ISSUE 18, July 2006
Archbishop Fisher: A Godly man and a Brother
Travel: The train takes the strain
Quarterly Communication: Annual Investiture speech by the Grand Master and Speech of the Pro Grand Master and Report of the Board of General Purposes
Supreme Grand Chapter: Speech by the First Grand Principal and Report of the Committee of General Purposes Grand Lodge of New York: Speech by the Pro Grand Master
   Specialist Lodges: Keeping their eyes on the ball
Education: Planning ahead for the Chair and Events and New premises for Masonic research
Royal Opera House: A right Royal occasion
Royal opening: Beamish Museum
Digital records: Saving our past for the future
Library & Museum: The hall in the garden
Queen's Birthday: Masons played a prominent part
International: A Mason and the Foreign Legion
Masonic Charities: Grand Charity and NMSF and RMBI and RMTGB
Letters, Book reviews, Gardening

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Domestic Occurrences
Saturday, December 31
The Foundation-stone of the new Theatre in Covent Garden, now erecting by Mr. Robert Smirke, was this day laid by HRH. the Prince of Wales, as Grand Master of the Free Masons; the Duke of Sussex, Earl Moira, and other distinguished Noblemen, with some hundreds of that order, attended in procession.
    Considerable importance and interest was given to the spectacle by the honour thus conferred upon it; and all necessary pre-arrangements having been admirably attended to by the proprietors and the architect, the whole ceremony passed with much eclat.
    It attracted a great concourse of people; all the adjacent streets and houses were thronged, and near a thousand of spectators were admitted with tickets, and accommodated within the inclosed area, in a temporary covered building, erected opposite to the Foundation-stone; another building was provided for the Free Masons, and a Marquee for HRH the Prince of Wales.
    Above seven hundred workmen belonging to the building stood on surrounding scaffolds. Military detachments guarded the exterior; the Grenadier company of the first regiment of Guards was stationed within the ground at the Prince’s entrance, and the whole scene was enlivened by the musick of various military bands.
    The Foundation-stone is at the N.E. angle of the building, of an oblong shape, and weighing nearly three tons; it hung suspended over a basement-stone. At half-past twelve the procession of Free Masons entered the area, adorned with their various paraphernalia, the Chevalier Ruspini bearing the sword before them, and attended by a band of musick.
    HRH the Prince of Wales arrived at one o’clock, and was received by Earl Moira and other superior members of the order; a discharge of artillery and loud acclamations welcomed his approach, while all the bands uniting, struck up “God save the King.”
    His path, from the entrance to the Marquee, was covered with green cloth. His Royal Highness appeared in excellent health, and was brilliantly decorated with all the insignia of the order.
    Having arrived at the Marquee, Mr. Smirke, the Architect, presented him with a plan of the Building; HRH then advanced, and deposited in the basement-stone, a brass box containing two medals, one of bronze, on which was a portrait of His Royal Highness, and on the reverse, the following inscription:

    Princeps . Walliarum
    Regiis . Instaurandi . Auspiciis
    In . Hortis . Benedictinis
    Sua . Manu . Locavit

The other medal was deeply engraved in copper; on one side is inscribed:

    “Under the Auspices of
    His most sacred Majesty George III.
    King of the United Kingdom of Great Britain
        and Ireland,
    The Foundation-stone of the Theatre
    Covent Garden
    Was laid by His Royal Highness
    George Prince of Wales

On the other side is engraved “Robert Smirke, Architect.”

There were deposited also Gold, Silver, and Copper British coins of the latest coinage.
    Three Masons then spread mortar over the lowest stone; and Earl Moira, deputy Grand Master, having presented the Prince with a silver trowel, HRH as Grand Master, finished spreading it, and the stone was slowly let down; its descent was proclaimed by a discharge of artillery. The Plumb, the Level, and the Square, were then presented by the acting G.M.; with which the Prince tried the position of the Stone, after which he finished the laying of it by three strokes with a mallet; he now poured over it the antient offerings of corn, wine, and oil, from three silver vases.
    HRH then returned the plan into the hands of the Architect, desiring him to complete the edifice conformably to it; and, addressing Messrs. Harris and Kemble, he expressed his wishes for the success and prosperity of the undertaking.
    The Ceremony being now finished, the illustrious Grand Master retired, leaving every spectator in admiration of the grace and dignity with which he had performed his part.

When this theatre, too, followed the fate of its predecessor and was burnt to the ground in 1856, E. M. Barry, son of Sir Charles Barry, architect for the new Houses of Parliament, designed the present building. The fate of the brass box and its contents is unknown, but workmen clearing the ruins after the fire discovered the foundation stone laid in 1808 and it was incorporated inside the present building, where it could be found in the shower and wash room of the Gentlemen of the Chorus.
    During the 1990s redevelopment, the decision was taken to move it to a more dignified position and it is once again visible to the public, although not quite in its original position in the north-east corner. It stands in solemn splendour in the old Carriage Entrance Way, now part of the foyer, to remind us of that impressive and colourful Masonic ceremony of almost 200 years ago.

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