With visitors invited to explore Freemasons’ Hall, director of the Library and Museum Diane Clements explains to Caitlin Davies how this is leading to greater transparency

Covent Garden is one of London’s tourist hot spots and this sunny Saturday in September is no exception. The area is crowded with people sightseeing, shopping and visiting bars. But at the end of Long Acre, where it meets the corner of Great Queen Street, is another city attraction altogether. It’s a large, almost monumental, stone building with little to identify its purpose to those who don’t know.

Come a little closer, however, and a plaque states it was opened in 1933 by Field Marshall HRH The Duke of Connaught, Knight of the Garter and Most Worshipful Grand Master. This is Freemasons’ Hall and today it sports a welcoming sign as part of the annual celebration of the capital’s architecture – ‘Open House London’. Now in its twentieth year, the scheme has seven hundred and fifty buildings opening their doors for free, from iconic landmarks to private homes. A steady stream of people head through the Tower entrance to Freemasons’ Hall, where a steward hands out a leaflet. ‘Welcome to Freemasons’ Hall,’ he says. ‘It’s a self-guided tour.’ ‘People often walk or cycle past and have never been in,’ says Diane Clements, who is overseeing today’s proceedings and is director of the Library and Museum of Freemasonry. ‘People don’t know what they’re going to see – there is a sense of amazement when they get inside, the building is far more elaborate than you might think. The fact that they can come in shows how open we are and helps address misconceptions about Freemasonry.’ Diane has run the Library and Museum for thirteen years, and relishes the opportunity to work with a world-class collection of objects that have interesting stories to tell. ‘The public has a continuing desire to learn about Freemasonry. I’d like to think the Library and Museum has played a part in improving their understanding.’

Wandering at will

Each year thirty thousand people visit the Library and Museum, and most come for organised tours of the Grand Temple. Freemasons’ Hall has taken part in Open House London since 2000 and the logistics of running the event are considerable. ‘For Open House we couldn’t get enough people through the doors using our usual guided method,’ explains Diane, ‘so it’s the only time you are basically given a leaflet and left to look around.’ Her role is to make sure that the two thousand, five hundred visitors on Open Day have ‘an enjoyable and informative visit’, and over the years she’s learnt to always ‘wear comfortable shoes’.

On the right of the cloakroom a sign shows visitors where to start, then there’s a murmur of voices and creaking of knees as people go up the stairs. The building has a library feel to it, but this changes in the first vestibule, which is flooded with glorious yellow light reflected from the stained glass windows. A man crouches to take a picture of a small golden figure, part of the shrine designed by Walter Gilbert. Meanwhile, a woman from West Sussex says she wasn’t sure what to expect: ‘My dad is in a lodge and I always thought he just meant he went to a room somewhere. But it’s fantastic. It’s really beautiful.’ Another visitor, Dermot, just happened to walk past this afternoon. And what did he imagine was inside? ‘That’s the thing,’ he replies, ‘I didn’t know what to expect.’ For a lot of people it is curiosity that has brought them here today.

Fielding questions

‘All our buildings are chosen for the quality of their architecture, that’s our criteria,’ explains Victoria Thornton, director of Open-City, which runs Open House London. ‘Some, like Freemasons’ Hall, may have a quiet façade, behind which lies real exuberance.’

In the second vestibule, steward Peter Martin is presiding over a table of free literature and says the event is even busier than last year. Eric from Kent has been to several Open House events today. ‘I started at Lloyds and worked my way along Fleet Street. I’ve seen Unilever and Doctor Johnson’s house… the stained glass is awesome here.’

The question of gender is a popular one. In the third vestibule a woman asks a steward if only men can join Freemasonry. He explains women can join one of two Grand Lodges in England, but they are not allowed in the men’s Grand Temple, and vice versa.

In the Grand Temple there are fold-down seats like a theatre and it’s here that many visitors take the opportunity for a rest. Voices are respectfully hushed. ‘It is contemplative,’ says Diane. ‘There’s never a huge noise in here. It’s not like the Sistine Chapel – we don’t have to say “Quiet please.”’ One steward answers a barrage of questions about rituals and pledges. ‘Is it true the Queen is a Freemason?’ asks one visitor. The answer is no.

An outside walkway leads to the Library and Museum where an exhibition traces the relationship between Freemasonry and sport. The tour ends at the exit on Great Queen Street, where members arrive for their lodge meetings and are watched with interest by departing visitors, one of whom takes a final snap.

Published in Features
Friday, 14 December 2012 00:00

Turning heads

Turning heads

Twice a year, Freemasons’ Hall plays host to shows for London Fashion Week, with press from around the world in attendance. Ellie Fazan finds out what happens when fashion and Freemasonry come together

Visitors to Freemasons’ Hall on London’s Great Queen Street are being greeted by a stylish young woman bedecked in a studded leather jacket. With a clipboard in one hand and wristbands in the other, she is very much in charge.

