Saturday, 30 April 2016

The Symbolism of Bryn Howel

Bryn Howel is a manor house situated in the Vale of Llangollen; a beautiful Mock-Tudor house that lies in the shadow of Dinas Bran - a ruined medieval castle that dominates this part of the Dee valley. The house is now a hotel, but was built in 1896, and is richly decorated in symbolism. The house was built by a Mr Edwards who was a local industrialist, owning quarries, and a brick and tile works. The house exudes Welshness, and the symbolism celebrates Wales with dragons guarding the doorway, and the Tudor rose appearing along with the fleur-de-lis (two popular Welsh symbols), decorating what is now the main bar room, a room that also has the original wood panelling.

The beautifully decorated fireplace, heavy with symbolism of vines and zoomorphic imagery. The Welsh national anthem is inscribed around the design.

Vine work decorating a doorway.

A cherub decorates the corner of the ceiling decoration.

The floral motifs on the plaster ceiling.

The Tudor Rose along with the Fleur-de-lis.

The recognisable chequered floor...

The Welsh Dragon guards the doorway of the house.

The Mock-Tudor design of Bryn Howel.

Thursday, 28 April 2016

The Symbolism of Langdale Chase

Langdale Chase is now a hotel situated on Lake Windermere in the Lake District, England. It dates from 1890, and reveals the Gothic style of the later Victorian period, offering some of the finest views of the lake and capturing the Romantic essence of the area. The building is also embellished with symbolism, and as a hotel (which it became in 1930), it attracted many prominent people and was the setting for a film adaptation of an Alfred Hitchcock thriller - The Paradine Case - released in 1947. Langdale Chase was depicted as Hindley Hall in the film and one can see from watching the film that the hall has not changed too much, especially the entrance hall and staircase - which was also reproduced in a Hollywood studio (see the excellent book The Wrong House: The Architecture of Alfred Hitchcock by Steven Jacobs).

There is no evidence that Hitchcock was a Freemason, but links have been made over the years, mainly by speculative writers in various corners of the internet. However, Hitchcock did make the most of symbolism in his films, using visualisation and architecture to convey the atmosphere (think of Bates' haunting Gothic house in Psycho), and he used subtle references throughout certain films, such as the references to author Edgar Allan Poe in his film Marnie. Langdale Chase certainly has retained the elegant atmosphere of a lakeside country manor house, and one can see why Hitchcock was drawn to it.

The main entrance - symbolism embellishes the doorway, the coat of arms of the family can be seen near the windows.

The main reception room - the fireplace is rich in symbolism that reflects the Romanticism of the area; Celtic scenes, dragons and mysterious faces decorate the fireplace.

The Gothic splendour of Langdale Chase dominates the lakeside.

Lake Windermere as viewed from the house.

Tuesday, 26 April 2016

Rebirth and Reflection

We are charged during the third degree that the Lord of Life will enable us to trample the King of Terrors beneath our feet, and lift our eyes to that bright Morning Star. The degree thus teaches us to ask that famous question - what is life all about? We experience both the light and dark, we experience the contrast, and we henceforth see the value of life. We are reborn into the light; a new world where things are forever different and we realise we live not only for ourselves, but for the world as a whole.

We get to feel what it is like to see our own grave, and we get shown what it is like to be reborn. It is a personal experience, and it is also a shared experience, an experience to reflect on deeply. It is a climax to our new life as a Mason, and for a short while, we die and are resurrected - something that the magicians, alchemists and natural philosophers of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries desired, men like Dee, Ashmole, Desaguliers....

There is also an element of primeval fear in all of us when we see human bones; we know one day that is what we will all become. Like the Vanitas themes of renaissance art, skulls and symbols of mortality such as the hourglass and the scythe, remind us that time is ticking away, and we really do not have that much time on Earth, and we should try our best to be good and benefit society as much as possible. This is why charity should be part of Freemasonry, and Masonry makes good men better.

