Celebrating 300 years

First concert for newly restored grand organ

Following an extensive Harrison and Harrison refurbishment and renovation of the very fine Willis Organ in the Grand Temple at Freemasons' Hall an inaugural concert by Thomas Trotter, Organist of St Margaret's Westminster Abbey and Birmingham City Organist, has been planned to celebrate. Listeners are therefore cordially invited to this free event on Wednesday 30th September, 2015 at 7pm.

With works ranging from Bach and Mozart to Coates and Goss-Custard, the programme is very wide-ranging and designed to show off the brand new "Grand" Division of this versatile three-manual.

This event has now sold out.

Click on here to book your free tickets

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The New and Young Masons Clubs’ Conference 2015

Please join the Connaught Club, and many other new and young masons' clubs, at Freemasons’ Hall, London, on Saturday, 24th October 2015, and take part in the first New and Young Masons Clubs’ Conference

After a short introduction, representatives of each club will be given the opportunity to present any ideas they have, explain which events have worked well for their respective clubs, present best practices they’ve discovered and impart any event organising tips they might possess. Of course, no one and nothing is perfect, so tips for avoiding pitfalls will also be most welcome.

The event promises to be very insightful, informative and helpful for all clubs which attend. We believe by bringing many of the new and young masons' clubs together in this way, we can all gain from the shared knowledge and experience, and reach our shared objective – keeping new and young masons engaged with the Craft. With increased and continuous engagement with the Craft, we hope, in some small way, to prolong its existence.

We would encourage as many of the new and young masons' clubs from around the United Kingdom to attend this conference for the betterment of the masonic social clubs’ movement which is spreading, not just across the UK, but also around the world. We would also like to cordially invite any representatives from the various Provinces in the UK, which don’t currently have a ‘light blue’ or young mason club, to come along, and hopefully, be inspired to establish a club in their own Province.

The conference will start at 13.00 and last two hours, which will include time to mingle and chat to the members of other clubs, whilst enjoying some light refreshments.

After the conference, the Connaught Club’s lodge, Burgoyne Lodge No. 902, will be holding its Installation meeting, which you are most fraternally welcome to attend. The lodge will tyle at 17.00 and will be held in one of the many splendid temples at Freemasons’ Hall, Great Queen Street. Following the Lodge meeting, a three-course Festive Board will be enjoyed at a local dining venue.

If you would like to register your interest in attending the conference, please enter your details below and a member of the Club Committee will be in touch here: http://www.connaughtclub.org/nymcc2015/ 

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

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

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

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The Brand Republic Digital Awards is redefining the traditional awards ceremony with a brand new format for 2015

The evening will start with a champagne reception and canapés on arrival at London's Art Deco Freemasons' Hall. Guests will then enter the auditorium to watch the awards and find out which agencies and brands will be going home victorious.

After the ceremony guests will head back into the hall for networking, substantial food, unlimited drinks until 1pm and entertainment. A well-known DJ will have everyone partying into the early hours.

The awards will take place on 18 June at Freemasons' Hall and tickets are on sale now.

With more than 500 entries – a record for the BR Digital Awards – the competition is hot and the event is shaping up to be the best one yet.

The judging process has begun and the shortlist will be announced from 7 April.

For more information on the ceremony and to buy tickets visit the awards site here.

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Friday, 06 March 2015 14:19

Letters Live comes to Freemasons' Hall

Letters Live comes to Freemasons' Hall

Letters Live returns to London for its most ambitious season yet, with Benedict Cumberbatch and Louise Brealey in starring roles.

Five unique shows at London’s Freemasons’ Hall (Covent Garden), from Tuesday 31st March until Saturday 4th April.

Following its great successes in 2013 and 2014, LETTERS LIVE present its first season of shows in 2015 at the iconic Freemasons’ Hall, one of the finest Art Deco buildings in Britain. Inspired by Letters of Note, the bestselling anthology compiled by Shaun Usher, and To the Letter by Simon Garfield, LETTERS LIVE is a series of curated, live events that celebrate the enduring power of literary correspondence.

Benedict Cumberbatch and Louise Brealey will take to the stage for every night of the Freemasons’ Hall run, reading letters alongside a diverse array of world class performers each evening, including the recently announced Sally Hawkins and musician Tom Odell and luminaries from the stage, screen, music, art and literary worlds. 

From Patti Smith’s unread letter to a dying Robert Mapplethorpe; to Richard Burton’s parting words to Elizabeth Taylor as they separated after years of tempestuous marriage. David Bowie’s enthusiastic letter to his first American Fan and Che Guevara’s revolutionary words to his children. LETTERS LIVE captures the humour, sadness, inspiration, and brilliance that illuminate all of our lives.

