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 that is now shared by many other lodges.
Built in 1823 by Foundation Lodge, Cheltenham Masonic Hall was one of the world's first purpose built Masonic Hall, outside London. The hall was used soley by Foundation lodge for 34 Years, before it was agreed that other lodges could use the building for their meetings.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Masonic Hall, 2 Portland Street, Cheltenham, Glos, GL52 2PB
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