Freemasons’ Hall

Before even the foundation stone was laid, this building was making the history books.

The story begins with the introduction of the Masonic Million Memorial Fund in 1919 to raise £1 million to build a new headquarters for the United Grand Lodge of England. It was to serve as a working building with lodge rooms, offices and a museum, but also as a memorial to the 3,000 members who died whilst serving during the First World War

£825,000 (somewhere in the region of £30 million in today’s money) of the £1 million was raised in 1925 from a five-course Masonic banquet for 7,250 men with 1,600 waiters and waitresses in Olympia, London. It must have been quite a spectacle. That lunch, with a staggering 15 miles of table, still stands as Europe’s largest ever sit-down meal.

H. V. Ashley and Winton Newman were chosen to design the new Freemasons’ Hall, the third such building on the site on Great Queen Street in Covent Garden. Construction began when the foundation stone was laid in 1927 and finished when the building was consecrated in 1933. The steel-framed Art Deco structure was initially known as the Masonic Peace Memorial but it became Freemasons’ Hall at the outbreak of the Second World War in 1939.

My expert tour guide told me that Freemasons’ Hall was the first building in London to have a steel frame; the first to have electric elevators; and, indeed, the first to have electricity. It feels remarkably solid and so it should with 1,600 tonnes of steel and who knows how much Italian marble. I can’t recommend a tour enough. It is open most days to the public.

The largest room is the Grand Temple which is the meeting place of Grand Lodge. A pair of huge bronze doors is perhaps its most famous feature. Each is 12ft high, 4ft wide and 3½” thick, and each weighs 1¼ tonnes. They are so finely balanced that they can be opened with a slight push with a single finger. It is certainly fortunate that their removal for maintenance has never been necessary. Nobody actually knows how to remove them after all.

Anybody who has visited the Masonic Centre on Queen’s Road in Brighton should know that it is undoubtedly the town’s finest Art Deco structure. Likewise, Freemasons’ Hall in London is without doubt that city’s finest Art Deco edifice – perhaps the country’s.