The History of the Masonic Hall, Dagger Lane.
If the Masonic hall in Sunderland can claim to be the oldest purpose-built structure in continuous occupation in England, then the second is undoubtedly the one in Kingston upon Hull. The Masonic Hall at Dagger Lane in Hull has been in constant use since 1804. The Minerva Lodge, now No 250. which has been resident there throughout was the only one of the five original lodges to survive. The lodge first met at the appropriately named Masons Arms in Chapel Lane following its inauguration in 1783 and by 1784 had arranged for its chairs in the east, west and south to be made after the pattern of those in the Grand Lodge at York. In 1798 the tiny silver Jewel still worn by the Treasurer had been purchased and Thomas Fletcher presented a ‘painting of the Floor Cloth. In 1800 the members of Minerva must have been amongst the 300 brethren who attended the dedication of the Freemasons Hall in Mytongate built by the masons of Rodney Lodge and perhaps were stirred into wanting their own premises.
In 1802 the lodge was building its own temple on a piece of land belonging to the Old Chapel and adjoining edifice. The chapel itself was built in 1698 by the first nonconformist body in Hull, a Presbyterian congregation constituted in I643, the year of the plague, the town siege and the Civil War. The site of the temple was in what first had been Hutchinson Lane and then, at about the time it was paved in 1754, became Daggard Lane or as it is more commonly called today - Dagger Lane.
The terms of occupancy was a lease of 96 years, an annual rent of £l6 and the rent to be paid to the Trustees of the chapel. Originally only the first floor was to be used for Masonic purposes as we read that John Medd, currier, rented the ground floor of the lodge on a lease of 30 years with a half-yearly rent. Indeed we know that whilst obligations might be taking upstairs, there was a slaughterhouse below, although this later became merely a warehouse. What is fascinating to note is that the lodge was to meet once a month from Lady Day to Michaelmas and twice a month for the rest of the year. The Royal Arch, or Chapter met every first Friday, and the Knights Templar on the 1st Sunday after the quarter day meetings of the Royal Arch. Indeed, in 1802 there were already meeting here the three degrees of the Craft, Mark Masonry. Royal Arch, together with Knight Templar, Old English Harodim or Orange Masonry, and Ark, Mark and Link. The building was consecrated on 6th December 1802.
By 11th April. 1810 the Vicar, Mr Bromby, ‘presents his most respectful compliments to the Master Wardens and Brethren of the Minerva Lodge of Freemasons, and requests from them permission on behalf of himself and a few other patronisers and performers of Sacred Music to meet occasionally for practice in their room’. Permission was given and in July the traffic was returned -for there was a procession to the church in honour of the birthday of the Prince Regent. There was no conflict between Church and Craft then it seems!
In 1819, October, a Bro. Crompton proudly presented to the lodge an oil painting of the Good Samaritan, which was to hang over the Poor Box. It had been painted by his daughter who clearly understood and encouraged one of the lasting characteristics of a freemason’s heart. It showed that the adornment of the lodge room was a constant care of the brethren and on 23rd May 1821, Bro. Crow presented a silk flag in memory of the late Bro. Viscount Horatio Nelson. Silver and glassware such as can be seen in the display case between the two present lodge room entrances, now began to be presented but what especially endears the main temple here to the author is the record that on 22nd June 1825, Bro. George Oliver, on delivered the First Lecture within these walls.
Masons ever being mindful of their responsibility towards others who were not masons, it is encouraging to read that it was in 1830 that a subscription was raised towards the stained glass windows in Holy Trinity Church nearby, whereas it was 1843 before the lodge room received its first major repair, painting and decorating. Now began to appear those busts, which are so striking a feature of the Lodge room. First the ones of Ajax and Homer, and then one of Lord Zetland, MWGM, fashioned by Bro. Thomas Earle, whose son-in-law, Frank Appleyard, seems to have been the man responsible for the design of the original temple. Thomas Earle’s own bust is situated to the left of the Senior Warden’s chair whilst one of Appleyard himself is behind the Junior Warden.
It was time by 1863 for another entire renovation of the premises and so extensive were the improvements that it was felt that a re-consecration with full ceremonies was required. It was perhaps now that some of the present features began to make their permanent appearance. The mosaic carpet was presented by Humber Lodge. Bro. G. Hardy gave the three large tracing boards that now adorn the Lodge room walls, whilst a valuable flagon and two cups were presented to the KT Conclave and a complete set of Officers’ collars and gauntlets, as well as a bookcase and books to go in it, were received. Even the handsome Square and compasses that lie on the VSL were a gift from Bro. J. Brooke, SW, in November 1873.
