One of the great advantages of being a Freemason is having the opportunity of visiting other Lodges that meet in venues you wouldn’t ordinarily be able to gain access and of course making new friends. Last week was one of those occasions, I have for many months looked into the possibility of becoming a Freeman of the City of London and join one of the 7th oldest City Livery Companies.
So, I was delighted when the Secretary of Taurus Lodge 3981, the private Lodge of the Worshipful Company of Butchers, invited me along to their installation meeting. Their normal venue was at Butchers’ Hall, however, as they have leased the building to the construction consultants of St. Barts Hospital, it has been agreed to meet on the other side of Smithfield market at The Charterhouse. What a magnificent building it is too. The site upon which Sutton’s Hospital in Charterhouse stands was acquired in the middle of the fourteenth century as a burial ground for the victims of the Black Death. As not all the space was used, a Carthusian Monastery was established here in 1371 by Sir Walter de Mauny (Manny), one of Edward III’s senior advisers. A prior and twenty-four monks were accommodated in two-storey houses arranged round a characteristically large cloister, and the church, built alongside the burial ground, became the priory church. Thomas More, ’A man for all seasons’, friend of Erasmus and later Henry VIII’s Chancellor, frequently visited Charterhouse as a young student, as it was an important centre of ecclesiastical learning.
In 1535, the monks refused to conform to Henry VIII’s Act of Supremacy and some were brutally executed at Tyburn. The monastery was suppressed and passed to the Crown. Subsequently it was granted to Lord North, who constructed a fine Tudor mansion which was later sold to the fourth Duke of Norfolk, who further embellished it. On 23 November 1558, Elizabeth I arrived at Charterhouse from Hatfield on the fifth day of her reign and stayed for five days before proceeding to the Tower of London on the way to her coronation in Westminster Abbey. In later years she would return to Charterhouse on at least two other occasions. Upon succeeding to the throne in 1603, James I came to Charterhouse from Edinburgh and held his first council in what is now the Great Chamber.
In 1611 Norfolk’s son, Thomas Howard, first Earl of Suffolk, sold the mansion to Thomas Sutton, building Audley End in Essex with the proceeds. Sutton was said to be the wealthiest commoner in England. He had held the post of Master of the Ordnance in the Northern Parts from 1568 to 1594 and his involvement in the coal trade, advantageous property dealings and money lending had enabled him to amass a considerable fortune. He used much of his wealth to endow a charitable foundation to educate boys and care for elderly men, known as ‘Brothers’ (London Metropolitan Archives). John Wesley, founder of the Methodist Church, was a pupil at the school in Charterhouse as was William Makepeace Thackeray, in the early nineteenth century. The school was moved to Godalming, Surrey, in 1872, when Robert Baden-Powell was a pupil. The area was divided, though the almshouse continues to this day to occupy the land to the west.
The Lodge meeting was held in the Great Chamber, which was adorned with ancient tapestries and dimly lit. A nice little touch was that all the officers of the lodge wore tail coats.
After a superb installation we retired to an area next to the chapel for a drinks reception before being called for dinner in a candle lit dining room adjacent to the great Hall.
The Festive Board was a delight, with exceptional food and company.
My grateful thanks must go to my host for giving me the chance to experience excellent ritual in a superb environment .
That’s what Freemasonry does best.