02.04.2015
13:34

Library and Museum of Freemasonry

Address:

Freemasons’ Hall, 60 Great Queen Street, WC2B 5AZ

Phone:

020-7395 9257

Website:

www.freemasonry.london.museum

Opening times:

Mon–Fri 10:00–17:00

How to get there:

Tube: Holborn/Covent Garden

Entry fee:

Free

Freemasons’ Hall (built 1927–33) is a monumental building intended as a memorial to the freemasons who died in the First World War. Steel-framed, more than 900 tons of marble were used in its construction, 500 in the Grand Temple alone. The museum proper is prefaced in the Library, with temporary displays illustrating aspects of the history of English freemasonry. Divided into five sections, it traces the development of freemasonry from the craft of the medieval stonemasons up to the modern day and the activities of masonic charities. On the way, it covers the initiation of Elias Ashmole in 1646, the emergence of masonic lodges in private dining rooms of the late 17th century, and the formation of the Grand Lodge in 1813.

The one-room museum, first founded in the 1830s, displays the most important collection of masonic items in the world. Of particular interest are the examples of the applied and decorative arts. English pottery and porcelain is very well represented, from Wedgwood creamware and early Worcester to Sunderland lustre and Doulton. Also impressive are the displays of Meissen porcelain, some of it commissioned by the Order of the Mopses. These were 18th-century German freemasons, who chose the pug dog as their mascot and accepted both male and female members. Notable is an early Meissen figure of Augustus the Strong, the Grand Master of the Mopses, who was also instrumental in the establishment of the Meissen factories. Another large part of the exhibition is taken up with regalia and medals, notably aprons and sashes from the 18th century onwards, including the aprons of King Edward VII as Prince of Wales, the Duke of Windsor and other members of the Royal Family. The regalia of Winston Churchill, initiated into Studholme Lodge no. 1591 in 1901, can also be seen. Some of the medals are masterpieces of the goldsmith’s and enameller’s art.

Among the curious artefacts to be found here are the ‘Wren Maul’, the mallet traditionally taken to have been used by Charles II in laying the foundation stone of St Paul’s Cathedral in 1675, presented by Christopher Wren; some relics claiming to be from Solomon’s temple; a 1937 boxed relief map of Jerusalem from the American Colony Store; and a silver elephant cigar lighter or hogdan made out of molten rupees. Most recently, the museum acquired a mysterious masonic desk, discovered in Scotland, containing a secret scale model of the tabernacle of Moses.

The guided tour takes visitors beyond the library and museum, beginning with the Grand Officer’s Robing Room and the Ceremonial Suite before making its way beneath painted coffered ceilings and interiors of marble, mosaic, mahogany and stained glass, towards the War Memorial itself, commemorating the 3,553 brethren who died in the First World War. The highlight of the tour is undoubtedly the opportunity to see inside the Grand Temple, beyond massive bronze doors decorated with symbols by Walter Gilbert. The ceiling of the Temple is an extraordinary mosaic of gold stars set in pale and Garter blue. Masonic symbols on an epic scale surround raked seating for some 1,700 people.

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MUSEUMS & GALLERIES OF LONDON

Details below are taken from our Blue Guide Museums and Galleries of London.  This is a 2005 title, here generally updated for website address and opening times, with useful comments from some of the museums themselves.  More recent information is given in Emily Barber's magisterial new Blue Guide London, "Exceptional update to a classic and useful guide to this amazing city" (Amazon reader review).

FULL LISTING of CURRENT EXHIBITIONS in London from Apollo Magazine »

Emily Barber recommends five major London museums »

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