In the 1860s Grand Lodge began a comprehensive rebuilding of the site in Great Queen Street around the first Freemasons’ Hall built by Thomas Sandby in 1774-6. Purchases of properties along Great Queen Street enabled the site to be expanded. The new headquarters was designed to draw a distinction between those areas used for Masonic meetings and the eating and drinking facilities of the Freemasons’ Tavern.
Recognising the growth in the number of lodges and in the administrative arrangements required, four lodge meeting rooms were to be built for the increasing number of lodges meeting in the area and accommodation was to be provided for the Grand Master, office accommodation for the Grand Secretary and his staff, a Committee Room, a Library and Morning/Reading Room and offices for the three Masonic charities (the Royal Masonic Institution for Girls (RMIG), the Royal Institution for Boys (RMIB) and the Royal Masonic Benevolent Institution (RMBI)). The Tavern would comprise a large banqueting hall and eleven other dining rooms of various sizes with kitchens. It would retain its own entrance from the street but there would also be direct access from the new building.
The architect whose designs won the competition for this work was Frederick Pepys Cockerell (1833-1878), son of the architect Charles Robert Cockerell. The new buildings were opened in April 1869.
On the night of 3rd May 1883, 125 years ago this month, Sandby’s Temple was badly damaged by fire. The Freemasons’ Chronicle reported “shortly before midnight, a fire was discovered at the Freemasons’ Hall … and by the time the fire engines arrived, the elegant hall known to Craftsmen as “the Temple” was completely destroyed”. In the fire the portraits of the past Grand Masters on the walls of the room were completely destroyed and the roof collapsed. The cause of the fire was “proved to be through a beam which was in too close proximity with the passage of a flue from the adjoining Tavern”. The rest of the building was largely unaffected.
Post fire discussions considered whether a new, larger hall should replace Sandby’s building but these plans for enlargement were abandoned in favour of reinstatement, the cost of which was covered by the proceeds of the insurance claim. This work had been completed by May 1884 allowing for some minor alterations to Sandby’s Hall to provide 100 extra seats, improved fire exits and a new system of ventilation.