The early archives of one of the most fascinating buildings in London are to be made available to the public by the Library and Museum of Freemasonry as part of a cataloguing and conservation project supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF).
The HLF has awarded a grant of £46,000 to catalogue and conserve over 450 documents covering the history of Freemasons’ Hall in Great Queen Street from 1768, when plans for the first Hall were put forward, to 1868 when a major expansion of the site was completed. The catalogue will be available by June 2005 on the free Access to Archives (A2A) searchable website (www.a2a.org.uk) as part of the National Archives Network and on the Library and Museum’s own web site The original documents will be available at the Library and Museum itself.
The first Freemasons’ Hall in Great Queen Street, designed by Thomas Sandby (and later extended by Sir John Soane), was built on a narrow site fronted by the Freemasons’ Tavern and opened in 1776. Many local tradesmen were contracted to build and fit out the Hall and this information is documented in the archives./—/
Amongst the fundraising schemes adopted was a Tontine, an early form of lottery and the sale of a special jewel. Several senior eighteenth century freemasons also lent money to pay for the building. In order to cover the cost of running the Hall, it and the Tavern were often hired out for meetings, concerts, benefits and readings by a variety of organisations.
The history of the Hall and Tavern touches on the history of many other organisations and individuals. The Academy of Ancient Music transferred its concerts there in 1784, there were benefit concerts for the Middlesex Hospital and the Royal Humane Society in the 1790s. The Royal Geological Society was formed at the Freemasons’ Tavern in 1807. The Vegetarian Society met there. Berlioz was attending a dinner at the Tavern when the 1848 French revolution broke out in Paris, delaying his return and, in 1867, a banquet was held there in honour of Charles Dickens prior to his departure to America./—/