Director of Special Projects John Hamill considers the unique status of time immemorial lodges and their vital contribution to Freemasonry
As is well known, on 24 June 1717, four London lodges came together and elected a Grand Master. They agreed to revive the annual feast and to hold quarterly communications, in effect bringing the first Grand Lodge into existence. While much has been said of this now-momentous event, little has been said of the lodges that brought Grand Lodge into being.
According to James Anderson in the 1738 Constitutions of the Free-Masons, the four lodges were at the Goose and Gridiron Ale House in St Paul’s Churchyard; the Crown Ale House in Parker’s Lane, near Drury Lane; the Apple Tree Tavern in Charles Street, Covent Garden; and the Rummer and Grapes Tavern in Channel Row, Westminster.
Of those lodges, the Crown Ale House ceased meeting circa 1736 but the other three still meet today. Because their dates of origin are unknown, and they predate the formation of Grand Lodge itself, they have the status of being ‘time immemorial’.
Today, the lodge at the Goose and Gridiron is now Lodge of Antiquity, No. 2. It was certainly in existence in 1691 and may well have been the lodge within the London Masons Company that Elias Ashmole attended in 1682. It became No. 1 of the premier Grand Lodge in 1717 and until 1760 was known by the name of the tavern at which it met.
In 1760, the lodge took the name of American & West Indian Lodge but in 1770 assumed its present name. When the two former lists of lodges were combined after the Union of the two Grand Lodges in 1813, lots were drawn and Grand Master’s Lodge of the Antients Grand Lodge became No. 1 on the new United Grand Lodge register, with Lodge of Antiquity the No. 2.
From 1809 until his death in 1843, HRH The Duke of Sussex was permanent Master of Lodge of Antiquity. To celebrate the 25th anniversary of his taking office, he permitted the lodge to have its officers’ jewels made in gold.
The lodge at the Apple Tree Tavern is now Lodge of Fortitude & Old Cumberland, No. 12. For reasons lost in time, the lodge accepted a constitution from Grand Lodge in 1723 and became No. 11 on the first numbered list of lodges in 1729. As a result it lost its time immemorial status and, despite attempts in the 19th century to regain that status, it wasn’t until the run-up to Grand Lodge’s 250th anniversary in 1967 that it was restored. The first Grand Master, Anthony Sayer, was a member of this lodge.
The lodge at the Rummer and Grapes in Channel Row is now Royal Somerset House & Inverness Lodge, No. 4. Named Old Horn Lodge in 1767, it united with Somerset House Lodge in 1774 and took that name. In 1828 it united with Royal Inverness Lodge, the first lodge warranted under the United Grand Lodge, and took its present name.
Despite the Great War, a celebration of the bicentenary of the formation of Grand Lodge was held at London’s Royal Albert Hall on 23 June 1917. Members of the three original lodges were processed into the hall to mark their status. At the meeting it was announced that to commemorate their actions in 1717, the officers’ collars of the three lodges would have the addition of a central garter blue stripe, and their Masters were called up to be invested with their new collars by the Grand Master. Later in the year the Duke of Connaught further honoured them by becoming the permanent Master of the three lodges.
At the celebrations for the 250th anniversary in 1967 and the 275th in 1992, the Masters of the time immemorial lodges were processed into Grand Lodge. The Master of Royal Somerset House & Inverness Lodge presented the Bible to the Grand Master; the Master of No. 12 presented the square and compasses; and the Master of No. 2 presented the Wren maul.
Today, to mark the part played in 1717, the present Grand Master will assume the office of Master of the time immemorial lodges at a joint meeting of the three in June. It is a fitting tribute to these distinguished lodges without whose actions in 1717 we might not be celebrating this year.
'Because they predate the formation of Grand Lodge itself, these lodges have the status of being “time immemorial"'