The Cloisters - Venue Description
The Cloisters is a fantastic, unique,
and very interesting place with a long and fascinating history. As an event venue it makes for an excellent
alternative to the 'usual' hotel or conference suite. As well as the iconic main building, the grounds
also contain a large car park and well-tendered gardens.
The venue itself consists of an entrance
lobby, reception foyer and greeting area, a large multi-purpose function hall and a separate bar and seating area.
The on-site kitchen at the Cloisters
is large and fully equipped, the professional team are capable of producing hundreds of hot and cold meals simultaneously,
catering for every need and requirement - no matter how diverse.
The function hall / dining area can accommodate up to 130 guests in various seating
configurations. For parties, the venue is licensed for 150 guests.
At its dedication
ceremony in January 1907, founder Miss Annie Jane Lawrence cited:
"To the unity,
eternal reality, through all diverse, temporary and fragmentary seemings, the perfect inviolable whole, wherein sin and pain
and death are not, and all contradictions are reconciled, all discords resolved, I dedicate this building, confident that,
through progressive recognition of this unity, mankind will ascend to a full, harmonious and joyful expression of life, in
soul, body and social organisation".
Annie Lawrence, daughter of one of the promoters
of the Garden City Baron Pethick-Lawrence, had moved to Letchworth in 1906 and leased an isolated three-acre plot where she
built a house for herself `Cloisters Lodge' and The Cloisters a fantastic towered building designed by William Harrison Cowlishaw intended as a Theosophical Meditation Centre and open-air school.
The design reputedly came to Miss Lawrence in a dream
and cost some £20,000. It consisted of; a large half-oval 'open-air room' called the `Cloister 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.
A small permanent community
grew up at the Cloisters augmented by people attending the numerous classes and summer schools. Communal meals were served
on a great marble-faced dining table that stretched across a great bay window on a raised altar-like dais. Housework in the
community was a male activity carried out by earnest young men in robes and sandals. Miss Lawrence was a believer in, and
promoted the concept of a `Dual Day' whereby morning work was followed by a two-hour rest period and food and then re-assembly
for communal recreation. Members of the community were encouraged to grow their own food, but seemed by all accounts to have
preferred to spend their time philosophising, watching the sunset or stars from the rooftop promenade or partaking of nude
bathing at dawn. The building was commandeered during the War and suffered damage.
The Cloisters became the North Herts. Masonic Lodge
in 1948 when Miss Lawrence moved to St Catherine's Nursing Home where she died aged 90 in August 1953.
In the central hall of the Garth there was an Art
Nouveau fountain from which water flowed through a series of ceremonial hand washing basins and then on around the Cloisters
in open channels.