Freemasons' Hall, an Engineering marvel.

 

The architects were H V Ashley and F Winton Newman, this monumental early art deco building is a masterpiece. Triangular in shape, the building is the first steel-framed structure ever built, situated on two and half acres. It was constructed between 1927 and 1933, replacing a series of previous buildings with the earliest dating back to 1775, and it cost an incredible £1m to build then, which using a calculation of ‘economic power’, would equate to around £317m in today’s money. Believe me, it shows – the building is a literal forest of solid Italian marble columns and it has acres of elaborate decoration, including what is probably a few tens of kilograms of gilt. The building took over seven years to complete. One of the fifty ‘Unique Venues of London’ and one of the capital’s most-used film locations. Let me go on to describe the vestibule and grand temple for you -

The main vestibule of the Freemasons' Hall is up on the first floor, where it is flanked by two grand staircases that have some of the most elaborate stained glass windows I’ve ever seen in London which, as you would assume, are rich in symbolism – the Masonic symbols of the square, the level, the plumb, the trowel and the ‘divine’ hand holding a compass are all present. Some of these windows were donated by ‘provinces’ as far away as Pennsylvania. On the opposite site of the vestibule there is a casket, flanked on either side by the names of the Lodges that contributed to the fund for the building’s construction (Adam's Lodge being one - see if you can find it) The casket itself is covered in carvings of religious figures and saints that are significant to the Freemason's, topped by four kneeling figures representing the four branches of the armed forces – an appropriate decoration because within it is a vellum scroll containing the names, ranks and honours of the Freemason's who died in the First World War. Between the vestibule and the Grand Temple itself are a series of three bronze gates set abreast which were donated by the two Lancashire ‘provinces’ (the three gates signify the three ‘degrees’ of Freemasonry – Entered Apprentice, Fellowcraft and finally Master Mason). Beyond these gates and below an elaborately decorated ceiling sporting an art deco chandelier that wouldn’t look out of place in a 1950s Flash Gordon serial are a pair of bronze doors. Twelve feet high, four feet wide and covered with reliefs depicting the life of King Solomon each door weighs an incredible one and a quarter tons, but they are balanced so finely you can push them open with a single finger…

Through these doors is the Grand Temple itself, which is capable of seating over 1700 people. The Grand Temple is oriented on the points of the compass and if you could consider the symbolism in the rest of the building to be rich, then here it goes into overdrive. High up in the ceiling is a spectacular mosaic depicting, at the corners, the four cardinal virtues (Justice, Temperance, Fortitude and Prudence) while along the sides are the Duke of Connaught’s Coat of Arms (who was Grand Master of the Lodge when it was built) flanked by George and the Dragon, Euclidian and Pythagorean mathematical symbols, King Solomon and on the fourth side a Greek god, all of them framed by four different styles of classical columns. You will also see the twelve signs of the zodiac prominently displayed and the three-manual pipe organ by Henry Willis & Sons that sits at one end of the hall. Members of the public are allowed full access, the building actually contains another 21 Masonic Temples in all, each with its own unique and elaborate decoration. Indeed the largest of the other Temples in the building can seat another 800 people…

For the Engineers / Architects and Designers among us, the links below are of interest.

** Note the steel girders used in the construction - 60 feet long and weighing 23 tons, transport visible on the street below includes a horse drawn cart ! **

Guided tours are available Mon - Fri, free of charge. Call 02073959257 to check tour times.

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