Leicestershire and Rutland Freemasons will mark the 300th Anniversary of the formation of the Premier Grand Lodge of England, by throwing open the doors to their Masonic Halls across Leicestershire - some for the first time - as part of the national Heritage Open Days
For anyone who has any interest in Freemasonry, has any questions they want answering, or just wants to see inside the buildings, these Open Days are the perfect opportunity to find out more.
Throughout the day, escorted tours of the building will be conducted, allowing visitors to access the lodge room where masonic meetings are held and hear of the symbolism, history and practice of Freemasonry.
Masonic Hall, Lower Church Street, Ashby-de-la-Zouch, Leicestershire LE65 1AB
The Masonic Hall (Lyric Rooms) in Ashby was opened in 1981 after the former Cinema on Lower Church Street was purchased and refreshed for over £100,000.
Hinckley Masonic Hall, St. Mary's Rd, Hinckley, LE10 1EQ
The Masonic Hall in Hinckley, also known as the Green Rooms, was built in 1927 in St. Mary's Road. The original construction of the building was of a single storey with a Lodge room, dining room and kitchen.
In 2011, an additional storey was added to house a new Masonic Lodge Room. The lower floor was opened out to create a large function suite with an integral bar but maintaining much of the former architectural and aesthetic appeal. The Hall continues to host the lodges that meet in Hinckley along with serving the local community.
Freemasons’ Hall, 78 London Road, Leicester LE2 0RA
The first Masonic Hall in Leicester was situated on Halford Street and was built in 1859. It moved to its current location on London Road in 1910 after the initial hall was deemed too small when the popularity of Freemasonry saw a significant increase. The original lodge room in the Hall, the Holmes Lodge Room, is deemed one of the finest in the country with a stunningly decorated barrelled ceiling.
Freemasons’ Hall, George Street, Lutterworth, Leicestershire LE17 4ED
Freemasons’ Hall in Lutterworth, also known as the Wycliffe Rooms, was converted from the old Ritz Cinema in George Street in 1963. The former circle/balcony was converted in the Lodge Room. More recently, further refurbishment and an extension has been undertaken. The Wycliffe Rooms now acts as both a Masonic Hall for the two lodges and also a Community Centre for a wide range of activities.
Masonic Hall, Kings Road, Market Harborough, Leicestershire LE16 7JU
St Peter’s Lodge was granted a Warrant in 1870 to meet at the Three Swans Hotel in Market Harborough. As Masonry began to expand its popularity, a building fund was established in 1967 to build a permanent home. Land was purchased in Kings Road and the current Masonic Hall was built and opened in 1968, where currently two lodges continue to meet today.
Masonic Hall, Broad Street, Syston, Leicestershire, LE7 1GJ
The Masonic Hall in Syston was built in 1905 on a site of an old school in Broad Street which was enlarged in 1915 and a second floor added in 1930. A total of seven lodges meet at the hall today which makes it one of the largest halls outside of Leicester.
The Provincial Grand Master of Leicestershire and Rutland David Hagger said: 'We are really excited about this opportunity, as part of the national Heritage Open Days, to open the Masonic Hall in Syston for the very first time. We look forward to welcoming the community to show them around and help better inform them about the history of the Hall and Freemasonry in general.'
Everyone is welcome, with free tours on Saturday 9th September 2017 starting at 10am until 3.00pm and no booking required.
Other Masonic Halls in Leicestershire opening as part of the Heritage Open Days are in Leicester, Ashby-de-la-Zouch, Hinckley, Lutterworth and Market Harborough. More details can be found on the Heritage Open Days website here.
Open days at Minerva Masonic Hall
The Minerva Masonic Hall, in Dagger Lane, Hull opened its doors, to members of the public, during Hull’s very popular Civic Society Heritage Open Days. The Hall was open for three days between the 11th and 13th September, for a total of fifteen hours. In this time we received almost seven hundred (700) visitors to the lodge which was a resounding success.
Brethren from four of the lodges, who meet at Dagger Lane, were on hand to meet members of the public and guide them through the historic building and answer questions on its history and Freemasonry in general.
The Heritage Open Days event is about historic or other interesting buildings which are not ordinarily open to the public to view.
This was a great platform to speak to members of the public about Freemasonry which has been so much a part of Hull’s history from 1759, when the first masonic lodge was founded.
Members of the public were very engaging and asked many questions about Freemasonry. Many visitors commented on the unique grandeur of the lodge built by the brethren of the Minerva Lodge No. 250, and saying that it was 'an absolute hidden gem in the city' and so it is, we are so lucky!
