Where freedom exists, Freemasonry can flourish. Director of Special Projects John Hamill explains why the Craft thrives in democratic societies
In January, National Holocaust Memorial Day passed almost unnoticed in the media, and where it was commented on there was no mention of Freemasonry. It still appears largely unknown outside the Craft that a significant number of Freemasons in Europe disappeared into Nazi labour and concentration camps never to be seen again. Nor had the attacks been confined to the Nazis. Freemasons had been persecuted in Mussolini’s Italy, Franco’s Spain and Stalinist Russia.
Freemasonry under England, Ireland and Scotland has been remarkably free from persecution at home. The closest it came to being closed down by government was in the aftermath of the French Revolution, when the 1799 Unlawful Societies Act was passing through Parliament.
In its original form the Act would have made masonic meetings illegal. Fortunately, the Earl of Moira, Acting Grand Master of the Premier Grand Lodge, and the Duke of Athol, Grand Master of the Antients Grand Lodge, were able to persuade the Prime Minister, William Pitt, of the moral basis of Freemasonry, its support for lawfully constituted authority and its benevolent activities. As a result, clauses were introduced into the Act specifically exempting Freemasonry from its provisions, provided that each year every lodge secretary supplied a full list of the members of his lodge together with their ages, occupations and addresses.
It is not difficult to see why totalitarian regimes hate Freemasonry. Our insistence that candidates believe in a supreme being; our basis in morality; our striving for high standards; our practice of tolerance and respect for others; our belief in equality and freedom of thought; and our caring for others in the community are all anathema to a dictatorship, and things we should jealously guard.
After the Second World War and a short period of freedom, an ‘Iron Curtain’ descended dividing western and eastern Europe. In countries in the Eastern Bloc, Freemasonry had a brief revival but was driven underground when Communism prevailed. It says a great deal about our principles that there were individuals in Eastern Europe who had come into Freemasonry, either in the 1930s or in the brief period after the war, who were willing to put themselves into real danger to keep the spirit of Freemasonry alive in their countries.
The road to freedom
It was because of their courage that when the Iron Curtain finally crumbled in 1989, Freemasonry was brought back into the open. Their road back has not always been easy but Freemasonry is flourishing. A simple statistic shows how much has been achieved: in 1990 England recognised nineteen regular Grand Lodges in Europe, today it recognises forty-three.
Those who were present at the two hundred and seventy-fifth anniversary of the Grand Lodge at Earls Court in 1992 will remember the rather diminutive, elderly figure of the Grand Master of the recently revived Grand Lodge of Hungary. He explained how from the opening of the first lodge in Hungary in 1749, Freemasonry had been regularly persecuted but now ‘in a democratic country, Freemasonry can continue its work’. As one American masonic writer wrote: ‘Where freedom exists Freemasonry can flourish and nurture that freedom.’
We, who in our long masonic history have never suffered persecution, should remember with pride those who so believed in Freemasonry’s importance that they, like that great character in our ritual, were willing to face death rather than betray their principles or the trust reposed in them.
Letters to the editor - No. 24 Winter 2013
On Saturday 5 October over twenty thousand bikers from across the country made their annual pilgrimage to the National Memorial Arboretum near Burton upon Trent to pay their respects to members of the armed forces who have lost their lives in the service of their country. Amongst these were more than sixty brethren, most being members of the Widows Sons Masonic Bikers Association, all from lodges across the country.
They travelled from the north, south, east and west and at 1pm gathered in the Freemasons’ Garden to stand together for a few moments to remember lost friends, relations and brothers who have been lost in the various armed conflicts since the Second World War. The Freemasons’ Garden, which forms an important part of the National Memorial Arboretum, was conceived and established in 2002. It is now in line for a makeover and upgrade during the coming months as part of the multi-million-pound redesign of the Arboretum Visitor Centre.
John Perridge, Compass Lodge, No. 8765, Syston, Leicestershire and Rutland
I read with interest the letter of Denis Baker (Autumn 2013) regarding the dilapidated state of the Freemasons’ memorial at the National Memorial Arboretum in Staffordshire. I am a Warwickshire Freemason residing in Staffordshire and have visited the Arboretum on several occasions since it was first formed, including a visit just recently.
I concur entirely with the comments made by Denis Baker and consider that the state of the Freemasons’ memorial reflects badly on Freemasonry in general and it needs improvement work carried out immediately.
A notice board at the Freemasons’ memorial plot informs visitors that work is ongoing but this information is over five years old and there is no sign of any such work being carried out. The whole area occupied by the Freemasons’ memorial, together with the information notices, give it an abandoned and uncared for appearance.
John Wileman, Goldieslie Lodge, No. 6174, Sutton Coldfield, Warwickshire
May I assure all your readers that the concerns expressed about the Masonic Garden at the National Memorial Arboretum are shared by every member of the Staffordshire Province. For the past ten years we have not been allowed to do anything because it was expected that the new Visitor Centre would be extended over our garden and we would be relocated. The plans for the new Centre have now been agreed and we can now make some progress.
Our first plan was accepted this summer by the Arboretum but the cost of the project, £170,000, was too great and we are now finding out whether our second proposal is affordable. It is all complicated by the ground conditions: the site is a former sand and gravel quarry on a river flood plain with a high water table, and it is essential to build a concrete raft supported by piles. That alone will cost about £18,000.
Plans are already in hand to replace the yew trees with a field maple hedge. When we have an affordable plan we hope that the United Grand Lodge of England will lead our fundraising efforts, supported by all the Provinces in the country, for a National Masonic Memorial in the National Memorial Arboretum to those Freemasons who have died in the service of their country.
It would also be fortuitous if we can celebrate its completion and opening early in 2017 as part of our national celebration of three hundred years of Freemasonry in England. We are working hard to make this project a success and a credit to all concerned.
Sandy Stewart, Provincial Grand Master, Staffordshire
Letters to the editor - No. 23 Autumn 2013
On the theme of Service Remembered (summer 2013 issue), my father James Carroll was in the Royal Navy during World War II aboard the Captain Class Frigates, which carried out convoy duties not only across the Atlantic but to the Arctic on the Russian convoys. After sixty-eight years the government finally recognised the extreme conditions and sacrifices made by those who carried out what Churchill called ‘the worst journey in the world’.
The Prime Minister, David Cameron, and Russia’s President Putin held a ceremony at Number 10 Downing Street, presenting my father with the Arctic Star and one of the highest naval decorations in Russia, the Ushakov Medal. Some thirty veterans were invited along for tea and the award was made prior to the Prime Minister and President Putin leaving for the G8 conference in Northern Ireland.
At nearly ninety, my father was very proud, as were we, at being able to receive this long overdue recognition. He was initiated into Freemasonry ten years ago, in May 2003 at the age of eighty.
Alan Carroll, Vicar’s Oak Lodge, No. 4822, London
Having visited the National Memorial Arboretum in Staffordshire at the weekend I was greatly impressed with the many memorials located on the site.
