Celebrating 300 years

Refurbished Grand Temple pipe organ wins silver industry award

Hayles and Howe are very proud to be able to showcase and highlight their involvement in the installation of a new organ case in the Grand Temple of the Grade II * listed Art Deco, Freemasons' Hall in London

'The organ case takes pride of place and is very well executed,' said the judges. 'One might suggest the enriched mouldings – made of composite resin – is not a plastering award entry, but the skills used in taking copies of existing enrichments and adapting them to make new ones certainly are plastering skills.'

The commission was to create a new organ case in composite resin replicating the detailed enrichments of the two original organ cases situated on the side walls of the temple. The new organ casing though wider and projecting further forward than the originals successfully fulfilled this brief creating a focal point in the Grand Temple. 

The Hayles and Howe team took great care in taking over 12 thixotropic moulds from the enrichments on one of the original organ cases. The Bristol workshop replicated the detailing in plaster, remodeling ornament to create master moulds prior to casting all the required positives in composite resin.

The Hayles and Howe project manager and site foreman liaised closely with Laurence Beckford, Carver, Howard Bros Joiners and Adam Architecture to ensure the project was completed on time and within budget. 

Charles Grace, the client’s representative said: 'We are very glad to have had the expertise of Hayles and Howe on this important project. I have been most impressed with the skill these craftsmen showed in taking moulds of very intricate and delicate decorations, and we are all delighted with the end result.' 

Henry Willis and Sons built the original organ casings in 1933. The new section supplements and greatly improves the sound of the refurbished main organ, thanks to the skills of the organ builders, Harrison and Harrison of Durham.

Notice of the silver award was given in the Magazine of the Finishes and Interiors Sector

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Striking  the right chord

Freemasonry Today caught up with renowned musician Thomas Trotter as he practised on the Grand Temple’s newly refurbished pipe organ for its inaugural concert

The pipes of the Grand Temple organ positively gleam as Thomas Trotter runs through the programme for a special concert to be held in the Temple the next day. The organ’s restoration has used enough gold leaf to cover the surface of a tennis court and introduced a new organ chamber in the centre of the Temple’s east wall. As he practises, Trotter’s hands dance over the three manuals while his feet expertly work the pedals beneath to create an epic sound from Bach’s Toccata in F.

The concert will not only be the culmination of the organ’s refurbishment but also the first of many celebratory events linked to the 2017 Tercentenary. One of Britain’s most widely admired musicians, Trotter is looking forward to playing to a full house: ‘The Grand Temple is a unique space, it’s incredibly plush and sumptuous. The carpets dampen the sound quite a lot so I’m going to have to work hard.’

A grand history

The organ was built by Freemason Henry Willis III for the inauguration of
the Grand Temple in 1933. 

It included numerous state-of-the-art developments that Willis had adopted following visits to the US, many of which were designed to help the instrument cope with its setting: a modern, efficiently heated building. Some 80 years of accumulated wear, however, threatened to irreparably damage the tonal accuracy of its pipes.

Thanks to funding from the Supreme Grand Chapter’s reserves, organ builders Harrison & Harrison of Durham have been able to restore the instrument to its former glory, retaining its console, mechanism and pipework. The projection and presence of the sound has been markedly improved by giving a greater degree of opening to the expressive swell enclosures, within which much of the pipework is situated, and also by removing heavy fabric hangings from the east wall. 

‘The curtaining would have soaked up the sound like a sponge. Now with the marble walls exposed, the sound is reflected off into the hall. It’s like having your windows cleaned – before it would have been a bit musty and unfocused,’ says Trotter. ‘I’m thrilled that people are still spending money on their instruments and buying new ones. There are far fewer organ builders than there were 50 years ago, but the standard is as high as it’s ever been.’

‘All the comments I have received show that the audience really liked being able to see Thomas’s remarkable dexterity, as well as hear the beauty of his playing.’ Charles Grace

Past in tune with present

The refurbishment has seen the addition of a new case on the east wall, clad to match the original design. It contains a chorus of five stops, balanced to augment rather than dominate the Willis sound, and a solo stop for special occasions – the Grand Tuba. ‘In the recital I’m going to use some of the old pipes and compare it with the new stops, which have made a big difference and are quite striking.’ 

