The History of Surbiton
Evidence suggests that Surbiton is a long standing settlement that dates from at least 1179. It was originally known as Suberton(e) from the old English term 'south buritum' or granary. At this time Surbiton was little more than a cross roads and was used primarily as farm land, being the main agricultural suburb of Kingston until 1836.
Surbiton began to develop when a plan to build a main railway through Kingston connecting London to the South Coast was rejected by Kingston council. It was feared that the railway would threaten the prospering coaching trade local to Kingston and so it was decided that the railway would be built slightly further south through Surbiton. In 1836 Thomas Brassey was commissioned to begin work onthe railway and in 1838 Surbiton station was opened.
As a result, present day railway travel from Surbiton (a smaller town in comparison) is considerably more direct than that of Kingston upon Thames railway which is on a branch line. Traveling from Surbiton allows passengers to get to London in one direction in approximately 18 minutes on a fast train. This makes Surbiton a popular town from which to commute and its current popularity as a residential area reflects this. The forming of Surbiton as we know it today began when a man named Thomas Pooley conceived the idea of building up the area surrounding the new railway station. He saw the potential in a plot of land, then known as the Maple Farm Estate situated close to the new railway station that was being auctioned at the time and bought it for the modest sum of £10,500. His intention was to attract the wealthy people that worked in London who wished to live away from the crowded, dirty city and relocate to the fresh breeze of the country side. Thomas Pooley was one of the early developers in the modern concept of 'commuting'.
Claremont Crescent as it was known then was among the first developing plots of land. Now known as The Crescent, Glenmore House was one of the first houses to be built in Surbiton. It is quite likely that Thomas Pooley himself occupied Glenmore House with his wife Jane.
The original 1840 construction of Glenmore House consisted of 4 levels: a basement floor, ground floor, first and second floors with adjoining conservatory.
Designed as an elegant bijou residence in the 19th Century Italianate style, Glenmore House occupied approximately two acres of land including stables, forging house and a vinery as well a large lawn, allotment and ornamental gardens. Two grand balconies were situated at the rear of the house overlooking the gardens.
Between 1875-1900 Glenmore House was enlarged considerably with the addition of the wing on the south side and conversion and inclusion of an old stable block on the north side. The building then comprised of four bedrooms and one bathroom to the second floor, five bedrooms and one bathroom to the first floor, a drawing room, billiard room, dining room and smoking lounge to the ground floor and finally the butler's pantry, kitchen and servants quarters in the basement.
Originally, fireplaces would have been present throughout the house having been the only source of internal heating at that time. Today however, only two remain; one that is clearly visible in the Board Room on the ground floor and one in the crockery store room in the basement kitchen.
Other original features include:
The black and white checkered pavement that leads from the road to the front doors
The main front door, board room and ground floor temple cloak room doors
The reception area and main banister staircase made from composite wood and stained mahogany
And finally, the sash windows in the Crescent Room on the first floor.
It is thought that the last private owner of Glenmore House was William Bradford. Unfortunately none of the original furnishings remain in the building.
Freemasonry at Glenmore House Following the First World War: Masonry began to grow and having already established Surrey Masonic Halls in Croydon, Sutton and Woking amongst other places it was decided that Surbiton was to become the next location for a Masonic Venue.
Due to the enthusiasm of four Freemasons; Dr. George Cowen, Thomas Turner, Charles Oldridge and John Willoughby, Glenmore House was purchased in 1920 at the purchase price of just under £5,000 and a further £5,000 was spent on developing the property. This in today's value is approximately £300,000.
In order to raise the funds needed it was decided that 10,000 £1 shares were to be sold to the Freemasons. These were taken up by 16 Founder Lodges – Albany, Brownrigg, Cyclist, Ditton, Dobie, Kingston Aero, Light from the East, Maiden, Molesey, Mozart, Noel, Royal Borough of Kingston, Redwood, St. Johns, Surbiton and Turner and by individual masons who purchased five or more shares each.
Surbiton Masonic Hall as we know it today consists of 3 main Temples, two of which are named after the masons who first discovered the house. The George Cowen Temple, the Thomas Turner Temple and the John Nix Temple. These are used regularly for Masonic meetings and ceremonies by the 90 Lodges, 50 Chapters and 35 other units that currently meet at Surbiton. The most ornate temple is the George Cowen which was extended in 1927. In 1930, the honours boards proudly listing the Masters of the Lodges were installed at a cost of £1,200 roughly equivalent in today's value to £50,000.
The house also includes two rehearsal rooms, one on the ground floor and another on the second floor that are used for Lodge of Instruction and Chapter of Improvement meetings.
There are four main rooms at Glenmore House used for Masonic dining; on the first floor there is The Crescent Room (or room number 3 as it's sometimes referred to) which during Glenmore's time as a home was the master bedroom equipped with its own washroom. It is thought that Glenmore House was one of the first to have had an en-suite facility of this sort. Original features of The Crescent room include the beautiful, large sash windows and bay that overlook the Crescent Gardens. This room is primarily used for Chapter dining.
Across the hallway on the first floor there are the Tudor Rooms 1 & 2. The windows in these rooms display beautiful stained glass panes with Masonic symbols of the Lodge Officers adorning the top. Displayed are the Steward, Inner Guard, Deacon, Junior and Senior Warden, Organist, Chaplin, Secretary and also a square and compass and the Royal Arch badge.