The memorial to Freemasons who gave their lives in defence of the nation comprises two stone blocks representing the rough and smooth ashlar standing on a chequered pavement surrounded by a yew tree hedge to indicate eternity. I was surprised to see that this memorial is in a dilapidated state, with part of the yew tree hedge having died off leaving an untidy gap.
I felt that this dilapidated memorial creates a poor image of Freemasonry, particularly when compared to those of other organisations, and believe that Grand Lodge should take a lead and ensure that the memorial is repaired as a matter of urgency. The costs involved are likely to be very minor compared to the very large sums that Freemasonry gives to other causes.
I am sure that many of the brethren will agree that in this case charity should begin at home, and I look forward to hearing and seeing that Grand Lodge takes this on board and carries out the remedial work.
I understand that Staffordshire Province has undertaken work in the past but as this forms part of a national memorial, I consider that it falls more appropriately in the province of Grand Lodge.
Denis J Baker, Ravenshead Lodge, No. 8176, Mansfield, Nottinghamshire
Letters to the editor - No. 22 Summer 2013
I read with interest John Hamill’s article entitled ‘Free from Persecution’ in the spring 2013 edition of Freemasonry Today. Although the number of Freemasons who perished in the Holocaust is unknown, it is believed to be between eighty thousand and two hundred thousand.
I had been privileged to give a reading on behalf of the Freemasons at a well-attended Holocaust Remembrance Day Service in Portsmouth last year when later the same day my wife and I attended the reception preceding the masonic province of Hampshire’s Thanksgiving Service. At that reception I was approached by the Mayor of Havant. Among the guests were many dignitaries from local authorities within the Province but I had known the mayor for many years and he asked whether the Province would like to send representatives to attend the Havant Holocaust Remembrance Service. He is not a Freemason, but he is Jewish, like myself.
It was a cold January afternoon when the Provincial Grand Master, the Deputy Provincial Grand Master, an Assistant Provincial Grand Master (who had been invited to wear their chains of office), our Provincial Information Officer, our wives and I attended the sombre and fitting service. About a hundred people attended and wreaths were laid. There were readings by civic dignitaries, school children and a member of the travelling community.
At the reception that followed we were invited to give a reading and lay a wreath on behalf of Freemasons within the Province at future Holocaust Remembrance Day Services. I hope other local authorities will follow the example of Havant Borough Council and Portsmouth City Council. Both these services were extremely moving and a fitting tribute to those who perished under Nazi persecution.
Philip Alan Berman, Old Portmuthian Lodge, No. 8285, Portsmouth, Hampshire and Isle of Wight
I enjoyed John Hamill’s article ‘Free from Persecution’ in the recent edition of Freemasonry Today. However, there is always an exception to the rule. I was rather surprised on a visit to Cuba two years ago, to find that Freemasonry was well in the public domain. Our tour guide organised for me a visit to one of the temples to meet up with a few Freemasons – but alas time did not permit attendance at their meeting.
Garth Ezekiel, Richmond Hill Lodge, No. 6698, Twickenham, Middlesex
With the spread of the Royal Arch across the world creating different rituals in each of the countries it has touched, John Hamill explains why international relations can be complex
In the news section of this issue there is a short piece on the change of Grand Chancellor in the Craft. That office has now been in place for just over five years and the question has been asked why, unlike the other ‘executive’ offices in the Craft, there is no equivalent of the Grand Chancellor in the Royal Arch? The simple answer is that, from a combination of historical reasons and the close administrative links between the Craft and Royal Arch in England, there is little in the Royal Arch for a Grand Chancellor to do.
There is no doubt among historians of the Royal Arch that it originated within the British Isles. During the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries it quickly followed the spread of the Craft into what were then the Colonies and became firmly established in North America, the West Indies and Caribbean, India, Africa, the Far East and Australasia, in all of which it is still practised today.
After the Second World War, England was asked by various European Grand Lodges to assist in establishing the Royal Arch
The Royal Arch, however, never took hold in mainland Europe until the second half of the twentieth century. Apart from a short-lived Grand Chapter in France in the early nineteenth century, there is no evidence for any Grand Chapter being formed in Europe before the one attached to the National Grand Lodge of France in the 1930s.
Scandinavian countries that have the Swedish Rite do not work any of the degrees we have ‘beyond the Craft’, yet the degrees above the first three in the Swedish Rite are regarded as being equivalent to, but different from, our Royal Arch, Knights Templar and Ancient and Accepted Rite degrees. In other European countries and in Central and South America, the Ancient and Accepted (Scottish) Rite and the Rectified Scottish Rite were the preferred steps after the Craft.
Expansion in Europe
After the Second World War, England was asked by various European Grand Lodges to assist in establishing the Royal Arch, leading to the erection of Grand Chapters in Finland, the Netherlands, Germany, Switzerland, Belgium, Italy, Hungary and Estonia. That process continues today with English Chapters meeting by dispensation in Bulgaria, Russia and Macedonia. There are also Grand Chapters in Austria, Germany, Italy and Slovenia set up under the American Royal Arch system.
There is an added complication in that not all Grand Chapters work the same ritual. Some have preliminary degrees that are taken between the Craft and the Royal Arch. The closest rituals to the English traditions are the Grand Chapter of Scotland and those in Canada and Australasia – the majority of whose founding Chapters originally worked under either England or Scotland. Scotland works the same Royal Arch ritual as England but requires candidates to take the Mark Degree and the Excellent Mason before they can be exalted into the Royal Arch.
The English and Scottish ritual explains to the candidate how certain major discoveries were made when the Children of Israel returned to Jerusalem from their Babylonish captivity and were clearing the ground for the rebuilding of Solomon’s temple under Zerubbabel. The principal officers of English and Scottish Chapters are Zerubbabel the Prince, Haggai the Prophet and Joshua the High Priest.
While the import of the ceremony is the same in Ireland and the US, the discoveries were made at a different time, when the second temple at Jerusalem was being built under King Josiah. Their principal officers are King Josiah, Hilkiah the High Priest and Shaphan the Scribe, although in the US – the Great Republic – the High Priest is the senior of the three. As in Scotland, Irish and American Chapters include the Mark Degree and the Ceremony of Passing the Veils as preliminaries to entry into the Royal Arch.
Add to these differences the unique relationship between the Craft and Royal Arch in England – the bicentenary of which we will be celebrating next year – and you will begin to understand how complex international relations are within the Royal Arch. In all other constitutions the Craft and Royal Arch are entirely separate. The closest is Ireland, where the Grand Secretary is always the Grand Registrar of the Grand Chapter (the equivalent of our Grand Scribe E) and Chapters bear the number and, in very many cases, the name of the lodges to which they are attached.
Royal Arch acceptance
When, in 1813, the indissoluble link was forged by the acceptance of the Royal Arch as an integral part of pure ancient masonry, a number of links were put in place to strengthen the relationship. In particular, a preamble was made to the General Regulations governing the Royal Arch which, in short form, states that anything not specifically covered by the regulations is to be considered as bound by the Book of Constitutions of the Grand Lodge.