We don’t just programme a series of readings, we curate performances taking into consideration the content of the letter, its style, the person who reads it and where, ensuring each event is unique and intimate.

Book your tickets here: http://www.ticketmaster.co.uk/Letters-Live-tickets/artist/2096475 

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Notes from history

The Grand Temple organ has finally returned to Freemasons’ Hall for reassembly. Ian Bell, consultant to the restoration project, traces its origins to discover a proud dynasty of organ builders

When the components of the Grand Temple organ were packed off to Durham for a year of restorative therapy, it was the first time they had left Great Queen Street since their installation. More than eighty years of wear had taken its toll on the complex mechanism of an instrument that proved to be a feat of technical engineering when it was installed in 1933.

The Grand Temple organ was by far the largest of the three fitted by organ builders Henry Willis & Sons at Freemasons’ Hall. The others, in what became Lodge Rooms 1 and 10, have long since fallen into disuse. However, their sister in the Grand Temple has continued to serve with character and distinction, only beginning to show her age comparatively recently – and only when viewed at close quarters.

The Willis dynasty had been major participants in the world of organ building since the company’s founder, Henry Willis, produced a startlingly bold and groundbreaking instrument for the Great Exhibition of 1851 in Hyde Park. Considerable success followed and the baton of team leader was in due course handed to successive generations of the family, each named Henry, who modestly numbered themselves in the manner of royalty. The man in charge of the installations at Freemasons’ Hall was Henry Willis III.

Though relatively young, Willis III had just overseen the installation of a grand new organ in Westminster Cathedral before coming to Freemasons’ Hall. Prior to that, he had installed the largest church organ in the country at Liverpool Anglican Cathedral. The organist at Liverpool was Henry Goss Custard, whose brother Reginald was Grand Organist. As such, Reginald presided over the Grand Temple organ at the opening ceremonies in July 1933, and had approved the designs that Willis, himself a Freemason, had put forward.

It is clear from his writings that Willis was very proud of the opportunity offered to him, but the project was not without its difficulties. Money did not seem to have been in short supply, but space certainly was. The awkward and irregularly shaped spaces left for the organ meant that it had to be packed in very tightly. Standing uncomfortably inside it today, one might imagine that the brief to Willis would have been something like: ‘Here are two remaining spaces we are able to offer you – pack as much organ into them as you can.’ 

Muted roar

The organ’s 2,200 pipes are ingeniously crowded into two very narrow spaces, each triangular in floor area and tapering from the widest end next to the balconies, down to virtually nothing at the eastern end where the openings into the Grand Temple are located. So although the pipes are shouting very loudly, they are unavoidably shouting in the wrong direction, away from the listeners, and their output is being squeezed down until the point where, like toothpaste bursting from a tube, it can eventually escape sideways into the room. 

To the organist against the east wall, and indeed to those seated on the dais below it, the organ clearly has considerable power; to those in the body of the Grand Temple, however, it has instead a somewhat muted roar.

To add to the difficulties, the acoustics were extensively treated with absorbent material to minimise reverberation and clarify speech. This was anathema to what an organ builder dreams of: the sound of pipes speaking without restriction or obstruction, creating a flattering and reverberant cathedral acoustic, inappropriate though such an acoustic might have been here. Willis’s pleasure at the chance of making his mark in the heart of the masonic peace memorial was therefore unavoidably dampened by the hazards thrown into his path. Writing in his house magazine in September 1933 he says:

‘I was clearly given to understand from the very start that the acoustical properties of the Temple would be such that the requirements of speech would be considered first, last, and all of the time; and that it would not be possible to modify this requirement to suit the needs of the organ in any way. It was under these onerous conditions of restricted space and an almost non-existent reverberation period that I had to make my plans.’

One can sense a heavy heart going about the making of those plans. But whatever his misgivings, Willis succeeded in putting up a good fight. By the end of the same article he cannot resist quoting a letter of congratulation from Goss Custard: ‘Everyone is more than delighted with the Temple organ and I must say that personally I consider it one of the most beautiful that you have ever made. Considering the difficulties that you have had to overcome with the site, the effect is nothing short of marvellous.’ 

And, not unusually, it has to be admitted, Willis felt moved to pat himself on the back too: ‘If I may say so, a noble organ in a noble edifice. Only the best has been good enough for the masonic peace memorial in every part of its structure and furnishing. The Temple organ is worthy, in every way, of its superb setting.’

