Celebrating 300 years

The wider context

Director of Special Projects John Hamill reflects on the impact that broad trends within society have had on Freemasonry

We often comment on our hopes that the individual Freemason – by putting into practice the principles he learns in his lodge – will have a positive effect on the society in which he lives and works. However, we rarely look at how society, and the great changes it has gone through in the past 30 or so years, has impacted on Freemasonry.

Indeed, until the formation of the Membership Focus Group, whose ongoing work has been reported in recent issues of Freemasonry Today, there had been no major attempt to look at Freemasonry in the context of the society in which it currently exists. 

At a recent meeting I had the privilege of presenting a memento to a lodge’s senior member who was celebrating the 75th anniversary of their initiation. Also present were his younger brother, who had just celebrated 68 years in the Craft, and his great-nephew, who has recently joined the lodge as the fourth generation of the family to do so.

It was one of the happiest meetings I have been to for a long time and stirred up one or two thoughts. 

It took me back to my own entry into the Craft in 1970 in my father’s lodge on Tyneside, at which he and five of my uncles and three of my cousins were present. That might seem unusual today but in the context of the time it was not uncommon. 

Indeed, from my work over the years with the membership registers and helping others compile lodge histories, I would argue that up to the 1970s, particularly outside the major cities, Freemasonry was very much a family affair. In many lodges with a history going back to Victorian times you see the same family names occurring. In small towns, family members would often be spread over several lodges meeting there, as was the case in my own family.

To my mind, family relationships and personal and professional friendships were the bedrock of Freemasonry and the major recruiting ground for new members. That began to break down in the 1970s because of gradual changes in society, particularly as the population became more mobile.

Research by sociologists has shown that up to the 1970s, most of the population were born, educated, worked and died within about 30 miles of where they were born. When education was complete, you looked for a job where you lived. The huge economic changes of the latter part of the 20th century, with the gradual disappearance of England’s industrial base, led to enforced mobility. You no longer worked where you lived; you moved to where you could find work.

That, in turn, had a great effect on family and community life, with families growing apart geographically and community organisations, such as Freemasonry, having a narrower base from which to draw members. Those factors, combined with a huge growth in new possibilities for leisure activities, meant that Freemasonry was no longer the first thing to come to mind when an individual was considering what to do with their free time.

Increased mobility also had an effect on existing members. When forced to move location for work they would try to maintain their links with their lodge but, almost inevitably, the ties would loosen and break. Sadly, Freemasonry at that time did not have systems in place to deal with such a situation or to introduce members to Freemasonry in their new area, and after a time their membership simply lapsed. Happily, that has all changed in recent years.

New thinking and new programmes such as the Membership Focus Group and the mentoring scheme should have an effect on future recruitment and retention of members. Key to it all, however, is good communication – but that is a topic for the future.

‘The huge economic changes of the latter part of the 20th century, with the gradual disappearance of England’s industrial base, led to enforced mobility… You moved to where you could find work.’

Published in Features

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.’

Published in Features

Place in the community

Director of Special Projects John Hamill recognises  Freemasonry’s tentative steps back into the spotlight after decades of non-participation in public events

 Pageantry is something for which the English are internationally recognised as being the masters. Be it a major state occasion such as the opening of Parliament, the Lord Mayor’s Show in London or a country town’s summer festival, we have a great sense of tradition, colour, precision and style.

Up until World War II, Freemasonry had a major part to play in that. Dr John Wade, in his 2009 Prestonian Lecture, gives a fascinating account of Freemasons ‘clothed in the badges of the Order’ taking part in public processions, either for masonic reasons or as part of national or local celebrations, throughout the 18th, 19th and early 20th centuries.

The earliest recorded masonic processions were in London in the 1720s and 1730s, when the installation of the Grand Master would take place at one of the City livery halls. They would be preceded by a procession from the Grand Master’s residence through the City, with the noblemen in their carriages and the brethren in regalia following on behind. The events were reported in the press of the day but became subject to attention from a group calling themselves ‘The Scald Miserable Masons’ who began to run a mock procession a few days beforehand. The Grand Lodge ceased holding the procession and issued a rule that in future brethren could only appear in public in regalia by dispensation of the Grand Master or his deputy. 

‘Sadly, events in the late 1930s in Europe, the horrors of World War II and post-war austerity, as well as the resulting social changes, had their effects and Freemasonry became more inward-looking.’

Laying the foundations

Getting a dispensation was not a problem, as the many processions that took place demonstrated. 

On occasion, the procession was part of a ceremony, where brethren would be invited to lay the foundation stone of a public building, church, docks or bridge.