While the Grand Chapter is sovereign over the regulation and administration of the Royal Arch, the Craft is paramount and certain aspects remain in its sole remit. This is particularly so in regard to our relations with other constitutions. It is Grand Lodge, on the recommendation of the Board of General Purposes and its External Relations Committee, which grants recognition to other constitutions. The Royal Arch has a voice in such recommendations, as the President of the Committee of General Purposes of Grand Chapter is ex officio a member of the Board and sits on its External Relations Committee.
As recognition has always been a Craft matter, Grand Chapter does not formally recognise or exchange representatives with other Grand Chapters. It is, however, very happy to receive companions from, and to allow its members to visit Chapters under any Grand Chapter that draws its membership solely from a Grand Lodge recognised by the United Grand Lodge of England.
With all these differences, a companion wishing to visit a foreign Chapter would be wise to seek advice from the Grand Scribe E’s office in advance.
The Royal connection
With members of the Royal Family carrying out a vital role in Freemasonry, John Hamill counts the line of princes and dukes who have played their part over the past three hundred years
This year, the nation rightly celebrated the Diamond Jubilee of Her Majesty The Queen, but there is another significant royal and masonic anniversary of which many of the Craft may not be aware. It was the two hundred and seventy-fifth anniversary of the initiation of HRH Frederick Lewis, Prince of Wales, the first member of the English Royal Freemasons, on 5 November 2012. The eldest son of King George II, Frederick Lewis did not come to the throne, as he died in 1751 at the early age of forty-four. This was some nine years before the death of his father, who was succeeded by Frederick Lewis’s son George, who went on to reign for sixty years as King George III.
Frederick Lewis was made a Freemason in what was termed an ‘occasional’ lodge, presided over by the Reverend Doctor JT Desaguliers, Grand Master in 1737. In the fashion of the day, the prince was made both an Entered Apprentice and a Fellowcraft at the meeting. A month later, another occasional lodge was held and he became a Master Mason. Due to lack of records for the period, we have no information as to what Frederick Lewis did in Freemasonry, other than that in 1738 he was Master of a Lodge. We know this because in the same year, the Reverend Doctor James Anderson published the second edition of The Constitutions of the Free Masons, which has a wonderfully flowery dedication to the prince ‘now a Master Mason and Master of a Lodge’.
It would be interesting to speculate if Frederick Lewis discussed Freemasonry within his family, for one of his brothers and three of his sons went on to become Freemasons. The youngest of his sons, Henry Frederick, Duke of Cumberland (1745-1790), had rapid promotions. He was initiated at an occasional lodge on 9 February 1767; was installed as Master of the Horn Lodge in April 1767 and in the same month elected a Past Grand Master of the premier Grand Lodge. In 1782 he became our first Royal Grand Master and held that office until his untimely death in 1790. He was also the first Royal Brother to enter the Royal Arch, being exalted in the Grand Chapter in 1772 and was its Grand Patron from 1774 until his death.
Henry Frederick introduced the next generation of royalty to the fraternity, with sons of King George III becoming Freemasons. Three of them went on to serve as Grand Master: George, Prince of Wales (later Prince Regent and King George IV) succeeded his uncle as Grand Master in 1791 and served until he became Prince Regent in 1812, when he was succeeded by his younger brother Augustus Frederick, Duke of Sussex. At the same time, their brother Edward, Duke of Kent, became Grand Master of the Antients Grand Lodge.
With two royal brothers at their head in 1813, the two Grand Lodges came together as the United Grand Lodge of England, with the Duke of Sussex as Grand Master. Sussex was determined that the would succeed, and put in place a number of procedures that today still form the basis of the government of the English Craft and Royal Arch.
The death of the Duke of Sussex in 1843 marked a twenty-five-year period without royal participation for the simple reason that – with the exception of Queen Victoria’s husband, Prince Albert – there were no princes of an age to join. That situation was happily rectified in 1868 when the then Prince of Wales (later King Edward VII) became a Freemason on a visit to Sweden. In 1869 he was elected a Past Grand Master and in 1874 became Grand Master, holding office until he came to the throne in 1901 when he took the title of Protector of Freemasonry.
The Prince of Wales was soon joined by two of his brothers, the Duke of Connaught and the Duke of Albany, and brought in his son, the Duke of Clarence. The Duke of Connaught succeeded his brother as Grand Master in 1901 and was to be an active ruler until 1939. He was supported by his son Prince Arthur and by his great nephews, the then Prince of Wales (later King Edward VIII and Duke of Windsor); the Duke of York (later King George VI); and the Duke of Kent, father of our present Grand Master. The Duke of Kent succeeded as Grand Master in 1939 but his rule was cut cruelly short when he was killed in an RAF air crash in 1942.
Today, English Freemasonry is fortunate to still have Royal support. HRH The Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh became a Master Mason in Navy Lodge, No. 2612, of which he is still a subscribing member. HRH The Duke of Kent has been our Grand Master since 1967 and his wise counsel and great support in what has been a turbulent time for English Freemasonry, have been invaluable. His brother HRH Prince Michael of Kent has given long service as both Provincial Grand Master for Middlesex in the Craft and as Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of Mark Master Masons.
To look back on two hundred and seventy-five years of Royal support is a wonderful sight and something that English Freemasons hope will continue long into the future.
12 September 2012
An address by the MW the Pro Grand Master Peter Lowndes
I have recently finished the two yearly Regional Conferences that I have with Provincial Grand Masters. These are relatively informal affairs and cover a wide range of subjects. I find them extremely useful and they are kind enough to say the same – but, of course, what else could they say!
One theme that ran through them all was a determination to see our numbers on the increase by 2017. Indeed, in one or two cases, this has already started. This means that perhaps we are getting some things right.
I have said frequently that we must not be looking for new candidates simply for the sake of increasing numbers, but if we can start this increase with the right candidates there should be a knock on effect.
Enthusing new members is of paramount importance and we heard from Brothers Soper and Lord at the September Quarterly Communication about the work of the Universities Scheme. Following that talk I have asked the Universities Scheme Committee to think about how best we can implement some of the principles that were mentioned, across the whole Craft.
Recruiting and retaining young candidates is our most important task and I am confident that those who have made the Universities Scheme successful can help us with this important challenge. However this is not just down to them and we must all pull our weight in this respect.
Brethren, in November I visited my Great Grandfather’s mother Lodge in Hertfordshire and a splendid occasion it was, with an almost faultless 2nd Degree Ceremony being performed. I can almost hear you all thinking that they would have spent hours rehearsing. Not so, as they didn’t know that I was coming.
The reason for mentioning this today is that in the Reply for the Visitors the Brother speaking referred to the Craft as an altruistic society. Altruism is one of those words that I have often heard used and possibly even used myself without having been completely sure of its meaning. The dictionary definition is “regard for others as a principle of action”. Rather a good description for a lot of what Freemasonry is about.
If we can instil this ethos into our candidates, we won’t be going far wrong. Of course it is not all that we are about, but it is not a bad starting point, as it should naturally lead to a practice of Brotherly Love, Relief and Truth, which in itself leads on to our charitable giving, which seems to be second nature to us.
