Celebrating 300 years
Wednesday, 11 December 2013 00:00

'Our Yesterdays' - Graham Redman and John Hamill

Quarterly Communication 
11 December 2013 
A Speech By VW Bro Graham Redman, Deputy Grand Secretary, And VW Bro John Hamill, Assistant Grand Chancellor 

GFR: RW Assistant Grand Master and Brethren, a year ago we left the Moderns Grand Lodge resolving unanimously to give a dinner to The Earl of Moira, Acting Grand Master and to present him with a Masonic Jewel of a value not less than 500 Guineas in token of the Craft’s esteem for his most valuable services from 1790 to 1812.

At a Special Grand Lodge held on Wednesday the 27th January 1813:

The Grand Lodge was opened in due Form by His Royal Highness the Duke of Sussex, Deputy Grand Master and the Minutes of the last Grand Lodge relating to the Masonic Dinner… and the Jewel… were read. The Grand Lodge was then adjourned and the Grand Officers went in procession into the Hall…………..

After Dinner His Royal Highness the Duke of Sussex, … in the Name and on behalf of the Grand Lodge and the Masons of England invested The Earl of Moira with a most superb Past Grand Master’s Jewel, richly set with Brilliants and suspended from a Collar composed of seven Rows of Gold Maltese Chain intersected by five gold parallelograms with Brilliant Centres, on the reverse of which Jewel [an] inscription was engraven……..

JMH: Special is hardly a strong enough word to describe this meeting. Six Royal Dukes, foreign visitors, the present and 19 Past Grand Wardens and almost all of the Provincial Grand Masters attended. Those who were present here last year might remember that in modern money the jewel and chain cost £22,500. The jewel can be seen in the Museum here.

GFR: At the Quarterly Communication held on Wednesday the 7th of April 1813

A letter from Brother Colonel McMahon, Private Secretary to His Royal Highness The Prince Regent addressed to Brother Bayford, Grand Treasurer was read communicating the Pleasure of His Royal Highness to decline on the present Election the Situation of Grand Master as he should be unable under his present circumstances to attend to and discharge its important Duties.

After voting a humble and dutiful Address to The Prince Regent, praying His Royal Highness to allow himself to be designated Patron and Protector of the Craft, a little later in the meeting

Brother J. Joyce, R.W.M. of the Bank of England Lodge, No. 435 proposed His Royal Highness Augustus Frederick, Duke of Sussex etc etc etc to be elected Grand Master for the present year which was seconded by Brother Bayford G[rand] T[reasurer] and on the Question being put it passed unanimously in the Affirmative and was accompanied with the most animated demonstrations of Joy, Affection and Respect.

JMH: The reason given to Lord Moira for the Prince of Wales’s resignation was that it was believed that 'the monarch, or his Regent,  should not be the subject of an annual election in which there was a possibility he might lose'! The Prince had been a popular Grand Master regularly attending the premier Grand Lodge and its Committees and the Lodges of which he had been elected permanent Master. He had also appeared as Grand Master in public on a number of occasions, laying foundation stones with Masonic ceremonies.  He was not, however, too keen on paying his lodge subscriptions. The letter still survives in the Royal Archives in which the Grand Secretary gently reminds the Prince’s Treasurer that he is more than five years in arrears with his subscriptions to the three lodges of which he was permanent Master.

The election of the Duke of Sussex as his successor was to prove a masterstroke. Not only did he ensure the Union taking place but as Grand Master for thirty years did much to ensure that it would be permanent and laid the ground plan for Freemasonry as we practise it today.

GFR: At the Quarterly Communication held on Wednesday the 23rd June 1813, the new Grand Master reported that he had duly presented the address to the Prince Regent by whom it was most graciously received.  

Then, in accordance with the Grand Master’s expressed wish it was 

Resolved that His Royal Highness the M.W. Grand Master be fully empower[e]d to take such measures as to him may seem most expedient for arranging an Union between this Grand Lodge and the Society of Masons under His Grace the Duke of Athol and if necessary to agree and conclude the same: with power to His Royal Highness if he find occasion to convene such Members of the Grand Lodge as he may think fit to be a Committee to assist in effecting this object and to give such Instructions and Orders to the Committee as the circumstances may in his opinion require. 

JMH: Negotiations towards the Union had virtually stalled, largely because of the continuing insistence by the Antients of re-debating every point of agreement at one of their Quarterly Communications. The premier Grand Lodge in giving Sussex full power to decide obviously wished to see matters brought to a head. Sussex had been given similar carte blanche by the Excellent Grand and Royal Chapter, of which he had just become First Grand Principal, to settle the place of the Royal Arch in whatever relationship he thought best with the new Craft arrangements. 

GFR: At an Especial Grand Lodge held on Wednesday the 1st December 1813

The Most Worshipful the Grand Master … announced that by virtue of the power delegated to him by the Grand Lodge on the 23rd June last he had selected [three senior Brethren] to assist him in the negotiation for an Union with the other Fraternity of Masons in England. That they had several conferences with His Royal Highness the Duke of Kent assisted by three Grand Officers…, the happy result of which was that Articles of Union between the two Grand Lodges of Masons of England had been signed and sealed in duplicate at Kensington Palace on the 25th November. H[is] R[oyal] H[ighness] The Grand Master then laid the same before Grand Lodge. The announcement of this great event was received with Masonic acclamations and the said Articles were read by the Grand Secretary.

After which [ten] resolutions were passed to put into effect a Union between the two Grand Lodges, and a vote of most sincere and grateful thanks to His Royal Highness The Duke of Sussex was moved for all his work towards this end

thereby erecting the Edifice of the Masonic Union on a Basis constituted of such materials as must be rendered more firm and compact by revolving years and on which the Hand of Time can work only to prove that Masons possess the art of raising a Structure which Storms cannot destroy.

………..

All business being ended the Grand Lodge was closed in solemn and ample form and adjourned to Monday the 27th Instant at eleven O’Clock in the Forenoon.

JMH: The Minutes just quoted take us a little ahead of ourselves. The observant will have noticed that a change had occurred within the Antients Grand Lodge and that Sussex’s brother,  the Duke of Kent has entered the story with powers to arrange matters for the Antients. It says a great deal for the power and authority of Princes at that time that in a short period of weeks Sussex and Kent had knocked heads together, drafted the Articles of Union between the two Grand Lodges and had them agreed by both parties. Sadly for historians most of the meetings between the Dukes and their aides took place in private and no Minutes were taken. 

GFR: The other half of the story is to be found in the Minutes of the Atholl or Antients Grand Lodge.  

At a Special Grand Lodge on Wednesday 4th August 1813 the following letter from the Grand Secretary of the Moderns Grand Lodge was read:

Sir,

I am commanded by His Royal Highness the Duke of Sussex, Grand Master of the Society of Free and accepted Masons, under the Patronage of the Prince Regent, to acquaint you that the Grand Lodge of that Society, feeling with its Royal Grand Master the fullest conviction that the Union so long contemplated of the two Societies of Masons in England would be of the greatest advantage to the Craft in general, has requested and empowered His Royal Highness the Grand Master to take such steps as may appear most proper for arranging and concluding so desirable an object upon terms that may be equal and honorable [sic] to both parties trusting that a correspondent disposition continues on the part of the Society, acting under his Grace the Duke of Atholl.

