Grade - 2 Star
Foundation lodge is one of the world's oldest continuous lodges. It was founded in 1753 and moved to Cheltenham in 1817 and its brethren were responsible for building the magnificent Masonic Hall.
Built in 1823 Cheltenham Masonic Hall was one of the world's first purpose built Masonic Hall, outside London.
Left is the original artists impression showing how Cheltenham Masonic Hall should have looked on its green-field site at the corner of Albion & Portland Street in 1823. The present building, shown below, has a basement. Notice the trees where there are now buildings abutting it.
The Masonic Hall is the only building in Cheltenham, other than ecclesiastical, still used for the purpose for which it was originally designed. Foundation Lodge had been meeting in other premises in the town and held its first meeting here in November 1823. Over 400 Freemasons now meet here, attending 9 lodges and side orders, on a regular basis.
While Cheltenham Masonic Hall has been an integral part of the development and growth of the town since 1823, its early members played an important part in the society which has given the town many of its important institutions and contributed to the town as we know it today. Completed in November 1823 the upper storeys are unusual in that they are built like an Egyptian tomb, with a cant – the sides sloping slightly inwards.
Cheltenham Masonic Hall, one of the first purpose-built Masonic Halls outside London, was constructed around 1820 for use by Foundation Lodge No 82, by George Allan Underwood, who was initiated into the Lodge in 1818. He designed many famous buildings in Cheltenham, The Imperial Spa, the buildings now used as the Municipal Offices, the Long Room at Montpellier Spa, Holy Trinity Church and the Lower Assembly Rooms in Bath.
The freehold site, bought for £670 by Sir James Agg-Gardiner MP for Cheltenham, was gifted to the Lodge, and the building of the Masonic Hall, which cost £4,000.00 was financed by selling £25.00 shares. Over the years the building deteriorated mainly due to the dirt and smoke which had accumulated from the fires, candles, smoking and over 180 years of use. A scheme of work was drawn up in 1981 to repair, clean and decorate. Finished in 1984/85 it restored the interior and exterior to its original Regency splendour and included the complete remodelling of the kitchen. Great care is taken to maintain the building in its original state. In 2000 the Lodge Room floor was strengthened and there is a programme of ongoing work to protect the building for many more years.
The Dining Room
Once through the original heavy arched timber door, it is best to turn left through the double doors into the dining room.
The painted walls, hung with shields, resemble a Knights Templar encampment and were produced when the lodge was built.
Originally the ceiling resembled a canopy and the room was lit by gas light and candles. This, with up to 60 people smoking cigars and pipes meant that it was not long before it was all obliterated. There is evidence that the walls had been papered over, possibly when it was hired out as a Dancing Academy in the early 1900’s. Until heating was installed in 1925 the room was heated by the single fireplace. While the mahogany tables are original new chairs have recently been purchased. The ‘dents’ on the tables were principally caused by the practice of banging special ‘firing’, or ‘toast’, glasses on the table.
The steward and caretaker originally lived in attic rooms but, in 1902, an adjoining house was purchased for the Lodge Steward. Originally lit by candles, then gas lamps, electric light was installed in the dining room in 1894 at a cost of 5 guineas and in the hall and other rooms one year later. Central heating was installed in 1925.
Cheltenham Masonic Hall consists principally of a Lodge Room, Dining Room, Robing Rooms, Bar, Kitchen, Library and Museum and a very distinctive spiral staircase. A fully equipped basement kitchen is used by a professional chef to provide food for up to 60 brethren and guests on lodge nights.
Turn left out of the dining room and go up the short flight of stairs. To the left is the bar and to the right a robing room. Immediately in front is a spiral staircase with very intricate and beautiful wrought ironwork. On the left at the top of the stairs is a further robing room, to the right - an ante room leading to the library and museum. The door immediately in front leads into the Lodge Room.
The Lodge Room
On entering the high ceilinged Lodge Room one can immediately appreciate the atmosphere, sense of majesty and quiet dignity which is an important element in our Masonic ceremonies. Designed to accommodate about 65 people the room is lofty but not over large which helps to preserve the family composition of our membership and maintain the close personal relationships between the members. It has none of that impersonality that so often characterises many vast installations in modern times and has been in constant use since 1823.
The decoration is in the high Regency style and, like the rest of the building, no expense was spared when carrying out the original construction. Note the high ceiling covered with a myriad of golden stars on a deep blue background, whilst a golden sunburst conceals the ventilator opening in the centre. Immediately below the ceiling runs a decorative frieze of Graeco-Roman floral design known as the Anthemion. This is a representation of honeysuckle, symbolising fidelity, which was a motif much favoured by the Adam brothers in their decoration of some of the great houses in the latter part of the 18th century. The same pattern is in the exquisitely executed wrought-iron work, backed by crimson velvet, which forms the front of the gallery at the west end of the room. There, too, is represented the Lyre, the emblem of music.
Organ & Gallery
The ceiling was raised to accommodate the beautiful ‘gentleman’s’ pipe organ presented to Foundation Lodge in 1832. Believed to date from the late 1700’s, it has been recently completely overhauled and, despite its great age, still sounds out boldly to accompany the singing parts of our ceremonies. On the north wall is a beautifully tiled fireplace emblazoned with Masonic emblems in gold. This was the only means of heating the room until central heating was installed. The picture also shows the beautiful ironwork round the organ gallery.
Access to the organ gallery is by a narrow winding staircase in the north-west corner of the room. It is supported by two Ionic pillars seen in the picture; one surmounted by the Celestial and the other the Terrestrial Globe, pointing out Masonry Universal
At the East end of the Lodge room is a dais on which sits the Master’s chair, surmounted by a crimson canopy, draped and tasselled, which was erected in 1834. Foundation’s original Master and Senior and Junior Warden’s fine mahogany chairs were presented by various members around 1825. These are placed either side of the present Master’s chair, for distinguished visitors. These chairs were superseded by the magnificent gilded, throne-like, chairs brought by Royal Union Lodge in 1830 when they came to meet in the Hall, the first Lodge to do so after the opening by Foundation Lodge. The magnificent chair in the picture is the Senior Wardens chair. The Worshipful Masters chair is under the canopy in the picture above.
The present seating, which was obtained from a redundant church in Somerset, replaced the original benches as they became very unstable at the time of the restoration of the building. Nevertheless they are almost contemporaneous with the building, having been made in 1840. The centre carpet is traditional Masonic black and white squares surrounded by a pale blue, plain, carpet. This colour is carried up onto the walls above the lower wall portion of deep red which forms a backing to the lighter colour of the seats. A Victorian version of the honeysuckle frieze separates the two colours. Note that almost the entire wall space is covered with Honours Boards upon which are inscribed, annually, the name of the Master or Head of the specific order.
The honours boards of Foundation Lodge, date back to 1817. and contain the names of many distinguished gentlemen who have been the Worshipful Master of Foundation Lodge, many of them the patrons of the many activities and buildings of Cheltenham.
Finally our motto
Brotherly Love - Relief - Truth
Masonic Hall, 2 Portland Street, Cheltenham, Glos, GL52 2PB
Copyright © All Rights Reserved