Now that Freemasonry Today has settled into its stride I think it important to confirm our editorial policy. For news, we cover stories about our members in both the Craft and the Royal Arch. We are keen to see news about the end product of our giving – from our time helping others through to our charitable donations. Editorial needs to be of interest to both our members and their families, consistently supporting our communications philosophy.
A good example of this can be found on page ten of the news section, where we report on the Red Balloon Learner Centre Group in Cambridge, which has received a major grant of £25,000 from The Freemasons’ Grand Charity to fund training for staff at its centres for severely bullied children. The centres help restore a young person’s confidence as well as helping them cope academically and socially. With a survey from Red Balloon finding sixteen thousand children absent from school due to severe bullying, such stories not only point to the work of one of our four charities but are also of interest to everyone, mason and non-mason.
One of the many benefits of our new members’ website is that it can carry – among many other things – the latest, and particularly time sensitive, news. This allows us to concentrate on the thinking and direction of our most senior leaders in the magazine, with our section named Senior Insights. These are not time sensitive messages but are hugely important for us all to know about. On page twenty-two, Pro First Grand Principal Peter Lowndes considers how best to explain the importance of the Royal Arch in the completion of pure ancient masonry. Is this best done after they have been raised? How does their mentor brief them? And how does the mentor or Royal Arch representative gain the right level of knowledge to correctly brief them in the first place?
Freemasonry Today is not a lifestyle magazine. It will, however, concentrate on stories and achievements of our members – showing how relevant Freemasonry is in today’s society. A young, up-and-coming dancer called Blaze Porter is profiled on page sixteen and you can find out how Freemason Humphrey Ball is helping Blaze fulfil his dreams. History that depicts the work of Freemasons is also very popular among our readers and we look at the life and times of Anthony Sayer on page forty-one. Chosen as the first Grand Master of Grand Lodge in 1717, little is known about his life and we ask whether historians have deliberately ignored him out of snobbery.
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Hello and welcome to this tour of three of the historic masonic sites in the City of London that are inextricably linked with Freemasonry and its development. We start our journey on the spot where once stood the entrance to the Goose and Gridiron Ale-house, some fifty metres north of the last step leading to St. Paul’s Cathedral. It is here that the foundation of the undisputed first Grand Lodge in the world took place on 24 June 1717.
Unfortunately, and rather surprisingly, there appear to be no mementos of this historic tavern situated in what was St. Paul’s Church Yard and the only surviving item, now in the Museum of London, is the pub sign. Up until the Great Fire of London in 1666, the Goose and Gridiron was known as the Mitre. After being devastated in the blaze, it was rebuilt and renamed The Lyre, on account of the tavern’s musical associations (a musical society met on its premises), and took as its sign Apollo’s lyre surmounted by a swan. However, this image was often unrecognised and misinterpreted and a new name was born from the error: Goose and Gridiron.
battle for the blue plaque
It was in this tavern that four London lodges came together to launch Freemasonry, electing Anthony Sayer (1672-1741/2) – the ‘oldest Master Mason and then Master of a Lodge’ – as its Grand Master. It must be noted here, however, that the only source for all the information we have about the premier Grand Lodge in 1717 is from James Anderson’s reports that were published more than two decades later in 1738.
Moving on now, if you look to your right you will see, on the last column of the building you are facing, the official blue plaque commemorating the foundation of the Grand Lodge. It simply states:
Near This Site
The Grand Lodge
First Met in 1717
Nonetheless, after eight years of perseverance, on 15 June 2005, the then Lord Mayor, Alderman Very Worshipful Brother Michael Savory, finally unveiled the blue plaque that we are now so proud of.
foundations of freemasonry
It is interesting to consider how amazed our founding forefathers would no doubt be at the spread of Freemasonry through the four quarters of the globe. You see, the four lodges did not originally meet with the aim of forming a Grand Lodge. Rather, their decision to unite stemmed from a need to strengthen each individual lodge’s membership. Indeed, in unity they found this strength and it was at the initiative of other lodges wishing to join the group that a Grand Lodge was declared and formed as a controlling body. Freemasonry has never looked back.
