8 September 2010
A speech by Mrs Diane Clements, Director, The Library & Museum of Freemasonry
I am pleased to report that in the four years since I last spoke in this forum, the Library and Museum has continued to make good progress in meeting our objective of making the library, museum and archive collections here at Freemasons’ Hall available to as many people and to the widest possible range of audiences as we can, to try to improve the understanding of freemasonry and its role, past and present, in society.
The most obvious way that we do that is for the Library and Museum to be open free of charge every weekday. People join the regular guided tours of the ceremonial areas of the building. They are also attracted by our range of temporary exhibitions. Over the last four years the subjects of these exhibitions have included Freemasonry and the French Revolution, London Grand Rank and Masonic Charity. As someone who regularly has to respond to visitors’ comments such as “I didn’t know they allowed women in”, which is probably not something that any of you encounter, I was particularly pleased by our exhibition on Women and Freemasonry in 2008- even if it didn’t necessarily explain why I am here!. Our current exhibition The Masonic Emporium looks at the development of the commercial market for Masonic regalia and furniture. Visitor numbers have increased by 40% over the last four years. We have been able to cope with these additional numbers with our existing staff of guides thanks to working closely with other teams within the building especially security and maintenance.
The exhibitions may be temporary but we work to ensure that there is a legacy. This may be a book, an exhibition guide or an addition to the permanent museum displays or to the catalogue record for an item. For the exhibition on Freemasons and the Royal Society earlier this year- to mark the 350th Anniversary of the Royal Society- we worked with a freemason in North Yorkshire to produce a list of more than 350 freemasons who were also Fellows of the Society. This added significantly to our knowledge of “famous” freemasons. The list is available on the Library and Museum website. Amongst the names included are Sir George Everest of mountain fame, the psychologist Charles Myers who is generally credited with the first use of the term “shell shock” and the zoologist Edward Hindle who, during a long and distinguished scientific career, can also claim to have introduced the golden hamster as a domestic pet.
But not everyone can or wants to come to central London and so we have found a number of ways of taking knowledge of the collections and sometimes items from the collections to them. Cataloguing of the collections continues on all fronts and the information is available on our electronic catalogue on our website. We have now catalogued all our sheet music- over 1500 items- archive material including the records of erased lodges and thousands of prints and photographs of individuals. We have undertaken a detailed analysis of what is required to catalogue and photograph all the items in the museum collection – that is 40,000 objects and includes everything from a lodge jewel to the 1790 Grand Master’s throne which stands over 3 metres high - and are working towards completing that by 2017.
Research resources can be provided electronically- the charts of lodge family trees and an electronic version of Lane’s Masonic Records listing all lodges warranted by UGLE and its predecessors are already available on line and we are bringing the latter list up to date. We will be starting a two year project to digitise English eighteenth and nineteenth century Masonic periodicals this Autumn. This will enable this material -which is a rich source of Masonic history but sadly lacking in comprehensive indexes – to be searchable.
Although the Centre for Masonic Research at Sheffield University has now closed, we have found that researchers from many academic bodies in the UK and abroad now use the collections. Recent publications on individuals as diverse as an eighteenth century French journalist and a nineteenth century Jewish humanitarian as well as a study of the development of Blackpool as a seaside resort have all used information from our records.
Those researchers would be amongst the 2,000 or more readers who are registered to use the library and archive collections- it’s just as well that they don’t all visit at once!
Library and Museum staff provide an enquiry service for letters and emails and I estimate that we answer over 3000 queries a year. Recently we have assisted the Victoria and Albert Museum identify a Masonic ring, we have helped the Swindon Local Studies Library find out more about the history of an important building in the town- the Mechanics’ Institute, not the Freemasons’ Hall- and we have researched the Masonic career of a Victorian photographer for English Heritage. Over the last ten years we have researched over 15,000 names for family historians.