Some visitors found their ancestors on the honours boards, another lady found a photograph of her father, a builder who was not a Freemason, told us that he had worked on the building during extensive repairs.
We were surprised by the number of women enquiring about joining Freemasonry – they were of course pointed in the right direction to be able to do this.
We also received interest from a number of young men wanting to join, so names and addresses were exchanged with the brethren to follow up. This included a boy of about 13 years of age, to which his parents said, 'You will have to wait a bit longer son.' Apparently his great, great grandfather was a Freemason. We had a lady who exclaimed, 'Well you are not a secret society after all!' She quite rightly concluded that she would not be in a lodge talking about Freemasonry if we were.
There was a father of a young girl, who asked what the meaning of 'The all-seeing eye' meant, this was about to be explained when the young girl interrupted by saying, 'I can explain that' to the amazement of her parents. She did a pretty good job with her explanation. (Well these youngsters are so internet savvy these days!)
We did have the odd challenging comments about Freemasonry, but nothing that the experienced volunteer brethren could not handle. What sometimes seems to be a negative comment can be a search for more information in disguise.
Visitors were also entertained by W Bro Eddie Wildman of Humber Lodge No. 57 and Provincial Grand Organist, and W Bro Graham Miles, playing the newly restored lodge pipe organ.
W Bro Ean Blair, from Hull Old Grammarians' Lodge No. 5129, also exercised his vocal chords for which the aforesaid brethren received applause from visitors. Phil Grainge, the organiser of the event, said: 'We all had a great time, visitors were impressed and the brethren we're exhausted, sometimes working through without a break, due to the numbers of visitors, but it was all worthwhile as nearly seven hundred people, are now more aware of their heritage and Freemasonry in our city. I strongly recommend any lodge, which has a Heritage Open Days event to get registered and open up their lodges.'
We will be looking to do it all again next year, so we will also need some more keen, experienced brethren to see if we can do an even better event next time.
We are also getting our thinking caps on to make something very special for 2017, the year when Hull is to be the UK City of Culture.
Keeping the doors open
Grand Superintendent of Works John Pagella looks at the challenge of maintaining masonic centres and halls in modern times
Freemasonry is by no means unique in finding that as times change, and the needs of its membership evolve, buildings once well suited to their function become too expensive to maintain. We need to ensure that if masonic use declines, our buildings adapt to attract outside interest, generating income and strengthening their connection with the local community.
While individual circumstances vary widely for each masonic hall and centre, the first step is to examine the potential for introducing outside uses. This is not achieved by simply advertising availability and hoping for the best. It requires analysis of the type of users for whom the building might be suitable, and consideration of whether what is needed can be managed while retaining masonic use.
London’s Surbiton Masonic Hall is a positive example of what can be achieved. Glenmore House was built as an imposing Italianate-style private villa in 1840 at a time when residential development was extending out from London into the surrounding countryside. By 1920, it had become one of the many houses that were too large and expensive to run as private homes, so was put up for auction.
It was purchased by four local masons, becoming known as Surbiton Masonic Hall, and was dedicated as a peace memorial.
For much of the 1900s the house flourished as a masonic centre, but as the century drew to a close it became clear that, once again, a change was required. Masonic membership was in decline, with fewer people attending meetings and a number of lodges handing in their warrants. A decrease in income meant that without a radical change in the way that the building was used, closure was inevitable.
Fortunately, the board of directors of Surbiton Masonic Hall included people with experience in building and development, as well as running commercial companies. They recognised that managing a masonic centre today is no different to running a hospitality company. Freemasonry is a craft but running masonic halls and centres is a business, requiring the same commitment, financial skills and disciplines.
Although the property’s design, finishes and furnishings were dated, the potential for creating a self-contained hospitality suite was recognised. The building included a large ballroom with its own independent bar, but while the existing kitchens had coped well for many years, they were not suitable to support the standard required for outside events. Complete modernisation was therefore needed.
Even if the refurbishment had been confined to these areas, much would have been achieved, but it was felt that the contrast between the facilities available to outside users and those offered to Freemasons would have been all too obvious. Furthermore, the loss of the ballroom for masonic dining would have reflected badly on the centre’s continuing commitment to its Freemasonry.
With this in mind, dining accommodation at first-floor level was also refurbished and moveable dividing partitions erected to permit two units to dine simultaneously. The adjacent bar was modernised to the same high standard as the bar in the hospitality suite.