A procession of local civic and religious dignitaries, the militia, the town band and representatives of the Province and the local lodges, all in their civic, religious, military or masonic regalia, would precede the ceremony, which was open to the public and would usually be concluded by a return procession and some form of refreshment.

Sadly, events in the late 1930s in Europe, the horrors of World War II and post-war austerity, as well as the resulting social changes, had their effects and Freemasonry became more inward-looking. In the 1960s and 1970s public processions tended to be protest marches rather than celebrations, with the exception of the annual Armistice Day observances and local civic ceremonies.

In recent years, however, there have been moves towards more public displays. During Freemasonry in the Community Week in 2002 the then Pro Grand Master, Lord Northampton, said his most abiding memory was processing in full regalia with the brethren of Warwickshire from the masonic hall in Warwick to the collegiate church for a service of commemoration and rededication.

As its millennium project the Province of Durham helped to finance the rebuilding of a former Victorian masonic hall, previously in Sunderland, at the open-air Beamish Museum. The Provincial Grand Master was invited to lay the foundation stone and more than 500 brethren from Durham and neighbouring Provinces processed to the proposed site. The local media carried the event as a major news item.

When the Grand Master, HRH The Duke of Kent, attended to open the hall, again there was a huge procession to accompany the Grand Master and the Lord-Lieutenant in an open carriage to the site. A photograph of the procession appeared on the centre pages of the next day’s Guardian.

London brethren – particularly the City lodges – have provided a float for the past decade for the Lord Mayor’s procession each November, showing how much a part of the City community they are. Similar events have taken place in other parts of the country. While we are far from the halcyon pre-war days, these are small ways in which we can demonstrate Freemasonry’s place in our communities.

Published in Features

Come full circle

Stonehenge’s history has inspired many outlandish theories linking Freemasons and druids. John Hamill recounts the real life of Freemason Cecil Chubb, who bought the landmark on a whim 100 years ago

Considering its status as a World Heritage Site, it is strange to reflect that until 1918 Stonehenge was private property. Interest in it was stimulated in the early 1700s through the writings of an early Freemason, Dr William Stukeley, a clergyman and archaeologist, whose voluminous manuscripts are now preserved in the British Library and the Library and Museum of Freemasonry. The connection between Stonehenge and the druids is usually ascribed to Stukeley, who not only made a study of the order but was one of those responsible for its revival in 1717.

By 1800 Stonehenge was owned by the Antrobus family, but when the heir to the baronetcy was killed in action in 1915, the family decided to sell the stone circle and the surrounding 35 acres of land at public auction. 

The sale took place at the new theatre in Salisbury on 21 September 1915. The purchaser was Cecil Chubb, who paid £6,600 (about £460,000 in modern terms) for the site. Family legend has it that he had gone to the auction to buy some chairs but having lived near Stonehenge for much of his life, decided to make the purchase to save it from a foreign buyer. Chubb bought the landmark as a gift for his wife, for which he was apparently not thanked. 

In 1918, knowing that there had been government interest in the stone circle, Chubb contacted what was then the Office of Works and offered to give the site to the nation as a gift. He had three provisos to his bequest: that Salisbury residents should continue to have free access to it; that the entry charge should never be more than a shilling; and that no building should be erected within 400 yards of the ancient stones themselves.

The government accepted the gift with alacrity, and to mark his generosity, created a baronetcy: in 1919, Chubb took the title Sir Cecil Chubb, Baronet of Stonehenge in the County of Wiltshire.

From humble beginnings 

Cecil Herbert Edward Chubb came from modest beginnings. Born in 1876 in the village of Shrewton, Wiltshire, where his father was the saddler and harness-maker, he was educated at Bishop Wordsworth’s School in Salisbury. For a short period he was a teacher at the school before going for training at St Mark’s College in London. From there he went to Christ’s College, Cambridge, where he earned a first in natural sciences in 1904 followed by a Bachelor of Laws degree in 1905. Returning to London, he was called to the Bar from Middle Temple and began a successful law practice.

In 1902 Chubb married Mary Finch, and when her uncle died in 1910, she inherited the Fisherton House Asylum psychiatric hospital near Salisbury. Chubb gave up law and moved back to Salisbury to run the asylum, which was one of the largest in the country. 

Chubb made a great success of the asylum and introduced innovative treatments to make the patients’ lives easier and return them to their families. Fisherton House also gave great service to military casualties affected by the horrors of trench warfare, to the extent that Chubb used his own home, Bemerton Lodge, as an overflow for the main asylum. It became a limited company in 1924 and part of the National Health Service in 1954.

