A Lifetime of possibilities

Director of Special Projects John Hamill salutes the vital work of amateur masonic historians and their unceasing  efforts to uncover new information and reveal new insights

Among the many things I have been privileged to be involved with over the 46 years that I have been a member of the Grand Lodge staff, masonic historical research is my favourite occupation and something I am looking forward to spending more time on when I fully retire.

When I first started work in what was then called the Grand Lodge Library and Museum in the summer of 1971, a number of my academic friends questioned whether there was anything left in masonic history to research. I very quickly found that there was more than a lifetime’s worth of possibilities. New discoveries come to light, old accepted theories need to be re-examined and there are still many areas in which only the surface has been skimmed.

In my time at Grand Lodge, the major change has been the growing interest in masonic history in academic circles. With an in-depth knowledge of the periods they are studying, academic historians have brought new insights and taught lay masonic researchers to look at Freemasonry in the context of the time they are investigating rather than in isolation. Their interest, however, has also brought a tension between the academics and the lay researchers – the former sometimes being dismissive of the efforts of the latter.

CENTRE OF RESEARCH

Outside the archives of Grand Lodge and Supreme Grand Chapter, the great storehouse of masonic historical information is the Transactions of Quatuor Coronati Lodge, No. 2076, the premier lodge of masonic research. For just over 125 years, the members of that lodge have produced an amazing range of papers, comments and notes covering the widest spectrum of the history and development of Freemasonry in all its branches, both at home and overseas.

In the past 50 or so years, the lodge members have been solidly in the historical camp but in the earlier days the Transactions contain many speculative papers drawing parallels between Freemasonry and other initiatory rites and systems. These comparisons were usually drawn in the search to find an answer to that still unanswered question: when and why did Freemasonry receive its birth and early nurture?

Over its history, the membership of the lodge has been eclectic. Some were academic historians and many others had academic training in other disciplines. A surprising number were scientists, engineers and architects who brought to their masonic research the same rigorous discipline of searching, analysing and testing evidence that they had learned in their own fields.

Most of the members of Quatuor Coronati Lodge were, and continue to be, amateurs in the best sense of that word. Their work might not meet with the rigorous standards of a modern university history department, but without it our knowledge of the history of Freemasonry would be greatly diminished. The discoveries they made, the way in which they brought together information from disparate sources and made it available through the Transactions has made life, in many ways, easier for the academic historians.

There is a wry irony in the fact that while some academic historians are slightly dismissive of the amateur masonic historians in their own published works, they regularly refer to papers by the ‘amateurs’ of Quatuor Coronati.

We live in an age of ‘experts’ but I believe that there is still a place in masonic research for those dedicated brethren who delight in their involvement in masonic history, spend hours scouring archives for new information and many times bring new insights to what are often considered closed cases. Long may they continue so we may enjoy the fruits of their hobby.

‘There is still a place in masonic research for the dedicated brethren who delight in their involvement in masonic history’

Published in Features

Craft on canvas

In its Tercentenary year, the United Grand Lodge of England’s first ever Artist in Residence, Jacques Viljoen, gives a fresh perspective on Freemasonry

On 24 June, the general public were invited into Freemasons’ Hall to view a new exhibition, Rough to Smooth: Art inspired by Freemasonry – past, present and future. It featured work by the United Grand Lodge of England’s first ever Artist in Residence, Jacques Viljoen, who had been given unprecedented access to objects and spaces throughout the five-floor Grade II* listed building.

All of Viljoen’s subjects were painted from life, using traditional techniques and no photography. His work presents a new look at the world of contemporary Freemasonry, showing intimate moments that might usually go unnoticed. ‘This has been an incredible opportunity to explore an organisation with an intricate and ancient history,’ he said.

Alongside Viljoen, nine guest artists were also given unique access to Freemasons’ Hall, working in different mediums that ranged from oils to mixed media and photography. Renowned Norwegian oil painter Henrik Uldalen’s contemporary yet classic figurative work sat by work by Lithuanian artist Elika Bo, who creates images by endlessly layering objects, while Nicholas Chaundy offered a technical homage to the painting techniques used in the many masterpieces that fill the Hall.

President of the Board of General Purposes Anthony Wilson commented: ‘What has struck me, above all else, is the amount of thought and work that has gone into each picture. The artists have demonstrated both an understanding of, and a variety of responses to, Freemasonry, its values and, in particular, our splendid building.’