During this year the Festivals for our Charities in our Provinces have raised a total of nearly £10m, of which Leicestershire and Rutland raised £1.7m for the RMBI; Warwickshire raised £3.16m for the MSF; Cambridgeshire £1.285m for the Grand Charity and Devonshire £3.836m for the RMTGB. In these troubled economic times this, Brethren, is remarkable and I congratulate all those concerned.
I hope that our membership, as a whole, are far more familiar with the activities of all our Charities than might have been the case 20 or so years ago. The promotion of their activities by the Charities is excellent and the Freemasonry Cares campaign has enlightened many people at home and abroad about what support is available.
Whilst 3 of our Charities are Masonic in their giving, and there is nothing to be ashamed of in that - quite the contrary in my view, the Grand Charity, of course, has a wide brief for giving to non Masonic bodies, provided that they are also Charities. Not everyone appreciates this aspect, or how much money is involved and we should be quick to point it out.
Brethren, since 2007 we have had excellent and amusing talks on the past at the December Quarterly Communication from Brothers Hamill and Redman and we should be proud of our history, but it is of paramount importance that we look forward and ensure that we go from strength to strength in the future in both numbers and our usefulness to the society in which we live.
Brethren, I wish you all a very relaxing break over Christmas, particularly if, like me, you will be having your Grand Children to stay.
12 December 2012
A speech by VW Bro Graham Redman, Assistant Grand Secretary, and VW Bro John Hamill
GFR: MW Pro Grand Master and Brethren, a year ago we left the Antients or Atholl Grand Lodge on the receiving end of a stiff letter of complaint from the Moderns Grand Lodge at the lack of progress towards a . The Minutes of the Antients for March 1812, record:
Ordered that six hundred pounds three Percent Consolidated Bank Annuities be purchased in the names of the Trustees, viz. R. Bros. Thomas Harper, James Agar, William Comerford Clarkson and James Perry Esq. in trust for the Charity funds of the Grand Lodge.
Ordered that the Masters and Wardens of the Lodges in and adjacent to London and Westminster do and shall forthwith make out and deliver to the Secretary a list of all and every of the Past Masters entitled to sit and vote in Grand Lodge, with the dates when they respectively served the office of Master and that a printed circular letter be issued for such return and to be filled and returned in thereon.
JMH: MW Pro Grand Master and Brethren, six hundred pounds was a significant amount, with a purchasing power today of almost twenty one thousand pounds. The reason for the census of Past Masters was a result of the argument between the negotiators for the of the two Grand Lodges over the future composition of the United Grand Lodge. Under the Antients Grand Lodge subscribing Past Masters remained members of the Grand Lodge but in the premier Grand Lodge only the actual Masters were entitled to attend. Those who were present here last year might remember that the premier Grand Lodge’s only reason for being against including Past Masters in the membership of Grand Lodge was the rather trivial one that their Hall would not be big enough if they all turned up!
GFR: At the same meeting a memorial from the Committee of the Masonic Institution for Cloathing and Educating the Sons of Deceased and Indigent Freemasons was received and read, as a result of which it was:
resolved and ordered That from and after the date hereof, every Lodge in and adjacent to London and Westminster upon the register of every newly made Mason, shall contribute and pay the sum of Five Shillings and every Country, Foreign and Military Lodge shall in like manner pay Two Shillings and Sixpence which sums shall go in aid of the Institution for cloathing and educating the Sons of indigent Freemasons.”
It is also resolved and ordered “That from and after the 5th of September next, no person shall be admitted into Masonry, in any warranted Lodge under this constitution for a less sum than Three Guineas, to be paid upon his initiation” under a penalty of forfeiture of the Warrant, in any Lodge so trespassing.
JMH: Placing a levy on their members to finance their Boys’ Charity was not a new concept for the Antients. Grand Lodge dues had not then been invented but from its earliest days the Antients Grand Lodge had required its lodges to make a quarterly payment of six pence for each of the members appearing on their returns, which went into their Fund of Benevolence. The sole income of the Grand Lodge itself came from registration fees for new members and those joining additional lodges and fees for warrants and dispensations.
Three guineas might not seem a large amount for the initiation fee, the modern equivalent would be about one hundred and seven pounds. When one realises, however, that a good craftsman or tradesman in early nineteenth century London would only be earning about one pound per week and that the average lodge annual subscription at that time was one guinea, we are given a different perspective. How many potential candidates today would be happy to pay three weeks salary for their initiation fee and one weeks salary as their annual Lodge subscription?
GFR: At the June meeting
The Deputy Grand Master reported that in conformity with the directions of the Grand Lodge, the number of Past Masters had been collected from the returns of the respective Lodges and a list had been handed to the Secretary of the Masons under the Prince Regent prior to their general meeting in April last with the following letter, but that no communication had been received thereon.
In conformity with the wishes of the Committee of Masons under H.R.H. the Prince Regent, the utmost pains have been taken to ascertain the number of Past Masters, who claim the right of seats in the Grand Lodge under His Grace. the Duke of Atholl, and from the best sources of information that could be obtained. I have the honor to subjoin a statement of the utmost number who can be considered at this time entitled to that privilege.
Permit me to observe that upon no occasion has it ever been known for more than one third of the number of the number (i.e. Past Masters) to give their attendance at the Grand Lodge at any one time.
As I am not aware that any Return has yet been made to the Committee under His Grace the Duke of Atholl of the numbers in the representation of the Grand Lodge under the Prince Regent, allow me to say I shall be happy to receive it at your earliest convenience.
I have the Honor to be Sir
Your very obedient Servant
Edwards Harper D.G.S.
JMH: The statistics provided by the Antients were as follows:
Grand Officers Present and Past 16
Masters and Wardens (49 Lodges) 147
Past Masters of the foregoing 375
Considering that the Antients had lodges throughout England and Wales as well as many lodges in the colonies, it would appear that they restricted attendance at their Grand Lodge to Masters and Past Masters of London lodges. Many of their official pronouncements include a statement that they were issued by “we the Grand Officers and Masters and Past Masters of the Lodges in the Cities of London and Westminster in Grand Lodge assembled…”. Forty nine was the number of lodges under the Antients in the London area.
GFR: In another place – as they say – at the Quarterly Communication of the Premier or Moderns Grand Lodge in February of that year:
The Grand Treasurer acquainted the Grand Lodge that he considered it desirable for the Society to make a purchase of the house adjoining to the Tavern and that he had reason to believe such purchase might be made on fair and equitable terms together with certain small premises adjoining thereto which it might be very desirable for the Society to possess, whereupon, on a motion duly made it was
Resolved that the Grand Treasurer be authorised to treat for such purchase under the sanction of the Hall Committee and to conclude the same and under that sanction to raise such sum of money, by mortgage or otherwise, as may be necessary for the completion of the purchase.
The Earl of Moira A.G.M. acquainted the Grand Lodge, that in consequence of the death of Admiral Sir Peter Parker Bart. His Royal Highness the Grand Master had been pleased to appoint His Royal Highness the Duke of Sussex to be Deputy Grand Master which communication was received by the Grand Lodge with every sentiment of respect and approbation.
