From the Archives: Blackpool Masonic Hall

During its lifetime, Blackpool’s Masonic Hall has passed through many phases – some good, some not so. With help from the curator of Blackpool’s Museum of Freemasonry, Brother Martyn Jones, local heritage photographer and historian Juliette Gregson walks us through the last century and a quarter of this beautiful building.

A small piece of land at the top of Adelaide Street was purchased by the Blackpool Masonic Hall Limited on the 1st February 1888. The company had been incorporated on 2nd December the previous year and 6,000 £1 shares were issued. The cost of the plot, at the junction with Lower King Street on the north side of the street, was £1,700.

Whitaker Bond, the landlord of the Stanley Arms, and Thomas Sankey, the school master of St Johns school co-owned the land at the time. From the signature on the original documents, it appears that the same Thomas Sankey was also the secretary of the Masonic Hall Limited. Plans for building of the Masonic Hall were passed in 1896. The right honourable Lord Skelmersdale laid the corner stone on may 7th 1898 and the building was officially open by him, who was now Lord Lathom and, following the death of his father on Saturday 23rd September 1899, the new Provincial Grand Master – a fraternal office head.

During later alterations to the building it is believed that the corner stone was moved to its present position on the lounge wall. As there is no minute book available covering this event, there is no record of anything being found under the stone – if indeed it was moved – although oral history suggests that guinea coins were found.

Deputy Provincial Grand Master, worshipful brother Arthur Foster, opened an extension to the building on 22nd April 1932. There appears to be a hollow section above the corner stone of this part of the building and in May 1999 a hole was cut into the wall above the commemorative stone to see if any artefacts were entombed. There are no reports that anything was, but a time capsule was placed in the space and the void covered with another plaque.

There were quite a number of heated discussions, especially on the subject of raising the rents of the lodges and opening the hall for functions other than Masonic meetings – which would of course lead to women being admitted to the hall.

From the end of the First World War to the early Thirties there was a great increase in the number of Masonic lodges consecrated. Sixteen new lodges, the basic masonic unit, were formed in the Fylde area and the Blackpool Masonic Hall was home to the majority of them. It was due, to some extent, to the extra income received from these new lodges that the mortgage was repaid in 1931. There is no indication in any of the deeds as to when the air raid shelter, which is under the main entrance steps, was built, but it was likely during 1940 when the threat of air raids was at its height.

As with the first, at the end of the Second World War there was another sudden increase in the number of lodges being consecrated and accommodation had to be found for them. The Masonic Hall at Blackpool was a natural choice for those lodges whose mother lodge was already meeting at Adelaide Street. The outcome of these new lodges meeting at the Masonic Hall was overcrowding and it was felt that more use could be made of the land at the corner of King Street and Adelaide Street.

Plans were drawn up for a second extension to the hall. A new lodge room, an anteroom and two storage rooms were created in the hall’s basement. On the first and second floors new dining rooms and toilets were created and an entrance door was to be constructed on King Street as well as a staircase that would lead to all three floors.

Work began in 1955 and the new extension opened in June 1956. The brethren must have been very pleased with the new dining rooms – previously they had to clear the lodge room after meetings and bring in tables and chairs in order for the brethren to dine. The extension was financed by a generous offer of a £25,000 interest free loan by one of the senior members of the club and by 1974, all mortgages has been repaid. But the club was facing financial problems with the day-to-day running of the building and meeting was convened to discuss the various problems and how best to deal with them.

Needless to say there were quite a number of heated discussions, especially on the subject of raising the rents of the lodges and opening the hall for functions other than Masonic meetings – which would of course lead to women being admitted to the hall. It might seem rather silly today that allowing women to enter the building could cause so much dissension. Earlier, at a group meeting in 1952, the question was asked regarding candidates or joining members whose wives were members of the Lady Masons and the answer was that they could possibly be blackballed.

The result of the meeting in the early ‘70s, however, affected the running of the club from that day up to the present time. Some lodges left and the remainder had to raise the annual fees to their members to cover the rise in lodge rents. To allow for non-Masonic functions which would provide extra income, various alterations had to be made to the building. During the next decade ladies and the roof of the air raid shelter were strengthened to accommodate the alterations to the front entrance and portico. Plans were prepared for the construction of a member’s room and alterations to the bar. The latter plans were never put into operation, however.

The club committee formed an entertainment subcommittee, which worked extremely hard during the next few years, and on most evenings of the weekend entertainment in the form of a disco or organist were provided in the lounge and upstairs dining room. During the summer months, especially when the Scottish brethren were on holiday, both the lounge and upstairs dining room were filled to capacity. The opening of the second floor dining room on a Saturday night for bingo proved to be huge success. This room had a hardwood floor laid for dancing and was refurbished in the early 1980s – renamed the Fylde Suite for lodge socials, anniversary celebrations, birthdays and wedding receptions.

In the early 1980s, when the club management committee decided that there was no need for a steward to live in, the staircase to the first floor was closed off and the first floor was rented to Roland Robinsons solicitors, who already rented the two houses next to the hall, also owned by the Masonic Hall Limited.

It was also at this time (1981) that the bar subcommittee took a huge step for feminism and engaged a female bar steward. It was in the late 1980s, when inflation was at its height, that providing entertainment at the weekend proved to be a financial disaster and had to cease. However, alterations and decorations continue to take place, usually during the closed season in June, July and August, and the Fylde suite is still a popular venue. In 1997 a lift was installed which connects to all floors and proves to be beneficial to accessibility. During 1988, the lodges chapters and individual members took up the last of the 2,000 shares.

The building was 100 years old in 1999 and, apart from the alterations to the front entrance and the UPVC windows which replaced the wooden ones, the outside of the premises would be easily recognised by any of the Masons who first met there. When they step through the front door they would see a completely changed interior, however.

During its lifetime Blackpool’s Masonic Hall has passed through many phases. Some good, some not so. There have been many instances when decisions had to be made quickly, work needed to be done immediately and finances had to be found when the purse was nearly empty. Yet in every decade there has been a plethora of Masons generous with their time, energy and finances who have stepped forward to fill the breach. Quietly, efficiently and with enthusiasm they dealt with the problems so that our Masonic hall remained sound, attractive and comfortable for all that use it. To the masons that come after them, the Blackpool Masons who have been the custodians of the building for the first century and a quarter hope that they have left a legacy they will be proud to uphold.

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