Speaking volumes

When John Hamill joined Grand Lodge as a librarian  in 1971, he had no idea that  he would go on to create a communications department, driving a policy of openness that has shaped modern  Freemasonry

Can you remember a life before Grand Lodge?

I went off to university to read history and then went into librarianship before very quickly realising that the public library service was not what it used to be. At that time, if you had any sort of ambition, you went into administration, which is the last thing I wanted to do. Fortunately, when I was just about to start my postgraduate training, I saw an advert for a job at Grand Lodge. I came down and was interviewed, and despite the fact that I wasn’t going to be available for another nine months, they decided to appoint me. 

That was in 1971, and I thought that I would probably have an interest for five or six years before moving off to some other sort of research library. But the interest never flagged, and I got hooked. Having said that, I thought I would have a quiet, academic life at the Library and Museum. If anybody had told me then about some of the things that I would be involved in over the next 45-odd years, I would have probably ordered the men in white coats. 

I was the library assistant when I joined. In those days, we had a much smaller staff in the Library and Museum, but I hadn’t realised at the time that it was a very dynastic set-up. The then-librarian and curator was retiring 15 months after I joined, the assistant librarian would be taking over, and they were looking for somebody who was a potential successor to him. I had a wonderful 12 years where I could just open cupboards and drawers, look at files and read up on subjects. Then, in 1983, my mentor retired and I was appointed as the librarian and curator. 

 How did your job evolve in the 1980s?

As things began to change in Freemasonry, particularly changing public attitudes and growing interest by the press, we quickly realised that if we were going to better inform the public about Freemasonry, then the Library and Museum needed to have a key role. We opened up to the public in 1985 and held an exhibition in 1986. We went from being a very small group that maybe saw 7,000 or 8,000 visitors a year to managing about 28,000 to 30,000 visitors a year. 

We are now regarded as a major cultural asset, as we have been roughly on this same site since 1776 – and there has been a reluctance to throw things out. We have probably got the best continuous archive in the country, and that is a huge resource for people who are interested in the history of ideas, social history and cultural history.

‘I’ve been lucky. As a retiree, I can say now that I have been one of those very fortunate people who has been paid a salary for doing a hobby’

Why did the Library and Museum decide to open up to the public?

The publication of The Brotherhood by Stephen Knight in 1984 was a real watershed moment for us. Up to that point, from the start of the Second World War, we had gradually withdrawn from society and didn’t engage with the media. In a sense, we shot ourselves in the foot; we allowed a mythology to grow, which hadn’t really been an issue before in this country. We had a pretty heavy time in the 1980s and right into the 1990s, when we were oftentimes a general whipping boy for the ills of society. 

Because of the fact that I had gone out to communicate on behalf of the library, I suddenly found I was being drawn more into what is now called the Openness Policy, and I was made Grand Lodge spokesman, along with the Grand Secretary, in 1985. My introduction into the world of communication was an interview with John Humphrys, who wanted to interview somebody from Freemasonry on the Today programme. I remember it was at 7:05 in the morning, which is not my best time. I think it was something to do with the police, and I was really pushed into the deep end – there was so much going on at that time. 

Does communicating with the press require a different skill set to that of a historian? 

Yes and no. I was able to communicate as a result of things that happened to me during my life. I attended choir school, where we were taught how to use the voice and how to get as much out of the voice as possible. When I got involved in communications at Grand Lodge, I started to go out talking. It’s not exactly a skill – you can’t learn it. It’s something that you have inside you and that is brought out. When dealing with the media and being a spokesman, I just regarded it as being another way of telling people what we are doing.

In the late 1990s, we had a change of Grand Secretary, and it was an opportunity to do something that hadn’t been done for a couple of generations, which was to look at how the office was structured. I was doing more and more of what I would now call the communications side, and I didn’t want the Library and Museum to suffer. When I was asked if I would formally set up a communications department I said yes, but added that I couldn’t run the Library and Museum as well. 

We advertised for somebody to come in for the position at the Library and Museum, with the title changed to ‘director’. We were fortunate to get Diane Clements, who did a fantastic job establishing the systems as they are now. I set up the communications department and was its director for 10 years from 1999. 

By 2008, we had changed Grand Secretary and I was getting a bit stale in the role. Nigel Brown, who came in as Grand Secretary, had some expertise in communications and took it back into the private office, which I was very happy about.

‘The Pro Grand Master said at the end of 2017 that we have rebuilt confidence and pride in masonry at the grass-roots level over the past 30 years. That is a huge transformation’

What came after the communications department?

