Freemasonry in This Area – A Brief History by David Brown

It is a common misconception that everything in Harlow began with the advent of the New Town in the early 1950’s. This is certainly not the case with Freemasonry, which existed in and around Harlow for many years before this. Indeed Harlow Lodge has already celebrated its Centenary and other Lodges in this part of Essex e.g. Ongar Lodge have been established for many years before Harlow was designated as one of the London ring New Towns. It is true to say, however, that Freemasonry did expand rapidly with the influx of residents and the development of housing in Harlow.

Meeting places for these older Lodges varied considerably and Harlow Lodge met for many years at other venues in the Old Town area – Oddfellows Hall; The Working Men’s Club; St. John’s Hall and the Women’s Institute Hall – to mention just a few locations. Ongar Lodge, consecrated in 1925, met for many years at the Budworth Hall in Ongar before moving to Harlow in 1972.

Freemasonry has, by its nature, always comprised members from all walks of life and professions. Harlow Lodge drew its membership from the local farming community, shopkeepers, schoolmasters, building tradesmen and many other professions. Indeed this underlines the basis of Freemasonry that it brings together both skilled and unskilled people in a common endeavour of charity.


The Growth of Freemasonry in the Harlow Area.

Before 1950 therefore, masonry was fragmented and the designation of Harlow as a New Town Development area under the New Towns Act of 1946, meant that the population in this part of Essex was due to expand very rapidly, bringing into the area not only existing freemasons from other parts of London and the South East, but potentially a ready and plentiful supply of new applicants, who would derive their interest from neighbour and employment contacts. The development of Stansted as London’s third airport has also added to this.

Surprisingly, however, it was to be some 20 years before a Masonic Centre in Harlow was established and freemasonry got a permanent home in Harlow.

During these 20 years, several new Lodges were formed as a result of the demand and all met at varying locations including the Harlow Mill Restaurant and at Sawbridgeworth Masonic Hall.

The Coming Together – Harlow Masonic Hall

In 1970 the Potter Street Church of England Infants School in Church Road, Potter Street, had already stood empty for a number of years and had slowly deteriorated as a result of neglect and vandalism etc.

The Development Corporation had the property on the market for sale on the understanding that the premises would continue to be used as a meeting hall after purchase.

It was a difficult property to sell because of the need to safeguard the interests of the surrounding residents in the neighbouring housing areas.

With the potential use of the school playground as a car parking area, the building was somewhat by chance identified as a very suitable venue for a new Masonic Centre in Harlow.

A small group of members drawn from several local Lodges e.g. Harlow, Ongar, Harlowbury and Stondon Massey, met to discuss and consider the possible purchase and to view the property.

With a suitable financial advance, the purchase was agreed and the dwelling transferred to the ownership of the new Harlow Masonic Hall Company in 1970.

Considerable repairs and refurbishments were necessary to reinstate the property after some fire damage and redecorations and improvements were carried out together with a small extension to the meeting room, and Harlow Masonic Hall was officially opened in 1972 by the Deputy Provincial Grand Master for Essex, W.Bro. Frederick Leistikow.

The first Masonic meeting was held at the hall in March 1972 and very quickly several new Lodges were formed at the venue e.g. North Weald Bassett Lodge, Latton Priory Lodge and Parndon Magna Lodge, all deriving their names from the local history of the area, as did so many of the Harlow area and place names.

Harlow Masonic Hall Today

Over the years since 1972 a number of new Lodges and other Masonic Orders have been established at Harlow and indeed a number of other Lodges from this part of Essex and North London have moved to the Centre, and it is today a very busy Masonic venue, housing some 48 Masonic Units. The total membership of the Harlow Masonic Hall now exceeds 1,700 members.

In 1970 it was agreed to establish the Harlow Masonic Hall Company, to be run as a Limited Company with shareholders and controlled by an elected Board of Directors. This has proved most successful over the years and the hall has gone from strength to strength under the guidance and enthusiasm of the members and the Board of Directors.

Over the thirty years since the hall was first opened many improvements have been completed, not only for the benefit of the membership, but also with the thought of the surrounding residents in mind. In 1984 a further extension was officially opened by R.W.Bro. Frederick Leistikow, who was then the Provincial Grand Master for Essex. This is named the Shepherd Room in recognition of the member of Stondon Massey Lodge who personally supervised and built it.

Numerous other internal refurbishments have been completed, together with a continuous redecoration programme the external appearance being of paramount importance.

Today Harlow Masonic Hall is a well-established venue for Freemasonry in Essex and the membership who use the premises are well aware of just how fortunate they are to have such a fine home and will always be indebted to the few farsighted Masons who saw the Infants School as a potential Masonic Centre and negotiated the purchase.