In November 2001 I was honoured to be elected the Master of the Worshipful Company of Makers of Playing Cards, one of the City of London’s ancient Livery Companies, which was granted its charter by Charles II in 1682. I felt at the time duty bound to improve my knowledge of the City beyond the courses offered by the Corporation of London (now named the City of London Corporation) for the benefit of liverymen and others. What better way than by enrolling in the Guide’s Course, which already had an excellent reputation? It was a wise decision. Before we were half-way through the course, inspired by the late and much-lamented Katrine Prince and the indefatigable Paul Taylor, I was, just like all of my colleagues, hooked on the Square Mile. Following the presentation of our certificates by the then Lord Mayor, Sir Michael Oliver, at the Mansion House in June of the following year, I immediately invited family first and friends thereafter, week after week, on city walks which had so enthralled me during the course. It does not take long, however, to run out of family members and even friends evermore reluctant to go on yet another walk. The alternative to walking alone or losing the fascinating knowledge which I had only just begun to acquire, was to join The Streets of London, a quasi-professional body of some 15 qualified guides. We each prepared our own specialised walks for publication in a bi-annual leaflet. My interests in the history of Freemasonry, which I had developed over the past two decades or so, now served me well. Freemasonry and the City of London sat comfortably side by side and this booklet is the result of those two combined interests.
THE MASONIC 'SQUARE MILE'.
Bruno Gazzo interviews Yasha Beresiner about his new book 'The City of London - A Masonic Guide'
BG: Congratulations on your new publication. You have now written several books on many different subjects. How do you compare City of London : A Masonic Guide to your other books?
YB: I can honestly say that I enjoyed writing this book much more than the others. When I wrote my first book The Story of Paper Money in 1983, there were no computers and certainly no internet to assist with research and just simple spelling queries, It was really a pleasure and very gratifying to write this particular book.
BG You say in the book: The City of London and Freemasonry lie comfortably side by side. What do you mean?
YB: What I mean is that when you walk in the ‘square mile’, which constitutes the boundaries of the City of London and you apply your mind to freemasonry, there is something Masonic in every corner you turn. Historically, organised freemasonry began in the City, the Goose and Gridiron near St Paul’s Cathedral in 1717 and Masonic meetings have been taking place in the taverns and other City venue ever since. The imposing Bank of England was built by the same architect who built Freemasons’ Hall, the freemason John Soane and several other City architects have been Masons including Horace Jones who built the beautiful City Markets and the Tower of London. . . . you can see what I am getting at.
BG: Let’s stop awhile upon the “taverns”. Isn’t it exciting to find out that both “Moderns” and “Antients” met at the same tavern?
YB: It is quite extraordinary that rival Lodges belonging to the Premier or ‘Moderns’ Grand Lodge of 1717 and those of the ‘Antients’ of 1751 met at Mitre Tavern, Fleet Street. The Lodge of Antiquity n 2, one of the four founding Lodges of the premier Grand Lodge that met at the Goose and Gridiron, moved to the Mitre Tavern in 1769. It continued to meet there until 1781 when it moved to Freemasons’ Hall in Great Queen Street. During the same period in 1778 the Antients Lodge of Hope number 4, which had been meeting at the Sun Tavern in Ludgate, moved to the same Mitre Tavern. Under these circumstances, it seems almost logical that the short-lived and rebel ‘ Grand Lodge of England South the River Trent’, should also have met here.
BG: What was your intention, the reason for writing this particular book?
YB: I have always found that writing - a book or an article – is the best way by far of learning and getting to know a subject thoroughly. It is also a very gratifying way of conveying information and knowledge that you gain. City of London: A Masonic Guide fulfils both these senses. I hope that the reader will identify with me and find in the book a generally readable and interesting historical background to London and Freemasonry, as well as a step by step guide showing him the way from Freemasons’ Hall to the Bank of England – using my book as a practical and informative illustrated guide.
BG: Good luck, Yasha
YB: Thank you, Bruno – I hope you will soon come on one of my Masonic walks soon.
BG: Just booked: 11.00 am Bank underground station exit 3 outside the Royal Exchange last Friday of the month.
The booklet is intended both as a do-it-yourself guide to the walk and as a general historical survey of some city sites and of related aspects of Masonic interest. I have selected 26 locations between Freemasons’ Hall (incidentally just outside the boundaries of the city - yet a logical and convenient starting point) and The Royal Exchange in the Bank. As the crow flies, this is a mere 20-minute brisk walk. With this guidebook in your hand and following the route indicated, the walk will take you two hours or so through two thousand years of history.