I think it was realised that I was an asset, so it was determined that I should have a job that would keep me around for when they needed to tap into my brain. In 2008, I became Director of Special Projects. I basically was the corporate memory at Grand Lodge. It is one of those roles that myself and the Deputy Grand Secretary Graham Redman do. We complement each other – there are areas I don’t know much about and he does, and vice versa. I formally dropped off the paid staff at the end of April, and Graham is continuing, but they’re still going to be benefiting from what’s in my brain after I cease formal employment.

As well as getting involved in whatever projects happen to turn up from time to time, I have been running the Grand Chancellor’s office. I had been involved with the External Relations Committee since the late 1980s and have done a lot of travelling abroad. People very kindly invited me over to talk about masonic groups, so I built up a network of contacts. The Grand Chancellor needed a staff member, so they introduced the office of Assistant Grand Chancellor, of which I was the first. Two years ago, I was promoted to Deputy Grand Chancellor, which I will continue to be, although I won’t be in the office.

As you retire, what state do you feel you’ve left Freemasonry in?

One of the most difficult parts of the Openness Policy, from back in its early days in 1984, was firstly persuading members that they could talk about Freemasonry, and secondly giving them the tools to talk about it. We had been quiet for so long, people had lost the habit of talking about it. There was a huge educational process that had to go on within the organisation to say, ‘yes, it is all right to talk about Freemasonry, but make sure you are sending out the right messages.’

I think the dividends of that approach came through last year in the Tercentenary celebrations – local media and local people were very positive about Freemasonry because members were very happy to talk about it. The Pro Grand Master said at the end of 2017 that we have rebuilt confidence and pride in masonry at the grass-roots level over the past 30 years. That is a huge transformation, and it has been fascinating to be involved in the process. Freemasonry has a far more positive future now than in, say, 1999 or 2000. If you’d asked me then, I would have been fairly pessimistic, but the things that have been done since then have really made a difference.

What is your proudest achievement?

As well as being part of the Openness Policy, I’m most proud of transforming the Library and Museum into a charitable trust, combined with working with academia to rebuild our connections there. I’ve been lucky. As a retiree, I can say now that I have been one of those very fortunate people who has been paid a salary for doing a hobby. I’ve had the most extraordinary opportunities to meet people who I couldn’t imagine meeting in other circumstances. I’ve been able to travel. I’ve made some very good friendships around the world. It’s just been fun.

Published in UGLE

Just getting started

With the Tercentenary celebrations raising awareness and improving perceptions, Pro Grand Master Peter Lowndes believes there has never been a better time to be a Freemason

It has been an enormous privilege to have been Pro Grand Master during the Tercentenary year. At the outset, Provinces and Districts were asked to concentrate on coming up with events in their own jurisdiction that their brethren could join in and enjoy. Dare I say, they all did this in spades, and I include our groups of lodges in that.

Quite rightly, there was often a significant charitable aspect to these events. I should add here that this was greatly enhanced by the imaginative input from the Masonic Charitable Foundation with its multitude of grants across the Provinces. The Rulers and past Rulers have endeavoured to meet your requests and wherever we have been, brethren have looked after us with incredible kindness and generosity. Thank you all so much.

Since our last communication, we have had the Grand Ball and our major celebratory event at the Royal Albert Hall. The events of 29 to 31 October were a resounding success, and I must single out Keith Gilbert and his team for the superb administrative arrangements throughout. Diane Clements and the museum staff managed to collect, catalogue and display the many gifts brought by the 133 Grand Masters from around the world amazingly quickly. These are now all displayed in the museum.

A JOB WELL DONE

Finally, thanks to James Long and his team, who took us all by surprise at the Royal Albert Hall with an amazing and uplifting performance of masonry across the three centuries. The whole London experience was beyond my expectations, and from the comments we have had since, it astounded all our hundreds of visitors from overseas. Well done indeed.

Brethren, has there ever been a better time to be a Freemason? I really believe that during the year we have learned so much about how to talk about our Freemasonry with non-members, helped enormously by the Sky documentary, which has opened our eyes and made the general public more receptive. I would love us to have had more editorial control over the end product, but that would, perhaps, have defeated the object. Nonetheless, I think we can go forward from here with enormous self-belief and pride.

We head now into 2018, continuing the work of the Improvement Delivery Group and capitalising on the great successes of 2017, rewarding those who have worked so hard throughout the year. We will also be remembering the fact that it is 100 years since the end of World War I, after which Freemasons’ Hall was built as the Masonic Peace Memorial to recognise the sacrifice of more than 3,000 English Freemasons who fell in that conflict.

‘I think we can go forward from here with enormous self-belief and pride’

Published in UGLE

The Grand Master, HRH the Duke of Kent, officially opened the Library and Museum of Freemasonry’s newest gallery

Part of UGLE’s Tercentenary celebrations, the ambitious project took several months to complete. 