Saturday, 23 April 2016

Bodelwydden Castle, symbolism and Freemasonry

Bodelwydden Castle, near St. Asaph in North Wales, was built between 1830 and 1832, though a manor house was situated on the site of the present castle from around 1460 owned by the Humphreys family. The property was purchased by the Williams family in 1690, the family having an association with the site for around 200 years. The castle was designed by Joseph Hansom in a Gothic style; the castle is a mock medieval masterpiece.

The Williams family were a member of the extended Williams-Wynn family, a number of prominent members of the family serving as Provincial Grand Masters in Wales during the nineteenth and twentieth century. Sir Watkin Williams Wynn, 3rd Baronet was a Jacobite and resided at his estate at Wynnstay in Denbighshire in North Wales. His son, the 4th Baronet became a Freemason, founding his own lodge which met on the estate in the latter part of the eighteenth century. Other family members of the family were also Freemasons. Wynnstay is now demolished and the remaining buildings are now apartments, though the chapel still exists and reveals evidence of Masonic influences.

The Williams family also constructed the magnificent Gothic Chateau Rhianfa overlooking the Menai Straits on Anglesey, and along with Bodelwydden Castle, they are two of the finest examples of nineteenth century Gothic architecture in North Wales. The 'marble church' as it has become known, was also constructed in a Gothic style by the family, the church, like the castle, celebrating an architectural style that harks back to the medieval period. The church can be seen from the castle and was used by the family and the workers on the estate. The Seal of Solomon can be seen in two windows at either side of the church.

The Cross Foxes - the coat of arms for the family, and the name given to a number of local pubs.

Wednesday, 20 April 2016

Masonic Related Locations in York

The ancient city of York in the north of England, once the bastion of the independent York Grand Lodge during the eighteenth century, is full of Masonic related locations, such as Masonic Halls, taverns where lodges met, and buildings that were built through the interests of local Freemasons or had links to local Freemasons.

This first photo is of the Assembly Rooms in York, designed by Lord Burlington, close friend and benefactor of Dr Francis Drake, Drake becoming Grand Master of the York Grand Lodge in 1761. The Rooms were used for civic meetings and the architecture being based on the 'Egyptian Hall' of Vitruvius.

Second photo is of the sign of the Black Swan - the meeting place for the Old York Lodge in 1725. The pub itself is now demolished. The black swan figure above is now in York Castle Museum.

Third photo is of the Merchant Adventurers' Hall, location of Dr Francis Drake's famous Oration during a meeting of the York Grand Lodge in December 1726. This meeting was the first time the term 'Grand Lodge' was used for the 'Yorkists'.

Fairfax House above was once owned by the Fairfax Family. A member of this extended Yorkshire family - Admiral Robert Fairfax - served as Deputy President for the Old York Lodge in 1721. Almost opposite is Castlegate House - one of the two Masonic Hall's in York.

There are many more buildings and features related to Freemasonry and Freemasons in the ancient city of York, the Minster itself has countless references to Freemasonry, both operative and speculative. This beautiful city has some of the best architecture in England, and is well worth a visit.

Sunday, 17 April 2016

The Hidden Symbolism of Ruthin Castle

Ruthin Castle in north Wales was built in 1277 by Dafydd ap Gruffydd, who after rebelling against Edward I in 1282, was hung, drawn and quartered. The castle passed to Reginald de Grey, and was attacked by Owain Glyndwr in 1400, and finally destroyed during the Civil War by Oliver Cromwell. The castle was rebuilt in 1827 and again in 1848 by the Myddleton family in glorious Gothic style, and the ruins of the original castle can still be seen in its grounds. The Cornwallis-West family (evolving from the Myddletons) owned the castle by the beginning of the twentieth century, and the castle had many notable visitors including Edward the Prince of Wales (Grand Master of the United Grand Lodge of England and future King Edward VII) and the mother of Sir Winston Churchill, who married George Cornwallis-West in 1900. The nineteenth century castle is now a hotel, however it remains largely unspoilt by its renovations and its adaptation for public use, and it still retains many Victorian features and its symbolism.

