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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
Director of Special Projects John Hamill crunches the numbers to show why we should not hark back to a bygone age when Freemasonry was thriving
The sad aspect of reading the business paper for each Quarterly Communication of Grand Lodge is the list of lodges that are closing. There is a perception that this is a modern occurrence linked to declining membership in the past thirty years, but this isn’t so.
That there was a golden age of Freemasonry during which the membership and the number of lodges was on a continual rise, is a myth. During this halcyon era, lodges had large attendances and many had enrolment waiting lists. While there have certainly been periods of expansion in membership – for example, immediately after the end of the First and Second World Wars – there have also been times when membership barely moved or was in a period of decline. A graph of membership over the past three hundred years would not show a gradually ascending line peaking in the late 1960s and then beginning to descend, but one of peaks and troughs.
The same would be true of a graph showing the number of lodges. Our perceptions have been coloured by masonic life in the late Victorian era and the early twentieth century – a period of stability in English Freemasonry. If we look at the period between the formation of the premier Grand Lodge in 1717 and the 1870s we get a very different picture.
The Cycle of Freemasonry
In the eighteenth century the average lodge would have about twenty-five members and a life of about forty years. Lodges closed so often that, from the premier Grand Lodge first numbering its lodges in 1729 until the of 1813, it renumbered its lodges on six occasions to close up gaps on the register.
When the last renumbering took place in 1863, the last lodge on the register was Pentalpha Lodge, Bradford, which was warranted as No. 1276 on 16 June 1863. When the renumbering took place later that year its number dropped down to 974.
With all the lodges that had existed before June 1863 having at least two numbers, the Library and Museum developed a serial number system so that all the material relating to a particular lodge is filed in one place. More than 2,500 serial numbers are used, which means that given there were just 974 lodges in existence in 1863, another 1,500 lodges must have gone out of existence, which had been warranted by the premier, Antients or United Grand Lodge between 1717 and 1863.
Mercifully for the lodges concerned and the filing systems at Grand Lodge, there has not been a renumbering of lodges since 1863. The latest warrant to be issued is No. 9884, which would imply that there is that number of lodges on the current register? Not so. In March of each year the Board of General Purposes gives a statistical table of the number of lodges on the register for the last ten years. The latest table shows that at the end of 2012 there were 7,696 lodges on the register.
Therefore, if 9,884 lodges have been numbered, but only 7,696 existed, we can deduce that between 1863 and 2012 some 2,188 lodges came into existence, flourished, waned and died.
Part of that figure is covered by lodges that were warranted to meet in the former colonies and withdrew from our constitution to form their own Grand Lodges. The majority, however, form part of a cycle that has always been present and, to my mind, paradoxically, are evidence that Freemasonry is very much a living institution.
All is not doom and gloom, as new lodges continue to be formed. However, the answers to why new lodges are made rather than old lodges preserved are many, complex and for a future occasion.
Letters to the editor - No. 23 Autumn 2013
I read with both interest and sadness John Hamill’s article ‘Rose-tinted Glasses’ (summer 2013 issue) regarding the number of lodges closing each year. Whilst I appreciate his comment that this in fact is ‘evidence that Freemasonry is very much a living institution’, it raises the serious question of why it is that once a lodge (or chapter) has handed back its warrant, it can never again be ‘resurrected’.
We would all accept that some lodges are not suitable for resurrection – for example a school lodge where that particular school had closed long ago – but some old and venerable lodges could surely be ‘put on the shelf’ and resurrected as the demand for a new lodge in the same area grew?
Martin Day, Cyngesburie Lodge, No. 5607, London
The director of special projects has written an uplifting paper, meaningfully entitled ‘Rose-tinted Glasses’ (summer 2013 issue), with an equally uplifting belief that Freemasonry continues to be a living institution. I heartily agree with both, subject to the following proviso.
Of recent years a notion has become rife that recruitment can be increased by decreasing standards of entrance. Who has not visited a lodge where the Festive Board has the ambience of a four-ale bar? However much recruitment falters, it must never be restored at the cost of reducing standards. To do so would be an affront to the brethren and Freemasonry alike.
Herbert Ewings, Septem Lodge, No. 5887, Surbiton, Surrey
Something old, something new
The discovery of an old manuscript could reveal elements about Royal Arch ritual that have remained hidden for almost two centuries, as John Hamill discovers
As we prepare to celebrate the bicentenary of the acceptance by the whole Craft of the Royal Arch as being both an integral part and the completion of ‘pure ancient masonry’, a significant discovery has been made about the development of Royal Arch ritual.