Upstairs in one of the 21 lodge rooms, frantic preparations are under way for design duo Leutton Postle’s Spring/Summer 2013 show. It is not a scene you would expect to find in Freemasons’ Hall: there is an impossibly tall model having her make-up done wearing nothing but underwear and sparkly high heels, while a team of assistants hurriedly make final adjustments to various hairstyles and outfits.

In the midst of it all, two young women are trying to control the chaos. They are Jen and Sam, otherwise known as Leutton Postle, and this is their third show at Freemasons’ Hall. Their work is being showcased by Vauxhall Fashion Scout – an initiative that offers young designers a space to show their collections. ‘Hello, we’d love to stop and say hi but…’ Before they can finish, they are swept away in a sea of assistants.

‘The building hosts such a vibrant and eclectic mix of people... but it still maintains the elegance of the purposes it was built for’ Karen Haigh

The frenzied atmosphere permeates the room. The majestic corridors are full to the brim with brightly coloured clothes, with fun oversized collars, playful patchwork and lots of glitter. A photographer is shooting a catalogue for the designers today, and has set up a makeshift studio in the cleaning cupboard. Meanwhile, the cleaning lady leans on her mop looking unfazed. She watches on while the call ‘Girls in shoes please’ sends everyone into a panic.

Start the show

Outside Freemasons’ Hall, the fashion crowd is queuing around the block: it’s one of the most anticipated shows of the season, and the designers here are the ones to watch. The Temple vestibule starts to fill with guests, and techno music begins to blast. The clothes are the main attraction – big, bold and attention grabbing – but they don’t detract from the space. Three models at a time appear in the three carved archways before taking to the perfectly polished floor. The contrast between the futuristic collection and the stately, solid building is powerful.

One of the finest Art Deco buildings in England, Freemasons’ Hall has been available for use as a location for television productions and photoshoots for more than a decade. ‘One of the location managers I’d worked with on a film project asked if we hired the venue to outside events such as fashion. We hadn’t before, but I just said yes,’ remembers Karen Haigh, UGLE Head of Events. ‘That led to us piloting the first London Fashion Week shows for Vauxhall Fashion Scout in 2009. All events are special in their own way, but working twice a year with Vauxhall Fashion Scout has become part of the venue. It’s bigger than ever now and it has been wonderful to see it develop each year. It’s like being a parent!’

Offering an opportunity

Freemasons’ Hall is an integral part of London Fashion Week, placing it alongside Somerset House as one of the most important events spaces in the capital, hosting the most cutting-edge shows. The designers here are the ones to look out for. This year fashion’s punk princess Pam Hogg showed, with celebrities and fashion editors alike coming to watch.

For Karen Haigh it’s an exciting time, with no friction between the long-term residents and the temporary inhabitants. ‘The building hosts such a vibrant and eclectic mix of people during this time, but it still maintains the elegance of the purposes it was built for. It really makes me smile when members come into the building during that period and can’t hide their surprise at some of the outfits on display!’

Vauxhall Fashion Scout is helping young people in their chosen fields – one of Freemasonry’s founding principles. Hand in hand they are offering young designers a space. Sam and Jen agree. ‘We couldn’t do this without their support,’ the pair say. ‘It means that as designers we can grow. We’ve learnt so much since last year.’ And what do they think of the building? ‘It’s intense! Even though we have permission to be here, it’s so awe-inspiring it makes us want to run around here at night!’

Published in Features

Kent reopening for Library and Museum

The Kent Masonic Library and Museum Trust has been reopened by Geoffrey Dearing, Provincial Grand Master for East Kent, after an extensive 18-month redevelopment

Located in the heart of Canterbury, in St Peter’s Place, just a five-minute stroll from the 11th-century cathedral, the museum was originally opened in 1933, and has probably the finest collection of masonic material in the UK outside London.

As well as masonic paintings, glassware and porcelain, the displays include unique 19th-century stained-glass windows that originally adorned the old Freemasons’ Hall in London. The solid oak entrance doors came from St Mary’s College, part of the Jesuit Monastery in Hales Place, Canterbury, which was demolished at the same time as the museum was being designed by its architect, Brother FG Haywood of Market Square, Dover.

The first change evident to visitors is a striking new entrance in St Peter’s Place that catches the eye of the thousands of passers-by. The building is open daily from 10am to 4pm and is wheelchair accessible. Entry is free of charge, with donations welcome.

From building staircases and painting intricate floral plasterwork through to restoring corridors to their former glory, Stan, Damien and Stuart are part of a devoted team of craftsmen at Freemasons’ Hall who ensure that the building is preserved in all of its Art Deco grandeur. Luke Turton reports

Stan Johnstone gazes at the exquisitely polished doorways and columns that frame the Processional Corridor in London’s Freemasons’ Hall. ‘Everyone said I was mad when I did this – it was in a terrible state and had never been polished,’ he says with a mixture of pride and relief as he recalls the amount of effort he had to put into the job. ‘I was on my own and it took three months but it’s a lovely building and I’ve always tried to do the job that I believe it deserves.’

