ISSUE 10, July 2004
John Pine: A sociable craftsman
Jumping for Joy: Skydiving for charity
Quarterly Communication: Speeches of: the Grand Master, the Pro Grand Master and, Report of the Board of General Purposes
Supreme Grand Chapter: Address of the First Grand Principal and Report of the Committee of General Purposes
Royal Arch: Cheshire gives a lead
  Walking with the greats: Bath Masonic Hall
Motoring in style: Classic Vehicle Club
Masonic education: A daily advancement and Events for your diary
Travel: Portugal
Library & Museum of Freemasonry
International: A warm welcome in Malta
Masonic ritual: Spoilt for choice
Public relations: Sheffield; Dorset; Chelsea Flower Show; Freemasons' Hall
Letters, Book reviews, Gardening

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Bath Masonic Hall

Improvements have been made to Bath Masonic Hall, a building synonymous with great actors, as Reginald Simmonds reveals

Walking with the greats

Bath is the second most popular tourist destination in the United Kingdom, second only to London, but few tourists get to see one of its most interesting buildings – the Masonic Hall.
     But television viewers will be able to catch a glimpse inside this beautiful and historic building in a series being prepared by the architectural historian Dan Cruikshank, entitled Britain’s Best Buildings, to be transmitted on BBC TV in the autumn. Viewers will be able to vote for their favourite.
     As the address implies, until the 18th century the site on which the Bath Masonic Hall stands was the orchard of the Benedictine Abbey, of which only the beautiful Bath Abbey church of St Peter and St Paul remains.
     But in 1748, John Wood the elder, the architect who designed much of Bath, chose the site for a new theatre to satisfy the needs of this developing cultural centre.
     John Wood chose the site because at that time it was conveniently close to the heart of the city. He was actively involved from the start, and drew up plans for a theatre:

‘sixty Feet Long and forty Feet Broad: it was to Front Westward to Orchard Street: and the Front was to have consisted of Rustick Basement, supporting the Dorick Order: Expence of Building it was computed at about one thousand Pounds’.

The designs are believed to have been carried out by Thomas Jelly, an architect who later built the King Edward’s Grammar School in Broad Street, Bath.
     The theatre opened its doors for the first time on 27 October 1750, under the management of John Palmer, with a production of Shakespeare’s Henry IV, Part II. During the early years, further plays by Shakespeare and others by Dryden, Otway, Ben Jonson, Beaumont and Fletcher, as well as several Restoration comedies, were produced.
     Charges for admission were hardly cheap. A seat in a box would have cost three shillings; a place in the pit was two shillings; and admittance to the upper gallery cost 1s 6d in the front and 1s at the rear. Those playgoers referred to as ‘persons of the first quality’ usually sent servants to occupy seats during the late afternoon, arriving themselves at about 6.30pm, for the rising of the curtain. Playbills of the time announced that ‘Ladies and gentlemen are desired to send their servants to keep places by half an hour after four o’clock’.
     A contemporary report states that these menials often behaved badly in the theatre, talking loudly and shouting vulgar irrelevances to each other across the auditorium!
     During the 1760s, Palmer continued to make improvements to the building and, with the full support of the Corporation, he applied to Parliament for a Royal Warrant, sending his son – another John Palmer – to London to present the petition.
     It was granted by a special Act of Parliament in 1768. At that time only Covent Garden and Drury Lane enjoyed this privilege and were entitled to call themselves ‘Theatre Royal’. The Theatre Royal, Bath was the first theatre outside London to be accorded this honour.
     John Palmer junior continued to guide the Orchard Street theatre to new pinnacles of acclaim and success. Performers such as John Henderson and Sarah Siddons delighted Bath audiences until they were lured to London.
     In 1785, three years after Sarah Siddons returned to Drury Lane, John Palmer was appointed Comptroller-General of the Post Office, and relinquished his responsibilities at the Orchard Street theatre.
     He bequeathed the proprietorship of the theatre to two long-serving actors in the company, William Keasbury and William Wyatt Dimond. Keasbury had served as manager under Palmer, and Dimond was an accomplished actor who played many roles – Sheridan had told him personally that he performed Joseph Surface in the School for Scandal ‘in a manner more consistent to my own ideas when I wrote the part, than anybody else’.


   A unique setting for a Royal Arch Chapter