A new lease of life
The revenue generated from opening Glenmore House up to outside use has been vital. It has not only secured its future as a financially viable masonic centre, but also enabled the centre to become more of a focal point for the local community. ‘Far from losing identity, the changes we made enabled the community to identify the values that Freemasonry actually represents today,’ said Robert Dobbie, Managing Director of Glenmore House. ‘For the past 10 years we have participated in the Heritage Open Days, we are used as a local polling station, we host a twice-weekly bridge club as well as monthly lunches for Barclays bank and the BBC.’
Masonic centres and meeting halls are all individual, and it would be wrong to suggest that what worked in this case would always be successful elsewhere. However, there are some general principles. First, masonic buildings exist to serve the needs of members, but that purpose can only be sustained if they are managed in a way that is financially viable. In many cases this will mean shared use, which must be approached with the needs of the outside user in mind. The competition can be fierce and that means adopting a more proactive strategy than just advertising accommodation for hire.
One final thought: those who take their own advice will in most cases have no recourse should things go wrong. If a masonic centre or hall has professional expertise within its members, by all means use it, but always consider the value of using outside consultants as well. Their more objective approach might be beneficial, and those giving outside advice may also have a legal liability.
‘Masonic buildings exist to serve the needs of members, but that purpose can only be sustained if they are managed in a way that is financially viable.’
Letters to the Editor - No. 32 Winter 2015
As Superintendent of Works for the past 40 years, I read with interest the article in the autumn issue by John Pagella, the Grand Superintendent of Works. I totally agree with him that because of rising costs it is a challenge to maintain masonic halls, especially old ones.
Ours was built in 1860. Fortunately, like Surbiton Lodge, we have members who are experienced in the building trade and have contributed to the maintenance of the lodge buildings, not taking any remuneration for their work. Also, we have a good social committee that provides us with funds to help pay for the work we cannot do and for materials.
I joined Freemasonry in 1966 when we had a lot of members who were textile business owners employing maintenance men to look after their buildings. I have always wondered why the lodge building was nearly in a state of dereliction when I became Superintendent of Works in 1975.
At that time we had retired members on fixed incomes and my thoughts were that if we can keep the costs of running the lodge low there would be no reason to increase subscriptions. This worked and still does. Our subscriptions are among the most reasonable in the Province of Yorkshire, West Riding.
I have read of many fine old masonic buildings being closed and sold, and most have accommodated multiple lodges. Big is not always good. We have only one Craft lodge and three side Orders meeting at our building, yet our subscriptions are among the lowest in the Province. I have noted some of the outside users John Pagella writes about who use their building and I will suggest to our lodge committee that we could do the same thing.
L R Hirst, St John’s Lodge, No. 827, Dewsbury, Yorkshire, West Riding
A chance to delve into history for one day only will see the doors of series of iconic Marlow buildings thrown open to the public for free next Saturday
Historic St Peter Street is the location for the annual Heritage Open Days scheme from English Heritage on 13 September, which is overseen by experts from the Marlow Society and features three key attractions.
The enigmatic Masonic Centre forms the centrepiece of the tour, with an exhibition on Freemasonry in Marlow as the organisation celebrates 80 years since moving to the former public meeting hall.
Fleetwood Masonic Hall, in common with stately homes and other notable buildings in England, joined in the celebration of some of the country’s unseen architecture and culture during Heritage Open Days. Buildings which are usually closed to the public or normally charge a fee for admission offer members of the public free access to their properties during this annually-held weekend event.
Fleetwood Masonic Hall opened its doors to the public for two days of the event making it the fourth time the hall has participated in Heritage Open Days (HODs). Working closely with the town’s Civic Society buildings of every age, style and function in the town also threw open their doors to show off their unique place in Fleetwood’s past and present.
The hall has had a chequered history since the original property was first built in 1847. It was then a private house known locally as The Towers. In 1945 it became Fleetwood Orphanage and Children’s Home and remained as such until the orphanage closed in 1954 having given scores of Fleetwood children an especially fine start in life.
In 1955 lodges operating in Fleetwood, which up to that time had met in the town’s public houses, made enquiries about the cost of either a new building or one which could be adapted for masonic purposes. Hesketh Lodge No. 950, Fleetwood’s oldest lodge and which was formed in 1863, received approval to pay a deposit of £240 for the purchase of the former orphanage at No. 32, The Esplanade. Fortunately, by coincidence, the lodge had received a legacy of £300 from the estate of a former member and consequently another chapter in the building’s history was to open.