Rough to Smooth was just one of the attractions at the Freemasons’ Hall Open Day, with members of the public also able to visit the building’s ornate Grand Temple and the shrine to those Freemasons who lost their lives in World War I. Musical performances from Grand Organist Carl Jackson, the Occasional Strings quartet and the Art Deco Orchestra accompanied visitors throughout the event.

The Open Day was organised by the Library and Museum of Freemasonry. Reflecting on the event, Library and Museum Director Diane Clements said: ‘It was a very successful day, with more than 2,800 visitors enjoying the music, the architecture and the opportunity to see the Artist in Residence exhibition.’

Published in UGLE
Tuesday, 12 September 2017 00:00

The return of Soane’s Ark

Thirty years in the making, a replica of the Ark of the Masonic Covenant is being crafted to serve as a permanent memorial of the Union of the two Grand Lodges. John Hamill explains its history

Sir John Soane (1753-1837) was one of England’s greatest architects. He became a Freemason in 1813 and, after the Union of the two Grand Lodges in 1813, was the first to hold the new office of Grand Superintendent of Works. As such, he was the professional adviser overseeing the maintenance and development of Freemasons’ Hall in London.

The first work he produced for Grand Lodge was what became known as the Ark of the Masonic Covenant. To bring the Union of the Grand Lodges into being, both parties had agreed Articles of Union that laid the foundations of the United Grand Lodge of England. As an important document, it was to be carried into each Quarterly Communication of the Grand Lodge by the Grand Registrar. Soane offered to produce an ‘ark’ to stand in front of the Grand Master’s throne into which the document could be safely placed while the meeting was in progress.

DISASTER STRIKES

It was an impressive piece of furniture, triangular in shape with an Ionic, Corinthian or Doric column at each corner and surmounted by a dome topped by Soane’s signature lantern. It stood in front of the Grand Master’s throne from 1814 until 1883 when disaster struck. A fire broke out in the old Grand Temple, gutting its interior and destroying the portraits of former Grand Masters, most of the furniture and Soane’s Ark. Much was done to reconstruct the interior of the room and reinstate the paintings and furniture but Soane’s Ark was not replaced.

One of Soane’s 20th-century successors as Grand Superintendent of Works was architect Douglas Burford. He became interested in Soane’s masonic work and did a great deal of research in the archives at Sir John Soane’s Museum in Lincoln’s Inn Fields, London. There he discovered Soane’s original plans for the Ark.

Burford wrote the subject up in a paper for Quatuor Coronati Lodge, No. 2076, and hoped to persuade Grand Lodge to have a replica constructed. It has taken 30 years for that dream to become a reality.

Burford was delighted to learn that, as part of the Tercentenary celebrations, Soane’s Ark was to be reconstructed. He was even more pleased to have an opportunity to travel to York to see the work underway.

RECONSTRUCTION

The project has been one of cooperation between the Library and Museum of Freemasonry, Sir John Soane’s Museum, the Factum Foundation for Digital Technology in Conservation and master wood carvers Houghtons of York.

The Factum Foundation is an organisation that uses digital technology to accurately record heritage items for conservation purposes, to enable facsimiles to be produced and, as in the case of this project, to reconstruct lost items.

Houghtons of York is an old family firm that uses traditional methods and materials to produce new architectural woodwork or furniture, as well as to restore and reconstruct damaged and lost items. The combined efforts of these two firms have produced a superb and accurate reconstruction of one of the lost treasures of Grand Lodge.

On completion, the new Soane’s Ark will be the centre of an exhibition at Sir John Soane’s Museum opening on 11 October. Under the title Soane’s Ark: Building with Symbols, the exhibition will discuss Soane’s membership of Freemasonry and include other masonic items from his collections.

The Ark will then be transported to the Royal Albert Hall for the great Tercentenary celebration, where it will be dedicated by the Grand Master. Afterwards it will, like the original, take its place in the Grand Temple as a permanent memorial.

Published in UGLE
Tuesday, 12 September 2017 00:00

The man behind the building of Freemasons' Hall

The Library and Museum has acquired a portrait of Lord Petre, the Grand Master who proved instrumental in the building of the first Freemasons’ Hall at Great Queen Street

Freemasons’ Hall in London has hosted many of this year’s Tercentenary events. As the headquarters of the oldest Grand Lodge in the world, it is certainly the focus for overseas masonic visitors.

For more than 50 years after 1717, Grand Lodge was content to hold its meetings in taverns and the halls of city livery companies. It was likely seen as quite radical for this relatively new organisation to contemplate having its own premises.

