Freemasons in Aldershot have met in various parts of the town since 1857. The first Masonic meeting place used by Panmure Lodge was The Royal Hotel, which stood at the junction of High Street, Wellington Street and Union Street, on a site now occupied by the 99p Shop and the Burtons shop. The accommodation included a large Assembly Room on the first floor, and this was shared by the Lodge with other users until 1864.
The first Masonic Hall in Aldershot is now No. 124 Victoria Road, the Coffee Mi coffee shop, and the accommodation consisted of a first floor Lodge Room, reached by a staircase at the rear, and a ground floor Club Room and Ante Room. Unfortunately the cost of the rent proved too great for a small Lodge, and a new home was found in 1871.
The next meeting place was at The Wellington Hotel, which was situated on the corner of Wellington and Little Wellington Streets. The hotel was run by one of Panmure Lodge's members, and provided accommodation, which, although adequate, did not satisfy many of the brethren. Installation Meetings were held at the Aldershot Assembly Rooms, and in 1880 the offer of alternative accommodation was accepted.
The Imperial Hotel covered nearly the whole of the triangular site bounded by Grosvenor Road, Barrack Road and Upper Union Street, and was kept by another member of Panmure Lodge. He provided a large first floor room over Nos. 6 and 8 Grosvenor Road, and agreed to keep the room, which had separate access from Barrack Road, exclusively for Masonic purposes. The accommodation was designated The Masonic Hall, and was dedicated as such by The Provincial Grand Master in April 1880. Masonic meetings continued to be held there until 1902.
The idea of a permanent Masonic venue had been in the minds of many local brethren since as early as 1879, and the result was The Masonic Hall in Station Road. The site and the cost of the building amounted to £4,500, and was the project was undertaken by the newly formed Aldershot Masonic Hall Company Ltd.
The accommodation comprised a ground floor Temple with Robing Room and lockers. Also on the ground floor was a Dining Room designed to seat 150. The first floor contained accommodation for a Club, including a Reading Room, Card Room and Billiard Room.
The building was opened by the Provincial Grand Master in September 1902 at a special joint meeting of Panmure and Aldershot Camp Lodges. The premises provided excellent Masonic accommodation, and in 1912 were the venue for a meeting of Provincial Grand Lodge. Sadly, the financial burden of ever-increasing interest on borrowed capital was too much for the Company, and despite further appeals for share capital, and even letting the ground floor as a cinema in 1912, the Aldershot Masonic Hall Company Ltd. went into liquidation in June 1914. Meetings continued to be held for a short while as tenants of the liquidator. The building was purchased by the Y.M.C.A. and used as a Soldiers' Institute until 1955. The red brick building exists to this day on the east side of Station Road, and now forms part of the Post Office Sorting Office. At the end of 1914 the decision was taken to accept an offer from Aldershot Camp Lodge to start meeting at their meeting place, The Assembly Rooms in the High Street.
In the early years of Aldershot's development, the town centre boasted two shopping arcades. One, linking Wellington Street and Victoria Road, has since been demolished and rebuilt on the same site in the 1980s. The other, known as the Market Arcade, linked Wellington Street and the High Street. It was demolished in the 1950s, but the High Street entrance, which was opposite the old Police Station (now a multi-storey Car Park and Sunday Market) can still be identified above Bridges Estate Agents in the High Street.
The entrance to the Assembly Rooms was in the Market Arcade. The Rooms had been in use for every type of function, including religious services, for a long period. Prior to its formal occupation of the premises, Panmure Lodge had used the Assembly Rooms for a number of Masonic Balls and for its Installation Meetings between 1878 and 1880. Meetings of Provincial Grand Lodge had been held there in 1874 and 1884.
The accommodation consisted of a Temple, Large Ante Room and Cloakrooms etc. The Temple was lofty, well proportioned and pillared in classical style, and was architecturally very impressive. At the end of 1917 the name was changed to The Connaught Rooms. A lease had been taken on the premises in 1914, and the three local Lodges at that time continued to meet there until July 1951, when a new home was found – the Scarborough Rooms.
