Over 4,000 Freemasons from Provinces, Districts and 136 Grand Lodges around the world were present as the Royal Albert Hall was centre stage for the United Grand Lodge of England’s Especial Meeting and Tercentenary celebrations on Tuesday 31st October
This gala event marked 300 years since four lodges met at the Goose and Gridiron Tavern in St Paul’s Churchyard on St John’s Day, 24th June 1717, to form the Premier Grand Lodge. The spectacle was also streamed live to audiences from around the world, including UGLE’s headquarters at Freemasons’ Hall.
With Grand Lodge having been opened and called off in a convenient room, the procession of Grand Officers entered the Hall, before the Grand Master, MW Bro HRH The Duke of Kent, took his place in the Queens’s Box. He was accompanied by the Pro Grand Master MW Bro Peter Lowndes, Deputy Grand Master RW Bro Jonathan Spence and Assistant Grand Master RW Bro Sir David Wootton.
He was also joined by a number of special guests, which included RW Bro HRH Prince Michael of Kent, VW Bro HM King Tutu II of Ashanti and RW Bro HE John Kufuor, Senior Grand Warden.
The audience was wowed by a theatrical extravaganza showcasing the history and heritage of Freemasonry and featuring a cast of renowned actors including Sir Derek Jacobi, Samantha Bond and Sanjeev Bhaskar. The Royal Philharmonic Concert Orchestra provided the musical accompaniment against the backdrop of a colossal 55ft gold Square and Compasses and dramatic light show incorporating the ‘All Seeing Eye’.
After the performance, the Grand Master was processed on to the stage and all the Rulers were seated in their normal thrones. The Deputy Grand Master then read a letter of loyal greetings sent to Her Majesty The Queen and the reply received sending ‘warm good wishes to you all for a most successful event’.
The Grand Master, as Permanent Master of the three Time Immemorial Lodges (Lodge of Antiquity No.2, Royal Somerset House and Inverness Lodge No.IV, and Lodge of Fortitude and Old Cumberland No.12), then called upon his three Deputy Masters and was presented with the Volume of the Sacred Law, the Square and Compasses and the Wren Maul.
Other highlights included the return of the Soane Ark – the Ark of the Masonic Covenant – as the Deputy Grand Master announced that following 30 years in the making, a replica had been made to the original design. This was brought onstage where it was dedicated by the Grand Master.
The finale was the most rousing singing of the National Anthem, before the procession of Grand Officers retired from the Hall.
Following the meeting, Grand Lodge was called back on in a convenient room, and this Especial Meeting to celebrate UGLE's Tercentenary was closed.
Nearly 300 Freemasons, family and friends from 33 different lodges across the Province of Leicestershire and Rutland gathered in Leicester to celebrate 300 years since the formation of the Premier Grand Lodge on Saturday 24th June 2017
The Grand Summer Ball was held on the exact date that 300 years ago in 1717 four masonic lodges gathered together at the Goose and Gridiron ale house in London and formed the first Grand Lodge in the world which continues to govern Freemasonry in England and Wales today.
Held at the Athena, guests were welcomed by the Provincial Grand Master, RW Bro David Hagger who wished everyone a wonderful evening celebrating the Tercentenary.
After dinner, the Provincial Grand Master took to the stage to draw the winners of the Tercentenary prize draw. Prizes included villa accommodation in Antigua, Florida and Devon, a hot air balloon ride and light aircraft flights – all very generously donated by Brethren from the Province.
The Provincial Grand Master also paid tribute to the 23 cyclists who had recently completed an epic 300 mile cycle ride raising over £21,000 for the Masonic Charitable Foundation and Rainbows Children’s Hospice in Loughborough. The seven riders who attended the ball were asked to stand up and were applauded by everyone on their great achievement.
During the evening, a silent auction offered a multitude of exclusive items, including a signed montage from Leicester City Football Club's Premier League winning season, a private hospitality suite to see Micky Flanagan and VIP trips to Las Vegas to see The Who and to Paris to see the Rolling Stones.
Further entertainment was filled by Black Jack and Roulette tables and guests filling the dance floor for well over an hour and a half, as they were taken back to the 1960’s by a Beatles tribute band.
Not only was the evening a celebration of Freemasonry, it was additionally successful in raising over £10,000 for the 2022 Masonic Charitable Foundation Festival which will go towards the target of £1.8 million to be raised by the Province over the next five years.
