Editor in Chief, MASONIC FORUM Magazine

We will review some of ­London’s landmarks: Freemasons Hall – home of the UGLE– Mother GL of the World, St Paul’s Cathedral, the Great Fire Monument, the Templar Church and Westminster Abbey – places that are undoubtedly linked to Freemasonry by the very fact that they were designed/built by famous Freemasons. In this way we propose an “initiatic trail” on the footsteps of the Masons who lived in past centuries and who influenced our architecture and culture.

Freemasons Hall in London is the headquarters of the United Grand Lodge of England and the Supreme Grand Council of the Royal Arch of Freemasonry of England, as well as the meeting place for many Masonic lodges in the London area. Located on Great Queen Street between Holborn and Covent Garden, it has been the site of Masonic meetings since 1775.
In 1769 the Premier Grand Lodge (the name given to the Grand Lodge created in London in 1717) expressed its intention to build a central hall, and the first step was to register all members to raise the necessary funds. Thus, in 1774 a parcel of land was bought on which there were at that time two houses; the one in the front appears to have been the Freemasons’ Tavern at that time. A competition was held to design a Grand Lodge to connect the two houses, and the winning design was by Thomas Sandby – an English designer, illustrator, architect and teacher, one of the founder members of the Royal Academy in 1768 and its first Professor of Architecture.
On 23 May 1776, the new Freemasons’ Hall was opened – a Masonic meeting place, but soon to become a central place for London’s social life, hosting concerts, balls, literary evenings and meetings of academic and charitable societies.
Over time, both the original building and the site have undergone changes and extensions, the present Freemasons’ Hall, the third on the site, was built between 1927 and 1933 to the designs of architects Henry Victor Ashley and F. Winton Newman in memory of the 3.225 Freemasons who died in the WWI. It was opened on 19 July 1933 by the Grand Master, HRH The Duke of Connaught, KG. Today Freemasons’ Hall, built in the Art Deco style, covers an area of 0.9 ha.
Access to the Grand Temple (the central point of the building) is through two bronze doors, each weighing 1.250 kg, which open into a hall of 37 m long, 27 m wide, 19 m high and having 1.700 seats. The roof is mosaic and, in addition to figures and symbols from Masonic ritual, includes, in the corner, figures representing the four cardinal virtues – Prudence, Temperance, Courage and Justice – and the Arms of Prince Arthur, Duke of Connaught and Strathearn (Queen Victoria’s seventh child), Grand Master from 1901-1939, at whose suggestion the Masonic Peace Memorial was built. The Grand Temple has also a large organ since 1933.
The Freemasons’ Hall also hosts 26 other Masonic temples, different in layout and decoration, a Freemasonry museum, a library and an archive.
In 2007, the Freemasonry Museum’s collection was recognized through the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council’s Designation Scheme as being of outstanding quality, significance, national and international importance. It holds a collection of Masonic works of art, ceremonial objects and regalia, as well as everyday objects with Masonic decoration, including clocks, furniture, glassware, jewelry, porcelain, ceramics and silverware. The library is open to the public for consultation and contains an extensive collection of printed books and manuscripts on every aspect of Freemasonry in England, as well as material on Freemasonry in other parts of the world and on subjects associated with Freemasonry or mystical and esoteric traditions. In addition to the core Masonic collections, the Museum of Freemasonry holds a wide selection of items relating to mutual societies such as the Oddfellows, Foresters and many other societies, both current and defunct. It offers a genealogical research service, workshops, events and thematic exhibitions open to the general public.
Keeping the tradition dating back to 1776, the Grand Temple still hosts non-Masonic events such as concerts, conferences, etc., thus Freemasons’ Hall remains a central landmark of London’s social life and a “gateway” for any interested person – Mason or profane – into the world’s oldest Masonic organization, to which belonged the greatest personalities.