In a large box full of old files and papers, in a strongroom at Freemasons’ Hall, was found a packet containing a slim, foolscap-size volume, bound in red leather with a Royal Arch symbol blocked in gold on its cover. Bound into it were fourteen sheets of paper closely written on both sides.
What immediately caught the eye at the top of the first page was the word ‘Approved’, followed by the florid signature of HRH Augustus Frederick, Duke of Sussex, First Grand Principal 1810-1843, and the letters GMZ. The letters stand for Grand Master Zerubbabel, an alternative title for the First Grand Principal in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. At the foot of many of the pages the Duke’s initials appear, followed by the letters GMZ, and on the last page he had written ‘Approved. Newstead Abbey Nottingham November 2 1834’, followed by his full signature.
Newstead Abbey, once the family home of the poet Lord Byron, had been sold to Colonel Thomas Wildman, Provincial Grand Master for Nottinghamshire 1823-1859, and the Duke of Sussex was staying there as his guest.
The manuscript proved to be an introduction covering the testing of a candidate for membership of the Royal Arch and the ritual for the opening of a chapter, the admission of a new companion (including the Principals’ lectures) and the closing of the chapter. Having been approved and signed by the Duke of Sussex, it leaves no reason to doubt that the manuscript was the work of a special committee he set up in 1834 to establish what were the ceremonies of the Royal Arch. And herein hangs a tale.
Striving for unity
In 1813 the original Grand Chapter gave its First Grand Principal, the Duke of Sussex, full authority to make whatever arrangements he deemed necessary and proper for the Royal Arch once the of the two Grand Lodges had taken place.
The Grand Chapter did not meet again until 1817 – I suspect because the Duke was concentrating all of his efforts on ensuring that the Grand Lodge was successful – but its administrative officers continued to keep in contact with its chapters, who continued sending in their returns and their fees.
The so-called Antients Grand Chapter, which had never been more than a committee of qualified members of the Antients Grand Lodge, ceased to exist once the Craft was achieved, but its former lodges continued to work the Royal Arch as part of their lodge business.
In 1817, the Duke of Sussex summoned the original Grand Chapter and the members of the Antients’ former Royal Arch and ‘united’ them into the United Grand Chapter, a name that lasted a very few years until the present title of Supreme Grand Chapter was adopted. The administrative links between the Craft and Royal Arch were put into place but little else was done.
In 1834, there being some doubt as to what the proper ceremonies were, the Duke of Sussex set up a special committee to investigate and recommend to the Grand Chapter what they should be. This they did and their deliberations were approved by both the Duke and the Grand Chapter. It was ordered that they should be adopted by all of the chapters then in existence and those that might come into being in the future.
‘had it been known that the Grand Chapter had a written version of the agreed 1834 ritual, a fine storm would have ensued’
The special committee was given a time-limited charter as the Chapter of Promulgation, its remit being to give demonstrations of the ceremonies in London to which chapters were invited to send representatives. Therein lies the possible reason why this manuscript disappeared from view for so long.
At that time, ritual was passed on by rote and it was a heinous masonic crime to write down or print ritual material. Indeed, a number of characters, such as William Finch and George Claret, were charged with breaking their obligations by printing portions of the ritual or catechetical lectures. Were it to have become known that the Grand Chapter had a written version of the agreed 1834 ritual, a fine storm would have ensued.
With the seeming absence of any formal record of the special committee’s 1834 instructions, a certain degree of mythology has grown up. The discovery of this manuscript will enable us to establish what did happen and will greatly increase our knowledge of how Royal Arch ritual developed.
Cause for celebration
Pro Grand Master Peter Lowndes explains that while Freemasons should be proud when a lodge celebrates a milestone anniversary, the creation of a new lodge can be an equally significant landmark
Last December I commented that we should be proud of our history. I therefore have no qualms in mentioning – indeed I believe it is important to do so – that this year marks a key landmark in the history of our Grand Lodge: the two-hundredth anniversary of the union between the Antients and Modern Grand Lodges. The actual – forming the United Grand Lodge of England – took place in 1813 at Freemasons’ Hall on St John’s Day, 27 December.
It is therefore more appropriate that we mark this major anniversary later in the year at the December Quarterly Communication. At that time I hope that John Hamill and Graham Redman, authorities on masonic history and protocol, will give us an account of the intriguing story of how the was finally achieved and its importance to English Freemasonry in particular, as well as Freemasonry around the world.
Order of the day
I mention this anniversary here, however, for two main reasons. Firstly, because those of you who are also members of the Royal Arch know that the Order is holding its own celebration in October of this year. It is to mark the decision, achieved during the negotiations leading to the , that the Royal Arch be recognised as an essential part of ‘pure ancient masonry’, forging an indissoluble link between the Craft and the Royal Arch.
