District Grand Masters, District Grand Superintendents, and other District Grand Officers, gathered for the Third Conference of the Central Masonic Charities and District Grand Lodges at Freemasons' Hall on Tuesday 24 April. Due to the increasing popularity of this annual event, the setting has now moved to Lodge Room No.1 to accomodate over fifty representatives from the Districts as well as representatives from each of the four central masonic charities.
Hugh Stubbs, President, Masonic Samaritan Fund, welcomed all members on behalf of the four Central Masonic Charities, and gave an introduction before members broke for the first of the group discussions.
Walter H Scott, District Grand Master, Jamaica & the Cayman Islands, spoke on the relationship between his District and the Central Masonic Charities, which led into the second group discussion.
Following lunch, James Bartlett provided an update on the Mentoring Scheme and, in particular, the Ambassadors for Freemasonry Scheme, and a presentation was given by Nick Cripps on the selection of Personal Mentors.
As Parade's End becomes the latest high-profile production to shoot at Freemasons' Hall, Oscar-winning producer David Parfitt tells Luke Turton why he enjoys filming there
Benedict Cumberbatch is in earnest conversation with a colleague as he hurries down a long corridor that leads to the huge bronze doors opening into the Grand Temple at Freemasons’ Hall. Cutting a dash in an Edwardian three-piece suit, the actor abruptly stops when a small woman with a big voice bellows, ‘Cut!’
Cumberbatch is shooting a scene for the BBC adaptation of Ford Madox Ford’s Parade’s End novels. Set between the twilight of the Edwardian era and the end of the First World War, the tetralogy charts the love triangle between English aristocrat Christopher Tietjens, played by Cumberbatch, his beautiful but cruel wife Sylvia, and Valentine, a young suffragette he falls in love with. The two central novels follow Tietjens’ exploits in the army in France and Belgium, as well as Sylvia and Valentine in their separate paths over the course of the war.
An imposing art deco building in Covent Garden, Freemasons’ Hall has had a close working relationship with Film London, which aims to grow the capital’s film industry, since 2001. Today, it is doubling up as – among other things – the Department of Statistics for Parade’s End. ‘This is supposed to be the lobby of one of the most modern government offices and that’s meant to be the outside world,’ laughs Oscar-winning producer David Parfitt as he points behind the camera to the Grand Temple. ‘The novels are set between 1912 and 1918, so we’re slightly ahead of ourselves with Freemasons’ Hall. But the architecture is classic enough for it to look like a modern building from about 1910.’
With a career that has seen him working alongside Kenneth Branagh and Robert De Niro in 1994’s Frankenstein, and Gwyneth Paltrow and Dame Judi Dench in Shakespeare in Love in 1998, Parfitt has recently finished post-production on My Week With Marilyn. ‘The scale of the shoot is not dissimilar to Marilyn but that was eight weeks and this is nearly seventeen. We’re on day seventy now, which is tough,’ says Parfitt. ‘We’ve shot in the Home Counties, in Yorkshire, Belgium for six weeks, and chose Freemasons’ Hall when we got back.’
Next to the Department of Statistics, in the Grand Temple’s entrance hall, builders are putting up a mini set of a Belgian drinking club for a scene to be shot later in the day. Parfitt explains that the crew didn’t get all that they needed at the end of a very busy shoot in Belgium. ‘But it’s a fairly close-up shot and we’ve brought along one piece of the set. We’ll patch the sequence together in post-production.’ The builders are politely but loudly requested to stop hammering and drilling while Parfitt and his crew shoot the corridor scene again.
finding the right fit
‘Stand by to shoot. Rolling. And action!’ Cumberbatch strides down the corridor with Stephen Graham, who currently plays Al Capone in Boardwalk Empire. Pulled along on a trolley by a frantic assistant, the camera hurtles down the passage in front of Cumberbatch and Graham, but something isn’t right. ‘Reset, go again!’ The camera is rolled back and the scene starts once more, with the two actors hitting their marks perfectly for what must be the twentieth time that morning. Finally, the director is happy and it’s time for a break. The actors retire to the Grand Temple, now a temporary changing room.