RW Bro David Hagger commented: ‘What a wonderful way to commemorate the Tercentenary of the United Grand Lodge of England by bringing many Brethren and their families together to celebrate this special night.’
Leicestershire and Rutland Freemasons have completed a four-day cycle ride visiting all the Masonic Centres in the Province before continuing to Freemasons’ Hall in London and back again
The 300 mile trip not only marked the 300th anniversary of Freemasonry, but raised over £21,000 to be split equally between the Rainbows Children’s Hospice in Loughborough and the Masonic Charitable Foundation.
The 23 cyclists ranged from 19 to 64 years of age and were from 15 masonic lodges based in Leicester, Oakham, Syston, Market Harborough and Ashbourne in Derbyshire.
They were waved off from Freemasons’ Hall, Leicester, by the Deputy Provincial Grand Master, VW Bro Jim Buckle, and Helen Smith from Rainbows, and during the ride were welcomed by Brethren at the Masonic Centres in Loughborough, Ashby-de-la-Zouch, Coalville, Hinckley, Lutterworth, Market Harborough, Uppingham, Oakham, Melton Mowbray and Syston.
They were also warmly welcomed at Freemasons’ Hall, London, by the Chief Executive of the Masonic Charitable Foundation, David Innes. The cyclists made a quick detour in London to visit St. Paul’s Churchyard where the first Grand Lodge of England was formed 300 years ago in 1717 at the Goose and Gridiron ale-house.
W Bro Simon Oldfield from the Wyggeston Lodge and organiser of the event, said: 'We are all proud to have taken part in a great adventure and it's such an achievement by all the riders and support crew, with great team spirit and camaraderie to raise money for charity.'
The cyclists arrived back on schedule at Freemasons’ Hall, Leicester, where they were welcomed by the Assistant Provincial Grand Master, VW Bro Peter Kinder and a large number of family and friends.
W Bro Paul Simpson, Master of St. Wilfrid’s Lodge in Market Harborough, said: 'The whole experience was most enjoyable. This is what Freemasonry is all about - working together as a team to raise funds for charity whilst having great fun in doing so. I made friends that will be friends for life now.'
The Provincial Grand Master, RW Bro David Hagger, commented: 'I most sincerely thank the cyclists and assisting crew on behalf of all the Freemasons and their families in Leicestershire and Rutland for the generous contribution they have made. It is truly a magnificent achievement.'
14 June 2017
An address by VW Bro John Hamill, PGSwdB, Deputy Grand Chancellor
MW Pro Grand Master and brethren, at a dinner party last year the conversation turned to the idea of time travel and, were it to become possible, which period we would like to go back to. I said that, for something I was involved in professionally, I would like to go back to a specific day and location in London to meet and ask questions of a particular group of people and that I would like to bring some of them to our time to see what they had given birth to on that day.
It will not surprise you to learn that the date I selected was St John’s Day in summer, the 24th June, in the year 1717 and the location was the Goose and Gridiron tavern in St Paul’s Churchyard. As we know, on that day representatives of four London lodges came together, elected a Grand Master and Grand Wardens and resolved to “revive” the Annual Feast and Quarterly Communications which it was claimed had fallen into desuetude due to the neglect of Sir Christopher Wren when Grand Master. As we also know today, that resolution was based on a pious fiction as there is no evidence for there having been any Grand Lodge or Grand Master before 1717.
To us, with the benefit of hindsight, the meeting on 24 June 1717 was a momentous and historical event – but put into the context of the time a different picture emerges. One of the problems of dealing with 1717 and the first few years of the Grand Lodge is the lack of hard facts to work with. It was not until 1723 and the appointment of William Cowper, Clerk of the Parliaments, as Secretary to the Grand Lodge that minutes began to be kept. Of the four lodges which came together to elect a Grand Master in 1717 three are still working today – the Lodge of Antiquity, the Royal Somerset House and Inverness Lodge and the Lodge of Fortitude and Old Cumberland – but their early minutes have long been lost so that, with the exception of those elected to the offices of Grand Master and Grand Wardens we have no records of whom their members were in the years 1717–1725, when the Grand Lodge first called for lodges to submit lists of their members, or who attended the meeting on 24 June 1717. What we can deduce from secondary evidence is that the meeting was not a huge assembly. The Goose and Gridiron survived until the 1890s and just before it was demolished an enterprising masonic historian drew sketches of its exterior and measured the room in which the Grand Lodge was formed. The room would have held less than a hundred people who would have had to stand very close to each other to fit into the room!
