Above (top): A 1765 Bible of the Excellent
and Grand Royal Chapter, forerunner
of Supreme Grand Chapter
Proceedings of a public
meeting held at Freemasons’ Hall in
1824 to honour James Watt, inventor
of the steam engine, and a Mason.
Another view of the Watt proceedings
book, showing an engine and
carriages on the fore-edge
The first Freemasons’ Hall, built by Thomas Sandby, was
used for both Masonic meetings and hired out for use by
non-Masonic organisations. The archive collections held
by the Library and Museum include a number of letters,
documents and pictures of these non-Masonic meetings
(see MQ, Issue No. 15).
At a recent auction, Library and Museum staff noticed
that one of the lots was a bound copy of the proceedings
of a public meeting held at Freemasons’ Hall on 18 June
1824 to debate the issue of erecting a monument to James
Watt, inventor of the steam engine, who was described as
‘a man whose inventions had so essentially promoted the
prosperity and increased the resources of the British Empire’.
Diane Clements, director of the Library and Museum,
commented: “What particularly caught our eye was that the
copy had a fore-edge painting of a steam train which sounded
‘We did not have any archive material about this particular
meeting, but the book fits well with our recent cataloguing
project about the history of the Hall and would also be an
additional exhibit for our Summer Exhibition’.
The auction, being out of London, staff did not have the
opportunity to inspect the book but, following a successful
bid, were amazed when it arrived. Bound in red morocco
with gold blocking, the book was inscribed by both Sir
Francis Chantrey and the artist of the charming fore-edge
painting, William Maw Egley, neither of which had been
included in the catalogue description.
Diane Clements continued: ‘Sir Francis Chantrey was
one of the major British sculptors of the 19th century. Having
already made statues of Watt for Glasgow and Birmingham,
he was eventually commissioned to produce the statue of
Watt which was erected in Westminster Abbey as a result
of this meeting.
‘Not only that, but he was a Freemason, a member of
Somerset House Lodge, and we have two portrait busts
by him in the current Freemasons’ Hall. This made a book
which was already interesting, especially so’.