Masonic hall to be opened to public
Bath's first Theatre Royal hidden away in one of Bath's lesser known backstreets is one of the most interesting buildings left in the city.
Occasionally the building that is now the home of one of England's oldest provincial Masonic Lodges has been open for some special event allowing members of the general public to get a view of its interior.
Now the masons have decided to open the building up on a more permanant basis. From Tuesday September 15 the building will be open for guided tours seven times every week.
The tours will be on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays at 11am and 2.30pm, and on Saturdays at 2.30pm only. The tours will last for about 90 minutes, and will cost £6 for adults, £3.50 for children, and concessions will be £5. Tickets will be on sale at the Bath Tourist Information Centre in Abbey Churchyard, or online at www.visitbath.co.uk.
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Local residents can have a free preview on Saturday September 12, when the hall will be opening its doors as part of English Heritage's annual Heritage Open Days.
On that day guided tours will be available between 10am and 3pm. These will include, for the first time, admittance to the Masonic Museum that had been tucked away in a garret room of the building since 1925. The museum collection has now been moved to the vaults below the building. The vaults have been excavated over recent years to provide an atmospheric home for possibly one of the finest collections of rare Masonic Artefacts in the World.
The vaults once housed the burial chambers where members of the Catholic Chapel congregation were buried, including exiled French nobility who had fled the French Revolution. The building was the main Catholic Chapel for the City of Bath between 1809 and 1863. During much of that time it was closely associated with Bishop Peter Augustine Baines, the founder of Prior Park School.
The highlight of the tour is one of the grandest Masonic temples in the country. The temple now occupies the auditorium of the original Bath Theatre Royal, opened in 1750. As part of the tour, visitors will be able to stand on the very stage where the leading actors and actresses of the 18th century including Sarah Siddons, performed to packed houses. Visitors will also be able to go backstage to see the original 18th century scenery loft.
Built 260 years ago Bath's first Theatre Royal's audeinces included, it was moved to bigger premises further up into the fashionable area of Bath, Beau Nash, William Pitt, Horace Walpole, Lord Nelson, : Richard Sheridan, Fanny Burney, Jane Austen, Sir Walter Scott, Gainsborough, Josef Haydn and George Frederic Handel.