Our primary source for what happened in those early years is the history of the Craft with which Rev Dr James Anderson prefaced the Rules governing Freemasonry in the second edition of the Book of Constitutions he published on behalf of Grand Lodge in 1738. Because Anderson’s history of the Craft pre-1717 is more than somewhat suspect, some historians have cast doubts on his description of the events in Grand Lodge from 1717–1738. What they forget is that he compiled it on behalf of the Grand Lodge and that it was vetted by a Committee of the Grand Lodge before it went into print. Although writing 20 years after the events of 1717 there would still have been brethren around who were involved in those early years, not least Rev Dr John Theophilus Desaguliers Grand Master in 1719 and Deputy Grand Master in 1722, 1723 and 1725, who would have been very quick to point out any errors of fact in Anderson’s comments on the Grand Lodge.
From Anderson’s account in its first years the Grand Lodge met only for the Annual Assembly and Grand Feast to elect the Grand Master and Grand Wardens. From two other sources we can deduce that the Grand Lodge began to act as a regulatory body in 1720. Both the 1723 and 1738 editions of the Book of Constitutions include a postscript describing the ancient manner of constituting a new lodge as practised by the Grand Master George Payne in 1720. A very rare masonic book entitled “The Book M or Masonry Triumphant” published by a brother Leonard Umphreville in Newcastle upon Tyne in 1736 includes a report of a meeting of Grand Lodge in 1720 in which a Code of Rules for the government of the Craft compiled by the then Grand Master, George Payne, was adopted. The report was followed by the list of 39 Rules, which formed the basis of the Rules printed in the first edition of the Book of Constitutions published in 1723.
Some have questioned why there were no press reports of the event in 1717, but they have been looking at the past with the eyes of the present. In 1717 Freemasonry was largely unknown. The late 17th and 18th centuries were a great age of societies and clubs many of them meeting in taverns and the growing network of fashionable coffee houses in the Cities of London and Westminster. If noticed at all, the formation of Grand Lodge would have been seen as just another society. It was not until the early 1720s when Past Grand Masters George Payne and Dr Desaguliers began to attract members of the nobility and the Royal Society into Freemasonry that the press of the day began to notice Freemasonry, reporting on the initiations of prominent men of the day and the annual Grand Feasts of the Grand Lodge.
It was not until 1723 that the Grand Lodge became fully established as the regulatory body we know today. By that year, in addition to the keeping of minutes of Quarterly Communications and the publication of the first Book of Constitutions, the Grand Lodge had extended its authority outside the Cities of London and Westminster, issuing deputations to constitute lodges in the Provinces and bringing into the fold some independent lodges that had been meeting quietly in the northern provinces. The Rules compiled by Payne in 1720 and published in the Book of Constitutions in 1723 introduced the concept of regularity, stating that no new lodge would be countenanced as regular unless it had been personally constituted by the Grand Master or a brother deputed by the Grand Master to act for him.
At a conference sponsored by our premier lodge of research, Quatuor Coronati Lodge No. 2076, at the Queen’s College, Cambridge, last September two academics gave a paper suggesting that we were celebrating four years too early and casting doubts on the meeting in 1717. Having carefully studied their paper my response is that old fashioned polite English expletive: balderdash! Their thesis seems to boil down to an academic semantic argument as to what constitutes a Grand Lodge. They appear to think that we were not a Grand Lodge until 1721 because there is no evidence for any attempt at regulation before that date. It is beyond doubt that at the meeting on 24 June 1717 Anthony Sayer, Capt John Elliot and Jacob Lamball were, respectively, elected Grand Master and Senior and Junior Grand Wardens – officers of a Grand Lodge. The academics appear to believe that, like Athene springing fully armed from the head of Zeus, for the meeting in 1717 to be accepted as the formation of a Grand Lodge it should have immediately acted as a regulatory body. Life rarely works that way!