The Grand Temple is in good company, with the organs at Westminster Cathedral and Liverpool Cathedral also built by Henry Willis III. ‘Every organ is different, but there are certain characteristics that follow through all the Henry Willis III organs and I can hear them here,’ says Trotter. ‘There’s a certain brightness about some of the stops that are representative of what Willis was doing in the 1930s.’

As the audience take their seats in the Grand Temple the next day, there is an almost palpable sense of expectation about how the organ will sound. With Trotter hidden behind the organ, a camera positioned behind his shoulder will stream his performance onto the wall of the Temple for the audience to see. He does not disappoint. 

‘I was very pleased with the way the concert was received,’ says Charles Grace, Project Manager
for the Grand Temple organ restoration. ‘All the comments I have received show that the audience really liked being able to see Thomas’s remarkable dexterity, as well as hear the beauty of his playing.’

In addition to performing pieces by Bach and masonic composers Mozart and Liszt, Trotter plays Reginald Goss-Custard’s Chelsea Fayre. It’s a fitting nod to the instrument’s proud history, with Goss-Custard’s brother Harry the recitalist at the opening of the Temple organ in 1933.

Note perfect

Thomas Trotter has performed as 
a soloist with conductors Sir Simon
 Rattle, Bernard Haitink and the late Sir Charles 
Mackerras, among many others. He
 regularly gives recitals in venues such as 
the Berlin Philharmonie; Leipzig’s Gewandhaus; the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam; the Musikverein and the Konzerthaus in Vienna; and London’s Royal Festival and Royal Albert Halls. In 2012 he was named International Performer of the Year by the New York Chapter of the American Guild of Organists.

Letters to the Editor - No. 33 Spring 2016

Concerted interest

Sir,

Among your readers there may be many who enjoyed the inaugural organ concert given by Thomas Trotter last September.

This year, again as part of the UGLE Tercentenary celebrations, there will be two further hour-long concerts. 

The first will take place at 5pm on Wednesday, 8 June, featuring Ian Tracey, organist at Liverpool Cathedral, in a wide-ranging programme.

As before, you will be able to see what the organist is doing, with a filmed display on the walls of the Grand Temple. Tickets (for which there is no charge) can be booked at https://goo.gl/zHW67w, and I do hope that many will take advantage of what should be another great occasion.

Charles Grace, Project Manager for the Grand Temple Organ, Freemasons’ Hall, London

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Regular Convocation

11 November 2015
An address by the ME Pro First Grand Principal Peter Lowndes

Companions, I am very pleased to see so many of you present today to witness the Installation of Most Excellent Companion Russell Race as Second Grand Principal. On behalf of all of you I wish him a long and happy tenure in this important role.

It is to the future that we should now look, but I would like to repeat my thanks to Most Excellent Companion George Francis for his many achievements and tireless work in raising the profile of the Holy Royal Arch since his own Installation in November 2005.

Companions, today, apart from celebrating the Installation of a new Second Grand Principal you will all be aware that it is also Armistice Day when we commemorate those who gave their lives in two World Wars. The observant amongst you will have noticed that a poppy wreath has been laid at the memorial shrine in the first vestibule to this Grand Temple, in front of the casket which holds the roll listing over 3,000 of our members who gave their lives on active service in the First World War.

I think it is worth reminding ourselves, however, that it is not just the shrine which is the memorial but the whole of Freemasons’ Hall itself. Indeed, during the planning stages in the 1920s and the first years of its existence, the building was known as the Masonic Peace Memorial.

As a memorial it was originally intended that the building should be reserved solely for masonic purposes but time and economics and the fact that the building is now Grade 2* listed both internally and externally have gradually led to the building being opened for non-masonic events and filming.

I would assure you however, companions, that our excellent and hard-working in-house events team take great care to ensure that outside events, especially filming, are consistent with the building’s origins and core purpose. We have a building of which we can be justifiably proud which is recognised as one of the landmark buildings of London.

Today we remember not only those in whose name the building was raised but also the many other thousands of our members who gave their lives during the Second World War and the other conflicts that have taken place since then. Although we have already stood in memory of recently departed members, in particular Most Excellent Companion Iain Bryce, Past Second Grand Principal, I believe that on this special day we should stand again to remember those who gave their lives to preserve those ideals which allow Freemasonry to flourish.

