Masonic Urbanism and Victorian Belfast

Authors: Steven Donnelly*, Queen's University Belfast
Topics: Cultural Geography, Geographic Thought, Urban Geography
Keywords: Esoteric Geography, Architecture, Planning, Historical Geography, Biography
Session Type: Paper
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Belfast (now of Northern Ireland) in the pre-partition Irish spatial-temporal context saw steady urban expansion during the Victorian era as a result of industrializing and colonial forces. As the town became increasingly urbanized, it also saw significant growth in subscription to the Masonic Order and the Grand Lodge of Ireland. Men belonging to a plethora of occupations and fields, as well as royalty and nobility, populated the (preserved) registers and regularly met in spaces scattered across the townscape. These men were enlightened to the sublime mysteries of Freemasonry, their identities pluralised by their fraternal associations and deep engagements with Masonic philosophy. However, these spaces held special esoteric meaning, obscured by symbolism applicable to Masonic pedagogy, identity, and ritual performance. Interestingly, in the early Victorian period, they were either meeting in temporary spaces such as public houses which held no permanent structures or connections to the order, or dedicated apartments decorated, funded and maintained by a number of lodges and their brethren. It wasn't until the 1860's when the need for a large-scale and permanent urban development became a necessity, resulting in the Arthur Square Masonic Hall (from 1860). This paper utilizes the Masonic biography and a range of related archival sources relating to esteemed architect and renowned Masonic brother Sir Charles Lanyon (1813-1889) to generate a narrative which explores a plurality of identity within and outside of these spaces, the consolidation of Masonic spaces and the Order's quasi-public ritualistic performances, as well as their imperial allegiances to the crown.

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