Masonic Buildings - Emulation Hall, 3 Rochester Road Canterbury, Victoria

Freemasons, did you ever get to visit the very impressive Canterbury Masonic Centre at 3 Rochester Road Canterbury Victoria? This unique Masonic Gem was a fantastic example of Egyptian Revival architecture. The interior of the building was one of its last examples or Egyptian Revivalism in Australia. The ornate ceiling both in the Lodge room and in the South made the Canterbury Masonic Centre well worth a visit.

In 2013 the last Craft Lodge remaining was Chatham Lodge 459 which met on the 2nd Tuesday of the month, installation is in May. Subsequent to initially publishing this article, that lodge returned its Warrant to Grand Lodge Victoria and ceased to operate. This led to the sale of the building in late 2014. I suggest you examine the below before reading the followup article

External photograph Emulation Hall, 3 Rochester Road Canterbury, Victoria

Above, Emulation Hall in Rochester Rd Canterbury, unique example of Egyptian Revival architecture and decoration.

Lodge Room Emulation Hall, 3 Rochester Road Canterbury, Victoria
Two Snakes Emulation Hall, 3 Rochester Road Canterbury, Victoria
Masters Chair Emulation Hall, 3 Rochester Road Canterbury, Victoria

(images on this page can be clicked for a closer look)

History - Emulation Hall, 3 Rochester Road Canterbury, Victoria, Australia.

Emulation Hall was built in 1927-28 as a new masonic temple for Emulation Lodge No 141. One of the oldest lodges in the eastern suburbs, it was also one of the first to be formed after the creation of the new United Lodge of Victoria in 1889. In July of that year, the Argus reported that “a petition has been received to open a new lodge at Box Hill, to be named the Box Hill Lodge. Brother C McDowall is to be the first Worshipful Master” (Argus:22/6/1889:5). Charles McDowall (1862-1916), who lived in Surrey Hills, was a prominent auctioneer and shire councillor. Although based in Box Hill, his new lodge took the name Emulation Lodge No 141 (Argus:26/7/1890:12), which alluded to the Emulation Lodge of Improvement (a division of Freemasonry created in 1823 to “emulate” masonic ritual in the form codified by the recently-formed United Grand Lodge of England). Australian outposts were founded at Grafton, NSW (1882) and Norwood, SA (1884). The one at Box Hill was Victoria’s first, and remained its only one until the creation of Emulation Lodge No 436 (Richmond) in the 1930s.

Emulation Lodge No 141 initially met in the Box Hill Recreation Hall on Whitehorse Road (built 1885), where the masons were provided with their own Lodge Room (Argus:13/8/1894:6). While the lodge prospered in the 1890s, it had all but disappeared from public record by 1900. An entirely new lodge, Box Hill Lodge No 221, appeared in 1912; a decade later, it moved into a new purpose-built temple on Station Street. The whereabouts of Emulation Lodge in the early twentieth century remains unclear. When the memorial stone for its new building was laid in 1928, reference was made to earlier difficulties: “Many vicissitudes have marked its long career. There was a time when Emulation had its home taken from them. Later came the mistake of buying a hall unsuitable for its requirements”. In any case, after leaving Box Hill, Emulation Lodge is next recorded in Surrey Hills in the 1920s, meeting in what was then described as the “Freemason's Hall” on Union Road.

Plans for a new building in Canterbury were prepared by architects Dunstan Reynolds & Partners, whose principal, Bennet Dunstan Reynolds, was not only a local resident (in Knutsford Street, Balwyn) but also a lodge member. More significantly, he had already designed one Masonic Temple in Melbourne. Before moving to Balwyn in the 1925, he lived in Ivanhoe, where he designed the Ivalda Masonic Temple for the joint use of four local lodges. Reynolds (1898-1949) is an elusive figure in Melbourne's inter-war architectural scene. His early career, which encapsulated study and professional experience in both Melbourne and London, was interrupted by the First World War, during which he performed an act of bravery that won him a Military Medal. However, his wartime service also caused unspecified health problems that plagued him for the rest of his life. His private practice in Melbourne began in 1920 and was re-badged six years later as the firm of Dunstan Reynolds & Partners. This, however, ended due to his ill health; a later partnership of Craig, Reynolds & Garrett existed only briefly in the mid-1930s. Declared insolvent in 1938, Reynolds left his wife and moved to Sydney, where he made an unsuccessful attempt to re-launch his private practice. Dogged by litigation as well as illness, he died in 1949 at the early age of 51 years.

