Freemasons’ Hall – Middlesex or London ?

Pen and Ink drawing of the 1869 Freemasons’ Hall

W Bro Stan Marut, Media Team News Editor, writes about the architect of the Freemason’s Hall of 1869. But was it in London or was it in Middlesex ?

As both a Metropolitan and Middlesex Mason, I am interested in how the two Provinces corelate, especially how that which might first appear a paradox actually isn’t, or is it? How could Freemasons’ Hall be in Middlesex when everybody knows it is in London? This is certainly one for the Province’s historians who will explore the growth of London as it extended its boundaries into Middlesex’s fair fields of market gardens, wheat and pleasant countryside.

Strictly, the area of St Paul’s, Covent Garden was one of nine parishes in the Liberty of Westminster, which was essentially Middlesex. Great Queen Street would have been in this parish. The formation of Middlesex County Council and the transfer of areas which became known as the London County Council would not take place for another 20 years. Indeed, the new Freemasons’ Hall preceded the establishment of the Provincial Grand Lodge of Middlesex by about a year. However, if you are not an historian per se, but interested in the development of Freemasons’ Hall, the following, hopefully, will contribute to a daily advancement in masonic knowledge.

The Quest for a New Hall –

Floor plans for FMH as published in The Builder, August 1866

Many Freemasons who visit Great Queen Street will no doubt have read with interest the plaques commemorating the founding of the Football Association in 1863 and also the Geological Society, which grace the exterior of part of the Grand Connaught Rooms in Great Queen Street. Perhaps less well known is the fact that this small remnant was part of that superb edifice which was Freemasons’ Hall inaugurated in 1869 to great acclaim. There is nothing on the exterior of the building to give any indication as to who its architect was and what is known about him. It was apparent that the accommodations available in Freemasons Hall during the mid-eighteenth century were inadequate and that a major reconstruction would be necessary to alleviate this problem. Frederick Pepys Cockerell was chosen from a whole gallery of competing architects by way of competition. But it appears little is known of him generally and there is no extensive biography available.

Born in Middlesex –

Born at Eaton Square in Belgravia, Westminster in the County of Middlesex in March 1833, Frederick Pepys Cockerell was the third son of Charles Robert Cockerell a distinguished architect and first recipient of the prestigious Gold Medal of the Royal Institute of British Architects in 1848. Frederick entered Winchester College in 1845 as a Commoner or fee payer having failed to obtain a scholarship. He spent three years at Winchester making steady progress in the Classics which was how the boys were assessed before moving on to the next class. However, he did not win any prizes. Nevertheless, it appears he did reasonably well in any event. He then enrolled in Kings College London on 4th October 1848 at the age of 15. Records show that his parent or guardian was given as Chas. Robt. Cockerell, Architect of Hampstead North End. The entrance paper was completed and the sum of £28.14s was paid as fees for two terms and he was admitted to the Department of Applied Sciences. Frederick’s name appears on the College calendars for 1849-50 and 1850-51. After leaving Kings College he had pupillage with a number of architects and after completing a study tour of the major Italian Cities returned to England in 1856 to work in his father’s architectural office in Liverpool. Before then in 1854 he had become a pupil of Philip C Hardwick R A who would later provide testimony as to his architectural abilities.

Masonically Speaking –

Freemasons’ Hall of 1869 – an early photo

Frederick’s career began with the submission of drawings for the rebuilding of Grand Lodge in Great Queen Street. In 1862 The President of the Board of General Purposes and the Building Committee, Bro John Havers, had been unhappy about the fact that there was no distinction between those areas used for eating and drinking and those for masonic meetings in the current facility. To him it was, “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”. Thus in earnest began the search for the architect who would present a design that would be acceptable. At this time Frederick Pepys Cockerell was not a Freemason. Architects were invited to put forward their plans in early 1863. However, they were not to append their name to any submission, but to affix a motto. This motto was then concealed in a sealed envelope and once the new design had been accepted the appropriate envelope would be opened and the name of the successful architect revealed. There were altogether 19 entries. Cockerell’s motto was “L’Union fait la force”, which when translated means “Unity provides Strength”.
Cockerell was the winner and relatively young being only 33. This did in some way cause an impediment but he managed to secure testimonies from leading members of the architectural profession as to his prowess and knowledge. However, in the meantime he was ushered into Westminster and Keystone Lodge No 10 where he was initiated on the 13th April 1863, Passed on 11th June and Raised on 8th July. Once he had become a Freemason in the April he was appointed Grand Superintendent of Works in the same month. He was subsequently exalted into the Holy Royal Arch in Westminster and Keystone Chapter No 10 in 1866.

