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The Cloisters


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In November 1905, Annie Lawrence, the daughter of a wealthy family who owned the London Ironworks, and grand-daughter of a former Lord Mayor of London (1868), purchased three acres in Letchworth upon which to build her vision of a centre where children’s lives could be improved by being surrounded by nature.

The Cloisters was designed by Miss Lawrence and the architect W. Cowlishaw, completed at a cost of £20,000 (around £7.5 million today) and dedicated by Miss Lawrence on the 27th January 1907.

Residential summer schools were held in the early years, starting in 1908. The students slept in hammocks in the open air of the central ‘Living Court’, swam with frogs in the spring-fed pool and ate at a long marble table. It was believed that by living in such a way, students could find their true nature. There were few lessons, but students were offered guidance on readings and were given opportunities to learn animal husbandry and crafts.

The Cloisters organised many events which enhanced the lives of the residents of Letchworth Garden City. Musical and dramatic performances were regular occurrences which drew large crowds, and various groups and organisations used the premises for their meetings.

The building was commandeered by the Army in 1940, and returned in 1946 in a bad condition. By this point, Miss Lawrence was elderly and wanted to decide the future of the Cloisters. After offers of the building were turned down by several authorities, Miss Lawrence offered the building to the Freemasons who gratefully accepted the gift. Ownership was transferred in March 1948, and the first Masonic meeting was held on the premises in October 1951. The Cloisters today is still the Masonic Centre for the North Hertfordshire Freemasons.

13th Aug 2009

Art and Design, Citizenship, Design and Technology, Geography, History

Key Stages:
Foundation, Key Stage 1, Key Stage 2, Key Stage 3, Key Stage 4, Key Stage 4+

architecture, Edwardians, building, Letchworth, healthy living

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