Cleverly planned, beautifully built, and packed with cutting-edge technical innovations designed to cope with all that a modern, centrally heated environment could throw at it, the organ was to be one of the last entirely new instruments that Willis III was to build on such a scale. 

The organ remains not only a worthy tribute to a proud Freemason, but one where the daring technicalities proved well-chosen. The new addition of a separate section that is able to speak without restriction along the Grand Temple, providing the clarity that has been elusive for eighty years, has allowed the organ to be restored without alteration. As Willis would surely have wished.

‘Only the best has been good enough for the masonic peace memorial… The Temple organ is worthy, in every way, of its superb setting.’ Henry Willis III

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The Poppy through history

Start March 4, 2015 6:00 pm 
End March 4, 2015 6:45 pm

Dr Nicholas Saunders, the author of a recent book about the history of the poppy, will be talking about how the poppy became such a powerful symbol at the end of the First World War. There will also be an opportunity to view the current Library and Museum exhibition Freemasonry and the First World War

The talk will last approximately 45 minutes. Tickets are free but must be booked in advance. Please contact This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. to book a place

Venue: Freemasons' Hall, London
Tel: 020 7395 9257

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Friday, 05 December 2014 00:00

Brotherly love during the First World War

The welfare of others

Pro Grand Master Peter Lowndes believes that we should recall the brotherly love shown between Freemasons during the First World War 

At the Quarterly Communication held on 2 September 1914, one hundred years ago, the First World War had been under way for just under a month. Your predecessors would have known that, even in such a short time, the German Army had already defeated the Russian forces at the Battle of Tannenberg and the French and British armies were in fierce contact with the German advance in the south of Belgium. That Quarterly Communication was presided over by Sir Frederick Halsey as Deputy Grand Master, as the then Grand Master, HRH the Duke of Connaught and Strathearn, and the Pro Grand Master, Lord Ampthill, were away serving their country. 

Sir Frederick proposed the motion that ‘Grand Lodge expresses the deep appreciation of the loyal and devoted service now being rendered to our country by HRH the Grand Master, the Pro Grand Master, and very many other brethren of all ranks in the Craft, and its earnest prayer for their continued well-being’. He went on to say – among other things – that it was a time of great anxiety and that every Grand Officer would carry out his work without panic and alarm and show that calmness and confidence which animates the breast of every Englishman and mason.

Sir Frederick added: ‘Our hearts go out to our friends and relations, to our dear ones, both in the Craft and outside it, who are now serving their country at the call of duty; our prayers follow them, and we trust that before long, in the mercy of the Great Architect of the Universe, they may emerge from this present struggle safe and sound.’

Sadly, more than 3,300 masons, serving in the four fighting services – Army, Navy, Royal Marines and Royal Flying Corps – never made it home. Freemasons’ Hall was created as a peace memorial dedicated to them and its magnificent commemorative window has recently been restored thanks to the generosity of London lodges and chapters, as well as individuals coordinated by Metropolitan Grand Stewards’ Chapter. Below the window is the bronze shrine containing the Roll of Honour parchment scroll honouring those who gave their lives in service of their country. We should not forget that numerous sons and grandsons of members were killed – many of whom would have been potential members.

Brotherly love remains as important today as it was in those dark days of the Great War. To exercise kindness, tolerance and charitable support – and to be interested in the welfare of others – is a source of the greatest happiness and satisfaction in every situation in life. 

It is, I believe, of the utmost importance today to ensure our long-term survival, but I am concerned that we are not always seen internally as a caring organisation, with junior members too often marginalised and unsupported. This must change and it is the responsibility of every member to help to retain those of integrity within their lodges by making them feel cared for. By so doing we will ensure that they will gain the same fulfilment and satisfaction from their masonry that we have all been lucky enough to enjoy.

‘Sadly, more than 3,300 masons, serving in the four fighting services, never made it home. Freemasons’ Hall was dedicated to them.’

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World of his own

When the red carpet was rolled out at Freemasons’ Hall for A Game of Thrones author George RR Martin, 1,400 devoted fans came to see the king of epic fantasy fiction. Sarah Holmes takes a trip to the Seven Kingdoms

Staff at Freemasons’ Hall are accustomed to seeing visitors explore this glorious Art Deco building from time to time. They’re even used to seeing fashionistas queue around the block to get a glimpse of the latest sartorial creations during London Fashion Week. But when a medieval warrior showed up on the steps this summer… well, that was something they weren’t quite prepared for.