In talking of time travel I said I would like to bring back from 1717 some of those involved in the meeting on 24 June. In their wildest imaginings they could not have envisaged what their simple and small meeting would give birth to: a worldwide fraternity of regular Freemasonry spread over the whole world. They would find some things that they would recognise from their practice of Freemasonry but would also find much that was very different. Over the last 300 years Freemasonry has developed and expanded in ways they could not have imagined. What English Freemasonry has demonstrated over the last 300 years is that it is a living organisation capable of changing its outward forms and adapting itself to the society in which it currently exists. It has had a wonderful knack of making those changes without in any way changing those fundamental and inalienable principles and tenets on which Freemasonry was founded and which would certainly be recognised by those who met in 1717. The more I study our ancient Craft the more I am convinced that whatever problems we may face from time to time, provided that we maintain that delicate balance between managed change and not altering our basic principles and tenets, Freemasonry will ride over those problems and future generations will be able to enjoy its fellowship and privileges as we and the many generations that have gone before us have done since that happy day in 1717 on which Grand Lodge was born.
Director of Special Projects John Hamill considers the unique status of time immemorial lodges and their vital contribution to Freemasonry
As is well known, on 24 June 1717, four London lodges came together and elected a Grand Master. They agreed to revive the annual feast and to hold quarterly communications, in effect bringing the first Grand Lodge into existence. While much has been said of this now-momentous event, little has been said of the lodges that brought Grand Lodge into being.
According to James Anderson in the 1738 Constitutions of the Free-Masons, the four lodges were at the Goose and Gridiron Ale House in St Paul’s Churchyard; the Crown Ale House in Parker’s Lane, near Drury Lane; the Apple Tree Tavern in Charles Street, Covent Garden; and the Rummer and Grapes Tavern in Channel Row, Westminster.
Of those lodges, the Crown Ale House ceased meeting circa 1736 but the other three still meet today. Because their dates of origin are unknown, and they predate the formation of Grand Lodge itself, they have the status of being ‘time immemorial’.
Today, the lodge at the Goose and Gridiron is now Lodge of Antiquity, No. 2. It was certainly in existence in 1691 and may well have been the lodge within the London Masons Company that Elias Ashmole attended in 1682. It became No. 1 of the premier Grand Lodge in 1717 and until 1760 was known by the name of the tavern at which it met.
In 1760, the lodge took the name of American & West Indian Lodge but in 1770 assumed its present name. When the two former lists of lodges were combined after the Union of the two Grand Lodges in 1813, lots were drawn and Grand Master’s Lodge of the Antients Grand Lodge became No. 1 on the new United Grand Lodge register, with Lodge of Antiquity the No. 2.
From 1809 until his death in 1843, HRH The Duke of Sussex was permanent Master of Lodge of Antiquity. To celebrate the 25th anniversary of his taking office, he permitted the lodge to have its officers’ jewels made in gold.
The lodge at the Apple Tree Tavern is now Lodge of Fortitude & Old Cumberland, No. 12. For reasons lost in time, the lodge accepted a constitution from Grand Lodge in 1723 and became No. 11 on the first numbered list of lodges in 1729. As a result it lost its time immemorial status and, despite attempts in the 19th century to regain that status, it wasn’t until the run-up to Grand Lodge’s 250th anniversary in 1967 that it was restored. The first Grand Master, Anthony Sayer, was a member of this lodge.
The lodge at the Rummer and Grapes in Channel Row is now Royal Somerset House & Inverness Lodge, No. 4. Named Old Horn Lodge in 1767, it united with Somerset House Lodge in 1774 and took that name. In 1828 it united with Royal Inverness Lodge, the first lodge warranted under the United Grand Lodge, and took its present name.
Despite the Great War, a celebration of the bicentenary of the formation of Grand Lodge was held at London’s Royal Albert Hall on 23 June 1917. Members of the three original lodges were processed into the hall to mark their status. At the meeting it was announced that to commemorate their actions in 1717, the officers’ collars of the three lodges would have the addition of a central garter blue stripe, and their Masters were called up to be invested with their new collars by the Grand Master. Later in the year the Duke of Connaught further honoured them by becoming the permanent Master of the three lodges.
At the celebrations for the 250th anniversary in 1967 and the 275th in 1992, the Masters of the time immemorial lodges were processed into Grand Lodge. The Master of Royal Somerset House & Inverness Lodge presented the Bible to the Grand Master; the Master of No. 12 presented the square and compasses; and the Master of No. 2 presented the Wren maul.
Today, to mark the part played in 1717, the present Grand Master will assume the office of Master of the time immemorial lodges at a joint meeting of the three in June. It is a fitting tribute to these distinguished lodges without whose actions in 1717 we might not be celebrating this year.