JMH: The property was acquired and after the was radically adapted by the first Grand Superintendent, the noted architect Sir John Soane, to provide additional lodge meeting facilities. Sadly Soane’s work only survives in his plans and drawings as his extension to the original Hall disappeared during the building of the second Hall in Great Queen Street in the 1860s.
Admiral Sir Peter Parker had been a very popular Deputy Grand Master, an office he had held since 1787, although as commander of the fleet in the West Indies and Caribbean he was often absent from England fighting the French. The choice of His Royal Highness the Duke of Sussex as his successor was, history has shown, a master stroke of dynastic planning. As we shall hear in a few moments, the Earl of Moira who had been the Prince Regent’s Masonic right hand since 1790, was soon to depart for India, and the Prince of Wales, having become Prince Regent, was planning to retire from the Grand Mastership so new leadership would be required. The Duke of Sussex had proved himself an enthusiastic Freemason and was to prove a perfect example of the right man being appointed at the right time.
GFR: At the April Communication of the Grand Lodge :
The Grand Secretary laid before the Grand Lodge letters he had received from the Provincial Grand Lodge of York complaining that the Lodges in that Province did not correspond and remit their Contributions for the Grand Lodge in London through the medium of the Provincial Grand Lodge by reason of which the dignity and consequence of the Provincial Grand Lodge was not sufficiently supported and therefore requesting the interference of the Grand Lodge on the subject. Whereupon after mature deliberation the Grand Lodge declared its opinion that the request of the Provincial Grand Lodge at York cannot be complied with, as such a proceeding would tend to lessen the authority and superintendance of the Grand Lodge over the subordinate Lodges. And the Acting Grand Master undertook to write to the Provincial Grand Master for Yorkshire on the subject.
On a motion made by Brother Thomas Brand Esq. and seconded by Brother the Revd. Dr. Coghlan it was
Resolved that a Grand Organist be appointed to perform on the organ in the hall at the meetings of the Grand Lodge who shall be entitled to wear a Blue Apron and to have a seat in the Grand Lodge. And that the Grand Master be requested to nominate a fit person accordingly.
JMH: The complaint from the Provincial Grand Lodge at York might seem strange to us but is a perfect demonstration of the maxim that historians should look at the past through the eyes of the past and not the eyes of today. Although Provincial Grand Masters appeared as early as 1725 Provincial Grand Lodges as we know them today were a product of the new administrative arrangements after the in 1813. Under the premier Grand Lodge, as today, Provincial Grand Masters were appointed by the Grand Master as his personal representatives within their designated areas. They often appointed a Deputy and a Secretary and were empowered by the Book of Constitutions to appoint Grand Officers pro tempore to assist them on ceremonial occasions such as the constitution of new Lodges, laying of foundation stones and public processions, but Provincial Grand Ranks as we know them came after the .
Indeed, there was ambiguity as to the ranking of Provincial Grand Masters under the Moderns. The minutes of each of their meetings begin with a list of those present in order of seniority. On every occasion the Provincial Grand Masters who attended were listed after the actual Grand Wardens and any Past Grand Wardens who attended. For many years I was puzzled by the fact that the ubiquitous Thomas Dunckerley, who had been Provincial Grand Master for nine Provinces was in 1786 appointed a Past Senior Grand Warden, the first occasion on which a Past Rank was conferred other than the rank of Past Grand Master being conferred on Royal brethren. It was only recently discovered that he had actively sought the rank because he was about to give up his then charges and would no longer qualify to attend Grand Lodge as only the actual Provincial Grand Masters were so qualified.
GFR: At the Grand Feast, held that year in May:
The Grand Lodge having resolved, that a Grand Organist should be appointed, the Grand Master was pleased to appoint Mr Samuel Wesley to that office.
JMH: Samuel Wesley was the son of Charles and nephew of John Wesley, the founders of Methodism. A major composer of his day, called by some the English Mozart, he had been initiated in the Lodge of Antiquity (now) No. 2 in 1788. He was to be Grand Organist from 1812 until 1818 but, sadly, appears to have left no Masonic music. Today he is greatly overshadowed by his son Samuel Sebastian Wesley, one of the great church composer and cathedral organists of the nineteenth century.
GFR: In November the Deputy Grand Master, His Royal Highness the Duke of Sussex, reported on a Special Meeting of Grand Officers held earlier in that month at his instigation at which:
The Grand Treasurer acquainted that Committee that he [that] morning had [had] the honor of an interview with His Royal Highness the Deputy Grand Master who had desired him to express to the Committee His Royal Highness’s regret at being prevented by severe indisposition from attending this meeting that His Royal Highness had ordered the Committee to be summoned for the purpose of taking into consideration the mode of paying some mark of respect to The Earl of Moira A.G.M. (to whose kind care and exertions the Craft is so greatly indebted for its present highly respectable and flourishing state) previous to His Lordship’s expected departure from England and that His Royal Highness was of opinion it would be proper to invite His Lordship to partake of a dinner with the Craft…
That Committee had then Resolved unanimously that a Masonic Dinner at which the Duke of Sussex should preside be given to Lord Moira, to which the members of the Craft generally should be invited, and a further Committee was appointed to oversee the arrangements.
And the Grand Lodge having expressed its approbation of the proceedings of the Committee it was
Resolved unanimously that at the dinner of the Grand Lodge to be given to The Right Honorable The Earl of Moira A.G.M. on the 13th day of January next a Masonic Jewel of a value not less than 500 Guineas be presented to His Lordship in token of the high sense which the Craft at large entertain of His Lordship’s most valuable services to the Society from the year 1790 to the present time, and of the Brotherly affection they bear him
Resolved unanimously that the several Lodges be invited to contribute towards this expense in order that every member of the Craft may have an opportunity of testifying his regard, individually to the M.W. Acting Grand Master.
JMH: Lord Moira had been appointed Governor and Commander in Chief at Bengal, where he was to remain for ten years. He broke his journey to India with a brief sojourn in Mauritius, where with Masonic ceremonies he laid the foundation stone of the new Roman Catholic cathedral.
Moira had been Acting, or as we would say Pro, Grand Master since 1790 and had steered the Moderns through a difficult period, not least the possibility of the Craft being proscribed under the 1799 Unlawful Societies Act. Calling for five hundred guineas to purchase a jewel to mark his long service was extraordinarily generous, in modern purchasing power it equated to just under eighteen thousand pounds. The dinner held on 27 January 1813 was indeed a gala occasion attended by Their Royal Highnesses the Dukes of Sussex, York, Clarence, Kent, Cumberland and Gloucester, the Deputy Grand Master of Scotland and a representative of the King of Sweden. The presentation was magnificent. The jewel, surrounded by brilliants, carried the Acting Grand Masters’ emblem and was suspended from what was described as “a collar of three feet long, composed of seven rows of fine Maltese chain, intersected by five parallelograms with brilliant centres”. It was made by Brother J. C. Burckhardt of the Lodge of Antiquity. The jewel is now in the Museum in this building but the collar was eventually broken up into necklaces for Moira’s female descendant. The final cost was six hundred and seventy pounds, just over twenty two thousand five hundred pounds today!