Eye on the future

Chubb was also an astute investor, particularly in medical laboratories producing medications to aid the mentally ill. His careful financial management made him a rich man, enabling him to buy Stonehenge almost on a whim. He developed his own estate, keeping a notable breed of shorthorn cattle and had a number of very successful racehorses. In civic life, he served for many years on Salisbury City Council and was a Justice of the Peace.

Chubb came into Freemasonry in Salisbury, where he was made a mason in Lodge Elias de Derham, No. 586, on 26 October 1905, taking his second and third degrees in the two following months. He never sought office in the lodge or took part in any of the other orders of Freemasonry, being content to enjoy the company of his fellow lodge members as a backbencher and remaining a subscribing member of the lodge until his death.

There have been attempts to link Freemasonry with both the stone circle at Stonehenge and the druids who were reputed to have worshipped there. In reality the only true masonic connections are the figures of Stukeley, who did so much to bring Stonehenge to public notice, and Chubb, who had so much love for the stone circle that he bought and presented it to the nation so that it would be preserved as a part of our national heritage for all time.

‘Family legend has it that Chubb had only gone to the auction to buy some chairs.’ 

Set in stone 

Stonehenge is the most architecturally sophisticated and only surviving lintelled stone circle in the world:

• In its earliest form, the monument was a burial site. It is the largest late Neolithic cemetery in the British Isles.

• Two types of stone were used in its construction, both of which were transported over very long distances. The larger sarsens probably came from the Marlborough Downs 19 miles to the north, with the smaller bluestones coming from the Preseli Hills, more than 150 miles away.

• The stones were erected using precisely interlocking joints, unseen at any other prehistoric monument.

Published in Features

Well suited

Director of Special Projects John Hamill discusses the appeal of formal dress for younger masons

 A wide variety of questions and comments are received daily by email via Grand Lodge’s website. A recent one gave me pause for thought. The writer queried why we continued to insist on white shirt and black shoes with either morning dress or a dark suit as our standard dress for lodge meetings. He went on to say that because of the very relaxed attitudes to dress in the modern workplace, it could be embarrassing for an individual on lodge days to turn up to work formally dressed, and would certainly lead to questions as to why.

As with so many things in Freemasonry, there is an applied symbolism to the way we dress. 

As has always been said, whatever an individual’s circumstances in life, within Freemasonry we are all equal. Certainly in the past one thing that showed an individual’s place in society was the cut and quality of his clothing. When, in early Victorian times, men’s clothing began to become less colourful and more standardised, Freemasonry began to adopt a particular style that gave little indication of the individual’s social standing. 

Pictures of style

In masonic halls and collections around the country there is a wealth of photographic evidence from which we can trace the development of masonic dress. When evening dress (white tie and tails) became standard, it became the uniform of lodge meetings up to World War I. Similarly, when morning dress (frock or tail coats) became common, it was the dress normally adopted for daytime masonic events such as processions, church services and the laying of foundation stones.

‘As with so many things in Freemasonry, there is a symbolism to the way we dress. As has always been said, whatever an individual’s circumstances in life, within Freemasonry we are all equal.’

Because of the scarcity of material and rationing of clothing, both World Wars had their effect on masonic dress. During World War I, dress was relaxed to a dinner jacket and black tie, or uniform for those on active duty. After the war many lodges returned to evening dress but others preferred the more comfortable dinner jackets.

During World War II air raids became a nightly feature in many cities and ports, so Grand Lodge suggested that, where possible, meetings should be held during the day or late afternoon so that the brethren could get home safely before the air raids started. As normal day dress for those in the professions, clerical and service industries was a morning suit (short jacket), that soon became the unofficial dress for meetings and has continued to this day, particularly for those rewarded with Metropolitan, Provincial or Grand ranks.

The wearing of dinner jackets still continues in some lodges today, but from the 1970s when the wearing of morning suits dropped out of general usage, the wearing of a dark suit became acceptable in most lodges.

When Freemasonry began to look at ways of attracting younger men into the Craft 20 years ago, a regular comment was that formal dressing for lodge meetings would be seen as evidence of Freemasonry being somewhat ‘fuddy duddy’ and for older men. Surprisingly, the opposite has proved to be the case. Talking to many of those who have come into the organisation in the past few years, one of the attractions for them was the idea of formality both in meetings and dress, which is something they do not otherwise meet with in their daily lives.

Published in Features

Unlocking the brand

For UGLE Director of Communications Mike Baker, the challenge Freemasonry faces in the run-up to the Tercentenary celebrations is in improving public image

What is your background?

My career started in retail. I worked my way up the management ladder in companies like Habitat and WHSmith before moving into hospitality with Forte in regional operations management. 

