FREEMASONS HALL

Mysterious departures clutching a black briefcase full of regalia were a regular occurrence in my childhood.   Most of the adult males in my family were Freemasons.  One of my earliest memories is being shown the Temple at my Grandfathers Masonic Lodge.  The Masons are not a secret organisation; rather “an organisation with secrets” was the mantra.  The Masonic Hall might have been a regular meeting place for the men but women were welcomed in just twice a year for Ladies Evening and the New Year Party.  So when I learnt that anyone can visit the Freemasons’ Hall in Covent Garden I was off in a flash.

FREEMASONS HALL COVENT GARDEN

 

Freemasons Hall

Given the fraternal nature of the Masons, I half expected a raised eyebrow at the arrival of a lone woman at the Freemasons’ Hall.   I was, however, greeted with a broad smile and sent up the stairs to the Library to join a tour of the building.

Having been told the basics of the craft, we headed for Grand Officers Robing Room which is dominated by enormous blue baize covered tables. The Grand Officers of the Lodge process into the room to find their regalia laid out for them.  As they clamber into their aprons and collars and pin on their chest jewels, they are overlooked by the portraits of current and former Grand Masters; George IV, Edward VII,  George VI and the present Duke of Kent.  George IV declared that reigning monarchs could not be Grand Masters and so all relinquished their title on becoming King.   Once resplendent in their regalia the Grand Officers process to the Grand Temple.

Outside the Robing Room the first hints of the celebrated Art Deco interior become apparent in a long corridor.  Masonic symbolism is everywhere.  The floor has a blue star mosaic that echoes in the design of the light above.  Masonic symbols here, just the dark blue, light blue and gold that are the colours of the basic craft order.

Once out of the corridor you enter three enormous interconnecting rooms, all are adorned with Art Deco mosaics and stained glass.  These are not just stunning, beautiful rooms they are a War Memorial to the 3,225 Freemasons who died in the First World War.  The first vestibule houses a bronze arc that contains the Roll of Honour, the walls of the room are engraved with names of the Lodges whose members subscribed more than a million pounds to construct the memorial.

Freemasons' Hall Peace Memorial

All those mysterious masonic rituals take place in Masonic Temples.  As headquarters of the United Grand Lodge of England the Freemasons’ Hall has many temple but most magnificent of them all is the Grand Temple.  The doors to the Grand Temple are vast.  They are made of  cast bronze and each weighs one and a quarter tonnes.   At the time of their making were the largest in Europe.  Monumental the doors maybe but so accurately engineered that you can open them with just one finger.  If the previous rooms have been jaw dropping the Temple itself is awe inspiring.  Even empty it is jawdropping, it must be an impressive sight when filled with 2,000 men clad in leather aprons.  123 feet long, 90 feet wide and 62 feet high, the room is huge.  Masonic symbols abound, seven stars representing the seven liberal arts adorn the ceiling, with one and half million tiny tiles making up the mosaic that covers the coving.  At the centre of the temple is a chequer board carpet on which the masonic rituals unfold.

Grand Temple Freemasons' Hall

FREEMASONS’ HISTORY

In the beginning Masons really were masons building the great Cathedrals of the Middle Ages, like most trades the masons had a guild to ensure the quality of the craft.  Quite how a trade guild morphed into gentlemen’s club in the 18th century is unclear.  What is known is that the symbols that I most associate with the Masons, the square, compass and trowel are the basic tools of a mason.  Just like their medieval guild predecessors, modern Masons progress from being an Apprentice to Journeyman before becoming a Master Mason.

Every Freemason must profess a belief in a Supreme Being, in practice this means that the craft is open to people of all religions.  There is a strict ruling that religion and politics must not be discussed at meetings.  Strangely when we children asked the grown men what they did at Masonic meetings this is what they told us.  Not what they did but what they didn’t do.  I still don’t have the slightest idea of what actually happens inside those temples, but even just to see such magnificent architecture it is worth visiting Freemasons’ Hall.