Another London landmark is St Paul’s Cathedral, whose actual construction began in 1675 under the direction of Sir Christopher Wren, who has been in charge of the design since 1669. According to existing historical evidence, Sir Christopher Wren, maybe England’s greatest architect, is credited with overseeing the construction of more than 50 churches in London after the Great Fire of 1666. The building of such a cathedral by one man in his lifetime, and the fact that it is a work of such grandeur and unity, is remarkable for Sir Christopher Wren, considered to be one of the most esteemed architects in history and a renowned Freemason. As his greatest work, Sir Christopher Wren has a simple stone monument in a quiet corner of the crypt in St Paul’s Cathedral and an epitaph ending with the words “Reader, if you seek his memory – look around you”.
The present building stands on the site of other religious edifices. Thus, around 604 Mellitius, the first Bishop of London, built a church dedicated to St Paul here on the occasion of his investiture by St Augustine. Destroyed by fire, it was completely rebuilt twice by 1087. It was again burnt down and rebuilt by Wilhelm the Conqueror who donated stone from the ruins of the Palatine Tower. Due to frequent destruction and rebuilding, the architectural style was changed from Romanesque to Gothic. The cathedral was consecrated in 1250, then re-christened in 1300, although it was not officially completed until 1314. It is supposed to have been one of the largest cathedrals in Europe at the time, similar to Salisbury, with a tower 149 metres high.
In 1535, the cathedral, which had been Roman Catholic until then, became Anglican following the outbreak of the Protestant Reformation in England. As a result, King Henry VIII and his successor Edward VI ordered the destruction of the ornaments, crypts and altars in the cathedral’s courtyard – where several monasteries were located. In 1666 a new fire destroyed the cathedral in its entirety.
Construction of the present cathedral began in 1675, it was consecrated on 2 December 1697, but the construction was completed in 1710 and the statues on the façade were installed in 1720. Sir Christopher Wren’s design, with a dome and two towers, combined neoclassical, gothic and baroque elements in an attempt to symbolize both the ideals of the English Restoration and 17th century scientific philosophy.
St. Paul’s Cathedral was the tallest building in London from 1710-1962, with 67 metre high towers and a 111 metre dome. During the WWII, it was severely damaged and restored in 1996 by architect John B. Chambers.
The dome of St. Paul’s Cathedral, which is approximately 111 metres above the ground, consists of three shells (an outer dome, a hidden brick cone for structural support and an inner dome), weighs 65,000 tonnes and is the second tallest dome in Europe after St Peter’s Basilica in Rome (120 metres high). At the top of the outside dome is the famous Golden Gallery, which offers a view of London from above, after climbing around 530 steps. From inside the cathedral the inner dome is visible, made of a masonry shell, 31 metres in diameter. The frescoes and grisailles in the inner dome can be admired from the Whispering Gallery, so called because a whisper from one side of the gallery can be heard from the other. The dome is supported by buttresses and columns in a peristyle, and eight massive pillars connect the buttresses in the dome area to the cathedral floor.
To the north and south of the dome section are wide transepts, each with semicircular porticos, to the east are the choir and the Jesus Chapel, while the nave and ‘front’ entrance are to the west. The entrance is set between twin bell towers about 65 metres high. The southwest tower is famous for its geometric staircase, with Tijou balustrade, leading to the library and archive.
From the west facade to the east end of the apse, St Paul’s Cathedral measures approximately 157 metres, but including the western steps that provide access to the cathedral, the total length of the structure is 170 metres.
One of the most important features of St Paul’s Cathedral is the organ, installed in 1697 and built by Grinling Gibbons, which with its 7.189 pipes and 5 keyboards with 138 keys each, is the largest in the UK.
Inside the cathedral there are some 300 monuments, as well as the American Memorial Chapel (formerly Jesus Chapel) dedicated since 1958 to American soldiers killed in WWII. Many famous soldiers, artists and intellectuals have also been buried in the crypt, including Lord Nelson – Commander of the British Navy, the Duke of Wellington – Prime Minister of Great Britain, Thomas Edward Lawrence, known as Lawrence of Arabia (1888-1935), British officer and writer, and even Sheriff Christopher Wren himself.