GFR: 1912 seems to have been a rather uneventful year. Leaving aside a spate of Appeals and the investiture of a new Assistant Grand Secretary, the only item which catches the eye – and catches it spectacularly – was in March of that year when the Pro Grand Master stated:
I regret that I feel obliged to disallow the motion standing in the name of the V.W. Brother the President of the Board of General Purposes. It is a proposal to alter the established custom in the matter of appointments and precedence and therefore affects the prerogative of the Grand Master.
JMH: Strong words indeed, and stronger were to follow for the Pro Grand Master, Lord Ampthill, was not known for his diplomatic skills! To challenge the President in Grand Lodge, apparently without any warning, was unprecedented.. The motion concerned the precedence of Lodge officers, something not then governed by the Book of Constitutions. Ampthill claimed that the motion interfered in the prerogatives of the Grand Master, had the Grand Registrar been asked he might have had a contrary view! Wisely the President withdrew the motion and the matter was not raised again. Lord Ampthill, however, began almost a crusade to have the whole administration of the Craft examined and revised. But that, as they say, is a story for another day.
Would the of the two Grand Lodges have gone ahead in 1813 if the Royal Arch had not been recognised? John Hamill takes a whistle-stop tour through Antient history
The earliest documentary evidence for the Royal Arch in England comes in the minutes of the Antients Grand Lodge. At their meeting on 4 March 1752, charges were laid against a group claimed to have been made masons ‘for the mean consideration of a leg of mutton’. Of one of the miscreants it was said that he had not ‘the least idea or knowledge of Royal Arch masonry’. A small detail, perhaps, but over the next 60 years the relationship between the Antients and the Royal Arch was to prove pivotal in shaping English Freemasonry.
1752: Antient recognition
At a meeting on 2 September 1752, the minutes of the Antients Grand Lodge record that ‘every piece of Real Freemasonry was traced and explained: except the Royal Arch’ by the Grand Secretary, Laurence Dermott. An Irishman who had become a mason in Dublin before moving to London, Dermott claimed to have entered the Royal Arch in Dublin in 1746.
1759: Part of the Craft
It was ordered at an Antients meeting on 2 March 1759 that ‘the Masters of the Royal Arch shall also be summoned to meet and regulate things relative to that most valuable branch of the Craft’. Those last few words encapsulate the Antients’ attitude to the Royal Arch. They regarded it as a part of the Craft and considered their lodge warrants as sufficient authority to work the Royal Arch. In later years they often called themselves ‘the Grand Lodge of the four degrees’. Dermott himself characterised the Royal Arch as ‘the root, heart and marrow of masonry’ and ‘the capstone of the whole masonic system’.
1771: Dermott protects
Dermott, who had a positive loathing for the premier Grand Lodge, was clearly far from happy when its members formed the first Grand Chapter in 1766. He had to wait, however, until 1771, when he had become Deputy Grand Master, before he could take action. During that year he engineered a question in the Grand Lodge as to whether or not the Grand Master was Grand Master ‘in every respect’. His successor as Grand Secretary, William Dickey, stated that he had heard it claimed that the Grand Master ‘had not a right’ to enquire into Royal Arch activities. The Masters of the Royal Arch were summoned to discuss this and other Royal Arch matters.
1773: Royal Arch regulates
In November 1773, Dermott got his way when it was agreed that ‘a General Grand Chapter of the Royal Arch shall meet on the first Wednesdays in the months of April and October in every year to regulate all matters in that branch of masonry’. Whether or not the General Grand Chapter ever met it is not possible to say as no minutes for it survive and there is no further reference to it in the Antients Grand Lodge minutes. If it did meet it can have had no greater status than as a special committee of qualified members of the Antients Grand Lodge. Any decisions it might have made would have to have been ratified by the Grand Lodge itself. Certainly there was no separate administration, list of Grand Officers or individual Chapters under the Antients system.
1794: In black and white
It was not until 1794 that regulations for the Royal Arch were printed, and these were incorporated as a supplement to their Book of Constitutions. These regulations would be used within their lodges as and when candidates came forward. Some Antients lodges had, by the 1790s, developed a regular progression of degrees within the lodge. After the three Craft degrees you moved towards the Royal Arch but first went through the Mark Degree, Passing the Chair (if the candidate was not already a Master or Past Master of a Lodge) and the Excellent Mason Degree. After the Royal Arch you could then join the Knights Templar followed by an early version of the Rose Croix, which they termed the Ne Plus Ultra of Masonry.
This progression was often depicted on the aprons worn by members of the Antients, which in addition to symbols of the Craft would include those for the degrees listed above. A very rare example of a multi-degree tracing board turned up some 20 years ago at an auction in Suffolk with other masonic artefacts, which had been in the possession of a local clerical family for more than 150 years. East Anglia had been a stronghold of the Antients and it may well have been commissioned by one of the local lodges.
1813: A very English compromise
That the Antients did much to foster the Royal Arch is beyond doubt. It could also be argued that it was their attitude towards the Royal Arch that preserved it and produced that very English compromise: the of the two Grand Lodges in 1813, by which the premier Grand Lodge acknowledged the Royal Arch as the completion of ‘pure ancient masonry’, provided that it was worked separately from the Craft in chapters rather than in lodges as had been the Antients’ custom.
I think it more than probable that had that compromise not been reached the Antients would have withdrawn from the negotiations, the would not have taken place and the future progress of English Freemasonry would have taken a very different path.
A badly read piece of ritual is infinitely worse than a badly remembered piece, explains Director of Special Projects John Hamill
When dealing with the media on behalf of Grand Lodge, one of the comments that I regularly received from journalists was that if the ceremonies are the main purpose of lodge meetings it must eventually become very boring to see the same ceremonies year after year. My answer was always a resounding ‘no’.
No two ceremonies can ever be the same. The candidate is different each time, the officers taking part regularly change and those attending the meeting are never exactly the same. Although the basic words and actions of each ceremony may be the same each time it is worked, those changes of personnel can make an enormous difference.
One of the most memorable meetings I have attended was a Third Degree, the candidate for which was in a wheelchair. You could almost feel the atmosphere of good will in the room with the officers concentrating on the comfort of the candidate and those on the sidelines silently willing the officers to do a good job for the candidate. It was Freemasonry at its best.
Our ritual did not simply happen. It went through a long gestation in the eighteenth century, moving from simple lessons in morality to a complex series of catechetical lectures in which the principles and tenets of the Craft, as well as the symbolism and content of the ceremonies, were explained. A watershed came in 1814 when, as a result of the of the two Grand Lodges, a Lodge of Reconciliation was set up to reconcile the two former systems of ritual and bring about a standard form of the ceremonies to be adopted by all lodges.
Like many special committees, the Lodge of Reconciliation went way beyond its brief and extended the original simple ceremonies by introducing material from the catechetical lectures, and brought about the basis of our present ceremonies. One of the sad effects of that was that the lectures gradually dropped into disuse, except in places like the Emulation Lodge of Improvement, where they are still worked every Friday evening during the masonic season. It’s sad because they contain a wealth of explanation that would increase the brethren’s understanding of the ceremonies.