The large fireplace of what is now the Cornwallis Room depicts a deer and a boar facing each other, revealing some interesting symbolism that draws from Celtic folklore. The deer was thought to be honourable but elusive, ready to flee before fighting. The boar on the other hand was also thought to be elusive but was prone to face his attacker and strike back. Two conflicting beasts of the forest thus face each other like male and female cameos from the early nineteenth century; the deer represents the feminine, the boar the masculine. The deer and the boar also reflect the hunting and warrior culture of Welsh history. The fireplace is also decorated with floral motifs and fruits of the forests which add to the rustic and Celtic feel of the aesthetic; apples, pears and other fruits appear as a cornucopia of vines entwine to frame the fireplace. The symbolism celebrates the Welsh heritage and has deeper meanings that represent fertility and put forward the ethereal power of the mythical beasts of tradition.

Indeed, Celtic and Welsh folklore is incorporated in many features within the castle; the Welsh dragon appears in various guises, examples of zoomorphism appear in fireplaces, on certain doors in the castle, and as carvings in the architecture. The rich symbolism certainly draws from the Welsh mythical tradition, a tradition that was heroic, dream-like and otherworldly. The boar for example appears in a story called Culhwch and Olwen from the Mabinogion; Culhwch seeks the hand of Olwen, daughter of Ysbaddadan, who gives Culhwch a number of near impossible tasks to complete before he his granted Olwen's hand in marriage. One of the tasks involves Culhwch killing Ysgithyrwn - the wildest boar in the land.

Dragons appear in the Mabinogion story Lludd and Llefelys, where the red British dragon fights the white invading dragon. King Lllud imprisons the dragons in a pit after they have drank mead and have fallen asleep. This story of the red and white dragons appeared in a sequel of sorts in the Historia Brittonum dated to the 9th century, when the fighting dragons were found buried in Dinas Emrys - a hill in north Wales. King Vortigern had tried in vain to build a fortress on Dinas Emrys, but the walls kept mysteriously collapsing at night. Vortigern received the help of a boy without a natural father, who advised him to excavate the hill, freeing the dragons. The two dragons continued their battle in the air, the red dragon finally overcoming the white dragon. The red dragon was associated with the Gwynedd Kings, and was adopted by Henry Tudor as his standard on his march through Wales towards Bosworth Field in 1485.

The castle is full of symbolic references to the Welsh past set within Gothic Victorian splendour, the Myddleton family celebrating Welsh tradition and folklore within the architecture and in the d├ęcor of the castle. It is well worth a visit.

For further reading see Carla Jefferson, The Depiction of the Otherworld in the Four Branches of the Mabinogi

Saturday, 16 April 2016

The City of York: A Masonic Guide is now out

My latest book The City of York: A Masonic Guide is now out with Lewis Masonic, priced £8.99, and is available through the Lewis Masonic website or on Amazon. The book gives a street-by-street guide of all things Masonic in the ancient city of York, and acts as a companion piece to my earlier work on the York Grand Lodge.

The new book looks at all the Masonic meeting places in the city; from the current Masonic Halls of Duncombe Place and Castlegate House, to the old taverns of the city such as the Punch Bowl Tavern and the Black Swan. The book also discusses how the Yorkshire Museum began its life with subscriptions from well known local Masons such as Godfrey Higgins and Robert Sinclair, and how the Minster has countless Masonic references, aside from having a rich history that reveals an insight into the working lives of medieval stonemasons.

The city of York was also the home of the York Grand Lodge, or the Grand Lodge of All England held at York, the northern bastion of independent Freemasonry during the eighteenth century, and the book also analyses the legacy of the Grand Lodge on the city. The book is fully illustrated with index, map and references, and I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it.

Wednesday, 13 April 2016

Etruria, Wedgwood, Freemasonry and architecture

Etruria Old Road in Stoke-on-Trent reveals hints of its rich industrial past and cultural heritage; the area was the undisputed centre of pottery-making during the late eighteenth and nineteenth century, the Wedgwood factory making many types of Masonic pottery from jugs, mugs and plates. Though Josiah Wedgwood was not a Freemason, he was an erstwhile member of the Lunar Society and knew many Freemasons, such as Erasmus Darwin and Benjamin Franklin. Wedgwood was also a Dissenter and an abolitionist. His son, Josiah Wedgwood II, was a Freemason, being a member of the Etruscan Lodge which met at the Old Bridge Inn at Etruria.