The hall was now about to take another large step forward for in January 1874 not only was the lodge able to purchase the freehold from the chapel trustees but the chapel itself was up for sale and ‘was added to the existing hall to make the present premises'. At last the masons could claim to be masters in their own house and they were also able to add a dining room, kitchen and ancillary offices to the somewhat limited facilities hitherto. The old dining room, with its particular character has now become a second lodge room though it is mostly enjoyed by the Knight Templar and other degree ceremonies, for which it is admirably suited. The room, now called the Red Room used to boast a fireplace, flat and low ceiling, but has been extensively modernised. Nonetheless, it has lost none of its character and still has a distinctive atmosphere. It must have been a very pleasant place in which to dine: it is most certainly a very fitting place in which to hold a unique black-hatted Preceptory
The life of the hall was not as secure however as the late Victorian occupiers must have imagined it. Despite the constant maintenance and serious repair after the ravages of World War the local authorities threatened this ancient hall and its environs with demolition after compulsory purchase. Hardly, but happily, the whole scheme was fought and at last the most desired outcome was granted. In December 1986 the hall was declared a protected building of major historical value and its future does at last seem wholly secured short of a major natural disaster. The brethren could thus turn to the task of really establishing their possessions and the result of their labours is now a delight for all visitors to savour. We have here a modern presentation of an ancient and much respected temple.
Entering today by the simple doorway in Dagger Lane, which itself retains so much of an older Kingston upon Hull, you find yourself at once in an atmosphere of well-ordered Freemasonry. The stairs to the right rise above and to the left you are soon aware of the large bar and dining room that was once the warehouse of an earlier age. At the top of the winding stairs you come to a modest landing area and immediately in front of you stand two most intriguing objects. They are the two pillars of B. and J. bearing their proper names in Hebrew within a gilded, irradiated frame on the black background, and they stand on two well-shaped Ashlars of bluish marble. At the head of each of the pillars is a flat plinth and above this a plain golden ball. The pillars stand at the approach to a white door in a curved recess and on the flat face of the recess roof and between the globes are three words in Masonic coded writing which read, ‘Brother, welcome here'. The surrounding decor of pale grey walls, pure white skirting and door panels, together with the striking chequered carpeting, makes a most impressive impact on the visitor. Here is age joined with modern furnishing.
The temple that awaits you on the other side of the door is all of a piece. The overall effect is of a sizeable but yet restrained room of blue and white. Facing you in the east is a huge semicircular arch that appears at first sight to run from floor to ceiling and down again. On further notice the arch is supported on two other black and gold pillars which fit snugly into the north and south walls. The actual stonework of the arch is white but it is so slender that it hardly disrupts the continuity of the blue ceiling of the main part of the room with the blue haIf dome of the apse which extends further to the east. It is this happy design which gives a real sense of the blue infinity of the firmament and this is of course enhanced by the massive circle on the main ceiling, depicting the zodiac figures with their stars in their constellations all round. The ceiling is a most impressive sight, and yet soothing to one who sits beneath it for a ceremony. Regrettably, at this time the stars and zodiac are no longer visible because the Lodge room had not been decorated since the 1950's and was in urgent need of updating. Although this work has now been almost completed, the stars and zodiac signs have still to be replaced.
On close examination you will see certain other features - Around the arch are the letters I T N O T G A O T U and between the T and G there is a keystone which bears a letter 1 (this is perhaps an attempt at the Hebrew letter YOD which stands for the Almighty? or is it the first letter of another name for the keystone?). Above the keystone and on a patterned blue border that separates the cornice from the ceiling proper there is a delicate painting of an eye with light radiating from it. Seemingly, below the keystone, but in fact on the apex of the apse roof behind it, there is still more striking design another eye at the centre of a large gilded boss and from the eye a great fan of rays shining upon the VSI, with the square and compasses extended on the open pages.
At the east end of the temple and below this expanse of blue sky and roof we cannot avoid the imposing arrangement of 20 ft high pillars that reach from floor to cornice and frame first the old light brown chairs for WM, IPM and Chaplain (the latter being on the right of the Master) with the Minerva Lodge banner above them. The blue draped curtains that hang behind the chairs and banner add to the effect already created by the ceilings. Around the base of the apse roof and above these pillars, as also round the whole room there runs a brown frieze with gold lettering. The inscription in Latin is as follows:
North wall from west to east.