Having shot at Freemasons’ Hall over 1994-95 for The Wings of the Dove, which starred Helena Bonham Carter, Parfitt is keen to make as much use of the building as he can. ‘We’ll make the upper balcony into a grand opera box,’ he says pointing upwards enthusiastically in the entrance hall. ‘The Hall is unique architecturally – it’s in London so it’s accessible and there’s always a part of the building you can use. We were looking at Victoria House, up the road, as a possible location but you can only use that at weekends,’ says Parfitt, adding that experience has taught him to view buildings like Freemasons’ Hall in a very different way. ‘You’ve got to stand back and not be fooled by the geography of the building. When we first came into the Hall, we all had to come up the stairs into this area. We’ve now decided that, for the purposes of Parade’s End, this is ground level so you don’t have to worry about shooting the stairs. It’s all about making those leaps and using specific elements rather than being slavish to the layout.’
Adapted for television by British playwright Tom Stoppard, the five-hour series is due to air in the second half of 2012 on BBC2. We can look forward to a stunning rendition of the novel, with Cumberbatch joined on screen by the likes of Rupert Everett and Miranda Richardson. Viewers can also get extra points for spotting Freemasons’ Hall in
its many supporting roles.
As Provinces around the UK welcome university students into the Craft, the biennial Universities Scheme Conference focused on why students are vital in ensuring the future of Freemasonry
More than 130 brethren gathered at Freemasons’ Hall, London, for the third Universities Scheme Conference. The Scheme is a pioneering initiative by Grand Lodge under the auspices of the Assistant Grand Master, David Williamson, to help forge links between well-placed, enthusiastic lodges and the many students – as well as other young people – seeking to become involved in Freemasonry.
There are currently 50 lodges under the Scheme across England and Wales, the West Indies and South Africa. In 2010 these lodges held 159 initiations of candidates found through the Scheme, and between them had over 300 members who were under 30. This year, the conference included presentations on recruitment, retention and break-out sessions on making masonry affordable.
A tremendous level of Provincial support has greatly contributed to the success of the Scheme. Five final-year students at the University of Bath have been initiated by St Alphege Lodge, No. 4095, Province of Somerset. Meanwhile over in Leicestershire and Rutland, Wyggeston Lodge, No. 3448 has forged links with Leicester University students.
The mood of the day was encapsulated by Mike Jones from the University Lodge of Liverpool: ‘Student recruitment is an ongoing process. You need to engage with students not only when they make their first enquiry, but all the way through the application process. You need to mentor them so that they feel comfortable.’
Go to www.universitiesscheme.com for more details on the conference
As UGLE’s Communications Advisor, Susan Henderson’s job is about managing relationships – from dealing with unusual enquires to overseeing information flow
How did you come to work for UGLE?
I’d just moved back to London and popped into an agency looking for a job. They sent me for an interview around the corner at ‘a charity’. As I walked along the road, I realised it was Freemasons’ Hall, as I had recently been reading about Freemasonry. I was interviewed by Director of Communications, John Hamill, for the role of his PA and got the job. This was in 2002 and it couldn’t have worked out better in that I’d been wanting to find out more about Freemasonry and there I was sitting with one of the foremost experts.
Did your previous experience prepare you for your new job?
Before UGLE, I worked in different areas – from social services, to model agencies and advertising. I last worked for the BBC on news and before that on Comic Relief, sharing an office with Richard Curtis, who wrote Four Weddings & A Funeral. These experiences gave me a good overview of how organisations work and where to find information.
How did you become a female Freemason?
I’d been here a few years before I realised there were regular women’s grand lodges and I wondered if I should join. The Grand Secretary at the time knew I was interested and introduced me to the master of a female lodge who put me forward as a candidate. I already had preconceptions of Freemasonry’s ancient traditions, the rituals and origins and the idea of the knowledge that could be imparted, and the experience was pretty near to what I’d imagined. I’m now a junior warden and am steadily learning more. With Freemasonry, you’re thrown in with varied people who you wouldn’t be otherwise – it’s good for you.
How does your relationship with the Provinces work?
We were doing MQ Magazine and I started helping more with the editorial. That merged with Freemasonry Today to make the magazine we have now and I took on the duty of liaising with the Provincial information officers in gathering stories. They have an important role in bringing to our attention anything that might be of interest in terms of local events or any problems. They also disseminate information from Grand Lodge and have been doing a great job in getting our message out to the local press and communities.
How do you deal with negative press?
