The account below of the early meeting places and the present Masonic Hall in Valletta, between 1814 and the early 1950's, was written by RW Bro Brigadier Charles de Wolff, who was District Grand Master from 1950 to 1977.
The Lodge of St. John and St. Paul originally met in 1815 at the Hope Tavern in Strada Mezzodi, Valletta and, three years later, at 80 Strada Mezzodi. The Union of Malta Lodge was formed in 1832 and met at Bormla [Cospicua] and was there for twelve years when they moved to near-by Senglea. In 1847, the Lodge came into Valletta and ten years later they joined up with St. John and St.Paul and Zetland Lodges at 43 Strada Zaccaria. The Zetland Lodge had been formed in 1845 and first held its meetings at 89 Strada Mercanti.
There was, however, no completely suitable place where the Lodges could meet. The rooms they were able to rent were too small for the purpose and search was always being made for better accommodation. Although Lodges tried out houses in Floriana and other parts of Valletta, 43 Strada Zaccaria was really the home of Masonry from 1849 to 1870.
The District Grand Lodge really became active at the time when RW Bro. William Kingston was District Grand Master. He was installed on the 16th March 1870, and at the same meeting he brought up the question of having a Masonic Hall of appropriate size, and it was there and then decided to form a Committee “to provide and maintain proper accommodation for the Lodges”. Bro. E. Rosenbusch offered his house at 27 Strada Stretta on lease at £60 per annum. It was found that the house was well adapted for the purpose but that there was no room large enough for a Lodge room without removing a wall and throwing two rooms into one. An estimate was obtained and the cost of taking down the partition wall and supporting the roof on iron girders was £18, whilst the cost of altering a room to be used for refreshment was £4. The Committee agreed to take the house provided Bro. Rosenbusch paid for the alterations. This he flatly refused to do and, after discussion, it was agreed that the alterations should be paid for out of the funds of the District Grand Lodge.
This was only possible by calling upon the three Lodges to contribute a proportion. This led to the Masonic Hall Committee which was formed towards the end of 1871 and whose duties were “to make all needful arrangements for providing the premises, apportioning rents to be paid by the Lodge and to receive the rents and payments.”
The United Brethren and Wayfarers Lodges were both formed in 1881. The Wayfarers met at the Hall in Strada Stretta but the United Brethren for eleven years, met at St. Julian’s and Sliema, and it was not until 1892 that they held their meetings at Strada Stretta.
The Waller Rodwell Wright and Royal Naval Lodges were formed in 1899 and met with the others in Strada Stretta.
The Masonic Hall may have been quite suitable for the three Lodges, but when the District expanded to seven Lodges, it was obvious that the accommodation was inadequate. The District Grand Lodge Communication on the 28th March 1894 was held in the Valletta Gymnasium and the D.G.M., expressed his pleasure at meeting “in such a spacious building, so much better than the limited space in our Masonic Hall at Strada Stretta.”
It was very difficult to find suitable premises, and it was not until 1907 that 6/7 Marsamxett Road, Valletta became available. This 16th century building was leased as from the 1st January 1908 for 25 years and was dedicated by the District Grand Master, Colonel Hughes-Hallett, on the 15th February 1908 in accordance with a special programme drawn up by himself. There, the Lodges have met ever since, except for a period when the building was rendered unsafe, due to enemy action during the Second World War. In 1932, the lease was renewed for another 8 years and again for a similar period in 1940.
On the 27th February 1941, a landmine fell about 100 yards away and severely damaged all buildings in the vicinity, and the Masonic Hall became unusable. All the doors and windows were blown out; the massive doors of the Lodge room fell down and some ceiling stones of the dining room fell and crashed into the passage below and these, in turn, fell into the cellars. The Civil and Military Authorities considered the building unsafe for use, but it was used for storage accommodation.
