Phoenix Hall


Heritage Category:
Listed Building
List Entry Number:
Date first listed:
Date of most recent amendment:
Statutory Address:
Queen Street East, Sunderland, SR1 2HT


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Statutory Address:
Queen Street East, Sunderland, SR1 2HT

The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

Sunderland (Metropolitan Authority)
Non Civil Parish
National Grid Reference:


Masonic Hall, 1784-5 by John Bonner; banqueting range converted from an attached building 1890-1894, and extended late C20; rear entrance hall range added in 1923.

Reasons for Designation

Phoenix Hall, 1784-1785 with late-C19 and C20 extensions, is listed at Grade I for the following principal reasons:

Historic interest:

* one of the earliest purpose-built masonic halls in England, that demonstrates the popularity and prominence of Freemasonry in north east England; * the earliest surviving purpose-built masonic hall in Britain, which has also remained in continuous use for its original function; * Freemasonry was a highly important and influential movement nationally, whose C18 aspirations are clearly and prominently embodied in the design of Phoenix Hall.

Architectural interest:

* for the quality of its design and materials seen in the simple Palladian-style main elevation which, despite the loss of the west pent, remains an elegant composition; * a largely intact later-C18 masonic hall, whose original design and subsequent evolution is clearly legible and reflects the changing needs of such buildings; * later additions have been executed with minimal impact on historic fabric, and the late-C19 addition of the banqueting hall in particular, contributes to rather than undermines, the interest of the building; * for its remarkably unaltered original later-C18 lodge room emulating Solomon's temple with harmonious proportions based on the golden ratio concept, well known to Freemasonry; * a suite of C18 contemporary furnishings within the lodge room, including the three principal chairs and the organ; * the enlightenment values of learning, benevolence, self and civic improvement are embodied in its design and interior decorative scheme, the latter also combining masonic imagery and architectural decoration.


Freemasonry has its origins in the guilds of stone masons, part of the medieval guild system where craftsmen of similar trades banded together for mutual support. Medieval stone masons, who were free to move across Europe, formed a society that gave shelter to travelling members; legends arose that the medieval masons' guild could trace its lineage back to biblical stone masons who constructed the temple of Solomon in Jerusalem. Between the Reformation and the early C18 some of these concepts were adopted by groups of men who combined this fraternal way of living and working with allegorical aspirations of self-improvement and enlightenment, which came to be known as Freemasonry. Grouped into lodges, Freemasonry flourished in Scotland from the 1590s and in England a lodge is recorded in Warrington in 1646. The first Grand Lodge was set up in London in 1717, which merged with a rival Grand Lodge in 1813 to form the United Grand Lodge of England. Freemasonry spread across Europe in the C18 and then further afield, and it continues to be a worldwide organisation.

Many of the allegorical foundations of Freemasonry are derived from Jewish and Christian sources, particularly the building and builders of Solomon's temple in ancient Jersusalem. Parallels were drawn between various concepts and symbols, such as the sun, moon and stars, demonstrating that an initiate's path to self-improvement was in emulation of the Divine Creator. The concept of brotherly love became especially significant in the C18 as Enlightenment thinking took hold, and charity was one of Freemasonry's core principles. Rituals were designed to illustrate the path of the individual towards becoming a better man. Initially lodges met in members' homes or in private rooms in inns, where the representation of the temple could be drawn on the floor. Gradually purpose-built masonic halls appeared, the first in Marseilles (1765). In Britain this was followed by Freemasons' Hall, London (1775), Monkwearmouth (1776), Newcastle (1777) and Vine Street Sunderland (1778), the latter replaced after a catastrophic fire in 1783 by Phoenix Hall (1784-5), demonstrating that the lodge's of north-east England led the way. Purpose-built halls were generally designed by members of the commissioning lodge, and masonic architecture, while not formulaic, required the incorporation of certain items including the columns named Jachin and Boaz, the chequered floor of Solomon's Temple, and the correct positions of the chair of the Worshipful Master, Senior Warden and Junior Warden.

