Museum of Freemasonry reopens with the generous dentist

By Barry Hughes, Marketing and Communications Manager

We were delighted to open our doors to the Museum of Freemasonry once again on 17 May 2021, following the successful rollout of the government’s coronavirus reopening roadmap.

Given the past year or so, we were all understandably a little anxious in the build-up. Would there be another last-minute press conference and some bad news from Downing Street? Thankfully not on this occasion! 

So, our timed entry tickets are available, with all the usual guidelines in place for social distancing, hand washing and temperature checks. As a requirement we have to collect your tracking information as part of the ticket registration process too. Hopefully this will all become a distant memory sooner rather than later.

Next to the new award-winning Shop at Freemasons’ Hall, occupying the former Drawing Room, we have our lovely new welcome area to the Museum’s North Gallery. In addition to the permanent Three Centuries of English Freemasonry exhibition there, our corridors display some familiar faces from Freemasonry’s past. If you’re a researcher, our Library and Archives remain accessible Wednesday to Saturday. Make sure to check the website for details as you don’t need a general ticket, but you will need to book in advance.

To coincide with our reopening, we have some more good news to share with you. Our Library is back open again with a new display. Curated by Archivist and Records Manager Susan A. Snell, Generous Dentist: Bartholomew Ruspini explores the Italian dentist’s professional life, philanthropy and Freemasonry through personal documents and some fascinating items of interest.

What’s striking about this intimate exhibition in the restored Art Deco space is the energy and ambition Ruspini displayed over his productive life. He was an engaged European, moving between Italy, France and England, clearly swept up in Enlightenment fervour. He seemed to move effortlessly between the echelons of society too, from the poorer city inhabitants to the distinguished professional class and aristocracy. One imagines his conversation was rife with charm and urbane wit. What else could you expect from the dentist who was freely sharing his tooth powders and styptics with deprived Londoners one minute and creating porcelain false teeth for the Prince of Wales the next?

Of course, the Prince of Wales in the late 18th century was quite a prominent figure in Freemasonry in England. Before ascending to the throne as George IV in 1811, George Augustus Frederick was Grand Master of the Premier Grand Lodge while Ruspini was most active in the 1790s. It was this Prince whose life Ruspini saved by providing him a styptic in an emergency. A styptic is a kind of medicine for preventing continuous bleeding and Ruspini literally wrote the book on it which we have on display. The Prince was so impressed by the act that he declared Ruspini to be Surgeon-Dentist under Royal seal. 

Ruspini was committed to improving lives in everything he did. He convinced the Prince, and the Grand Master at the time, the Duke of Cumberland along with the Duchess, to back the new school for girls he established. It’s one of the earliest Freemason charities and it was a huge success. Ruspini not only laid the cornerstone for the Masonic Charitable Foundation, his marketing prowess also prepared the ground for the charity festivals through the regular concerts he put on to raise funds for his new school. 

There’s so much more we can discuss when it comes to this generous dentist. Needless to say, now that we are open you can book your free ticket online in advance, do make sure to drop in to the Museum and enjoy the exhibition for yourself. It’s a wonderful piece of London’s history right in the heart of the city reopening once more.

Open Monday – Saturday, 10am – 5pm. Free entry.

This article is part of the Arena Magazine, Issue 45 July 2021 edition.
Arena Magazine is the official magazine of the London Freemasons – Metropolitan Grand Lodge and Metropolitan Grand Chapter of London.

Read more articles in the Arena Issue 45.