Celebrating 300 years

Over 4,000 Freemasons from Provinces, Districts and 136 Grand Lodges around the world were present as the Royal Albert Hall was centre stage for the United Grand Lodge of England’s Especial Meeting and Tercentenary celebrations on Tuesday 31st October

This gala event marked 300 years since four lodges met at the Goose and Gridiron Tavern in St Paul’s Churchyard on St John’s Day, 24th June 1717, to form the Premier Grand Lodge. The spectacle was also streamed live to audiences from around the world, including UGLE’s headquarters at Freemasons’ Hall.

With Grand Lodge having been opened and called off in a convenient room, the procession of Grand Officers entered the Hall, before the Grand Master, MW Bro HRH The Duke of Kent, took his place in the Queens’s Box. He was accompanied by the Pro Grand Master MW Bro Peter Lowndes, Deputy Grand Master RW Bro Jonathan Spence and Assistant Grand Master RW Bro Sir David Wootton. 

He was also joined by a number of special guests, which included RW Bro HRH Prince Michael of Kent, VW Bro HM King Tutu II of Ashanti and RW Bro HE John Kufuor, Senior Grand Warden.

The audience was wowed by a theatrical extravaganza showcasing the history and heritage of Freemasonry and featuring a cast of renowned actors including Sir Derek Jacobi, Samantha Bond and Sanjeev Bhaskar. The Royal Philharmonic Concert Orchestra provided the musical accompaniment against the backdrop of a colossal 55ft gold Square and Compasses and dramatic light show incorporating the ‘All Seeing Eye’.

After the performance, the Grand Master was processed on to the stage and all the Rulers were seated in their normal thrones. The Deputy Grand Master then read a letter of loyal greetings sent to Her Majesty The Queen and the reply received sending ‘warm good wishes to you all for a most successful event’.

The Grand Master, as Permanent Master of the three Time Immemorial Lodges (Lodge of Antiquity No.2, Royal Somerset House and Inverness Lodge No.IV, and Lodge of Fortitude and Old Cumberland No.12), then called upon his three Deputy Masters and was presented with the Volume of the Sacred Law, the Square and Compasses and the Wren Maul.

Other highlights included the return of the Soane Ark – the Ark of the Masonic Covenant – as the Deputy Grand Master announced that following 30 years in the making, a replica had been made to the original design. This was brought onstage where it was dedicated by the Grand Master.

The finale was the most rousing singing of the National Anthem, before the procession of Grand Officers retired from the Hall. 

Following the meeting, Grand Lodge was called back on in a convenient room, and this Especial Meeting to celebrate UGLE's Tercentenary was closed.

Find out how to watch a screening of the Tercentenary celebrations here

Published in UGLE

Leicestershire and Rutland Freemasons will mark the 300th Anniversary of the formation of the Premier Grand Lodge of England, by throwing open the doors to their Masonic Halls across Leicestershire - some for the first time - as part of the national Heritage Open Days

For anyone who has any interest in Freemasonry, has any questions they want answering, or just wants to see inside the buildings, these Open Days are the perfect opportunity to find out more.

Throughout the day, escorted tours of the building will be conducted, allowing visitors to access the lodge room where masonic meetings are held and hear of the symbolism, history and practice of Freemasonry.

Ashby-de-la-Zouch

Masonic Hall, Lower Church Street, Ashby-de-la-Zouch, Leicestershire LE65 1AB

The Masonic Hall (Lyric Rooms) in Ashby was opened in 1981 after the former Cinema on Lower Church Street was purchased and refreshed for over £100,000.

Hinckley

Hinckley Masonic Hall, St. Mary's Rd, Hinckley, LE10 1EQ

The Masonic Hall in Hinckley, also known as the Green Rooms, was built in 1927 in St. Mary's Road. The original construction of the building was of a single storey with a Lodge room, dining room and kitchen. 

In 2011, an additional storey was added to house a new Masonic Lodge Room. The lower floor was opened out to create a large function suite with an integral bar but maintaining much of the former architectural and aesthetic appeal. The Hall continues to host the lodges that meet in Hinckley along with serving the local community.

Leicester

Freemasons’ Hall, 78 London Road, Leicester LE2 0RA

The first Masonic Hall in Leicester was situated on Halford Street and was built in 1859. It moved to its current location on London Road in 1910 after the initial hall was deemed too small when the popularity of Freemasonry saw a significant increase. The original lodge room in the Hall, the Holmes Lodge Room, is deemed one of the finest in the country with a stunningly decorated barrelled ceiling.

