Process of evolution
The rules that define Freemasonry are not set in stone, but rather adapt with changing times, as John Hamill, Director of Special Projects, explains
Ask a group of members why we do a certain thing or organise in a particular way and the response will be, ‘Because we’ve always done it that way.’ But as anyone who’s read a little of our history knows, that statement is rarely borne out by the facts.
Today, with the exception of five London lodges under the direct supervision of the Grand Master, all our lodges at home are grouped under the Metropolitan Grand Lodge of London or one of the 47 Provincial Grand Lodges. Each group is headed by a Metropolitan or Provincial Grand Master who is appointed, by patent, by the Grand Master as his personal representative within his defined area.
All lodges in the Metropolitan or Provincial Grand Master’s area come under their supervision and are required to hold a meeting of that Metropolitan or Provincial Grand Lodge at least once a year. They are also empowered to appoint Metropolitan or Provincial Grand Officers, promote existing officers and appoint brethren to past Metropolitan or Provincial rank.
So embedded is the system that it is natural to assume it has always existed, the more so as the office of Provincial Grand Master is one of the oldest in our constitution. The first was Francis Columbine, acknowledged by the Premier Grand Lodge as Provincial Grand Master for Cheshire in 1725.
Grand Masters under the premier Grand Lodge made many appointments from 1727 onwards but the appointment of a Provincial Grand Master in no way implied the existence of a Provincial Grand Lodge. Columbine was empowered to appoint ‘Grand Officers pro tem’ to assist him, particularly in constituting new lodges or carrying out public ceremonies. Once the event was over, those ‘Grand Officers’ reverted to their original masonic status.
The death or resignation of a Provincial Grand Master by no means guaranteed the appointment of a successor, unless the lodges in the Province petitioned the Grand Master for a replacement. In a number of cases an appointment was made for a county in which no lodges existed, presumably in the hope that the appointee would stimulate the formation of lodges. In other cases, it is known that the appointee had no connection with and never visited his charge!
The idea of holding an annual Provincial Grand Lodge seems to have been introduced by Thomas Dunckerley, who between 1767 and his death in 1795 was Provincial Grand Master for eight Provinces. He took his duties seriously, regularly visiting his charges to hold Provincial Grand Lodge meetings, stimulating the formation of new lodges and ensuring that his lodges made their annual returns to the Grand Lodge.
The idea of Provinces or Provincial Grand Masters was unknown under the Antients Grand Lodge at home but they did warrant Provincial Grand Lodges overseas. The warrant designated the first Provincial Grand Master but empowered the Province to elect his successors. It also gave them permission to constitute new lodges, which were to be reported to London to be issued with a Grand Lodge warrant. Because of the distances and precarious nature of travel at that time, many constituted lodges never made it onto the Antients Grand Lodge Register.
A foundation for today
Changes brought about by the Union of the two Grand Lodges in 1813 laid the basis of our present system. The appointment of Provincial Grand Masters remained the prerogative of the Grand Master but they were enabled to appoint Provincial Grand officers, who were given their own distinctive regalia and jewels. If a Provincial Grand Master died or resigned, the Province ceased to exist until a successor had been installed. The current system of the Deputy Provincial Grand Master being in charge was introduced as late as the 1880s.
Although the 1815 Constitutions required at least annual Provincial Grand Lodge meetings, it was not until the 1860s that the rule was fully complied with and Provinces began to send annual reports of their doings to the Grand Secretary. So rather than existing since time immemorial, our Metropolitan and Provincial system has gradually evolved and continues to evolve and adapt to the times we live in.
‘In a number of cases, an appointment was made for a county in which no lodges existed; in other cases, it is known that the appointee had no connection with and never visited his charge!’
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.
