The present name honours James I’s bride Anne of Denmark who had residence in Somerset House on the Strand (although she insisted it be renamed Denmark House). Anne was known as something of a meddlesome ratbag at court however, her life was tainted with much sadness; of her thirteen pregnancies she miscarried four times, endured two stillbirths and four offspring died in infancy. Of her surviving progeny, James’s heir, Henry Stuart perished from Typhoid at 18. The ‘Great Queen’ was only survived by Elizabeth (The Winter Queen) and her second son who reigned as Charles I.
This bridleway was made a street in the 1620s and was regarded as London’s first “regular street” (that is straight, uniform and of brickwork). The first tenants had an enviable view of the pastoral charm of North London. Before there was much construction in the area, Great Queen street was home to some very eminent personages a trend that continued for centuries. Over the years this street has been home to the artist Joshua Reynolds, biographer James Boswell, bonkers poet William Blake, Irish poet R. B. Sheridan, decorated general Sir Thomas Fairfax and the King’s court painter Godfrey Kneller. However Great Queen Street is almost synonymous with freemasonry and much of the story this street has to tell involves the square and compasses.
Great Queen Street has been the headquarters for the freemasons in England since 1717 at which time they would meet in various taverns and livery halls in the area. They inaugurated their first permanent Lodge at 61 Great Queen Street in 1776 which has been sporadically extended and rebuilt both to the east and west in the intervening years; the present Freemasons’ Hall was completed in 1933. Within, the building is majestic, heroic and bold, each room has its own centrepiece amongst an overall theme of art deco grandeur.
The grand temple has to be seen to be believed, it is a cavernous meeting hall 123 feet long, 90 feet wide and 62 feet high which can seat 1,700. The walls are sturdy marble with an intricate frieze depicting zodiacal imagery, this has no masonic significance, rather it is a nostalgic reference to the very first meeting places of The Freemasons.
The mosaicked ceiling is equally spectacular, the centre shows “A celestial canopy of diverse colours, even the Heavens” while each side illustrates a masonic allegory. The East (pictured) shows Jacob’s Ladder bearing symbolic references to Faith, Hope and Charity, three tenets which underpin the historic society of Freemasons through time and distance.