Freemasons’ Hall history on the Net
Library & Museum of Freemasonry
(above) Freemasons' Hall was opened in 1776
The early archives of one of the most
fascinating buildings in London are to be
made available to the public by the Library
and Museum of Freemasonry as part of a
cataloguing and conservation project
supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF).
The HLF has awarded a grant of £46,000
to catalogue and conserve over 450 documents
covering the history of Freemasons’ Hall in
Great Queen Street from 1768, when plans for
the first Hall were put forward, to 1868 when a
major expansion of the site was completed.
The catalogue will be available by June
2005 on the free Access to Archives (A2A)
searchable website (www.a2a.org.uk) as part
of the National Archives Network, and on
the Library and Museum’s own web site at
original documents will be available at the
Library and Museum itself.
The first Freemasons’ Hall in Great
Queen Street, designed by Thomas Sandby
(and later extended by Sir John Soane),
was built on a narrow site fronted by the
Freemasons’ Tavern and opened in 1776.
Many local tradesmen were contracted
to build and fit out the Hall, and this
information is documented in the archives.
Amongst the fundraising schemes
adopted was a Tontine, an early form
of lottery, and the sale of a special jewel.
Several senior 18th century Freemasons
also lent money to pay for the building.
In order to cover the cost of running the
Hall, it and the Tavern were often hired out
for meetings, concerts, benefits and readings
by a variety of organisations.
The history of the Hall and Tavern touches
on the history of many other organisations and
individuals. The Academy of Ancient Music
transferred its concerts there in 1784, and there
were benefit concerts for the Middlesex
Hospital and the Royal Humane Society in
The Royal Geological Society was
formed at the Freemasons’ Tavern in 1807
and the Vegetarian Society met there.
Berlioz was attending a dinner at the Tavern
when the 1848 French revolution broke
out in Paris, delaying his return, and in
1867 a banquet was held there in honour
of Charles Dickens prior to his departure
Diane Clements, director of the Library
and Museum of Freemasonry, commented:
“Freemasons’ Hall has been a major
landmark in the Covent Garden area since
the 18th century and an important venue
for public meetings, events and concerts.
“We are very pleased to have been
awarded this grant, which will enable us
to make all of the important documents
relating to the early history of the building
more widely available.”