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
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
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
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
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
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.