HISTORY OF SEVERN STREET MASONIC HALL
The original building was first constructed as a Synagogue, to serve the small Hebrew Community in Birmingham, as early as 1809. It had been part of the former Gooch Estates and was badly damaged in riots directed at non Anglicans in 1813.
It was rebuilt in 1827 by Richard Tutin and continued to be used as a Synagogue until 1857 when the Singers Hill Synagogue was built, it was then sold to the members of “Athol Lodge” and opened as a Masonic Hall in 1858 being the first and oldest established “Masonic Meeting Place” in Birmingham in the Masonic Province of Warwickshire.
The Dining Room and ante- rooms were added by Henry Nadan in 1871-74 and built by local Birmingham builder called Moffat. After the founding of the Jewish “Lodge of Israel” in 1874 the two Lodges shared the building when in 1891 the frontage to Severn Street was remodeled, redesigned and added to by Essex and Nicol Architects in the city and has remained little altered today.
The Lodge Room has fluted Greek Doric columns with pilaster responds to either side of the Worshipful Masters chair which previously housed the Hebrew Ark religious scrolls while in the Dining Room “Stars of David” adorn the ceiling cornices and together with five-sided Masonic stars on the two ornate fireplaces and magnificent gilt over mantle mirrors which allows the whole interior to resonate of the two original functions.
Severn Street Masonic Hall is of extreme importance to the architectural heritage of the city of Birmingham and has achieved a Grade 2 listing.
The King's Chair
Athol Lodge have their very own "King's Chair" which was sat upon by a King of England, Edward V11 when he was Prince of Wales before his accession to the throne in 1901 after the death of his mother Queen Victoria.
The carved oak Worshipful Master's Chair which proudly sits in the Lodge Room at Severn Street Masonic Hall bears two inscription plates which read "Presented to Athol Lodge No 88 by Bro John Vaughan PM AD 1863" and beneath it on a silver plate "This Chair was lent to the Birmingham and Midland Counties Agricultural Exhibition Society for the use of His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales KG, Most Worshipful Grand Master, on the occasion of his visit to the Exhibition held at Bingley Hall on November 28, 1885"
The Worshipful Master's Chair is one of a suite of three carved oak chairs with the Junior and Senior Wardens Chairs both bearing inscribed plates which read "Presented to ATHOL LODGE No 74 by Bro Archer, Rawlings and Stableford in 1875"
Mendelssohn’s Pipe Organ
Manager of the Birmingham Musical Festivals.
Joseph Moore (1766-1851), was a Birmingham benefactor, born in 1766 at Shelsley-Beauchamp or Shelsley-Walsh, Worcestershire, was educated at Worcester. In 1781 he was sent to Birmingham to learn die-sinking, and afterwards entered into a partnership in the button trade.
In 1808 Moore founded the Birmingham Oratorio Choral Society, with the view of bringing together for practice the local singers engaged at the triennial festivals. In order to provide the town with a building sufficiently large to do justice to the festivals, Moore successfully agitated for the erection of the Town Hall (1832-4). A public subscription was raised to pay for the organ. At the festival of 1834 both hall and organ were used for the first time.
To enhance the fame of the festivals Moore went to Berlin, and induced Felix Mendelssohn to compose, first, 'St. Paul,' which was given at the festival of 1837, and then 'Elijah' performed on the 26th August 1846. Moore died at his house, Crescent, Birmingham, on 19 April 1851, and was buried in the Church of England cemetery there. A monument was erected to his memory by subscription.
Felix Mendelssohn (1809-1847) visited England on ten separate occasions and Birmingham at least twice and was always the guest at the house of Joseph Moore, in the Crescent, now the site of Centenary Square.
Mendelssohn was a member of the Jewish faith and believed to be a Free Mason and his friendship with Moore developed because of their mutual interests. Moore was introduced to James Watt by Matthew Boulton, both members of the illustrious “Lunar Society” and both known Masons. Moore as well as being a part of Birmingham’s booming industrial economy he was a prominent member of City’s social life and musical fraternity and, by association, was probably a Free Mason although this is not been verified.
The Severn Street Synagogue initially built in 1809 was destroyed and rebuilt in 1827 housed a wind organ that would have been available for Mendelssohn’s use as being a distinguished Jewish visitor to the City.
Felix Mendelssohn would have regularly attended the Synagogue and it is not unconceivable that he rehearsed both his major works, St Paul and the Elijah, on the organ in the Synagogue because of its juxta-position with Moore’s house, in the Crescent, and the Town Hall all being within walking distance of each other. Mendelssohn had expressed his difficulty in playing the new organ in the newly built Town Hall and how hard it was to play so taking the opportunity to rehearse on an established pipe organ would have been surely welcomed.
The Hebrew Community sold the Severn Street Synagogue to the members of Athol Lodge in 1857 that turned it into a Masonic Hall in 1858 and part of the fixtures and fittings of the sale was the aforementioned wind organ.
The organ was refurbished at the turn of the 19th century with a new keyboard onto which the organ builders, John Banfield of Birmingham, placed their plaque with the date displayed as MDCCCLL (1900) which was custom and practice in those days and does not refer to the date of its original construction.
It remains insitu in the Lodge Room today but is very rarely played on because of its condition but still remains the organ that Mendelssohn probably played on.