National newspapers are in the habit of making slurs about Freemasonry, which it’s very difficult to do anything about. We are an unincorporated organisation, so have no protection under the libel laws. If they make a statement that is untrue or defamatory we can write to them to make a correction but they’re under no obligation to print it. The best way to counter these perceptions is therefore to put out lots of positive information about Freemasonry and hope that it will enable more people to recognise the negative remarks as nonsense.
Where does this negativity come from?
In the Second World War, Freemasons were being sent to concentration camps in Germany and it was decided that Freemasonry should keep a low profile in the UK in case of invasion. Before this, the sight of Freemasons laying foundation stones or participating in parades was common. After the war, the low profile became a bit of a habit. The Cold War also made spy novels popular and these would sometimes cast Freemasons as key characters, so the idea caught light in the public imagination that Freemasonry was a secret organisation. We became aware of this and tried to counter it but the image portrayed in fiction is – to some people – more interesting and exciting than the truth.
What else do people believe?
We get some crazy questions asked through the website – for example, if I join Freemasonry, will I gain magical powers or will it make me rich? A few people have the bizarre idea that Freemasons are reptilian aliens. The more sane anti-masonic ideas tend to be that Freemasons use their membership to gain personal advantage in their careers. When you think about it, that’s the daftest of all because if people want to conspire or do each other favours, they can do that at any time and at any place – in the pub, the golf club, or across the garden fence.
So there are still big misconceptions about Freemasonry?
People misunderstand what the obligations are and what should be kept private. There is no obligation to favour other Freemasons and the only tangible privacy relates to the signs and passwords that give you the right to be present in a particular degree ceremony. They are no more sinister than pin numbers and are used only in the lodge. The passwords and signs are believed to have originated through medieval stonemasons who travelled around the world looking for work and needed to prove their level of competence when they arrived at a distant lodge.
Can Freemasons help counter these opinions?
Some members are overly defensive about Freemasonry because of anti-masonic attitudes. We need to help our members deal with this, to help them calmly explain that it’s not just an organisation for white Anglo Saxon Protestants. In Ireland it used to be said that there were only two things that united them – rugby and Freemasonry. There’s always been one United Grand Lodge with Catholics and Protestants attending without a problem and it’s little things like this that members can tell their friends.
Is your job largely about countering negative opinions?
Not at all. Most questions are from people who want to know about Freemasonry and I spend a lot time answering those. If I answer 30 emails a day that’s 7,800 people a year who will have received a good response, which is invaluable. People don’t think M&S or Selfridges are good companies because they have a nice leaflet or website, they like them because they know they’ll get good service and that’s the best form of publicity. People are too sophisticated these days to be influenced by public relations spin. They go on word of mouth or direct experiences. Days, weeks, years later a casual conversation in a pub about that experience will mean a good impression of Freemasonry is being spread.
Does Freemasonry need to change?
Organisations that follow the whims of the day tend to lose their identity and, to use a marketing term, Freemasonry’s unique selling point is its ancient traditions and its symbolism is its branding. We would be fools to tamper with that. Our strength is that we have remained much the same through many political changes and fashions. I’d personally like everyone to understand that we are not even allowed to discuss politics or religion in the lodge, so can hardly be colluding; that there have been established female lodges for over 100 years; and that we’re not just recently jumping onto some politically correct bandwagon, but have always been a welcoming universal brotherhood.
When Freemasons’ Hall hosted the launch party for West End musical Rock of Ages, Anneke Hak slipped past the celebrities to find out what goes on behind the scenes
Jeremy Clarkson schmoozes with paparazzi on the purple carpet while Ronnie Wood’s ex-wife Jo Wood mingles with friends in the foyer. Glasses clink together, Champagne flows and loud chatter fills the room as the band takes centre stage in the Grand Temple. All the while, everyone is wholly oblivious to the fact that just one hour ago their spectacular venue, Freemasons’ Hall in London’s Great Queen Street, was a picture of organised chaos.
Having hosted some of the biggest events in the British social calendar, including London Fashion Week catwalk shows, Freemasons’ Hall isn’t afraid of glitz and glamour, it oozes it. However, the Rock of Ages launch party was a very different beast.
On 28 September, the production team had only a three-and-a-half hour slot between the departure of 700 Freemasons visiting from the Provincial Grand Lodge of Hertfordshire at six in the evening, and 1,000 party guests arriving at 9.30pm. In this small time frame, they had to transform the building into a venue fit to celebrate a musical that takes audiences back to the times of big bands with big egos playing big guitar solos and sporting even bigger hair. The Grand Temple in Freemasons’ Hall needed to be fitted out with a dance floor, disco ball and stage for a rock band to perform on. No mean feat, especially considering how precious the Grade II-listed building is to hundreds of thousands of Freemasons.
