ARTEFACTS evoking Westmorland's rich Masonic heritage and traditions are on show this summer at Kendal Museum.

The recently opened exhibition - called Into the Light - is being staged to mark 300 years since the foundation of modern Freemasonry, when the first Grand Lodge opened in London in 1717.

Visitors to the Station Road museum can see elaborate dress regalia such as collars, gauntlets and aprons; and intricately carved wooden furniture and candlesticks loaned by Masonic lodges; as well as finding out more about the brotherhood's history and rituals, from handshakes to rolled-up trousers and age-old symbolism.

The Masonic fraternity arrived in Cumberland in 1740, with a lodge established in Whitehaven, then a prosperous port importing tobacco from Virginia and exporting coal and iron from nearby mines.

By 1764 Westmorland's first lodge, No 129, was founded in Kendal, and it remained the county's only lodge until another was formed in Appleby in 1860. That year the two counties combined to form the Masonic Province of Cumberland and Westmorland.

Once widely perceived as a secret society, today's Masonic movement is keen to dispel the image of secrecy. The Cumberland and Westmorland Freemasons have embraced the spirit of openness and transparency through projects such as a Facebook page and Twitter feed on social media.

They also support many local good causes with money from their own pockets, and their umbrella charity - the Masonic Charitable Foundation - is to give away £3 million to 300 charities across England and Wales to celebrate its 300th anniversary.

Well-known Freemasons have included inventors, politicians, soldiers, explorers, scientists, kings and princes, including the Duke of Edinburgh, actor Peter Sellers, architect Sir Christopher Wren and writer Rudyard Kipling.

Locally, Hardwicke Drummond Rawnsley, co-founder of the National Trust, was an active Freemason, while William Heelis, husband of Beatrix Potter, was a member of Ambleside lodge, as were several of the Le Flemings of Rydal Hall.

The team at Kendal Museum is also keen to reflect those "ordinary citizens" who became Masons, such as Kendal-born weaver Robert Hind, who joined the town's Union Lodge in 1802. Nothing more is known about him, and the museum staff would love to hear from any living descendants.

The exhibition is open until August 31, and Freemasons will be at the museum to answer questions every Saturday, 11am-3pm.

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