Phoenix Hall was constructed on part of the grounds of the Golden Lion Hotel to designs of local Lodge member John Bonner at a total cost of £600, financed by Lodge members, and was consecrated on 5 April 1785. Little is known about John Bonner's architectural practice, but Phoenix Hall demonstrates a clear knowledge of classical design and geometry. Bonner oversaw a number of craftsmen including a Mr Pears who undertook the carved work at a cost of £30, and John Donaldson, organ maker who constructed the organ for the gallery at a cost of 50 guineas. It is understood that Bonner himself undertook much of the commission for the wooden fixtures and fittings, while other furnishings such as the three main chairs were purchased from St John’s Lodge, Newcastle.

Phoenix Hall is now the earliest surviving masonic hall in Britain, and possibly further afield. Over time there have been a number of additions and alterations: these include the blocking and modifying of various windows and doors, the conversion of an attached building to a banqueting range in 1890, a rear extension in 1923, the removal of the west pent and the conversion of the east pent to a bar in 1923, the loss of the Past Master boards to the lodge room by mid-C20 over-painting, a late-C20 extension to the banqueting hall, several episodes of redecoration and the early C21 restoration of the south elevation.


Masonic Hall, 1784-5 by John Bonner; banqueting range converted from an attached building 1890-1894, and extended late C20; rear entrance hall range added in 1923.

MATERIALS: front temple range of slender brick in Flemish bond, with an ashlar plinth and dressings; the right return (east pent) is poorer quality brick laid in garden wall bond. The rear banqueting hall range is of limestone rubble with brick dressings with a breeze-block extension, rendered; the early-C20 entrance hall range is red brick. There is dark grey slate roof to the front and banqueting ranges, and purple slate to the right pent roof.

PLAN: a front temple range comprising a rectangular lodge room with attached east pent. A rectangular banqueting range is attached to the rear with a shorter, rectangular extension to the west side. An L-shaped rear extension is set in the angle between the lodge room and the banqueting range.


FRONT TEMPLE RANGE: the principal elevation faces south beneath a hipped roof with two truncated rear chimney stacks and one truncated right end chimney; it was originally symmetrical with a central lodge room flanked to either side by a pent-roofed bay (the left pent now removed). The elevation is Palladian in style, with a central window set within a tall, shallow, round-headed recess with a plain stone head on impost blocks, and a bracketed stone pedimented aedicule. There is a replacement steel, masonic symbol within the tympanum of the arch. Flanking windows have plain stone surrounds supported on a plain sill band. All three windows have replacement six-over-six un-horned sash frames. There is a moulded stone eaves cornice and a re-built brick parapet. The lower right bay is set back slightly and has a pitched roof with a stone coping and a plain eaves band. A window and door opening are blocked, the former with a replaced stone lintel and projecting sill, and the latter with an original worn threshold and the bases of a former pediment. Set to the front is a low brick boundary wall with ashlar coping and modern metal fencing. The right return has a ground floor wall set back slightly from a thicker basement wall, itself sitting upon irregular stone walling. There is a wide blocked basement entrance with a blind and a blocked window above, and a later small window to either side; the remainder of the elevation has renewed brickwork and is blind. The left return is also blind.

REAR BANQUETING RANGE: a two-storey range with a pitched roof is attached to the north elevation of the east pent, extending across part of the north elevation of the lodge room, and rising above both. The east elevation has three tall first-floor segmental-headed windows with brick surrounds; remains of previous windows are visible to each end. There is a wide segmental-headed basement doorway, now blocked, and a plain inserted basement door and three small blocked windows. The north elevation is buttressed but otherwise blind. There is a late-C20 rectangular, lean-to extension to the west elevation, reached by concrete steps.

REAR ENTRANCE HALL RANGE: constructed against (and obscuring) the rear elevation of the front range is an L-shaped, two-storey, red-brick, flat-roofed extension with five bays to the north elevation and three bays to the west elevation; windows are a mixture of metal sash and casement frames with stone or concrete lintels. A recessed central entrance in the north wall has a moulded and lugged surround.


