“The elevation facing Molesworth Street only need be of an ornamental character.”
These were the Architect’s instructions. In February 1866 Edward Holmes from Birmingham was formally declared the winner of the competition for the design of a new Masonic Hall in Dublin.
In January 1866, Augustus Frederick, Duke of Leinster and Thomas Mostyn, on behalf of the Grand Lodge of Freemasons of Ireland, completed the purchase of the houses and premises, Nos. 17 and 18 Molesworth Street, through the Landed Estates Court from the Estate of Lorenzo Weld Hartstonge for £2850.
The streetscape was to change considerably as Michael Meade, the building contractor and his team, moved in to pull down these houses which had been built by Benjamin Rudd on the plots of land granted to him by Richard, Viscount Molesworth in 1742. No. 17 had not long before been occupied by the millinery and dress warerooms of the Misses Geale, and No. 18 was the residence of Lorenzo Weld Hartstonge, Solicitor and from where Kate and Samuel Ridgeway ran a millinery, dress & court dress warerooms.
Following a viewing of Holmes’ winning architectural drawings, The Dublin Builder reported that “the exterior is a quiet Italian design divided into three stages. On the ground floor stage there is a Doric porch with coupled columns of no extraordinary character. In the width the building is divided into three bays . . . In the uppermost stage a Corinthian order is used and the whole crowned by a pediment the entire width of the front in which is a striking masonic device. A note appended states that the design is to be much modified in execution so as to reduce the cost.”
So, despite the original instructions regarding the façade ornament, Edward Holmes was requested, in preparing the working plans of the front elevation, to omit the groups of statuary on the top and sides of the pediment, the figures in the front niches, and any other merely ornamental details which would not interfere with the general designs, so as to keep the expense within the mentioned limits.
Foundation work commenced in August and in November 1866 the builders began to lay the foundations for the front wall facing Molesworth Street. Strangely no foundation stone laying ceremony took place, despite a committee being set up for the purpose of organising such an event. Ancaster stone, an oolitic limestone from a quarry near the village of Ancaster in Lincolnshire, was chosen for the façade which was to rise 73 feet with imposed Doric, Ionic and Corinthian orders.
In July 1867 further alterations to the front elevation prevented any portion overlapping either of the adjoining premises and in August a decision was made to adopt Portland stone for the columns of the front porch.
By March 1868 the chimney stacks were finished and the roof was soon to be slated. It was proposed that an arched passage would run under the hall door steps for meters, water purposes and gas pipes with coal vaults on each side under the footway. Having approached the Corporation in June, the Building Committee planned that the footway in front of the new building would be laid with flags as large as reasonably procurable. It was estimated that the Hall would be ready for occupation by May 1869 and indeed the first Grand Lodge Meeting was held there that July.
In 1874, to obtain more light in the Grand Secretary’s Office and the Board Room, alterations were made to the front windows on the ground floor.
The façade has been repaired, restored and cleaned in the 1950s, 1970s and most recently in 2001.
Rebecca Hayes, Curator, Freemasons’ Hall, Dublin
All images supplied by Rebecca Hayes.