Follow me now please, past Paternoster Square, Goldsmiths, The Saddlers’ Hall and Guildhall Yard, and let us make our way into the passage entrance of Mason’s Avenue. Now, once we move twenty metres into the alleyway, we are standing in front of the Select Trust Building.
Let me first point out that the whole of this two- hundred-yard-long avenue has not changed in four centuries. The imitation Tudor-style buildings are recent, of course, but the shape and size of the alley has remained identical and right here, on what is now 12-15 Mason’s Avenue, stood the Hall of the Worshipful Company of Masons, one of the City of London Livery Companies with which our society is closely, and at times quite wrongly, identified.
The Masons Company has its earliest record dating to 1356 and received its Grant of Arms in 1472. By then the building on this site was already functional and it was only demolished in 1865, some four hundred years later. As a reminder of the old days, the present building, which was completed in 1980, has the beautiful stained-glass windows with masonic emblems incorporated into the design. A gilded inscription embedded into the wall serves as a further reminder. It reads:
On This Site Stood
The Hall Of The
A 1463 – 1865 D
For our third and sadly last stop on this tour, let us walk the short distance to the Royal Exchange. From this vantage point you have a particularly good view of the main entrance to the Bank of England, which is popularly known as ‘The Old Lady of Threadneedle Street’.
The Bank of England has been situated in this area since its inception in 1694, with three bank buildings rising on this same site since 1734. As an interesting aside, did you know that the Bank of England was the first purpose-built bank in the British Isles? Another notable, and quite surprising fact is that the Bank of England remained a private entity until the Parliament Act of 1946, after which it was finally nationalised.
soane’s speedy advancement
Returning to the building, Sir John Soane (1753-1837) was the bank’s third architect and worked on it for forty-five years (1788-1833). However, the only part of his work that still remains is ‘the curtain wall’, which is the elongated windowless screen wall that you can see along the front. This wall encloses the whole of the block, which consists of an area of three and a half acres containing the premises of the bank.
The Duke of Sussex, who was elected as the new Grand Master of the United Grand Lodge of England in 1813, favoured Soane’s architectural work. As such, when the Duke of Sussex directed the extension of the Grand Lodge premises in Great Queen Street, one of his many dynamic and innovative activities, it was Soane who undertook and completed the task.
On 25 November 1813, an emergency meeting of the Grand Master’s Lodge, No. 1, under the Grand Lodge of the Antients, was held at the Crown and Anchor Tavern in the Strand. At this meeting Soane was initiated as an Entered Apprentice, passed to the degree of a Fellowcraft and raised to the degree of a Master Mason. In addition, following the inauguration of the United Grand Lodge of England, Soane was formally appointed President of the Board of Works and given the appropriate high masonic rank of Grand Superintendent of Works – both a well-deserved and speedy advancement by any standard.
This brings us to the end of our tour in which I hope to have shown you the significance of the City of London to the history of Freemasonry, along the way unearthing a few masonic gems that you may not have known existed. Thank you very much for joining me – I hope you have enjoyed your trip and I wish you a safe journey home.
Little is known about Anthony Sayer for the simple reason that there has been a lack of research into the first Grand Master. One explanation for this may be that he has been regarded as an ordinary person with low social standing, and has therefore been deemed of little importance. However, this approach flies in the very face of the essence of Freemasonry as we are all brothers, equally entitled to our regard.
Anthony Sayer was elected to be the first Grand Master on a majority show of hands by the members of the four lodges (some say six lodges and others add some ‘unattached’ older brethren) that met at the Goose and Gridiron Ale-house in St. Paul’s Church Yard, on 24 June 1717. The lodges had previously met at the Apple Tree Tavern, in Covent Garden in 1716 and agreed to form a Grand Lodge.
Dr James Anderson in the first Constitutions of 1723 records that at that meeting it was resolved to choose ‘a Grand Master from among themselves, till they should have the honour of a noble brother at their head’. Anderson goes on to refer to Sayer as ‘Mr Anthony Sayer, Gentleman’. This lack of further information regarding who he was and what he did has led to speculation that Sayer was of no real financial means. It certainly suggests that he was not a person with any connection to the aristocracy and therefore of low social standing.
