ONE of the most exclusive buildings in a city has opened its doors for the weekend.

The Masonic Lodge in Durham was one of hundreds across the country to open for the 300th anniversary of Freemasonry, which was celebrated on Saturday.

The Grade II listed building in Old Elvet, which was purpose built as a Masonic Lodge in 1868, is the busiest lodge in County Durham.

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More than 600 Freemasons use the richly decorated lodge, which is also available to hire for events.

Trustee Stan Fitches, who is a member of the Lambton Lodge, said: “We’re trying to be more open to the public.

“The reason it became so secretive was because during the Second World War Freemasons were persecuted and sent to concentration camps. Jersey of course was invaded and Freemasons there were deported.

“It became much more inward looking and that started the veil of secrecy. Now we’re trying much harder to be more open.

“People call us a secret society but we’re not. It’s the largest fraternity in the world and it’s one of the oldest.”

There are more than 6,000 Freemasons in County Durham.

Mr Fitches added: “It’s a special building. I spend two or three days a week here and it’s just got an atmosphere. “It’s a fascinating building. We’re trying to make it more accessible because it’s part of Durham.

“It’s been here for 150 years and people don’t know it’s here.”

Freemasonry was established in Durham in the 18th century and members initially met in a tavern in the city.

Having outgrown the venue, the foundation stone in Old Elvet was laid in 1868 and the building officially opened in 1870.

In 1913 the organisation bought the property next door for £1,000, which is now used as a bar area.