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Newsletter, July 2014 (Issue 196)

Capital curios: report of a Society trip


After some delays through Docklands, we met our London guide and had coffee in The Knights Templar freehouse (appropriately decorated), behind the Law Courts.

Back on the coach for the tour of Mayfair. In medieval times a May Fair was held there every year, but was eventually closed down because it had acquired a bad reputation by the time this part of the city was being developed and smartened up. Despite heavy traffic, we had ample time to look at Senate House, a 1930s building used as the University of London's administrative centre. In Orwell's 1984, his Ministry of Truth was located there.

Bloomsbury was a run-down neighbourhood in the time of the eponymous Group, hence writers and artists could afford to live there. The Bloomsberries 'lived in squares, loved in triangles and talked in circles', as one wit put it. We eventually reached the Mecca of Mayfair. The medieval city with its old street patterns had needed to be modernised; it was the start of the 17th century westward expansion, away from the East End with its 'smelly' populace and industries. (I can recommend John Summerson's Georgian London on this westward expansion.)

Originally Mayfair had been made up of aristocratic estates whose owners leased or sold off their land for up-market development; hence Berkeley Square etc. The area is an irregular square bounded by Oxford Street, (New) Bond Street, Piccadilly and Regent Street. We passed posh shops and galleries and smartly-dressed people (no sign of recession here). Alas, due to delays we had to forego our intended walking tour, including the Burlington Arcade. Along to Piccadilly Circus, past Trafalgar Square with its fourth plinth currently occupied by a huge, eye-catching blue cockerel, we returned to the Knights Templar for lunch.

On foot to the Freemason's Grand Lodge in Covent Garden, we passed the 'Old Curiosity Shop', now dwarfed by later buildings but still possessing period charm. The United Grand Lodge of England was created in 1813 and the Masonic Grand Lodge lives up to its name. It was completed in 1933 and is a Grade II Listed, Art Deco building.

We met our Lodge guide in the Library and Museum and were shown some royal portraits including 'Prinny' and King George VI; the Duke of Kent is the present Grand Master. We walked down the Processional Corridor with its mahogany panelling - polished every morning - and softly-coloured stained glass windows. This led to the Grand Temple, modelled on a Grecian temple. To me, there was something Egyptian about it with its richly-decorated mosaic ceilings, carved doors and marble pillars and staircases: a feeling of calm, monumental simplicity - extremely impressive.

At 3.30pm I regretfully had to leave for an appointment back in Ipswich, so couldn't explore further. Fifty-six members, a coachful, give their thanks to Barbara Barker for organising such a fascinating day and adjusting to our delays. Also to Gavin, our Soames' driver, for his patience and navigational skills in central London's gridlock.

Richard Worman

    Front cover of issue 196 Cover, issue 196

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