If you work near Holborn or Covent Garden you won’t failed to have noticed a rather dominating building between the two areas. It’s one of UK’s most secret buildings, and head quarters to one of the most secretive societies in the world, the Freemason’s United Grand Lodge.
I’ve walked past it lots of times and gazed up to this huge building, and wondered what it’s like inside, and today I was lucky enough to find out.
Actually I wasn’t that lucky, because contrary to public belief the Freemasons are very open these days and this grand hall conduct regular daily free tours and the museum and library is open to all (..but I was lucky to find that out).
As I expected it was as impressive on the inside as the outside of the building suggested. The last time I saw a building of this calibre was Parliament. As I wandered in I was greeted with the grand sparkling marble staircases, guiding me up to the museum. The museum/library was a great collection of all things Freemason, and a bit more.
The society began as a society of stone mason’s (surprise surprise) over the yeas it has evolved, covering a broader range of occupations, and now is open to all, it also took on a very spiritual side (open to all religions) and encouraging living a morally virtuous life. Many of the symbols associated with Freemasonry (I discovered) were actually representative of mason’s (as in stone cutters) themselves as well as religious imagery. The museum houses many items of clothing, uniforms, medals, as well as some interesting artefacts from Israel, stones and archaeological items from the original Solomon’s temple (which features greatly in the society).
The building itself was originally built in the early 30s as a peace memorial, a tribute to those mason’s who lost their lives in the war. It houses the temple its heart and is surrounded by the offices and meeting rooms of the their UK head quarters.
The original stone masons would have loved this place, inside the corridors are pure marble with beautiful colourful sculpted ceilings, encompassing all the emblems and symbols of the society. Outside the main temple area is the memorial, with a fitting tribute to those who lost their lives and the names of all those mason groups who contributed to the costs of the building, a whopping £1 million was raised for this; an impressive amount in the post war period.
The grand temple itself is equally impressive, it literally is a grand temple, with a beautiful, colourful mosaic ceiling reflecting the spiritual side of the organisation.
The tour also takes you through an impressive hall of fame of Grand Master portraits, you’ll recognise most of them, from King George VI – who was made an honorary Grand Master when he suddenly became king after his brother abdicated, he wasn’t allowed to hold both posts, to the eccentric king George IV (formerly Prince Regent). This room also holds an XXL throne which was specially built for the… er… oversized King (you never see those pictures of the Prince Regent). The hall of fame sheds some light of the connections of Royalty and Freemasonry, however our guide also pointed out that none of the current top royals have any interest in the society and therefore don’t hold any positions.
You may also be surprised to learn that this secret building isn’t so secret after all, and you’ve probably already seen it on its regular TV appearances. It’s often used for filming and has featured in many fictional shows such as Spooks (as the M15 headquarters), New Tricks, Poirot as well as Hitchhiker’s Guide the the Galaxy (to name a few)
Whatever you think of the Mason’s and whatever your opinions, there is no doubt this is an incredible building, and it was thoroughly fascinating and eye opening to be able to get inside. I would highly recommend a visit.
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60 Queen Street, London WC2B 5AZ
Nearest Stations Holborn, Covent Garden