I am further commanded to request you will make this communication known to the proper authorities of your Grand Lodge, and state the wish of His Royal Highness the Duke of Sussex, to have a meeting as early as possible on the Subject, should the proposal accord with the sentiments of your Society.

The Duke of Atholl, being unable at that time to give his personal attention to the matter, had suggested that His Royal Highness The Duke of Kent might be prevailed on to act in his stead, and that course of action was approved by the Grand Lodge

JMH: HRH Edward, Duke of Kent was one of the most prominent of the brethren who had a foot in both Grand Lodges. He had been initiated in Switzerland, joined Lodges under the premier Grand Lodge and been appointed a Past Grand Master of that Grand Lodge. In 1790 he had been appointed their Provincial Grand Master for Gibraltar when on military duties there. When he took up command of the forces in Canada the Antients appointed him their Provincial Grand Master and he did much to revive Freemasonry in Canada and strengthen the position of the Antients there. A special meeting of the Antients was held on 18 May 1813, ostensibly to celebrate the anniversary of their Boy’s Charity but also an opportunity for the Duke of Atholl to present the Duke of Kent to them and thank him for all his work in Canada. In responding to their welcome the Duke of  Kent promised his full support to the Antients in the negotiations with the premier Grand Lodge so that it could be 'accomplished on the basis of the Antient Institutions, and with the maintenance of all the rights of the Ancient Craft'.

GFR: At another Especial Grand Lodge held on Monday 8th November, a letter from The Duke of Atholl was read intimating his desire of resigning the office of Grand Master in favour of His Royal Highness the Duke of Kent.  Resolutions were moved accepting the Duke of Atholl’s resignation, tendering a vote of thanks to him for his services as Grand Master, requesting that the Duke 'permit his portrait to be taken by an artist of celebrity that it may be placed conspicuously in the Grand Lodge as a perpetual memorial of their love and reverence of his virtues and of their gratitude for his services to the Craft.'  The Duke of Kent was unanimously elected Grand Master and, he having already signified his acceptance of the said office, his 'solemn installation as Grand Master with all the ancient forms and ceremonies' was fixed for high noon on Wednesday the first day of December next, with the details for the ceremonial delegated to a Committee of Present and Past Grand Officers

JMH: Kent’s installation as Grand Master on 1st December was quite a day! It began with a meeting of the Grand Master’s Lodge at which the Duke of Sussex and other senior members of the premier Grand Lodge were made Antient Masons to enable them to attend the installation. The Duke of Kent entered in procession and was duly installed by the Duke of Atholl with 'ceremonials which cannot be written or printed' after which the new Grand Officers were invested. Then a special Ode was sung followed by an 'exhortation  on the Principles of Antient Masonry '. The Grand Lodge was then closed and those present moved to the next room where 'a sumptuous dinner' had been prepared and the afternoon was 'spent with high masonic conviviality'. But that was not the end of the day…

GFR: After the afternoon 'spent with high masonic conviviality', a Quarterly Communication was held with the newly installed Grand Master in the Chair. The Duke of Kent announced that after several conferences with His Royal Highness the Duke of Sussex, Grand Master of the other Fraternity, who was also assisted by three of his Grand Officers…. articles of Union had been signed and sealed in duplicate in Kensington Palace, on the 25th November last, and His Royal Highness laid the same before the Grand Lodge. The announcement of this Great Event was received with masonic acclamation, and the said articles were read.

Resolutions were carried, providing amongst other things:

That the articles of union now read be Ratified and Confirmed.

That brotherly application be made to the Grand Lodges of Scotland and Ireland, enclosing them a copy of the above articles, when ratified, and entreating them to delegate two or more enlightened members of their respective bodies to be present at the Assembly of Union on Monday, the 27th December instant, pursuant to Article IV.

That a special dispensation, under the great seal, be issued to … [nine Brothers, and their Secretary], to hold a Lodge of Reconciliation, in conjunction with an equal number to be appointed and empowered by His Royal Highness the Duke of Sussex, to fulfil the duties set forth and enjoined in the said Articles of Union.

JMH: The Articles of Union required the Lodge of Reconciliation to meet with the Masters, Wardens and Past Masters of Lodges under both Grand Lodges to obligate, certify and register them as being entitled to attend the great celebration to be held on 27th December 1813 to ratify the Union and bring the United Grand Lodge into being. If we are allowed to continue our duologue in future years, we will see that the Lodge of Reconciliation was to take on a much greater role and was to establish the basic ritual to be adopted by all lodges under the United Grand Lodge. A further special meeting of the Antients Grand Lodge was held on 23rd December at which the Minutes of the various meetings on 1st December were confirmed, allowing the Union to go ahead. The Duke of Sussex was again present and thanks were given to him and the Duke of Kent for their work in ensuring the Union. Thanks were also given to Thomas Harper, the Deputy Grand Master and to Robert Leslie, accompanied by a medal valued at £10, for his thirty years of loyal service, including twenty as Grand Secretary of the Antients.

GFR: The Grand Assembly of Freemasons for the Union of the two Grand Lodges of England was duly held on Saint John’s Day, 27th Dec[ember] 1813

An order of proceedings which had been previously settled, was strictly observed.

The platform on the East was reserved for the Grand Masters, Grand Officers and visitors.….

The Masters, Wardens and Past Masters of the several Lodges to the number of six hundred…  were arranged on the two sides [of the Hall], … and the Lodges were ranked so that the two Fraternities were completely intermixed….

The Grand Masters, Past Grand Masters, Deputy Grand Masters, Grand Officers, and distinguished Visitors of the two Fraternities, assembled in two adjoining Rooms in which they opened two Grand Lodges each according to its peculiar solemnities and the Grand Procession moved towards the Hall of Assembly……

On entering the Hall, the procession advanced to the Throne, and opened and faced each other, the Music playing a March composed for the occasion by Brother Kelly.

The two Grand Masters then proceeded up the centre [and]….. seated themselves, in two equal chairs, on each side [of]the Throne. ….

The Director of the Ceremonies, Sir George Nayler having proclaimed silence.

The Reverend Dr. Barry, Grand Chaplain [of the Antients] delivered a prayer.

The Act of Union was then read by the Director of Ceremonies….

The Reverend Dr. Coghlan, Grand Chaplain to the [Moderns] proclaimed aloud, after sound of trumpet 

‘Hear Ye This is the Act of Union, engrossed in confirmation of Articles solemnly concluded between the two Grand Lodges of Free and Accepted Masons of England, signed, sealed and ratified by the two Grand Lodges respectively by which they are to be hereafter and for ever known and acknowledged by the Style and Title of The United Grand Lodge of Ancient Freemasons of England. How say you, Brothers, representatives of the two Fraternities ‘Do you accept of, ratify and confirm the same?’ To which the Assembly answered ‘We do accept, ratify and confirm the same’. The Grand Chaplain then said ‘And may the Great Architect of the Universe make the Union perpetual!’ To which all the assembly replied, ‘So mote it be’.

JMH: The Articles of Union were then signed by the two Grand Masters and their Commissioners after which the Grand Chaplain, Dr. Barry proclaimed the United Grand Lodge of England and Brother Wesley performed a symphony on the organ. The Grand Masters then moved to the floor of the Lodge and were, in sequence, provided with square, level, plumb and mallet to try and approve the Ark of the Masonic Covenant a wonderful edifice in mahogany designed by Sir John Soane, only recently made a Mason in the Grand Master’s Lodge, which was to be the repository for the Articles of Union whenever the United Grand Lodge of England was to be opened. Sadly the Ark and the many portraits of Past Grand Masters which adorned the old Grand Temple were destroyed in a fire which destroyed the Grand Temple on 3rd May 1883. Fortunately the Articles of Union had been placed in a safe and are still with us today. 

