Director of Special Projects John Hamill considers why the Grand Lodge has never defined the landmarks that form the basis of Freemasonry
One of the perennial questions that Freemasons ask is what are the landmarks of Freemasonry? We refer to them at various points in our ceremonies and each Master at his Installation obligates himself to uphold them.
With one exception, however, nowhere has Grand Lodge defined what the landmarks are.
The exception is the requirement in each candidate for a belief in the Supreme Being. That first appeared in the Book of Constitutions issued in 1913, in what was then Rule 150, dealing with the admission as visitors to our lodges of brethren from other Grand Lodges, and still appears in the current edition at Rule 125(b). The rule states this belief is ‘an essential landmark of the Order’.
In Victorian times, American masonic scholar Albert Mackey (1807-1881) produced for his Encyclopaedia of Freemasonry a list of twenty-five landmarks. These were avidly taken up by the State Grand Lodges in America, many of which greatly extended Mackey’s original list and incorporated them into their Books of Constitutions.
When we examine those lists, however, rather than being landmarks many of them are simply good rules for the conduct of the Craft in general and the government of Grand Lodges and lodges.
In England there has been scholarly argument over the definition of what constitutes a landmark. Some believe that anything that has been done in Freemasonry from ‘time whereof the mind of man runneth not to the contrary’ should be considered a landmark. I much prefer the definition, first put on paper by the late Harry Carr, that a landmark is something in Freemasonry that would, were it removed, materially alter the basis of Freemasonry.
Using the Carr definition I would suggest that there are six landmarks:
1. Belief in the Supreme Being, that being the one thing, in a very disparate membership, that we all have in common.
2. The presence of the three great lights, particularly the Volume of the Sacred Law, which underpins our system of morality.
3. The three great principles of brotherly love, relief and truth, they being the embodiment of our basic principles and tenets.
4. The use of ritual using allegory and symbolism, as well as the allusions within the ritual to King Solomon’s temple, but not the detail of the ritual itself, which has changed over time.
5. The ban on the discussion of religion and politics at masonic meetings, which if it were removed would undoubtedly lead to dissention and disharmony.
6. The taking of an obligation to uphold the principles of Freemasonry and to preserve inviolate the signs, tokens and words used as a test of membership.
The question arises of why Grand Lodge has never defined the landmarks, other than the belief in the Supreme Being. The answer to that, in my personal view, is in two parts.
First, Freemasonry has always been free from dogma. Grand Lodge having agreed the basic form of our ceremonies, after the union in 1813, then stood back from it, except for major principles such as the former physical penalties in the obligations, and has never entered into discussion as to what the meaning of the ritual is. This has been done in the firm belief that it is part of the individual’s personal journey to form their own understanding of the ritual. In addition, were the Grand Lodge to define the landmarks, that would be the first step on the road to establishing dogma.
Secondly, in addition to finding his own meaning of the ritual, discovering the landmarks surely forms part of the individual’s journey, providing an opportunity to make his own study and increase his own understanding of the Craft.
‘There has been argument over what constitutes a landmark… I prefer the definition that a landmark is something that would, were it removed, alter the basis of Freemasonry.’
Letters to the Editor - Autumn 2015
Pride in membership
It has always been a great pleasure for me to read and reflect on John Hamill’s epistles in Freemasonry Today. His thoughts on the landmarks of Freemasonry were succinctly summarised in his ‘Six Pillars’ piece and were explained with admirable clarity.
Being a Freemason of 46 years, I asked myself, ‘Where has Freemasonry led me?’ In answer I have to say that it has certainly made me a better human, a better husband, a better father and, above all, a better doctor to my patients – simply because, through Freemasonry, I was reminded of and was able to achieve my ‘personal responsibility’. I shall be ever indebted to Freemasonry.
Mohamed Pasha, MBE, Thamestide Lodge, No. 8147, Southend-on-Sea, Essex
10 December 2014
A speech by WV Bro Graham Redman, Deputy Grand Secretary, and VW Bro John Hamill, Assistant Grand Chancellor
GFR: MW Pro Grand Master and Brethren, a year ago we left the United Grand Lodge of England duly constituted on 27 December 1813 with elaborate ceremonial, and the Brethren recruiting themselves at the Crown and Anchor tavern where a grand banquet was provided.
As might be expected, 1814 was a year of consolidation in which many of the details of the Union fell to be worked through. At the Quarterly Communication of 2 March the Board of General Purposes in its report set out the “Duty of the Board”:
1st To propose for the sanction and adoption of the Grand Lodge such Laws and regulations as may appear necessary or expedient for the Government of the Craft and to draw up and arrange the same….
2dly To propose for the consideration and adoption of the other Masonic Boards such measures as appear to this Board to require their consideration.
3dly To hear and determine all subjects of Masonic Complaint or irregularity respecting Lodges or Individual Masons, To proceed to admonition or suspension if judged necessary, and where the case shall appear of so flagrant a nature as to require the Erasure of a Lodge or expulsion of a Member from the Fraternity to make a special report to the Grand Lodge with their Opinion thereon.