Stan is a French polisher and is part of a team of professionals who keep Freemasons’ Hall looking as pristine as it did when it was built 80 years ago. Not just the heart of the United Grand Lodge of England, the hall is a heritage site in itself. As well as being one of London’s most beloved landmarks, the Great Queen Street building is one of the finest Art Deco monuments in the country, and its operations team has the tricky task of keeping it in tip-top shape.

‘The upkeep of the building means looking after its structure and its parts, as well as keeping it up to date with current legislation,’ explains Roger Carter, Director of Special Projects (Technical) at Freemasons’ Hall. ‘It has individual requirements and we have specialist skills that would be difficult to obtain in normal circumstances. We have more than enough work here to keep these skilled craftsmen working full time.’

Freemasons’ Hall has invested a lot in its crop of craftsmen and is home to electricians, heating engineers, plumbers, painters and an upholsterer. ‘All of these people do things that require more than what would be expected of an ordinary builder,’ Roger says, pointing to the carpenters at the hall who, while more than capable of making standard repairs to the woodwork of the building, are also able to create new things – from furniture through to structural features.


‘We repair all of the masonic furniture; there are lots of original chairs that have been here since the 1930s. The joints dry out because they used animal glue and the tendons snap. Then you get project work like the goods entrance on the ground floor. We built that from scratch,’ says carpenter Damien Nolan of the impressive access entrance that seamlessly blends in with the rest of the hall. ‘I also made the staircase cladding for the masonic charities, it was one of the first jobs I did. There was nothing there before and it all came from my head – there were no drawings and then I built it.’

While Damien will deploy modern carpentry techniques where the work will be hidden, old methods and materials will be used for anything visible, for example using old flat head screws rather than their contemporary equivalent. ‘When you’re repairing something old, you’re putting it back to the way it was, there’s no modern method of restoring it. If I have a broken scroll-arm chair, I’ve got to fit a new bit that will make it look like the original. That’s a lot of work cutting the piece out and matching the grain.’

Stuart Alloway has worked for five years as a painter at Freemasons’ Hall. With highly detailed, decorative paintwork throughout the building, Stuart admits to initially finding his job a little intimidating. ‘It was the first historical building that I’d worked on but getting up close, it wasn’t as daunting as I’d feared. It was quite a challenge but when I looked back at it a year later I thought it looked really good. To be part of that and to put your own stamp on it is a nice feeling – it’s a little bit of a buzz.’

Standing in the Prince Regent Room, Stuart peers up at the intricate floral plasterwork that patterns the ceiling. ‘We’re due to decorate this room at the end of the month and we’ve been given five weeks. Even with three of us in the painting team, that’s a lot of neck and back ache but I like it,’ he says. ‘I go back and look at the jobs I’ve done and have a good feeling. We’ve recently talked over a five-year plan that will touch all parts of the building. They’re looking for us to do it all in time for the tricentenary in 2017. It’s going to be a very busy period for us, but it’s good to be working.’

Freemasons’ Hall is particularly proud of its French polishers who employ an intensive technique that achieves a high shine and finish on wood. ‘These skills are very hard to obtain,’ says Roger Carter. ‘Our French polishers are highly skilled – one’s a real artist – and we’ve had contractors in who haven’t always produced the standard we expect.’


The artist Roger is no doubt referring to is Stan Johnstone, who is retiring next year after working at the hall for 12 years. His trolley is filled with different shades of shellac, from a deep garnet through orange to pale yellow, which he can apply to wood using a rubbing pad lubricated with oil. Stan is passing his knowledge onto his replacement Michael as he makes his way methodically around the corridors, lodges and meeting rooms that make up the hall, repairing 
and maintaining its surfaces as he goes.

‘Polishing is all about colouring and you can’t get it out of a can. Whatever colour we use, we create ourselves. When we do repairs, a lot of it is about getting that colour so you lose the scratch. The wood soaks up the oils and you’re building it up in order to get the shine,’ explains Stan. ‘We take pride in it and I’ve enjoyed my time here. When I arrived it was in a bit of a state and the lodge rooms still need a bit of work, but what we’re trying to do is to bring the building back to its former glory. I hope what I’m passing on is a craft.’

Letters to the editor - No. 20 Winter 2012


Running out of time




I refer to your article ‘Keeping Up Appearances’ in the autumn issue. It gave real insight into the interior of Grand Lodge and the way it is being preserved and returned to its original condition. As I read the article I thought how different it is to the building I have attended for the past 45 years. Our temple is almost 200 years old and in a very bad state of repair, with water, roof and ceiling damage and quotations out of our range. The two lodges that meet there have only raised about half the cost for one small roof repair. The cold, unsatisfactory environment means some brethren will not attend and there is a subsequent loss of dues and charities. I fear that without help in five years’ time both lodges will cease to exist and the Craft will be left with a derelict building. I am sure we are not alone, yet letting lodges fail is killing the goose that lays the golden egg and we need help before it is too late.

