A Brief History of Orsett Masonic Hall.

The building, according to The Thurrock Guide and Directory in 1938, reported that the Institute was built in 1860 by a Mr. Wingfield Baker at some point between 1860 and 1890 (the actual date needs to be verified). Any land that did not have deeds became the property of the Lord Lieutenant of the County, i.e. Colonel Sir Francis Whitmore; hence, the building became part of the Orsett Hall Estate.
Many think it used to be a school, or part of the Church buildings. No doubt these thoughts have been derived at, because the Hall (formerly known as “The Institute”) was used as a Church from July 11th 1926 until December 18th 1927, following the roof fire at the Orsett Church in 1926. The theory of the school could be linked to the fact that it was used in the evenings as a reading room and also for plays etc. It was more of a Village Hall, to be used for meetings of various groups and for social occasions and also Estate Tenants Meetings. It has also been used in the past as a Magistrates Court. It has been found that Orsett was an important place in the earlier years and, indeed, was a thriving community. It was then what Thurrock itself is now. There was a Police Station, Courtroom and, indeed, it had its own “Cage” (A temporary lock up for offenders waiting to go to prison). Also the Estate Tenants would come here to pay their Tithes and Land Taxes to the Lord of the Manor.
The Institute was used for High Class entertainment, which may have been influenced by Sir Francis, as he had a London residence and many society connections. There was Shakespearean readings and high class concerts. A Mr Norris Elye, at one time, lived at Orsett Hall and was a very fine musician and conductor. He was well known in the London Music Circle and brought many fine amateurs to Orsett. A Christy Minstrel Troupe also used to entertain the Village. The coaches and horses were prominent outside the “Institute” on these occasions, with the horses being taken out and stabled at the Whitmore Arms (This is the Pub opposite which was formerly known as “The Gun”) (click here to visit the Whitmore Arms website)
Organisations known to have met at the “Institute” included Scouts, Cubs, Womens' Institutes and the Usual Village Activity Groups, such as dancing, boxing and gymnastics. It was also used as the headquarters of a Battery of Artillery, with the men undertaking their drill at the “Institute”.
This is one for the Golfers.
The village itself was a pioneer of golf, as it was started in the field opposite the Orsett Cock (Local Pub) over 100 years ago and, indeed, the “Institute” was the venue on the 14th October 1899 for the first meeting, with the aim of forming the Orsett Golf Club.
One of the groups which used the hall was Orsett Lodge 5424 and whenit was learned that the Whitmore family, then owners of the Estate, wished to sell the hall, following the death of Sir Francis Whitmore in 1962, the Lodge Committee decided it would be a good idea to try to purchase it, in order to obtain security of tenure and for it to be available for other Lodges to use, provided enough support and interest could be raised. A Limited Company was incorporated in March 1963, with an authorised capital of £2500 under the Chairmanship of the late Ralph Coker of Orsett Lodge and, in addition, there were Ten Subscribers on the Memorandum of Association. An offer for the “Institute”, as it was then known, was made. The first offer of £2000 was declined by the Estate, but at a Board Meeting in August 1963, it was recorded that the transaction had been completed for the price of £2697. Ralph Coker was, indeed, the driving force to establish a Masonic Hall and also provided the loan for the purchase. (His portrait currently hangs behind the Senior Wardens pedestal in the Lodge Temple.



Other local Lodges, which had hitherto been meeting in pubs and Red Cross Halls etc., gave their support but, obviously, money had to be raised for the purchase and this was done by loans and a share issue at £1 per share, which was offered to local Lodges and their individual Members. Incidentally, those shares are still £1 and no dividend has ever been paid!
The building purchased, was quite different to the one the Brethren enjoy today. The Temple simply did not exist. The room downstairs, in which the Brethren now dine, went from floor to rafters and the adjacent kitchen was virtually all there was, except for a corrugated iron hut alongside, which was used as a store for dining tables and catering equipment.
Before each Lodge Meeting the carpet and pedestals and all the other Lodge furniture had to be laid out to form a Lodge Room and after the Lodge was closed, it all had to be stowed away, the carpet rolled up and the folding dining tables collected, erected once more along with the chairs, thus rearranged for the Festive Board. The rank of Steward involved rather more physical work in those days, although some of the younger/fitter brethren used to give the older Brethren a hand! All of those who assisted in dealing with the rolling up of the carpet certainly needed a good wash afterwards!
The Bar introduced in 1967, such as it was, consisted of a large cupboard, which is located within the Dining Room and for many years was used, thereafter, as a storage for the dining tables etc. It now houses the Banners of the Lodges and an office .The Bar was not very well stocked and many of the older members, who did not get involved with the furniture shifting, (as well as some that did) repaired to The Whitmore Arms to have a drink before the meal. This was good business for the proprietor who, although a Mason himself, wasn’t a very cheerful soul and regularly complained about some members using his car park! (Very strange, the current owners complain the same.) When the meal was ready to be served, someone had to go to the pub to notify most of the diners!
When first acquired, the building consisted, as stated before, of one very tall room and the kitchen, although there was also the corrugated iron hut, which had been purchased by Sir Francis Whitmore from the aerodrome at Suttons Farm, (subsequently renamed RAF Hornchurch, when it closed after the end of the first world war). Initially, it was used as a Social Club for disabled ex servicemen, but was then used for storage etc., as mentioned earlier.
In 1965, the first of the alterations took place in the provision of a new cloakroom and toilets. It was decided that the first major improvement would be to take advantage of the height of the room, to create another floor for a permanent Temple and ante-room. Plans were drawn up in 1969 and, with the help of further share issues and loans, the building works were carried out a year or so later. The Brethren who meet at the centre are all proud of their Temple and it is considered to have a wonderful ambience. Indeed, it is sometimes referred to as “The Crown in the Jewel of Essex Masonic Lodges.”