The acquisition of the Great Queen Street site and the construction of the first Freemasons’ Hall took place under the leadership of Lord Petre (1742-1801), who was Grand Master from 1772 to 1776. It was therefore appropriate that this year, the 275th anniversary of his birth, the Library and Museum should purchase a pastel portrait of Lord Petre.

Grand Lodge already owns a full-length portrait of Petre, which was copied from an original at Ingatestone Hall in Essex in the 19th century. This new acquisition was painted from life by Lewis Vaslet in Bath in 1793, when Petre was in his early 50s. The purchase was supported by the London Grand Rank Association Heritage and Educational Trust.

Petre was a leader of the English Roman Catholic community and was instrumental in securing the relaxation of legal restrictions on English Roman Catholics. As Grand Master, he chaired the committee that oversaw the building of the first Freemasons’ Hall and his enthusiastic endorsement of the Great Queen Street site is indicated in the committee’s minutes.

Library and Museum of Freemasonry
Freemasons’ Hall,
60 Great Queen Street,
London WC2B 5AZ
Open Mon-Sat, 10am-5pm

www.freemasonry.london.museum
Tel: 020 7395 9257
Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Shop: www.letchworthshop.co.uk

Published in UGLE

More than 1,200 Freemasons, their partners and friends visited Grand Lodge under the banner of Three Counties Lodge, No. 9278, from the Province of Northamptonshire & Huntingdonshire

With the Second Degree performed, it is believed to be the Province’s largest-ever attendance at a ceremony.

The event also included a talk by Library and Museum of Freemasonry Director Diane Clements.

A packed house descended on Freemasons’ Hall yesterday, as the Library and Museum of Freemasonry opened its doors for a Private View of ‘Rough to Smooth’ – an exhibition of contemporary artwork inspired by Freemasonry

Visitors were treated to an exhibition of new artworks celebrating Freemasonry and its continued role and relevance in society today. In attendance was Peter Lowndes, Pro Grand Master, Anthony Wilson, President of the Board of General Purposes, and Jacques Viljoen, the United Grand Lodge of England's very first Artist in Residence, who created the exhibition along with nine guest artists.

The ‘Rough to Smooth’ art exhibition will open to the public during this Saturday’s Open Day, which marks the 300th anniversary of the founding of the Premier Grand Lodge. It will be a day of exhibitions, music and architecture and the chance for visitors to view the new collection of art - many of which are for sale.

Anthony Wilson commented: 'What has struck me, above all else, is the amount of thought and work that has gone into each picture. The artists have demonstrated both an understanding of, and the variety of responses to Freemasonry, its values and, in particular, our splendid building.'

The exhibition continues next week from Monday June 26th until Saturday July 1st. Admission is free and Freemasons’ Hall will be open from 10am to 5pm, with last entry at 4:30pm.

Published in UGLE

300 years young

The Library and Museum of Freemasonry is organising an Open Day at Freemasons’ Hall on Saturday 24 June to mark the 300th birthday of the first masonic Grand Lodge in the world – which met in London 300 YEARS ago TO THE DAY!

Visitors will have the opportunity to view the Grand Temple and exhibitions about the history of Freemasonry. There will be opportunities to learn more about Metropolitan Grand Lodge and the Masonic Charitable Foundation. There will be free, informal musical performances throughout the day beginning with the Occasional Strings quartet in the morning, music on the Grand Temple Organ around lunchtime and the Art Deco Orchestra playing in the afternoon.

As part of the 300th anniversary Jacques Viljoen has been appointed Artist in Residence and has created an exhibition of new artworks to celebrate Freemasonry and its continued role and relevance in society today. This unique exhibition, 'Rough to Smooth', features ten artists in total and opens on 24 June.

Freemasons’ Hall Open Day
Saturday 24 June 2017
Free admission – no booking required
Open 10am to 5pm, last entry 4:30pm

Published in UGLE
Tuesday, 13 June 2017 00:00

Brethren Beyond the Seas

A new exhibition at the Library and Museum is celebrating the links between Grand Lodge and its overseas daughter Grand Lodges

In June 1917, in the midst of the First World War, the United Grand Lodge of England celebrated its 200th anniversary. The war had undermined any ambition to stage a major imperial and international event, but the celebrations were attended by a number of overseas Freemasons. The Grand Master thanked ‘brethren beyond the seas’, praising their support for Britain in the war effort.

