Nothing shouts “secret society” quite like a press release announcing the opening of a large gift shop near Covent Garden, London, where anyone can wander in off the street and buy regalia, insignia and ritual guides without having to give a special handshake or say the password. But after decades of inviting conspiracy theorists by keeping their activities private, those who run freemasonry are now very happy to shed light on their 300-year-old brotherhood.
The spacious new shop in what used to be the drawing room at Freemasons’ Hall on Great Queen Street has been created by Lumsden, who also designed the shops at the British Museum, Tate Modern and National Theatre. It reflects the desire of the United Grand Lodge of England to make their headquarters more public-facing.
God knows what Edward VII, George Washington and the other grandees whose portraits hang in Freemasons’ Hall would make of their successors boasting of “enhancing the visitor experience” with a range of objects including men’s grooming equipment, jewelry and scarves for women and postcards of such famous masons as Churchill and Kipling. Even teddy bears wearing aprons are available, as well as objects used in meetings such as white gloves, gavels and ties bearing the square and compasses logo. The shop also boasts “Savile Row tailoring”, presumably with plenty of room around the calf for rolling up one’s trouser leg.
God knows what Edward VII, George Washington and the other grandees whose portraits hang in Freemasons’ Hall would make of their successors boasting of “enhancing the visitor experience.”
Last year, 50,000 members of the public visited the museum at Freemasons’ Hall, which was built as a memorial to the 3,225 masons who died on active service in the First World War.
A spokeswoman said that once the Covid-19 restrictions are fully lifted they hope to grow visitor numbers by 10 to 20 percent a year.
David Staples, the chief executive, said that freemasonry used to be a common sight in public life but had gone quiet during the Second World War under the threat of persecution. “We have been too slow to re-establish the reputation we had before the war as a force for good in society,” he said.
Patrick Kidd is the author of The Weak Are a Long Time in Politics and writes the “Diary” for The Times of London