For the new temple in Canterbury, Reynolds proposed a two-storey brick and concrete building in the Egyptian Revival mode. Internally, it comprised a main hall at ground level (with entry foyer, dressing rooms, trust rooms, kitchen and storage) with lodge room, choir, candidates' room, assembly room and supper room upstairs. Plans and specifications were completed during August 1927 and, near the end of that month, Reynolds called for tenders for “a new Masonic Temple to be erected at Canterbury (Argus:20/8/1927:4); the contract was awarded to one R S Jones. Construction was well advanced by 12 May 1928, when a ceremony was held for the laying of a memorial stone. The masonic journal, Victorian Craftsman, reported that “upon a very fine site, and close to Canterbury railway station, a great building is in progress which promises to vie with any of our most imposing Masonic edifices”. It was noted that the building, to be known as Emulation Hall, would not only house Emulation Lodge No 141, but also its two “daughter lodges”, Canterbury Lodge No 312 and Surrey Hills Lodge No 315, both raised in the 1920s. The ceremony itself, which was largely attended “despite the bleak wintry weather”, included choral performances, speeches and the placing of ritual objects (including coins, a scroll and daily newspapers) into the wall cavity. Bennet Dunstan Reynolds, architect, presented the building plans to the Master, who declared: “I place in your hands the plans of the intended building, having full confidence in your skill as a Craftsman, and I desire that you will proceed without loss of time to the completion of the work in conformity with the plans and designs now entrusted to you”. Indeed, Reynolds was sufficiently proud of his Egyptian-style design that, in August 1928, he lodged his drawings with the Commonwealth Copyright Office in Canberra.

The memorial stone itself, “of finely polished granite inscribed with gold letters”, was laid by lodge secretary, Worshipful Brother J W Strangward. He was chosen for the task because he claimed a long association with Emulation Lodge that went back over thirty years; it was also stated that he had been its first Master in 1889. This, however, was not entirely accurate. As previously noted, the first Worshipful Master of the lodge was Charles McDowall. Strangward's involvement can only be traced back as far as the late 1890s. A station-master by profession, John William Strangward (1861-1931) transferred to Box Hill from Nhill in July 1897 (Gippsland Times:8/7/1897:2). Newspaper reports confirm his involvement with Emulation Lodge No 141, including a tenure as Junior Warden in 1899- 1900 (Argus:25/10/1899:8). Strangward left Box Hill in early 1904 when he was transferred to Tallarook. (Argus:23/2/1904:7). He served as station-master at several other regional centres before retiring in 1921 and returning to Box Hill, where he renewed his association with Emulation Lodge. He lived long enough to see the completion and use of Emulation Hall before his death in early 1931.

At the memorial stone ceremony, one speech-maker observed that the temple's completion “marked the further progress and steady increase of our great institution”, and expressed hope that “many lodges would arise and meet in this fine hall, and that the abundant usefulness of Freemasonry would be seen in the shadow of the temple”. Its original users included not only Emulation Lodge (meeting on the second Wednesday of the month) and its two local offshoots, but also Emulation Chapter No 41, an outpost of the Supreme Grand Chapter of Victoria. Other local lodges (which paid rental to Emulation Lodge) came and went over the years. Emulation Lodge finally disbanded in the 1990s and the temple was acquired by Chatham Lodge No 459 (formed 1934), which still meets there. From the start, the hall was also made available for community use. From 1929, the Canterbury & District Horticultural Society regularly used it for meetings, lectures, floral displays and its annual flower show; by 1934, it had been allocated its own rooms therein (Argus:21/11/1934:14). During the 1930s and '40s, Emulation Hall was a popular venue for dances and balls held by schools, charities, sporting clubs and other groups. In 1958, a small skillion-roofed wing, described as a rehearsal room, was added to the rear. In more recent years, the hall has become home to two local chess clubs (on the ground floor) and a small museum of Aboriginal artifacts (upstairs).