Wielding an old-fashioned war hammer, the bearded warrior lumbered back and forth, drawing a fascinated crowd on the piazza opposite. Fans of HBO’s Game of Thrones will have, of course, recognised him as Robert Baratheon, the ferocious ruler of the Seven Kingdoms and a central character in George RR Martin’s wildly successful fantasy fiction series, A Song of Ice and Fire. 

The actor portraying Baratheon on this occasion was one of a medley of costume players tasked with bringing Martin’s captivating world to life as part of an elaborate publishing event in late August.

‘Harper Voyager presents George RR Martin and Robin Hobb in conversation’ sought to unite two of fantasy fiction’s greatest exponents in an exclusive interview that saw more than 1,400 fans descend on Freemasons’ Hall. A further 5,000 people tuned in online, courtesy of a Blinkbox live-streaming service. 

‘It garnered a lot of attention,’ says Karen Haigh, Head of Events at the Hall. ‘More than one million people tweeted and posted about the event on social media, and inside, the Grand Temple was filled from the main floor right up to the balconies.’

The live streaming aspect posed a new challenge for the team at the Hall. ‘It takes a lot of equipment to produce a live webcast, so it was a feat trying to integrate that into a Grade II listed building,’ says Karen. ‘But our IT specialists worked tirelessly to make it happen.’

While the fantasy fiction community convened upstairs, eagerly anticipating the arrival of the man dubbed the American Tolkien, in the rest of the building it was business as usual. ‘We organise our events so there’s no disruption to the meetings,’ says Karen. ‘The members are used to seeing queues of people, but for this event I think they were quite fascinated. Many would have liked to have attended themselves.’

Remarkably, very little was added to the temple to distract from its intricate features. Three golden thrones were mounted on a stage, but otherwise there was a refreshing lack of gimmickry. From the carved illustrations on the hefty bronze doors to the vivid mosaic cornice depicting Pythagoras and Euclid, the rich architecture of the Hall was enough to capture the audience’s attention. 

‘We wanted somewhere grand and fantastical,’ says Jane Johnson, longtime editor of both authors and chair for the event. ‘Great halls and exotic palaces feature in both writers’ literature, so it felt very apt. Although it’s fiction, there’s a historical element to the books, which was beautifully channelled through the Grand Temple.’ 

‘It’s fiction, but there’s a historical element to the books, which was beautifully channelled though the Grand Temple.’ Jane Johnson

Enchanting times

Martin’s intensely constructed saga of a wealthy dynasty overthrown by popular revolt draws inspiration from history – defying the magical expectations of the genre. It is this penchant for antiquity, from an author who used to submit historical fiction instead of academic essays to his college professors, that helped to endear his novels to a mainstream audience. 

Back in the Grand Temple, visitors craned their necks to get a better view of the magnificent artwork on the ceiling. It was a heartening sight for Karen. ‘It proves that it’s not some secret society,’ she says. ‘Freemasonry is a modern organisation with traditional values. It has an incredible history that everyone is welcome to discover through places like Freemasons’ Hall.’

That message rang true for Johnson, who had always harboured an interest in the Craft: ‘I’ve always been struck by the beauty of Freemasons’ Hall, but I never expected to go inside, let alone host an event. I’d always thought women weren’t allowed into the inner sanctum, but we were made to feel incredibly welcome. I know George and Robin loved it.’

For Robin Hobb, this was the latest in a long line of events promoting her most recent novel, Fool’s Assassin. However, it was a rare appearance for Martin at a time when there were concerns over his health and whether he would finish the last book in the series. All rumours were deftly quashed as he cut a spry figure on stage. 

It wasn’t long before conversation turned to the inspiration and lives of the authors, with both Hobb and Martin providing candid insights never volunteered in an interview before. 

‘I’ve been to sold-out events before,’ remarks Johnson, ‘but none could rival the atmosphere of this one. It was bigger and yet intimate – a truly marvellous evening.’

Published in Features

These boots are made for walking

A team of Nottinghamshire masons, led by Provincial Grand Master Robin Wilson, assembled at Freemasons’ Hall in London to begin a sponsored walk to their headquarters in Nottingham. The 175-mile route between the two cities followed the towpaths of the Grand Union Canal and took the walkers 11 days to complete.

After setting off from Great Queen Street in the presence of Grand Secretary Nigel Brown and members of the Board of General Purposes, they passed through several Provinces, allowing other walkers to join them. The unique walk was one of Nottinghamshire’s major fundraising events in support of the 2018 Festival for the Royal Masonic Trust for Girls and Boys.

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