Peter Brake, Castlemartin Lodge, No. 1748, Pembroke Dock, Pembrokeshire



Published in Features
Wednesday, 13 June 2012 01:00

exploration party

Hundreds of young people descended on Freemasons’ Hall when it hosted the launch party of a kids’ TV show set in an English boarding school. Anneke Hak reports

It’s a balmy spring day and for anyone enjoying the sunshine near Great Queen Street, a sense of intrigue must surely have caught them. For, snaking around the corner of the Freemasons’ Hall front entrance, is a queue of young children and their parents, hundreds long. Some have been there for hours, others have made their way to Covent Garden from as far afield as Chester, and they are all here for one thing: the launch of Season Two of a teen-mystery series called House Of Anubis that will air on the Nickelodeon television channel.

In the grand building, through the Tower entrance on the corner of Wild Street, stands a man dressed in long black robes, with thick eyeliner framing his eyes and completing his Egyptian god get-up. Photos are taken and the children are given orders to pass up the stairs and try to unlock the secrets to the temple. Some children quake with fear as loud, doom-laden music blasts through the stone building, others take it in their stride, keen to get going on their quest.

‘This kind of looks like a church, it’s so cool!’ one child exclaims. He’s right. Freemasons’ Hall couldn’t have been a better location for the party – its high ceilings, temple-like atmosphere and brilliant ambience fit perfectly with the show’s theme about children at an English boarding school who discover hidden mysteries and House Of Anubis’s secrets.

Running up the stairs, the children head eagerly towards the first section of the temple, where they receive the riddle sheets they must complete to gain the sacred access. Two figures dressed in black robes explain the rules. ‘We’re actually Egyptian cult followers of the fearful brother Eden,’ the gentleman tells me, staying in character and refusing to divulge his real name. ‘We are in charge of making sure that only the very wise can enter the inner sanctum of the Temple of Anubis’, he explains, adding ‘We’ve set them a series of difficult challenges, and I don’t think all of them will make it through. Those who don’t will, of course, be sacrificed. Or else they’ll probably just have to leave.’ After this gruesome revelation the cult follower did come out of character long enough to confide, ‘I didn’t even realise non-Freemasons were allowed in. I mean, there’s a gift shop. It’s not what you imagine Freemasonry to be, is it?’

It really isn’t. A lot of work has gone into the event, which includes popcorn stalls, magicians, themed characters from the show and, of course, a dress rehearsal. ‘It’s funny,’ laughs the robed one, ‘because when we were rehearsing, we were told to take our cloaks off as there was a guided tour coming through and they were worried that the tour group would believe all the silly conspiracy theories that Freemasonry was some sort of cult, which this event being held here today disproves.’

science and riddles

As the children march around looking for the next answer, riddle sheets in hand, it becomes clear that not all of the answers are obvious and some are even hidden. On entering one room, I come face to face with a herd of children huddled around what looks like a science experiment as they try and guess how long it will take a piece of metal spinning on glass to stop – will it be shorter or longer than the time it takes to stop on wood? I leave, not confident about my GCSE physics, and bump into another Egyptian Cult Follower in the Hall.

‘I used to fly but now I’m stuck on the ground, black as night in the caretaker’s office I can be found! What am I?’ he crows. Yet again completely stumped, I move on swiftly. That’s the delightful thing about these riddles: you need to be a big House Of Anubis Season One fan to understand them, and therefore gain entrance to the main temple, where House Of Anubis Season Two’s first episode will be screened at 4pm.

A crowd gathers outside the hall, and I ask a few of the children about the fun they’ve been having while we wait. ‘We’ve had a great time,’ says Millie, aged seven. ‘The best bit has been meeting Jamie and Hannah from the show, who were walking around too. We got to speak with them!’

‘I like the mystery of today. I’m kind of good at solving the riddles,’ says Kerry, who is nine. ‘We’ve got all the clues today. Meeting all the famous people has been great – we’ve had our picture taken with Heather from EastEnders.’

well-known faces

Of course, this wouldn’t be a launch event without some well-known faces, and soap actors can be seen flitting around with family and friends. I stop to have a chat with Patsy Palmer, who plays EastEnders’ Bianca. ‘I know nothing about House Of Anubis, you’ll have to ask my children,’ she laughs as they run up to tell her about what they’ve seen. ‘This place is pretty impressive though.’

Finally the clock strikes four and the doors open. We all lurch forward, keen to get a look inside the Grand Temple. I find a seat behind eight-year-old Ryan. ‘I’m really brave, so the building hasn’t been that spooky,’ he tells me. ‘But I thought it would be a bit smaller than this – this is probably the biggest room I’ve ever been in!’

It’s also the first time a screening has been held inside the Grand Temple. Head of Events at Freemasons’ Hall Karen Haigh tells me that the venue is well prepared for the influx of hundreds of young people into the building. ‘Nothing’s going to go wrong,’ she smiles. ‘We’ve checked and double-checked everything – and it’s great to be able to hold new kinds of events. Especially ones like this, which the kids enjoy so much.’

The characters from the show are introduced to screams of applause as they gather on stage to answer questions from a compere, and the audience buzzes with anticipation of what is to come. It’s time for the lights to go down and a hush instantly falls over the 1,400 crowd of young children, teenagers and parents. The premiere of Season Two of House Of Anubis begins and another event at Freemasons’ Hall can be claimed a roaring success.