Among the beautiful treasures on show at the gallery are items belonging to such well-known masons as HRH Prince Augustus Frederick, Duke of Sussex; Sir Winston Churchill; King Edward VIII; circus proprietor Billy Smart; and land speed record-holder Sir Malcolm Campbell.

Located at Freemasons’ Hall, the gallery includes the elaborate, monumental Grand Master’s gilded ceremonial throne, commissioned in 1790 for the Prince of Wales (later King George IV), the second royal prince to be a Grand Master. 

The gallery opens up into a lodge room, where the Grand Master unveiled a new plaque renaming it the Kent Room.

‘The exhibition aims to explain Freemasonry’s values of sociability, inclusivity, charity and integrity, as well as its history and development to the general public,’ said Diane Clements, then director of the Library and Museum. ‘We hope it will also be an enjoyable way for members to explain to friends and potential new members what Freemasonry is all about.’

Published in UGLE
Wednesday, 13 December 2017 10:11

Pro Grand Master's address - December 2017

Quarterly Communication

13 December 2017 
An address by the MW the Pro Grand Master Peter Lowndes

Well Brethren, what a year, and if you are anything like me you are looking forward to putting up your feet over the Festive Season, and actually reconnecting with your family. Having said that it has been an enormous privilege to have been Pro GM during the Tercentenary year and I am sure that the Deputy and Assistant GMs will echo that sentiment in respect of their important contributions.

I do not propose to give you a résumé of the whole year. That would be impossible and you would never get to lunch. At the outset Provinces and Districts were asked to concentrate on coming up with events in their own jurisdiction which their Brethren could join in and enjoy. Dare I say, Brethren, they all did this in spades and I include our Groups of Lodges in that. Quite rightly there was often a significant charitable aspect to these events. I should add here that this was greatly enhanced by the imaginative input from the MCF with their multitude of grants across the Provinces. The Rulers and Past Rulers have endeavoured to meet your requests and you, Brethren, wherever we have been, have looked after us with incredible kindness and generosity, thank you so much.

Since our last Communication, we have had the Grand Ball and our major celebratory event at The Royal Albert Hall, at the end of October. 

The events of the 29th to 31st October were a resounding success and I must congratulate and single out Keith Gilbert and his team for the superb administrative arrangements throughout.  Diane Clements and the Museum staff who managed to collect, catalogue and display the many gifts brought by the 133 Grand Masters from around the world amazingly quickly, I think in under one hour! These are now all displayed in the Museum.  And, finally, to James Long and his team who took us all by surprise at the Royal Albert Hall with an amazing and uplifting performance of Masonry across the three Centuries. The whole “London” experience was way beyond, certainly, my expectations and from the comments we have had since, it all simply astounded our hundreds of visitors from overseas. Well done indeed.

Brethren, has there ever been a better time to be a Freemason. I really believe that during the year we have learned so much about how to talk about our Freemasonry with non-members, helped enormously by the Sky Documentary which has opened our eyes and made the general public more receptive. I would love us to have had more editorial control over the end product, but that would, perhaps, have defeated the object. Nonetheless I think we can go forward from here with enormous self belief and pride

We look forward now to 2018, continuing the work of the Improvement Delivery Group and capitalising on the successes of this year, rewarding those who have worked so hard throughout the current year at our March Communications and remembering the fact that it is 100 years since the end of WW1 after which this magnificent building was built as the Masonic Peace Memorial to recognise the sacrifice of over 3,000 English Freemasons who fell in that war.

Brethren, thank you for all your endeavours this year and I wish you a most enjoyable and relaxing Christmas with your families and send you all my good wishes for 2018.

Published in Speeches

The Library and Museum of Freemasonry is pleased to welcome Dr Vicky Carroll as its new Director

Carroll, who started at the end of November, replaces Diane Clements when she retires in December. Carroll has most recently been working for the City of London Corporation as the Principal Curator of Keats House in Hampstead and as the Head of the Guildhall Art Gallery.

She has also managed London’s William Morris Gallery in Walthamstow, leading the delivery of its Heritage Lottery Fund-assisted redevelopment in 2011-13.

‘I am looking forward to this new challenge, building on the recent successful re-display of these wonderful Designated collections so that we can engage with an ever-wider audience,’ Carroll said.

Published in UGLE

Grand Masters from around the world come bearing gifts

When Grand Masters from around the world came to Freemasons’ Hall as part of the United Grand Lodge of England’s Tercentenary celebrations last week, many of them also came bearing gifts

Around 90 gifts were presented to the UGLE’s Grand Master, HRH The Duke of Kent, who spent time inspecting this wonderful selection which ranged from a ceremonial sword and bronze stag, through to a collection of Russian dolls depicting the Grand Master himself.

The gifts have now been put on display in The Library and Museum of Freemasonry for anyone who visits Freemasons’ Hall to see.