Lutterworth

Freemasons’ Hall, George Street, Lutterworth, Leicestershire LE17 4ED

Freemasons’ Hall in Lutterworth, also known as the Wycliffe Rooms, was converted from the old Ritz Cinema in George Street in 1963. The former circle/balcony was converted in the Lodge Room. More recently, further refurbishment and an extension has been undertaken. The Wycliffe Rooms now acts as both a Masonic Hall for the two lodges and also a Community Centre for a wide range of activities.

Market Harborough

Masonic Hall, Kings Road, Market Harborough, Leicestershire LE16 7JU

St Peter’s Lodge was granted a Warrant in 1870 to meet at the Three Swans Hotel in Market Harborough. As Masonry began to expand its popularity, a building fund was established in 1967 to build a permanent home. Land was purchased in Kings Road and the current Masonic Hall was built and opened in 1968, where currently two lodges continue to meet today.

Syston 

Masonic Hall, Broad Street, Syston, Leicestershire, LE7 1GJ

The Masonic Hall in Syston was built in 1905 on a site of an old school in Broad Street which was enlarged in 1915 and a second floor added in 1930. A total of seven lodges meet at the hall today which makes it one of the largest halls outside of Leicester.

The Provincial Grand Master of Leicestershire and Rutland David Hagger said: 'We are really excited about this opportunity, as part of the national Heritage Open Days, to open the Masonic Hall in Syston for the very first time. We look forward to welcoming the community to show them around and help better inform them about the history of the Hall and Freemasonry in general.'

Everyone is welcome, with free tours on Saturday 9th September 2017 starting at 10am until 3.00pm and no booking required.

Other Masonic Halls in Leicestershire opening as part of the Heritage Open Days are in Leicester, Ashby-de-la-Zouch, Hinckley, Lutterworth and Market Harborough. More details can be found on the Heritage Open Days website here.

Nearly 300 Freemasons, family and friends from 33 different lodges across the Province of Leicestershire and Rutland gathered in Leicester to celebrate 300 years since the formation of the Premier Grand Lodge on Saturday 24th June 2017

The Grand Summer Ball was held on the exact date that 300 years ago in 1717 four masonic lodges gathered together at the Goose and Gridiron ale house in London and formed the first Grand Lodge in the world which continues to govern Freemasonry in England and Wales today.

Held at the Athena, guests were welcomed by the Provincial Grand Master, RW Bro David Hagger who wished everyone a wonderful evening celebrating the Tercentenary.

After dinner, the Provincial Grand Master took to the stage to draw the winners of the Tercentenary prize draw. Prizes included villa accommodation in Antigua, Florida and Devon, a hot air balloon ride and light aircraft flights – all very generously donated by Brethren from the Province.

The Provincial Grand Master also paid tribute to the 23 cyclists who had recently completed an epic 300 mile cycle ride raising over £21,000 for the Masonic Charitable Foundation and Rainbows Children’s Hospice in Loughborough. The seven riders who attended the ball were asked to stand up and were applauded by everyone on their great achievement.

During the evening, a silent auction offered a multitude of exclusive items, including a signed montage from Leicester City Football Club's Premier League winning season, a private hospitality suite to see Micky Flanagan and VIP trips to Las Vegas to see The Who and to Paris to see the Rolling Stones.

Further entertainment was filled by Black Jack and Roulette tables and guests filling the dance floor for well over an hour and a half, as they were taken back to the 1960’s by a Beatles tribute band.

Not only was the evening a celebration of Freemasonry, it was additionally successful in raising over £10,000 for the 2022 Masonic Charitable Foundation Festival which will go towards the target of £1.8 million to be raised by the Province over the next five years.

RW Bro David Hagger commented: ‘What a wonderful way to commemorate the Tercentenary of the United Grand Lodge of England by bringing many Brethren and their families together to celebrate this special night.’

The Freemasons of Berkshire, Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire sponsored the Racing and Family Fun Day at Windsor Racecourse celebrating 300 years of Freemasonry

A huge crowd of over 10,000 were in attendance with seven races, plenty of family fun and special guest Tony Hadley making up the second day of the Best of British Festival at Windsor Racecourse on Sunday July 2nd.