Published in Features
Wednesday, 13 June 2012 01:00

Built to last

John Hamill looks back on the construction of Freemasons’ Hall from the perspective of those who worked there

Despite the economic problems, the 1920s was a period of great expansion for Freemasonry. It appealed to those coming back from the war – both as a means of continuing the camaraderie they had experienced on active service and giving them a sense of stability and tradition in a much changed world.

With the growing popularity of Freemasonry, the great project of building the present Freemasons’ Hall in London was undertaken as a memorial to those who had given their lives in the First World War. Changes of this magnitude and the increased work in raising money for the new building put enormous strains on the small office run by the Grand Secretary.

In 1919, the office consisted of the Grand Secretary, Assistant Grand Secretary, sixteen permanent clerks, four junior clerks and two ‘lady typewriters’, Miss Haig and Miss Winter. The two ladies had come in towards the end of the war as temporaries but were to spend the remainder of their careers in the Hall as secretaries to the Grand Secretary and his assistant.

The daily running of the building and the letting of lodge and committee rooms was under the charge of the Grand Tyler, who lived in the hall. He had an assistant, two porters, a night watchman, a ‘furnace man’ who looked after the primitive heating system and the open fires in the offices and committee rooms, and a floating number of cleaners.

Six of the boys taken on between 1925 and 1929 – some of whom came directly from the old Royal Masonic School for Boys – were each to spend forty-nine years in the service of the Grand Lodge: Gerry Winslade, Harold Brunton, Llew Hodges, Bill Browne, Derek Chanter and Bob Hawkins.

Dickensian is probably an overused adjective, but it aptly describes the conditions under which the clerks worked. Freemasons’ Hall had been extended in the 1860s and what were termed commodious offices had been provided for the Grand Secretary and his clerks. Even the provision in 1906 of two new rooms in a house attached to the west end of the old Hall did little to give proper working space.

As the steel work for the new building began to rise in 1927 it gradually became apparent that much would have to change in the future. It was to cover two and one quarter acres with four principal floors, a large basement area and mezzanine floors in various parts of the building. Routine maintenance would be of ‘Forth Bridge’ proportions, to say nothing of security.

Not surprisingly, many of those who had been involved in raising the building applied for jobs and spent the rest of their working lives caring for it, some of them working into their mid-seventies. Carpentry, electrical and engineering workshops were set up in the basement, together with a paint shop and upholstery department. When the time came to demolish the Victorian Hall, the office was transferred to temporary accommodation in what was to be one of the new lodge rooms so that the administration could continue. The conditions were far from ideal but they knew that before long they would be moving to what one of the clerks described as a ‘demi-paradise’.

The new office for the clerks was built in the undercroft of the Grand Temple and matched it in size. Unlike the Grand Temple, it had enormous windows allowing much natural light to come in from the light well which surrounds it. Unlike the cramped Victorian offices, it was open plan giving a great feeling of airy lightness and space. Visitors came in through large glazed bronze doors to find a long enquiries counter, always manned by a senior clerk who could deal with their enquiries or quickly fetch the appropriate clerk who dealt with the particular matter. While waiting to be served, the visitor had a view over the whole of the office.

At the back of the room was a mezzanine floor where the cashier and his clerks had their office. The sensitive nature of their work dealing with Grand Lodge finances and staff payroll was carried out without any fear of being overlooked by staff or visitors. In those halcyon days it was the only part of the office where the doors had locks, the rest of the office was always accessible even when the clerks had left for the evening.

In time, as the Craft continued to expand – particularly after the Second World War – the office again became crowded. In addition, areas had been partitioned off to provide small offices for individuals and the whole open-plan design had been submerged. When a major structural reorganisation of the Grand Secretary’s office took place in 1999 the old partitions were torn down and the feeling of light and space returned. Apart from the modern furniture and the computers, were one of the 1932 clerks to return to the office today they would find it little changed from that ‘demi-paradise’ they were the first to occupy.

Published in Features
Wednesday, 13 June 2012 01:00

Arthur adds colour

Freemasons’ Hall is one of London’s landmark buildings and, as part of the process of maintaining it, there are a small number of highly skilled artisans working there.

The skill base is maintained partly by recruiting junior craftsmen and training them to a level not usually found elsewhere.

A recent recruit as a junior painter is Arthur Smith. He is just 18 and last year started an NVQ course at Lambeth College in Painting and Decorating. He has done so well that he was asked by the college, as part of their Ofsted inspection, to allow the inspector to visit him during his work at Freemasons’ Hall. With Arthur about to progress to the second year, the college is now considering entering him into various local, national and European skills competitions.