GFR: After the Grand Officers had resumed their places a prayer was offered by The Revd. Dr. Coghlan.

Letters were read from Grand Lodge of Scotland and the Grand Lodge of Ireland, neither of which was able to send a deputation.

The distinguished visiting Grand Masters pronounced that the forms settled and agreed on by the Lodge of Reconciliation were pure and correct.

This being declared, the same was recognized [sic] as the forms to be alone observed and practised in the United Grand Lodge and all the Lodges dependent thereon until time shall be no more. 

The Holy Bible spread open with the square and compass thereon the ark of the covenant and the two Grand Chaplains approached the same.

The recognized [sic] obligation was then pronounced aloud by the Revd. Dr. Hemming one of the Masters of the Lodge of Reconciliation, the whole Fraternity repeating the same, with joined hands and declaring ‘By this solemn obligation we vow to abide, and the regulations of ancient freemasonry now recognized [sic] strictly to observe’.

The assembly then proceeded to constitute one Grand Lodge, in order to which the Grand Masters, Deputy Grand Masters, Grand Wardens and other Acting Grand Officers of both Fraternities divested themselves of their insignia and Past Grand Officers took the chairs……

His Royal Highness the Duke of Kent after an eloquent address proposed His Royal Highness the Duke of Sussex to be Grand Master of the United Grand Lodge of Ancient Freemasons of England for the year ensuing. This was seconded and was unanimously carried in the affirmative with Masonic honours.

His Royal Highness was placed on the throne and solemnly obligated. The Grand Installation was fixed for St. George’s Day.  After being proclaimed the Grand Master nominated his Grand Officers.

It was then solemnly proclaimed that the two Grand Lodges were incorporated and consolidated into one and the Grand Master declared it to be open in due form according to ancient usage.

The Grand Lodge was then called to refreshment and the cup of brotherly love was delivered by the Junior Grand Warden to the Past Deputy Grand Master who presented the same to the Grand Master; he drank to the Brethren ‘Peace, goodwill and brotherly love all over the world’ and he passed it. During its going round the vocal band performed a song and glee.

After the Grand Lodge was recalled to labour various addresses were moved and administrative matters dealt with, such as the appointment of various Boards.

The United Grand Lodge was then closed in ample and solemn prayer. 

The Grand Officers and the brotherhood then repaired to the Crown and Anchor tavern where a grand banquet was provided. His Royal Highness the Duke of Sussex in the chair supported on the right by His Royal Highness the Duke of Kent and on the left by His Excellency Count de Lagardje and other distinguished foreigners. The auspicious day was concluded with the most festive harmony and brotherly love.         

JMH: And so after more than four years of tough negotiation the great event had been accomplished   and the United Grand Lodge of England brought into being. As I hope we will be able to show over the next few years, the foundations laid on 27th December 1813 were built upon by the Duke of Sussex and his aides and the Craft in England as we know it today became firmly established as the sole Craft authority for England, Wales and our lodges overseas. So well laid were the foundations that, with the exception of a brief rebellion in Liverpool in the 1820s, the authority of the United Grand Lodge of England has never been seriously challenged.

At this point we would normally look at the events in Grand Lodge one hundred years ago. After the tumultuous events two hundred years ago one can only say that 1913 was possibly the dullest year in Grand Lodge’s long history. So rather than waste Grand Lodge’s time, may we simply suggest that, like two hundred years ago, we raise a cup and drink to 'Peace, Good Will and Brotherly Love all over the world'. 

Published in Speeches
Friday, 06 December 2013 00:00

200 years of grand union

Working as one

With December marking the bicentenary of the union of the Grand Lodges, John Hamill explores the people and planning behind the creation of the United Grand Lodge of England.

The formation of the Antients Grand Lodge in 1751 – instigated mainly by Irish brethren in London who had been unable to gain entry to lodges under the premier Grand Lodge – marked the start of a period in which two Grand Lodges existed side by side. Initially there was great enmity between the two, and both sides threatened dire consequences against any members who became involved with their rival. But as time went on, except at the centre, relations relaxed, particularly in the Provinces where the beady eyes of the respective Grand Secretaries did not extend. Even in London, a number of prominent brethren had a foot in both camps. 

Indeed, it was because of two such brethren that the first serious attempt, in 1801, to start negotiations towards a union foundered. When it was announced that talks might begin, there were groups within both Grand Lodges who did not wish to see it happen and sought to wreck it. Charges were brought in the Antients Grand Lodge against Francis Columbine Daniel for being active in both Grand Lodges, resulting in his expulsion. Daniel was a doctor and apothecary, best remembered today as having invented the inflatable life vest and for receiving an ‘accidental knighthood’. Daniel believed that the new Deputy Grand Master of the Antients, Thomas Harper, had engineered his expulsion and sought his revenge.

Rooted in rivalry

Harper had been very active in both Grand Lodges, being a Grand Steward in the premier Grand Lodge in 1796 when he was also Deputy Grand Secretary of the Antients. He was a jeweller and printer, making masonic jewels that are now highly prized and collected. Quite how someone so prominent had got away with being so publicly active in both Grand Lodges is the subject of another article, but Daniel forced the premier Grand lodge to recognise the fact and they expelled Harper in 1803, bringing any talk of a union to a halt.

In 1806, the Prince of Wales (later King George IV), Grand Master of the premier Grand Lodge since 1791, was elected Grand Master Mason of the Grand Lodge of Scotland. As he had done in England, he appointed the Earl of Moira as his Acting Grand Master. Moira seems to have seen the Prince’s election as an opportunity to bring the premier Grand Lodge and Scotland closer together. However, the Scots saw the election as simply allowing for a closer relationship between the two Grand Lodges, rather than an actual joining together.

‘Even in London, a number of prominent brethren had a foot in both camps.’

Nevertheless, talk of union seems to have turned the minds of the Prince and Moira to the situation in England. In 1809 they approached the Antients with the idea of setting up a joint committee to explore a possible ‘equable union’. A stumbling block was the fact that Harper was still Deputy Grand Master of the Antients and was very much in charge in the extended absences of the Grand Master John Murray, 4th Duke of Atholl. The negotiators were appointed and in 1810 Harper was welcomed back into the premier Grand Lodge.

Apart from the formal Grand Lodge Minutes and odd bits of correspondence, little evidence survives about the negotiations, which dragged on for nearly four years. Part of the problem was that while the premier Grand Lodge team had been given authority to make decisions, those representing the Antients had to have any decisions agreed within a quarterly meeting of their Grand Lodge. 

A grand achievement

Matters were not helped by the fact that the Antients’ Grand Secretary, Robert Leslie, was firmly against the project. A somewhat prickly character, he had been Grand Secretary since 1790 and, unlike his counterparts in the premier Grand Lodge, was a salaried official, earning £100 a year. Indeed, so much was he against the union that even when it was accomplished he refused to hand over the records of the Antients Grand Lodge.