AVDI. VIDE. TACE - FIAT LVX ETLVX FVIT - QUAERITE ET INVENIETIS
(hear, see, be silent let there be light and there was light seek and ye shall find).
East wall from west to south
LVMEN INGENS ORIENTE LVCET VBI PAX ET SILENTIVM REGANT
(a great light shines in the east where peace and silence reign)
South wall from east to west.
LVX LVCET TENEBRIS SED TENEBRAE NON EAM COMPRENDERVNT
(the light shineth in the darkness and the darkness comprehended it not)
The chairs are original and are superb examples of the best early Victorian design with upholstered seats and backs, side pillars of the Corinthian, Ionic and Doric designs, and the motifs of the various officers carved in roundels at their head. The arms of the chairs finish with busts of female figures in the Masters chair and the heads of beasts for the other two. The Wardens’ chairs in their normal places have the same carved arms, as the Master's, their own motifs of level and plumbline on black-based roundels, but with large rich red cushions to ease the less ample occupants of these otherwise large chairs. As we have seen elsewhere the steps to these chairs are graded, one step for the Junior Warden, two for the Senior and three for the Master.
The partly ecclesiastical look of the room is created by what at first might look like two great panels of the Ten Commandments that hang the whole length of the wall between the pillars to the left and right of the Masters dais. They are of course the original boards, beautifully inscribed, naming the Masters of Minerva lodge from its inception. They are already complete. Furthermore the seats for Past Maters and senior visitors below them and along the east wall are formed like Canons stalls in a cathedral with curved backs anti projecting arms, all fixed to the wall.
In the west the effect is almost repeated save that there is only the SW’s chair and pedestal against the backdrop of pillars, full length boards (the centre one here denoting the names of the Chapter Principals) and grey walls with blue ceiling above. To the right of the SW as be sits, there is the very imposing and well-tuned pipe organ with its line pipe case and hooded console beneath. The organ casing reaches almost to the ceiling and adds noticeably to the quality and sense or well-being in this room. The organ has been recently refurbished, bringing it back to its original fine state.
We cannot leave this fascinating meeting place without looking at the walls and ceiling once more. Mention has already been made of the terracotta busts that grace the gentle niches (in blue of course!) and these are interspersed with four of the lodge’s oldest possessions the large tracing boards of the three Craft degrees and of the Royal Arch. Though obviously fine examples of Harris (with their miniature copies beneath them) they are also noteworthy for being on open display all the time and thus a matter for constant speculation by the brother sitting in lodge. Though not frequently seen, the Chapter board is on similar display in both Newport and Faversham (see the volume on Halls in the South).
Above these boards and the cornice that separates walls from ceiling there runs a frieze of patterned blue on which are painted a number of large shields indicating the main aspects of Freemasonry practised in Hull from earliest times. Here we find a head of Minerva, the separate arms of the Premier and Antients Grand Lodges, that of the Mark Grand Lodge, two of the A and A Rite, and one for the KT. To understand these arms and be able to identify and explain them is yet a further inducement to local masons to be making “a daily advancement”. Whilst from within the zodiac already mentioned on the roof itself there suspends, from a red central moulding bearing a gold pentacle, a slender chain carrying a chandelier with six lights. By its illumination you now perceive that at the four corners of the blue firmament are the glorious sun, the moon and stars, a skull and crossbones and the united pick, shovel and crowbar. The whole ceiling area, like the walls and the totally chequered floor, bear countless objects and images that speak out the full-bodied messages of an ancient fraternity.
As we leave this old lodge room we could spend even more time looking at the rest of the treasures in this now well -restored building . The trio of Master, J W’s and Treasurer’s chairs in the old dining room, the almost unique charter for the Encampment of the KT which meets here, the two very old Warden’s pillars that now stand on the table in the upper changing room, and the portraits, old jewels and Kirkwall scroll that grace the landing.
The building is now owned by the Minerva Masonic Hall Association, a company registered at Companies House. A Board of Directors oversess the management of the building to ensure that the fabric and integrity is maintained. However, in recent times a new company has been formed to oversee and manage the bar and catering, and to manage the various private functions.