The booklet covers just one of many possible walks combining city sites of historical interest with elements of Freemasonry in its various manifestations. Sometimes there is a direct link and relevance - when, for example, you walk down the quaint Mason’s Avenue. At other times the Masonic connection is tenuous or non-existent. In this latter case let us remember, whilst avoiding any discourse as to the origins of Freemasonry, that a speculative Freemason uses and applies to modern charitable practices the emblems and symbols of the ancient operative working Masons’ trade. In this context alone every building, every church and mansion that surrounds us as we walk in the city will be a constant reminder of our Masonic heritage and ancestry.
STOP 12 Cheshire Cheese Tavern
Directions: Walk through the archway to the left of the statue of Hodge the cat into Gunpowder Square. Wine Office Court faces you and extends to your right. Turn right toward the Cheshire Cheese sign visible less than fifty yards ahead. Wine Office Court derives it name from the tax offices situated here, where payment for wine and spirit licences were made in the 17th and 18th century. STOP (12) at the rails opposite the entrance to the Cheshire Cheese Tavern.
Historical Notes: Cheshire Cheese
Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese is one of the few taverns that can genuinely call itself ‘old’. Several parts of the original building are still intact as they were in 1667, when the Tavern was rebuilt after the great fire of 1666. These premises are the nearest we are likely to encounter to the Goose and Gridiron which would have looked this in 1717 at the time Grand Lodge was formed. The Cheshire Cheese dates much further back to the 16th century and the board on display lists fifteen monarchs whose reigns it has survived. The interior is dark and wooden and an enchanting warren of corridors and narrow staircases that lead to several bars and dining rooms on five levels, three below ground and two above. The quaint tavern retains the early style and arrangement of fireplaces in each of the several small rooms furnished with tables and benches. The famous small ground floor bar room is decorated with black timber, including the panelled ceiling. An open fire gives the room a special atmosphere. The portrait above the fireplace is that of a waiter who began to work at the Cheshire Cheese in 1829. Until recently on the shelf behind the bar, a leather-bound visitors’ book containing the names and autographs of hundreds of dignitaries: prime ministers, ambassadors and peers, academics and artists, was available to view. It is now stored away for safety and posterity. Dr Johnson’s well publicised and regular attendance at the Cheshire Cheese made the tavern a place of pilgrimage for many 19th century literary figures. Mark Twain, Thackeray and Charles Dickens are among those who patronised this most famous and popular tavern off Fleet Street.
Of Masonic Interest: Lodge Meeting Places
Organised Freemasonry had its origins in The Goose and Gridiron where the first Grand Lodge in the world was formed on 22 June 1717. Although, with the advent of nobility in our midst just a few years later, lodge meetings were sometimes held in the private homes and mansions of members of the aristocracy, the majority of the lodges continued to meet in taverns and a few coffee houses. The 18th century tavern was an ideal meeting place for Freemasons who congregated in an atmosphere of good fellowship, fun and happiness. Frequently the publican owner of the tavern was made a Freemason, often acting as the Tyler. Grand Lodge discouraged this practice. The well-known engraved Lists of Lodges published since 1723, leading to the current familiar Year Book, identified each lodge with a quaint copper engraved illustration of the tavern or coffee house sign where the lodge met. Famous artists were commissioned to execute the engravings: John Pine, Emanuel Bowen and Benjamin Cole, all Freemasons. By the time Freemasonry began to spread at the end of the 17th century, the coffee house had been on the scene for well over half a century, yet Freemasons showed a preference for the tavern, probably because of the availability of alcohol, this, notwithstanding the high social mixture and more sophisticated atmosphere of the coffee house. Of the thirty lodges in London in 1726, only two met at a coffee house. In the next one hundred and fifty years, some four hundred new lodges were consecrated, only thirty-four of them in coffee houses. The Royal Inverness Lodge, No. 648, the first lodge warranted by the newly established United Grand Lodge of England, in 1814 was the last lodge to be consecrated in a coffee house, the Gray’s Inn in Holborn. At the start of the 19th century, the establishment of Masonic Halls and especially Freemasons’ Hall, which incidentally, began its life as a tavern in its own right, changed the meeting habits of most lodges. Interestingly today some lodges still meet in public houses, which are particularly popular with Schools and Lodges of Instruction. Freemasonry generally attracted support from the gentry, merchants and the middle classes and members were often affiliated to other clubs and societies of the time. It should be noted that unlike Europe, where Freemasons had to meet in secret because the Craft was suppressed and attacked, here in England, British Freemasons operated openly, allowing them to meet publicly in taverns and coffee houses.