The Scarborough Rooms were owned by W.Bro. H.C. O'Bryan, who was a Past Master of Semper Fidelis Lodge No. 6664, and were above his business premises at 97 High Street. The building is now occupied by the Santander Bank.
The accommodation comprised a combined Entrance Hall and Cloakroom on the ground floor together with a Committee Room. The first floor contained the Temple, and the Kitchen and Dining Room were located on the second floor, where Lodge dinners were held after meetings.
Lodges continued to meet at the Scarborough Rooms for almost 8 years until a proposed rent increase and Leasehold tenure obliged brought about a search for yet another new home.
While various options were explored, some dispensations were granted to the local Lodges allowing their meetings to be held temporarily at The Masonic Hall, Alexandra Road, Farnborough. The need for an Aldershot meeting place intensified, and resulted in an unusual makeshift solution. The "Panmure Rooms" were in fact part of the hutted accommodation for the British Cavalry in Warburg Barracks in Wellington Avenue, Aldershot. A Provincial Dispensation was granted in April 1959, allowing Masonic meetings to be held there.
The accommodation at the Panmure Rooms was barely adequate, comprising a traditional wooden hut with entrance annexe, heated by meagre coke stoves. A member who was Initiated at the Panmure Rooms (although they were apparently referred to at the time as the "Army Huts") recalled that many Winter meetings were conducted with regalia worn on top of overcoats! Initially the Lodge dinners were held on the premises. The quality of the meals proved however to be unsatisfactory, and from January 1961 Lodge dinners were held at The Victoria Hotel, Victoria Road.
The Panmure Rooms were only ever intended as a temporary meeting place, and in April 1960 a committee was set up consisting of Masons from Palma Virtuti Lodge No. 4187, Panmure Lodge No. 723, Aldershot Camp Lodge No. 1331 and Semper Fidelis Lodge No. 6664 to discuss a permanent home for Aldershot Freemasons.
A Limited Company, Aldershot Masonic Properties Limited, was formed in December 1961. It consisted of a board of eight directors, two from each of the interested Lodges, each holding nominal shares in the Company on behalf of their Lodges. It was agreed that the four Lodges should be invited to subscribe for substantial holdings in an issue of Debentures, and that individual Masons should also be invited to take up Debentures.
At a meeting of the directors on 7th February 1962, an application was received from Aldershot Royal Engineers Lodge No. 4178 for two lots of shares. This brought the number of original participating Lodges to five. At the same meeting the details of a potential leasehold property in Edward Street were discussed.
In Victorian times Miss Georgina Fanny Shipley Daniell had identified what she considered to be the evils to which single soldiers stationed away from home could be exposed. She went on to devote her life to establishing Soldiers' Homes and Institutes around the country. By the end of her life in 1894 she had founded Homes in Colchester, Plymouth, Chatham, Windsor, London and Okehampton, as well as the imposing grey stone building with its gothic windows, gables and porchways in Aldershot. The "Aldershot Mission Hall and Soldiers' Home and Institute" was opened in October 1863.
The Soldiers' Home was a strict Temperance organisation, and the premises provided not only bedrooms and baths, but reading and recreation rooms. a tea room, a bible book depot and "a large lecture hall capable of accommodating five hundred, where religious services are conducted". Most of the original "Miss Daniell's Home" was demolished in 1958 and the establishment was rebuilt in a modified form, still providing facilities for single soldiers, but now also the headquarters of the Soldiers' and Airmens' Scripture Reading Association (S.A.S.R.A.).
One part of the original Home, however, was left standing, and that was the large stone building which had been used for religious services. What actually remained were three walls and a roof, retaining the general classical steep roofed church appearance, but in fact more accurately resembling an open barn! It was this semi-derelict building which came to the attention of the Aldershot Masons.
The property was offered on a 99 year Lease, and was subject to the following conditions:
1. A premium payment of £2,350 and an annual rent of £5.
2. The Lessees to be responsible for the erection of a new gable wall at the eastern end of the Hall.
3. The Lessees to be responsible for all repairs and decorations and for the payment all outgoings of an annual or recurring nature.