'Because they predate the formation of Grand Lodge itself, these lodges have the status of being “time immemorial"'
New library gallery celebrates tercentenary
To mark Freemasonry’s 300th anniversary, a new and permanent gallery space opens this year with highlights from lodges across the centuries, complete with interactive displays about masonic symbolism and films with ceremonial footage, images and information.
The new Three Centuries of English Freemasonry gallery at the Library and Museum of Freemasonry in Freemasons’ Hall, London, is launched in September 2016.
It traces the development of Freemasonry from its origins in the early days of industrialisation, urbanisation and empire to the significant social institution it had become by the 19th century and explores how it fits into today’s world. This new gallery space, originally designed in the 1930s as the Reading Room, has been transformed to walk the visitor through 300 years of history.
Entering the gallery under the three-dimensional Goose and Gridiron tavern sign (a replica – the original is in the Museum of London), the first area features a timeline, an explanation of Freemasonry’s principles and masonic symbols. Then into the Victorian period, highlighting how Freemasons celebrated their membership by purchasing everyday items like furniture, china and glass for their lodges and homes.
Library and Museum Director Diane Clements commented: ‘We have gained about 30 per cent more space and that has given us the opportunity to show, sometimes for the first time, the most important, rare and often amazing pieces to their best advantage.’
Leicestershire and Rutland Freemasons are currently in full training getting ready to do a 300-mile cycle ride marking their 300th anniversary and aiming to raise £20,000 for the Rainbows Children's Hospice in Loughborough and the Masonic Charitable Foundation (MCF)
On 24th June 1717, four masonic lodges, which had existed for some time in London, formed the Grand Lodge of England which has since continued to administer the 7,000 lodges and it's 200,000 members across England and Wales.
Leicestershire and Rutland have 3,000 members which meet in the 76 lodges across the two counties. Masonic lodges are based in Leicester, Loughborough, Hinckley, Syston, Uppingham, Melton Mowbray, Lutterworth, Market Harborough, Oakham, Coalville and Ashby de la Zouch.
At least 35 Freemasons, aged between 22 and 70 years old, from over 20 different lodges will be cycling in June 2017 to each of the 11 masonic meeting places within Leicestershire and Rutland. They will then head to the headquarters of the United Grand Lodge of England at Freemasons' Hall, Covent Garden in London. When clocking up the 300 miles they will take a short detour to the site of the former Goose and Gridiron Ale House in St Paul's Churchyard, London where the first Grand Lodge was formed before they head back to Leicester.
Simon Oldfield, keen cyclist and organiser said: 'Cycling 300 miles will be a test of all those taking part, everyone is motivated to do the training knowing that we are raising money for two very worthwhile causes as part of our Tercentenary celebrations. It has brought together cyclists of varying age, experience and fitness, building a real team spirit for the challenge ahead.'
The Rainbows Hospice for Children and Young People, based in Lougborough, provides care to those that are affected by life-limiting and life-threatening conditions. Helen Lee-Smith, Head of Individual Giving at Rainbows, said: 'I would like to thank Leicestershire and Rutland Freemasons for organising their 300 mile cycle ride to celebrate 300 years of Freemasonry and for supporting Rainbows. Leicestershire and Rutland Freemasons are doing a wonderful thing raising funds to help us run the hospice – fundraising efforts make such a huge difference to both the children and young people at Rainbows and their families.'
The MCF supports Freemasons, their families and the wider community. David Innes, Chief Executive of the MCF said: 'Our work depends entirely on donations from Freemasons and their families across England and Wales, and we are continually surprised and inspired by the unique and challenging ways that they raise funds for us. We wish all participants in the Leicestershire and Rutland 300 mile bike ride the best of luck and thank them in advance for their hard work and generosity.'
The Provincial Grand Master of the Leicestershire and Rutland Freemasons, David Hagger, added: 'We'll be holding several celebratory events in 2017 and this charity bike ride is a perfect opportunity for our members to raise money for good causes by undertaking this physical challenge. We're keen to shake off our bygone image and this bike ride is a great example of this. Recently we have found that more younger people are attracted to Freemasonry as they seek a social environment with strong values and traditions that also supports the local community.'
He continued: 'During 2017, we'll also be opening the doors to our masonic halls for everyone to see inside and an exhibition on Freemasonry at Newarke House Museum in Leicester highlighting the contribution of Freemasons to our local communities. We hope this will lead to further interest and a better understanding of our historic fraternity.'
