The visitor‘s Travelogue – a journey through London’s Masonic Centres
Bro Edward Compton a.k.a The Visitor
My name is Edward Compton and I like to visit Lodges. In fact, I visit a lot of Lodges.
Thought everything happens at Freemasons Hall? Well, think again. It turns out there are Masonic Centres all over the place across our great City, and I’m visiting all of them: Masonic Centres, the old public houses where our predecessors met and places of yore with a bit of Masonic history. I am Bro Edward Compton, and I am ‘The Visitor’. Part travelogue, part Through the Keyhole – I’ll be showing you Freemasonry across all of London.
In this edition, I travelled to Mark Masons’ Hall (MMH) to meet members of the Royal Leopold Lodge No 1669, otherwise known as the Communications Lodge, where the great and good of MetGL’s Communications Team come together to communicate their ideas about getting Freemasons to communicate. Makes sense. I also visited my dear friends at Anglo Sierra Leone Lodge, a truly unique Lodge with great humour, warmth and a touch of rhythm.
So, it’s late February, and I’m off to Mark Masons’ Hall in St James’ Street to meet the Brethren of the Royal Leopold Lodge. Where are we? SW1, South West London – slap bang next to St James Palace. Yes, next to a palace. As Grandad Potts said in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, this is a bit of P-O-S-H, posh. I even waxed my moustache and splashed on the Brut – you’ve got to look and smell the part. We’re a three-minute walk from Green Park Station: if you want to take in the sights on your way to the venue, it is a stone’s throw from The Mall and Buckingham Palace.
Built between 1862 and 1865 following a design by Sir James Thomas Knowles, Mark Masons’ Hall is a Crown property, Grade II listed and described as “High Victorian”. The property consists of seven levels which include a lower ground floor and a basement. The Grand Lodge of Mark Master Masons of England and Wales has occupied the building since the end of 1977, with Mark Masons’ Hall formally opened in 1979.
Prior to then, the club was occupied by the Civil Service Club (1866-69), the Thatched House Club (1870 to 1949), the Union Club (1950 -1964) and the Constitutional Club (1964 – 1977).
Now, you would think Mark Masons’ Hall is home exclusively to members of the Mark Order, right? But in actual fact, 10 Masonic Orders are currently administered from Mark Masons’ Hall and meet in the splendour of this great building, including many Craft and Chapter Lodges.
Upon entering the building, I am met with a panelled entrance hall and an impressive sweeping free-standing staircase constructed from stone steps with an open well and cast iron ornamental balustrade. There are two large Masonic temples on the ground floor, one of which I found myself in for the ceremony. The rooms are beautifully decorated with stained glass and sparkling chandeliers and adorned with paintings of eminent Freemasons, their portraits staring down upon me like Ancient Greek demi-Gods. Which one is Zeus?
I’m looking for the apron with the most bling. On the first floor, there is a front dining room which overlooks St James’s Street as well as St James’s Palace. The rear areas on this floor are also used for dining and daytime meetings. On the second floor, there is a licensed bar at the front. The rear areas on this floor house two more Masonic temples. The third-floor houses three dining rooms and two further Masonic temples.
With a well-stocked bar at very reasonable prices, it’s no surprise that this is a popular venue. The bar is like a gentleman’s club from a bygone era: leather seats, high back upholstered armchairs, grand fireplaces and more chandeliers. The Trotter Brothers would have a field day here! This is the sort of place in literature where you might find a ‘society of men’. I half expected Phileas Fogg to run in and say, “There you go, kind Sirs, it’s been 80 days, and I’m back. Now, pay up!” I instantly wanted to take up cigar smoking, grow some mutton chops, read a broadsheet newspaper and tell my family to forward any calls for me to ‘The Club’ where the head barman could come up to me and say, “it’s your fiancé on the telephone, Sir Edward.” “Thank you, Simpkins, please tell Lady Amy I won’t be home til late – I’m playing billiards in the parlour with Tarquin and Basil.”
