Sir Henry Irving was the first actor to be knighted (in 1895) having dominated the London stage as an actor and as manager of the Lyceum Theatre (from 1878) with his productions of Shakespearean plays. He died a wealthy man with a fortune estimated at more than £2 million in modern terms.
Irving was initiated in the Jerusalem Lodge No 197 in 1877, when he had already achieved fame as an actor, by the Master of the lodge, the organist Sir William Cusins. However his further progress was delayed and he did not complete his second degree until 1882 at a ceremony attended by the Duke of Albany, finally being raised to the status of Master Mason in January 1883. He remained a member of the lodge for the rest of his life although he never became Master.
Irving had been a member of the Savage Club since 1871 shortly after his arrival in London. The Savage Club had a membership comprising literary men, actors and musicians. In 1887 a Masonic lodge connected with the Club and dining on its premises was founded, Irving signed the petition to found the Lodge and briefly became its Treasurer. Irving also joined St Martin’s Lodge No 2455 which was not a theatrical lodge but was associated with local government in the area around St Martins in the Field in Trafalgar Square./—/
Irving supported freemasonry but never held a senior position. He was an important figure on the London scene and The Masonic Illustrated marked his death at the end of 1905 on its front cover shown above. Sir Henry Irving is featured in the current exhibition at The Library and Museum called Freemasonry and Victorian Music and Theatre which runs from January to June 2004. The Masonic Illustrated is one of a large number of Masonic periodicals in the collection of the Library and Museum.
The first such periodicals were published in the eighteenth century. The Masonic Illustrated, first published in October 1900 took advantage of advances in printing and photographic reproduction to act as an “Illustrated Monthly Journal for Freemasons” as it described itself in its first issue. It was published by Spencer and Co of 15, Great Queen Street (“opposite Freemasons’ Hall”) with pictures of contemporary freemasons, Masonic buildings and artefacts from the Library and Museum. As such it is a rich resource for those researching freemasonry during this period. Unfortunately the magazine appears not to have thrived and, as noted in its last edition of September 1906, the copyright was purchased by J Denyer Hand, proprietor of a rival publication, The Freemason, who intended to amalgamate the two publications.