Massive structural alterations took place and the premises, initially spartan and without floor covering (or even a bar!) opened in 1956 with all due ceremony. Over the intervening years a multitude of improvements have been made to the hall to make it the comfortable environment it now is for members to meet.
During the HODs’ weekend, and despite gale force winds and heavy downpours on the Sunday, a steady flow of visitors from all parts of the country, together with local people, were welcomed by members of lodges which meet at Fleetwood Masonic Hall who acted as volunteer tour guides. Fleetwood Masonic Hall Ladies’ Committee also played a vital role in the day. The many comments recorded in the visitors’ book paid glowing tributes to what the members of the public who availed themselves of the tour of the hall thought of the experience.
It was to prove a two way street for the guides who, apart from the facts and figures they themselves were providing, heard snippets of information in return about connections some local people had with the hall over the years. One visitor, Gwyneth Priestley, the niece of a former North Fylde Group Chairman Harry Robson, now sadly gone to the Grand Lodge above, pointed out her uncle’s portrait in the foyer to her guide. Harry had been a member of both Onward Lodge No. 5540 and Wyre Lodge No. 7704 and his portrait was presented to the hall in 1986 to commemorate his 50 years of service to Freemasonry.
Another portrait in the foyer also caused some comment. This one only this week has been given pride of place at Fleetwood Masonic hall and is of new Assistant Provincial Grand Master and North Fylde’s own Harry Cox. Harry and his wife Carol saw the portrait for themselves for the first time when they paid a visit during the HODs’ weekend and admitted to being very pleasantly surprised.
Amongst the many other visitors to the hall which has panoramic views over Morecambe Bay was the grandson of a lighthouse keeper whose grandfather in days gone by trekked across the sands daily to light the historic Wyre Light lighthouse which in those days was illuminated using oil. The Wyre Light which indicated to generations of Fleetwood trawler men that they were nearing home can clearly be seen from the hall.
Also paying a nostalgic visit was Charles Linkison and his family. Charles’ father Bill, now sadly deceased, was a well known and much loved character at Fleetwood Masonic Hall and a member of several lodges. Bill, who hailed from the Scottish island of Millport, regularly took Fleetwood Masons to visit his mother lodge in Glasgow, was much involved in the King Solomon Building team which tours the country raising money for good causes and was responsible for organising traditional Burns’ supper evenings at Fleetwood, amongst a host of other things.
North Fylde Group Chairman Duncan Smith on his visit to Fleetwood praised the efforts of the volunteer tour guides and the Fleetwood Masonic Hall Ladies’ Committee for their efforts and congratulated the organisers on a job well done. Heritage Open Days are a good vehicle he said to show the involvement Freemasonry has with the communities in which we are involved and they also give the chance to dispel a few myths on what masonry is really about.
Each September many Liverpool buildings open their doors to the general public as they take part in the annual Liverpool Heritage Open Days scheme. Members of the public, in organised groups, are allowed entry into many buildings throughout Liverpool which are normally closed to them throughout the year to see the magnificent architectural wonders with which the city is blessed
The Liverpool Masonic Hall in Hope Street is proudly included in the Heritage tours and was open to the public over a period of four separate days. Dozens of visitors to the Hall were given comprehensive tours by Liverpool group chairman Sam Robinson during morning and afternoon sessions. Sam was also able to give a special tour and interview to BBC Radio Merseyside presenter Graham Mack, which was broadcast on his morning show.
Commencing with a video presentation, Sam gave the visitors a comprehensive lecture on the history of Freemasonry as it began in Liverpool and details of the construction and developments of the Masonic Hall. The members of the public were then given a walking tour of the lodge rooms, dining rooms and other areas of interest inside the hall.
The visitors expressed particular interest in the Corinthian suite, the War Memorial and the Egyptian suite which is used for Royal Arch Masonry. They were also interested in the items of lodge furniture and their symbolic relevance. A number of them used the Victorian lift which is rumoured to have been used by Humphrey Bogart in one of his movies. Several visitors were surprised to be informed that the building is not solely used by Freemasons but that the enterprising directors of the hall lease time and space within the hall to outside organisations and individuals as additional sources of income.
Throughout the tours Sam answered and expanded upon numerous questions from the members of the public about Freemasonry in general, its rituals and procedures and about the benefits Freemasonry can give to its members. These open tours prove that there is a most gratifying there level of interest in the Craft from ordinary members of the public.
Further details and information regarding the Hall's facilities can be found on their website at: www.liverpoolmasonichall.co.uk