The war helped to foster a stronger relationship between the English Grand Lodge and its daughter Grand Lodges overseas. The Library and Museum’s new exhibition, Brethren Beyond the Seas, celebrates those links, displaying items from across the former British Empire, many of which have never been exhibited before.

John Stephens was one of the founders of the first English Constitution lodge in New South Wales, Australia: Lodge of Australia, established in 1828. He had become a Freemason in 1824 in London’s Lodge of Regularity (now No. 91). In March 1829 he wrote to London acknowledging receipt of the Lodge of Australia warrant; the letter, on display at the Library and Museum, is believed to be the oldest known letter received by Grand Lodge from Australia.

Among the jewels are those for St John’s Royal Arch Chapter, No. 495, in Toronto, which ceased working in the 1820s, and an unusual presentation jewel for Albany Lodge, No. 389, which met in Grahamstown, South Africa, and was presented to Benjamin Norden in 1834.

The exhibition also features an album of photographs of lodge meeting places in South Africa, including the hall where Fordsburg Lodge, No. 2718, met in Johannesburg in 1898, alongside the local butcher.

A further highlight is an elegantly bound souvenir programme, produced by masonic entrepreneur George Kenning in 1878 for a dinner he hosted in honour of American Freemasons.

Brethren Beyond the Seas runs until 23 February 2018; admission is free

Published in UGLE

'Rough to Smooth' exhibition will open on Saturday 24th June

Fans of developing artists will be in for a rare treat at Freemasons’ Hall from Saturday 24th June, when a new collection of art will be unveiled to mark the United Grand Lodge of England’s Tercentenary celebrations

As part of the 300th anniversary of English Freemasonry, The Library and Museum of Freemasonry is organising a unique Open Day on Saturday 24th June, of exhibitions, music and architecture. Jacques Viljoen has been appointed Artist in Residence and has created an exhibition of new artworks to celebrate Freemasonry and its continued role and relevance in society today.

‘Rough to Smooth’, which will also feature nine guest artists, presents works inspired by Freemasonry from the past, present and future, and focuses on the symbolism of Freemasons’ Hall, the themes of ceremony and rites of passage and the experiences of Freemasons in World War 1.

Visitors can tour the impressive and ornate Grand Temple, the Library and Museum and the Three Centuries of English Freemasonry exhibition. Informal music performances will also take place throughout the day: the Occasional Strings quartet in the morning, organ recitals around midday and the Art Deco Orchestra in the afternoon.

The exhibition will be open every day from Saturday 24th June until Saturday 1st July, with the exception of Sunday 25th June. Admission is free and Freemasons’ Hall will be open from 10am to 5pm, with last entrance at 4:30pm. The artwork will be displayed in the Vestibules, Processional Corridor and Corridor to the Library and Museum.

The exhibition and residency has been directed by the Director of The Library and Museum of Freemasonry, Diane Clements, who commented: ‘It has been a remarkable experience working with these talented artists and they have produced a defining set of works, which we hope the general public will come and view.’

Make sure you also follow the United Grand Lodge of England’s FacebookInstagram and Twitter accounts in the build-up to the exhibition, as we unveil the guest artists and take a detailed look at their artwork.

Published in UGLE

The Library and Museum Council are now seeking an exceptional candidate for the role of Director to succeed Diane Clements following her successful tenure

The Library and Museum of Freemasonry is an Accredited Museum with designated collections of international significance covering Freemasonry and other fraternal orders. Situated in the beautiful grade II listed art deco United Grand Lodge of England in central London, the museum receives over 30,000 visitors each year from more than 100 countries. Freemasonry is the largest secular fraternal organisation in Britain, with several hundreds of thousands of members. The museum’s collection began to be acquired in the 1830s and this year the Museum celebrates the Order’s tercentenary in a special exhibition.

This person will bring a vision for the LMF and will work collaboratively with Trustees and staff to ensure the outstanding collections are being used to their fullest extent to communicate the history of Freemasonry to the widest possible audience. The Director will build on the strengths of the collection while driving new activity and acquisition. The Director is the accounting officer or the Library and Museum.

Candidates will most likely bring a strong track record of working in the museum, library or archives sector in a leadership role. The successful candidate will bring an energetic, creative, resilient, financially aware and entrepreneurial approach and will have experience in developing partnerships, managing an effective team and developing and delivering strategy.

Saxton Bampfylde Ltd is acting as an employment agency advisor to The Library and Museum of Freemasonry on this appointment. Candidates should apply for this role here using code WAOMA.

Closing date for applications is noon on 26th June 2017

Published in More News
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