Friday, July 18, 2014

Additional Visit #2: Freemasons' Hall, London

18th and 25th of July 2014
Freemasons' Hall Library and Archive is a very special place for me. This place is the original 18th Century lodge which began the world-wide phenomenon of this most famous benevolent fraternal organization. Because of this, this current Art Deco structure, completed in the 1930s as a Temple of Peace, houses many lodge rooms, a gift shop, a museum, a library and an archive. I had the great fortune of being welcomed in this wise space by a front desk staff who were friendly and quickly sent me upstairs with directions to the library. The actual space is a rectangle with a wrap around wrought iron mezzanine with pentacles and hexagrams replete. The work space is elegantly simple, each fine wooden desk being tucked back into each of the alcoves which hold the main closed stacks of books. My preliminary internet research had given me a list of items to request. The vast majority of these books began with an 'SRIA', which I found out later was a collection that was specially being taken care of by Freemasons' Hall for the Societas Rosicruciana In Anglia, a similarly structured society to that of the Masonic tradition. After a day of research, I knew that another day had to be scheduled, so I ended up meeting the archivist, Susan Snell, who agreed to give Dr. Welsh and me a personal tour of the archival space. When that day came, I was able to finish up my research before Dr. Welsh got done with her tour of the building. We then got to explore the basement storage facility. The space had not been designed as an archival space and when Ms. Snell assumed the archival position, the materials had never been catalogued. She basically started from scratch, has accomplished herculean goals, and has further evolutionary steps planned. This was the only archive I've ever toured with the water-damage prevention method whereby metal trays are assembled beneath all of the water pipes (which are all close to ceiling-level) so as to channel any ruptured pipes away from the collections below. It is a novel idea that I've never even read about. She didn't take credit for the idea, but I feel it's a fantastic modification for an archival space that has been adapted into an area that has overhead water piping. Ms. Snell showed us the acid-free boxes that she's implemented, as well as, the inert plastic sheeting that protects individual papers. The section of SRIA looked incredible and I could have easily spent a day browsing the collection, but, due to the culture of this closed library setup, I believe that would be slightly out of the question. She then took us to two of the vault rooms which were built into this structure. Originally constructed to hold the most valuable documents of the order, it continues to protect some of the rarest artifacts of Freemasonry. One of the crown jewel pieces that Ms. Snell showed Dr. Welsh and me is correspondence of Prince Hall, the man who organized African-American Freemasonry around the time of the American War for Independence.

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