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Wokingham Masonic Centre

Known as ‘The Malthouse’

 

HISTORY OF THE BUILDING

 

Freemasonry was first founded upon the practices of Operative Masons who, when building the magnificent sacred edifices, monasteries, castles and public buildings, formed their own Lodges in which they kept the secrets of their extraordinary skill and knowl­edge of building and also had their own rules and ancient charges for all to keep.

 

From the year 1688 these operative Lod­ges began to decline and in 1703 the numbers of brethren had become so much reduced, a new regulation was adopted which materi­ally altered the character of Masonry and which had the effect, in the end, of complete­ly transforming it into "Speculative" Ma­sonry. There is little doubt that within this period our Masonic Hall was built as a Malthouse.

 

The building had two stories originally. The second storey windows can be seen outside painted blue to highlight them.  Also the building had a much taller roof and was thatched.  The ceiling was much lower than it is today and also the floor was about two feet lower and was quarry tiled.

 

A thorough search into the history of the building reveals it was part of "Beches Manor" which included "Holt House" (now the Holt School), "Wood­lands" (now “Wade” on the opposite side of the road), the house "Beches" which was destroyed by fire some years ago and the surrounding land.

 

"Beches" is described in Lyons’s "His­tory of Berkshire" as an ancient Manor House of the de la Beche family, or more precisely, of Robert de la Beche, a member of the family who owned large estates in mid-Berks. About 1450 the only daughter and heiress of Robert de la Beche married John Whitlock, who is described as thus becom­ing possessed of "The Manor of Beches, Ockingham, Berks".

 

 

Over the original entrance door in the brickwork was the date 1624 and initials R. and E. H. which are believed to refer to one Richard Harrison and his wife. It is further mentioned in the records of Wokingham that in 1729 Richard Hawe, Brewer, died and bequeathed his property, including "Beches" and "Holt" to his widow for life and after­wards to her six nieces.

 

The description of Richard Hawe as a brewer, is the first connection that can be found relating to a Malt House. It is there­fore taken he had the Malt House built for his own purpose in about 1700.

 

It was also recorded that a James Webb apparently had bought Beches Manor on Reading Road in 1760 and started a brewery on that site most likely in the Malthouse. He took out insurance with the Sun Fire Insurance Company - a wise precaution since the buildings were still partly thatched. In 1762 he bought the Leathern Bottle for £300 and began the now widespread tradition of 'tied houses'. The Webbs had close ties with the Oxford brewing family, the Haywards, and just before James's death in 1821 he sold the brewery to William Hayward. William, in due course, passed the brewery on to his son James Hayward senior.   So for about 100 years, successive brewers operating from this site -four brewers and two families - dominated the brewing trade in Wokingham.

 

Unfortunately, James died unexpectedly in 1846, aged only 45, and his will made large bequests to his youngest son and his three daughters. However, due to an over-optimistic valuation of the brewery's business, his eldest son and heir James Hayward junior, who had inherited the brewery, was obliged to mortgage the assets but only managed to keep the business going for 5 years, even though the brewery by 1856 owned 40% of all the alehouses and public houses in Wokingham.

 

When it was put up for auction to cover his debts, no other breweries in Wokingham were sufficiently large enough to put in offers for many of its licensed premises, most going to breweries outside Wokingham - such as Brakspears (Henley) and Hewetts (White Waltham). The Wokingham Brewery (Baker's) picked up just a couple.

 

How long it was used as a Malthouse cannot be traced; there are no records that have been found. We can only assume that when it was sold off it was used for a different purpose.

 

From 1900 to 1914 it was used as a store house; then during the 1914-18 war as "army quarters" in which soldiers were rested for a short time before going to France. The building at this time had two floors and part of the upper floor sub-divided. The windows, which were very small, gave very little light inside.

 

After 1918 it again became a store house used by Messrs. Sale & Sons, nurserymen and seed merchants.

 

In 1928 "Beches" Manor was sold in lots. The house "Beches" together with the Malt House was bought by W. J. Morris, who turned the house into a hotel, calling it ‘Beches Manor Hotel’. This eventually burnt to the ground around about 1950. The land became over grown and was left to decay.  However, about three years ago permission was granted to build a residential care home on the sight. On clearing the ground they discovered the remains of the ruined House and it was then excavated and recorded before commencing with building works.

 

In 1935 the "Malthouse” was sold, separately from ‘Beches Manor’, to the East Berks Indoor Bowling Co. Ltd., who laid a first class Indoor Bowling Rink, which proved quite successful until the Second World War in 1939, when it was again used by the Army – this time the Americans.

 

In 1946 the building was again sold by auction and on this occasion W. Bro. G. Pratt and W. Bro. E. Reeves bought it on behalf of the Downshire Lodge.

 

An appeal was made for loans free of interest and the necessary £4,282 was pro­vided by 59 Brethren. In 1961 the sum of £1,152 was still outstanding and an appeal was made asking those Brethren if they would be kind enough to cancel their loan either as a whole or in part. This was most successful as £1,100 was given to the Lodge and the balance paid from Lodge funds, making Downshire Lodge the Freehold owners of the building and car park

 

By this time the building had got into a bad state of repair and the Committee was given the power to borrow a sum of not more than £1,000 to start improvements to enable the hall to be let to the public.

