Thursday 17 April 2008

Wednesday 16th April - Masonic Holborn

Today's walk is entitled Masonic Holborn

A bright but chilly day for our walk today around Masonic Holborn. Our Guide Aly decided a ‘Voice Extender’ was a necessity after the large crowd on our last walk, and although we were a little under 30 people this time, with the noise of the traffic it was much easier to hear what he was saying. A definite thumbs up for the Voice Extender.

Firstly, I think a brief word about Masons or Freemasons. Freemasonry is one of the world’s oldest secular fraternal societies. Members are taught the rules of Freemasonry by a series of ritual dramas that follow ancient forms and use stonemasons’ customs and tools symbolically. When, where and why Freemasonry began is not known. It is believed to have originated in England, descending from the craft of the medieval stonemasons. Lodges, or groups of operative masons began to accept non-practicing members who gradually took over and adopted the stonemasons’ tools and customs as allegorical teaching aids. Each member belongs to a Lodge. The word is believed to have derived from the shelters that the medieval stonemasons lived in during the winter months whilst working on great buildings such as cathedrals. Medieval stonemasons were ‘free’ men, able to travel wherever they wished to work, hence the term ‘free mason’.

The earliest record of the making of a freemason in a non-operative lodge in England is Elias Ashmole at Warrington in 1646. On 24th June 1717 four London lodges came together at the Goose and Gridiron Ale House in St. Paul’s Churchyard to form the first Grand Lodge in the world. They called themselves The Moderns. Grand Lodge became the regulatory body for Freemasonry holding regular meetings any publishing regulations.

In 1751 a rival Grand Lodge, calling themselves The Ancients was formed. For 60 years these two lodges co-existed before finally they unified to become the United Grand Lodge of England in 1813.

Only men can become freemasons although there are some linked orders that allow women members. They follow three great principles Brotherly Love, Relief and Truth. From the earliest days they have also been concerned with the care of orphans, the sick and the aged.

Our first stop was The Ship Tavern at the corner of Gate Street and Little Turnstile. This is a very old pub dating back to 1549 and was rebuilt in 1923. It was here that on the last Monday in every month from the 1700s that freemasons would meet and in 1786 Lodge 234 was consecrated here by the Grand Master, the Earl of Antrim.

The Ship

Outside The Ship - a brief history

A few short metres away is the Lincoln Sandwich Shop in Gate Street. This was once The Sun public house. Lodge 234 moved briefly to the French Horn in Holborn, the exact location of which is somewhat uncertain, but could possibly be in French Horn Yard to the north of High Holborn. The lodge then moved to the Sun pub.

The Lincoln Sandwich Shop, formerly The Sun Pub

We now turn the corner into Lincoln’s Inn Fields and walk along to Sir John Soane’s house. Sir John was an architect who was asked to survey and value the land in Great Queen Street where the first of the Freemason’s Halls was to be built. Although not a member then, he soon joined and rose to become the Grand Superintendent of Works.

Sir John Soane's house

We now retraced our steps and returned to Kingsway. Although now a large modern building containing Sainsburys and Boots, 129 Kingsway was once The Holborn Restaurant. A huge building containing a vast dining room and a number of smaller private dining rooms and the restaurant was very popular with the local freemasons. In 1886 the Prince of Wales was made Grand Master, a position he held until he became King Edward VII in 1901. His successor was his younger brother the Duke of Connaught who became Grand Master on 3rd June 1902. The Lodge met in the Kings Hall in the restaurant until 1939.

The Prince of Wales (later King Edward VII) in Masonic Regalia

The Duke of Connaught

A short walk back down Kingsway towards Aldwych brings us to Great Queen Street, which is the very heart of Freemasonry in London, with shops, pubs and other buildings with links to freemasons.

The Freemasons Arms, Longacre

The Prince of Wales. Great Queen Street

Central Regalia

We first walk past the New Connaught Rooms. In 1908 The Connaught Rooms were named after the then Grand Master, the Duke of Connaught and became one of the most popular venues for social and corporte events . They were built upon the site of the Freemasons Tavern and in 1910 this building was replaced with the current structure.

The New Connaught Rooms

Next to the New Connaught Rooms stands Freemasons Hall. This magnificent structure is the only Grade II listed Art Deco building in London which has been preserved ‘as built’ both internally and externally. It was built between 1927 and 1993 and is in fact the third hall on the site. It was designed by H.V. Ashley and Winton Newman, following an international architectural competition chaired by Sir Edwin Lutyens.

The 'Inner Building' rises
(picture courtesy United Grand Lodge of England)

The Tower rises
(picture courtesy United Grand Lodge of England)

In 1775 the premiere Grand Lodge purchased No. 61 Great Queen Street, a house with a garden and a further house behind it. A competition was held to design a Grand Hall to link the two houses. The winning design was by Thomas Sandby. In 1820 the hall was extended by Sir John Soane but his work disappeared during the building of the second hall in the 1860s which was designed by Frederick Pepys Cockerill. Further property had been acquired to the west of the original and Cockerill managed to incorporate Sandby’s grand Hall into his design. In fact the grand Hall survived until 1930 when it had to be demolished as it was suffering from severe structural damage following a fire in 1883. Most of Cockerill’s Hall was also demolished to make way for Ashley and Newman’s Freemasons Hall although the eastern end survives as part of the Connaught Rooms.

Freemasons Hall today

Entrance to the Library and Museum

The Library and Museum of Freemasonry is open to visitors at Freemasons Hall.

Well that’s all for today. The next walk features Covent Garden.

1 comment:

duettists said...

I found this article most interesting as I am doing research on After Dinner entertainment in the twenties and thirties. Many of these entertainments were at Masonic dinners, held at places like the Holborn Hotel and the Connaught Rooms.