The Masonic Hall at 23A Coleman Street, sometimes referred to as Masonic Lodge or Freemasons’ Hall, is located near the Central Fire Station at the foot of Fort Canning Hill.1 Designed by Thomas A. Cargill, a municipal engineer and Freemason,the Masonic Hall had its foundation stone laid on 14 April 1879.2 As of 2020, the Masonic Hall is still actively used by local Freemasons, and stands among several other conserved buildings in the Fort Canning area.3
The first and oldest Freemason lodge in Singapore is Lodge Zetland in the East No. 748, which was consecrated on 26 February 1845. Prior to the construction of the Masonic Hall on Coleman Street, the lodge held their meetings at other premises:4
1845–46: Masonic Rooms, Armenian Street
1846–48: House, High Street
1848–53: Room, North Bridge Road
1853–56: Masonic Hall, North Bridge Road
1856–71: House of Thomas Church, Esplanade
1871–73: 15 Beach Road, Kampong Glam
1873–75: 10 Beach Road
1875–1878: 59 Hill Street
William Napier and William Henry Macleod Read were the first and second Singapore Freemasons to be initiated.5 The latter became the first District Grand Master of the Eastern Archipelago from 1858 to 1885.6 Although Freemasonry in Singapore had started with members who were Christians, it later became cosmopolitan and accepted members of all races and creeds.7 However, women remain exempt from membership.8
The land grant for the Masonic Hall was issued in 1878 to Read and his successors, but on the condition that the building would be used for Freemasonry and erected within two years.9 To fund the building’s construction, around 240 shares of $25 were reportedly subscribed for, an undertaking attributed to the efforts of Major Dunlop, an Irish Freemason who joined the Lodge of St George in 1875. Dunlop became the Worshipful Master of the Lodge of St George in 1879 and was district Grand Master from 1885 to 1891.10
The foundation stone of the Masonic Hall in Singapore was laid on 14 April 1879, and the building was consecrated on 27 December that year.11 Designed by Thomas A. Cargill, a Freemason and municipal engineer,the building was built in the English Renaissance style, then common in England for government and public buildings.12
The Masonic Hall was initially a single-storey building, and a second storey was added in 1888.13 During a major reconstruction around 1910, the old porch was torn down and the entire frontage to Coleman Street rebuilt.14 The facade of the Freemasons’ Hall features a fluted Doric colonnade with arched stained-glass windows displaying the symbols of the English, Irish and Scottish lodges.15 One of the stained-glass reliefs features Stamford Raffles, who was a member of the Dutch Freemasons.16 The iconic Masonic symbols of the square and the compass can also be clearly seen on the building’s facade.17 On 21 November 2005, the Masonic Hall was gazetted for conservation for its historical significance.18
In 2009, the building underwent a S$7.5 million renovation carried out by local architecture firm DP Architects. Completed in December 2012, the renovation saw the addition of a four-storey modern glass annexe block at the rear of the Masonic Hall. The annexe was named after Phyllis Rudd, a Freemason’s widow who bequeathed S$1.5 million to its construction.19
Over the course of its history, numerous changes were made to the interior of the Masonic Hall. These included the addition of electric fans and closing of the verandas on both levels in 1923. From 1953 to 1956, a basement was excavated, and the lodge rooms were equipped with air-conditioning.20 The basement had originally contained the Masonic Library, which was later moved into the Phyllis Rudd Wing.21 It has since been renamed The Masonic Archive and Research Centre.22 In 2009, the building’s entire electrical system was rewired, and the building’s termite-ridden timber roof was replaced.23