Helping smooth the proceedings was Lee Batty, Production Manager at Stoneman Associates. As Freemasons left the Grand Temple, Batty’s team moved in, quickly assembling their scaffolding to start the mammoth task of hoisting the lighting and glitter ball 93ft to the top of the Temple roof, before focusing their attention on the dance floor and rock band sound check. ‘We did a little bit of prep work the day before,’ Batty reveals. ‘Well, I say a little bit, we worked eight hours to programme all the lighting, and then when we got into the venue we had to go hell for leather to get it all up and working.’
Technicalities of transformation
Of course, moving scaffolding, heavy lighting and sound equipment around an 80-year-old building, and one of the finest Art Deco creations in the country, can prove challenging. ‘I’ve not worked at Freemasons’ Hall before,’ says Batty, ‘but I’ve done events in historic palaces and English Heritage properties over the years. So I’m aware that you have to look after furniture and any element of the building that’s been there for a long time – you have to be very careful.’
As a result, every little detail is thought about months in advance, and some elaborate ideas are thrown straight out. Karen Haigh, Head of Events at Freemasons’ Hall, explains, ‘There was talk about hanging some Harley Davidsons from the ceiling at one point. I feel anything is possible, so long as I know it’s going to be safe.’
As the last piece of purple carpet is laid, the Rock of Ages signs go up and the façade of the glorious building is lit from below, Matthew Quarandon, Director of Moving Venues, makes sure all of his staff are in place to welcome the guests with food and drink, and one thing he can’t help but notice is how easy-going everything is. ‘Freemasons’ Hall seems to be very liberal,’ says Quarandon, who’s used to working in old, protected properties. ‘They’re allowing us to push cages across old stone floors and serve red wine on their marble floors upstairs.’
Most excited about tonight’s event has to be Grand Secretary Nigel Brown, who praises the great job Karen Haigh does booking events for the Hall and thinks these nights are the perfect opportunity to show the public that Freemasonry isn’t about secret handshakes. ‘Can you imagine, you’re at a dinner party and the lady next to you says, “You went into Freemason’s Hall? What did you go in for? A fashion show!”’ laughs Nigel. ‘It’s breaking all these myths and, although being teased about Freemasonry doesn’t matter much, people are often making a decision based on false impressions. I think hosting these events is changing people’s preconceptions.’
Batty admits that the mystery surrounding the organisation is a great reason to hold events like the Rock of Ages party at Freemasons’ Hall. ‘It’s nice that people come in and see it in a different light,’ he says. Karen Haigh agrees: ‘The best thing about it is that you bring a group of people that have never been in the building before and they come in and say, “Oh, wow!” It’s like opening a little package.’
So, after months of planning, which began back in June, how does it feel when it all finally comes together? ‘You get a massive buzz from the final product,’ admits Batty. ‘The response that we got when we opened the main doors to the Grand Temple was worth all the pressure.’
As the guitar amplifiers and purple carpet are packed up and glasses of half-drunk Champagne cleared away, all the hard work and preparation has paid off – the Rock of Ages launch party has been a brilliant success. So, the only question left now is when’s the next one?
Do you remember when twenty bombs went astray in Liverpool? Or what about the time Britain was on the brink of a deadly plague? Luckily, Harry Pearce and his MI5 officers are always on hand. From rogue states to ruthless assassins, Spooks has thrilled millions of television viewers every week as they see the British Security Service safeguarding the nation.
Now in its tenth and final series, much has changed since the BBC drama was first broadcast on 13 May 2002. One thing, however, has remained the same: the location of MI5’s headquarters, Thames House, where Harry Pearce runs his counter-terrorism department – Section D, for those in the know. In real life, Thames House is an office development on the bank of the River Thames, but in the Spooks universe, Freemasons’ Hall in Covent Garden has played the part for the last decade.
‘There was a big search years ago for a building that could double as Thames House,’ reveals Spooks producer, Chris Fry. ‘We were trying to find the right architecture that would match it. The Grand Lodge has worked brilliantly.’