Falling into disrepute
The matter is further clouded by the fact that Sayer had to call on the charitable assistance of the Grand Lodge. This is recorded on a number of occasions in the minutes of Grand Lodge, as is the extent to which he was assisted in some cases. Sayer’s reasons for asking for assistance are not known but it may be that he had simply reached the lowest spoke of fortune’s wheel. It is also recorded that he was charged with clandestine and irregular practice in relation to the Craft, but it was later found that his actions were only irregular, and he was admonished accordingly.
Sayer ended up acting as Tyler of his lodge up to his death after leaving the Grand Master’s chair, and in the interim was also Senior Grand Warden and Warden of his own lodge. This is considered a great demotion by some commentators, with detractors claiming that he was a ‘nobody’ who could not maintain his standing in the Craft and was in fact bettered by those who followed him.
other side of the coin
If these facts are interpreted in the true spirit of Freemasonry, with an open and charitable mind, the converse view could be true. It could be argued that Sayer was held in such high estimation among his brethren and fellows that he was elected on merit by the majority of brethren present as the best person for the job. At the very least, if this were not the case, it might be said that he graciously volunteered for what was undoubtedly an important and difficult role, overseeing the new concept of uniting lodges under one umbrella – a concept which has subsequently survived the wreck of mighty empires and the destroying hand of time.
Another view that may be considered is the humility of Sayer. When he was in need of assistance, he was not too proud to ask for it. Similarly, neither did his ego stand in the way of him acting as Tyler when previously he had been Grand Master. His misfortune did not cause him to turn away from the Craft and it could be argued that Sayer should be held up as a role model for Freemasons today.
When he left this life for the Grand Lodge above in late 1741, Sayer was buried in St. Paul’s Church, Covent Garden in January 1742. Standing as a further indication of the esteem in which he was held by his peers, a newspaper article recorded the event as follows: ‘A few days since died, aged about 70 years, Mr. Anthony Sayer, who was Grand Master of the most Ancient and Honorable Society of Free and Accepted Masons in 1717. His corpse was followed by a great number of Gentlemen of that Honorable Society of the best Quality, from the Shakespears Head Tavern in the Piazza in Covent Garden and decently interr’d in Covent-Garden church.’
There may be several reasons why Sayer’s lineage cannot be traced, not least of which is that records of the era have not all survived, therefore forcing researchers to come to a dead end. However, it has been deduced that the family name ‘Sayer’ was quite common in southern England at the time, but the Christian name ‘Anthony’ was less so, and might be considered more continental in flavour.
It could well be that Sayer was not born in this country. Many people of the time were immigrants who upon settling here changed their names. Notably two people, who are also buried in St. Paul’s Church, come into this category: Grinling Gibbons (1648-1721) and Sir Peter Lely (1618-1680). Gibbons, a famous sculptor in wood, was born and educated in Holland while Sir Peter Lely was born in Holland and was originally named Pieter van der Faes. He was portrait painter to the court of King Charles II. Both became naturalised citizens of England and both were consummate craftsmen, with Gibbons shown in a portrait painted by Sir Godfrey Kneller (1646-1723) holding a pair of compasses and contemplating the proportions of a classical bust depicted in death mode.
There may yet be facts that can still be discovered about Sayer. Perhaps researchers might look at the wider course of European history for this, rather than stay within the confines of English masonic history. Perhaps we need to start again with the facts we have and look at them with an open mind and in a new light; to tread paths of research that have not yet
been taken. This approach may eventually unearth the real ‘Mr Anthony Sayer, Gentleman’, which, with the 300th year of Grand Lodge fast approaching, is perhaps long overdue. Most importantly, we ought not to forget the values we seek to uphold as part of our Craft and remember what the true reasons for being a Freemason are.
Steven Smith is a member of the West Essex Round Table Lodge, No. 9310