The Provincial Library and Museum, housed in Freemasons’ Hall, London Road, Leicester, has been described as holding one of the finest collections of Masonic books and artefacts outside London. In the Museum can be seen a fine collection of Masonic Aprons and certificates which go back to the early eighteenth century. They include items of regalia once worn by Frederick Augustus, Duke of York and Albany 1763 – 1827, as well as some of the earliest membership and clearance certificates to be found in England. In addition to regalia associated with Craft Masonry there is a collection of items belonging to many other orders of Freemasonry linked with the Province.
Over the years the Museum has also been given items that are not in themselves Masonic, belonging for example to one or other of the various Friendly Societies which emerged during the nineteenth century and which closely paralleled Freemasonry without being condemned as ‘quasi-masonic’. Amongst these collections can be found the regalia which at one time belonged to William Kelly whose Masonic career spanned the second half of the nineteenth century and who was in effect the godfather of Masonry in the Province of Leicestershire and Rutland.
In addition to the regalia there are collections associated with a wide variety of Masonic activities. There are items of porcelain, pottery and ordinary tableware, again in some cases dating back into the eighteenth century and bearing Masonic emblems or slogans, badges of early Lodges, or evidence of their use in Masonic ‘after-proceedings’. Many such items are extremely rare, since by virtue of their having been in regular use they would have been easily damaged or lost.
Over the years the Museum has collected examples of jewels presented to past masters of the Leicester Lodges, medals associated with the regular charitable institutions for which the Province organised ‘Festivals’, and a number of other commemorative items presented to the Museum. These cover not only Lodges or activities directly linked with this Province but pieces of commemorative ware originating in Grand Lodges all over the world and finding a home here in Leicester.
Particularly associated with the Museum is the Library with a wide collection of books and pamphlets relating to various aspects of Masonic history as far back as the early eighteenth century. Many were brought together by John Thorp, past-master of the (Leicester) Lodge of Research and of Quatuor Coronatia Lodge in London, the premier Lodge of Research in the world. He built up for himself and for the Lodge of Research an almost unique collection, and many of the rare items were published by the Lodge of Research during the first half of the twentieth century as a series of ‘Masonic Tracts’. Masonic historians, such as Hughan, contributed individual pieces to these collections and indeed Hughan eventually transferred his literary copyrights to the Leicester Lodge of Research, thus making it his literary executor. All these collections were originally the property of the Lodge of Research but were afterwards transferred to the Province as the nucleus of its Library and Museum.
In addition, the Library holds a number of nineteenth-century Masonic magazines and journals. The Library also possesses the archives and papers of two of the leading figures of Leicestershire Masonry, William Kelly and John Thorp. The result is that it is uniquely placed as a source for research into a wide variety of topics relevant not only to Freemasonry in Leicestershire but to aspects of the Freemasonry within the whole of Great Britain.