Over the years, the lodge has become synonymous with Spooks. The opening sequence in an average show will often feature a bomb exploding or a similarly dramatic set-up. As often as not, the next shot will be of the Grand Lodge. ‘We need to settle the story down, so you’ll get a wide establishing shot of Thames House,’ explains Fry.
The lodge’s impressive interiors have also been used to great effect on the show. ‘Spooks does gritty terrorism but it also shows the corridors of power,’ says Fry, pointing to the visual distinction drawn between the wood panels and polished floors of the building, where high-level decisions are made, and the disused warehouses where the Spooks team execute orders. ‘We see the serenity in the meeting rooms but then our spies have to go out into the real world.’
And, when the Freemasons’ headquarters isn’t playing Thames House, it can easily double as a planning room or plush embassy. ‘When we are filming here we have to make a day out of it, so we will try and get the most out of the building,’ says Fry. ‘the actors love it because it feels special.’
FACT MEETS FICTION
Karen Haigh, who manages events at Freemasons’ Hall, has worked with the Spooks production team since the start. ‘I was laughing with the director who did the first two and last two series of Spooks about what the show has become. I remember him walking in for the first time and saying there was this new drama about MI5 – I thought it sounded really exciting. The show has been such a success and we’ve grown with it as a venue.’
So is there any sensitivity around the fact that Spooks is a show about an undercover organisation and uses the Freemasons’ headquarters? ‘The fact that it’s a spy programme and people have preconceptions about the Freemasons is quite ironic. It’s a nice twist,’ says Haigh. ‘The funniest thing for me is that the MI5 say on their website that the Spooks version of Thames House is Freemasons’ Hall in Great Queen Street, Covent Garden.’
MI5’s concerns about putting the record straight seem to be well-founded. Fry recalls an incident: ‘I was on the phone and this couple walked past. One of them said, “That’s the Spooks’ headquarters.” I thought that was brilliant – lots of people think that the Grand Lodge building is Thames House.’
With the final series revolving around tensions in the Middle East, the UK’s special relationship with America and Harry Pearce’s old Cold War connections, Spooks devotees can look forward to seeing a lot more of the Grand Lodge this autumn.
From blockbuster launch parties to glitzy fashion shows, Karen Haigh has seen it all as Head of Events at Freemasons’ Hall. She talks about meeting Matt Damon, Antony Gormley statues on the rooftop and building a giant bathroom outside the Grand Temple
How did you find yourself working for the Freemasons?
My father was a Freemason and we saw this newsletter advertising the position, so I wrote in. The Deputy Grand Secretary Michael Higham invited me to an interview and I got the job. There were only five women when I joined in 1979 and the building wasn’t open to the public. Where I’m sitting now used to be like a Dickensian office, with 24 desks and men sitting behind them with big ledgers. On a Monday, the housekeeper to the Grand Secretary would give us our hand towel for the week and a carafe of water. Twice a day we’d have tea breaks. I remember after six weeks I was allowed to type a letter on the new electric typewriter.
What does Freemasonry mean to you?
It’s never been a big mystery to me because of my dad. I’ve gone to ladies’ nights from a young age and haven’t had any preconceptions. People I called ‘Uncle’ were from my dad’s lodge, so it didn’t seem weird and wonderful.
When did you start the events business?
I started as a Girl Friday [aide] in 1982, and when I was 21, I became the Deputy Grand Secretary’s secretary and began doing masonic events. I did that until 1999, then went into admin, doing things like purchase ordering, and in 2005 I started the events business. We’re averaging between 30,000 and 50,000 non-masons visiting every year now. The day I don’t enjoy it is the day I should leave.
Why host events at Freemasons’ Hall?
There’s the commercial contribution that the events make, which pays for the upkeep of the building, but the main reason is to get as many people as possible coming into the building.
The openness is so important and has made such a difference. In the 1980s, the TV series Poirot could only film in two or three areas within the building, so you’d see the same area being rebuilt as a sweet shop or a hotel lobby. The first time we were allowed to shoot in the Grand Temple was in 2003 for a Westlife video.
Who else comes through your doors?
Last Monday, we had a graduation for the Istituto Marangoni fashion school. Before that we had De Montfort University doing a student fashion show for lingerie. Next week we’ve got the Good Egg Awards, celebrating companies who only use cage-free eggs or egg products. The events have changed with the times. A couple of years ago, every American movie would have a big premiere followed by a major party. These days they don’t want to be seen to be throwing money around in a recession, so it tends to only be the really big Harry Potter-type films that get such launches.