The area became not just a thriving industrial centre but a cultural centre also, with Wedgwood promoting education, religious worship and effectively created one of the first industrial villages for his workers, building workers' cottages in the area. There are still some fine historical buildings on Etruria Old Road, as seen below, and there is a lodge that currently meets in Stoke-on-Trent called Josiah Wedgwood Lodge. For more information on the Wedgwood family and Freemasonry see The Transformation of Freemasonry by David Harrison.

Etruria Wesleyan Chapel on Etruria Old Road, built in 1820. There was a Sunday School located at the back of the building.

A corner pub on Etruria Old Road and Etruscan Street, the 'Holy Inadequate', still going strong, dating from the mid Victorian period.

Once called Etruscan Villa and also known as Etruria Cottage, this is a mid-nineteenth century house on Etruria Old Road.
There are many surviving examples of Wedgwood ware such as the jug above,  that are illustrated by Masonic transfers. These were popular during the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, being used by lodges at the festive board and in Table Lodges. Some examples, such as the jug above, commemorated the particular lodge. Scottish Rite Museum.
A Jasperware Wedgwood plate commemorating 150 years of Liverpool Victoria Friendly Society.

Tuesday, 12 April 2016

St Mary Magdalene's Church, Cerrig-Y-Drudion

St Mary Magdalene's Church in Cerrig-Y-Drudion, in North Wales, celebrates the Saint within a Celtic aesthetic, and the Church itself dates from 440 AD. The Church was rebuilt during the Victorian era, and today, there is a even a copy of Leonardo da Vinci's 'Last Supper' - complete with the feminine John the Apostle to Christ's right. There is a local legend that the Devil once occupied the Church and was lured out by a fair maiden called Eira Wyn (Snow White).

St Mary Magdalene has recently been the subject of a number of speculative works, such as 'The Holy Blood Holy Grail', which has put forward that she had a relationship with Christ and travelled to Gaul, continuing his bloodline. The role of secret societies in keeping the bloodline a closely guarded secret is a theme that speculative writers have embraced, the hoax of the Priory of Sion being one example.

The interior of the Church

The main stained-glass window revealing Mary Magdalene with Christ

A painting in the Church which is a copy of da Vinci's Last Supper, showing feminine-looking Disciple to the right of Christ

The exterior of the Church

Thursday, 7 April 2016

Masonic Lithographs

Masonic lithographs, such as the ones that appear on the book below, became common in the 19th century, appearing on especially printed lodge summonses and menus, letter headed paper, books and pamphlets. John Christie, the Newcastle based lithographer and engraver was obviously advertising his wares on the book below, as there are no other Masonic references in regard to the Newcastle and Carlisle Railway, or indeed within the book itself.

John Christie died in 1888. His remaining stock was sold.

H.W. Caslon & Co. Ltd, based in London, published this catalogue of types and borders in 1922, the catalogue including a range of Masonic symbols for the customer to choose from. These Masonically decorated letters, summonses, menus or pamphlets would give that personal touch to the product.  For official Masonic business, the letter heads and borders would provide an elegant aspect to the correspondence.

The specimens presented above, taken from the Caslon catalogue, reveals the array of symbolism one could choose from for the personalised letter headed paper, lodge summonses or menus. Offices such as Master, Junior or Senior Warden are represented, along with Secretary and Treasurer.

The catalogue also offers 'Masonic Borders' to give the product that finished touch, giving the page that pleasing and aesthetic feel. Two types of colours are also presented. The range of stylistic symbols are striking; gavels and trowels, square and compasses, all enlaced with intricate decoration.

And here is an example from a 1935 local private publication, using a symbol that was specially designed for the lodge by the printer on the cover. These Masonic lithographs certainly gave an elegant style to the printed work of the 19th and early 20th century, something that has become less common with the introduction of home computers and printers. There is nothing better than a professionally printed Masonic letter head on quality watermarked paper.