On a private visit a number of years ago, the then Chairman of English Heritage, Sir Jocelyn Stephens, expressed amazement that not only was the interior of Freemasons' Hall still 'as built' but it was still being used daily for the purposes for which it was originally constructed - a rare circumstance for a non-public 20th-century building in London.
The building was a response to the horrors of the First World War. Like society in general, Freemasons wanted a permanent memorial to those Freemasons who had died 'in the service of King and Country'.
On the suggestion of the Grand Master, HRH The Duke of Connaught, it was agreed that as both a memorial to the fallen and a celebration of peace, a suitable headquarters for the 'Mother Grand Lodge' should be built in London.
The idea was greeted with loud acclamation, the loudness possibly being increased by the Grand Master's insistence that funding of the new building should be by voluntary donation and not a levy on the members!
The building committee agreed that as the Masonic Peace Memorial - the chosen name for the new building - the new hall should be of the finest design, constructed of the best materials and include all the latest technologies, both in terms of its construction and in the services necessary for a large building.
In 1923 an international architectural competition was announced, with Sir Edwin Lutyens as chairman of the assessors; nearly 100 outline schemes were submitted, from which 10 were chosen to be fully worked up.
The winning design was produced by the partnership of RV Ashley and Winton Newman, who provided the best solution to these three major problems:
Having studied the building of skyscrapers in the USA, the architects' solution to the weight problem was to propose a steel-frame construction, the largest ever conceived in England at that date.
- the shape of the site
- the need to provide a central meeting chamber capable of seating 2,000, with a central space in which Masonic ceremonies could be conducted, and
- the weight problem of building an enormous structure on London clay with the Piccadilly Underground Line running under the site.
The other two problems were solved by, in essence, providing a 'building within a building'. The outer building forms an irregular, hollow pentagon into the centre of which projects the inner building, housing the Grand Temple, and forming a courtyard.