The next major improvement in 1976, was to demolish the tin hut and subsequently have the Bar, Social room and a Ladies toilet built on the site. Much of the preparation and ground work was undertaken by members of Rainham Lodge. A few years ago, a new beer storage cold room and annexe room was built adjacent to the Bar area and the latter is proving to be very useful, as it is used for holding committee meetings and, indeed, some use it for Lodge of Instruction Meetings.
Other significant work that has been carried out is roof renovations above the gent’s toilet and rear storage area, installation of Panelling to the Dining Room, (It previously had gloss painted walls which ran with condensation during the Festive Board). New gas heaters installed have now been replaced with air conditioning units. There was also refurbishment of the ladies toilet and the Installation of a disabled toilet. This was undertaken by Brethren of the Laindon Lodge.
A full, necessary, major improvement to the kitchen, inclusive of the renewal of catering equipment, fridges, freezers, dishwashers and stainless steel tables etc. was carried out. The ducting system was also renewed, (once again, works undertaken by the Brethren of the Laindon Lodge). For many years the caterers cooked the food elsewhere and transported it here for serving. The food is now prepared and cooked on the premises, which is much more preferable.
A stair lift to the Temple was installed a few years ago at the request of one Lodge, to assist a disabled member. The lift was paid for by donations from various Lodges but, unfortunately, the member did not live long enough to be able to use it, but it is now used regularly by other Masons and we are also now able to invite guests without their having to be agile! The installation necessitated a new, wider staircase to be built, in order to satisfy the Fire regulations and much of this work was done by W.Bro. Bernard Read, a member of Haven Lodge. The original stair lift was replaced in 2007 and we received a funding donation from the “Essex Mason” (Our Essex Provincial Magazine)
The Tyler’s room (referred to as the ante-room to the Temple earlier on in this talk) was refurbished, building in a provision for the storage of Masonic cases during the meetings, as well as storage cupboards for the Lodges to hold their regalia etc. The entrance hall was refurbished, incorporating timber panelling, notice boards and mail boxes etc. Both of these projects were undertaken by Brethren of the Laindon Lodge.
Within the years 2007, 2008 and 2009 further works were undertaken, in order to comply with legislation and improvement to the security of the building. This was the installation of a fire alarm, burglar alarm, and an update on the risk assessment procedure, with remedial works being undertaken,
Also in 2007 the Gents toilet was refurbished. Brethren of the Laindon Lodge, as well as Orsett Lodge undertaking the works. In addition to the shares issue and donations, we have also secured loans from the Essex Provincial Building Fund. (This is a facility where all Lodges may borrow money at a fixed rate of interest, repayable generally over ten years). The Orsett Board of Directors and the Brethren that meet at the Centre are most grateful to the Provincial Grand Lodge Building Fund for their help in providing loans to finance some of the improvements. This venue is now a Masonic home to many Craft Lodges, Royal Arch Chapters and other additional Orders, as well as numerous Lodges of Instruction. Both the Temple and Dining Room are used on all Weekdays and Saturdays during the Masonic season.

In 2016 the kitchen was again updated installing more energy efficient cookers, and equipment. In 2017 the museum was given a refurbishment by the Hall Manager Mrs Jackie Driver. During the refurbishment many antique and unusual items were rediscovered are available to view in the easy display cases, which charters Masonry for over 150 years.

It is interesting to note that in 1966 there were six Craft Lodges, one Mark Masons Lodge and one Chapter meeting at the Hall.
Currently we have thirteen Craft Lodges, four Chapters, four Mark Masons Lodges, two Conclaves of Red Cross of Constantine, two Chapters of Rose Croix, three Knights Templar Preceptory’s, one Knights Templar Priests, two Conclave of Order of Secret Monitor, one Conclave of Order of Royal and Select Masters and one Consistory of Scarlet Cord. A total of thirty two. We are also privileged that the Essex Provincial Craft Executive Lodge, The Bear and Ragged Staff, meet here once a year, as well as Senior Executive Groups of other Orders.
It is currently used by approx 900 Brethren, who attend between them some 109 various Meetings throughout the year. In addition there are eleven Lodges and Chapters that meet once a week for their Lodge of Instruction Meeting. The Bar and dining areas are also used for Masonic Social functions such as Christenings, Wakes and Individual Masons special functions (Birthdays, etc.)
The Hall and Temple is still owned and run by Orsett Masonic Hall Ltd. The Company originally set up when the acquisition was considered. All shares are owned by Lodges, or their Members, but can only be owned by a Brother who is registered on the register of the Grand Lodge of England and also a member of a Lodge that meets at Orsett.
All of the Directors freely give their services.

In conclusion, the Board of Directors would like to respectfully acknowledge all the care, foresight and hard work that many of our predecessors have made, to bring this building into its present form and to the existing Staff and Brethren who caringly give their time and efforts to keep it that way.

 

 

 

Copyright 2009: Orsett Masonic Hall Ltd.
Created & Maintained By:Brian Smith