I then took a leap of faith into a very different field for the Post Office. Initially a retail network manager there, I moved into sales development, communications and marketing for its financial services and travel products, which were new areas for the Post Office. After that, I left to set up my own business development and marketing consultancy. It was during a secondment with a telecoms company in 2013 that I became aware that UGLE was looking for a Director of Communications.

Is the role of Director of Communications a new one?

It is a new position in terms of the scope of the responsibilities. The job title had previously been held by John Hamill, and his role had extensively involved combatting discrimination. This is also within my remit, but it’s not as significant a part thanks to John’s excellent work and the ongoing strategy from both the Grand Master and the Grand Secretary to make Freemasonry a more open organisation. 

‘I believe that the best time to fix the roof is when the sun is out, and it really will be shining on Freemasonry in 2017.’

UGLE has a clear idea of the strategy leading up to the Tercentenary so, for me, the job is about matching my skill set and my views with that direction. The opportunity that our Tercentenary represents should not be underestimated. I believe that the best time to fix the roof is when the sun is out, and it really will be shining on Freemasonry in 2017. There will be huge charitable spend that year, but there will also be enormous involvement from our members in communities and in celebrating 300 years of heritage. One of the heartening things to witness is the amount of activity that is undertaken in the Provinces and Metropolitan area by volunteers. It’s not just about the amount of money they raise; it’s about the difference they make to people’s lives. 

How did you become a mason?

I joined Freemasonry by chance – I had two brothers who were Freemasons in Somerset and Bristol. 

I remember mentioning them to a colleague at work in 2000 and asked what he knew about ‘that lot’. The colleague asked if I was interested, I got introduced and became a Freemason in London. 

I progressed in the Craft and joined the Royal Arch. Since then, I’ve been involved in Metropolitan initiatives – most recently Talking Heads, which has also taken me out into the Provinces to explain the history and attraction of the Royal Arch. 

Do you have an average day?

One of my daily tasks is monitoring our media performance, looking at how our image is defined by other people and challenging discrimination when it happens, whether it’s from the media, MPs, faith groups or employers. All too often discrimination comes through lack of understanding, which is why it’s key for us to approach people sensitively and to dissolve any element of fear. I also work with the Provinces to help them engage with the local media and with their own membership, keeping them updated so that they can be advocates and ambassadors. One size does not fit all – the communication strategy for a Province depends on the challenges it faces, which may differ greatly from one to the next. 

Are you marketing a brand?

As a membership organisation we have a product in Freemasonry. It’s no different from the marketing function in any business; it’s all about developing awareness of that product. I want people to understand Freemasonry in its real sense, to see it as a force for good and consider being a member. There’s also the advocacy element, getting our members to say, ‘Hey, you ought to join.’ That’s no different from the objectives for mainstream marketing in any brand. 

What’s difficult about masonic communication?

When it comes to communication, all the activity that we undertake can be broken down into three elements: clarity, capability and consequence. In terms of clarity, we have a very clear picture about what we want Freemasonry to look like in people’s hearts and minds by the Tercentenary. We’re also very clear about what the consequences will be: that it’s about maintaining a stable number of people in the organisation; attracting and retaining new members; and moving forward in dispelling myths. The challenge is the bit in the middle, the capability, how we equip our members and give them the permission to speak. 

We know in masonic terms what our principles and tenets are, but how do we represent them? It can be a challenge to use the right kind of language in order to dispel myths, to talk clearly about what Freemasonry represents, to explain that it’s about integrity, kindness, honesty, fairness and tolerance. Not everyone has these word sets and it’s made more difficult because Freemasonry is different for every person. We therefore need to be non-prescriptive so people feel comfortable, whether they’re talking about Freemasonry to the local press or at a dinner party.  

Does the Tercentenary feel close?

We don’t always do things immediately in Freemasonry but when we do, we do them in a considered, appropriate and consistent way. I feel very positive about the Tercentenary because the sun will be shining in 2017 when we fix our roof and move forward. There is a massive dedication and desire to move forward, as well as a sense of duty to safeguard our future. Yes, there will always be a degree of trepidation about an event like this, but it’s not just about what’s happening at the centre on 31 October 2017. It’s also about what happens across the country and throughout the Districts from 26 June 2016, which is the start of our 300th year. This is why we need to start increasing the momentum of our communications and engagement. 

How does your job sit with your Freemasonry?