The Scottish and Irish Brethren at Villa Blye at once invited the Lodges to share their building, an offer that was most gratefully accepted. In June, the Masonic Hall Committee were able to get the use of Lamplugh Hall under the Methodist Church at Floriana and meetings were held there for the next ten months.
In April 1942, a heavy bomb fell outside the Church and rendered it unsafe. Some of the ceiling of the Church fell into the Lamplugh Hall. In June 1942, permission was obtained to use the Crypt of St. Paul’s Anglican Cathedral. During the summer of 1943, thanks to the great efforts of the Brethren who were serving in the Royal Engineers, the premises at 6/7 Marsamxett Road, were partially repaired, so that by October of that year, the large Lodge room, part of the dining room and the rooms downstairs were able to be used.
It will be seen that it was only in the month of May 1942 that the Lodges were unable to meet. Otherwise, for the whole of the war, Lodges met at the appointed times and no meetings were ever cancelled. This was certainly an achievement of which to be very proud.
By 1941, transport facilities were very restricted and most of the members had to make their way on foot or by bicycle. Notwithstanding these difficulties, the
Lodges were extremely well attended and members came from all parts of the Island. Raids were frequent during meetings and on several occasions the covering of the windows were blown in [most of the glass had gone], and it was necessary to suspend the proceedings whilst the floors were swept and the windows patched up. After meetings, members had to make their way home in total darkness. In 1942, gas and electric light were entirely cut off and members brought candles and oil for the one lamp that was possessed.
The District was fortunate, at this time, to have great help from the Officers of the Cheshire Regiment, sixteen of whom joined the Zetland Lodge, whilst the Commanding Officer became a member of St. John & St. Paul. These Officers attended nearly every meeting and were invaluable in keeping things going.
At a meeting of the M.H.C., on the 16th May 1945, it was decided to approach the Sister Constitutions at Villa Blye, which by now had been completely rebuilt, to see whether the Lodges could meet there with them. The rebuilding of Villa Blye was, in large measure, due to the personal efforts of R. W. Bro. Sir Maxwell Anderson. Discussions went on for some time and, as Sir Maxwell Anderson proposals were not accepted, it was decided to abandon the idea.
The Committee then considered whether they should try and buy a site and put up a building that would be their own property. By this time, the value of the building sites had rocketed, and it was estimated that a new place would cost at least £20,000. This proposal was therefore given up. There was then a suggestion that a Masonic Hall could be erected on land belonging to Holy Trinity Church, Sliema. The conditions however, were that a Church Hall should be built and the M.H.C., should also pay the wages of a Caretaker for the Church.
After careful consideration, this was turned down and so the only solution was to try and get a long lease of 6/7 Marsamxett Road. In April 1950, The Maltese Government offered a lease of 50 years on condition that the M.H.C., carried out all repairs to the satisfaction if the Director of Public Works, and that no claim would be made for War Damage. This last condition seemed rather unfair, but the Government were adamant. After protracted negotiations, the District Grand Master, as President of the M.H.C,, signed the Deed of Emphyteusis on July 16th, 1952 for 99 years.
The Architect found that the whole building was out of the perpendicular due to the effects of the landmine and this meant the complete stripping of the roof and its re-erection. The original estimate for repairs and renovation was £7,200 but, like all such estimates, it was far too low.
By the time the work was finished, no less than a sum of £9,200 had been spent, of which £4,000 went on the new roof. By 1954, it was thought and hoped that the Brethren had a Hall which would last for a very long time, but in the Spring of 1956, it was found that the roof was again very unsafe. The roof of the Lodge room was supported by wooden beams which had been there since the place was built in the 16th century. In 1952, the Architect had tested them and found that there was no cause for removal. Latterly, however, dry rot had set in and one of the beams at the east end was almost ready to drop. This meant that the whole of the roof of this room had to be taken off and rebuilt. This was done in the summer of 1956 at an additional cost of £1,500. The opportunity was taken of having up to date lighting installed.
The building has remained in continuous use as the home of English Freemasonry in Malta until the present day.