2017 marks the official 300th birthday of Freemasonry, celebrating how 300 years ago, on June 24th 1717, four London Lodges came together to form the Premier Grand Lodge. The Tercentenary is being commemorated with a calendar of high profile events including the Windsor Race Day.

In the bright sunshine, it was a glorious day of racing and free entertainment including a fun fair which further enhanced the family atmosphere. The special day ended with a fantastic evening concert by ex-Spandau Ballet member Tony Hadley.

During the course of the day, Richard Hone, President of the Masonic Charitable Foundation, presented a grant award to Professor Sonia Blandford of the "Achievement for All" charity of £240,000 to help thousands of under-performing children in their education.

Provincial Grand Master of the Berkshire Freemasons Martin Peters said: 'This was a wonderful and very special celebratory event with over 4,000 Masons and their families and thousands of other racegoers enjoying an incredible occasion. 

'From the many favourable comments I received there can be no doubt that we opened up the public’s perception of Freemasonry in a beneficial way. Myself and Peter Lowndes, the Pro Grand Master of the United Grand Lodge of England, would like to congratulate everyone who contributed to such a brilliant event to celebrate our Tercentenary - matched only by the glorious weather.'

It’s been 300 years since the well-known story of four London lodges who came together on St John’s Day, 24th June 1717 and founded the world’s first Grand Lodge

To commemorate the Tercentenary of this date, a commemorative stone has been unveiled outside the Tower Entrance of Freemasons’ Hall. 

Three of the four lodges who made this vital contribution to Freemasonry are still active today – Lodge of Antiquity No.2, Royal Somerset House and Inverness Lodge No.IV, and Fortitude and Old Cumberland Lodge No.12. They are referred to as Time Immemorial lodges and have the unique distinctions of being allowed to operate without the requirement of a warrant, and of having a band of dark blue in their lodge officers' collars.

The occasion was marked by a joint meeting at Mansion House where the United Grand Lodge of England’s Grand Master, HRH The Duke of Kent, was proclaimed as the Master of all three lodges.

Next time you walk past Freemasons’ Hall, make sure to cast your eyes over this commemorative stone and its history of four lodges coming together to found the Premier Grand Lodge.

Published in UGLE

Harrogate and Ripon Freemasons have turned to “flower power” to help celebrate key milestones in the fraternity’s history

Three floral displays – located on Harrogate’s Montpellier Hill, within the Valley Gardens and in Ripon’s Spa Gardens – have been created by Harrogate Borough Council’s Parks & Environmental Services Department to mark the 300th anniversary of the founding of the Premier Grand Lodge and the bicentenary of the Province of Yorkshire West Riding.

The official unveiling of the beds, which feature the masonic symbols of the square and compasses and the white rose of Yorkshire, was performed by the Mayor of Harrogate, Coun Anne Jones, Ripon Mayor Coun Pauline McHardy and the Provincial Grand Master David S Pratt.

The flower beds, containing around 7,500 plants, were the brainchild of Doug Mills, Charity Steward of The Spa Lodge No. 7609, who came up with the idea that the Tercentenary of the United Grand Lodge of England and the Bi-centenary of The Province of Yorkshire West Riding, could be celebrated by a floral display in Harrogate.

He approached Harrogate Borough Council to see if they would support planting out beds to mark the two landmarks, which it readily agreed to and added Ripon to the mix.

Doug Mills commented: 'These three flower beds are simply stunning and they look absolutely fantastic. Six months ago it was merely an idea and now it is reality.'

Rt W Bro David S Pratt, who presented commemorative hand trowels to the mayors, said: '2017 is a very special year for Freemasonry in England and Wales, and in particular for our Province as we are also celebrating our 200th birthday.

'We very much welcome the support of Harrogate Borough Council, as without them Doug’s floral tercentenary and bicentenary tributes would never have seen the light of day. Thanks to the skills of the parks team, thousands of people walking in the three locations will be able to enjoy these stunning flower beds throughout the summer months.'

The Treasurer of The Spa Lodge, W Bro Peter Dodds, facilitated the manufacture and supply free of charge of four powder coated stainless steel display cases from In Stainless Engineering Ltd together with graphic boards provided by Signs Express that detail the history of the United Grand Lodge of England and the Province.