I deal with a lot of Freemasonry as a member of UGLE and the Supreme Grand Chapter. I’m the Scribe E of my mother chapter and Director of Ceremonies for my lodge in West Kent. I wouldn’t do it unless I had a passion for it and I wouldn’t go to a meeting if I didn’t think it would be enjoyable – I haven’t missed a main Craft or Royal Arch meeting since my initiation in 2001. As a representative of UGLE, I feel very privileged to hold my role and to be making a difference in some way to the future of the organisation by helping it become more open. In the What’s It All About? DVD, Anthony Henderson from Bedfordshire said that the value and teachings of Freemasonry have made him the man he is today. That holds true for me. 

Published in UGLE

Process of evolution

The rules that define Freemasonry are not set in stone, but rather adapt with changing times, as John Hamill, Director of Special Projects, explains

 Ask a group of members why we do a certain thing or organise in a particular way and the response will be, ‘Because we’ve always done it that way.’ But as anyone who’s read a little of our history knows, that statement is rarely borne out by the facts.

Today, with the exception of five London lodges under the direct supervision of the Grand Master, all our lodges at home are grouped under the Metropolitan Grand Lodge of London or one of the 47 Provincial Grand Lodges. Each group is headed by a Metropolitan or Provincial Grand Master who is appointed, by patent, by the Grand Master as his personal representative within his defined area. 

All lodges in the Metropolitan or Provincial Grand Master’s area come under their supervision and are required to hold a meeting of that Metropolitan or Provincial Grand Lodge at least once a year. They are also empowered to appoint Metropolitan or Provincial Grand Officers, promote existing officers and appoint brethren to past Metropolitan or Provincial rank.

So embedded is the system that it is natural to assume it has always existed, the more so as the office of Provincial Grand Master is one of the oldest in our constitution. The first was Francis Columbine, acknowledged by the Premier Grand Lodge as Provincial Grand Master for Cheshire in 1725. 

Grand Masters under the premier Grand Lodge made many appointments from 1727 onwards but the appointment of a Provincial Grand Master in no way implied the existence of a Provincial Grand Lodge. Columbine was empowered to appoint ‘Grand Officers pro tem’ to assist him, particularly in constituting new lodges or carrying out public ceremonies. Once the event was over, those ‘Grand Officers’ reverted to their original masonic status. 

The death or resignation of a Provincial Grand Master by no means guaranteed the appointment of a successor, unless the lodges in the Province petitioned the Grand Master for a replacement. In a number of cases an appointment was made for a county in which no lodges existed, presumably in the hope that the appointee would stimulate the formation of lodges. In other cases, it is known that the appointee had no connection with and never visited his charge!

The idea of holding an annual Provincial Grand Lodge seems to have been introduced by Thomas Dunckerley, who between 1767 and his death in 1795 was Provincial Grand Master for eight Provinces. He took his duties seriously, regularly visiting his charges to hold Provincial Grand Lodge meetings, stimulating the formation of new lodges and ensuring that his lodges made their annual returns to the Grand Lodge.

The idea of Provinces or Provincial Grand Masters was unknown under the Antients Grand Lodge at home but they did warrant Provincial Grand Lodges overseas. The warrant designated the first Provincial Grand Master but empowered the Province to elect his successors. It also gave them permission to constitute new lodges, which were to be reported to London to be issued with a Grand Lodge warrant. Because of the distances and precarious nature of travel at that time, many constituted lodges never made it onto the Antients Grand Lodge Register.

A foundation for today

Changes brought about by the Union of the two Grand Lodges in 1813 laid the basis of our present system. The appointment of Provincial Grand Masters remained the prerogative of the Grand Master but they were enabled to appoint Provincial Grand officers, who were given their own distinctive regalia and jewels. If a Provincial Grand Master died or resigned, the Province ceased to exist until a successor had been installed. The current system of the Deputy Provincial Grand Master being in charge was introduced as late as the 1880s.

Although the 1815 Constitutions required at least annual Provincial Grand Lodge meetings, it was not until the 1860s that the rule was fully complied with and Provinces began to send annual reports of their doings to the Grand Secretary. So rather than existing since time immemorial, our Metropolitan and Provincial system has gradually evolved and continues to evolve and adapt to the times we live in.

‘In a number of cases, an appointment was made for a county in which no lodges existed; in other cases, it is known that the appointee had no connection with and never visited his charge!’

Published in Features

The happy means

We hear a great deal about diversity and inclusivity these days but, as Director of Special Projects John Hamill explains, they are in the foundations of Freemasonry

 There are many theories about the origins of Freemasonry. The one that I favour suggests that it was formed and developed by a group of men who, knowing what divided people, were looking for a means of bringing men of diverse backgrounds together. They wanted to discover what they had in common and find out how to build on that commonality for the good of the community.

