A Not So Secret Look at Freemasonry in Berkshire

300 years of heritage on display at Reading Museum from 14th February to 27th May 2017

2017 marks the official 300th birthday, or tercentenary, of Freemasonry, celebrating how three hundred years ago, on 24th June 1717, the first Grand Lodge was formed. Freemasons have been a part of the community in Berkshire since at least 1724 and a display of Masonic artefacts spanning 300 years will be on display in Reading Museum, Blagrave Street, Reading, RG1 1QH from 14th February to 27th May 2017.

The tercentenary is not only an important historical landmark; it is celebrating 300 years of Freemasonry and its heritage. The display will reveal how Freemasonry has developed in the local community from the 1700’s, the core values of the organisation and the role it plays in society, including the charitable works Freemasons undertake.

The display will include items from the Napoleonic and First World Wars and of particular note is a Master’s chair dating from about 1800. It has an ornate painting on the back containing Masonic symbolism (squares, levels, pillars, columns, chequered floor) and is thought to have been made by a Scandinavian carpenter who was a prisoner of war.

In addition, you will be able to see one of Oscar Wilde’s Masonic membership certificates, on which Wilde’s ‘Masons Mark’ can be seen. On temporary loan from the vaults at London’s Museum of Freemasonry, this is the first time ever that Oscar Wilde’s certificate has been put on public display. Originally initiated into Oxford University’s Apollo Lodge, his connection with Reading was his infamous incarceration in the town prison 1895-1897 and his writing of ‘The Ballad of Reading Gaol’.

There will be a reception to mark the official opening of the exhibition in Reading Museum at 6.30pm on Monday 13th February 2017. Martin Peters, the Provincial Grand Master for the Masonic Province of Berkshire will formally open the exhibition at about 7.15pm. The exhibition will be open to the public from Tuesday 14th February until Saturday 27th May in the Reading People and Place Gallery, during normal Reading Museum opening hours (Tues to Saturday 10am – 4pm).

On Saturday 29th April, Mark Dennis, Curator of the Museum of Freemasonry at Freemasons’ Hall in London will give a public talk in Reading Museum to coincide with the exhibition.

A series of Tweets during the exhibition will provide details of the individual artefacts on display. Follow the Berkshire Freemasons on Twitter @BerksPGL

Martin Peters, Provincial Grand Master for Berkshire said:
“Freemasonry is more relevant today than it ever has been, particularly with regard to its community involvement and contribution to local good causes. I am delighted that we have been given the opportunity to present Freemasonry in this way and on behalf of our 3,000 members in Berkshire I thank Reading Museum for showcasing our work.”

Cllr Paul Gittings, Reading Lead Member for Culture, Sport and Consumer Services, said:
“I’m delighted to see the Berkshire Freemasons have put together this fascinating glimpse into local Freemasonry heritage, hosted at Reading Museum, to mark 300 years of national Freemasonry. It is great to see this organisation’s rich history made accessible to the public.”

Brendan Carr, the museum’s Community Engagement Curator said:
“It has been intriguing to work with the local freemasonry community to produce this display. It is a story weaved into Berkshire’s wider social history over three centuries. The Museum is about presenting the facts and using real objects to promote understanding. I hope that this not so secret look at 300 years of heritage will dispel some of the myths that have built up around Freemasonry.”

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