Companions, on September 30th this year, a packed Grand Temple enjoyed a magnificent Inaugural Concert to celebrate the refurbishment of our organ and when Supreme Grand Chapter is closed I am sure you will enjoy the talk by Ian Bell, Organ Consultant entitled ‘Achieved is the Glorious Work or Proof of the Pudding’, with musical illustrations played by Excellent Companion David Cresswell, Grand Organist.

Thank you, companions.  

Published in Speeches
Friday, 05 June 2015 01:00

Signed sealed delivered

Postal address

When Freemasons’ Hall welcomed actors Benedict Cumberbatch, Sir Ian McKellen and Tom Hiddleston into the Grand Temple, Jessica Hopkins was in the audience to listen to messages of love and anguish in Letters Live

Without words we’d be forever fumbling in the dark; letters throw light wherever they are cast.’ And so opens a night of extraordinarily moving literary entertainment at Freemasons’ Hall.

It began as a simple idea: a website dedicated to photos of remarkable letters from the past, accompanied by transcriptions and introductions. Letters of Note then became something of a Twitter sensation before becoming a hardback anthology and then morphing into Letters Live. This year’s five-night live performance spectacular at London’s Freemasons’ Hall in April saw a glittering line-up of performers read against the glorious Art Deco backdrop of the Grand Temple. 

While events at Freemasons’ Hall do tend to be bespoke, one-off occasions, Letters Live offered the chance to do something quite different. ‘It was unique and like nothing we had done before,’ explains Karen Haigh, Head of Events at the Hall. ‘Even though I knew we could do it, I also realised that we had never done anything on this scale.’

With 7,500 tickets sold, more than 40 performers treading the boards and some 100 letters read aloud – not to mention an unexpected fire blazing beneath the streets of nearby Holborn – it was no small feat to pull off. When the Holborn fire forced Freemasons’ Hall to cancel the Wednesday performance, many of those scheduled to read that night came along to the Thursday show instead, creating a dream playbill: a who’s who of the stage and screen scene. 

Star-struck

The audience didn’t know who was performing until the moment they appeared on stage, so whoops of surprise and delight were heard as Sir Ian McKellen, Benedict Cumberbatch, Andrew Scott, Sir Ben Kingsley, Simon Callow, Sophie Hunter and Clarke Peters stepped up to the podium, to name but a few.

With opening and closing music by newcomer and one-to-watch Kelvin Jones, as well as a passionate solo cello performance by Natalie Clein, the evening – like the whole run – had been thoughtfully curated to match performers to letters. Subjects spanned the arts and politics, love and loss, family and friendship, longing and rejection.

There were letters filled with advice and encouragement, such as Kurt Vonnegut to Xavier High School, read with McKellen’s wise drawl: ‘Practice any art… no matter how well or badly, not to get money and fame, but to experience becoming, to find out what’s inside you, to make your soul grow.’

There were letters filled with furious rejection, like Hunter S Thompson’s to Anthony Burgess on receipt of a ‘50,000 word novella about the condition humaine…’ instead of the Rolling Stone thinkpiece he had commissioned. Performed by Dominic West and full of language far too colourful to reproduce here, it was one of the more spirited readings of the evening.

The Grand Temple buzzed with energy from the performers, while the splendour of the venue was equally captivating – visually beautiful and acoustically fantastic, it became an enhancer when it could have been a distractor. Those attending were left with the feeling of having witnessed something truly magical. It’s an effect Karen was keen to achieve: ‘We wanted people to enjoy the experience of going to the theatre but also be somewhere completely unique,’ she enthuses. 

It certainly didn’t disappoint. 

Evocative and emotional

For Virginia Woolf’s suicide letter to her husband, Leonard, the Grand Temple turned to darkness with only a single spotlight on reader Greta Scacchi: ‘I feel certain that I am going mad again. I feel we can’t go through another of those terrible times. And I shan’t recover this time… Everything has gone from me but the certainty of your goodness. I can’t go on spoiling your life any longer.’ A visceral, desolate performance.

Benedict Cumberbatch drew on his best David Bowie impression to read a letter written from the musician to his first American fan in 1967, when he had no sense of how famous and renowned he would become, which added to its innocent excitement and humility. In a duologue performance, Cumberbatch and Louise Brealey – facing one another across the Grand Temple and very much in-the-round – read letters from Chris and Bessie: two everyday British civilians who fell in love via ink and paper while separated during World War II. The collection showcased quite beautifully how letters written by ordinary people with passion and something to say can contain just as much poetry within their pages as those written by thinkers, artists and academics. 

