Architects: Ashley and Newman
Building Date: 1927 – 1933
Nearest Tube: Holborn (Central and Piccadilly lines), Covernt Garden (Piccadilly line)
The Freemasons’ Hall has been the centre of English Freemasonry for 230 years. It is the meeting place for over 1,000 Masonic Lodges and is the headquarters of the United Grand Lodge of England, the oldest Grand Lodge in the world.
The building, which is listed Grade II*, dates from 1927-1933. The architects were H V Ashley and F Winton Newman.
The art deco building which covers two and one quarter acres was built 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, President of the Royal Institute of British Architects – selected ten to be fully worked up. The winning design was by the London partnership of H V Ashley and F 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 Memorial Shrine
The Memorial Shrine that features in the first of three vestibules on the journey to the Grand Temple commemorates the 3225 brethren who died on active service in the First World War and in whose memory the building was raised. The theme of the stained glass memorial window is the attainment of Peace through Sacrifice, with the Angel of Peace carrying a model of the tower of the building. The bronze memorial casket was designed by Walter Gilbert (1871-1946), who also designed the Victoria Memorial facing Buckingham Palace. The casket contains the memorial roll, viewed through a glass aperture at the corner of which are gilt figures representing the fighting services. In form, the shrine seeks to express the deep significance of the brethren’s passing from life through the most honourable of death, to the realms of eternal rest and immortality.
The altar of the shrine is carried on a boat to signify sacrifice and to typify the journey of the soul along the River of Time to the spiritual home beyond mortal existence. The boat is depicted in amongst the reeds to symbolise a journey which has reached its end.
The three vestibules are separated by two fine openwork bronze screens, each of which is decorated along the top with a frieze depicting the signs of the zodiac and surmounted by the five points of fellowship clock. The interior of all the compartments is full of richness in adornment with marble walls and columns, coffered ceilings decorated in blue, red and gold, and floors of marble and mosaic worked with geometrical designs and many-pointed stars.
The Grand Temple
Central to the present building is the Grand Temple, meeting place for Grand Lodge, Grand Chapter and the annual meetings of a number of 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 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.
The colour scheme of the Temple is mainly blue, gold and cream. The walls are faced with Botticino marble and Dido Portland Stone, and above the floor there is a belt of Belgian black marble inlaid with panels of dark Ashburton. The linings and surrounds to the door openings in the corner splay walls are of Alpes Jade marble. The frieze at the top of the four corner walls carries the twelve signs of the zodiac, symbolically representing the twelve tribes of Israel and a link with the former Grand Temple which featured these on its ceiling.
The floor is covered with dark blue carpets, except the gangways which are of Bianca del Mara marble laced with bands of golden travertine and inlaid with rubber. The large black and white chequered carpet that covers the central floor area is found in every Masonic lodge. It represents the journey of life from birth at one end and death at the other, and in between man’s chequered existence (good and bad, happiness and sadness, light and darkness etc.).
The central ceiling panel displays a representation of the traditional ‘covering’ of a lodge, “a celestial canopy of divers colours, even the Heavens.” This panel, illuminated by heavenly bodies is blue, for this is the colour of friendship and benevolence; in the Mason these virtues should be as expansive as the blue arch of heaven. The great star in the centre is 8’ (2.5m) wide and weighs 1 ton. It symbolises the Pole Star which was held in great reverence by the ancient Brethren, who believed it occupied a position in the very centre of the universe, and was the only thing therein that never changed. Thus it was considered an emblem of the Great Architect of the Universe, whose wisdom was infinite, strength was omnipotent and justice varied never.
Surrounding the central panel is a deeply coffered and richly decorated border with the arms of the United Grand Lodge of England at each corner. The scallop shells are a symbol from Knights Templar. The tessellated border symbolises the planets in their revolutions around the sun, reminding the Freemason that he will always be encompassed by providence as long as he continues to live uprightly and justly.