What kind of event wouldn't you host?
We avoid contentious events – anything too political. Guy Ritchie wanted to shoot the film Revolver here, but when we looked at the plot we saw it was about drugs and gangs. This Hall is a peace memorial, built to commemorate the masons who died in World War I, and if members saw it in a gangland film they’d be upset.
Do you get nervous when celebrities walk in?
If you don’t have nerves you’re missing something. The very first event we did was for the film The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. I was standing there wondering what I’d done when 1,200 people arrived. I thought, ‘You’ve got to go with it.’ When we did Spamalot we’d get Eric Idle visiting and I loved that. We had nine weeks of filming for and I loved that. We had nine weeks of filming for Green Zone with Matt Damon, and after a while we just got used to him walking around the building.
Are you a Freemasons' Hall fanatic?
I love the building but I don’t talk to it! ! There are others who probably know it a lot better than I do. Many of the building’s nooks and crannies are still a mystery to me so I have a lot more exploring to do. My favourite area is the vestibule, as I think it sums up the majestic feel of the building perfectly. ! ere’s so much tradition here.
What's the strangest request you've had?
The weirdest thing was when the director of Kevin & Perry Go Large asked us to make the area outside the Grand Temple into a bathroom. Then we were one of the locations for the Antony Gormley project, Event Horizon. When the statue arrived in the front hall, I didn’t realise that it was going to be so anatomically true to life, and I’ll never forget an old lady walking into the lodge and staring at it. When they approached us, I think they expected us to refuse – but it did us good taking part in the project, helping change perceptions of what Freemasonry is all about.
In 2010 the Library and Museum at Freemasons' Hall welcomed more than 30,000 visitors. For many visitors the highlight is the tour of the ceremonial rooms which is provided by Library and Museum staff. Freemasonry Today spent time with the team of tour guides to find out more
One of the longest serving guides is Mike Coleman. ‘The tour starts in the Museum with a brief history of the two eighteenth century Grand Lodges and the story of the Union. The route then goes through the Grand Officers’ Robing Room with its portraits of Royal Grand Masters, continues down the processional corridor, visits the Shrine and finishes in the Grand Temple. There we take the opportunity to answer visitors’ questions about the building and more generally about Freemasonry. We usually finish by reminding visitors to visit the shop.’
The tour takes about forty-five minutes. Guide Stephen Hoole likes to take time to point out items of interest in the Museum to his group at the end of the tour.
Trevor Lowman has recently joined the team of guides. One of the challenges he faced was learning all the information as there is a tradition that the guides do not use notes. ‘I hadn’t realised,’ he says, ‘just how much there was to know.’
Another new recruit, John Green, has enjoyed meeting visitors from all over the world. ‘I have met people from Israel, Canada, Brazil and Belgium – and that was just in my first week!’
Both of them have learnt a lot from the other guides, as Trevor admits, ‘I have also borrowed some of guide John Weightman’s jokes!’
DO THE TOUR
Colin Gurnett, another guide, would like to see even more visitors from London lodges. ‘Many members come to the building for their meetings and just see where they are meeting. It would be great if they could take time to do the tour and learn more about one of London’s great buildings.’
The weekday tours are free of charge and take place at 11 am, 12 noon, 2 pm, 3 pm and 4 pm. There is no need to book for individuals or small groups but, as events can be arranged at short notice which can mean that tours are curtailed, anyone making a special journey is advised to telephone to check the availability of tours.
On Saturdays there is just one tour, starting at 10.30 am which has to be pre-booked. According to Melrose Eccleston, who looks after bookings, ‘the Saturday tours are very popular and get booked up quickly – please don’t leave your arrangements to the last minute as we can only handle limited numbers on Saturdays.’
Freemasons’ Hall is increasingly being used for events and filming. Sometimes tour groups get to experience what goes on behind the scenes on a film set. Guide Michael Rhodes remembers one tour he led which had among its number ex-James Bond Pierce Brosnan taking a break from a photography assignment in the building. ‘He was a charming man and was wearing one of the most stylish suits I have ever seen!’
The Library and Museum can’t promise James Bond on every tour but you will be assured of a friendly welcome and a fascinating experience.