VISITING FREEMASONS’ HALL

  • 60 Great Queen Street, London WC2B 5AZ
  • OPEN: Monday – Saturday 10am – 5pm
  • Tours leave at 11am, 12pm, 2pm, 3pm and 4pm, check the website for availability as tours only go when the temple is not is use
  • ADMISSION: Free
  • Freemason’s Hall is part of Museum Mile, a collection of 13 museums of varying size all within walking distance of each other including the Charles Dickens Museum and Sir John Soane’s Museum.

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Freemasons Hall
Visiting the Rijksmuseum with Teens

CulturedKids

20 Comments

  1. pigeonpairandme
    February 2, 2018 / 11:07 am

    I never knew you could see inside a masonic hall. My interest has been piqued! In my early thirties I had a birthday bash in a pub near this hall. A load of the Masons were drinking downstairs at the same time. What a rowdy bunch! #CulturedKids

    • February 2, 2018 / 1:05 pm

      It always makes me laugh when you see hoards of besuited, briefcase toting men heading into the Freemasons Arms opposite!

  2. February 2, 2018 / 2:15 pm

    A strange and mysterious world. Curious that you’re allowed inside but they won’t tell you what goes on there, just appreciate it for the architecture I suppose. #culturedkids

    • February 2, 2018 / 2:54 pm

      It is stunning architecture

  3. February 2, 2018 / 3:36 pm

    How interesting that you can visit inside the Temple, I had no idea that would be possible. I find the whole Freemason thing very strange and rather disturbing. Is it still men only? Surely that has had its day. I find it hard to justify why that should still be the case in the 21st century (but maybe it’s changed). However, to see inside the building for the architecture alone would be worth it, that’s what I do in any religious building after all. I used to work in Covent Garden and I’m amazed that I never noticed this building. How is it possible? Next time I’m there I’ll be sure to check it out. #culturedkids

    • February 2, 2018 / 3:37 pm

      I know all very odd, never seen a woman exiting with a briefcase full of regalia

  4. bavariansojourn
    February 3, 2018 / 9:23 pm

    Oh this brought back so many memories for me. I used to work around the corner in Red Lion square so would often pop to Covent Garden for my lunch break. This clock would tell me whether I was going to be late back or not! What a treat to see inside! 😀 Thank you 🙂 x

    • February 3, 2018 / 9:25 pm

      Nice location, Red Lion Square also v convenient for Sir John Soane’s museum

  5. February 3, 2018 / 11:29 pm

    Lots of intrigue for sure. Interesting they won’t share the goings-on…like a a secret society or something. At least you got to see some beautiful architecture. #culturedkids

    • February 3, 2018 / 11:41 pm

      I suspect that if we all knew it would turn out to be pretty dull!

  6. Go Live Young
    February 5, 2018 / 1:19 pm

    I had no idea you could even go inside a Freemason’s Hall! A bit strange that even on a tour you still don’t get to find out what goes on inside. A real ‘secret society’ #culturedkids

  7. February 7, 2018 / 10:52 pm

    It really is the most bizarre institution (no offence to your Grandpa and other relatives!) but the certainly have a beautiful building there! #culturedkids

    • February 8, 2018 / 10:11 am

      They also do lots of charity work

  8. February 8, 2018 / 10:38 pm

    This has been on my list for soo long, it’s ridiculous I haven’t made it yet! Let’s just say that since 14 I’ve been into literature & philosophy on freemasons – and btw Catherine the teen in me feels quite jealous of you having such active freemasons in your family !;) Pinning it and hoping to get there soon! #culturedkids

    • February 8, 2018 / 11:06 pm

      Well worth a visit, it made me far more sympathetic to the Freemasons than I had been before. None of this generation of my family have joined, I wonder if this is so in other families

      • February 8, 2018 / 11:16 pm

        Hehe. Yes can understand why. As a child or teen the stories are fascinating. Right now though they seem rather odd and v un-PC

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