Freemasons' Hall, Plympton, was created in the early 20th Century when members of St Maurice Lodge No 1855 purchased the freehold of a Victorian worker's cottage at 161 Ridgeway Plympton. A Masonic Temple was built in the gardens of the cottage and, in due course, the cottage itself was converted into a dining room, meeting room, kitchen and ancilliary offices. St Maurice Lodge was formed in 1880 and in its early years met in the long gone Working Men's Hall that stood in Dark Street Lane. The lodge has always been associated with Plympton and many of its original members were leading citizens of the comminity. The cost of the conversion and new building was met by the members themselves and over the years they have also met the cost of essential repairs without resort to business loans or commercial mortgages.
Roll on over 100 years and Freemasons' Hall is now home to 6 masonic organisations in addition to St Maurice Lodge and a successful dance school that has been operating from the Hall for well over 50 years. The Hall is also available for community use at a modest rental but access for all is limited. However, the years have taken their toll on the fabric of the building and despite the best efforts of the volunteer trustees the whole building now needs a comprehensive overhaul enabling it to, not only comply with modern requirements particularly in access and energy efficiency, but also to be fit for purpose for another 100 years.
Following a catastrophic failure of the external rendering in the early winter of 2022, the trustees have worked on assessing what needed to be done. The burning issue was the repair of the front elevation that included a complete replacement of the rendering in materials suitable for a Victorian building. Professional help was sought to prepare a comprehensive specification that could be used to obtain tender prices. The resultant lowest tender price was way beyond the modest contingency fund available. In addition an update of our Building Condition Survey revealed that a a large sum was required over the next 3 years to fund the repair or replacement of the cottage roof, the Temple roof and the conjoining flat roof structure. Our bank and various other financial organisations were approached but the trustee nature of our organisation precluded a commercial mortgage even if that was affordable. The logical conclusion was to close and sell the building and seek alternative meeting space in other halls in Plymouth. The members of St Maurice Lodge were dismayed at that conclusion and were very keen to maintain a masonic presence in Plympton and did not wish to see the end of the long standing dance school. Help arrived from an unexpected quarter...the newest lodge member, who works in the business of property maintenance, agreed to do the front elevation work, to the original specification, at a fraction of the tender sum. Not only did he largely complete this work in the summer and autumn of 2023 but he also identified a need to install a permanent ramp to enable access to the hall for everyone. This is to be installed in early 2024.
The newly repaired and repainted exterior
Thus the first hurdle, and more, was cleared but the longer term repairs are still a worry. The newest member has now agreed to work with the trustees to develop a medium term repair or replacement plan and the lodge has also agreed to seek out appropriate external funding sources to get the plan rolling.
The 3 initial stages of the plan include:
1. Completion of a permanent external access ramp. There are currently 3 steps to negotiate to gain access to the hall from street level (see picture above). Space precludes a ramp that complies fully with the DDA Acts but there is enough room for a ramp that will allow assisted wheelchair and pushchair access to the Refectory as well as easier pedestrian access for those who are not so ambulant. Safety surfacing and stainless steel balustrading will complement the newly completed external rendering and redecoration.
2. Comprehensive upgrade of the Refectory. The Refectory is essentially a mutli-use space: 60 cover dining hall; members' bar; dance hall (complete with mirrors and ballet barre) and meeting area. The small members bar which doubles as a coffee bar was refurbished 5 years ago and will be retained. However, the existing floor is uneven and the removable dance mats currently in use are not ideal. The decor is dated. The plan includes a complete redecoration of this vital space and a new floor that is better suited to the needs of the dance school for ballet, modern and tap tuition and potentially other fitness type activities. Internal lighting will be upgraded to energy efficient luminaires and new catering tables and chairs considered. This element of the plan is essential to encourage more effective and efficient use of this area by the Dance School and current masonic organisations and to encourage more daytime use by the wider community.
The Refectory laid up for a formal dinner
3. Reroof the Temple. The Temple is a stand alone structure built in the rear garden of the former cottage. The traditional pitched roof is covered in real slate tiles many of which are now broken. The roof is unlined and the thermal qualties are poor leading to much loss of heat. The plan includes a complete replacement with a modern roof covering that will be visually attractive but will be fully insulated to current building regulation standards. The potential to fit an air conditioning system will also be explored to economise on heating costs and improve comfort. Many of the exisitng real slate tiles will be able to be recycled to raise funds for the project. The Temple is, of course, primarily used by the masonic organisations that meet here but has the potential to become a small exhibiton or lecture space. Interior of the masonic temple