WORD OF MOUTH
The aim of producing a standard form of ritual was not achieved. In those days writing down ritual matters was a heinous masonic crime. Ritual was passed on by word of mouth. Its work having been agreed by Grand Lodge in 1816, the Lodge of Reconciliation gave weekly demonstrations of the new rituals in London. Lodges were invited to send representatives to the demonstrations to pass on the new method to their lodges.
This method of transmission and a failure to suppress cherished local traditions has resulted in a richness and variety of working in our lodges, which makes visiting all the more interesting for us.
In recent years there have been calls for officers to be allowed to read the ritual in lodge. For two reasons I think this would be a retrograde step. First, having seen ritual read in lodges in Europe, a badly read piece of ritual is infinitely worse that a badly remembered piece. More importantly, by learning the ritual we increase our understanding of it.
Whoever we are we all come into Freemasonry in the same way. Our progress through the three ceremonies is what the late Canon Tydeman so aptly described as ‘the shared experience’. Combined with our belief in a supreme being, it is what unites us, whatever our backgrounds, and gives us the basis to build and be of service to our communities.
Today the formation of a Grand Chapter would be widely reported. As John Hamill explains, such was not the case for the Excellent Grand and Royal Arch Chapter of England
As I wrote in the last issue of Freemasonry Today, the Royal Arch was brought into being by the signing of the document now know as the Charter of Compact on 22 July 1766, although the date was later tampered with. Strangely, there is no mention of that charter within the minutes of the chapter, which turned itself into the Grand Chapter. So exactly how did events pan out?
1765: The signing of a manifesto
On 12 June 1765, a group of twenty-nine companions met at the Turk’s Head Tavern in Gerrard Street, Soho and signed a manifesto by which they constituted themselves into an independent Chapter of Royal Arch Masons. The manifesto – a set of rules to govern the operation of the chapter – was copied into the minute book in an illuminated style and was signed by those present and then by every brother on his exaltation within the chapter.
1766: Grand Chapter catalyst
Among those who joined were many of the major figures then involved in the running of the premier Grand Lodge. Exactly a year after its formation, the success of the chapter was crowned by the candidate at the meeting on 11 June 1766 being the then Grand Master – Cadwallader, Lord Blayney. It would appear that this event was the catalyst for the formation of a Grand Chapter, although the minutes are silent on this matter, any discussion of the Charter of Compact, or even to its signing. The only reference in the minute book is in the accounts where it is noted that a Mr Parkinson was paid two guineas for engrossing the charter.
1769: Just a private chapter?
The chapter continued to work as a private chapter, regularly exalting new members and it is not until 1769 that the minutes begin to show evidence of it acting as a Grand Chapter. In that year it began to issue charters to form new chapters. Of these foundations five are still in existence today. It would appear from the minute books that the chapter continued a dual role as both a private chapter and a Grand Chapter until it evolved into Supreme Grand Chapter in 1817. From 1795 it began to function on a regular basis as we would expect today.
1778: Spreading the message
In 1778, the chapter began to organise Provinces with the appointment of Grand Superintendents, whose main function appears to have been to stimulate the formation of new chapters. Thomas Dunckerley, who did so much to promote the Royal Arch in the late eighteenth century between 1778 and his death in 1795, was appointed Grand Superintendent in no less than eighteen counties.
1795: Grand Lodge softening
Despite many of its leaders being involved in the Grand Chapter, the premier Grand Lodge consistently refused to acknowledge the Royal Arch as part of its system. By 1795 that attitude had softened and the premier Grand Lodge announced, rather condescendingly, that it had no objections to the Royal Arch as a separately organised society.
1809: Royal Arch an integral part
With HRH The Duke of Sussex becoming both Grand Master of the premier Grand Lodge and First Grand Principal of the Grand Chapter, the latter body gave him full powers to negotiate on their behalf whatever settlement could be achieved as to the position of the Royal Arch, once the of the two Grand Lodges had been carried through. It was as a result of that, and his position as Grand Master, that a compromise was achieved and the Royal Arch was accepted as an integral part of pure antient masonry.
1817: Birth of the Supreme Grand Chapter
The Grand Chapter continued to exist until 1817 when, with the Craft arrangements being almost completed, The Duke of Sussex turned his mind to the Royal Arch. The Grand and Royal Chapter merged with the former members of the Antients Royal Arch, with the Supreme Grand Chapter coming into being. Surprisingly after 1817, the dual nature of the original Grand Chapter – acting both as a regulatory body and a private chapter – continued with men of eminence being exalted within the Grand Chapter itself.
1832: Last exaltations
The last occasion the Grand Chapter acted as both regulator and private chapter was in May 1832 when the Marquis of Salisbury, the Marquis of Abercorn and Lord Monson were exalted at an emergency meeting of Grand Chapter.
John Hamill looks back on the construction of Freemasons’ Hall from the perspective of those who worked there
Despite the economic problems, the 1920s was a period of great expansion for Freemasonry. It appealed to those coming back from the war – both as a means of continuing the camaraderie they had experienced on active service and giving them a sense of stability and tradition in a much changed world.
With the growing popularity of Freemasonry, the great project of building the present Freemasons’ Hall in London was undertaken as a memorial to those who had given their lives in the First World War. Changes of this magnitude and the increased work in raising money for the new building put enormous strains on the small office run by the Grand Secretary.
In 1919, the office consisted of the Grand Secretary, Assistant Grand Secretary, sixteen permanent clerks, four junior clerks and two ‘lady typewriters’, Miss Haig and Miss Winter. The two ladies had come in towards the end of the war as temporaries but were to spend the remainder of their careers in the Hall as secretaries to the Grand Secretary and his assistant.
The daily running of the building and the letting of lodge and committee rooms was under the charge of the Grand Tyler, who lived in the hall. He had an assistant, two porters, a night watchman, a ‘furnace man’ who looked after the primitive heating system and the open fires in the offices and committee rooms, and a floating number of cleaners.
Six of the boys taken on between 1925 and 1929 – some of whom came directly from the old Royal Masonic School for Boys – were each to spend forty-nine years in the service of the Grand Lodge: Gerry Winslade, Harold Brunton, Llew Hodges, Bill Browne, Derek Chanter and Bob Hawkins.
Dickensian is probably an overused adjective, but it aptly describes the conditions under which the clerks worked. Freemasons’ Hall had been extended in the 1860s and what were termed commodious offices had been provided for the Grand Secretary and his clerks. Even the provision in 1906 of two new rooms in a house attached to the west end of the old Hall did little to give proper working space.
As the steel work for the new building began to rise in 1927 it gradually became apparent that much would have to change in the future. It was to cover two and one quarter acres with four principal floors, a large basement area and mezzanine floors in various parts of the building. Routine maintenance would be of ‘Forth Bridge’ proportions, to say nothing of security.
Not surprisingly, many of those who had been involved in raising the building applied for jobs and spent the rest of their working lives caring for it, some of them working into their mid-seventies. Carpentry, electrical and engineering workshops were set up in the basement, together with a paint shop and upholstery department. When the time came to demolish the Victorian Hall, the office was transferred to temporary accommodation in what was to be one of the new lodge rooms so that the administration could continue. The conditions were far from ideal but they knew that before long they would be moving to what one of the clerks described as a ‘demi-paradise’.
