Allied Masonic Degrees of England and Wales and Districts and Councils Overseas
District Grand Council of Kent buffer News:
Kent visits the Cloisters

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The District Grand Prefect R.W Bro Peter Brockbank, his Secretary W.Bro Derek Wilkins and the District Grand Tyler W.Bro Tony Maslin journeyed to Letchworth Garden City for the District of Hertfordshire & Bedfordshire Distict Grand Meeting on Saturday 2nd April 2022.

The meeting was well represented by District Grand Prefects from around the country and it was a good opportunity to catch up with old friends. It was a particularly happy meeeting and they were warmly welcomed by the District Grand Prefect of Herts and Beds, R.W. Bro Geoffrey Cheshire, but what made the visit especially enjoyable was attending the Cloisters a Grade 2 listed Masonic Centre which has a unique design.

Kent visits the Cloisters A very nice meeting followed by an excellent lunch and looking forward to next year’s visit.

The Masonic Centre
The Cloisters was built by Quaker Miss Annie Jane Lawrence (16 April 1863 – 3 August 1953), the daughter of Alfred Lawrence (1826–1875), who, with his brother Frederick, owned ‘Lawrence Brothers, Smiths and Founders’, and his wife Mary Elizabeth (née Ridge, 1838–1903). Her grandfather William Lawrence (1789–1855) came from humble origins but went on to be elected Master of the Worshipful Company of Carpenters in 1848 and an Alderman of the City of London, while her uncle Sir James Lawrence was Lord Mayor of London in 1868. Her younger brother was the Labour politician Frederick Pethick-Lawrence, 1st Baron Pethick-Lawrence (1871–1961).In 1881 she was a pupil at the School for Ladies in Hove in Sussex, while in 1895 she visited Boston in the USA.

Kent visits the Cloisters As a young woman she undertook social work in the slums of London, which urged her on to action. Lawrence decided to build a centre dedicated as a school of thought from which adults could go out and effect social change. She chose Letchworth because it was the world’s First Garden City; here she leased three acres of land on which she built The Cloisters and Cloisters Lodge, intending that the former should be a School of Philosophy while she lived in the latter.

The design reputedly came to Miss Lawrence in a dream. The building originally consisted of a large half-oval ‘open-air room’ called the `Cloisters Garth’ with an open colonnade to the south and large glazed bays to the north; this was flanked by two wings, one housing the kitchen and store rooms and the other the cubicles and dressing rooms for an oval open-air swimming pool. It was designed according to the principles of the Arts and Crafts movement, and was built using marbles and other materials from all over Europe.

Originally built as an open-air school dedicated to Psychology, with accommodation for 20 students, students were encouraged to study 'how thought affects action and what causes and produces thought'. Through healthy outdoor living it was intended that the students would develop healthy minds. The building was also designed to hold lectures, conferences, drama and musical performances as well as organ recitals. Students were also taught skills from the Arts and Crafts movement.

Designed by architect William Harrison Cowlishaw, building commenced on the 3-acre site in 1905, and the building opened on 17 January 1907, having cost the then huge sum of £20,000. Miss Lawrence built a house for herself, ‘Cloisters Lodge’, alongside.

The Cloisters was commandeered by the Army during the Second World War and suffered damage. By 1948 Miss Lawrence found it increasingly difficult to maintain the building and to repair the damage caused by the Army. She initially offered it to the local Council, who turned it down. Eventually, she offered it to the local Freemasons who accepted it, turning it into the North Hertfordshire Masonic Centre. About sixty Masonic lodges and ‘progressive orders’ meet at The Cloisters, and the centre is run and maintained by an elected Board of Trustees, The Lawrence Cloisters Trust. A Craft Lodge, the ‘Cloisters Lodge No 7100’ was formed there in 1951 to commemorate Miss Lawrence’s donation of the building to Hertfordshire Freemasons.

Miss Lawrence eventually moved out of Cloisters Lodge into a house on Willian Way in Letchworth but her increasing frailty led to her moving to St Catherine’s Nursing Home where she died aged 90 on 3 August 1953. Bar and kitchen staff and others in the building late at night have experienced hearing the voice of a woman calling out in greeting leading to the theory that it is haunted by its founder, Miss Annie Lawrence.

Article and photos by Bob Tuthill

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