Past perfect

Perhaps the performance of the evening came from 87-year-old actor Joss Ackland, who read a letter he’d written to his future wife Rosemary, who was engaged to another person at the time. Either side of the reading he performed the part he was rehearsing when he first met her: Act II, Scene 2 of Romeo and Juliet, Romeo’s soliloquy from the Capulet’s orchard, ‘But, soft! What light through yonder window breaks?’ 

‘I might be a trifle old, but I think this is the way I played it,’ he told the audience before reciting from memory a speech full of lust and longing. And then, after the letter: ‘This is how I would play it now, with Rosemary no longer with me.’ In a breathtaking performance, the longing remained, but it was cloaked in sorrow rather than driven by lust.

With considerable media coverage, Letters Live has been one of the more high-profile events hosted at Freemasons’ Hall, generating only positive sentiment according to Karen. ‘Events such as this are a way of saying to people that we’re not what you think we are,’ she explains. ‘Because when we open our doors people’s preconceptions are completely blown away.’

Published in Features

Recognising our legacy

HRH The Duke of Kent explains how funding from the Royal Arch is supporting the Royal College of Surgeons and has helped to restore the Willis organ in the Grand Temple

 You will remember the generous £2.5 million raised for the 200th anniversary appeal to support the research work of the Royal College of Surgeons. A fundamental decision was needed as to how this sum should be invested and administered. 

It was decided that this would best be done together with the existing Grand Lodge Fund, launched for the Royal College in 1967, to celebrate the 250th anniversary of Grand Lodge.

It has been agreed that the fellowships will be allocated to both the Craft and the Royal Arch in proportion to the contribution of funds. So, this will mean that there will be two Royal Arch Fellows in every five fellowships that are supported. 

As patron of the fund, I confirm that in order to reflect these important changes – notably that the funding for these fellowships has come from both the Craft and the Royal Arch – the name of the fund has been changed as of January 2015 to The Freemasons’ Fund for Surgical Research.

On the east wall of the Grand Temple at Freemasons’ Hall, the Willis organ has been renovated and greatly improved during the past year. You will be aware that Supreme Grand Chapter has funded this initiative from its reserves as the Royal Arch’s contribution towards the Tercentenary of the United Grand Lodge of England. In recognition of this contribution, the organ’s new case bears a triple tau at its top as well as on the front of the renovated console.

I am sure you would want me to congratulate all concerned with this project, which not only enhances this magnificent room, both audibly and visually, but also adds to the heritage of this building and the memory of those many Freemasons who died in World War I.

‘The renovation of the Willis organ is the Royal Arch’s contribution towards the Tercentenary of UGLE.’

Published in SGC

Grand organ rings out again

The final part of the renovation of the Willis organ in the Grand Temple has been completed, with the front panel of the console now in place. The refurbished organ was played for the first time at the two Investiture meetings in April.

The organ was renovated at the Harrison & Harrison workshop in Durham before being reinstalled in the Grand Temple in January 2015. In the meantime, the new case was built over the console on the east wall. Project Manager Charles Grace thanked the craftsmen who worked on the organ and said: ‘I hope it will be used for many recitals in the years ahead.’ The inaugural concert will be given by the celebrated organist Thomas Trotter on 30 September.

Tickets for this event are now sold out.

Published in More News

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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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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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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Pipe dream

The restoration of the Grand Temple pipe organ at Freemasons’ Hall is helping to preserve a vital piece of this Art Deco building’s history. Charles Grace tells Sarah Holmes how the project came about

With a firm grip on the scaffolding in front of him, Charles Grace takes a moment to appreciate the elevated view over the Grand Temple. Behind him, a golden wall of freshly gilded organ pipes stand caged in a rigid rig of steel rods and orderly wooden planks. 

It’s been a particularly busy year for the senior Freemason, who has been overseeing the restoration of the Grand Temple’s pipe organ. Although the work has been progressing steadily since January 2014, few masons will have noticed anything different going on at Great Queen Street. For Charles, this is a good thing. Despite the size of the project, he has gone to great lengths to make sure that the renovation work doesn’t disrupt the normal running of Freemasons’ Hall.

