Friday, 8 April 2016

The Library and Museum of Freemasonry

60 Great Queen Street WC2B 5AZ

7 April 2016
Linda and I have visited the Museum of Freemasonry before, but not for the project;  and we were glad we returned, because it has been done up rather nicely since were were last here. The loos in particular had been modernised, and the displays contained fewer portraits of old men and more interesting artefacts and information.                                                                                                               The Building itself, with its handsome Art Deco stained glass and light fittings, was also looking handsome and well-cared for.                                                                                                                             The wall outside the Museum has not changed, however, and is covered with the insignia of all the London Lodges in the days before the establishment of the United Grand Lodge.   
There is now an exhibition space at each end of the upstairs corridor.  At the Library end, which is where we remember the Museum to have been, we saw treasures from different lodges around the country, including some 18th century glove stretchers, as well as furniture,regalia and jewels. We admired an enormous punch bowl, and were amazed by the recipe for quarts of rum, brandy and whiskey to be mixed with curacao and a very little orange and lemon. 

Having made some perhaps ill-judged remarks about being the wrong gender for Freemasonry, we were given potted histories of women and Freemasonry from a couple of the staff.  Women formed Lodges of their own back to the end of the seventeenth century.  Members of the French Royal family before the Revolution were involved, and in Germany, they called themselves Mopses, taking as their symbol that quintessential lap dog, the pug.
On the other hand, we saw displayed a 1921 letter warning male Freemasons of disciplinary action if they shared ceremonies with women; and there were several items from the annual 'Ladies' Nights' of male lodges on display, including a travelling iron in a tin:  not the kind of gift I should be happy to find on my side plate as I sat down!                                 
One of the aims of the movement is philanthropy, and we saw evidence of this, ranging from schools - though the Rickmansworth school for girls is now fee paying but with scholarships for the daughters of Masons - to a lifeboat, purchased for the RNLI.  And there is a new, special exhibition about the Freemasons' Hospital, which used to be in Ravenscourt Park, On display are photographs and documents, as well as the uniforms and badges of the staff;  and an example of the toy bear given to child patients.                               

At the other end of the corridor is a new(ish) exhibition space, with an example of a Lodge Meeting room, set out with the symbols of the craft, clearly explained.

The rest of the room tells the story of Freemasonry through the ages and across the world. There were lots of examples of cigarette accessories, snuff boxes and pipes, as well as ceramic teapots and cups and saucers.  All this is best explained in The Mother Lodge, a poem by the Freemason Rudyard Kipling: 
We'd all sit down and smoke
(We dursn't give no banquets,
Lest a Brother's caste were broke)

Since the Roman Catholic Church for many years did not trust Freemasons, it is not surprising that many of them were engaged in scientific pursuits, including exploration.

Having seen the models of ashlars which are a part of the symbolism of Masonry, it seemed fitting to finish our visit by admiring the art work of Trevor Frankland.

Perhaps the most entertaining case in the whole interesting museum is that containing examples of novels about the supposed evil wiles and attempts at world domination of the Freemasons.
Finally, there was a case showing what delights were available in the shop, but one of the many helpful attendants told us that the Russian Doll family of Freemasons was not available, and we were not tempted by cufflinks, belts of logoed golf balls, so we passed.

It is a remarkable building, with an interesting set of displays and friendly staff, so if you are ever at the Holborn end of Covent Garden on a weekday, it is worth a visit. They have recently modernised their digital presence, and they tweet @FMLIBMUS.

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