Visit to the Masonic Hall, Gandy Street – 13th March 2012
Knowing little about the Freemasons, it was with a sense of keen anticipation that I joined 17 other members of the Society for a visit to the Masonic Hall in Gandy Street. Although I have walked down Gandy Street on countless occasions, I have never before been aware of the hall. This is not surprising because the only indication on the outside of the nature of the building is the Masons’ symbol and I did not know what this was until after the visit. There is also a notice stating that the front entrance is no longer used and so it was necessary to walk around to the rear. However, the unremarkable exterior of the building hid a revelation inside.
Our visit was hosted by four Masons from the St John the Baptist Lodge, one of the oldest in the country having been founded in 1732. The Hall is also used by nine other Lodges. Each of the Lodges originally had a specialist interest and they are known as Craft Lodges. We were told about the requirements of membership and about the work done to help those in need in the fields of education, housing, medicine and so on. Priority is obviously given to members and their families but help is also given to others in need. It was emphasised that there is no public fundraising – you will not see Masons making street collections for example – but all funds are raised from the members themselves.
The property itself was constructed in the 15th Century. The modest frontage in Gandy Street was a later addition, the original front entrance having been further back and this can still be seen from inside the building. The building was purchased by the Masons in 1885 for the sum of £1100. It was explained that because it is a Listed Building, the cost and difficulty of repairs and maintenance are considerable. One particular example of conservation work required is the fact that underneath the floor are the remains of an Inner Roman Wall. The property lost its substantial garden after the Second World Wall when it was compulsorily purchased by the City Council and is now part of the site of the Library.
On the upper floors the Masonic rooms extend over the shop on the ground floor as far as the alleyway of New Buildings. There is a magnificent high ceilinged dining room which can accommodate 80 diners. There is also a tower but we were unable to see this because the modern obsession with Health and Safety deemed it unwise! We were then shown into the Lodge Room - the Secretary told us that the word Temple was inappropriate as no worship takes place there, although moral teaching is fundamental to Freemasonry. This contains a splendid pipe organ believed to be one of the few – if not the only – such organ to have escaped electronic ‘improvement’. The Secretary also explained the meaning of the various symbols to be seen. Health and Safety had also visited here and electric bulbs have replaced candles previously used in meetings!
Finally, tea was served in the bar and brought to a close a fascinating visit, which not only revealed the historic building but, I am sure, also dispelled many myths about Freemasonry.