Watch unique and unprecedented access to the Freemasons

To mark the Tercentenary of the founding of the Premier Grand Lodge, a Sky television crew were given unique and unprecedented access to discover what it means to be a modern-day Freemason

The five part documentary they made looked to go beyond the myth and legend and answer the questions – who are Freemasons and what do they do?

From our regalia to some lavish ceremonies, through to ancient rituals and bonds of brotherhood, there were many behind the scenes highlights to enjoy. This also included coverage of the biggest day of the masonic calendar, the Annual Investiture, the official consecration of the first masonic football lodge and a feature with Doctor David Staples, FRCP, DepGDC, who has recently been appointed as the United Grand Lodge of England's Chief Executive.

A special edition DVD is now available to buy, consisting of two DVDs which features all five episodes and 30 minutes of exclusive extra content.

You can buy the ‘Inside the Freemasons’ DVD from Letchworths Shop by clicking here

Published in UGLE

The happy means

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Published in Features
Monday, 19 March 2012 17:00

The Lord Blayney mystery

As the bicentenary of the inclusion of the Royal Arch chapter into ‘pure antient masonry’ draws near, John Hamill examines the mystery behind its formation

On 22 July 1766, the first Grand Chapter in the world came into being when members of an independent chapter met in London to draw up what is now known as the Charter of Compact, converting their chapter into the Excellent Grand and Royal Arch Chapter, with Cadwallader, ninth Lord Blayney, at its head. We know this because the chapter’s minute book, which commences with a meeting held on 22 March 1765, stills exists. Until as recently as the late forties, however, masonic historians believed that the Grand Chapter had been formed in 1767.

The mystery can be traced back to the charter itself, which concludes with the statement that it was signed at the Turk’s Head tavern in Gerrard Street, Soho, on 22 July 1767. It wasn’t until masonic historian J R Dashwood examined the document in 1949, while preparing a paper on the first minute book of the original Grand Chapter, that evidence of tampering was discovered. Dashwood noticed that at the top of the document, in the recitals of the styles and titles of Lord Blayney, a capital P (standing for Past) had been inserted clumsily before the words Grand Master of Free and Accepted Masons. At the other end of the document, it was equally clear that the original final digit of the year had been scraped off and been substituted in all cases, except the Anno Lucis (AL) date, with a seven. In the AL date the final digit had become a one.

One explanation is that despite the fact that many of its senior members were involved in the Royal Arch, the Premier Grand Lodge was not well disposed towards it and would not recognise it as part of its basic system. Dashwood argued that it would have been a huge embarrassment to them to have their current Grand Master, Lord Blayney, as a member. As head of the order, Blayney would have been one of the prime movers in turning a private chapter into a governing body as well as being the principal signatory to its founding document. On 22 July 1766, Blayney was still Grand Master, but by 22 July 1767 he had retired from that high office. Hence, Dashwood argued, the alterations were made to suggest that the events all took place after Blayney ceased to be Grand Master.

That theory appeared to meet with general acceptance until, in 1998, Freemason Yasha Beresiner gave a short talk on the charter in Supreme Grand Chapter. He queried whether, as most of them were involved in the chapter, the hierarchy of the premier would have been embarrassed by the events in July 1766. Beresiner theorised that it was more likely that once news got around that a new masonic order had been formed, and the Grand Master was at its head, their members would have flocked to join it.

A pious fraud

Another mystery is the twenty-one signatures on the left of the charter who attested that they accepted the terms documented ‘on the Day and Year above written’. Dashwood described this as ‘a pious fraud’. He had good reason for doing so as of the twenty-one signatories only the Earl of Anglesey was present in the chapter on 22 July 1766, having been exalted that evening. Of the remainder, more than two thirds had not been exalted at that date. The majority of them were exalted between 1767 and 1769.

While it is always satisfying to solve a mystery, in the great scheme of things does it really matter that the document was tampered with? Surely what is important is that the events of July 1766 took place and gave birth to the Excellent Grand and Royal Chapter, enabling members of the premier Grand Lodge to become involved in the Royal Arch.

Had it not existed, it could be argued that the ‘antients’ would not have had the numerical strength to persuade the premier Grand Lodge, in the negotiations leading to the of the two Grand Lodges in 1813, to accept the Royal Arch as a part of ‘pure antient masonry’. Had that not happened we would not have had our indissoluble link between the Craft and Royal Arch. And, very importantly, would have no reason to have a party in October 2013 to celebrate its bicentenary.

Published in SGC

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