In the heart of Bristol, Freemasons' Hall library and museum houses a treasure trove of artefacts that point to the city's unique masonic history, as Yasha Beresiner discovers
Bristol holds a unique status in English Freemasonry. In 1373, Edward III granted the citizens of Bristol a charter whereby the town was constituted a county free of the rules and regulations of adjoining counties. In 1542, Henry VIII established a bishopric and Bristol became a city. In 1786, against this historic background, the celebrated Thomas Dunckerley (the alleged illegitimate son of George II) suggested Bristol should be made a masonic Province – duly approved by Grand Lodge in London – making it the only city to have a Provincial Grand Lodge in its own right.
With the exception of Jersey in the Channel Islands, Bristol is the only Province where all masonic meetings are held under one roof – Freemasons’ Hall, 31 Park Street. Prior to 1871, this elegant building was the home of Bristol’s Philosophical Society.
A UNIQUE PROPOSITION
Bristol differs in several other ways. It claims to continue the ritual as it was before the Union of 1813. The semi-apocryphal story is that the representative of the Lodge of Reconciliation visited to instruct the Province on the new standardised ritual, was effectively hijacked, wined and dined by the brethren and sent back to London, task unfulfilled. Thus, Bristol’s Craft and Royal Arch rituals differ from elsewhere in England.
Bristol’s uniqueness is evident in the contents of its library and museum – a vast collection of books and artefacts under the charge of archivist Philip Bolwell. Bristol does not use printed rituals, with candidates keeping handwritten versions. The archives include the first-recorded minutes of an English Royal Arch meeting of lodge No. 220 held at the Crown Tavern, Bristol, on 13 August 1758, when brother William Gordon was ‘raised to the degree of a Royal Arch and accepted’.
They key role played by John Knight in the Royal Arch in Cornwall is outlined by John Mandleberg
For speculative Freemasons, times have always been a-changin’, and the erection of the Premier Grand Lodge by ‘Four Old Lodges’ in 1717 was itself a novelty. When, in 1722 the Grand Master, the Duke of Wharton, laid down the procedure for constituting a new Lodge, this was almost revolutionary.
Not only had it not occurred to anyone before this that a special ceremony was needed to do such a thing, but it was the first time since 1717 that the detailed ritual for any ceremony had been written down. When, during the next 30 years the Royal Arch emerged from the shadows, many brethren in the Premier Grand lodge considered this not only a novelty, but an outrage – it was not ‘Pure Ancient Masonry’.
Those who founded the Grand Lodge of the Antients in 1751 took the opposite view – they regarded the Royal Arch as “the heart and marrow of Masonry.” However, by the end of the century the Premier Grand Lodge – the Moderns – had not only recognised the Degree, but had set up a Grand and Royal Arch Chapter, something which the Antients never effectively did.
Often too little thought is given to how Masonic developments taking place in London affected Brethren and Companions in the rest of the country. The “collective wisdom of the tribe” to use Galbraith’s phrase, is that communications in England were so poor at the end of the 18th century that it is a wonder that changes made in London ever filtered down to distant communities. And where was more remote than the north coast of Cornwall, 300 miles from London, the other side of Exmoor, Dartmoor and Bodmin Moor.
Here, Freemasonry flourished in many towns, including Redruth, where for some 40 years before his death in 1828 John Knight was the leading Masonic figure.
In fact, Knight was to correspond at considerable length with leading London masons – Thomas Dunckerley, Robert Gill and Edward Harper for example – with little more difficulty than he would have experienced today.
Weekly at 2pm each Friday the mail coach left neighbouring Truro for London, where it arrived on Monday morning, and weekly it left London at mid-day on Tuesday and returned to Truro on Thursday. In 1791 Dunckerley, “the Grand Master of Royal Arch Masons”, could reply from Hampton Court on 15 July to a letter written in Cornwall three days earlier.
Parcel post took no longer, for packages of regalia, Books of Constitutions and Lodge and Chapter furnishings travelled on the same mail coach. Cornish Freemasons could be made aware of developments in London as they occurred, little more slowly than would be the case today.