Published in More News

Annual General Meeting of The Freemasons' Grand Charity 

13 June 2012 
An address by the President of the Grand Charity, Richard Hone, QC, and the Chief Executive, Laura Chapman 

President (Richard Hone, QC):

Deputy Grand President and members, welcome to what for the Grand Charity is its 32nd Annual General Meeting, and which is my first as President, after serving nine years on the Council between 1997 and 2006. I want to start by paying tribute to the work of my predecessor, Grahame Elliott, who in his six years of office saw the 25th and 30th anniversaries of the founding of The Grand Charity. It is really the man himself I want to praise because he presented such a genial and friendly face of the Charity that will long be remembered, especially by the Provinces, which he often visited. Like all good leaders, he does have his idiosyncrasies and his ability to go off script is unrivalled, but we loved him for it. Perhaps most importantly, he played a key role in moving the four charities in to a single office space in Freemasons’ Hall which has created a sea change of mutual co-operation between our four charities, upon which it will be my happy task to build. On behalf of the Council of the Grand Charity and the staff for whom he cared so deeply, I extend our warmest good wishes to Grahame Elliott in his retirement. He is a hard act to follow but it is reassuring to know that he remains part of the team as a Past President.

I have mentioned the move of all four charities in to the new purpose built offices here at Freemasons’ Hall. The physical proximity means that it is much easier for inter-communication – we are after all in the same business – organising Masonic charity from cradle to grave. One of the most striking things I have noticed since my return to Grand Charity last year, has been the inauguration of Freemasonry Cares as a form of umbrella for all four charities. Yes, Freemasons really do care, and the way in which we care is exemplified by the Royal Masonic Institution for Girls and Boys, by the Masonic Samaritan Fund, the Royal Masonic Benevolent Institution and The Grand Charity. The four Presidents now meet regularly and I am particularly excited that over the next five years, over which I hope to serve as President of the Grand Charity, we foresee a culmination of co-operation, the integration of some of our common services under Freemasonry Cares, as well as cross fertilisation of resources and more joined-up thinking about what we are doing. What is fundamental is to maintain the individual identities of the Charities and the proud traditions of the existing institutions built up over nearly 300 years, but to make sure that the excellent work that we do is delivered more efficiently and without duplication. This on-going process has been enormously promoted by the truly fraternal co-operation between the four Presidents and, most importantly, their chief executives, so you may be assured, it is a consensual exercise, promoted by working together in one location. I am not a great one for slogans – the day job rather puts a stop to that – but what I do want to promote is a sense that Masonic charity as a whole is a terrific force for good. We should all draw strength from that and make sure the public properly understands the good we do. Masonic charity represents over £20 million a year. My task as President of the Grand Charity is to ask continuously: how can we make it even better? I for one shall never forget that, important as London is, our heartland is in the provinces. One only has to look at the recent Grand Charity Festivals in Essex and South Wales to see where our greatest support lies. We must never forget the provinces.

The past year has once again been good for the Charity. The cost of Masonic grants to individuals and families for their daily living costs, amounted to £5.3m. Grants to non-Masonic charities have continued to be given in a way that we all hope everyone approves. I am particularly pleased that the non-Masonic grants in 2011 reached nearly £3m. This is what we must build on, to dispel the myth that Freemasons exist only to look after our own. I repeat the refrain: We are a terrific force for good. One of my tasks as President is to ensure that every member should feel a real sense of pride in the fantastic support we give to national charities and also to emergency grants for international relief where we are acknowledged to be leaders in the field: “He who gives quickly gives twice” was an aphorism of one early Grand Master. It was good to read that we are strongly commended in the recent report entitled: The Future of Freemasonry.

We are most grateful to Grand Lodge for allowing us to hold our Annual General Meeting during this Quarterly Communication. I sense there is a real enthusiasm for the work of the Grand Charity and in spite of these really difficult economic times, involving real family hardship, the report for last year shows that I take over a Charity in a good state. Long may that flourish. I am sure that we were all enthused by the marvellous events of the Diamond Jubilee with the concepts of dedication and service to others which resonate so strongly with Freemasonry and our unwavering support of the Grand Master and Her Majesty the Queen. That is why I am so pleased that we are giving support to the Prince’s Trust. I look forward to reporting an even better year in 2013.

Item 3 on the Agenda concerns the 25 non-Masonic Grants set out on pages 7 to 12, but before seeking their approval, I should like, with your permission Deputy Grand President, to ask Laura Chapman, the Charity’s Chief Executive to say a few words.

Chief Executive (Laura Chapman):

Deputy Grand President and members – As the President has just emphasized, Freemasonry is a terrific force for good and that is nowhere more evident than in the grants that the Grand Charity gives to national charities. The decisions on which charities to support are easy for the Council to make because they are driven by the views of the Craft on the causes you want to support and the impact you wish to achieve.

Masons are very clear that you wish to support people in need, who are vulnerable and coping with terminal illness, disability and frailty or who are excluded from participating fully in society because of ill health or disadvantage. You want your charitable support to be given to people, not to animals, the environment or the arts.
And, not surprisingly as many of you are businessmen, professionals or simply careful with your pennies, you want your charitable investment to make a maximum return both for the individuals concerned and for society as a whole, by helping those ‘at risk’ to help themselves rather than becoming dependant on the state for long term welfare support.

