Visitation to the Quarterly Communication of The United Grand Lodge of England
R.W. Grand Master William Slater II was the guest of the United Grand Lodge of England and M.W. Pro Grand Master Lord Northampton for the March Quarterly Communication held at Freemasons' Hall on Wednesday, March 9, 2005.Grand Master Slater commented, "It was a most impressive sight to see the magnificent 1700 seat Lodge Hall filled to capacity. Business meetings of Grand Lodges are all quite the same but the outstanding part of this Communication was the honoring of the Grand Secretary of Ireland, Bro. Michael Walker, who has served in that post for over twenty-three years."
Freemasons' Hall is both the headquarters of the United Grand Lodge of England and the principal meeting place for Lodges in London.
It is an imposing art deco building, covering two and one quarter acres. It was built 1927-1933 as a memorial to the many Freemasons who died on active service in the First World War. Initially known as the Masonic Peace Memorial, it reverted to the name Freemasons' Hall at the outbreak of war in 1939.
In 1925 an international architectural competition was held. One hundred and ten schemes were submitted from which the jury - chaired by Sir Edwin Lutyens - selected ten to be fully worked up. The winning design was by the London partnership of H V Ashley and Winton Newman. The building is now Grade 2 listed internally and externally and is the only art deco building in London which has been preserved 'as built' and is still used for its original purpose.
The present Freemasons' Hall is the third to be built in Great Queen Street. In 1775 the premier Grand Lodge purchased a house fronting the street, behind which was a garden and a second house. A competition was held for the design of a Grand Hall to link the two houses. The front house was the Freemasons' Tavern, the back house was to become offices and meeting rooms. The winning design was by Thomas Sandby. In addition to Masonic uses Sandby's Hall was to be an important centre during the 'London Season', hosting concerts, balls, play readings, literary evenings and meetings of many learned and philanthropic societies, including the Anti-Slavery Society and the British and Foreign Bible Society.
In the 1820s Sandby's Hall was extended to designs by Sir John Soane but his work, sadly, disappeared during the building of the second Freemasons' Hall in the 1860s, to designs by Frederic Pepys Cockerill. Property had been acquired to the west of the existing Hall and Cockerill produced a classical design, incorporating Sandby's 1775 Grand Hall - which survived until 1930 when severe structural damage resulting from a fire in 1883 led to its demolition. Cockerill's Freemasons' Hall was largely demolished to make way for the current building but its eastern end survives as part of the Connaught Rooms.
Central to the present building is the Grand Temple, meeting place for Grand Lodge, Grand Chapter and the annual meetings of a number of the Home Counties Provincial Grand Lodges. Masonic bronze doors, each weighing one and a quarter tonnes, open on to a Chamber 123 feet long, 90 feet wide and 62 feet high capable of seating 1,700. The ceiling cove is of Mosaic work and in addition to figures and symbols from Masonic ritual includes, in the corner, figures representing the four cardinal virtues - Prudence, Temperance, Fortitude and Justice - and the Arms of HRH Arthur, Duke of Connaught (youngest son of Queen Victoria) Grand Master 1901-1939, at whose suggestion the Masonic Peace memorial was built.
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