The Temple Builder
For Alexander Burnett Brown, architecture, charity and Freemasonry were inextricably entwined. Philippa Faulks finds out about the man who built an opulent temple inside London’s Great Eastern Hotel
In 2000, the Conran group was mid-way through renovations of a jaded hotel just south of Liverpool Street Station, London. Puzzled by what appeared to be an additional room on the blueprints, the builders broke down a wall to reveal the double doors of a magnificent masonic temple.
Media intrigue ensued, dubbing the discovery a Dan Brown-style mystery. But for those in the Craft, the temple was an open secret; many masons had long been privy to the Great Eastern Hotel’s Grecian Temple, created in 1912 by architect and eminent Freemason Alexander Burnett Brown.
Born on 25 May 1867 in Newcastle, Northumberland, Brown’s parentage is unknown, but the census of 1871 recorded him as living at Ryde, Isle of Wight, with his grandparents.
Brown was a scholar at Charterhouse school, Godalming, Surrey, and left in 1883 prior to joining the Royal Artillery in 1885. Six years later, the 1891 census describes him as an ‘architect and surveyor’. In 1893, he married Amy Elizabeth Reynolds from Buckinghamshire; they had two sons, Alexander Denis and Geoffrey Trevor.
Brown served as aide-de-camp to the Governor and Commander-in-Chief in Gibraltar from 1893 to 1900, and took part in the China Relief Expedition in 1900, promoted to Major in the same year. His architectural career led him to be elected as Fellow of the Royal Institute of British Architects and The Surveyors’ Institution, and he formed a business partnership – Messrs Brown & Barrow – with Ernest Robert Barrow.
A MAN OF OFFICE
Brown’s masonic career was as varied as it was long. He was initiated in Sir Francis Burdett Lodge, No. 1503, Middlesex, on 8 November 1893; passed on 14 February 1894, and raised on 11 April that same year; and served as Worshipful Master in 1897.
He went on to be a founding and joining member of numerous lodges in and around London. Brown also served as the Provincial Grand Secretary of Middlesex, as well as Deputy Provincial Grand Master and Provincial Grand Master of Middlesex.
In 1906 he was appointed Grand Superintendent of Works by the United Grand Lodge of England, serving until 1934 with promotions to Past Grand Deacon and Past Grand Warden along the way. His masonic memberships also extended to the Royal Arch and Mark Masonry, and he was a 32nd Degree mason in Ancient and Accepted Rite.
Brown’s support of masonic charities and institutions was just as prolific. He was Vice-Patron of the Royal Masonic Institution for Boys; Patron of the Royal Masonic Institution for Girls; and Chairman of the Building Committee for the new girls’ school in Rickmansworth. He also served on the Board of Management and Committee of the Royal Masonic Hospital, and was an assessor of the architectural competition for the new masonic hospital at Ravenscourt Park.
MASONRY ON TRACK
Brown’s masonic and architectural careers proved harmonious. While Grand Superintendent of Works, his firm Messrs Brown & Barrow was instructed by the Great Eastern Railway (GER) to create the Grecian Temple in the Great Eastern Hotel.
Freemasonry was flourishing and several hotels owned by the railway companies had established close links with the Craft, incorporating masonic rooms into their fabric. In 1901, the Great Eastern added an Egyptian-style temple in the basement, but by early 1912 had decided to create another on a much grander scale, on the first floor.
Using the initial designs made by the chairman of the GER, Freemason Lord Claud Hamilton, Brown and Barrow set about creating a Grecian-inspired masterpiece. This feat, according to author Mark Daly (London Uncovered, 2016), was accomplished through the personal financing of Lord Hamilton, his family and other railway directors.
No expense was spared, with the temple costing around £50,000 – over £5 million at current prices. Marble of the highest quality was used for the columns, wall panelling and flooring, and lavishly carved mahogany chairs sat beneath a dazzling sunburst ceiling.
The Grecian Temple was formally dedicated on Tuesday, 5 November 1912, with the ceremony performed under the banner of Bard of Avon Lodge, No. 778. The Dedicating Officer was Grand Secretary Sir Edward Letchworth, with Brown acting as Worshipful Master. Many lodges have since graced the temple – notably Caledonian Lodge, No. 134, which met there from 1920 to 1947.
The magnificent temple remains unchanged today. The Andaz London Liverpool Street hotel now occupies the building and proudly offers the temple as a venue for events ranging from fashion and art shows to promotions for HBO’s Game of Thrones.
Brown died at the sanatorium at the Royal Masonic School for Girls in Hertfordshire on 1 April 1948. He would likely be proud that his beautiful creation is still being enjoyed by so many.
LETTERS TO THE EDITOR - NO. 40 WINTER 2017
The Temple in the Hotel
Readers of ‘The Temple Builder’ article in the last issue might be interested in further information about Alexander Burnett Brown’s interesting masonic career. His architectural career aside, he was Deputy Provincial Grand Master of Middlesex when HRH The Duke of York was the Provincial Grand Master, and became Provincial Grand Master when HRH became George VI on the abdication of his brother, Edward VIII.
Right Worshipful Brother Alexander Burnett Brown was held in very high esteem by the brethren of Middlesex, so much so that a lodge was consecrated in 1945 as Alexander Burnett Brown Lodge, No. 6133, in his honour. Both his sons were the lodge’s First Master and Senior Warden.
It is unfortunate to record that from 1996 the lodge began to fail despite strenuous efforts. In 2000, I had to inform the Province of the situation, and the Warrant was duly surrendered.