When history is written
Director of Special Projects John Hamill defends the accuracy of the documentation detailing Grand Lodge’s formation
Were it possible to travel back and forth in time, it would be fascinating to bring back some of those fewer than 100 brethren who came together at the Goose and Gridiron Tavern in London on 24 June 1717 to elect the first Grand Master and bring into being the first Grand Lodge in the world.
The brethren can have had no conception of what they were starting and would be amazed that they were responsible for what has become a worldwide brotherhood, now existing in places that to them were unexplored spaces on the maps of their time.
Masonic historians lament the fact that there is so little documentary evidence for the period, forgetting that those who brought about the formation of Grand Lodge were not aware that they were taking such a momentous step. They did not keep records of their actions until the first minute book of Grand Lodge was begun in 1723. Indeed, had it not been for James Anderson producing his historical information to be incorporated into the 1723 and 1738 editions of the Book of Constitutions, we still might not have known what happened in 1717.
That lack of additional documentation in support of Anderson’s facts has caused some academics to question their veracity. My answer would be to repeat the mantra with which my history tutor began each of our tutorials in my first term as a student: you cannot look at the past with the eyes of the present, you can only look at it in the context of the period.
The four lodges that came together in 1717 became just another group among many other societies and clubs of the time. As no one of social consequence of the day appears to have been involved, it is not surprising that the event was not recorded in the primitive press that existed in the 18th century.
What seems to have been forgotten is that when Anderson wrote his histories there were still many around who would have attended or have known some of those who were present at the Goose and Gridiron in June 1717.
Not only that, Anderson’s writing was approved by a Committee of the Grand Lodge and I have no doubt that had he recorded recent facts wrongly it would have been forcefully pointed out to him and that they would have been corrected before the Book of Constitutions went into print.
Celebrate the past
To cast doubts on Anderson’s statements regarding 1717 because the rest of his early history contains undoubted errors of fact is to ignore how the current definition of what constitutes history has changed.
In Anderson’s day, rather than being a collection of carefully documented and verifiable facts, history was an amalgam of fact, folklore, biblical stories and mythology.
It was not until after the profound effect that Darwin’s On the Origin of Species had on Western intellectual life that historians began to apply the rigorous rules of scientific research to their studies.
Anderson does attempt to trace masonry back to Adam in the Garden of Eden and includes many biblical, legendary and historical figures as at least promoters of masonry if not actual Grand Masters. However, to cast doubt on events that Anderson records as taking place within the lifetime of his readers because of this ‘history’ is to throw the baby out with the bathwater.
Whatever academics might try to prove, I believe James Anderson. He had no reason to invent the meeting on 24 June 1717 and we have every reason to continue to celebrate it. More importantly, we should commemorate what has been built since that simple meeting elected a Grand Master to preside over an annual feast.
‘To cast doubts on Anderson’s statements regarding 1717 because the rest of his early history contains errors of fact is to ignore how the current definition of what constitutes history has changed.’
Hello and welcome to this tour of three of the historic masonic sites in the City of London that are inextricably linked with Freemasonry and its development. We start our journey on the spot where once stood the entrance to the Goose and Gridiron Ale-house, some fifty metres north of the last step leading to St. Paul’s Cathedral. It is here that the foundation of the undisputed first Grand Lodge in the world took place on 24 June 1717.
Unfortunately, and rather surprisingly, there appear to be no mementos of this historic tavern situated in what was St. Paul’s Church Yard and the only surviving item, now in the Museum of London, is the pub sign. Up until the Great Fire of London in 1666, the Goose and Gridiron was known as the Mitre. After being devastated in the blaze, it was rebuilt and renamed The Lyre, on account of the tavern’s musical associations (a musical society met on its premises), and took as its sign Apollo’s lyre surmounted by a swan. However, this image was often unrecognised and misinterpreted and a new name was born from the error: Goose and Gridiron.
battle for the blue plaque
It was in this tavern that four London lodges came together to launch Freemasonry, electing Anthony Sayer (1672-1741/2) – the ‘oldest Master Mason and then Master of a Lodge’ – as its Grand Master. It must be noted here, however, that the only source for all the information we have about the premier Grand Lodge in 1717 is from James Anderson’s reports that were published more than two decades later in 1738.