Of those at risk, unemployed youth, now nearly 22% of 15 to 22 year olds in the UK are particularly vulnerable. Disproportionately represented in this group are some of the most disadvantaged and excluded young people in this country, who, even in the most prosperous economies, are less likely to find employment.
Presented for your approval today is a grant for £250,000 to the Prince’s Trust to help address the crisis of youth unemployment. His Royal Highness The Prince of Wales set up The Prince’s Trust in 1976 and today it is one of the UK’s leading charities in supporting young people who face the greatest challenges to become financially and socially independent.

The Grand Charity’s quarter of a million pound grant will fund projects to help these young people to find sustainable employment or re-engage with education. Five thousand pounds of this grant will be distributed to each of the 47 Masonic Provinces and the Metropolitan Grand Lodge of London to present for the relevant project in their area, thereby creating local publicity for Masonic charitable giving.

The Council of the Grand Charity is especially pleased in this year of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee to be able to recommend a grant that is so closely associated with the work of the Royal Family and embodies so faithfully the force for good that is Freemasonry. The President will now seek your approval for this and the other non-Masonic grants recommended by the Council.

Non-Masonic Grants approved at the Grand Charity’s Annual General Meeting 

13 June 2012 

a.  £50,000 to Cancer Research UK to fund a research project on pancreatic cancer at Barts, London.

b.  £60,000 over two years to Diabetes UK to fund a research project on Type 1 diabetes at King’s College, London.

c.  £50,000 over two years to Barnardo’s to fund the salary of a project worker in the service aimed at preventing sexual exploitation in Plymouth.

d.  £60,000 over two years to Buttle UK to fund the development of the Quality Mark for Care Leavers in higher education.

e.  £16,000 to CHICKS to fund the salary of a supervisor to work with disadvantaged children at residential retreats in Devon.

f.  £25,000 to Children our Ultimate Investment UK to fund the Teens and Toddlers programme in Manchester.

g.  £30,000 to Outward Bound to fund a bursary scheme enabling disadvantaged young people to participate in three week adventure activity courses.

h.  £20,000 to Street League to fund the A-Z Academy programme in Croydon.

i.  £250,000 to The Prince’s Trust to be distributed to Provincial and Metropolitan Grand Lodges for local presentations to fund work-related activities for disadvantaged young people.

j.  £25,000 to Calvert Trust Kielder to fund bursaries for severely disabled adults at an outdoor activity centre.

k.  £55,000 to Combat Stress to fund community outreach teams to support ex-Service personnel with mental health problems.

l.  £90,000 over two years to Dementia UK to fund a Chief Nurse post to develop training for specialist dementia nurses.

m.  £25,000 to Dogs for the Disabled to fund the PAWS service for children with autism.

n.  £50,000 to Help for Heroes to fund the development of therapeutic gardens at four recovery centres for wounded Service personnel.

o.  £25,000 to the Huntington Disease Association to fund the regional care advisory service in the north west of England.

p.  £18,000 to I Can to fund a primary school project supporting children who struggle with speech and language skills.

q.  £25,000 to Jubilee Sailing Trust to fund a bursary for a severely disabled crew member.

r.  £12,000 to Living Paintings Trust to fund a catalogue of Touch to See books for pre-school children.

s.  £30,000 to Music in Hospitals to fund live concerts for older people in healthcare settings.

t.  £10,000 to PHAB to fund residential outdoor activity courses for disabled young people.

u.  £30,000 to the Rainbow Trust Children’s Charity to fund a family support worker in Manchester.

v.  £22,000 to Rett UK to fund a Family Guide publication for families who have a child with Rett Syndrome.

w.  £25,000 to Special Olympics UK to fund the salary of the volunteer development manager.

x.  £25,000 to TB Alert to fund a project to raise awareness of the rising prevalence of tuberculosis amongst local organisations which work with vulnerable people.

y.  £30,000 to Young Minds to fund the development of the charity’s use of internet technology to provide support services to young people with mental health problems.

Published in The Grand Charity
Wednesday, 13 June 2012 01:00

Was Sir Christopher Wren a Freemason?

Was St Paul's Cathedral built by a mason?

With Christopher Wren’s membership of the Craft remaining disputed, Dr James Campbell explains why he chose this subject for his 2011 Prestonian Lecture

Sir Christopher Wren is so well known he hardly needs an introduction. He is England’s most famous architect, the designer of St Paul’s Cathedral. Indeed, up until the age of the railways he was England’s most prolific architect, designing more buildings in his 90 years than any other.

But what makes Wren really fascinating is that he turned to architecture rather late, having already made a considerable name for himself as a mathematician, astronomer and experimental scientist. He was a founding member of the Royal Society and later its president. He carried out the first intravenous injection, was one of the three men who suggested to Newton that gravity obeyed the inverse square law, and was a professor of astronomy at the age of 26. His contemporaries universally described him as startlingly brilliant. Indeed, the more you learn about Wren the more engaging he becomes.

My interest in Wren dates back to 1987, when I first arrived as an undergraduate in Trinity College, Cambridge, and discovered the magnificent library he built there. It sparked a lifelong interest in Wren and another in the architecture of libraries. An interest in Wren served me well and I eventually did my PhD on him and became an architectural historian. One topic kept coming up in my research on Wren: that of his link with Freemasonry. Authors were completely divided on the subject. Many, of course, simply ignored it entirely, but others could not make up their minds whether he was or was not a Freemason, let alone whether it had any effect on his architecture. That uncertainty continues to this day.