The period in which Freemasonry was developing – the late 1500s and 1600s – was one of great religious and political turmoil. Those differences split families, eventually leading to civil war; the execution of the king; a republic under Cromwell; the restoration of the monarchy; and the beginnings of our present system of constitutional monarchy. 

Religion continued to impact people’s lives long after the turmoil. Under the Test Acts, those who were not members of the established church could not take public office or public employment, or enter the universities or Parliament. Roman Catholics and Jews could not even move more than 10 miles from home without a licence from the magistrate.

Once Grand Lodge was formed in 1717 and began keeping central records, evidence emerges of the diverse nature of lodge membership. In 1723, 1725 and 1728, Grand Lodge asked its lodges to submit returns of members, which were copied into the Grand Lodge’s first Minute Book. When the Premier and Antients Grand Lodges began to keep central registers, the horizon expands still further.

In recent years, work has been done relating such membership lists to the poll and rate books, as well as the Huguenot and Jewish archives. It has shown that the London lodges were diverse and inclusive, with significant representation from the Huguenot, Jewish and non-conformist populations in London.  

Having worked at times on a daily basis with the 18th- and 19th-century membership registers during my 28 years at the Library and Museum, I can state unequivocally that the membership of English Freemasonry has always been a microcosm of the society in which it exists. There is a myth that Premier Grand Lodge was mainly an aristocratic and upper-class organisation; while its Grand Masters were noblemen or Royal Princes, its registers show that lodge members were a cross section of the community in which the lodge met.

Nor was race a bar. In 1784 a group led by Prince Hall and describing themselves as ‘free blacks’ from Boston, Massachusetts, applied to Premier Grand Lodge for a warrant, which was granted under the name of African Lodge, No. 459. 

Although the Slave Trade Act of 1807 had abolished the trade in slaves, it was not until the Slavery Abolition Act of 1833 that owning a slave was made illegal in the colonies. In 1840 the English lodges in Barbados petitioned Grand Lodge for a change in its Book of Constitutions. The rules required each candidate to declare that he was ‘free born’. The lodges in Barbados stated that they had a number of educated blacks who would be good Freemasons but had not been born free. Without argument, Grand Lodge simply removed the word ‘born’ from the declaration to enable them to join.

When lodges began to proliferate in India in the 19th century, as well as in Africa and Asia in the early 20th century, they were not expatriate lodges. Rather, they welcomed the local populations and, particularly in India, were the one place that Europeans, Muslims, Sikhs, Hindus and Parsees could meet together and build bridges between their communities.

By being diverse and inclusive, Freemasonry indeed became, in Dr James Anderson’s memorable phrase of 1723, ‘the happy means of conciliating friendship amongst those who must otherwise have stood at a perpetual distance’.

‘There is a myth that Premier Grand Lodge was an upper-class organisation; while its Grand Masters were noblemen, lodge members were a cross section of the community in which they met.’

Published in Features

Rochdale’s temple to Freemasonry

The Church of St Edmund is the only known church building in England overtly dedicated to masonic symbolism. John Hamill profiles Albert Hudson Royds, the Rochdale Freemason who made this possible

The growing industrialisation of the nineteenth century allowed many men to make fortunes. Some then looked for ways of putting something back into their communities, taking on voluntary positions and involving themselves in charities. 

One such individual was Albert Hudson Royds (1811-1890).

The Royds family traced their ancestry back to the Halifax area of West Yorkshire in the 1300s. They developed as yeoman farmers, became involved in the wool industry, and had comfortable livings. In the 1780s Albert’s grandfather, James, moved to Rochdale in Lancashire where he bought the Brownhill estate and later built his own house, Mount Falinge, with an eighteen-acre park, on the outskirts of Rochdale. 

James became involved in the planning and financing of the Rochdale canal and the family prospered to the extent that in 1827 Albert’s father, Clement Royds, was able to buy the Rawson & Co. banking house, also known as the Rochdale Bank.

Albert Royds was born at Mount Falinge in 1811 and educated in Rochdale and London. His long connection with Freemasonry began in 1847, when he was initiated in Lodge of Benevolence, No. 226, meeting at Littleborough. Promotion was rapid and he became Master in 1849, serving for two years. Promotion in the Province of East Lancashire was equally swift as he served as Provincial Junior Grand Warden from 1850 to 1856, then Deputy Provincial Grand Master from 1856 to 1866. 

On moving to Worcestershire in 1856, Royds joined Worcester Lodge, No. 280, and in 1857 was appointed Deputy Provincial Grand Master for Worcestershire, holding office until 1866 when he was appointed both Provincial Grand Master and Grand Superintendent in the Royal Arch. 