As a long-serving member of the Committee of General Purposes, Charles played a central role in the decision to renovate, rather than replace, the Grand Temple’s eighty-one-year-old organ. ‘It’s part of the heritage of Freemasons’ Hall, so we have a duty to protect it,’ he says. ‘This building pays tribute to more than 3,000 Freemasons who lost their lives in World War I, so it’s apt that the organ is being restored during the centenary year of that terrible conflict.’ 

The idea for restoring the organ first came about in 2009 when an inspection by the organ consultant, Ian Bell, revealed the need for extensive repairs. With most organs requiring a professional overhaul every twenty-five years, the Grand Temple’s organ had survived three times longer than that thanks to the constant temperature and humidity levels as well as its dedicated maintenance. Nevertheless, eighty years of accumulated wear threatened to irreparably damage the tonal accuracy of its pipes. 

But now, thanks to funding from the Supreme Grand Chapter’s reserves, the organ will be restored to its former glory with roughly half of the money being spent on cleaning, repairing and re-voicing the existing mechanisms, which include an astounding 2,220 pipes and forty-three stops. The remainder of the funding will be spent on mounting a new case of some four hundred pipes on the east wall of the Grand Temple. 

Rousing quality

The result of all the renovation work will be a clearer, louder sound, and a focal point from which the organist can lead the Grand Temple’s 1,700-strong congregation in song. It’s a rousing quality that the present organ peculiarly lacks.

‘This is quite an unusual design,’ explains Charles. ‘Most organs have a focal point, but the present instrument comprises two cases of pipes that shout at each other across the dais. When the Grand Temple is full and everyone’s singing lustily, it’s difficult for those in the west to hear the organ, so the new case will make a huge difference, as well as giving the Grand Temple an extra visual wow factor.’

The craftsmen undertaking the restoration are from Durham-based organ builders Harrison & Harrison – a company responsible for rebuilding and maintaining some of the UK’s most famous organs, including those at the Royal Festival Hall and Westminster Abbey. Their experience of working with traditional organs is reassuring to Charles, who is eager that the new section remains consistent with the look and sound of the original. The new pipes will be made from a tin-and-lead alloy in keeping with the design of Brother Henry Willis, who built the organ in 1933. 

‘I’d love to get a series of subscription concerts going as we’re transforming a good organ into a magnificent one.’ Charles Grace

Musical chairs

It’s an extensive undertaking for Harrison & Harrison, who also face the added challenge of working around the Grand Temple’s busy schedule of events.

‘It’s been quite a juggling act to make sure we don’t interfere with the day-to-day running of the Grand Temple,’ explains Charles. ‘We’ve relied on the occasional spare periods of time to carry out some of the work. But from mid-December, when the Temple is quietest, we’ll be able to get the bulk of the work done.’

Fortunately, much of the early work has been completed in Durham, where the existing organ and console were moved for cleaning and repairing in January. ‘It’s a vitally important part of the renovation process,’ explains Andy Scott, head voicer at Harrison & Harrison. ‘As soon as the dirt starts to build up, it can dull the pitch and sound quality of the pipes, and adds to the deterioration of the worn mechanism, causing notes to stick on or not play at all.’

The length of the pipes, as well as the material they’re constructed from, both play a fundamental role in determining their pitch – so it’s important that the correct techniques are used to clean them. 

The longer, wooden pipes, which create the deeper notes, can reach up to sixteen feet in length, and have to be vacuumed and varnished. Meanwhile, the shorter metallic pipes, which create the higher notes, and can be as short as a few inches, have to be soaked and scrubbed in soapy water. 

The pipes will then be returned to the Grand Temple and divided between chambers hidden in the opposite walls of the eastern dais. The case containing all the new pipes will be mounted on the east wall above the console, facing directly down the Grand Temple.

Like the other two cases, the new case will be decorated with the same elaborately carved Art Deco motifs and poly-resin embellishments. A grille of eighteen pipes, all gilded in gold leaf, will be visible at the front. ‘It takes three different crafts alone to build its case,’ explains Charles. ‘That’s how complex a pipe organ is. It’s more than just an instrument – it’s an actual fixture of the building.’ 

