Hidden gems from the Library and Archives
What’s the most unusual thing you’ve ever seen in a museum? Spanning centuries, the unexpected treasures on display at the recently restored Art Deco library include hand-drawn illustrations, curious texts and beguiling bindings. Brought together for the first time, the curated selection you see today will rotate with a new selection in the summer.
Why not delve into our collections to discover your own treasures? Anyone can join as a reader for free.
A feather amongst the leaves
The Order of the Pillars of Solomon’s Temple Demonstrated, 1720
The Stukeley manuscripts provide a window into the world of an eighteenth-century gentleman. A keen antiquarian, William Stukeley was made a freemason in 1721. His carefully-illustrated manuscripts, reflecting his interests in archaeology, history and religion, were presented to the Museum in 1924.
Detail with peacock feather from The Order of the Pillars of Solomon’s Temple Demonstrated, 1720
Detail with watercolour illustration from The Order of the Pillars of Solomon’s Temple Demonstrated, 1720
Records of Royal Denbigh Lodge, 1787 – 1792
Sometimes striking artwork hides within routine lodge records. A Denbigh lawyer, John Owens, is the artist responsible for the beautiful frontispieces. A member of a short-lived lodge in the Welsh borders, Owens was initiated in 1788.
Detail of illuminated frontispiece from the By Laws of Royal Denbigh Lodge, 1787
Iilluminated frontispiece from the Minutes of Royal Denbigh Lodge, 1792
Detail of illuminated frontispiece from the Minutes of Royal Denbigh Lodge, 1792
Diplomat, freemason, soldier, spy
The Chevalier d’Eon
The transgender former spy and diplomat gave fencing demonstrations in front of royalty as a means of earning an income after she declared herself a woman in 1777. In her former life, D’Eon was a French soldier and London freemason.
Detail of coloured engraving of the Chevalier d’Eon in a public fencing duel, c.1771
The world before photography
Watercolours of a lodge room, 1822
Several fine watercolours were discovered among the otherwise perfectly routine membership returns from a lodge. George Salisbury, a member of a travelling lodge meeting in the 17th Regiment of Light Dragoons, was a talented artist. He painted membership certificates and illustrations of the local lodge room at Kaira, India.
Interior of the lodge room at Kaira, 1822
Detail of the interior of the lodge room at Kaira, 1822
Permission to meet
A lodge Bible with warrant pocket
A strikingly-bound volume reveals a pocket for holding a lodge warrant – the authority for a lodge to meet. In 1789 William Mourgue, an army officer, presented the Bible to a lodge meeting in the 18th Regiment of Foot at Gibraltar.
The lodge warrant found inside the pocket of the Bible, 1789
A watercolour treasure trove
French Ancient & Accepted Scottish Rite ritual, c.1810
Ritual books from overseas often reveal surprising details. Such rich illustrations provide a rare glimpse of the colourful costumes that form such a central part of masonic life. Although our library has many ritual books, only a handful are decorated in this way.
Detail featuring the 27th degree Commander of the Temple of the French Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite ritual, c.1810
The first of its kind
The Ceremonies of Initiation, Passing and Raising by George Claret, 1840
The enterprising ritualist, George Claret is responsible for a piece of masonic history. His printed text is the basis of all lodge rituals which exist today. Initiated in a London lodge in 1812, Claret became a significant figure in the world of masonic publishing.
Title page from The Ceremonies of Initiation, Passing and Raising by George Claret, 1840
Tokens of esteem
Illuminated address to William Wix on his appointment as Provincial Grand Master for Essex, 1801
Illuminated addresses are artworks in their own right and were a popular way for freemasons to celebrate achievements. Early examples were often lavishly illustrated and coloured by hand. They were clearly treasured by recipients as over 500 examples survive in our collections.
Detail of Memento Mori beneath symbols of freemasonry from the Illuminated address to William Wix
The rise of the Pug
The Order of the Mopses
Pugs have been popular for a long time. In 1740, after the first papal ban on freemasonry, some German Catholics – men and women – formed a society, offering fraternity without swearing an oath. They called themselves the Order of the Mopses, after the German word ‘Mops’, meaning pug dog.
Proof of membership
Royal Arch certificate, 1825
Early membership certificates combine vivid hand-coloured decoration with meaningful symbolism, elevating the everyday to the extraordinary. There are thousands of examples in our collections, each one proving masonic membership. In contrast to the standardised designs now in use, earlier certificates were gloriously varied.
Detail of Latin inscription with symbols of freemasonry from Royal Arch certificate, 1825
Detail of signatures with regular dating and freemasonry's Anno Lucis (in the year of light) dating from Royal Arch certificate, 1825
A celebrity in the ranks
Oscar Wilde and freemasonry
Oscar Wilde, the charismatic playwright, joined freemasonry while studying at Magdalen College, Oxford. He was initiated in Apollo University Lodge, No. 357, Oxford in 1875 and joined other masonic orders, including Mark Masonry.
Lost on the Titanic
Petitions for admission to the Royal Masonic School for Girls, 1912
Henry Parkinson Hill worked as a Steward on the Titanic, taking the voyage on doctor’s advice to improve his health. When the ship sank and he was lost at sea, his wife petitioned the freemasons for support. Daughters Eleanor and Florence were admitted to the Royal Masonic School for Girls.
Formal petition for the Royal Masonic School for Girls, 1912
Handwritten pages from the petitions for the Royal Masonic School for Girls, 1912