If you go on the UGLE website and look at the lists of famous Freemasons, Wren’s name is nowhere to be found. Writers on the subject have also varied in their opinions. John Hamill said in The Craft that the case is ‘unproven’; David Stevenson has said in the past that there is no evidence; while Lisa Jardine, Wren biographer and distinguished historian, is in no doubt that he was. When you look further back – at the eighteenth century – the books of the time all state that Wren had not only been a Freemason, he had been the Grand Master. Some even go so far as to claim that Wren initiated Peter the Great of Russia and William III of England.

The Prestonian Lectures is the only series of lectures officially sanctioned by UGLE. Every year a new lecturer is appointed by the Trustees and announced in Grand Lodge. They choose their own topic. The subject should be suitable for delivery in open lodge or to a wider audience and should be of the broadest possible interest. Wren’s membership of the Craft seemed to me to be ideal and I am pleased that the Trustees agreed.

William Preston (1742-1818), after whom the Prestonian Lectures is named, had been interested in Wren. Preston was convinced Wren was a Freemason and wrote on the subject. He even went as far as buying what he thought was a portrait of him for his lodge. It is now known to be a portrait of the architect William Talman, and it still hangs in Freemasons’ Hall with a plaque wrongly labelled as Wren.

The lectureship Preston founded went into abeyance in the nineteenth century and was revived in its present form in 1924. Since then there have been eighty-two Prestonian Lecturers. Each is entitled to wear a distinctive jewel bearing Preston’s image. In their year of office they give ‘official’ deliveries to lodges chosen by the Board of General Purposes and unofficial deliveries to any lodges that ask for them.

Wren’s membership of the Craft has never been a subject of a Prestonian Lecture before, but is not an infrequent subject of masonic lectures. Most of those I have read are, I am afraid, rather confused.

Most lecturers rely heavily on Robert Freke Gould’s History Of Freemasonry (1883-87), which devotes over fifty pages to demolishing the previously held beliefs that Wren was a Freemason. Few lecturers bother to return to the original sources or look into more recent discoveries. This became my aim: to present clearly how the confusion had arisen and what we now know, and in presenting the evidence to allow the audience to make up their own minds.

Some history is straightforward. Through a series of reliable sources we are able to say unequivocally that something happened on a particular date. Other matters are not so straightforward – vital pieces of evidence are missing or unreliable. This is the case with Wren. The result is a fascinating story of detective work and of shifting views in history.


Wren lived around the time that Freemasonry emerged in the seventeenth century, so the question of his membership also brings up the issue of what Freemasonry was at the time he joined. It therefore provides a fascinating glimpse into the problems we have in studying all parts of early Freemasonry’s history.

Also bound up with this subject is the history of Lodge No. 2, the Lodge of Antiquity, which met near St Paul’s Cathedral. Preston was a member of this lodge in the late eighteenth century and it has a number of artefacts associated with Wren. A lecture on Wren is thus an excuse to go into the history of this wonderful lodge and its origins.

Lastly a lecture on Wren and Freemasonry is an ideal opportunity to ask the question of whether it had any effect on his architecture. Are there any masonic symbols hidden in the works of Wren?

These then were the reasons I chose Wren as the subject of the 2011 Prestonian Lecture and it was a most enjoyable year. I gave lectures all over the UK, and I even went as far as India. One highlight was being asked to give a lecture to the Christopher Wren Lodge in Windsor, which hired the town hall Wren designed for the occasion.

Modernising Wren’s hospital

The proceeds of the Prestonian Lecture and the booklet that accompanies it go to charity. Half of the proceeds from Dr James Campbell’s lecture are going to The Royal Hospital Chelsea. The hospital is undergoing a major restoration and is seeking funds to adapt Wren’s building to modern living. The other charity is the Royal Masonic Trust for Girls and Boys. So far, James has raised more than £6,500 thanks to the generosity of the lodges who have supported the lecture. The sale of the booklet will hopefully raise more. Was Sir Christopher Wren A Mason? contains the complete text of Dr James Campbell’s 2011 Prestonian Lecture and is available from Letchworth’s in Freemasons’ Hall (letchworthshop.co.uk) for £7.99.

Published in Features
Thursday, 07 June 2012 16:53

Game, Set and Match: Freemasons and Sport

With football and the Olympic Games dominating the news this summer, the Library and Museum’s latest exhibition at Great Queen Street celebrates freemasons’ sporting achievements.

Many freemasons have been active amateur or professional sportsmen, or have been involved with the administration of all types of sport. Did you know that the only man to win an Olympic Gold Medal and be awarded the Victoria Cross was also a freemason? The exhibition will be your chance to see Sir Alf Ramsey’s Masonic apron, along side medals from several Olympic Games.

The exhibition runs from 2nd July until the end of the year, and further details are available on the Library and Museum's website.

Published in Features
Page 19 of 22

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