As Freemasons' Hall plays host once again to events at London Fashion Week, Lucinda Weston talks to up-and-coming fashion designer Kirsty Ward
A feeling of serenity prevails as you walk through the Great Queen Street doors of Freemasons’ Hall in Covent Garden. With its sweeping marble staircases and ornate ceilings, this stunning Art Deco building has a refined elegance. Explore a little further, however, and you might be surprised to find a fashion show in full swing, with models marching down a catwalk to the accompaniment of a thousand flash bulbs.
A flurry of fashion darlings regularly descend upon the Grand Lodge in February to promote both new and seasoned designers to a global audience of media buyers, celebrities and style leaders as part of London Fashion Week. This year’s show saw Kirsty Ward showing her second collection from her own label. Kirsty is one of thirty designers to have taken part in the week-long Vauxhall Fashion Scout Autumn/Winter 2011 event, which showcases new and upcoming designers and runs alongside the main London Fashion Week events. Hosted at Freemasons’ Hall since 2006, the independent showcase also off ers support to new designers both through funding and mentoring, and has been described as a talent goldmine, launching the careers of Peter Pilotto, William Tempest and BodyAmr.
The Grand Lodge’s Old Board Room has been converted into the backstage area for the show and Kirsty is crouched in a corner, surrounded by rails of clothes hung next to the grandiose portraits on the walls. She is helping a model into monstrously high shoes, her petite frame cloaked in an azure kaftan and she looks calm despite the chaos around her. As makeup and hair artists speedily get to work on the models, assistants make last-minute adjustments to the clothes so that they will fit slender frames.
From over two hundred designers to apply, Kirsty was selected by a panel of industry insiders to be one of four womenswear designers to take part in the Ones to Watch show. This is a stage for new designers to gain exposure, with experts on hand to off er help at every step of the way – from creative input to production and promotion of the event.
Front of house, the Prince Regent Room is a vision in white – a long catwalk runs the length of the room with models making their entrance to pulsing music as an army of photographers clamber to get the best shot. Kirsty is the first to show her collection and the four hundred strong audience look on largely expressionless as they furiously scribble down notes.
Kirsty’s collection is a combination of sculptured sheer dresses constructed in voluminous layers to frame and flatter the female form, and statement jewellery made from plumbing materials. A selfconfessed B&Q addict, Kirsty sees jewellery as an extension of the clothes, and her pieces combine bright Perspex, copper hardware and beading in striking designs.
‘While I like to use a lot of volume and be bold, I also want my clothes to be wearable,’ explains Kirsty, believing that clothes should be approachable. ‘This season I experimented with putting jewellery in between the layers of fabric, as well as with the pattern cutting. I used a muted brown and yellow colour pallete and a lot of Aertex and mohair.’
As the Ones to Watch show comes to an end, Kirsty and her fellow designers walk hand in hand down the catwalk to rapturous applause, before rushing back stage. Catching her quickly she is in a state of elation, beaming at how well the show went, despite ‘a few shoe issues’. The journalists dash back to the media room to file copy, while the buyers are able to get up close to the collection and place orders in the Exhibition Room – Freemasons’ Hall’s very own temporary boutique for the week. The collection is a hit, getting a fantastic response from buyers.
Kirsty honed her style – or what’s known as ‘design handwriting’ in the industry – at London’s Central St Martins. This was followed by an internship at Preen London, which paid nothing but taught everything, and fifteen months designing for eminent designer Alberta Ferrettiin Rimini, Italy. Back in England and collaborating with boyfriend designer David Longshaw on a jewellery collection to much acclaim, Kirsty then decided to go it alone – for the first time giving herself completely free rein.
Despite having her own window at Selfridges’ flagship Oxford Street store in January, Kirsty is refreshingly down to earth and speaks of the many challenges in starting out in fashion: ‘I love what I do so much I would work for 24 hours a day if my body would let me, but being an up-and-coming designer there are always struggles, especially on the money side of things. My time costs nothing, but buying fabrics and producing the garments does.’
Kirsty has a family friend who sponsors her, as well as the funding she received from Vauxhall Fashion Scout, but admits she has the odd moment of doubt when she thinks about chucking it all in and running a sweet shop instead. However, spurred on by an overwhelming desire to make things and a passion for fashion design, Kirsty could be fast approaching a tipping point in her career where she is not just the one to watch but the one to wear.
It will be open to all regular Freemasons, including Brethren from overseas, and is particularly aimed at those who have an interest in sport. The proposed programme includes a reception in the Library and Museum at Freemasons’ Hall and a gala dinner.