4. The Lessors to arrange for Woodworm and Dry Rot treatments already contracted for, and to erect new fencing along the eastern boundary of the site.
5. The Lessors to place no restriction on any work that the Lessees may wish to execute in order to adapt the premises for the purpose of Freemasonry.
The potential of the building was immediately recognised, and negotiations were immediately entered into with S.A.S.R.A.'s solicitors.
The 99 year Lease on the Masonic Hall, Edward Street, Aldershot was signed on 1st November 1962.
Aldershot Masonic Properties Limited then undertook all the works necessary to transform the building shell into a functioning Masonic Hall. The immediate task was to construct the missing east wall of the building (which would become the Temple) and to build a small flat-roofed extension at the rear, which would provide a general Assembly/Robing/Meeting area. Heating in the Temple was provided by suspended gas heaters operated by chains, and the toilet accommodation was initially a lean-to construction of corrugated iron sheeting on a timber frame! There was no hot water supply in the building.
In the early years, a total of nearly £15,000 was provided by Lodges or individuals as short/medium term financing for the Company. The works were eventually completed two years after the building was acquired.
In October 1967, a further extension was completed at a cost of £2,700. This added a side corridor, a large dividable Meeting/Committee Room and internal Toilets.
Also in 1968, the first of numerous ideas to achieve in-house dining facilities was mooted, but, it was to be another 19 years before this luxury would be realised.
Originally, the building had, as its immediate neighbour, a long terrace of houses stretching the length of Edward Street. These were demolished in 1975, and the land was acquired by Post Office Telephones Limited. An opportunity arose in 1977 for Aldershot Masonic Properties Limited to purchase a 3 foot wide strip of land adjacent to the west side of the Masonic Hall. The land was acquired for £350, and this enabled an Access/Storage corridor to be constructed. This was completed the following year at a cost of £3,500, including the construction of a protective brick skin built against the original west gable wall, which had been letting in water (and even birds!) for some years.
Essential re-slating of the main roof was carried out in 1981, and in the following year £4,700 was spent installing central heating.
In 1986 a scheme to rearrange the existing flat-roofed building in order to provide a Bar, Kitchen, Dining Room and Toilets was approved, and in 1987 the Aldershot Masonic Club was formed in support of an application to the Magistrates Court for a Club (liquor) Licence. Despite initial objections by the freeholder of the property, S.A.S.R.A. (it being a Temperance organisation), a Club Licence was granted later that year.
The extensive works, which included considerable structural alterations and the creation of a screened Robing Area within the Temple, were completed in September 1987 at a total cost of some £32,000. Much of the decoration work was carried out by Lodge members on a self-help basis. The funding for this work was provided by existing Company funds, interest-free loans from brethren, and a 5-year bank loan (which was repaid in a little over 3 years).
Lodges began dining at Edward Street in September 1988.
In 1992 the Company started considering long term development plans for the Edward Street premises, and in 1996 a far-sighted scheme to construct a two-storey extension over the whole of the front grounds was granted planning approval by the Local Authority. The anticipated cost of £350,000, however, proved to be too ambitious for some of the Aldershot Lodges, and the scheme never materialised.
Aldershot Masonic Properties Limited decided in 1999 that, with funds being available, further improvements should be made within the existing building, and plans were drawn up to reduce the length of the Lodge Room and to create two ground floor Robing Rooms and a first floor Meeting Room. The scheme included complete internal redecoration and the provision of a new Masonic carpet.
External repointing of the building's stone wall and the creation of a walled and surfaced car park on the front grounds were included in the scheme, which cost a total of £45,000.
In the Summer of 2001 a further £15,000 was spent on an extensive refurbishment of the Bar, Dining Room and Toilets.
The Masonic Centre in Edward Street Aldershot continues to provide a meeting place to the twelve Masonic Lodges and associated organisations who meet there and consider it their "home".
Aldershot Masonic Properties Limited