David A Walters, Middlesex Masters Lodge, No. 3420, Staines, Middlesex
I very much enjoyed the article on Alexander Burnett Brown, architect and eminent Freemason, especially with reference to the Grecian Temple at the Great Eastern Hotel. I was initiated in that Temple in September 1981 into Semper Fidelis Lodge, No. 4393. The most memorable part of the ceremony was descending the magnificent winding staircase into the Temple.
Within a couple of years, the lodge had to leave the Great Eastern Hotel and move to Great Queen Street as the then-owners found it not economical to have lodge meetings on Saturdays. I would be interested to obtain a copy of any photograph of that winding staircase as a reminder of my 36 happy years in Freemasonry.
Geoffrey Cathersides, Fraternitas Lodge, No. 6046, East Kent
For me it was especially interesting to read the article on the Grecian Temple in the autumn edition of Freemasonry Today. Having served in the Rifle Brigade, I became a joining member of its London Life Brigade Lodge, No. 1962, in 1975. I have a vivid memory of my first visit, descending the marble staircase into the temple and being in awe at the ceiling, furniture and surroundings.
I deem myself very fortunate to have had this experience. Sadly, thereafter it was closed to Freemasonry. However, being a listed structure the Grecian Temple will remain unique.
Bernard Dribble, Wellington Lodge, No. 341, Rye, Sussex
The histories of the railway system and Freemasonry are inextricably linked. John Hamill examines the impact that long-distance rail travel and commuter belts had on the Craft
Public transport is such a part of our daily lives, and we take it so much for granted, that it is difficult to imagine a world without it. Its development, particularly that of the railway system, was a key element in Britain’s rise as a major commercial and industrial power. The railways also had an effect on the development of Freemasonry and the workings of Grand Lodge itself.
Before the development of the railways, a journey to London – especially from the north, the West Country or Wales – was a major expedition involving days of travel in a horse-drawn coach or by sea. As a result, there was a tendency to appoint the Grand Officers for the year, and members of the Boards of General Purposes and Benevolence, from among the past Masters of London and home counties lodges, as they had little difficulty in regularly attending Grand Lodge or its boards and committees.
Attendance at Quarterly Communications was also predominantly by members of lodges from those areas, for the same reasons. Not surprisingly, the Provinces began to resent what they saw as the over-representation of London and the home counties in ‘the councils of the Craft’. Indeed, the question was raised from time to time as to why Grand Lodge could not on occasion be held in the Provinces to give them an opportunity of having their say.
The development of rail links between London and the major provincial cities and towns began to make it easier for the Provinces to come to London and make their voices heard. In the 1930s it was possible to hire special trains from the great railway companies to make journeys to and from London. And that is exactly what the northern brethren did to ensure that they could attend the Quarterly Communication on 3 December 1930, at which the main item on the agenda was a resolution to introduce Grand Lodge dues as we know them today.
‘It is interesting to reflect on how the expansion of the railways and Freemasonry ran in parallel, influencing the way society and communities developed’
Thanks to the trains, several hundred brethren were unable to get into the meeting due to the unexpected over-attendance. The Pro Grand Master at the start of the meeting had to announce that as a result of this, while arguments for and against would be heard, no vote could be taken and that a special Grand Lodge would be held the following March at the Royal Albert Hall to complete the debate. Trains were again booked and more than six thousand brethren attended the special meeting.
The building of the national railway lines also led to the building of hotels, often by the main railway companies themselves, at major stations.
In Victorian and Edwardian times many of these hotels included lodge rooms. The finest was the Grecian temple, built in 1912, at the Great Eastern Hotel at Liverpool Street Station in London.
Lord Claud Hamilton, then both a Freemason and chairman of the railway company running out of Liverpool Street, together with family members and other directors who were Freemasons, commissioned the temple and paid for it out of their own pockets. It is now a Grade I listed structure.
The development of local railways also had an effect. Until the arrival of such transport, Freemasonry was very localised. Most brethren lived within a reasonable walking distance or short horse ride from their lodges. Public transport made them more mobile. A good example is the development of the railways from the City of London through east London and out into Essex. They gave birth to the London commuter, with the growing middle classes moving out of the City and East End to what were then the leafy villages of Stratford, Forest Gate, Wanstead, Ilford, Romford and Dagenham. The new commuters took their Freemasonry with them and from the 1860s we see the warranting of lodges to meet in those areas. The same story can be replicated in other parts of the country.
It is interesting to reflect on how the expansion of the railways and Freemasonry ran in parallel, at times complementing each other as they influenced the way society and communities developed.
STATION IN LIFE
Some of the major figures in the early development of the railways were active Freemasons. Sir Daniel Gooch, Bt (1816-1889), for many years chairman of the Great Western Railway, was Deputy Provincial Grand Master of Wiltshire and Provincial Grand Master for the Provinces of Berkshire and Buckinghamshire.
Born in Northumberland, Gooch was a Freemason who trained as an engineer with Robert Stephenson, designer of the famous Rocket locomotive. Gooch’s father moved his family to Tredegar where Daniel became manager of the ironworks. He continued his training with Thomas Ellis, Samuel Homfray, and Richard Trevithick (a Freemason), who were pioneering the development of locomotives.
Through them Gooch met Isambard Kingdom Brunel, who was planning what became the Great Western Railway. In 1837, Brunel appointed Gooch as locomotive superintendent for the project, responsible for designing all the engines but also helping Brunel solve the engineering problems of a long-distance railway track. When Swindon was settled on as a major railway engineering centre, Gooch was heavily involved and brought Freemasonry to the town.