Description & Integrity

Prominently located on a slightly elevated site, Emulation Hall is a two-storey rendered brick inter-war masonic temple in the Egyptian Revival style. It has a rectangular plan with slightly projecting wings at the east (front) and west (rear), creating an overall H-shaped footprint. The front and side elevations are all similar in their articulation, with rough beige-coloured rendered walls, few windows, and overscaled coved cornices along the parapet, which largely conceal a low-pitched gambrel roof clad in corrugated galvanised steel. The street frontage is symmetrical, with a recessed central bay flanked by projecting wings, and a central porch (also tapered), with its own cornice, that projects even further. The flanking wings and porch all have tapered sides, to evoke Egyptian temple pylons. This elevation, and the corresponding side elevations of the front wing, is enlivened with ornament. Parapet cornices are fluted, with a roll-moulded stringcourse along the base; the small rectangular windows have matching cornices to their lintels, and plain projecting sills. All windows contain multipaned metal-framed sashes. Ground floor windows are set into projecting moulded surrounds, also with tapered sides; below the window on the right side of the porch is the memorial stone, of polished granite, with an incised inscription as follows: This stone was laid / by / Wor. Bro. J. W. Strangward P.M. / Sec. Emulation Lodge No 141 V.C. / on the 12th day of May 1928. / Trustees: H Manicom P.M / W Shaw P.M. / E J Neale M.M. / Architect / Bro. Dunstan Reynolds. / Builder / R. S. Jones. The abbreviations cited after personal names refer to “Past Master” (ie former Worshipful Master of the Lodge) and “Master Mason” (the third and highest rank of a mason).

The front and side facades of the front wing also incorporate symbolic ornament in pressed cement, namely a scarab (beetle) motif in the central recessed bay, and another motif based on the winged sun (a circle, flanked by cobras and outstretched eagle's wings) between the cornice and the lintels to the pylons and the porch. In this case, the winged sun actually has a terrestrial globe at its centre, inscribed with astrological symbols, rather than the true Egyptian “solar disc”. The entrance to the porch, located at the top of a flight of terracotta-tiled steps with a rendered balustrade wall, has a pair of in antis piers with fluted capitals, and a wrought iron gate incorporating the masonic compass and square symbol. Inside the porch is a double doorway with a pair of panelled timber doors;

By contrast, the side elevations of the central block, and the rear wing, are much simpler in their embellishment. On these parts of the building, the parapet cornice is plain rather than fluted, there are no scarab or winged sun motifs, and only a few windows have lintel cornices and projecting sills, while the remainder are entirely unornamented.

Internally, the building is substantially intact to its original plan form. The ground floor still comprises a large central hall with a small elevated stage at one end, flanked on one side by the kitchen and on the other by what was once a dressing room; it now serves as a hallway to provide access to the rear wing added in 1958. The main hall opens off a foyer, flanked by two small rooms designated on the original plans as a dressing room and a trust room; these have been converted into toilet facilities for females and males, respectively. The first floor, which is reached by a return staircase in the north west corner of the building, comprises a large open area to the rear (formerly a combined supper room and assembly area), from which a small antechamber provides access to the lodge room.

The main hall and the lodge rooms are the two spaces of particular aesthetic distinction in the building. The former is a large rectangular space that is divided into five bays by a series of pilasters and ceiling bulkheads, and has a polished timber floor, rough plastered walls and curved cornices. Surfaces are enlivened with decorative mouldings including fluted pilaster capitals, palmette (ie palm tree leaf) motifs in the cornices, and other ornament to the underside of the bulkheads. The foyer doorway is flanked by marbled columns supporting a moulded lintel, while the stage has a simple proscenium with a winged sun and a swag curtain. The other ground floors rooms are more utilitarian in fitout, although the front foyer does have matching cornices with palmette motifs. Upstairs, the lodge room has a tent ceiling with moulded cornices and borders that include palmette, papyrus reed bundle and lotus flower motifs, and pairs of Egyptian columns flanking narrow panels of astrological symbols. Circular pendant light fittings have tapered blue glass shades and metal filigree ornament. Walls are of rough plaster, with a smooth dado and stencilled border. The floor is lined with blue carpet, with a compass/square motif repeated in yellow, and a central chequerboard panel. The floor is raised along each side of the room, forming galleries with timber bench seating, and platforms for throne-like timber chairs and other ritual furniture. The adjacent supper room has a similar ten ceiling, albeit treated in a much plainer fashion, with simple moulded borders and circular vents that feature the compass/squire motif.

Statement of Significance

What is Significant?

Emulation Hall, at 3 Rochester Road, Canterbury, is a two-storey rendered brick masonic temple in the inter-war Egyptian Revival style. It has a symmetrical façade importing two pylon-like wings that flank a central projecting porch; the Egyptian-inspired detailing includes large coved and fluted cornices and matching window heads, tapered walls, small windows, scarabs and winged sun motifs. Internally, the main hall and lodge room are decorated with elements including pilasters, dadoes and stencilled and moulded ornament depicting Egyptian motifs and masonic symbols. The lodge room also retains most of its original ritual furniture. The building was erected in 1927-28 for Emulation Lodge No 141 (which was founded in Box Hill in 1889) and was designed by architect Dunstan Reynolds, who was both a local resident and a lodge member.