In 1878, Royds had to resign his high offices in Worcestershire after he became incapacitated as a result of losing the use of his legs. This was the long-term result of an attack he and his brother suffered when returning on horseback to Rochdale late one evening. Both sustained serious injuries, resulting in their attackers being transported to a penal colony. A combination of this and the death of his daughter caused Royds’ removal back to the family in Rochdale.

A monument to morals

It is clear from his diaries and letters, along with comments from those who knew him, that Royds was a man of great faith and high moral standards. His monument is the Church of St Edmund at Falinge, a memorial to his parents and described by art critic Sir Nikolaus Pevsner as ‘Rochdale’s temple to Freemasonry, a total concept as exotic as Rosslyn Chapel in Scotland’.

Built between 1870 and 1873 in the Gothic Revival style to designs by Manchester architects James Medland and Henry Taylor, St Edmund is replete with masonic symbolism. No expense was spared in the building, which cost Royds about £25,000 at a time when the average cost of a church was £4,000. Built at a crossroads on the highest point in Rochdale, it dominated the town. 

The exterior stonework, capitals of the interior supporting pillars and hammer-beam roof all have masonic symbols, but the glory is the stained glass. The windows on the south side are dedicated to building and Freemasonry, culminating in the east window, a depiction of the building of King Solomon’s temple at Jerusalem. 

The central panel shows the three Grand Masters studying the plan of the temple, the head of Hiram Abiff, its chief architect, being a portrait of Royds himself. The side panels show operative stone masons preparing the stone for the temple and the dedication of the completed building. In the Royds Chapel, windows show the scribes Ezra and Nehemiah and a lodge Tyler.

Royds’ two sons had followed him into Freemasonry and presented the font and lectern, both carved with masonic symbols, to the church. The lectern is formed of three brass pillars of the Doric, Ionic and Corinthian Orders, the bases of which are decorated with the jewels of the Master and Wardens of a lodge: the square, level and plumb rule. The Bible is supported on a large square and compasses enclosing a five-pointed star.

Sadly, the congregation of the Church of St Edmund declined and it was closed in 2007. Originally a Grade II* listed building, its importance was recognised when it was raised to Grade I status in 2011. There was considerable concern as to its future but that became assured when the building was acquired by The Churches Conservation Trust. With a major restoration project now under way, the church can be visited on the first and third Saturday of the month.

To support the restoration, please go to www.visitchurches.org.uk/savestedmunds

 ‘Rochdale’s temple to Freemasonry, a total concept as exotic as Rosslyn Chapel in Scotland.’ Sir Nikolaus Pevsner

Royds of Rochdale

1827: Aged sixteen, Albert Hudson Royds joined the family bank and, as his father’s public and political career took off, gradually took over its management. He became part of the Rochdale Development Commission and used his own and the bank’s resources to invest in roads, waterways and the early railways. 

1839: Married Susan Eliza, heiress to Robert and Susan Nuttall of Kempsey House near Worcester. 

1844: Joined the Duke of Lancaster’s Own Yeomanry, raising its Rochdale troop and commanding them for seven years. He founded the Lyceum, an educational establishment in Rochdale.

1853: Became a Justice of the Peace for the County Palatine. 

1855: Left the bank and bought an estate, Crown East, near Worcester, and began life as a landowner and gentleman farmer. He rebuilt the house and provided cottages and a church for the estate workers. 

1856: Petitioned for Rochdale to be incorporated and was elected the first representative for the Spotland Ward, as well as  one of the first Aldermen. He narrowly missed out on being elected the first mayor.

1865: Became High Sheriff of Worcestershire. 

1869: Sold Crown East and moved to another estate, Ellerslie, near Malvern. 

1878: Moved back to Rochdale where he remained until his death, except for a period in the 1880s when he moved to Lytham for health reasons.

Letters to the Editor - No. 30 Summer 2015

A temple to Freemasonry

Sir,

Readers who enjoyed John Hamill’s article on St Edmund’s might be interested in some additional background. After long conversations when The Churches Conservation Trust first took over St Edmund’s, we were able to visit it. 

At this time the trust was not aware of the depth of masonic overtones in the fabric and history of the building.

When we pointed some of these out they were very interested and allowed us to take photographs. Dawn Lancaster from the trust was impressed with our work and paid for us to go to London to give a talk at one of their events. We later received a letter from Loyd Grossman, chairman of the trust, thanking us for our work.

We decided to do an event for the church and after delivering our lecture four times in one day, we were amazed to note from the visitors’ book that all the locals, including many from the Muslim community of the area, had shown interest in what the church is about. The local interest, with the help of the parishioners, meant artefacts and banners that had been missing started to reappear and the church is now beautiful.