That all the other powers and duties heretofore exercised and belonging to the former Stewards Lodge or Committee of Charity now belong to this Board, except only such powers and duties as are specially vested in or properly belong to the several other Boards now constituted
The Board then promulgated the Rules and Regulations proposed for its Government
JMH: MW Pro Grand Master and brethren, the Duke of Sussex was keen that there should be no slacking once the festivities were over and the Union achieved. He had round him a close circle of advisers to push forward his aims. The new Boards were immediately set to their tasks. The Board of General Purposes was a combination of the former Committee of Charity of the premier Grand Lodge and the Stewards Lodge of the Antients. Both had originally been set up to manage the central charitable affairs of their respective Grand Lodges but had gradually accrued both policy making and disciplinary powers and were more like general committees. In the twenty years after the Union the Board of General Purposes slowly absorbed the other Boards set up in 1814, except for the Board of Benevolence which continued until 1980 when its duties were taken over by the Grand Charity.
GFR: The Board went on to represent
that various irregularities having been communicated to this Board in the practice of initiating of Members as well as in that of granting Certificates and other Matters, It is recommended that in the Conferences which are to take place between this Grand Lodge and the Grand Lodges of Scotland and Ireland a general understanding be established on every point of communion between them that perfect unity may be established.......
JMH: Because the Union had, in the end, been so hastily arranged neither the Grand Lodge of Ireland nor that for Scotland had been able to send delegates to the great meeting on 27th December 1813. The Grand Master, however, was keen to have their support and to try and achieve unanimity of purpose between the three Grand Lodges. Although not referred to in the Grand Lodge Minutes the Grand Masters of Ireland and Scotland and other of their senior brethren met with the Duke of Sussex in the early summer of 1814 and agreed and signed what became known as the International Compact which has governed relations between the three Home Grand Lodges ever since and brought into being what is now an annual tripartite meeting where the three get together to discuss common problems.
GFR: The Board also reported on Charges preferred before them by the Officers of the Lodge of Antiquity, No. 2 against Brother Charles Bonner … for having printed part of the Proceedings of the Lodge of Antiquity, and its Permanent Committee, without the consent of the Grand Master or his Deputy. Grand Lodge Resolved unanimously that the report be confirmed and the paper printed by Brother Bonner be referred to the consideration of the Board of General Purposes and that in the meantime Bro Bonner be suspended from all Masonic Rights and Privileges.
Reports were also delivered by the Board of Works (which had been considering jewels and aprons), the Board of Finance and the Board of Schools.
JMH: Brother Bonner we will return to a little later. The Board of Works had been given the remit of looking after the real property, furniture and regalia of Grand Lodge. They immediately set to designing standard regalia and it is to them that we owe the design of the aprons, collars and jewels we still wear today. The only differences since 1814 are the addition of emblems for new officers as they have been introduced at Lodge, Metropolitan, Provincial, District and Grand Lodge levels and the wearing of chains by active Grand Officers. Until 1836 active Grand Officers wore their jewels pendent to embroidered collars, as Past Grand Officers do today. Amazingly the Minutes of the Board of Works still survive. Infuriatingly, whilst they list the designs chosen they give no indication as to why they were chosen – which has left the field wide open to Masonic symbologists to give more and more abstruse meaning to the various symbols used! Having presented their ideas to the Grand Lodge in March, they were formally approved at the Installation of the Grand Master on 2nd May.
GFR: At the Quarterly Communication held on 1 June, the Board of General Purposes reported that Bro Bonner had been summoned to answer
“for having printed and circulated amongst some Members of the Craft a certain paper purporting to be the Copy of an address proposed in the Lodge of Antiquity to be presented to His Royal Highness The Grand Master together with remarks and observations thereon, in which said printed Paper the conduct of the M.W. Grand Master and others was spoken of and animadverted on and that in a way highly improper unmasonic and unjust and to bring with him to the Board such witnesses and evidence as he might think necessary in his behalf”
JMH: Charles Bonner was the Acting Master of the Lodge of Antiquity, of which the Grand Master was the permanent Master. Claiming to act with the agreement of the Past Masters and other members of the Lodge, Bonner had issued a printed letter in which, like his mentor in ritual matters William Preston almost forty years earlier, he claimed that the immemorial rights of the Lodge of Antiquity were being set aside by the Act of Union. In particular he referred to the Lodge having lost its No. 1 status on the Register, lost its right to carry the Book of Constitutions on a cushion immediately in front of the Grand Master in all Masonic processions and the right of its Master or Acting Master to sit at the right hand of the Deputy Grand Master at feasts after Grand Lodge meetings. His case might have been listened to had he simply made these claims, but he was guilty of two major errors. First, admittedly in the most carefully polite language, he chided His Royal Highness the Grand Master as Master of the Lodge of Antiquity for not having done more to safeguard the rights of the Lodge and, secondly, despite claiming to speak on their behalf had not gained the agreement of the Lodge to his complaint before having it printed and circulated. At its meeting the Lodge formally rejected the letter and informed both the Grand Master and the Grand Secretary that it did not represent the views of the Lodge.
