For a building that looks imposing and full of secrets, Freemason’s Hall is actually open to the public, and free to go in.
It’s sort of always been open to the public, but few people knew that, so they’ve been on a bit of a publicity awareness campaign recently.
Even so, while I knew about the marvellous library room and its collection of objects that are worth visiting, I didn’t know that they’ve recently added an entirely new museum to visit.
I only spotted it when going in to see another public exhibition, and hang on, what’s that open door about a museum in a place I’ve never seen one. Turns out the museum opened two years ago – I might need to get new glasses.
Freemasonry is not a secret society as is often claimed, but a society with secrets. Although not explicitly religious, in Regular Freemasonry members are expected to believe in the notion of a single god – regardless of type.
I guess that means Pastafarians could join?
The museum is pretty conventional though, with lots of glass cases showing off everything from 17th-century books to modern teddy bears, all bearing the mark of Freemasonry. As such, it can be seen as a rather eclectic collection of objects, with a single brandname associated with them, or as a pseudo-religious collection.
Most of the objects are normal household goods and considering Freemasonry’s incorrect reputation for secrecy, it seems that Freemasons were keen to decorate their homes richly with Freemason branded domestic clutter.
Very undomestic in scale though is a gigantic gilt chair, made in 1791 for the future King George IV. The scale is less to do with the burgeoning waistline of the future King, than to mark his importance in the room.
Satchels belonging to former famous Freemasons include many obvious names, but also the circus owner Billy Smart, which left me pondering my own prejudices about why a circus owner would be a Freemason. But in truth, why shouldn’t he have been. My own biases firmly put back in their box.
Although tours of the main building are freely offered as well, for those without time, one of the Masonic rooms is open at the back of the museum – so, behind a rope, you can see inside to the secret room. Ohh, secrets, ever so, well, looking rather mundane frankly!
As a museum, it’s a bit difficult to understand if you don’t know anything whatsoever about Freemasonry, and it’s clearly a museum of the history of the English Freemasons, rather than of Freemasonry itself.
It’s still a good little museum to visit, and you can also go down the corridor to the library where there is a similar space packed full of even more stuff to see.
If you’ve never been, a decent visit to both rooms can easily fill a couple of hours. That its free to visit and in an impressive building makes it excellent.
The Museum of Freemasonry is just down the road from Covent Garden tube station.
When not in use, tours of the main building also take place Mon-Sat, are free and begin at 11am, 12pm, 2pm, 3pm and 4pm, lasting around an hour. They need booking in advance.