating collection.

Download the free events programme at the Library and Museum website.

 

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Thursday, 05 September 2013 01:00

John Vazquez is the Mr Fix-It of Freemasons' Hall

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.

Excellent Companions

The latest exhibition at the Library and Museum explores the history and development of the Holy Royal Arch Degree

Coinciding with the special October Convocation of Supreme Grand Chapter, Excellent Companions: Celebrating the Royal Arch opens on Great Queen Street in the same month. Among the objects that will be on display during the exhibition is this portrait, shown right, of Henry Frederick, Duke of Cumberland (1745-1790), who was one of George III’s brothers.

The Duke of Cumberland was initiated in February 1767 at an ‘occasional’ lodge at the Thatched House Tavern, St James’ Street, and was installed as Master of the New Horn Lodge two months later. In 1771, after a short period in the Royal Navy – a career path decided by his brother – Cumberland married Anne Horton, a commoner, without the King’s consent. He and the Duchess were excluded from court but led an active social life.

Cumberland was elected Grand Master in 1782 and remained so until his death in 1790. He initiated his nephew, the Prince of Wales (later George IV), into Freemasonry in February 1787. In this portrait, Cumberland is wearing the robes and regalia of the Grand Patron of the Royal Arch, an office he held from 1774 to 1790, but which ceased to exist in 1813.

Among the many jewels that will be included in the exhibition is one designed by the renowned masonic jewel maker Thomas Harper. It was presented to Daniel Beaumont in 1800, the year that Beaumont was exalted in the Chapter of St James (now No. 2) in London. The exhibition runs from 14 October 2013 to 2 May 2014.

For more information visit the Library and Museum website

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