Proceedings might have ground to a halt in 1813 had it not been for major changes at the head of both Grand Lodges. The Prince of Wales resigned as Grand Master and was succeeded by his younger brother the Duke of Sussex. In November 1813 the Duke of Atholl resigned as Grand Master of the Antients, who elected another royal brother, the Duke of Kent, as their Grand Master. 

It says a great deal about the authority of princes in those days that within six weeks they had knocked heads together, and agreed and drawn up Articles of Union. They also planned the great ceremony, which took place at Freemasons’ Hall on 27 December 1813, when the union was declared and the Duke of Sussex was installed as Grand Master of the United Grand Lodge of England.

Published in Features

Myths and legends

Director of Special Projects John Hamill puts paid to some intriguing rumours that began circulating about Freemasonry after World War II

Over the past thirty years a great deal has been done by Grand Lodge, Provinces and Districts to dispel some of the myths that grew up about Freemasonry after World War II, when our organisation lost the habit of communicating with the non-masonic world. It is necessary work as there is little doubt that the repetition of those myths in the media and other areas has deterred candidates from joining the Craft. But members themselves have also been guilty of propounding stories that have little, if any, basis in reality, two examples being public access to membership registers and the role of the black tie.

In the 1980s and 1990s, when politicians and public bodies were beginning to demand public registers of Freemasons, many brethren asked: ‘Why do they need them? Grand Lodge already has to send lists of members to the police.’ Not so, but there was a kernel of distorted truth at the centre of this one.

In the 1790s, in the wake of the French Revolution, the government began to pass legislation to control radical political clubs, trade combinations and societies. This culminated in the Unlawful Societies Act of 1799, which made illegal any association or society that required its members to take an oath or obligation. Had it gone through in its original form, Freemasonry would have become illegal.

Fighting fiction

Timely intervention by Lord Moira and the Duke of Atholl, explaining Freemasonry’s apolitical nature and that the only ‘secrets’ were the traditional signs, tokens and words used as a test of membership, led to clauses in the Act exempting Freemasonry, with one major proviso. Once a year, every lodge had to send to its local clerk of the peace a return of all the members of the lodge with their names, ages, addresses and occupations. Those returns were available only to the magistrates. The provision continued in force until 1966, when the Criminal Law Amendment Act removed a huge raft of what was considered obsolete legislation, including the Unlawful Societies Act.

When the Craft tie was introduced as an alternative to a black tie there was an outcry among members. When questioned as to why they thought we wore black ties, the usual response was because the Craft was in mourning, for a multiplicity of personalities – from Hiram Abiff to Queen Victoria. The most prevalent claim, however, was that they were adopted in memory of those who lost their lives during World War I. Not true! The central memorial to those brethren is Freemasons’ Hall itself in London. 

Fortunately, Freemasons have never been averse to being photographed and there is a wealth of evidence to show how they dressed for meetings. From late Victorian times up to the 1930s, lodge dress was white tie and tails. Towards the end of World War I, with cloth becoming scarce, brethren began to wear dinner jackets with black bow ties. It was not until World War II that long black ties began to appear, for two reasons. In the face of clothing rationing, Grand Lodge relaxed the dress code, and in areas that were subject to the attentions of the Luftwaffe, meetings began to take place in daylight so that the brethren could get home before the air raids started.

Normal professional day wear at that time was a short black jacket, white shirt and club or regimental tie. On leaving their workplace to go to lodge, brethren simply changed their tie for a long black tie, instead of the usual bow – and so began the habit of wearing morning dress for masonic meetings. 

We learnt a valuable lesson about communication after the war. Nature abhors a vacuum and in the absence of fact, it appears that a half-heard story could fill that space when it came to Freemasonry.

‘Freemasons have never been averse to being photographed and there is a wealth of evidence to show how they dressed for meetings.’

Published in Features

An address by E Comp J. M. Hamill, PGSwdB at the Convocation of Supreme Grand Chapter held on 16th October 2013 to celebrate the Bi-centenary of “pure Ancient Masonry”

Your Royal Highness, Most Excellent First Grand Principal, and companions, the 27th December this year will see the bicentenary of one of the most important events in the history of the Craft: the union of the premier and Antients Grand Lodges of England to form the United Grand Lodge. It is because of events which took place in the negotiations leading to that event that we are able to hold this celebration today.  Because of those events, which forged an indissoluble link between the Craft and Royal Arch, we now have that uniquely English relationship between the two which we characterise as “pure ancient Masonry”.

Today is not the occasion to go into the origins of the Royal Arch, suffice it to say that evidence clearly shows that it was being worked in England, Scotland and Ireland by the 1740s and from the mid – 1750s there is increasing evidence for the degree being worked in Lodges in England under both the premier and Antients Grand Lodges. The premier Grand Lodge became uneasy with their lodges working the Royal Arch as they did not recognise it as an integral part of their system. That attitude had hardened by 1767 when the then Grand Secretary, Samuel Spencer, wrote to a brother in an English Lodge in Frankfurt that “the Royal Arch is a Society we do not acknowledge and we hold to be an invention to introduce innovation and to seduce the brethren”. Quite how he squared that view with the fact that he himself had been exalted the previous year history does not record! 

It was because of this attitude that in July 1766 senior members of the premier Grand Lodge who had been meeting as an independent Royal Arch Chapter at the Turks Head Tavern in Greek Street in Soho drew up and signed the Charter of Compact by which they turned their Chapter into the Excellent Grand and Royal Chapter of the Holy Royal of Jerusalem, the first Grand Chapter in the world. It was to be completely separate from the Craft with its own regulations, Grand Officers and Chapters. The only link with the premier Grand Lodge was that the Chapters would draw their membership from lodges under that body. Uniquely, the new Grand Chapter was to have a dual existence for in addition to being the regulatory body for the Royal Arch, it continued to meet regularly as a private Chapter exalting new companions.

The Antients Grand Lodge readily embraced the Royal Arch. It had been formed in London by mainly Irish brethren who had been unable to gain admittance into Lodges under the premier Grand Lodge. In addition to the Craft some of them had taken the Royal Arch in Ireland before they came over to London. Their indefatigable Grand Secretary, Laurence Dermott, had taken the Royal Arch in his Dublin Lodge in 1746 and did a great deal to promote the degree within his Grand Lodge. When compiling the Book of Constitutions for his Grand Lodge Dermott described the Royal Arch as “the root, heart and marrow of Masonry” and “the copestone of the whole Masonic system”. The Antients believed that their lodge warrants empowered them to work any of the known degrees of Freemasonry. To do so they would simply call a meeting of the Lodge, often on a Sunday, open it in the third degree and then in whatever degree was to be worked. From extant Lodge Minute Books of Antients Lodges it is clear that by the 1790s they had developed a sequence of degrees to be worked in their lodges beginning with the three Craft degrees followed by the Mark, Excellent Master and Passing the Chair which qualified their members for Exaltation into the Royal Arch.

Clearly two such opposing views on the Royal Arch must have caused discussion during the negotiations leading to the Craft union but few records of those negotiations have survived, if, indeed, they ever existed. That some discussion took place is clear from the second of the Articles of Union agreed between the two parties, which gives the definition of “pure ancient Masonry”. That the discussions continued almost up to the point at which the document was signed is also clear for in the surviving copy of the Articles which was signed and sealed by TRHs the Dukes of Sussex and Kent and three representatives from each of the two groups of negotiators there are three material alterations in Article II. 