Back to the meeting of the Royal Leopold. I was lucky enough to be invited to see a Brother’s third, who, coincidently, I also saw initiated a couple of years previously, so I felt honoured to be there to see his journey progress. Royal Leopold always makes you feel very welcome, and the ceremony was excellent. I particularly enjoyed the graveside address, which is not always used in this ceremony but, in my opinion, adds a touch of poetry and pathos.
MMH is also a great venue in which to dine and offers great value for money at £45. Yes, you did read that right. Forty-five pounds, and the portions are really good – you even get seconds.
Almost fifty thousand meals are served here each year, and the venue has a growing reputation for high-quality food. For convenience – and because you’re full-up – there is also a lift which takes you straight to the bar upstairs. Though if you want to be healthy, there is a stair option which I highly recommend, especially after the seconds and thirds of the excellent carvery!
If you have an opportunity to visit MMH, then do so. It’s a historic Masonic landmark with atmosphere, great value for money and well worth your time.
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On Saturday, 4th March 2023, I visited my old friends at the Anglo Sierra Leone Lodge (ASL) No 9416. I have visited this Lodge before, and again it didn’t disappoint. I took a friend from my mother Lodge, Bro Derick (not to be confused with Bo Derek, who is someone completely different).
Anglo Sierra Leone meets at Freemasons’ Hall, another splendid building – a monument to the Brethren who died during World War One. Every temple is beautiful in its own right, and with the new bar and shop open to the public, FMH is worth a visit for both Freemasons and non-masons alike. There’ll be more on FMH in future articles (I am getting a future article, right?). [Depends on who’s buying dinner, Ed.]
As I always expect from Anglo-Sierra Leone, it was a great ceremony in the temple. It’s always nice to see a meeting where something different happens. Normally, at a Lodge meeting, you will experience two songs: the Opening Ode and the Closing Ode (and maybe a verse of the National Anthem). But at ASL, they’re breaking into song here, there, and everywhere. I asked Derick what he thought, and he sang back, “I like it like that” (Pete Rodriguez – YouTube it).
With Derick now infected with song and it spreading around the room, it was only a matter of time before I would go full Howard Keel, slapping my thigh and blessing beautiful hides. Was I enjoying this Saturday morning meeting? Yes, I was. Oh, What a Beautiful Morning! Yep, I was now fully infected. But they don’t just sing here. They recess from the Lodge in a free-form rhythmic walk, similar to the jazz-style funerals of New Orleans (which are said to have originated in West Africa, where of course, we find Sierra Leone). In fact, the music and dance-style walk is so infectious, Derick, and I recessed with a synchronised display of bota fogos.
The festive board was held at a local hotel. Another thing I like about ASL is that you get an option of meal choices at their festive board (usually, the only alternative option I get is vegetarian – “Would you like our standard main meal, sir – or a stuffed pepper?” erm, will it be stuffed with beef?).
So I was delighted at so many food options: the only issue was looking at all the other choices I could have picked (talk about food envy!). The stewards were constantly filling up our glasses with wine – every time I looked down, my glass was full again. This Lodge really is something special and truly unique, especially when they sing Grace (did I mention this Lodge like to sing?). If you get a chance to visit, you should go – you will have a great time. They really do appreciate visitors and make you feel included, so included in the fact that I helped read out the raffle numbers.
And a proper raffle too, with great prizes – a very generous Lodge raising money for good causes. Funnily enough, my number came up, and I won a bottle of rum – no fix there, then! A really lovely day with some very humorous moments by the members throughout – the laughter left my face aching! It really was lovely!
This article is part of the Arena Magazine, Issue 51 April 2023 edition.
Arena Magazine is the official magazine of the London Freemasons – Metropolitan Grand Lodge and Metropolitan Grand Chapter of London.
Read more articles in the Arena Issue 51 here.