The following information was provided by the Cloisters.
The Cloisters was built by Miss Annie Jane Lawrence as an Open Air School and Theosophical Meditation Centre. Having moved to Letchworth in 1905, Miss Lawrence leased a three-acre plot and wasted no time in setting up her school, alongside building a home for herself, the Cloisters Lodge.
The building opened on 28th January 1907 – the unique design is said to have come to Miss Lawrence in a dream and she employed the architect William Harrison Collishaw to bring it to reality.
It consisted of a large half-oval ‘open-air room’ called the `Cloisters Garth’ with an open colonnade to the south and large glazed bays to the north. This was flanked by two wings, one housing the kitchen and store rooms and the other the cubicles & dressing rooms for an oval open-air swimming pool. The decorations around the building, which can still be seen today, were packed with symbolism from the healthy lifestyle she advocated – doves representing innocence, bats about to start their dusk patrols, bees building honeycombs to provide food for the gods, and butterflies dancing with natural joy.
An electric organ was installed in the Cloisters entrance hall, and through a system of pipes the disembodied sound of organ music would waft around the building. Boarding students ate communally (although all housework was considered a male activity) and retired in the evenings to hammocks that were let down from the ceiling.
During the Second World War, the Cloisters was commandeered by the army who, unfortunately, did not treat the building kindly. When it was returned after 6 years, compensation of £2500 was claimed towards its restoration. However, this was not enough and Miss Lawrence did not have the money to repair it on her own. Convinced that it should remain a building for the community, she offered it to the County Council for free but was turned down and spent the rest of her life looking for the right organisation to take the building on.
In 1948, after a chance remark, Miss Lawrence was inspired to offer the Cloisters to the local Masonic fraternity. They accepted and the first Lodge meeting took place in October 1951, after extensive renovations had been carried out. By now Miss Lawrence had moved out of the Lodge and into a nursing home where, now happy that her grand building was in use again, she died in 1953 at the age of 90.
The Cloisters is a registered charity and as a grade two building its facilities are very impressive. A number of outside groups unconnected with freemasonry currently use the building for activities such as yoga, baby clubs, sewing and a ladies luncheon club. It is also a licenced wedding venue and can be hired for weddings, christenings, naming ceremonies, celebrations of life and of course business meetings. There are two meeting rooms, on-site catering, a fully stocked bar and free parking for 80 vehicles.
Please click here to visit the Cloisters site.