In defining “pure ancient Masonry” Article II stated “It is declared and pronounced, that pure Ancient Masonry consists of three degrees and no more, viz. those of the Entered Apprentice, Fellow Craft, and the Master Mason, including the Supreme Order of the Holy Royal Arch.” In that form the definition has been the preamble to the Rules in the Book of Constitutions since the edition published in 1853. 

In the original manuscript version it is clear that where the word three appears there had been an alteration. Whatever had been there had been scraped of and the word three had been written over it in a rather more cramped style than the rest of the writing. Similarly, the word “including” between Master Mason and Supreme Order has been fitted over some other word or words which had been scraped off and Supreme Order was originally Supreme Degree as the scraping there was not so expert and part of the word degree is still visible.

It seems clear to me that to enable the Craft Union to go ahead both sides had to reach a compromise in relation to the Royal Arch. From the definition we can deduce that the premier Grand Lodge agreed to accept the Royal Arch as an integral part of the system but were not willing to agree to its being seen as a fourth degree but were happy to it being acknowledged as an Order. The Antients were satisfied in that the Royal Arch would continue to be the completion of pure Ancient Masonry but, as events proved when the future administration of the Royal Arch was organised, had to accept that the Royal Arch would be worked separately from the Craft. Whether or not my deductions are correct one thing is certain: by both sides accepting the definition of “pure Ancient Masonry” that “indissoluble link” between the Craft and the Royal Arch was firmly established and the Royal Arch was recognised as the culmination of pure Ancient Masonry.

The definition stating that there were only three degrees and referring to the Royal Arch as an Order has subsequently led to endless discussion as to whether or not the Royal Arch is a degree and why in the ritual it is constantly referred to as a degree if in the definition it is called an Order. It may be that I am of too simple a mind but I have never understood what the argument is about. To me the Royal Arch is an Order comprised of four ceremonies: the degree of Royal Arch Mason and the three ceremonies by which the Principals are installed. Those three installations are not simply to fit companions to rule over a Chapter but, as we inform new companions, a perfect understanding of the Royal Arch can only be gained by passing through those several Chairs.

Having agreed the definition nothing further appears to have been done in regard to the Royal Arch until the union in 1817 of the original Grand Chapter and the remnants of the Antients Royal Arch. It has usually been argued that having secured the place of the Royal Arch within pure ancient Masonry the Duke of Sussex then put all his efforts into ensuring that the Craft Union was a success and only turned to the Royal Arch when the basic form and administration of the United Grand Lodge had been established. I am not sure that that was the case.

Because of the speed in which the Union had been finally settled the Grand Lodges of Ireland and Scotland were unable to send representatives to London to witness the events on 27th December 1813. The Grand Master of Ireland and the Grand Master Mason of Scotland, however, met with the Duke of Sussex in London on 27th June 1814 and together with their aids put together the International Compact, which has governed relations between the Home Grand Lodges ever since. Curiously the final document appears not to have survived and its contents are known only from a draft in the hand of William White, Grand Secretary of UGLE, and a copy in the Minutes of the Grand Lodge of Ireland when its agreement was announced to that body.

That the Royal Arch was discussed at that meeting is clearly shown by its first clause which repeated the definition of pure ancient Masonry, excepting that “Supreme Order of the Royal Arch” was changed to “Supreme Chapter of Royal Arch”. It appears from the document that Ireland and Scotland agreed to the definition and were to put it to their respective Grand Lodges and report back to the Duke of Sussex. In 1814 neither Ireland nor Scotland had a Grand Chapter or any other central body controlling the Royal Arch, their Grand Chapters did not come into being until 1818 in Scotland and 1826 in Ireland. As far as can be traced no record exists of either of the Grand Masters having come back to the Duke of Sussex and it may well be that having waited to see if Ireland and Scotland would act in concert with England, and no answer having come, the Duke had to go his own way and make the arrangements which brought Supreme Grand Chapter and our present administration of the Royal Arch into existence.

There were possibly also legal constraints on settling the actual working of the Royal Arch. Under the terms of the 1799 Unlawful Societies Act Freemasonry was exempt from the terms of the Act under certain conditions but it was believed that (a) only Lodges in existence before 1799 were protected by the Act and (b) the Act only protected Lodges. It was for that reason that brethren between 1814 and 1817 who petitioned for new lodges were granted annually renewable dispensations to meet pending settlement of the terms of warrants to be issued by the Grand Master and former Antients Lodges were permitted to continue working the Royal Arch in their lodges. In 1816 a further Act began its progress through Parliament and was passed in 1817. From its terms Grand Lodge deduced that it was permissible to warrant new lodges but was still concerned about the legal situation of Chapters. It is for this reason, I believe, that on its formation in 1817 Supreme Grand Chapter ruled that for the future Chapters would be attached to the warrants of Lodges and bear the same number and name, and new Chapters would be proposed by the Lodges to which they would be attached, not by existing Chapters – thus giving them protection under the 1799 Act.

Unless long lost papers and records come to light, if they ever existed, I doubt that we will ever know the full story of what happened in 1813. What we do know happened, and we are rightly celebrating today, is the recognition by the Craft in 1813 that the Royal Arch is an integral part of pure Ancient Masonry and the forging of that indissoluble link between the Craft and the Royal Arch which we all hope will never be broken.

 

Published in Speeches
Thursday, 05 September 2013 01:00

Grand Secretary's column - Autumn 2013

It was tremendous to hear the news of the new Royal baby, Prince George. You will be glad that a message of congratulations was sent on behalf of members to Their Royal Highnesses The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge. 

Talking of good news, it is heart-warming to hear, as I go around the Provinces and Districts, more and more members speaking openly about the fun of membership as they enjoy, each in their own special way, their hobby, Freemasonry. This enjoyment is becoming infectious, helping to both recruit and, importantly, retain members. Together with the increasing support from family members, this is a clear reflection of the success of the current initiatives that are making sure there is a relevant future for Freemasonry.

In this autumn issue, we take a ride with the Showmen’s Lodge to discover that the ties binding Freemasons can also be found in the people who run the waltzers and dodgems at the fairground. We go on the road with a welfare adviser from the Royal Masonic Trust for Girls and Boys, as she helps a family get back on its feet. We also meet Mark Smith, a Provincial Grand Almoner, and find out that while masonic support can involve making a donation to a worthy cause, it is also about spending time with people in your community.

I mentioned hobbies earlier, and to thrill anyone with a taste for classic cars we get in the driving seat with Aston Martin as it celebrates its one hundredth birthday at Freemasons’ Hall. There is also an interview with Prestonian Lecturer Tony Harvey, who has been travelling around the UK to explain how Freemasonry and Scouting have more in common than you might first think. I believe that these stories and features show why Freemasonry not only helps society but is also very much a part of it. 

On a final note, I was pleased to have had the opportunity to speak on Radio 4’s Last Word obituary programme about the late Michael Baigent, our consultant editor. He was a good friend with an enormously inquisitive mind, about which John Hamill writes more fully later in this issue of Freemasonry Today.

Nigel Brown
Grand Secretary

‘It is heart-warming to hear, as I go around the Provinces and Districts, more and more members speaking openly about the fun of membership.’

