Lurking near Covent Garden is the headquarters of the English branch of the mysterious and secretive Freemasons. Sadly for such a secret organisation, their head office is actually very obvious and noticable as it dominates the area with its 1920s Art Deco design.
Not to mention the sign saying “Freeemason’s Hall” on the door.
Rather than furtive figures secretly slipping into the building through tight security, anyone is free to go in and visit the place – and they even offer guided tours of the place.
And people call this a secret society?
As it happens I went in to see a new exhibition that opened a couple of weeks ago, grandly titled The Masonic Emporium.
A tiny bit of history.
As England’s population boomed during the early industrial revolution and people moved from villages to cities, there was a surge in interest in joining Freemasonry and lots of Lodges were created in the new towns and growing cities.
Naturally, if you have a new Lodge, you want to decorate it, and while in the early days, you might visit a local decorator and order your goodies, it wasn’t long before businesses realised there was a market for dedicated sales catalogues.
In essence, you would open a new Lodge and then order a “Freemasony in a box” package from the equivalent of the Argos catalogue.
It is this transition from locally produced wares to the more industrial production that the exhibition covers.
Going into the hall, you are asked to put on the sort of visitor badge you get if visiting an office, then are directed down the corridor to the exhibition – just past the shop (do pop in to buy something please).
The exhibition is basically a room full of glass cases and displays in the style that I personally prefer – namely things to look at and signs to explain. No flashy sillyness.
Sadly, photography was forbidden – even though I was the only person in the room at the time and did ask nicely.
Much of the exhibition is dedicated to the history of a George Kenning (1836-1901) who was probably the most influential Freemason of the time and largely responsible for the standardisation of Freemasonry regalia while also making quite a fortune selling the same to new Lodges.
In essence, this is a display of china, fabrics, glass work, jewellery, furniture, etc – that just happens to have a Freemasonry theme. Imagine a special edition of Antiques Roadshow and that is what we have here, just without the valuations and gasps of shock/disappointment from owners.
It’s quite a nice exhibition and I spent about half an hour in the place – then wandered upstairs to the permenant museum which is huge and could easily keep a person busy for a couple of hours. I’ve been to the museum before though so didn’t linger this time.
The exhibition is open Mon-Fri, 10am-5pm until Christmas.
There are also free tours of the building at 11am, noon, 2pm,3pm and 4pm – and if you have never been inside the building the tours are really worth going on as some of the rooms you see are quite stunning.