Originally occupying the ground floor of the Masonic Hall, the Masonic Club was inaugurated on 2July 1888 for social gatherings and fraternisation before and after meetings. Membership in the club was similar to that of the Masonic Lodges, and aspiring members had to be first proposed and seconded by existing members.24 Eventually, two-thirds of the club was devoted to a restaurant, while one-third was a bar.25 Access to the bar and restaurant facilities appears to have been restricted to members and their wives and children.26 The Masonic Club was moved to the basement in 2007, and the ground floor was subsequently leased for commercial use.27
From 2013 to 2015, the Bacchanalia restaurant operated on the ground floor.28 The restaurant was replaced by Madison Rooms, a private club that offers a bar, a cigar lounge and exclusive events for its members.29 As of 2017, membership for Madison Rooms was capped at 400 and was by invitation only.30 A new restaurant, known as The Masons Table, opened at the ground floor in early 2019.31
The second floor of the building contains the Masonic Temple and various rooms used for Masonic meetings and ceremonies.32 The temple features a domed ceiling, completed in 1940, and a chequered black-and-white floor.33 An esoteric letter G hangs from the domed ceiling, which represents the “Supreme Being”.34
The temple has a Walker Electro-Pneumatic Organ, one of only 11 pipe organs in Singapore.35 According to the inscription on the organ, the present organ replaces the original installed in 1920 as a memorial to Masonic brethren who fell in World War I. A new organ, built by J.W. Walker and Sons Ltd, was installed in 1970. It was dedicated to brethren who died in World War II and in memory of Henry Augustus Forrer, the previous Master of the Lodge of St Michael who died in 1969. The organ underwent significant restoration works in 2014 at the cost of £30,000.36
Freemason Lodges in Singapore
As of 2019, the Freemasons’ Hall served 40 Masonic Lodges, chapters and other Masonic bodies.37 In 2002, the Masonic Hall organised an open house in an effort to quell prevailing myths and rumours about the group’s secrecy and its practices. According to Senior Freemason John Wilson, the Singapore branch took direction from Lodge Grandmaster Prince Edward, Duke of Kent, who declared that Freemasonry should become more open to dispel myths about the organisation.38
The open house included a blood-donation drive and the presentation of cheques to charities and movie tickets for needy children. In June 2019, the Masonic Charitable Foundation was launched to financially support underprivileged students in Singapore.39 It was funded with S$1 million from The District Grand Lodge of the Eastern Archipelago.
Alec Soong and V Cornelius-Takahama
1. “Untitled,” Straits Times, 6 April 1918, 8 (From NewspaperSG); Manoj Sharma, Freemasonry in Singapore: Commemorative Bicentenary Book (Singapore: n.p., 2019), 212 (Call no. RSING 366.1095957 SHA); Colin Neil Macdonald, Freemason’s Hall Singapore: A Pictorial Appreciation of the Home of Singapore Freemasonry since 1879. (Singapore: Colin Neil Macdonald, 2008), n.p. (Call no. RSING 366.1095957 MAC)
2. Wan Meng Hao and Jacqueline Lau, Heritage Places of Singapore (Singapore: Marshall Cavendish Editions, 2009), 77 (Call no. RSING 959.57 WAN-[HIS]); Lim Kuang Hui, ed., The Lodge Singapore, no. 7178 E.C., 1952–2002 (Singapore: The Lodge Singapore, 2002), no. 7178 E.C., 35 (Call no. RSING q366.1095957 FRE); Macdonald, Freemason’s Hall Singapore, n.p.; Walter Makepeace, Gilbert Edward Brooke and Roland St. John Braddell, eds., One Hundred Years of Singapore, vol. 2 (Singapore: Oxford University Press, 1991), 593 (Call no. RSING 959.57 ONE-[HIS]); “Wednesday, 2nd April,” Straits Times Overland Journal, 5 April 1879, 6.
3. “Fort Canning,” Urban Redevelopment Authority, last accessed 24 November 2021.