Published in UGLE

A forgotten hero

Crucial in the creation of Freemasonry as we know it today, Francis Rawdon had bold ambitions that saw him twice almost becoming Prime Minister, as John Hamill discovers

Francis Rawdon, Baron Rawdon, 2nd Earl of Moira and 1st Marquess of Hastings, is one of the forgotten heroes of English masonic history. An intimate of George, Prince of Wales (later Prince Regent and King George IV), he was Acting (or, as we would say, Pro) Grand Master of the premier Grand Lodge of England from 1790 to 1813, during the Grand Mastership of the Prince of Wales. In that role he was one of the principal movers of the project to unite the two Grand Lodges then existing in the country to form the United Grand Lodge of England.

Nor has history been kind to Francis Rawdon. He was not the subject of a full biography until 2005 – surprising for one who distinguished himself as a soldier, statesman and colonial governor.

Born in 1754 in County Down, Ireland, Rawdon was the eldest son of John Rawdon, the 1st Earl of Moira. After schooling at Harrow he joined the army, arriving in Boston, Massachusetts, in July 1774 as a lieutenant in the 5th Regiment of Foot. The following year he fought with distinction at the Battle of Bunker Hill, one of the early engagements of the American War of Independence. Promotion to captain followed, and Rawdon was given a company in the 63rd Regiment of Foot, which brought him to the notice of General Sir Henry Clinton, who appointed him one of his aides-de-camp in 1776. When Clinton became Commander-in-Chief in America in 1778, he appointed Rawdon Adjutant General with the full rank of Lieutenant Colonel.

But Rawdon fell out with Clinton and resigned as Adjutant General, sailing south in 1780 with a force of more than two and a half thousand to join General Lord Cornwallis at Charleston. That same year his actions carried the day at the Battle of Camden, though victory was short lived and retreat inevitable.

From war to politics

By July 1781, fatigue and recurring bouts of malaria had almost destroyed Rawdon’s health, so he resigned his command and set sail for England. His ship, though, was attacked by privateers and he became a prisoner under the protection of a French admiral, the Count de Grasse Tilly. After negotiations, Rawdon was exchanged for Thomas Burke, the rebel Governor of North Carolina, and finally arrived home in 1782, to be rewarded by promotion to full colonel and created Baron Rawdon in his own right.

Back in England, Rawdon took to politics as a member of the House of Lords but continued his military service. He last led in the field in 1794 when he took a force to the Low Countries to rescue the Duke of York, whose army was surrounded by the French at Malines.

In the Lords, Rawdon began as a Tory but, once part of the Prince of Wales’s inner circle, moved to the Whigs. For more than two decades he regularly spoke in the House on economic, foreign policy and military matters, and was a supporter of Irish issues and Catholic Emancipation. During George III’s first period of ‘madness’, in 1788, he tried to persuade the Lords to make the Prince of Wales sole Regent and was to do so again in 1810. There were two attempts to form an administration with Rawdon as Prime Minister but he held government office only once, as Master-General of the Ordnance in 1806.

‘He persuaded the Gurkhas to form a regiment as part of the army in India.’

Serving the empire

In 1813, Rawdon took up the position of Governor General of Bengal and soon declared war on Nepal and its Gurkha army, which had been making incursions across the border. His skills as a tactician forced the Gurkhas to sue for peace, but so taken was he with their bravery that he persuaded them to form a regiment as part of the army in India – the birth of the long connection between these tough Nepalese people and the British Army.

Moira was rewarded in December 1816 by being created Marquess of Hastings. Earlier in that year he had waged war on the Pindaris and his success in that enterprise, in 1817, established British supremacy in the whole sub-continent. He then turned his mind to civil matters, encouraging education and a free press and rooting out government corruption. This brought him into conflict with the East India Company, and those quarrels and failing health forced his return to England in 1823.

The cost of the Indian sojourn and his personal generosity had almost bankrupted Rawdon, and in 1824 he was forced to accept the lesser appointment of Governor and Commander-in-Chief of Malta. Again he was popular, attempting to improve life for the Maltese and tackling government corruption. His stay was short, though. In 1826 he was badly injured in a riding accident and died recuperating on a ship on its way to Naples. He was buried in Malta.

As a measure of Rawdon’s popularity, when the premier Grand Lodge heard he was leaving for India, they raised the handsome sum of £670 to purchase a gold collar from which hung his jewel as Acting Grand Master. The jewel survives and is on display at Grand Lodge for all to admire.

Reading between the lines

Never shy of a controversy, Dan Brown’s decision to launch his new novel at Freemasons’ Hall revealed the bestselling author’s true feelings about the Craft, as Anneke Hak discovered

Freemasons are quietly accepting about the fact that the media and writers can tend to misinform the general public about the goings on behind the closed doors of masonic lodges. However, when a hugely popular fiction writer, who once provoked the headline ‘Does the Catholic Church need to worry about Dan Brown?’, decided to write a book focusing on masonic groups, it was naturally a cause for concern.

As it happened, The Lost Symbol came and passed without much of a to-do as far as Freemasonry was concerned. While dabbling in some colourful descriptions of red wine being drunk out of a skull during the initiation ritual, the book actually depicts Freemasonry as a benign and even misunderstood organisation. So when Brown was in London to publicise Inferno, his latest book in the Robert Langdon saga, Freemasons’ Hall was delighted to be approached about holding ‘An Evening With Dan Brown’, hosted by Waterstones.

‘We see the Dan Brown evening and all other outside events that we do as a means of showing people we are open,’ says John Hamill, masonic historian and a past librarian at the United Grand Lodge of England and Wales. ‘We are here, you can hold events, you can come and go round the building, you can use the library and museum, you can ask questions, and questions will be answered. It is all part of the whole process of being much more public about Freemasonry.’

Although Brown’s books may encourage persistent rumours, which liken Freemasonry to a secret cult, the writer himself is wholly complimentary of the group. He told The Independent before the event that he would be honoured to be a mason. ‘I’ve nothing but admiration for an organisation that essentially brings people of different religions together,’ he said. ‘Rather than saying “we need to name God”, they use symbols such that everybody can stand together … Freemasonry is not a religion but a venue for people to come together across the boundaries of their specific religions. It levels the playing field.’

All in good spirit

John managed to speak with Brown amidst the hustle and bustle before the event. ‘We talked about The Lost Symbol and the hype beforehand, and he said he couldn’t understand it because where he grew up in America, he lived four blocks from the local lodge and knew some of the Freemasons. He said, “Why would I want to attack one of the few organisations that’s still doing good in society?” ’

While Brown often says that the secret societies and groups within his novels are based on fact, with a whole lot of poetic license thrown in for colour, his readers aren’t always able to differentiate between what’s real and what’s added for entertainment’s sake. However, rather than portray the Freemasons as malignant, The Lost Symbol says that the group provides a fraternity that does not discriminate in any way – it is something, Brown argued at the time, that Freemasons should be pleased about. You would think so, too, considering that The Lost Symbol broke a whole slew of records, including becoming the UK’s bestselling adult hardcover since records began, and has been translated into dozens of languages.

Taking centre stage

So would the publicists use the opportunity of a Dan Drown book event at Freemasons’ Hall to garner media attention through the use of mock rites of passage and men in sweeping black cloaks? Thankfully, no. Having attended many events at Freemasons’ Hall, some with Egyptian sphinxes littering the corridors and others with eerie music for ambience, it was gratifying to find that An Evening With Dan Brown was refreshingly simple, drawing on the fantastic building to hold the interest of the budding writers while they waited for the man himself.

