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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Plan of the Tavern as designed by Frederick Pepys Cockerell

Thursday 13 July to Friday 20 October 2006. Free of charge, Monday to Friday, 11am to 5pm.

The Library and Museum is publishing an illustrated book to accompany the exhibition called The Hall in the Garden: Freemasons’ Hall and its place in London, available from Letchworths Shop ( from July.

The Library and Museum is organising a range of events to complement the exhibition. Details are also available on the Library and Museum website on or on an events programme available on 020 7395 9257.

The history of the Freemasons’ Hall site from the 18th century to the 1930s is marked by an evening reception with wine, cocktails and music from Mozart to the Jazz Age. There will be an opportunity for a private view of the exhibition, talks about aspects of the history and tours of the building. 6pm- 8pm. Tickets £12.50 available from Emily Greenstreet at the Library and Museum.

Available every Thursday at 3pm throughout August, starting from the exhibition. No booking required.

The following talks by members of Library and Museum staff will take place at 1.10pm on Tuesdays at Freemasons’ Hall: 22 August: For hire: Users of Freemasons’ Hall (Susan Snell). 29 August: Freemasons’ Hall in Literature, film and television (Emily Greenstreet) / 5 September: Deaths and Dividends: The Freemasons’ Tontine (Jessica Silver) / 12 September: Pieces of Silver: The Jewels of Freemasons’ Hall (Alison Royle) / 19 September: The History of the Library and Museum (Martin Cherry) / 26 September: Great Queen Street (Mark Dennis) / 3 October: Builders and tradesmen: who really built the Hall (Andrew Tucker) / 10 October: Furnishing the Hall (Diane Clements).
       Major changes occurred in the 19th century that altered the experience of eating out in London and affected the nature of business of the Freemasons’ Tavern.
    Restaurants, often run by French or Swiss-Italian entrepreneurs such as Daniel Nicolas Thevenon at the Café Royal, Pagani’s in the Strand (1874), Oddenino’s and Frascati’s were established, setting higher standards with French haute cuisine and allowing for mixed dining by both men and women.
    The catering industry became more commercialised, which introduced additional capital, and catering companies were able to build larger, more elaborate restaurants which could offer a wide range and price of meal. The first companies to build hotels in London were the railway companies building near their termini (such as the Charing Cross Hotel at the western end of the Strand in the 1860s), but others soon joined this trend.
    The Westminster Palace opened in 1860, the Langham Hotel (Portland Place) in 1865 and the Savoy Hotel in 1889. The new hotels offered food and accommodation and tried to emulate the standards set by hotels in Paris and New York. The contemporary Langham Hotel Guide described this approach as being “an attempt … to introduce the best points of the three systems, English, French and American, the comfort of the first being amalgamated with the elegance of the second and the discipline and organisation of the third”.
    All these new venues meant that there were more places to cater for the growing number of Lodges (the Café Royal was one of many that had its own Lodge room), thus competing with the Tavern.
    At the same time, pressure was growing within Grand Lodge to make greater distinction between those areas used for Masonic meetings and the eating and drinking facilities of the Tavern. John Havers, as President of the Board of General Purposes, stated his view clearly, “It appears to me a disgrace and reproach that the most ancient, influential and by far the most wealthy Grand Lodge in the world should longer permit its headquarters to be used as a Tavern”.
    A committee under his control embarked on an extensive rebuilding of the site, including the Tavern, which was now to have a large banqueting hall and eleven other dining rooms of various sizes with kitchens. It would retain its own entrance from the street, but there would also be direct access from the new building. The Masonic buildings and the Tavern would be made architecturally distinct.
    A new company was formed in 1864 for “the purchase of the lease, goodwill, and stock in trade of the Freemasons’ Tavern”.
    The prospectus for the new company proposed to raise £65,000 by the sale of shares and explained how “for nearly a century … the Grand Hall” had been used to hold “great public meetings of a large number of the political, religious, and educational societies”.
    The existing tenant (David Shrewsbury was closely involved with the company) would continue to take an active part in the management of the business of the Company. It took over the tenancy in 1865, but it did not prosper despite employing the former royal chef, Charles Francatelli, as manager from 1870 to 1876.
    In 1877 one of the more established commercial catering companies, Spiers and Pond, took over the Tavern. Formed by Felix Spiers and Christopher Pond, both Englishmen, as a successful catering business in the Australian gold fields and responsible for taking the first English cricket team to Australia, Spiers and Pond came to London in the 1870s, when their business expanded.
    They built the Criterion Restaurant and Theatre at Piccadilly Circus in 1874 and also catered at the Gaiety Theatre Restaurant and the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane. They ran the Tavern until 1905, but no further improvements were made to the Tavern’s facilities after the rebuilding in the 1860s, and the standard of food and facilities was, by the early 20th century, once again attracting much criticism.
    Frank Richardson, Grand Director of Ceremonies, noted that “the Tavern is so badly constructed, the kitchens in the wrong place and no sufficient lifts, that it is utterly impossible for any restaurateur to supply good dinners in the place”.
    Neither Grand Lodge nor Spiers and Ponds were willing to pay for the necessary improvements, and the Tavern closed for several years whilst increasingly fraught negotiations with prospective tenants took place. In order to resolve this situation, in March 1909, Grand Lodge decided to spend £30,000 to put the Tavern premises in proper order including rebuilding the kitchen and enlarging the Banqueting Hall.
    To mark this new era, the name of the Tavern was changed to the Connaught Rooms in honour of the Duke of Connaught and Strathearn, who was the Grand Master at the time, and agreement was reached with the Connaught Rooms Limited to take on a new lease. The managing director of the company was George Harvey, former manager of the Hotel Cecil in the Strand (and later Mayor of Holborn and MP for Kennington).
    Under his leadership, the premises once more became a successful venue.

Diane Clements is Director of the Library and Museum of Freemasonry

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