The Cathedral also hosts notable events, including Lord Nelson’s funeral, Sir Winston Churchill’s funeral, Margaret Thatcher’s funeral, Queen Victoria’s jubilee, Prince Charles’ wedding to Princess Diana and Queen Elizabeth II’s Diamond Jubilee, as well as Queen Elizabeth II’s 80th birthday.

The Monument of Great Fire of London, better known as the Monument, is located near the north end of London Bridge, raised to commemorate the great fire that swept through central London from 2 – 6 September 1666.
The Monument was designed by Sir Christopher Wren in collaboration with Robert Hooke. It is not known how the two collaborated, but Hooke’s drawings for the column still exist, and the presence of Sir Christopher Wren’s signature on them indicates his approval of the designs rather than his authorship. The City Council approved the design in 1671, with construction taking six years.
At 62 metres high, the tower was built between 1671 and 1677, marking both the site of the first church destroyed by fire (St Margaret’s) and the point where the fire was stopped. Its height marks the distance from where Thomas Farriner’s (or Farynor’s) shop, the King’s baker, stood and where the fire started. The monument includes a Doric column built of Portland stone, crowned with a gilded fire urn. The viewing platform near the top of the Monument is reached by a narrow staircase with 345 steps.
Hooke’s drawings reveal that there were several versions of the monument: a simple obelisk, a column adorned with tongues of fire, and a fluted Doric column, also chosen. Several versions of the ornament at the top were also discussed: a statue of a phoenix with outstretched wings rising from the ashes, a 4,6 m statue of King Charles II, or of a woman carrying a sword symbolising London triumphant, a simple gilded copper ball “with flames coming out of the top”, but in the end a gilded bronze urn in flames was chosen (apparently Robert Hooke’s suggestion).
The total cost of the monument was £13,450, of which £11,300 was paid to Joshua Marshall Warden of the Worshipful Company of Masons in 1666 and later Master of the Company in 1670. He subsequently became Master Mason of the Crown in his father’s stead and in this capacity worked at several royal palaces. As Master Mason to the King, and also as Sir Christopher Wren’s preferred contractor for his work, Joshua Marshall is said to have been one of a number of masons who worked including at St Paul’s Cathedral.

Temple Church is a private royal church, meaning exempt from the jurisdiction of the diocese and province in which it is located and subject to the direct jurisdiction of the monarch, serving both the Inner Temple and the Middle Temple, who own the property and are jointly responsible for its maintenance. It was built by the Knights Templar as their headquarters in England, consecrated on 10 February 1185 by Patriarch Heraclius of Jerusalem, and it seems King Henry II himself is said to have been present at the event.
During the reign of King John (1199-1216) it served as the royal treasury, supported by the Knights Templar’s role as international bankers. Today it is jointly owned by the Inner Temple and Middle Temple Inns of Court, the foundations of the legal profession in England. It is a round church – a common design feature for Knights Templar churches – containing numerous stone effigies from the 13th and 14th centuries.
According to information of the time, before the church was built, the Knights Templar from London met in High Holborn, in a structure originally established by Hugues de Payens – the co-founder and first Grand Master of the Knights Templar who, in association with Bernard de Clairvaux, created the Latin Rule, the Order’s code of conduct; it seems that the Roman temple of Londinium was on this site. Because of the rapid growth of the order from the 1160s, the site had become too small, and the order bought the present site to establish a larger monastic complex to become its headquarters in ­England. In addition to the church, the site also contained residences, military training facilities and recreation grounds for military brothers and novices, who were not allowed to go into the city without the permission of the Master of the Temple.
The church building includes two separate sections: the original circular church building – the Round Church, which now functions as the nave, and a rectangular section, built about half a century later on the east side, which forms the choir. The round church is 17 metres in diameter and contains within it a circle of Purbeck marble columns, the oldest surviving marble columns.