Moving on now, if you look to your right you will see, on the last column of the building you are facing, the official blue plaque commemorating the foundation of the Grand Lodge. It simply states:
Near This Site
The Grand Lodge
First Met in 1717
Nonetheless, after eight years of perseverance, on 15 June 2005, the then Lord Mayor, Alderman Very Worshipful Brother Michael Savory, finally unveiled the blue plaque that we are now so proud of.
foundations of freemasonry
It is interesting to consider how amazed our founding forefathers would no doubt be at the spread of Freemasonry through the four quarters of the globe. You see, the four lodges did not originally meet with the aim of forming a Grand Lodge. Rather, their decision to unite stemmed from a need to strengthen each individual lodge’s membership. Indeed, in unity they found this strength and it was at the initiative of other lodges wishing to join the group that a Grand Lodge was declared and formed as a controlling body. Freemasonry has never looked back.
Follow me now please, past Paternoster Square, Goldsmiths, The Saddlers’ Hall and Guildhall Yard, and let us make our way into the passage entrance of Mason’s Avenue. Now, once we move twenty metres into the alleyway, we are standing in front of the Select Trust Building.
Let me first point out that the whole of this two- hundred-yard-long avenue has not changed in four centuries. The imitation Tudor-style buildings are recent, of course, but the shape and size of the alley has remained identical and right here, on what is now 12-15 Mason’s Avenue, stood the Hall of the Worshipful Company of Masons, one of the City of London Livery Companies with which our society is closely, and at times quite wrongly, identified.
The Masons Company has its earliest record dating to 1356 and received its Grant of Arms in 1472. By then the building on this site was already functional and it was only demolished in 1865, some four hundred years later. As a reminder of the old days, the present building, which was completed in 1980, has the beautiful stained-glass windows with masonic emblems incorporated into the design. A gilded inscription embedded into the wall serves as a further reminder. It reads:
On This Site Stood
The Hall Of The
A 1463 – 1865 D
For our third and sadly last stop on this tour, let us walk the short distance to the Royal Exchange. From this vantage point you have a particularly good view of the main entrance to the Bank of England, which is popularly known as ‘The Old Lady of Threadneedle Street’.
The Bank of England has been situated in this area since its inception in 1694, with three bank buildings rising on this same site since 1734. As an interesting aside, did you know that the Bank of England was the first purpose-built bank in the British Isles? Another notable, and quite surprising fact is that the Bank of England remained a private entity until the Parliament Act of 1946, after which it was finally nationalised.
soane’s speedy advancement
Returning to the building, Sir John Soane (1753-1837) was the bank’s third architect and worked on it for forty-five years (1788-1833). However, the only part of his work that still remains is ‘the curtain wall’, which is the elongated windowless screen wall that you can see along the front. This wall encloses the whole of the block, which consists of an area of three and a half acres containing the premises of the bank.
The Duke of Sussex, who was elected as the new Grand Master of the United Grand Lodge of England in 1813, favoured Soane’s architectural work. As such, when the Duke of Sussex directed the extension of the Grand Lodge premises in Great Queen Street, one of his many dynamic and innovative activities, it was Soane who undertook and completed the task.
On 25 November 1813, an emergency meeting of the Grand Master’s Lodge, No. 1, under the Grand Lodge of the Antients, was held at the Crown and Anchor Tavern in the Strand. At this meeting Soane was initiated as an Entered Apprentice, passed to the degree of a Fellowcraft and raised to the degree of a Master Mason. In addition, following the inauguration of the United Grand Lodge of England, Soane was formally appointed President of the Board of Works and given the appropriate high masonic rank of Grand Superintendent of Works – both a well-deserved and speedy advancement by any standard.
This brings us to the end of our tour in which I hope to have shown you the significance of the City of London to the history of Freemasonry, along the way unearthing a few masonic gems that you may not have known existed. Thank you very much for joining me – I hope you have enjoyed your trip and I wish you a safe journey home.
Little is known about Anthony Sayer for the simple reason that there has been a lack of research into the first Grand Master. One explanation for this may be that he has been regarded as an ordinary person with low social standing, and has therefore been deemed of little importance. However, this approach flies in the very face of the essence of Freemasonry as we are all brothers, equally entitled to our regard.
Anthony Sayer was elected to be the first Grand Master on a majority show of hands by the members of the four lodges (some say six lodges and others add some ‘unattached’ older brethren) that met at the Goose and Gridiron Ale-house in St. Paul’s Church Yard, on 24 June 1717. The lodges had previously met at the Apple Tree Tavern, in Covent Garden in 1716 and agreed to form a Grand Lodge.
