All museum collections are full of invaluable historic objects and we take a lot of pride in looking after ours. We hope that by taking in these treasures, they will benefit not only people today, but also those in the future. This means we are also collecting items and stories that are being created today.

Contemporary Collecting can be defined as the ‘collection of objects, material and stories from the recent past or present day that represent culture in its current form’. It is generally considered that items created within living memory or objects produced in the last 50 years fall within this definition.  

The collections in the museum here form the repository for the history of the United Grand Lodge of England. Past activities covering all aspects of freemasonry involving this organisation, can be researched here onsite in our library of over 60,000 books.

However, we also like to collect and capture the activities that freemasons are involved in today.

Jewels for recently-formed Lodges

One vital lesson that we learned during the Covid-19 pandemic, was that we had to make sure we documented all that was happening in the masonic world during this particular moment in time. It was undoubtedly a devastating blow for everyone around the world and its’ aftermath is still with us and will continue to have an impact for many years to come.

When the pandemic lockdowns began in March 2020, the museum was contacted by several people asking about information we held about how people had coped with the Spanish Flu pandemic of 1918. Sadly, we were able to provide very little information, as it is not very well documented in our archives. With this in mind, we knew it was important that we collected as much material as we could during this most recent pandemic for our future researchers.

We successfully captured the activities of several Lodges, Provinces and Districts. We now have face masks, PPE visors, sanitiser bottles and even a fish and chip box produced by one lodge who provided meals to NHS workers during this period. I now have a specific storage box dedicated to collecting anything to do with the Covid-19 pandemic. In 100 years’ time, I hope that my distant successors will be able to use them in their exhibitions and displays to help inform future visitors about masonic activities and the good work being done by freemasons during this period. 

Moving forwards to more recent times, another project we’ve been able to capture is the work produced by the United Grand Lodge of England Membership and Communications team.

In July 2023 UGLE took part in the London Pride Parade for the first time. The UGLE Membership and Communications team not only organised all the logistics for the event, they also designed and produced t-shirts for the parade. After the event, we were able to collect several items from the day, including one of the t-shirts, which is now on display in the Museum’s North Gallery.

It’s not just the activities of UGLE that we collect. Some recent activities of the Masonic Charitable Foundation have been also been captured. The MCF also took part in the London Pride Parade, so we have collected items they produced, including a t-shirt and pronoun button badges, which again, we’ve put straight out on display. This gives our audiences and visitors an idea of the tremendous work that freemasons do.

When I ask people what they think Museum is for, the answer more often than not is ‘it’s for old things which need to be kept’. Although that’s true to a certain extent, they don’t realise that the activities they are taking part today are also part of that organisational history.

In my job here at the Museum, I often find that people find it very difficult to see beyond their own lifetime. This makes capturing their impact on the history of freemasonry today a challenge, but it is something that the Museum team here are really hoping to build upon from now on.