We have since promoted the church throughout Cheshire, Lancashire, Yorkshire, Scotland and elsewhere with the support of the Provincial Grand Master and Assistant Provincial Grand Master in both Craft and Mark Degrees.

A Friends of St Edmund’s Church group has also been formed, attracting interest from around the world, and on open days we give our lecture. At Christmas we delivered our lecture to a full church with a 21-piece brass band.  

Albert Blurton, Lodge of Peace, No. 322, Stockport, Cheshire; and  Bernard Rourke, Lewis Lodge, No. 4371, Stockport, Cheshire

Published in Features

Landmark decision

Director of Special Projects John Hamill considers why the Grand Lodge has never defined the landmarks that form the basis of Freemasonry

One of the perennial questions that Freemasons ask is what are the landmarks of Freemasonry? We refer to them at various points in our ceremonies and each Master at his Installation obligates himself to uphold them.

With one exception, however, nowhere has Grand Lodge defined what the landmarks are. 

The exception is the requirement in each candidate for a belief in the Supreme Being. That first appeared in the Book of Constitutions issued in 1913, in what was then Rule 150, dealing with the admission as visitors to our lodges of brethren from other Grand Lodges, and still appears in the current edition at Rule 125(b). The rule states this belief is ‘an essential landmark of the Order’.

In Victorian times, American masonic scholar Albert Mackey (1807-1881) produced for his Encyclopaedia of Freemasonry a list of twenty-five landmarks. These were avidly taken up by the State Grand Lodges in America, many of which greatly extended Mackey’s original list and incorporated them into their Books of Constitutions. 

When we examine those lists, however, rather than being landmarks many of them are simply good rules for the conduct of the Craft in general and the government of Grand Lodges and lodges.

In England there has been scholarly argument over the definition of what constitutes a landmark. Some believe that anything that has been done in Freemasonry from ‘time whereof the mind of man runneth not to the contrary’ should be considered a landmark. I much prefer the definition, first put on paper by the late Harry Carr, that a landmark is something in Freemasonry that would, were it removed, materially alter the basis of Freemasonry.

Using the Carr definition I would suggest that there are six landmarks:

1. Belief in the Supreme Being, that being the one thing, in a very disparate membership, that we all have in common.

2. The presence of the three great lights, particularly the Volume of the Sacred Law, which underpins our system of morality.

3. The three great principles of brotherly love, relief and truth, they being the embodiment of our basic principles and tenets.

4. The use of ritual using allegory and symbolism, as well as the allusions within the ritual to King Solomon’s temple, but not the detail of the ritual itself, which has changed over time.

5. The ban on the discussion of religion and politics at masonic meetings, which if it were removed would undoubtedly lead to dissention and disharmony.

6. The taking of an obligation to uphold the principles of Freemasonry and to preserve inviolate the signs, tokens and words used as a test of membership.

The question arises of why Grand Lodge has never defined the landmarks, other than the belief in the Supreme Being. The answer to that, in my personal view, is in two parts. 

First, Freemasonry has always been free from dogma. Grand Lodge having agreed the basic form of our ceremonies, after the union in 1813, then stood back from it, except for major principles such as the former physical penalties in the obligations, and has never entered into discussion as to what the meaning of the ritual is. This has been done in the firm belief that it is part of the individual’s personal journey to form their own understanding of the ritual. In addition, were the Grand Lodge to define the landmarks, that would be the first step on the road to establishing dogma.

Secondly, in addition to finding his own meaning of the ritual, discovering the landmarks surely forms part of the individual’s journey, providing an opportunity to make his own study and increase his own understanding of the Craft.

‘There has been argument over what constitutes a landmark… I prefer the definition that a landmark is something that would, were it removed, alter the basis of Freemasonry.’

Letters to the Editor - Autumn 2015

Pride in membership

Sir,

It has always been a great pleasure for me to read and reflect on John Hamill’s epistles in Freemasonry Today. His thoughts on the landmarks of Freemasonry were succinctly summarised in his ‘Six Pillars’ piece and were explained with admirable clarity.

Being a Freemason of 46 years, I asked myself, ‘Where has Freemasonry led me?’ In answer I have to say that it has certainly made me a better human, a better husband, a better father and, above all, a better doctor to my patients – simply because, through Freemasonry, I was reminded of and was able to achieve my ‘personal responsibility’. I shall be ever indebted to Freemasonry.

Mohamed Pasha, MBE, Thamestide Lodge, No. 8147, Southend-on-Sea, Essex

Published in Features
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