By Barry Hughes, Marketing and Communications Manager at Museum of Freemasonry

While the past year has been unusual, to say the least, it has affected the Museum in several ways. A year on, where do we stand?

Obviously, as a visitor attraction, we have had to close our doors to the public on more than one occasion over the year. As the first reopening came with conditions, we introduced a brand new timed ticketing system, which, it must be said, ran very smoothly from the outset. We were pleased as the visitor numbers gradually increased as we weren’t sure how people would react to the COVID-19 safety measures. We are keeping our fingers crossed that the latest reopening will be the last one.

International tourists, national day-trippers and London’s curious locals make up a large share of our regular visitors. Without them, the Museum’s corridors and galleries would have remained a lot quieter than we would have liked. However, back in the summer of 2019, we launched new social media channels and website – so we had this whole other digital world to communicate to you through. In a sense, we had laid a solid foundation for future tremors.

The free public presentations from our resident experts held on the web platform Zoom have attracted huge interest and enabled us to launch a new YouTube channel to share the recordings. Having Mark, Susan, Louise, and Martin sharing their special interests with you during a live event has been so successful we have decided to keep it going and roll out another Spring and Autumn series of Online Talks for 2021. We are proud to be reaching those of you who can’t visit the Museum in person for many reasons, coronavirus notwithstanding.

The new YouTube channel has given us the chance to produce short videos called “Collection Favourites”. With over 30,000 items in the Museum collection and a further 60,000 in the Library and Archives, we have many choices. From the steadfast Barraclough clock to the playful ‘scare bear’ snuff box, this current series will expand over time, sharing with you the intriguing and exciting items that dot our wonderfully unique collections at the Museum of Freemasonry. Make sure you pop over to our YouTube channel to watch and subscribe. Leave a comment, too, if you have something to add.

Connecting with the wider world is essential for any cultural destination. Given the scope and reach of Freemasonry itself, it feels as though the Museum has an amplified duty to fulfil that need. Our online audience has grown significantly since last year. We can see a massive uplift from across the United Kingdom in general, but second to that is the United States, followed by Brazil, Europe and India. We are excited by the opportunities as we invest in more advanced methods of presenting our collection online.

We want to help people learn about the cultural riches of Freemasonry through our work. An excellent example of this has been the website Masonic Periodicals Online, The Digital Lab at King’s College London helped us achieve this fantastic project which is a window into the time between 1790 and 1900 when Freemasons in the UK produced many magazines. Now in digital form and searchable, these remarkable documents demonstrate Freemasons’ depth of interest and their breadth of involvement throughout their communities. Please take a look at the blog on our website to discover tales of humour, pride and woe, from issuing hot Irish stew in London’s poverty-stricken East End to student high jinks in Oxford. Masonic Periodicals Online is a gift to us all – from the mildly curious to the dedicated researcher.

Speaking of gifts, we’re very thankful to you for showing your kind support by making donations of all sizes over the past year. As a charity, we do rely on the kindness of others to help us survive, and the pandemic has impacted the Museum in this regard. Every donation supports our work in caring for and sharing over 300 years of Freemasons’ history. By making the donation process digital, it’s never been easier to keep us. Also, we have recently included a page on the website to help you with establishing a legacy gift. It doesn’t have to be complicated, so we’ve even prepared the legal text to make it as smooth as possible.

This year gets in full swing, and we are preparing to launch our next Library and Archives exhibition, The Generous Dentist: Bartholomew Ruspini. Opening in May, we hope to bring the life and achievements of this amazing man to you in person and online. Among the letters and prints, you can find an early toothbrush and other dental items that look familiar today. Visit us online to keep up to date directly at the website

This article is part of the Arena Magazine, Issue 44 April 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 44.