The year’s Summer exhibition organised
by the Library and Museum at Freemasons’
Hall is entitled The Hall in the Garden and it
charts the development of the Great Queen
Street site on which Freemasons’ Hall stands
from the 1760s up to the present day.
The first Freemasons’ Hall, designed
by Thomas Sandby, had no street frontage
but was built in the garden behind 61 Great
Queen Street, a house dating from the
1650s, which was divided into two and had
another small house behind it, which may
have originally been a coach house. Grand
Lodge retained parts of the back house as
committee rooms and offices, but otherwise
intended that these houses should be let
to provide an income.
Since eating and drinking (and singing
and music-making) were important
elements of Masonic meetings and many
Lodges met at this time in inns, taverns and
coffee houses, it seemed reasonable to let
the back house on the site to provide such
catering facilities. It was here that Luke
Reilly set up the Freemasons’ Tavern and
Coffee House in 1775.
Trying to operate a Tavern in premises
which had once been a private dwelling
was not easy, and in 1788 the Tavern had
to be demolished and rebuilt to a design
by Sandby assisted by William Tyler,
sculptor and architect of the Ordnance
office in Westminster.
It became four stories high with a stone
facing up to the second floor, its appearance
recorded in a contemporary watercolour
of the time. New tenants then took over –
Michael Richold (or Richbold) and John
Mollard, described as wine merchants.
In 1791 they successfully submitted plans
for building a new kitchen in the garden
of the adjoining house to the east (62 Great
Queen Street), the lease of which had just
been acquired by Grand Lodge, to replace
the existing inadequate kitchen facilities.
It was the beginning of a gradual expansion
of the original site that was not to be
completed until the 20th century.
Richold and Mollard found it a difficult
time to build up a business, as Britain was
shortly to embark on an extended period
of war with revolutionary France (and later
Napoleon). Despite Richold and Mollard’s
claim in a memorial to the Hall Committee
in January 1794 that “they have brought the
tavern from a state of obscurity into
considerable repute” and rent increases
being waived, profits remained insufficient.
They gave up their tenancy in 1801,
citing in a further communication with the
Hall Committee “the nature of the times
(which)… has made a great alteration in
the profits of…our…business”.
A contemporary watercolour by
Nixon of the rebuilt four-storey
Tavern, circa 1800
Web site created by Mark Griffin