A Stately and Superb Edifice

Great Queen Street today with a remnant of the front façade of Cockerell’s Freemasons’ Hall still visible next to the Connaught Rooms entrance (photo – Stan Marut).

The laying of the foundation stone took place amidst much pomp on April 27th 1864. Cockerell had by this time been a Freemason for about a year. The Freemasons Magazine and Masonic Mirror reported the event and the builder delivered to the Most Worshipful Grand Master, the Earl of Zetland, a most beautiful trowel. The Grand Master then proved the stone by plumb rule, level and square and the Grand Superintendent of Works, Bro Cockerell (remember he was still only a Master Mason) delivered to the Grand Master a mallet which was the one that had been used by Sir Christopher Wren in laying the foundation stone of St Paul’s Cathedral. There then followed an oration by the Grand Chaplain who stated that, “may, then, the stone we have laid today according to masonic ceremonial be the foundation of a structure perfect in all its parts and honourable to the builder”.

The Inauguration –

The new Hall was inaugurated on the 14th April 1869. The purpose of the new Grand Lodge was to include “good offices for our charities, a handsome boardroom for our meetings, convenient Lodge rooms for our Lodges, a grand banqueting hall for our social gatherings and a restored temple more worthy of our sacred rites”.

To The Grand Lodge Above –

During this extremely busy period in his life, he married Mary Mulock of Bellair, Kings County (now County Offaly) in Ireland. Mary was the seventh child of fourteen and had been married and widowed before she met Frederick. However, they were married on the 20th July, 1867 at St James Piccadilly. They had five children. His death was somewhat a tragedy Mary having just given birth to their fifth child. On his visit to Paris in November 1878, representing the interests of the Royal Institute of British Architects, he died suddenly. The remnant of the 1869 Grand Lodge building is testimony to an outstanding architect of his time and a reminder of the history not only of London masonry, but also the history of Grand Lodge at that great time of Empire. His early passing was deeply regretted. An article in Freemasons Chronicle dated December 21st, 1878 stated that ,“the loss of one who had so highly distinguished himself in the profession of architecture, as well as in the science of Free and Accepted or Speculative Masonry must be, and is, deeply lamented by the whole of the English Craft….

A Moot Point –

Middle Saxons in the wider context .

The moot point is whether Cockerell’s FMH was Middlesex or London? I would insist that it constituted Middlesex. The history books will tell you that Middlesex was in “a somewhat anomalous position in that it contained within its old borders practically the whole of London north of the Thames which was severed from it by the Local Government Act of 1888” (Bosworth – Middlesex – CUP 1913 reprinted 2013). Also, Middlesex never had its own Constabulary either and the Metropolitan Police Act 1829 ensured that the environs of Middlesex were dominated by the Metropolitan Police. Middlesex didn’t stand a chance. Yet it managed to survive as an administrative entity until 1965. However, as Middlesex Masons we know that Middlesex still exists within that area defined by the Middle Saxons. Younger generations may not see it as we see it and be content to let the name become one of mild curiosity. Hopefully the boundaries of Metropolitan London might include not only a recognition of these Boroughs since 1965, but also incorporate the fact that this is still part of the area of the Middlesex Saxons – MIDDLESEX, no less.

Source: By TharkunColl (talk) (Uploads) – I TharkunColl (talk) (Uploads) created this image., CC BY-SA 3.0, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=13774750
Images of Frederick Pepys Cockerell as well as additional biographical details may be found using the following links:
https://sculpture.gla.ac.uk/view/person.php?id=msib5_1246023238
https://www.royalacademy.org.uk/art-artists/work-of-art/frederick-pepys-cockerell-1833-1878
https://www.architecture.com/image-library/ribapix/image-information/poster/frederick-pepys-cockerell/posterid/RIBA5825.html

Share this Post