The letter which Dunckerley wrote on 15 July 1791 provided a Dispensation to open the Druids Chapter of Love and Reality in Redruth – at the time there was a tradition in Cornwall that the Ancient Druids had brought Freemasonry to the country.
It was a Dispensation and not a Warrant or Charter “as the Grand Chapter will not meet til the last Thursday in Oct.” Dunckerley wrote it out in due form in his own hand on the back of the letter. John Knight was named as the First Principal Z., an office which he was to occupy for the rest of his life.
Consecrations differed somewhat from what we are used to today. A senior Companion would be delegated to install the three principals, who appointed their officers at the following meeting.
For example, in 1810 John Foulstone, the Grand Recorder, was delegated to travel to Falmouth to install the principals of the newly Warranted Valubian Chapter. He took the Chair of ZX, with John Knight acting as H. Foulstone “opened [a Chapter] in Ample form the several Comps who had not passed the Chair of Zerubi being duly passed with the proper Signs & Words.”
In other words, all those present were made Passed Zs so that they could witness the installations. [To have been Exalted, a Brother would already either have presided over a Lodge as it Master, or have been through a ‘Passing the Chair’ ceremony.]
When the Druids Chapter of Love and Liberality had been founded in 1791, Knight had evidently wanted the Companions to be properly clothed. He wrote to Dunckerley in August 1792 wishing to obtain “proper Royal Arch Masons Aprons”, but received the reply that “Royal Arch aprons were directed to be worn by the old Chapters, but to have been discarded for several years, & Sashes being deem’d sufficient.”
Dunckerley omitted to point out that the reason why sashes had been “deem’d sufficient” was because Grand lodge had refused to allow Companions to wear their red-bordered aprons in Craft Lodges, with the result that in a fit of pique Grand Chapter ordered them to be discarded.
In the early 19th century new regalia was designed for Royal Arch Companions, so that John Knight could write to London in 1803: “You mentd. in your last letter that patterns of Jewells & aprons to be worn by officers and companions of the order were to be fixed on & when ready shall be glad to know what they are.” The new aprons had the indented red and blue border with which we are familiar today.
But these were minor changes compared with those imposed by Supreme Grand Chapter when it was formed in 1817, four years after the Union of the Grand lodges.
For example, while each Antient Chapter worked under the Warrant of the lodge from which it had sprung, a Modern Chapter such as Love and Liberality had been granted its own separately numbered Warrant.
Now, every Royal Arch Chapter had to be sponsored by a regularly Warranted lodge, the number of which it assumed.
Supreme Grand Chapter then issued Charters of Confirmation” to each Chapter which complied with this instruction, those formerly Modern and Antient alike. For some reason this gave John Knight particular concern. He involved himself in considerable correspondence to ensure that the new Charter would fit exactly into the frame which surrounded the former Warrant.
John Knight then summoned the Companions of his Chapter to an especial meeting “for the purpose of framing Bye- Laws, entering into Annual Subscription, Electing members for the Better Regulating & Support of the Royal Arch Chapter.”
Up to this time there had been no well defined ‘Membership’ of a Chapter. Now, in accordance with the new Regulations of the order, all those who had previously been Exalted in the Chapter had to make the decision whether they should formally become members of it.
This would involve them in paying an annual subscription and adhering to its bye-laws – which had yet to be written – or being excluded from it except as visitors.
Several Companions who had formerly considered themselves part of the Chapter declined to become subscribing members.
However, John Knight was elected to continue as First Principal.
The records of how John Knight and his Companions reacted to the further changes which were made in his lifetime have not survived, and Love and Liberality Chapter itself did not long survive his death in 1828. His 35-year reign may have made it impossible to find anyone to follow him.
Redruth was then without Royal Arch Masonry for nearly 40 years.
John Mandleberg is Master of Quatuor Coronati Lodge No. 2076, the premier Lodge of Masonic research
Royal Arch Masons and Knights Templar at Redruth, Cornwall, 1791–1828, C J Mandleberg and L.W. Davies, QCCC Ltd.