Why is it Significant?

Aesthetically, the building is significant as an outstanding example of the distinctive and highly unusual Egyptian Revival style, which was characterized by a stark and monumental expression, tapered walls, small windows and the use of decorative motifs derived from temple architecture. While fashionable in Australia during the mid-nineteenth century, the style subsequently became less common. While it influenced the Art Deco and Free Classical styles during the inter-war period, its application in a purer academic mode, as seen at Emulation Hall, remained exceptional. With its battered pylons, coved cornices, pilasters and distinctive scarab and winged sun motifs, Emulation Hall is a quintessential example of the style; it is the larger of only two such examples in the municipality, and is one of only a handful of examples in Victoria. The extension of the Egyptian theme into the interior decoration, notably the main hall and lodge room, is also highly significant; it remains one of few surviving Egyptian-style interiors in Australia.

Historically, the building is significant for its association with Emulation Lodge No 141, which was one of the oldest masonic lodges in the eastern suburbs. At the time of its formation in Box Hill in July 1889, the lodge was the only one in existence between Hawthorn and Lilydale. Initially occupying rooms in the Box Hill Recreation Hall, the lodge had moved to Surrey Hills by the early 1920s, where it met in the local Freemason’s Hall in Union Road before deciding to build a permanent purpose-built temple of their own in Rochester Road, Canterbury, in 1927. The hall also has important associations at the local level as a popular venue for dances, balls, wedding receptions and other social events, particularly in the middle third of the twentieth century.

The above is an extract from the Heritage Report on the building prepared for and published by the City of Boroondara

Photographs: Masonic Furniture, Chairs and Tables in the Lodge Room - Emulation Hall, Canterbury Masonic Centre, 3 Rochester Road Canterbury, Victoria, Australia

Deacons Chair Emulation Hall, 3 Rochester Road Canterbury, Victoria
Junior Wardens Chair Emulation Hall, 3 Rochester Road Canterbury, Victoria
Junior Wardens Chair Emulation Hall, 3 Rochester Road Canterbury, Victoria
Senior Wardens Chair Chair Emulation Hall, 3 Rochester Road Canterbury, Victoria
Secretary Table Emulation Hall, 3 Rochester Road Canterbury, Victoria

Photographs: The Lodge Room's Ceiling - Emulation Hall, Canterbury Masonic Centre, 3 Rochester Road Canterbury, Victoria, Australia

Photographs: Detail of Lodge Room's Walls - Emulation Hall, Canterbury Masonic Centre, 3 Rochester Road Canterbury, Victoria, Australia

The South: Masonic Dinning Room, Emulation Hall, Canterbury Masonic Centre, 3 Rochester Road Canterbury, Victoria, Australia

"The South" is the term Victorian Freemasons use for their Festive Board; their dinner following a lodge meeting. The room this is held in is also called "The South" in reference to the Southern side of a building site where workmen could rest in the shade in the northern hemisphere. Below are pictures of the ornate South at Canterbury

Emulation Hall 3 Rochester Road Canterbury, Victoria, Australia
Masonic Dinning Room, Emulation Hall, Canterbury Masonic Centre, 3 Rochester Road Canterbury, Victoria, Australia
Masonic Dinning Room, Emulation Hall, Canterbury Masonic Centre, 3 Rochester Road Canterbury, Victoria, Australia
Egyptian Revival, Emulation Hall, Canterbury Masonic Centre, 3 Rochester Road Canterbury, Victoria, Australia
Egyptian Revival, Emulation Hall, Canterbury Masonic Centre, 3 Rochester Road Canterbury, Victoria, Australia
Egyptian Revival, Emulation Hall, Canterbury Masonic Centre, 3 Rochester Road Canterbury, Victoria, Australia
Stage, Emulation Hall, Canterbury Masonic Centre, 3 Rochester Road Canterbury, Victoria, Australia
Egyptian Revival, Emulation Hall, Canterbury Masonic Centre, 3 Rochester Road Canterbury, Victoria, Australia
Masonic Dinning Room, Emulation Hall, Canterbury Masonic Centre, 3 Rochester Road Canterbury, Victoria, Australia
Masonic Dinning Room, Emulation Hall, Canterbury Masonic Centre, 3 Rochester Road Canterbury, Victoria, Australia