Secondly, and importantly for us, rather than making major celebrations this year we have decided to concentrate our efforts on 2017 and the celebration of our tercentenary of the formation of Grand Lodge in 1717. This is considered the more important of the two events and a celebration of both would inevitably stretch all resources beyond any reasonable limit. It is intended that these celebrations will take place throughout the constitution, both at home and overseas.
Freemasonry is good at celebrations. Lodges are usually very keen to celebrate their important anniversaries, and rightly so. There can be few, if any, other organisations that have so many individual component parts that survive to celebrate fifty, one hundred, two hundred years and beyond.
We should be immensely proud that our lodges not only survive and thrive, in most cases, for so long, but that they also keep full and accurate records of all their meetings. It is, of course, a prerequisite of the granting of a Centenary or Bicentenary Warrant that the lodge can show continuous working. Some latitude is given to take account of wartime conditions, but, otherwise, we are firm about this.
We do have lodges that fail and at every Quarterly Communication there is a list of lodges to be erased. Sad as this is, it is inevitable when overall numbers have fallen, the redressing of which is on the top of any list of priorities that is drawn up. Conversely, we still have new lodges being consecrated, which may seem somewhat surprising in the face of falling numbers.
I would argue that, if there is a group of like-minded people who want to get together to form a lodge and they can show reason for doing so as well as an ability to sustain it in the future, why not? The members will have considered the sustainability of the lodge carefully and, even if it only survives for, say, fifty years, many people will have derived great enjoyment from it and many will have been introduced to our great institution who might otherwise have missed out. Let’s celebrate on all possible occasions.
The histories of the railway system and Freemasonry are inextricably linked. John Hamill examines the impact that long-distance rail travel and commuter belts had on the Craft
Public transport is such a part of our daily lives, and we take it so much for granted, that it is difficult to imagine a world without it. Its development, particularly that of the railway system, was a key element in Britain’s rise as a major commercial and industrial power. The railways also had an effect on the development of Freemasonry and the workings of Grand Lodge itself.
Before the development of the railways, a journey to London – especially from the north, the West Country or Wales – was a major expedition involving days of travel in a horse-drawn coach or by sea. As a result, there was a tendency to appoint the Grand Officers for the year, and members of the Boards of General Purposes and Benevolence, from among the past Masters of London and home counties lodges, as they had little difficulty in regularly attending Grand Lodge or its boards and committees.
Attendance at Quarterly Communications was also predominantly by members of lodges from those areas, for the same reasons. Not surprisingly, the Provinces began to resent what they saw as the over-representation of London and the home counties in ‘the councils of the Craft’. Indeed, the question was raised from time to time as to why Grand Lodge could not on occasion be held in the Provinces to give them an opportunity of having their say.
The development of rail links between London and the major provincial cities and towns began to make it easier for the Provinces to come to London and make their voices heard. In the 1930s it was possible to hire special trains from the great railway companies to make journeys to and from London. And that is exactly what the northern brethren did to ensure that they could attend the Quarterly Communication on 3 December 1930, at which the main item on the agenda was a resolution to introduce Grand Lodge dues as we know them today.
‘It is interesting to reflect on how the expansion of the railways and Freemasonry ran in parallel, influencing the way society and communities developed’
Thanks to the trains, several hundred brethren were unable to get into the meeting due to the unexpected over-attendance. The Pro Grand Master at the start of the meeting had to announce that as a result of this, while arguments for and against would be heard, no vote could be taken and that a special Grand Lodge would be held the following March at the Royal Albert Hall to complete the debate. Trains were again booked and more than six thousand brethren attended the special meeting.
The building of the national railway lines also led to the building of hotels, often by the main railway companies themselves, at major stations.
In Victorian and Edwardian times many of these hotels included lodge rooms. The finest was the Grecian temple, built in 1912, at the Great Eastern Hotel at Liverpool Street Station in London.
Lord Claud Hamilton, then both a Freemason and chairman of the railway company running out of Liverpool Street, together with family members and other directors who were Freemasons, commissioned the temple and paid for it out of their own pockets. It is now a Grade I listed structure.
The development of local railways also had an effect. Until the arrival of such transport, Freemasonry was very localised. Most brethren lived within a reasonable walking distance or short horse ride from their lodges. Public transport made them more mobile. A good example is the development of the railways from the City of London through east London and out into Essex. They gave birth to the London commuter, with the growing middle classes moving out of the City and East End to what were then the leafy villages of Stratford, Forest Gate, Wanstead, Ilford, Romford and Dagenham. The new commuters took their Freemasonry with them and from the 1860s we see the warranting of lodges to meet in those areas. The same story can be replicated in other parts of the country.