As well as talks to lodges and chapters, staff have given presentations at conferences organised by the Canonbury Masonic Research Centre and the International Conference on the History of Freemasonry in Edinburgh. Papers have been given to professional and specialist groups including the Decorative Arts Medals Society, the Social History Curators Group, the Families in British India Society, the Halstead Trust Family History conference and to academic conferences in Liverpool, Leiden and Bordeaux.
Material from the collections is lent to other museums and items have been lent recently to the People’s History Museum in Manchester, the Helena Thompson Museum in Workington and to museums in Austria and Corsica.
The loan to the Helena Thompson Museum was organised with the Province of Cumberland and Westmorland as part of their local awareness campaign. Our work with provinces and districts has, over the last two years, focussed on the Historical Records Survey- although I am aware that there were some light hearted local variations in that name. The HRS project aimed to survey the extent and condition of all lodge and chapter records in England and Wales. The 60% or so response rate, which was a fantastic achievement by local co-ordinators and thousands of lodge secretaries and chapter scribes, will ensure that local Masonic history makes a considerable contribution to freemasonry’s tercentenary.
Those lodges and chapters that took part in the survey are able to apply to the Library and Museum for a small grant to help with the conservation of their records. We expect this to be a competitive scheme as we will not have enough funding to meet all the demands but I would encourage all eligible lodges and chapters to have a go. Even a small amount of funding can assist with the purchase of more appropriate boxes or packaging which can really make a difference to improving the way records are kept. Details are available from the Library and Museum or from provincial secretaries
We have also provided support for provinces for their charity festivals and for members’ education.
I wanted to take the opportunity here to mention the work of the Masonic Libraries and Museums Group which is run by representatives of provincial libraries and museums and which Library and Museum staff support. Many of these collections have been featured in Freemasonry Today over the years. Not only do these provincial museums hold items of national interest, many are also significant in terms of the local history of their area. Over the last ten years this group has helped to foster new museums and libraries in several provinces so that the heritage of freemasonry can be preserved at a local level. If you haven’t been to visit your provincial museum recently I think you will be surprised!
As I have mentioned on previous occasions, the Library and Museum has been awarded grants from external sources. This has continued with one recent grant enabling us to establish a properly racked paintings store and another contributing towards the conservation of our world class collection of Old Charges. The next few years will be challenging ones for cultural and heritage bodies as for many other groups and competition for more limited external funding will be intense. We monitor our cost base. The Library and Museum Council regularly reviews the performance of our professionally managed investment portfolio. The profits from the Shop here at Freemasons’ Hall are gift aided to the Library and Museum. Since 2003, the Shop has sold nearly 120,000 books- not all of them written by the Assistant Grand Secretary, more than 90,000 craft ties and 1,247 miniature Masonic teddy bears. Thank you for your support and do keep buying!
The Library and Museum already benefits from the support of Grand Lodge and Grand Chapter, the Friends of the Library and Museum and many individual lodges and chapters. As a registered charity we will be monitoring how the government encourages the development of charitable giving to make sure that we can take full advantage.
We are looking forward to making a major contribution to the Royal Arch bicentenary celebrations in 2013 with an exhibition and of course to the tercentenary in 2017. Before then, and probably along with every other museum and cultural institution in the country, we will be marking the 2012 Olympics in London. Our plans include an exhibition on Freemasonry and Sport which will cover the important role played by leading freemasons in the first London Olympics in 1908 as well as the Masonic involvement of sportsmen generally. We have already made contact with some sportsmen members to see how we can work together but I am always keen to hear about other initiatives and plans. We really would like our exhibition to reflect the personal sporting achievements of individual members.
In his recent interview in The Times the Grand Secretary’s role was described as “explaining the inner workings (of freemasonry) to a largely uncomprehending world”. I like to believe that a desire to comprehend is a factor in attracting more and more visitors to the Library and Museum and that our displays, exhibitions, guided tours and responses to enquiries can all help improve understanding. We in the Library and Museum are very happy to work alongside the Grand Secretary and the membership generally in that common cause.