The subject of the Prestonian Lecture in 1999 was Freemasonry and Entertainment. It drew parallels with various ceremonies in Freemasonry and likened them to plays. There is unquestionably a certain amount of theatre in some ceremonies in the lodge room. There are principal players, a supporting cast, an audience and a producer.
Entertainment, in its broadest sense, is continued into the meal customarily enjoyed afterwards. Here some Lodges indulge in varying degrees of formal entertainment. This might take the form of cabaret, recitals, music or song. Though most Lodges will not indulge to that extent all Lodges will have toasts to propose. The proposal of informal toasts and the responses to them is, within reason, an opportunity for a light hearted or humorous ‘performance’, perhaps a limerick or a poem………entertainment if you will. So it might come as no surprise that among the membership of many Lodges there are entertainers; from circus clowns to dramatic actors and all shades in between.
That is not to say that the virtues or attributes found in either sphere of activity is necessarily suitable for the other. Far from it, a good entertainer would not necessarily make a good freemason, nor want to be, and vice-versa. However when the two do come together it is usually a happy union. In the mid to late nineteenth century many benevolent societies were founded by upright and worthy men to provide support and comfort for disadvantaged entertainers and their kin. The Royal General Theatrical Fund, The Dramatic and Equestrian Agency and Sick Fund Association , The Actors Orphanage Fund, The Variety Artistes’ Benevolent Fund & Institution and The Music Hall Sick Fund, to name but a few.
With roots stretching back much further and with well-established structures of benevolence and philanthropy already in place, many Lodges were populated with the same gentlemen who had founded, joined and supported the above organisations.A dozen or more Lodges founded in the last quarter of the nineteenth century and into the twentieth century would be even more so and would make the association even more pronounced.
By their very name they would attract folk from the entertainment industry, among them; Drury Lane Lodge, consecrated in 1886 and meeting at Theatre Royal, Drury Lane. Manchester Dramatic Lodge, consecrated in 1891 and meeting at Freemasons’ Hall, Cooper Street, Manchester. Green Room Lodge, consecrated in 1903, and meeting at the Imperial Restaurant, London. Guildhall School of Music Lodge, consecrated in 1893 and meeting at the Holborn Restaurant, London. Proscenium Lodge, consecrated in 1910 and meeting at the Town Hall, King’s Road Chelsea.
There were other Lodges known to be in tune with the entertainment industry but not overtly so by their name. One in particular was heavily populated with gentlemen listed as licensed victuallers or music hall managers, at a time when the edges between the two occupations were still blurred. One does not have to look far in the Library or on the Internet to find the names of many well-known entertainers who were also Freemasons.
In future blog posts, we will look at the lives of some of the lesser known and now long forgotten ‘Entertainer Freemasons’.