4. Macdonald, Freemason’s Hall Singapore, n.p.; Lim Kuang Hui, In the Chair of King Solomon (Singapore: L. K. Hui, 1995), 14. (Call no. RSING 366.1095957 LIM); Lim, The Lodge Singapore, 35; Susan Long, “Hush-hush World of the Freemasons,” Straits Times, 8 December 1995, 8. (From NewspaperSG)
5. Wan and Lau, Heritage Places of Singapore, 77; Lim, In the Chair of King Solomon, 19; Charles Burton Buckley, An Anecdotal History of Old Times in Singapore: 1819–1867 (Singapore: Oxford University Press, 1984), 437. (Call no. RSING 959.57 BUC-[HIS])
6. Macdonald, Freemason’s Hall Singapore, n.p.
7. Lim, In the Chair of King Solomon, 21–23.
8. Vanessa Lee, “Inside the Inner Sanctum...,” Today, 19 June 2010, 2.
9. Lim, The Lodge Singapore, 35; Macdonald, Freemason’s Hall Singapore, n.p.
10. Sharma, Freemasonry in Singapore, 147.
11. Makepeace, Brooke and Braddell, One Hundred Years of Singapore, 593; Macdonald, Freemason’s Hall Singapore, n.p.
12. Wan and Lau, Heritage Places of Singapore, 77; Lim, The Lodge Singapore, 35; Macdonald, Freemason’s Hall Singapore, n.p.
13. Macdonald, Freemason’s Hall Singapore, n.p.
14. Lim, The Lodge Singapore, 35.
15. Urban Redevelopment Authority, “Fort Canning.”
16. Natasha Ann Zachariah, “Bigger home for Freemasons,” Straits Times, 8 December 2012, 4–15. (From NewspaperSG); Sharma, Freemasonry in Singapore, 193.
17. Wan and Lau, Heritage Places of Singapore, 77–78.
18. Urban Redevelopment Authority, “Fort Canning.”
19. Zachariah, “Bigger home for Freemasons”; Sharma, Freemasonry in Singapore, 152.
20. Sharma, Freemasonry in Singapore, 149.
21. K. K. Fong, “Freemasons’ Silence Adds to the Mystery,” New Nation, 11 April 1977, 4. (From NewspaperSG); Sharma, Freemasonry in Singapore, 165.
22. Sharma, Freemasonry in Singapore, 165.
23. Zachariah, “Bigger home for Freemasons.”
24. Sharma, Freemasonry in Singapore, 155.
25. Fong, “Freemasons’ Silence Adds to the Mystery”; Sharma, Freemasonry in Singapore, 155.
26. Fong, “Freemasons’ Silence Adds to the Mystery.”
27. Sharma, Freemasonry in Singapore, 155.
28. Denise Kok, “Bacchanalia,” Tatler Singapore, 16 July 2013.
29. Kenneth Goh, “For Members Only,” Straits Times, 9 September 2015, 9. (From NewspaperSG)
30. Natasha Ann Zachariah, “For Members Only,” Straits Times, 1 April 2017, 4–5.
31. Jamie Ee, “A Stronger Foundation Needed for The Mason’s Table,” Business Times. 1 March 2019.
32. Long, “Hush-hush World of the Freemasons.”
33. Sharma, Freemasonry in Singapore, 149.
34. Lee, “Inside the Inner Sanctum....”
35. “The Pipes, the Pipes Are Calling,” Straits Times, 13 November 2017.
36. Sharma, Freemasonry in Singapore, 159, 163.
37. Sharma, Freemasonry in Singapore, 152.|
38. “‘Come Visit Us, We’ve Got Nothing to Hide’,” Straits Times, 21 June 2002, 9. (From NewspaperSG)
39. Renee Neo, “Freemasons Go Public about Their New Charitable Foundation for Needy Students in Singapore,” Straits Times, 7 June 2019.
H. P. Cork, Photographic Views of Singapore (Singapore: H. P. Cork, 1930). (From BookSG)
Freemasons, The Pentagram (Singapore: Library Committee, District Grand Lodge of the Eastern Archipelago, 2010). (Call no. RSING 366.1095951 P)
Roy Jordaan and Peter Carey, “Thomas Stamford Raffles’ Masonic Career in Java: A New Perspective on the British Interregnum (1811–1816),” Journal of the Malaysian Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society 90, no. 313 (December 2017): 1–34. (From EBSCOhost via NLB’s eResources website)
The information in this article is valid as at November 2021 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.
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