As you can see from the gallery at the top, the array of thoughtful gifts was vast.

Published in UGLE

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

On the  home  front

The sacrifices made by Freemasons during World War I came on every scale, from those fighting overseas and those who remained in England, as Diane Clements explains

By the early 1900s, many lodges met in purpose-built properties and others converted for use as masonic halls. But with the 1914 Defence of the Realm Act allowing the government to commandeer economic resources such as property for the war effort, several of these were requisitioned for military use.

Built in 1911, Wivenhoe Masonic Hall in Essex was requisitioned for an Army School of Instruction and subsequently for a ‘wet canteen’ – a catering facility that served alcohol. The newly built hall at Frinton-on-Sea was requisitioned in 1914 and never returned to masonic ownership. After the war, it became Frinton War Memorial Club and was dedicated to returning ex-servicemen.

On the outbreak of war, Lodge of Faith and Unanimity, No. 417, in Dorchester immediately gave its hall to Dorset County Hospital for use by wounded soldiers and met elsewhere. In May 1915, the lodge protested at its premises being used for ‘contagious and infectious diseases, or for enemy aliens’ and held the hospital accountable for ‘disinfecting, re-decorating, and rendering the Lodge’. It was, however, able to return to its hall in January 1918, with £100 spent on making it habitable.

In Brighton, several lodges met at the Royal Pavilion. From late 1914, however, this was used firstly as a military hospital for Indian soldiers, then as the Pavilion General Hospital for limbless men. During this time, the lodges had to find alternative meeting places.

In Chelmsford, Springfield Lodge, No. 3183, met in the church hall, and when this was requisitioned in 1917, it had dispensation to meet in the local prison. Other lodges continued to meet in local public buildings or in hotels and inns.

At the beginning of the war, three London lodges were meeting at the prestigious De Keyser’s Royal Hotel on the Victoria Embankment near Blackfriars Bridge. In September 1915, City Livery Lodge, No. 3752, was consecrated and held its first few meetings there. The hotel was run by Sir Polydore de Keyser, originally from Belgium but long established in London, where he had been Lord Mayor in 1887.

As it was popular with overseas businessmen, the Royal Hotel’s fortunes collapsed during the war. In May 1916, it became one of many sites in London requisitioned for use by the War Office, in this case by the Directorate of Military Aeronautics. Meanwhile, the three London lodges all had to find alternative meeting places, with several of them using Freemasons’ Hall in Great Queen Street for at least the remainder of the war. The dispute between the government and the hotel’s owners about compensation later became a noted case in constitutional law.

RAIDS TO THE EAST

On 16 December 1914, the German Navy attacked three seaside towns: Scarborough, Hartlepool and Whitby. The attack resulted in 137 fatalities and 592 casualties, many of whom were civilians. Old Globe Lodge, No. 200, was meeting as usual that evening in Scarborough but its minutes made no mention of the raid. The masonic hall in Hartlepool was slightly damaged during the raid but remained in use.

Towns on the east coast continued to be subject to bombardment and from 1915 were attacked by rigid airships or Zeppelins. Springfield Lodge, No. 3183, in Chelmsford took the precaution of paying three shillings to insure the lodge furniture against damage caused by hostile aircraft.

The heavy air raids could be heard at the Royal Masonic School for Girls at Clapham. During air raids, the girls were summoned down to the basement by the fire bell, taking their blankets and pillows with them. The girls particularly complained about Zeppelin raids on Sunday mornings. The combatants ‘evidently know that on that day we have an extra half-hour in bed, and seem very anxious to deprive us of it,’ wrote one pupil. The school laundry’s windows were guarded with blinds to prevent glass damage but the building was hit by anti-aircraft fire in 1917, with a subsequent claim for damage amounting to £4 18s.

‘By the self-sacrifice… of our people at home quite as much by the great sacrifices… by our gallant soldiers in the trenches’ Viscount Rhondda, Freemason in South Wales and Minister of Food Control, June 1917-July 1918

FOOD RATIONING

At the outbreak of war, Grand Lodge had urged restraint in lodge meetings and in dining arrangements at Festive Boards after lodge meetings. The Grand Master set an example by not wearing evening dress at masonic functions and many lodges began to dine much more simply.

In January 1917, the German government announced its intention to use unrestricted submarine warfare. Britain began to face problems with its food supply and David Alfred Thomas, Viscount Rhondda, an industrialist and Freemason in South Wales, became Minister of Food Control in June 1917. Food rationing was introduced in January 1918, beginning with sugar and then meat. A subsequent Grand Lodge circular to all lodges advocated strict economy in the consumption of food.

As Lord Rhondda explained at the time, the war was going to be won ‘by the self-sacrifice… of our people at home quite as much by the great sacrifices… by our gallant soldiers in the trenches’.

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.

'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
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