The Victoria Masonic Temple was originally envisaged in 1897 in commemoration of Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee but preliminaries such as the preparation of plans and the collection of funds delayed construction. A suitable land was acquired a few hundred yards from the existing Masonic Temple consequent to a petition made through the Governor of Ceylon to the War Office in London (since the site was under military control). The transfer of the land was sanctioned at the end of 1898 and executed by the Governor, Sir West Ridgeway, in June 1900.
The location of this property was one of the finest in Colombo commanding views of the Beira Lake to the East, the sea-fronted promenade of Galle Face to the West and the prominent Anglican Christ Church rebuilt in 1899, to the South.
The building was designed by E. Skinner, an associate of the Royal Institute of British Architects, and built by the Colombo Commercial Company at an agreed figure of Rs. 45,105/-; being the cost of the building including an approach roadway to facilitate carriages to be driven alongside. The construction costs were raised by donations, debentures and a lottery.
The building was built in neo-Georgian style mixed with elements of Eastern architecture and the foundation stone was laid without formal ceremony by the Hon. John Norman Campbell, a Freemason and a philanthropist of the time at 7.15 a.m. on the 27th November 1900.
The following facts about the VMT may be gleaned from the Ceylon Independent Newspaper of 02nd October, 1901:
“The building was specially designed to meet all the requirements of the various degrees of Masonry which are worked locally. The Lodge room proper and its connected working and service rooms are all situated on the first floor while the ground floor consists of the Recreation Club Hall, service rooms, etc., all completely equipped. The large hall on the ground floor was specially built and the floor was constructed with the object of making it suitable for dancing. Its acoustic properties are likewise excellent and it makes a good room for a concert. This portion of the building was not restricted to Masons, and was hired by anyone wishing to give a concert or dance and the Committee has decided to fix the hire at the exceptionally low rate of Rs.25/- for a function so as to make the building popular. The internal fittings are of teak and brass and are of solid and durable character. The hall is brilliantly lit with special gas lamps and altogether no effort or expense has been spared to make the interior as comfortable as possible.”
A perusal of the records of the Minutes of the Temple would indicate that several improvements had been proposed and effected over successive years:
- 1914 – the construction of a front porch to provide shelter to arrivals in wet weather and a kitchen to enable dinners and suppers to be provided in the Temple. The cost of these improvements was estimated at Rs.5,000/-. It was decided that the proposed front porch on the North side be built so as to provide a room above this porch which would provide additional accommodation upstairs. The extra cost for the additional room was estimated at Rs. 2,000/-.
- 1915 – However, consequent to the Great War breaking out in Europe it was decided at a meeting held on 29th September 1915, to defer this decision.
- 1928 – It was resolved that as there were sufficient funds available, the construction work was to be proceeded with at once by Walker Sons and Company, Building Contractors, at their estimated price of Rs.6,800/-.
The feature article “A Heritage Transformed” by Royston Ellis in the Sunday Times, 25 October 1998, extols evidences of past craftsmanship:
“The splendid double portico bears plenty of ornamental scrollwork atop its sturdy round columns. Its ceiling is wooden, the underside of the gallery floor above. A staircase of deep wooden steps lead to the upper floors. The wooden handrail represents the only piece of frivolity to be found in this building. It is curved downward at the bottom and upward at the top, as though in triumph at ascending so far. Wooden banister pillars with ornamental orbs grace the upper floor landing, adding dignity to the simple staircase.
The Victoria Masonic Temple in Colombo is a symbolic link between the well-tested traditions and rituals of the past on which the foundations of Masonry were laid and its current objectives which sustain and support the social needs of today. The recognition of its worth therefore demands that constructive steps and measures towards the environment and contextual relationships must also be re-examined, evaluated and finally re-iterated, so that it continues to remain an important focus of our urbanscape.”
In 2002, Sri Lanka Post featured the Victoria Masonic Temple on its Rs 4.50 stamp to commemorate the centenary anniversary of the temple.