Freemason's Hall

(Grand Lodge of Scotland)

Lying behind a fine Renaissance facade at 96 George Street in the heart of Edinburgh's New Town, Freemason's Hall was constructed 1910-12 and is regarded as the most significant work of A. Hunter Crawford, who was later to join his family baking firm as the company architect. The current building replaced a Freemason's Hall on the same site, which was built in 1858 to the designs of David Bryce (1803-76) but had become too small to meet the needs of the Grand Lodge of Antient Free and Accepted Masons of Scotland (or the Grand Lodge of Scotland).

The imposing building consists of three storeys and an attic. Its six-bay sandstone ashlar facade is deeply rusticated at the ground-floor level, with channelled pilasters rising above and the middle two bays slightly advanced. The central Roman Doric entrance is surmounted by H.S. Gamley's figure of St. Andrew. The roof-line is marked by a corbelled-out parapet, with prominent balustrades and urns.

The grand interior features an Echaillon marble-lined vestibule with black marble columns leading to the temple-like hall lit with clerestory windows. Fine woodwork by Scott Morton includes an oak case for a Brindley & Foster organ dating from 1913. The Library and Museum of the Grand Lodge of Scotland is now housed in the Long Gallery but was founded in 1807, pre-dating the first Freemason's Hall on this site.

The Freemasons represent one of the world's oldest fraternal societies, which began in Scotland as an evolution of the exclusive association of skilled stone-masons who built the cathedrals of the Middle Ages. The world's oldest recorded Masonic Lodge was at Acheson's (or Aitcheson's) Haven in East Lothian, with records dating back to 9th January 1599, although this particular lodge no longer exists. However the Lodge of Edinburgh (Mary's Chapel) No. 1 remains active and has records dating from July of the same year. Lodge Mother Kilwinning No.0 is said to date from 1140, although its earlier records were lost in a fire. The Grand Lodge of Scotland did not come into being until 1736.

Although the Freemasons represent a secular society, an essential qualification for membership is belief in a supreme being of some form and prayers are often said at lodge meetings. Only men may join but, in principle, they may be of any religion. The brotherhood has been heavily criticised as being racist, said to admit only white Christians, but there is evidence that British masonry was admitting black adherents in the 19th century.

The Grand Lodge of Scotland operate two retirement homes named after former Grand Masters; namely Sir James McKay House in Edinburgh and Marcus Humphrey House in Quarrier's Village.

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