The author graciously thanked Grand Secretary Nigel Brown and Karen Haigh of Freemasons’ Hall for allowing Waterstones to use the venue for the event and described spending many hours in disguise at the building completing research for his last book. ‘What a room!’ he exclaimed on entering the hall and stepping up to the microphone.

‘I was actually here maybe six years ago, incognito, doing research for The Lost Symbol. Today, without my dark glasses on, it’s a whole lot prettier. It’s a real honour for me to be here today.’ Dan Brown

John asked Brown about his undercover trips to Freemasons’ Hall and discovered that the author would join tours, asking the librarians a lot of questions on his way around: ‘He said that they were very helpful. They must have wondered who this man was with so many questions.’

Having referenced Freemasonry during his speech, and admired the glorious building, Brown then turned the conversation to the main topic of the night: his latest book, Inferno. Largely inspired by Dante’s Divine Comedy, which charts a journey through the three domains of the afterlife, the book has already sparked a whole new set of controversies as scholars argue over whether or not the author should be simplifying the historical elements while popularising this epic fourteenth-century poem.

One thing is apparent, however: Brown seems to have given Freemasonry his seal of approval.

 

 

Letters to the editor - No. 23 Autumn 2013

Dan Brown at Freemasons' Hall

Sir,

Whilst sitting waiting for Dan Brown to arrive on 21 May at Freemasons’ Hall, I watched the reaction of the diverse group of people who had obviously for the first time seen your wonderful building. Undoubtedly most were in awe, as well they should be. 

For me, being at the Hall had a more poignant resonance. My father was a Freemason and he had taken me up to the Hall on many occasions. Sitting there, I wondered what he would have made of the event where people from all walks of life were able to sit and enjoy the full beauty of the building whilst at the same time listening to a man who had weaved the Freemasons into his stories that have sold billions of books around the world. 

As a child I was fascinated by the society simply because my father was a member. 

I began to devour any literature on the subject so that one day I could impress him with my knowledge. One day I had the chance and he was speechless. His friends thought he had provided me with the knowledge. I explained that if you want to learn about Freemasonry, the information is readily available. 

Now years later, I read some of the nonsense on forums on the web after Dan’s evening and was disappointed how people are still today showing complete ignorance on the subject and not even bothering to research before they put their names to ridiculous statements. 

When I mentioned to my friends that I would be coming to use your library for research they were shocked, because they didn’t realise how readily you share knowledge with the public. My father taught me to be open and generous to other philosophies and religions; he joined the Freemasons for all the right reasons and I think in retrospect he would have agreed with your continuing to open your doors to the public – although he may have found the constant chatter in the Hall whilst waiting for Dan Brown a tad tiresome. Ultimately, it was just brilliant to sit and admire the beautiful architecture of the great Hall again!

Lena Walton, Tadworth, Surrey

 

 

 

 

Published in Features
Thursday, 05 September 2013 01:00

Michael Baigent obituary from John Hamill

Independent voice

Past editor of Freemasonry Today, Michael Baigent was a successful author and influential mason whose writing sparked debate and created a loyal following. John Hamill looks back at his career

It is with real regret that we have to announce the death of Michael Baigent who was editor of Freemasonry Today from the spring of 2001 until the summer of 2011, when increasing ill health forced him into partial retirement. He continued as consultant editor until his untimely death from a brain haemorrhage on 17 June 2013 at a Brighton hospital.

Born in Nelson, New Zealand, in 1948, he was educated at Nelson College and the University of Canterbury, at Christchurch, reading comparative religion and psychology and graduating in 1972 with a BA. In later life he earned an MA in the Study of Mysticism and Religious Experience from the University of Kent.

After graduating, Michael spent four years as a photographer in India, Laos, Bolivia and Spain. Coming to London in 1976, he worked for a time in the photographic department at the BBC, which brought him into contact with Henry Lincoln and Richard Leigh, who were filming a documentary about the medieval Knights Templar. Their mutual interests and enthusiasm ultimately led to the publication in 1982 of The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail, a controversial bestseller and still in print after more than thirty years.

Embracing the craft

The success of the book enabled Michael to concentrate on research, writing and lecturing. Writing with Leigh, he produced works on such diverse topics as Freemasonry, the Dead Sea Scrolls, magic and alchemy, the Stauffenberg plot to kill Hitler and the Inquisition. His solo works covered the ancient mysteries, the early Christian church and the influence of religion in modern life. 

Michael’s interest in the history of ideas and the esoteric tradition led him to the Craft, becoming a Freemason in the Lodge of Economy, No. 76, Winchester, near his then home. He later joined the Prince of Wales’s Lodge, No. 259, London, and was nominated by them as a Grand Steward and appointed a Grand Officer in 2005. 

Freemasonry brought Michael to the notice of Lord Northampton, who invited him to become a trustee of the Canonbury Masonic Research Centre, which he was setting up as a focus for research into the more esoteric aspects of Freemasonry. Equally, Michael became involved in and greatly shaped the early years of the Cornerstone Society, which Lord Northampton had established as a forum for those interested in exploring the deeper meanings of the ritual. When the Orator Scheme was being discussed in 2006, Michael was the obvious candidate to draft the early Orations.

Leading from the front

When Michael became editor of Freemasonry Today it was still ‘the independent voice of Freemasonry’. He greatly extended its coverage beyond the Craft and Royal Arch and attracted a new audience to the magazine, including a growing number of non-masons. He not only sought out contributors and edited their pieces but was responsible for the page design and seeing the magazine through the presses. He employed his old talents and provided many of the photographs that illustrated the content. It was something of a departure for him when in 2007 the magazine merged with Grand Lodge’s then house organ, MQ Magazine, to become the Craft’s official journal. Yet he rose to the occasion and continued to produce a magazine that combined news with interesting, and sometimes challenging, articles.

Michael would have been the first to acknowledge that his work fell outside the normal run of academic historical research, but he believed completely in what he did. He was not writing for other academics but for the general reader, and he had a loyal following. Whether he worked on his own or with Lincoln and Leigh, Michael’s writing was never ignored and always provoked discussion – which is all any writer seeks.

His last years were, sadly, marked by increasing ill health, including an initially successful liver transplant, and financial problems caused by the unsuccessful case he and Leigh took against the novelist Dan Brown’s publisher, claiming that Brown’s novel The Da Vinci Code was both a plagiarism and infringed the copyright of The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail. A gentle, courteous man, Michael was always a pleasure to meet and talk to and will be greatly missed by many. Our thoughts go out to his wife, daughters and stepson and stepdaughter.

The language of mystery

Director of special projects John Hamill considers whether the words and phrases used in Freemasonry should be modernised to give greater clarity.

The English language is said to be one of the most difficult to learn, in both its written and spoken forms. Part of that difficulty is the wonderfully idiosyncratic illogicality of how we pronounce many of our words, which often has little bearing on the actual letters they contain. Another problem is that a simple word can have different meanings, or shades of meaning, depending on its context, or even where in the country it is spoken.

To most of us, ‘bait’ is what a fisherman puts on his hook in the hopes of catching a fish. In northeast England, ‘bait’ is what a workman has in his lunch box. Equally, in spoken English many words sound the same but have different spellings and meanings. Consider the simple words ‘you’, ‘yew’ and ‘ewe’, or ‘earn’ and ‘urn’.

