The current exhibition at the Library and Museum is about the first Freemasons’ Hall which was built in 1776 in Great Queen Street, Covent Garden, as the headquarters for the growing membership of the Grand Lodge of England. A leading architect, Thomas Sandby, was commissioned to design the Hall and many local London tradesmen were involved in its construction and decoration. The organising committee were pleased with their building of “elegance and splendour”. The photograph of the Hall shown here was taken by a firm of specialist architectural photographers called Bedford Lemere and Co. It can be dated to the 1870s as it shows important items of furniture which are known to have been destroyed in a fire in 1883.
To help pay for their upkeep, the Hall and the Tavern were often hired out to other organisations for meetings, concerts, benefits and readings. 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. Other organisations which are recorded as holding meetings there include the Benevolent Society for the Delivering of Poor Married Women, the Scottish Hospital and the Society Against Swindlers.
In the early 1800s Sir John Soane worked extensively on the building and, in recognition of this, was the first person to be awarded the rank of Grand Superintendent of Works. Redevelopment took place in the 1860s, some of which remains visible today alongside the current building which is one of London’s greatest 1930s Art Deco treasures.
Supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund and using documents, objects and images from the collection of the Library and Museum of Freemasonry, the exhibition will explore the building of the Hall, how it was paid for, its growth and development, its impact on the local community and its contribution to London life.
Over 1400 documents relating to the Hall and Tavern have been catalogued with the support of the Heritage Lottery Fund under the Access to Archives scheme and are now available on line at www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/a2a (external website opens in a new window) or on the Library and Museum’s own online catalogue.
A leaflet giving details about the archive material on Freemasons’ Hall available for study is available from the Library and Museum on 020 7395 9257 (also in large print format) or can be downloaded from the archives page.