In 1540, the church again became Crown property, and King Henry VIII dissolved the Knights Hospitaller of England and confiscated their estates. Henry provided a priest for the church under the former title of ‘Master of the Temple’. The Templar church also appears in Shakespeare’s play, familiar with the site; thus, both the church and the garden appear in the play Henry VI as the setting for the fictional scene of the plucking of the two roses by York and Lancaster and the beginning of the Wars of the Roses.
The church was undamaged by the Great Fire of London in 1666, but was nevertheless renovated by Sir Christopher Wren who made extensive alterations to the interior, including adding an altar screen and installing the first organ. It subsequently underwent further restoration in 1841 by Smirke and Burton who decorated the walls and ceiling in High Victorian Gothic style in an attempt to restore the church to its supposed original appearance.
German bombing on 10 May 1941 burned the roof of the round church, with the fire spreading to the nave, chapel, organ and all other wooden parts of the church. The Purbeck ­marble columns in the altar cracked from the intense heat and although they still provided some support for the vault, they were deemed unsafe and replaced with ones of the same shape, sloping slightly outwards, as the original ones. During the refurbishment carried out after the bombing destruction, architect Walter Godfrey discovered elements of Sir Christopher Wren’s 17th century renovations surviving in the storerooms and so these were replaced in their original positions. The church was rededicated in November 1958.
The Templar Church was also used for the initiation ceremonies of Knights Templar who entered the temple in the circular nave at dawn through the west door to take monastic vows of piety, chastity, poverty and obedience. The details of the initiation ceremonies were secret, which later contributed to the downfall of the order as rumours spread of possible blasphemous uses, providing a pretext for the suppression of the order.
Today, the Templar Church holds regular religious services and weddings – for members of the Inner and Midle Temple. As a royal private church, members of the choir are allowed to wear red robes.
Regular choir music performances and organ recitals are held in the church, the choir having been established here since 1842. In 1927, the Temple Charch Choir, under the direction of George Thalben-Ball, became famous with the recording of Mendelssohn’s Hear My Prayer, including the solo “O for the Wings of a Dove” sung by Ernest Lough. It was one of the most popular recordings of all time by a church choir, reaching gold record status (one million copies) in 1962 and achieving some 6 million sales to date. The choir is all male, consisting of 18 boys, most of whom attend City of London School, and 12 professional men. They sing weekly at Sunday services.
In 2003, the Temple Church Choir gave the world premiere performance of Sir John Tavener’s seven-hour epic The Veil of the Temple. The following year it was performed by the choir at the Lincoln Festival in New York, and a concert version was presented at the BBC Proms the same year. The boys’ choir also appears on the 2016 recording of John Rutter’s violin concerto Visions, as well as on an album of Christmas music for voices.
Temple Church’s excellent acoustics have also attracted lay musicians: Sir John Barbirolli recorded a celebrated performance of Ralph Vaughan Williams’ Fantasy on a Theme by Thomas Tallis in 1962, and Paul Tortelier recorded the complete Bach Cello Suites in April 1982. Film composer Hans Zimmer chose Temple Church to record the parts of the Interstellar score that included an organ; the parts were played by the church’s organist, Roger Sayer. It was on this occasion that Zimmer said, “Setting foot in Temple Church is like stepping into deep history. … Temple Church is home to one of the most magnificent organs in the world.”
The church contains two organs: a chamber organ built by Robin Jennings in 2001 and a four-manual Harrison & Harrison organ built in 1924 as a private ball organ at Glen Tanar House and installed at Temple Church in 1954.