Finally, the Elizabethan Suite to the basement floor. Added as an extension in 1927 the Elizabethan Suite is a large, grand dining hall with a capacity of 140 persons that is used for large Masonic dinners, Ladies Nights and other social events. In recent times, these facilities have allowed for the development of commercial business which has enabled over 1.2 million pounds to be spent on the fabric of the building since the year 2000 as well as subsidising Masonic dining. Original features include two balconies that extend from what was the exterior wall. Now within the room, these originally would have over looked the lawn and gardens of the 1840 residence. The balconies themselves have been replaced, but remain in their original positions, still accessible from the first floor. Before the Second World War garden parties and croquet matches were held on the lawns and many Lodges held their Ladies Festivals at Glenmore House using the grounds. With the increase in motoring, masons found it increasingly difficult to park their cars in the Crescent and adjoining roads with the result that in 1949 the double gates leading to the car park were built on the south side of the property. The car park was extended in 1966 and at the same time land was sold off to pay for further development to the property. This sadly resulted in the total loss of the lawns. The present car park can accommodate 110 cars and is controlled by barriers installed in September 2011.
In recent years two bars have been added to the property. In 1996 the Onslow Bar on the first floor was added as an extension, serviced by a brand new lift to all floors. In 2007, the Elizabethan Bar was extended to increase its size by 40% to accommodate the maximum number permissible in the Elizabethan Suite.
Originally, Masonic dining rooms included oak dinner wagons that were stocked with a variety of beverages. A self serve system whereby a 'Wagon' form was provided on which members would simply indicate what drinks had been selected. The overall total of the goods consumed from the Wagon were then added to the final bill. Having kept the tradition going, we still use a similar system today with our 'Wine Wagons'. There is no literal wagon involved, however the system of indicating what wine has and has not been opened is recorded on a 'Wine Wagon' form and the total of which added to the final bill.
Other facilities in the building include The Board Room on the ground floor. Originally the Drawing Room of the old house, this is now used for various official meetings by Province, Lodges and commercial clients as well as for use for small private dining. It also contains access to one of the balconies in the Elizabethan Suite, the other next door in the Cloak room to the George Cowen Temple.
The basement kitchen, staff room and crockery store were originally the main kitchen (though smaller at the time), staff quarters and butler's pantry. The current kitchen - the larger of the two - is essentially the epicenter of all catering provided at Glenmore House as all of our food is prepared from fresh ingredients on site. In addition, there is a satellite kitchen on the first floor that is used for servicing food to the three dining rooms on that floor. During the Second World War this kitchen was requisitioned by the Steward of the East Surrey Regiment. They occupied the building on the 4th September 1939 to utilise it as a hospital. The Crescent Room became the officers mess, the Tudor Rooms and Onslow Bar their sleeping quarters and this kitchen was used for preparing the Officer's food. The Elizabethan Suite was also used during this time as a hospital facility for minor ailments and beds for the injured were set up. Meals for other ranks and injured soldiers were prepared in the basement kitchen.
The flat and Masonic Library are located on the second floor of the building. The library was founded in 1943 and contains approximately 1,500 volumes of Masonic literature dating as far back as the 1800's along with other historical Masonic items. The library was closed down in 2015.
Glenmore House Today
By the mid nineties, despite the relatively large membership - due to the lack of funds going back into the building for its up keep it became clear that the building was haemorrhaging expense as a result of neglect. Anthony Machin, the former Chairman, recognised the urgent need for other sources of significant revenue, and had the foresight to introduce a second entrance to the building. This effectively meant that both Commercial and Masonic functions could be conducted concurrently. By 2005, with a significantly decreasing membership commercial business was by necessity developed in earnest, this has continued a pace, and as Masonic numbers have decreased commercial business has been increased, effectively ensuring the standards of fresh food and service that Surbiton Masonic Hall has become renown for.
Today Surbiton Masonic Hall caters for a variety of Masonic and non-Masonic events. Glenmore House is fully registered to hold Civil Wedding Ceremonies that usually take place in the Tudor rooms accompanied by a full wedding reception held in the Elizabethan suite and bar. Annually approximately 85 weddings a year are held in the Elizabethan Suite. Other functions such as seminars, business meetings, birthday and anniversary parties, Christmas parties and charitable events frequently take place within the building. The building is home to such groups as The BBC, Lloyds, Barclays and HSBC Banks, Probus, a local Bridge Club, ante-natal classes, a mother and baby class, several Language schools and Kingston Council training rooms to name but a few. Many School Parent Teacher Associations, and Local Political Parties have their annual fundraising events at Glenmore House, as well as too many Bowling and other Sports Clubs to list. The Centre is now so integrated within the community that in the last Mayoral elections, and local elections in 2012 Glenmore House was the local polling station.
Surbiton Masonic Hall really is a local resource and is part of the community rather than apart from it. In recent years, this has been acknowledged by awards received from the local council. In 2013 the business was recognised in being the Runner-Up as Best Hospitality & Leisure Venue in the Kingston Business Awards, clearly going a long way to dismissing the idea of being a building for a small group of introspective individuals! The addition of this commercial business is essential for keeping costs to members low and maintaining the condition of the building.
Glenmore House hosts an Open Day every year. In 2012 over 540 visitors came through the front door. Amongst other displays and stalls, a historical tour of the building is conducted and gives members of the public an opportunity to view the property and gain an insight into the workings of a Masonic building. The Centre has also participated in the September Heritage Open Day scheme over the past seven years annually, again affording the opportunity for a more in-depth tour of the building.