Dr James Anderson in the first Constitutions of 1723 records that at that meeting it was resolved to choose ‘a Grand Master from among themselves, till they should have the honour of a noble brother at their head’. Anderson goes on to refer to Sayer as ‘Mr Anthony Sayer, Gentleman’. This lack of further information regarding who he was and what he did has led to speculation that Sayer was of no real financial means. It certainly suggests that he was not a person with any connection to the aristocracy and therefore of low social standing.
Falling into disrepute
The matter is further clouded by the fact that Sayer had to call on the charitable assistance of the Grand Lodge. This is recorded on a number of occasions in the minutes of Grand Lodge, as is the extent to which he was assisted in some cases. Sayer’s reasons for asking for assistance are not known but it may be that he had simply reached the lowest spoke of fortune’s wheel. It is also recorded that he was charged with clandestine and irregular practice in relation to the Craft, but it was later found that his actions were only irregular, and he was admonished accordingly.
Sayer ended up acting as Tyler of his lodge up to his death after leaving the Grand Master’s chair, and in the interim was also Senior Grand Warden and Warden of his own lodge. This is considered a great demotion by some commentators, with detractors claiming that he was a ‘nobody’ who could not maintain his standing in the Craft and was in fact bettered by those who followed him.
other side of the coin
If these facts are interpreted in the true spirit of Freemasonry, with an open and charitable mind, the converse view could be true. It could be argued that Sayer was held in such high estimation among his brethren and fellows that he was elected on merit by the majority of brethren present as the best person for the job. At the very least, if this were not the case, it might be said that he graciously volunteered for what was undoubtedly an important and difficult role, overseeing the new concept of uniting lodges under one umbrella – a concept which has subsequently survived the wreck of mighty empires and the destroying hand of time.
Another view that may be considered is the humility of Sayer. When he was in need of assistance, he was not too proud to ask for it. Similarly, neither did his ego stand in the way of him acting as Tyler when previously he had been Grand Master. His misfortune did not cause him to turn away from the Craft and it could be argued that Sayer should be held up as a role model for Freemasons today.
When he left this life for the Grand Lodge above in late 1741, Sayer was buried in St. Paul’s Church, Covent Garden in January 1742. Standing as a further indication of the esteem in which he was held by his peers, a newspaper article recorded the event as follows: ‘A few days since died, aged about 70 years, Mr. Anthony Sayer, who was Grand Master of the most Ancient and Honorable Society of Free and Accepted Masons in 1717. His corpse was followed by a great number of Gentlemen of that Honorable Society of the best Quality, from the Shakespears Head Tavern in the Piazza in Covent Garden and decently interr’d in Covent-Garden church.’
There may be several reasons why Sayer’s lineage cannot be traced, not least of which is that records of the era have not all survived, therefore forcing researchers to come to a dead end. However, it has been deduced that the family name ‘Sayer’ was quite common in southern England at the time, but the Christian name ‘Anthony’ was less so, and might be considered more continental in flavour.
It could well be that Sayer was not born in this country. Many people of the time were immigrants who upon settling here changed their names. Notably two people, who are also buried in St. Paul’s Church, come into this category: Grinling Gibbons (1648-1721) and Sir Peter Lely (1618-1680). Gibbons, a famous sculptor in wood, was born and educated in Holland while Sir Peter Lely was born in Holland and was originally named Pieter van der Faes. He was portrait painter to the court of King Charles II. Both became naturalised citizens of England and both were consummate craftsmen, with Gibbons shown in a portrait painted by Sir Godfrey Kneller (1646-1723) holding a pair of compasses and contemplating the proportions of a classical bust depicted in death mode.
There may yet be facts that can still be discovered about Sayer. Perhaps researchers might look at the wider course of European history for this, rather than stay within the confines of English masonic history. Perhaps we need to start again with the facts we have and look at them with an open mind and in a new light; to tread paths of research that have not yet
been taken. This approach may eventually unearth the real ‘Mr Anthony Sayer, Gentleman’, which, with the 300th year of Grand Lodge fast approaching, is perhaps long overdue. Most importantly, we ought not to forget the values we seek to uphold as part of our Craft and remember what the true reasons for being a Freemason are.
Steven Smith is a member of the West Essex Round Table Lodge, No. 9310