Temple Church, is one of the world’s most storied places. Thus, in 1162 the Round Church was built to be the Jerusalem of London, between 1214 – 1219 the Magna Carta was negotiated here, and its greatest hero – William Marshall was buried in the church. The Battle of the Bulge in the 1580s – a theological conflict between the Puritans and the supporters of Elizabethan consensualism, the events of 1587, 1776, 1787 – Raleigh’s expeditions, through the colonial constitutions, to the Declaration of Independence and the American Constitution, and the birth of the ­American Law had one thing in common – Temple Church. And to this day, the Church serves the Inner and Middle Temple legal colleges.

Another important London landmark is Westminster Abbey. It is believed that a fisherman – Aldrich had a dream in which St Peter was present near the Thames. As a result, between 960-970, St Dunstan, Bishop of London, built a small Benedictine abbey dedicated to St Peter in this area. In 1042 King Edward the Confessor, considered to be the true founder of the abbey, rebuilt the church because he wanted a burial place for himself and his family. The new cross-shaped church was consecrated on 28 December 1065, a week before Edward’s death. On 25 December 1066, the church hosted the coronation of William the Conqueror as King of England. In 1245, Henry III demolished Edward’s entire church (except for the nave) and replaced it with the present church in the sharp Gothic style of the period.
The rebuilding of the nave in Norman style began in the late 1300s under the direction of the architect Henry Yevele (the most prolific and successful master mason in late medieval England, elected to a committee of six stonemasons who were to inform the mayor and councillors of the acts and articles of the trade) and continued intermittently until the Tudor era.
Construction of the present church began under King Henry III, but was not completed until 1517.
Westminster Abbey was originally Roman Catholic, but in 1535 adopted Anglicanism as a result of the Protestant Reformation. In 1540, it became London’s cathedral until 1550 when the bishop’s seat moved to St Paul’s. In 1560, Queen Elizabeth I granted Westminster Abbey the title of a royal church, independent of the bishopric and subject directly to the sovereign, and a university was founded here. Between 1722 and 1745, the architect Nicholas Hawksmoor rebuilt the two 68-metre high Gothic towers. Nicholas Hawksmoor, initiated into Masonry in 1730, was a leading figure in the English Baroque style of architecture in the late 17th and early 18th centuries, working alongside the leading architects of the day, Sir Christopher Wren and John Vanbrugh, in the design of some of the most notable buildings of the period.
Western towers were added and are said to have been designed by Sir Christopher Wren, built by Nicholas Hawksmoor and John James and completed around 1745. The choir stalls in the main body of the church date from 1847 and the high altar and reredos were remodelled by Sir George Gilbert Scott in 1867. Scott and J.L. Pearson also restored the north transept facade in the 1880s. Westminster Abby was damaged by bombing during World War II, but was restored shortly after the war.
Until the 19th century, Westminster Abbey was one of the three great centres of British learning alongside Oxford and Cambridge, where the first third of the Old Testament and the last half of the New Testament of the famous King James Bible were translated into English. The 80 books of the King James Bible include 39 Old Testament books, an intertestamental section with 14 books that Protestants consider apocryphal, and 27 New Testament books. Noted for its “grandeur of style”, the King James Bible has been described as one of the most important books in English culture and a driving force in shaping the English-speaking world.
Westminster Abbey contains many tablets, statues and inscriptions commemorating kings, queens, knights, writers, actors, musicians, scholars and statesmen, but not all are buried here. Famous people buried here include poets Chaucer, Tennyson and Browning, writers Charles Dickens and Rudyard Kipling, Darwin the freethinker (and the man who so zealously resisted the bishops), mathematician Sir Isaac Newton and astronomer Sir John Herschel. There are believed to be around 3,300 people buried in the church and Cloisters.
Over time Westminster Abbey became the place where monarchs were crowned and the site of royal and important noble weddings.

Knowing the past and the landmarks is the way to self-discovery and helps us realize that people in the past were not just “good” or “bad”, but motivated in complex ways, just as we are today. Symbolic places preserve people’s history, and knowledge of them is gratitude to generations gone, for the legacy we have that continues in us and through us. It is up to each of us how we preserve this “heritage”, how we carry it on and what we will build to leave to generations to come.