Sunday, September 14, 2014

Freemasons' Grand Lodge Tour, 18th August

Just realised I wrote this blog post ages ago and then forgot to put it live! So here it is...

One of the (very few) upsides to having the ‘in-laws’ visiting is that it gives you an excuse to geek out a little and be a tourist. Having lived in London a long time, we’ve pretty much run out of the traditional touristy things to do and have started to look for the stuff that is more under the radar. (Having said that, the afternoon was filled with wandering round the Imperial War Museum which is pretty obvious.)

So, for one of our ‘things to do’ we went to the Grand United Freemasons Lodge in Covent Garden/Holborn and had a tour. It’s only 45 minutes, and if you expected a treatise on the history and evolution of the Freemasons you’ll be disappointed, but it does give you the chance to gawp and marvel at some architectural splendour. You start in the library/museum and from there go to the robing room where the masters put on their gowns and then down the corridor they walk in procession towards the Great Hall/Temple where they convene. You also get to see the route the lowlier Masons would take, through the three halls representing the stages of a mason’s career through the huge copper doors into a hall almost as high as a six-story building, and completely hidden from the outside world.

The place is literally full of symbolism. There doesn’t seem to be a symbolism they didn’t appropriate from Greek gods to astrology to the expected religious artefacts and symbolism. The hall formerly known as the peace hall is one such wonder with a shrine to those Freemasons who lost their lives in the Great War – all of their names have been transcribed and are held in an engraved chest bedecked with idols.

The place is mainly art deco and is full of Italian marble (plus some Tasmanian timber) and several beautiful stained glass windows. But when it was built in the 1920s-30s Egypt was also in fashion so there’s a bit of that thrown in as well. Unsurprisingly a lot of the tableaux represent masonry and also, there are a lot of religious references which will surprise no one who has read or watched The Da Vinci Code. Hearing how it is headed up by some of the wealthiest and, traditionally, powerful men in the land also doesn’t help – heirs to the throne have routinely been Grand Masters until taking the Kingship themselves.

No photos are allowed on the tour and there are so few people it’s impossibly to flout the rule. So you will just have to go and see this ridiculously extravagant building for yourself. It’s well worth doing. 

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I work as an editor in educational publishing by day, and then spend most of my spare time discovering interesting things to do in London, and taking people there with my own Meetup.