Tone control

As well as the pipes, Harrison & Harrison must also refurbish the whole mechanical structure, including the enormous wind chests that sit underneath the pipes. By driving pressurised air through the pipes, the wind chests help to produce the organ’s distinctive, multi-tonal sound. Electric blowers located underneath the Grand Temple supply the wind chests with air.

‘It takes three different crafts to build the case. That’s how complex a pipe organ is. It’s more than an instrument – it’s an actual fixture of the building.’ Charles Grace

‘Each pipe produces a single note,’ explains Charles. ‘All pipes are arranged in ranks of common sound and pitch, and when the organist wants to play a particular rank, he selects the corresponding stop. This releases air from the wind chest to a particular rank of pipes. The keys on the main console then control which pipes the air passes through.’ 

It’s a thoroughly complicated system, and one that has taken Charles hours of surfing the web and scouring YouTube videos to understand. As part of the renovation, a new electronic feature will be fitted that allows the organ to store digital recordings of the music played on the keyboard. This means that a wide range of pre-recorded music will be able to be played on the organ at the touch of a button.

It’s something that will add impact to the public tours of the Grand Temple, and is a key example of the way in which the latest renovations not only safeguard the heritage of the Freemasons’ Hall, but also enhance it.   

With all things going to plan, the restoration work is due to be completed by March 2015 and Charles hopes that the new organ will become a symbol of celebration not just for United Grand Lodge’s approaching tercentenary, but for everyone who visits the Hall. 

‘I’d love to get a series of subscription concerts going, as we’re transforming a good organ into a magnificent one – so I’d hope a few great organists would play here,’ says Charles.

In keeping with this vision, Charles hopes to establish a partnership with the Royal College of Organists to give aspiring musicians an opportunity to rehearse and perform on the Grand Temple’s amazing instrument. 

‘It’s a fantastic opportunity to open ourselves up to the public, and to get this incredible organ being played more than ever,’ says Charles. ‘We need to make the most of it.’ 

The original surround sound

A pipe organ produces music through a vast array of real pipes placed in different locations around the room, effectively making it one of the first surround sound systems. In contrast, electronic organs only simulate the sound of the pipes from a central loudspeaker. The result is noticeably flatter and lacks the true fullness of many individual pitches blending together. 

Letters for the Editor - No. Summer 2016

Exchanging notes

Sir,  

The spring issue of Freemasonry Today contained letters from two brethren asking about the specification of the splendid refurbished Willis III organ in the Grand Temple at Freemasons’ Hall, London. A downloadable colour leaflet containing this is available under ‘H&H specifications’ from the website of Harrison & Harrison (www.harrisonorgans.com), the firm that carried out the work, and more information can be found online in the National Pipe Organ Register.

Carl Jackson, Grand Organist from April 2016, St Cecilia Lodge, No. 6190, London

Sir,

In the spring issue there were two letters relating to the specification of the organ at Great Queen Street. 

May I suggest they go to the National Pipe Organ Register at www.npor.org.uk, which has the details your correspondents want – although it has not been updated to the new rebuild. The site has details of thousands of organs in the UK, which can be searched for by name or postcode or reference number (Great Queen Street is N16533).

Peter Edwards, Sutton Coldfield Lodge, No. 8960, Sutton Coldfield, Warwickshire

 


 

Letters for the Editor - No. Spring 2016

Sir,

I would like to congratulate all those involved in the refurbishment of the pipe organ in the Grand Temple at Freemasons’ Hall and the excellent write-up in Freemasonry Today. I am 86 years of age and partially disabled. I joined the John Compton Organ Company, London as an apprentice in 1944, and trained as a voicer and tuner under John Degens, a former Walkers employee. After two years’ national service I then spent the next few years as a voicer and tuner for Nicholson of Worcester. I would very much appreciate knowing the specifications of the magnificent organ.

Doug Litchfield, Zetland Lodge, No. 1005, Gloucester, Gloucestershire

Sir,

Recent articles in Freemasonry Today about the organ refurbishment are much appreciated. Lodge organists and organists in general would, I feel sure, appreciate even more to see the full specifications, old and new: that is, names of stops to each department, list of accessories, etc, so as to get a sense of the full tonal architecture and its possibilities, past and present.

