The history of early modern Sunderland was one of transformation. Once a small village on the banks of the River Wear, the 18th century would with the rise of industrialization see the town begin to boom in size. New people arrived from all around the country, bringing their traditions and societies with them. With them of course came the fraternal society of the Freemasons.
The Sunderland Freemason Lodge was founded in 1755. Without a permanent place to call home, they held their meetings in a number of places, including several pubs. Their first hall was built on Vine Street in 1778. However, this building was destroyed by fire. After being forced to meet in a hotel for several more years, the building known as Phoenix Lodge (designed by John Bonner), was eventually constructed in 1785 in Queen Street, in the East End of the town.
The Sunderland Masonic lodge thrived as it reportedly attracted many influential figures from the town, making it a prestigous organization to be a part of. This has contributed to the lodge’s longevity. Despite the nucleus of Sunderland’s life having long left the East End behind, Phoenix Lodge has stood strong and as such established itself as the oldest continuously operating Masonic building in the world. As a grade one listed building, it is a protected site and it is one of the few 18th century buildings left in the city.
As one can see from the photo, the lodge has a remarkably intact interior which includes a checkered floor and the “Master’s Throne” complete with a superseding arch and masonic symbolism. This makes it a distinctive place to visit, forging a link between the present and the past.