The new office for the clerks was built in the undercroft of the Grand Temple and matched it in size. Unlike the Grand Temple, it had enormous windows allowing much natural light to come in from the light well which surrounds it. Unlike the cramped Victorian offices, it was open plan giving a great feeling of airy lightness and space. Visitors came in through large glazed bronze doors to find a long enquiries counter, always manned by a senior clerk who could deal with their enquiries or quickly fetch the appropriate clerk who dealt with the particular matter. While waiting to be served, the visitor had a view over the whole of the office.
At the back of the room was a mezzanine floor where the cashier and his clerks had their office. The sensitive nature of their work dealing with Grand Lodge finances and staff payroll was carried out without any fear of being overlooked by staff or visitors. In those halcyon days it was the only part of the office where the doors had locks, the rest of the office was always accessible even when the clerks had left for the evening.
In time, as the Craft continued to expand – particularly after the Second World War – the office again became crowded. In addition, areas had been partitioned off to provide small offices for individuals and the whole open-plan design had been submerged. When a major structural reorganisation of the Grand Secretary’s office took place in 1999 the old partitions were torn down and the feeling of light and space returned. Apart from the modern furniture and the computers, were one of the 1932 clerks to return to the office today they would find it little changed from that ‘demi-paradise’ they were the first to occupy.
Was St Paul's Cathedral built by a mason?
With Christopher Wren’s membership of the Craft remaining disputed, Dr James Campbell explains why he chose this subject for his 2011 Prestonian Lecture
Sir Christopher Wren is so well known he hardly needs an introduction. He is England’s most famous architect, the designer of St Paul’s Cathedral. Indeed, up until the age of the railways he was England’s most prolific architect, designing more buildings in his 90 years than any other.
But what makes Wren really fascinating is that he turned to architecture rather late, having already made a considerable name for himself as a mathematician, astronomer and experimental scientist. He was a founding member of the Royal Society and later its president. He carried out the first intravenous injection, was one of the three men who suggested to Newton that gravity obeyed the inverse square law, and was a professor of astronomy at the age of 26. His contemporaries universally described him as startlingly brilliant. Indeed, the more you learn about Wren the more engaging he becomes.
My interest in Wren dates back to 1987, when I first arrived as an undergraduate in Trinity College, Cambridge, and discovered the magnificent library he built there. It sparked a lifelong interest in Wren and another in the architecture of libraries. An interest in Wren served me well and I eventually did my PhD on him and became an architectural historian. One topic kept coming up in my research on Wren: that of his link with Freemasonry. Authors were completely divided on the subject. Many, of course, simply ignored it entirely, but others could not make up their minds whether he was or was not a Freemason, let alone whether it had any effect on his architecture. That uncertainty continues to this day.
A CONTESTABLE TOPIC
If you go on the UGLE website and look at the lists of famous Freemasons, Wren’s name is nowhere to be found. Writers on the subject have also varied in their opinions. John Hamill said in The Craft that the case is ‘unproven’; David Stevenson has said in the past that there is no evidence; while Lisa Jardine, Wren biographer and distinguished historian, is in no doubt that he was. When you look further back – at the eighteenth century – the books of the time all state that Wren had not only been a Freemason, he had been the Grand Master. Some even go so far as to claim that Wren initiated Peter the Great of Russia and William III of England.
The Prestonian Lectures is the only series of lectures officially sanctioned by UGLE. Every year a new lecturer is appointed by the Trustees and announced in Grand Lodge. They choose their own topic. The subject should be suitable for delivery in open lodge or to a wider audience and should be of the broadest possible interest. Wren’s membership of the Craft seemed to me to be ideal and I am pleased that the Trustees agreed.
William Preston (1742-1818), after whom the Prestonian Lectures is named, had been interested in Wren. Preston was convinced Wren was a Freemason and wrote on the subject. He even went as far as buying what he thought was a portrait of him for his lodge. It is now known to be a portrait of the architect William Talman, and it still hangs in Freemasons’ Hall with a plaque wrongly labelled as Wren.
The lectureship Preston founded went into abeyance in the nineteenth century and was revived in its present form in 1924. Since then there have been eighty-two Prestonian Lecturers. Each is entitled to wear a distinctive jewel bearing Preston’s image. In their year of office they give ‘official’ deliveries to lodges chosen by the Board of General Purposes and unofficial deliveries to any lodges that ask for them.
Wren’s membership of the Craft has never been a subject of a Prestonian Lecture before, but is not an infrequent subject of masonic lectures. Most of those I have read are, I am afraid, rather confused.
Most lecturers rely heavily on Robert Freke Gould’s History Of Freemasonry (1883-87), which devotes over fifty pages to demolishing the previously held beliefs that Wren was a Freemason. Few lecturers bother to return to the original sources or look into more recent discoveries. This became my aim: to present clearly how the confusion had arisen and what we now know, and in presenting the evidence to allow the audience to make up their own minds.
Some history is straightforward. Through a series of reliable sources we are able to say unequivocally that something happened on a particular date. Other matters are not so straightforward – vital pieces of evidence are missing or unreliable. This is the case with Wren. The result is a fascinating story of detective work and of shifting views in history.
THE IDEAL SUBJECT
Wren lived around the time that Freemasonry emerged in the seventeenth century, so the question of his membership also brings up the issue of what Freemasonry was at the time he joined. It therefore provides a fascinating glimpse into the problems we have in studying all parts of early Freemasonry’s history.
Also bound up with this subject is the history of Lodge No. 2, the Lodge of Antiquity, which met near St Paul’s Cathedral. Preston was a member of this lodge in the late eighteenth century and it has a number of artefacts associated with Wren. A lecture on Wren is thus an excuse to go into the history of this wonderful lodge and its origins.
Lastly a lecture on Wren and Freemasonry is an ideal opportunity to ask the question of whether it had any effect on his architecture. Are there any masonic symbols hidden in the works of Wren?
These then were the reasons I chose Wren as the subject of the 2011 Prestonian Lecture and it was a most enjoyable year. I gave lectures all over the UK, and I even went as far as India. One highlight was being asked to give a lecture to the Christopher Wren Lodge in Windsor, which hired the town hall Wren designed for the occasion.
Modernising Wren’s hospital
The proceeds of the Prestonian Lecture and the booklet that accompanies it go to charity. Half of the proceeds from Dr James Campbell’s lecture are going to The Royal Hospital Chelsea. The hospital is undergoing a major restoration and is seeking funds to adapt Wren’s building to modern living. The other charity is the Royal Masonic Trust for Girls and Boys. So far, James has raised more than £6,500 thanks to the generosity of the lodges who have supported the lecture. The sale of the booklet will hopefully raise more. Was Sir Christopher Wren A Mason? contains the complete text of Dr James Campbell’s 2011 Prestonian Lecture and is available from Letchworth’s in Freemasons’ Hall (letchworthshop.co.uk) for £7.99.