FRONT TEMPLE RANGE: the rectangular lodge room or temple is the centrepiece of the building, designed in a neoclassical style to emulate Solomon’s temple. The C20 floor has chequer-board laminate with a band of smaller tessellation. The ceiling has a central, gilded carved wood roundel representing the blazing sun, with a central circle with a blue background and seven stars and at the centre a large gilded G within a triangle representing the deity of the Great Architect of the Universe.

The walls are plaster panelled and have a chair rail, a moulded cornice, and six-panelled doors, but the centrepiece of each is treated differently. That to the east wall is designed to frame the Worshipful Master's throne and comprises a composition of cornices, arches and niches that breaks forward twice. The throne sits within a central niche with a smaller niche to each side, set between two engaged Doric columns supporting a round-headed arch. The columns represent the biblical bronze pillars Jachin and Boaz, that stood at the entrance to Solomon’s temple. A recessed arch within this arch has a sunburst with a central gilded rising sun resting on a simple entablature in the tympanum. The rising sun symbolises the start of a meeting. The outer niches contain seats with boarded curved backs. To either side of the centrepiece is a doorway with a moulded architrave. A similar but plainer composition adorns the west wall with doorways and a recessed arch springing from capitals. It contains the Senior Warden’s chair with a balustrade gallery above, that contains an organ of 1785, surmounted by a Phoenix. A gilded crescent moon on the balustrade symbolises the closing of a meeting, and is repeated in the broken pediment of the chair. The south wall has the simplest composition, breaking slightly forward with a similar round-headed arched recess, the arch springing from impost mouldings. The tympanum contains a similar sunburst to the east wall above the Junior Warden’s chair. The north wall has a pair of Adam-style chimney pieces with Doric entablatures, the lintels adorned with decorative foliage and a moulded vase. Mounted within three of the plaster panels are three early-C19 tracing boards representing the three degrees of masonry; the central board shows the pillars Jachin and Boaz at the entrance to Solomon’s temple, the very structure that the lodge room emulates.

The east pent is fitted out as a late-C20 bar, and there is a former stick baluster stair, (balusters mostly removed) with a handrail and a heavy, moulded newel post, that leads down to a basement. The latter opens into a large cellar beneath the lodge room, with visible, original timber floor beams and a buttressed north wall supporting the pair of fireplaces above, and a central blocked door.

REAR BANQUETING RANGE: the original part of the banqueting hall retains elements of its 1890s decorative scheme including a moulded cornice and plaster ceiling roses. Skirting boards and a dado rail continue into the late-C20 western extension. The north wall has a substantial, fireplace with a four-centred arch surround and a cast-iron fireback dated 1588, with the initials IFC and two anchors, fleur-de-lys and roses, flanked by vines. To either side of the fireplace there are tall, round-headed niches. The late-C20 western extension is plainly appointed. The basement is occupied by a large modern kitchen that obscures original fabric although the north wall is thought to house a large chimney breast.

REAR ENTRANCE HALL RANGE: an entrance lobby opens into a central hallway which has an early-C20 decorative scheme with moulded skirting boards, dado rail and an egg and dart moulded cornice. C20 panels of Past Masters are afixed to the wall. Doorways giving access to the main ground floor rooms have moulded, curvaceous architraves. A stick baluster stair with mahogany handrail gives access to the first floor former caretaker's accommodation: it now serves as offices and other functions including a robing room.


The contents of this record have been generated from a legacy data system.

Legacy System number:
Legacy System:


Books and journals
Pevsner, N, Williamson, E, The Buildings of England: County Durham, (2003), 455
Phoenix Hall Queen Street East, Sunderland: Historic building investigation and assessment of significance; Historic England 2018


This building is listed under the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990 as amended for its special architectural or historic interest.

End of official listing

Images of England

Images of England was a photographic record of every listed building in England, created as a snap shot of listed buildings at the turn of the millennium. These photographs of the exterior of listed buildings were taken by volunteers between 1999 and 2008. The project was supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund.

Date: 20 Oct 2002
Reference: IOE01/05481/35
Rights: Copyright IoE Mr D.H. Bottoms. Source Historic England Archive
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