English is a living language in which the meaning of words changes over time, so it is important to consider the period to get the full definition. I remember in my early days as a masonic researcher being slightly puzzled when the premier Grand Lodge Minutes referred to brother A being appointed Provincial Grand Master for M ‘in the room’ of brother B. In my naivety I thought it rather quaint that they actually went to the room of the predecessor to appoint the successor. But it soon dawned on me that they were using ‘room’ not in its usual sense of an actual physical place but to mean ‘in place of’.

Time to redefine

Our Craft rituals were developed over a long period, from the late 1600s until they were formally codified by the Lodge of Reconciliation from 1814 to 1816. They inevitably include words and phrases with meanings that have changed in the past two hundred years. Many of those words are still in common usage and so can cause confusion for a new member.

One word that gives pause for thought and appears frequently in our rituals is ‘mystery’, plus its plural ‘mysteries’. Today, mystery has connotations of something hidden, possibly secret, which takes time to understand. The full Oxford English Dictionary gives more than a dozen definitions, some of which are no longer in use, or used rarely, but nonetheless show how we came to use mystery in our ceremonies.

One definition is that a mystery was an occupation, service, office or ministry. Another that it was a handicraft, craft or art. The dictionary states that the phrase ‘art and mystery’ appears in many apprentice indentures, citing a sixteenth-century indenture for a boy apprenticed to a master to learn ‘the science, art and mystery of wool combing’. In another definition it states that a mystery was a trade guild or company, pointing to our possible connections, direct or indirect, with the stonemasons’ craft.

This latter definition was one that appealed to the late Rev Neville Barker Cryer. In his Prestonian Lecture of 1974 he looked for the possible roots of Freemasonry in the Mystery Plays performed by the medieval trade guilds, which he believed had a similar purpose to our masonic ceremonies – the instilling of principles of morality. In ancient Greece, Rome and Egypt, the ‘mysteries’ were rites and ceremonies to which only the initiated were admitted, which again chimes with the use of the word in our ceremonies.

Occasionally, we hear calls to modernise those ceremonies, to take out old words and phrases and replace them with modern, instantly comprehensible ones. I hope those calls are never answered. Our ceremonies contain some wonderful set pieces of English language that would be destroyed if we modernised them. Freemasonry is a learning process, and if we have to resort to a dictionary to fully comprehend what we learn, that can only enrich us.

Letters to the editor - No. 26 Summer 2014

Word matters

Sir, 

I’ve always considered one of the most important aspects of ritual was to inculcate the brethren in the principles of masonry, and the word is repeated often in ritual and lectures. I do not believe that ‘inculcation’ occurs simply by reading the rituals. 

‘Inculcate’ is defined as ‘to instil by forceful and insistent repetition’. By learning, practicing and performing ritual, we reinforce the principles of masonry in ourselves and, hopefully, encourage others to take up those principles. I think it follows that, no matter how good or bad a brother may be at ritual, every effort is made to encourage him in the effort and if bringing some of the language of masonry into the twenty-first century encourages this, so much the better. 

Alan Booth, Earl of Chester Lodge, No. 1565, Lymm, Cheshire


 

Letters to the editor - No. 25 Spring 2014

Mystery of the heel

Sir,

How right John Hamill is to urge that we don’t modernise the language of our ritual. My favourite is the Charge to the Initiate that encapsulates so well the qualities that we expect of ourselves.

One mystery that I find odd is the suggested pronunciation of the word ‘heel’, which I contend should be pronounced just as that – the Oxford Dictionary in its third meaning defines it as ‘set a plant in the ground and cover its roots’, so why shouldn’t it be pronounced as it’s spelt? And of course there is the old chestnut of ‘tenets’, derived from the Latin tenere (to hold) with a short ‘e’, so where the pronunciation ‘teanets’ came from is another mystery.

Peter Dodd, Old Epsomian Lodge, No. 3561, London


 

Letters to the editor - No. 24 Winter 2013

Minding our language

Sir,

I always enjoy reading John Hamill’s articles and found ‘The Language of Mystery’ in the last issue particularly interesting. I have, myself, what some might call an obsession with the origins, history and development of the English language and have, from time to time, presented a paper entitled ‘Language and Freemasonry’.

In that paper, I make mention of the word ‘mystery’, with reference to Peter Ackroyd’s excellent book London: The Biography (Chatto & Windus, 2000). In chapter seven, where he discusses the medieval guilds, Ackroyd says that the word ‘mystery’ in this context derives from the French ‘metier’, meaning, of course, ‘trade’ or ‘profession’. It doubtless suits us in both meanings!

Andrew McWhirter, Luxborough Lodge, No. 4700, Loughton, Essex

Sir,

Hear, Hear! I read with great interest John Hamill’s article ‘The Language of Mystery’ in the autumn issue, concerning the debate surrounding the call to modernise our ritual and language. To many brethren, this has all the hallmarks of ‘dumbing down’ – and to what end? 

If the goal is to put ‘bums on seats’ we would do well to remember that in recent history, our larger churches went through this process of modernising their respective services in order to make them more accessible to a wider congregation. The result? A near collapse in church attendances bordering on seventy per cent. As John Hamill asks, do we really want to risk the current green shoots of growth just because some of our language may appear a bit ‘fuddy-duddy’ at times?

Martin Day, Cyngesburie Lodge, No. 5607, London

Published in Features

Serious but not solemn

Written by the late John Mandleberg, The Freemason’s Bedside Book is an invigorating collection of bite-sized material from a respected scholar

John Mandleberg was both a scholar and gentleman who thoroughly enjoyed his Freemasonry, and this shines out in his last masonic work, The Freemason’s Bedside Book. The varied content – from stories and songs to poems and translations – takes us on a journey from serious pieces to light-hearted anecdotes and reflects the author’s wide-ranging research.

This, then, is a very unusual book. Typically, masonic historians have only added to the confusion of our origins by highly speculative ‘research’. As masonic historian John Hamill puts it: ‘There are two main approaches to masonic history: the authentic or scientific approach, in which theory is built upon and developed, out of verifiable facts and documentation; and the non-authentic approach, in which attempts are made to place Freemasonry in the context of the Mystery tradition by correlation of the teachings, allegory and symbolism of the Craft with those of the various esoteric traditions.’ This does not apply to this book, which captures the writings of others to emphasise Freemasonry’s more amusing side.

It cannot be denied that members are taught many descriptions of Freemasonry and these tend to centre on their lodge and the ritual book. The Freemason’s Bedside Book takes its reader beyond this. Covering so many years of masonic history, the book uses language that contrasts with the plain English in which Freemasons now communicate. Although some of the old-fashioned language of the masonic writers had style, it would be unintelligible to many members – let alone the non-mason. It is therefore fair to say that while this book is full of humour, it is very much for the serious Freemason.

Mandleberg’s book effortlessly moves from anecdote to verse and back again. One fascinating piece covers the opening of an East End lodge many years ago. The next minute we are enthralled by two poems from Rudyard Kipling before moving on to another anecdote. This serves to whet the appetite and is a reminder of the author’s varied research.

The book ends with the full sung version of the Tyler’s Toast. We could aptly apply its sentiments in memory of the author: John, we were happy to meet you, sorry to part with you and we will be happy to meet you again.

Published in Features
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