 

This was a very difficult period indeed, there being so many alterations and repairs needed. Thanks to W. Bro. Roy May this was over­come and his help and advice, given so free­ly, cannot be under estimated. Under his guidance work was carried out upon the kit­chen, ladies' and gents’ toilets, the roof when 8 skylights were taken out and slated in - the store room rebuilt, dining room floor repaired, new casement windows fitted, and many other items. In addition, the electrical installations were renewed, a new heating system in­stalled and a false ceiling put in. The build­ing was also given a damp course treatment.

 

During 1975, the outside of the whole building was given a new look. The walls were coated with an off-while plastic water proof coating; the whole roof treated in the same way in green, and the doors, windows etc., painted. This work was super­vised by W. Bro. Harry Chalk.

 

The Temple has now been made perma­nent, a wall having been built to separate it from the dining room. This was presented to the Lodge in memory of Bro. Cyril Crookson by his family and friend, W. Bro. Harold Lee.

 

A beautiful oak door forms the entrance to the Temple and was subscribed for by mem­bers of the Lodge in memory of Bros. Ernest and Harry Hawkins, Father and Son, who had between them been Tyler’s of the Lodge for 70 years.

 

The carpet for the whole Temple was given by the Wokingham Lodge of Instruc­tion. This has now been replaced through the generosity of Loddon Lodge.

 

The whole of the bench seating on the south side of the Temple was given by Bro. Colin Farnell and most of the individual chairs by Widows, Friends and Brethren too numerous to mention. The cost of the inte­rior decoration was a gift from a member's mother.

 

The Square and Compasses used on the Volume of the Sacred Law was presented to the Lodge by Mr. and Mrs. R. Clark in memory of Bro. Cyril Crookson.

 

To name all who have contributed over the years, in reality would be impossible, but to each and every one of those who did, we ask that they accept our most sincere thanks and trust what they have done and given is for the benefit of future Masons.

 

The Temple was dedicated by R.W. Bro. Brig. E.W.C. Flavell, D.S.O., M.C., T.D., Di., Prov.G.M. on 15th September, 1975. Since then much renovation work has been undertaken.

  

In 1996 a meeting was held between Downshire Lodge and the Lodges and Degrees of the Wokingham Masonic Centre to agree a way forward for the future management and control of the centre with the participation of all the Masonic organisations meeting at Wokingham. A steering committee was formed by W. Bro Tim Dummer. This resulted in ‘The Way Forward’ document which was presented to all the users on the 28th August 1997. This received unanimous approval and resulted in the formation of the Company, charged with both the management of the Centre and the implementation of the steering committee's recommendations and requirements.

 

“After more than 50 years of ownership of the Masonic Hall Wokingham the Worshipful Master and brethren of Downshire Lodge wholeheartedly agree that the future management and running of the centre will be better served by the formation of a Joint Management Committee. The members unanimously accept the recommendations contained in your very well presented Draft Proposal and wish every success to the new

Management Committee”

 

The Secretary of Downshire Lodge W. Bro Brian Eveson wrote the following letter; 

 

The Steering Committee also received the following letter of support from the Provincial Grand Master R.W. Bro Digby Woods;

“I have read with great interest and pleasure the planning document detailing the proposal to set up a Wokingham Hall Management Committee and it has my whole hearted support. Downshire Lodge are to be congratulated on their foresight in recognising that sharing the burden of running the hail will benefit to all the Masonic organisations using it. The plan which has been put together with experience gained in similar situations elsewhere will I am confident ensure the future success of this excellent Centre for Freemasonry in the Wokingham area.”

 

The Centre is now run as a Company, Wokingham Masonic Centre Ltd.   Day to day management is the responsibility of the Board of Directors.   The Board of Directors are elected by the Wokingham Association of Masonic Lodges the representatives of the members.

 

The Wokingham Masonic Centre was incorporated in 1998. The Board of Directors elected and work began. The Building had a completely new roof. The floor in the dining room was concreted and a new floor laid. The toilets were relocated and a proper bar was installed with a lounge area. The upstairs room was made more usable and the whole place inside and out was decorated. The Car Park was refurbished and much more.

This was funded by loans from the Lloyds TSB and the Berks. Building Fund.   This of course had to be paid back. Each Lodge/Degree meeting at Wokingham was set a target to contribute an amount of money, calculated on the Lodge/Degree membership.   When the target was reached a Plaque was prepared and mounted on the wall of the Lounge area.   Nearly all of these targets were reached and the loan was paid off.

I don’t think it would be fair not to mention the generosity of Loddon Lodge for their kind donation of the Carpet in the Temple along with the three Chairs for the Worshipful Master and the two Wardens. Also we should mention the new Organ donated by 100 of Bray Lodge.

 

Above all we shouldn’t forget all those members that freely gave time and money for the benefit of the Centre.

The present time shows a considerable improvement in both the building and the facilities. There are plans for further additions and improvements as time and money permits.

 

The Centre is now completely out of debt apart from day to day running costs.   There are now 10 Craft Lodges, 3 Royal Arch Chapters, 3 Mark Master Masons Lodges and 2 Royal Ark Mariners.   Also 9 Side Orders Including Knights Templers, Royal Select, Secret Monitor and the Order of Lady Masons. More recently Court Ladies previously meeting at Sindlesham are holding their Meetings at Wokingham.   National Blood have regular sessions. The NHS therapy class’s meet twice weekly and functions of all types are now catered for and the Centre has quite a full Diary.

I trust those of us meeting at Wokingham Centre are truly proud of our Centre and look forward to a happy future.