It is interesting to reflect on how the expansion of the railways and Freemasonry ran in parallel, at times complementing each other as they influenced the way society and communities developed.
STATION IN LIFE
Some of the major figures in the early development of the railways were active Freemasons. Sir Daniel Gooch, Bt (1816-1889), for many years chairman of the Great Western Railway, was Deputy Provincial Grand Master of Wiltshire and Provincial Grand Master for the Provinces of Berkshire and Buckinghamshire.
Born in Northumberland, Gooch was a Freemason who trained as an engineer with Robert Stephenson, designer of the famous Rocket locomotive. Gooch’s father moved his family to Tredegar where Daniel became manager of the ironworks. He continued his training with Thomas Ellis, Samuel Homfray, and Richard Trevithick (a Freemason), who were pioneering the development of locomotives.
Through them Gooch met Isambard Kingdom Brunel, who was planning what became the Great Western Railway. In 1837, Brunel appointed Gooch as locomotive superintendent for the project, responsible for designing all the engines but also helping Brunel solve the engineering problems of a long-distance railway track. When Swindon was settled on as a major railway engineering centre, Gooch was heavily involved and brought Freemasonry to the town.
13 March 2013
An address by the MW the Pro Grand Master Peter Lowndes
In my address to Grand Lodge last December I commented that we should be proud of our history. I therefore have no qualms – indeed I believe it is important – in mentioning that this year marks an important landmark in the history of our Grand Lodge: the two hundredth anniversary of the between the Ancients and Modern Grand Lodges. The actual – forming the United Grand Lodge of England – took place at Freemasons’ Hall on St John’s Day, December 27th 1813.
It is therefore more appropriate that we mark this major anniversary later in the year at the December Quarterly Communication. At that time I hope that Brothers Hamill and Redman will give us an account of the intriguing story of how the was finally achieved and its importance to English Freemasonry in particular and world-wide Freemasonry in general.
However, I mention this anniversary today for two main reasons. First, because those of you who are also members of the Royal Arch know that the Order is holding its own celebration in October of this year. It is to mark the decision, achieved during the negotiations leading to the, that the Royal Arch be recognised as an essential part of pure ancient Freemasonry, forging an indissoluble link between the Craft and the Royal Arch.
Secondly, and importantly for us, rather than making major celebrations this year we have decided to concentrate our efforts on 2017 and the celebration of our tercentenary of the formation of Grand Lodge in 1717. This is considered the more important of the two events and a celebration of both would inevitably stretch all recourses beyond any reasonable limit. It is intended that these celebrations will take place throughout the constitution both at home and overseas.
Freemasonry is good at celebrations. Lodges are usually very keen to celebrate their important anniversaries, and rightly so. There can be few, if any, other organisations that have so many individual component parts that survive to celebrate 50, 100, 200 years and beyond. We should be immensely proud that our Lodges not only survive and thrive, in most cases, for so long, but that they also keep full and accurate records of all their meetings. It is, of course, a prerequisite of the granting of a Centenary or Bicentenary Warrant that the Lodge can show continuous working. Some latitude is given to take account of war time conditions, but, otherwise, we are firm about this.
We do have Lodges that fail and at every Quarterly Communication there is a list of lodges to be erased. Sad as this is, it is inevitable when overall numbers have fallen, the redressing of which is on the top of any list of priorities that is drawn up. Conversely we still have new Lodges being consecrated, which may seem something of a paradox in the face of falling numbers, but I would argue that, if there is a group of like minded people who want to get together to form a Lodge and they can show reason for doing so as well as an ability to sustain it in the future, why not? The members will have considered the sustainability of the Lodge carefully and, even if it only survives for, say, 50 years, many people will have derived great enjoyment from it and many people will have been introduced to our great institution who might otherwise have missed out.
Brethren let’s celebrate on all possible occasions.
The special Bicentennial Convocation of the Chapter of St John, No. 327, which meets at Wigton, Province of Cumberland and Westmorland, was attended by the Second Grand Principal, George Francis, and a deputation from the Supreme Grand Chapter in celebration of its 200th year.
Bob Aird gave a brief history of the chapter’s origins in the town as well as a flavour of the local industry and notable people of the time, John Hamill read the bicentenary charter, and Third Provincial Grand Principal, the Reverend Robert Roeschlaub, gave an oration.
At the Festive Board, George Francis had special gifts for Grand Superintendent Norman Thompson and the Principals of the Chapter. The Second Grand Principal is renowned for wearing red socks to chapter convocations and so presented the Grand Superintendent and Principals with their own stylish pairs.