Malcolm Dilley, Warton Lodge, No. 8411, Carnforth, West Lancashire


Letters to the Editor - No. 30 Summer 2015

Grand music

Sir,

I read the articles by both Charles Grace and Ian Bell regarding the Grand Temple Willis pipe organ restoration with great interest. I am a masonic organist in the South Wales Province, where most masonic centres are furnished with electronic or digital organs.

Your articles reveal that there are two other Willis pipers in the Great Queen Street building but that they are not in working order. I visited Great Queen Street last November to play the organ for the installation ceremony of the American Lodge. The ceremony was allocated to Lodge Room No. 8 where I was horrified to find that the organ was little more than a squawk box. I looked into several of the other lodge rooms to discover similar disappointing instruments.

Whilst the Grand Temple organ restoration and necessary enhancement is to be applauded, I wish to have the Great Queen Street management reminded that if ceremony’s musical accompaniment and enhancement is really desirable, then it is absolutely necessary to encourage masonic brethren to aspire to be a lodge organist by furnishing the best tool for the purpose, and that a pillar of attainment as a lodge organist might be to eventually play the Grand Temple organ. 

Michael Hayes, Venables Llewelyn Lodge, No. 3756, Porthcawl, South Wales

Charles Grace, Project Manager for the Grand Temple organ restoration, responds:

We have recently evaluated two one-manual organs and decided on the Viscount Cadet, 10 of which are being delivered in mid May and 10 in September, funded by UGLE from the normal charges made to lodges and chapters for room hire and storage. 

The organs, which are versatile enough to be played by all masonic organists, will be installed in most of the lodge/chapter rooms. The choice of organ in No. 10, where a larger instrument is required, is under consideration.


Letters to the Editor – No. 29 Spring 2015

Direction in the Temple

Sir,

You published two letters in the last issue on the subject of the square and compasses being upside down on the organ cases in the Grand Temple. I too made enquiries of those who might know the answer, but regrettably it remains a masonic mystery. On the bright side, I can reveal that, in the same position on the new case being erected on the east wall above the organ console, there will be a Royal Arch triple tau – and I will ensure that it is the right way up!

Charles Grace, Project Coordinator, Grand Temple organ restoration

Sir,

‘The earth constantly revolving on its axis in its orbit round the sun, and Freemasonry being universally spread over its surface, it necessarily follows that the sun must always be at its meridian with respect to Freemasonry.’ 

Similarly, the square and compasses will always be the right way up with respect to Freemasonry. Given that the building was built as a memorial to those Freemasons who died in the First World War, and that some may have been from other parts of the Commonwealth, it is perhaps possible that the square and compasses was positioned accordingly.

Mark Northway, Suffield Lodge, No. 1808, Aylsham, Norfolk


Letters to the Editor - No. 28 Winter 2014

Compass and square

Sir,

I am a young Master Mason. However, in your otherwise interesting and informative account of the restoration of the pipe organ in the Grand Temple of Freemasons’ Hall, the square and compasses adorning the organ case (while beautifully gilded) are clearly upside down. Does this pertain to some ancient and mysterious side order, of which I am neither a member nor even aware, or perhaps has it just been affixed the wrong way up?

Tim Myatt, Apollo University Lodge, No. 537, Oxfordshire

Sir,

In discussion with a number of brethren in my lodge, we are curious to know why the square and compasses visible behind the left shoulder of Charles Grace are upside down. The popular view among us all is that they are positioned to face in the direction of the Great Architect, in whose glory the beautiful music that emanates from this magnificent instrument is played. None of us considers it to be an error of any kind – knowing as we do that no such fundamental mistakes are likely to have been made by those who either commissioned or made the instrument. We look forward with great interest to any information you are able to provide.

Guy R Purser, Pagham Lodge, No. 8280, Sussex

Note from the Editor

Having received several queries about the compass and square visible in the picture of the Grand Temple organ in the autumn issue of Freemasonry Today (page 29), we enquired of our best in-house historians. Unfortunately, nobody seems to know of any reason why, on the Grand Lodge organ, the square and compasses should be orientated in the opposite way to how they are normally depicted.

There was in the past a tradition among some craftsmen to incorporate a deliberate mistake as an act of humility so as not to vainly compete with the perfection of God’s creations, but we have no idea whether this was the intention in this case. We do know from an original photograph, however, that it has been that way since the organ was installed. We will be pleased to hear from readers of any theories on this mystery.

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