Kent Museum of Freemasonry
PUBLISHED: 20:16 25 October 2012 | UPDATED: 22:10 20 February 2013
The Freemasons of Kent have run their own Library and Museum in Canterbury for nearly 80 years and, following a dramatic refurbishment, it's now a secret worth sharing
Did you know the Freemasons of Kent have run their own Library and Museum in Canterbury for nearly 80 years? Or that its open to the general public? Following a dramatic refurbishment, the Kent Museum of Freemasonry is now a secret worth sharing
Kents heritage is certainly being celebrated this year and following hot on the heels of The Beaney in Canterbury comes the re-opening of another public museum and library. But this time the topic is a little different.
Kents Museum of Freemasonry has undergone a remarkable 18-month transformation, but what could a museum dedicated to the secret world of Freemasonry have to share? Well, quite a lot it seems.
Housed within part of an original temple building, 30 display boards provide information on everything from the history of the society to a selection of its past and present members.
Theres nothing shady or secretive here and the message from Roger Waltham, an Assistant Provincial Grand Master for the Masonic Province of East Kent, is clear.
There are all these untrue myths and suppositions that people have and the only way we are ever going to dispel them is to say look, we are here, he says.
So what is there for the general public to see? Alongside the information boards sit cabinets full of ceremonial glass and porcelain, some so historically important they would be at home in the V&A.
Five 19th-century stained-glass windows, originally held for safe keeping when the old Freemasons Hall in London was demolished, fill the room with light while a series of glass panels represent the different orders of Freemasonry established in Kent. But the highlight that every visitor must see is the Temple and unless a meeting is in progress it is always open to the public.
It doesnt matter if you are a prince of the realm or a plumber, you come into Freemasonry exactly the same way
Another place of special interest to local history or geanealogy enthusiasts is the impressive library where many items in the museums 3,000-piece collection have been in storage for years. It is hoped that a newly created research room, plus the services of a full-time librarian, will encourage visitors to study the resources now available.
Tony Periton, curator and librarian, adds: There is nothing secret about the Freemasons, we retain the historical privacy of our traditional ceremonial but even thats on the internet. We may go red, but we will answer any question as best we can.
So where does the perception of secrecy come from? The roots of Freemasonry can be found in the 17th-century coffee house culture and Lodges have been part of Kents society for the past 300 years, says Tony.
The first Lodges were established in local taverns and much of their activity was public knowledge. During the Second World War, however, Hitlers suspicions about the organisations connections to Jews and politics soon resulted in a series of increasingly hostile decrees.
These defined Lodges, and eventually all Freemasons, to be enemies of the state and subsequently saw men arrested, stripped of their assets, publicly ridiculed or sent to concentration camps. Historians estimate that up to 200,000 Freemason perished in Hitlers camps. The entire society went underground and folklore began to grow.
So what is the society all about? Roger Waltham explains it as a society of men who prize honour and virtue above anything else and past Kent Freemasons have included Sir Winston Churchill, cricketers Frank Woolley and Sir Colin Cowdrey and Geoffrey Fisher, a former Archbishop of Canterbury.
Many of the symbolic acts involved stem from centuries ago but the three initial principles of brotherly love, relief and truth are still as important today and easily translate into care for your fellow man, benevolence or charity, not just by the giving of funds but in charitable actions too and integrity.
It is these core values that lead the society and although charitable acts have a large part to play, they are more of an expression of the men becoming better men than their reason for being.
Roger adds: There are 187 Lodges in East Kent alone, with roughly the same number in West Kent, and each Lodge chooses to support different charities, not just registered charities but many deserving local causes, including individuals from time to time, but it is all done very quietly.
Some of the more publicly local causes are Leukaemia Research, Kent Air Ambulance, the countys Hospices and Canterbury Cathedral Stonemason Apprentices.
As a whole, the society also has four main charities that support everyone from the cradle to the grave. All funding is raised internally and one of charity, TalentAid, has recently helped athletes pursue their Olympic dream.
Although the average age of a Freemason is currently 63, any man over the age of 18 can join and The Universities Scheme launched in 2006 is helping to encourage younger members.
Admittedly, until the last few generations, inaugurated men usually came from the more traditional professions but now anyone, regardless of their background, is welcome to join.
This is one of the benefits that John Bonomy, a past Provincial Grand Master, appreciates. It doesnt matter if you are a prince of the realm or a plumber; you come into Freemasonry exactly the same way, he says.
It has made me a better person. I was very active as a magistrate and I was active in rotary so I know about belonging to things and committing myself to things, but Freemasonry has just got that little extra. It means something and it practices what it preaches.
GET IN TOUCH
The Kent Museum of Freemasonry, St Peters Place, Canterbury CT1 2DA.
01227 785625 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Open10am-4pm, seven days a week (check before making a long journey).
Group visits, to include lunch and a tour of the Temple, are welcome: email Wayne Spring at: email@example.com