GFR: The Quarterly Communication of 7 September saw the reappearance of a character we have previously met in these historical presentations. The Board of General Purposes reported
that Brother Francis C. Daniel a Member of the Lodge of Felicity No. 75 late No. 54 having attended on the 22d Decr last at one of the Meetings of the Lodge of Reconciliation previous to the day of Union….. it was stated by some of the Brethren present that he had been expelled from that part of the Fraternity of which His Grace the Duke of Athol was formerly Grand Master and as the Rules Orders Regulations and Acts of the two Grand Lodges previous to the Union ought to be maintained subject to the reconsideration of the United Grand Lodge Brother Daniel must be taken and considered to stand expelled the United Fraternity.
JMH: Those who have been attending this Quarterly Communication for the last few years will remember that Francis Columbine Daniel was the Brother who, joining a queue at a garden party at Buckingham Palace was surprised when asked to kneel and had a sword tapped on his shoulder, thus gaining a knighthood by default! He had indeed been expelled by the former Antients Grand Lodge and, as a tit for tat, had engineered the expulsion of Thomas Harper from the premier Grand Lodge, which actions delayed any discussion of the Union for nearly seven years.
GFR: There were a few fireworks at the December Communication. After the Grand Lodge had been opened in ample Form and the Laws relating to the Behaviour of Masons in Grand Lodge had been read, the Minutes of the previous Communication were put for confirmation, whereupon:
Robert Leslie Junr Master of the Lodge No. 9, rose and addressing himself in the most disrespectful, disorderly and unmasonic manner to the Grand Master then presiding over the Grand Lodge which had been opened in ample form, demanded to know whether he had been regularly initiated and passed the several Degrees of Entered Apprentice and Fellow Craft. This outrageous act of indecorum committed in the Grand Lodge towards the Fraternity at large in the person of the Grand Master by Bro. Leslie Junr excited a general indignation in the breast of all the Brethren present; who had most of them witnessed the joint and solemn Obligation taken by the two Grand Masters of the respective Fraternities on the day of Union.……
Eventually a motion was carried
“That the said Robert Leslie Junr should lay aside his Masonic Insignia and Quit the Grand Lodge”
which upon his refusal he was compelled to do.
JMH: Robert Leslie Jnr was the son of Robert Leslie who since 1790 had been Grand Secretary of the Antients Grand Lodge. Father Leslie had been wholly against any idea of a Union of the two Grand Lodges and did all he could to hinder matters. He continued to rail against the event and refused to hand over the books and papers of the Antients Grand Lodge until he was guaranteed a pension of £100 p.a., which had been his salary from the Antients Grand Lodge. It would appear that the son was even more abrasive than the father!
GFR: Later in the meeting a Letter addressed to the Most Worshipful Grand Master by Bro Charles Bonner was by His Royal Highness laid before the Grand Lodge and read …….. After which on a Motion duly made it was Resolved that Bror. Charles Bonner be restored to his functions as a Mason and a Member of the Grand Lodge.
JMH: Bonner’s letter was suitably abject and apologetic and he was enabled to return to the fold and continued his interest in ritual matters. He had been Secretary of the Lodge of Promulgation, which had paved the way towards the Union and gave much advice to the Lodge of Reconciliation in its attempts to bring about a standard form of ritual after the Union.
GFR: It was “Ordered that a Special Grand Lodge be holden on Wednesday the 1st of February next”… The purpose of the meeting was to consider the new Code of Laws and Regulations for the Government of the Grand Lodge, and of the Craft in general, which had been deliberated on by the Board of General Purposes.
The Board’s report had also dealt with the case of Bro Francis Columbine Daniel, and he
being in attendance two Stewards conducted him into the Grand Lodge without his Masonic Clothing when His Royal Highness the Most Worshipful Grand Master addressed him on the circumstance of his Restoration to his Masonic Privileges and on the conduct which it was the duty of every Mason to observe after which he was reinstated with his Apron and directed to take his Seat as a Member of the Grand Lodge.
JMH: Daniel, you may be pleased to hear, caused no further problems, was never referred to again in Grand Lodge and will not appear again in these talks, should we be asked to continue them! The new Code of Laws was issued as unbound sheets for anyone to make comment on their content. Comments there were aplenty and it was not until 1819 that the final text was agreed and published.
GFR: The Quarterly Communication of 4 March 1914 was held at Central Hall, Westminster, in order to accommodate the large numbers attending, and opened on an amicable note with a unanimous vote in favour of a contributory pension scheme for the clerks in the Grand Secretary’s office in receipt of salaries of under £400 per annum. Alas, controversy set in immediately afterwards with the Motions Pursuant to Notice. In December 1913 Grand Lodge had directed that a special report of the Board of General Purposes putting forward significant constitutional proposals for the reorganisation of the Grand Lodge and London be circulated to Lodges in order that all Brethren might vote on the proposals. This provoked a flurry of Motions for March 1914.
A preliminary skirmish was launched by W Bro Samuel Green, who objected to the order in which the various motions were set out in the paper of business. He quoted the then Rule 55:
“Notices of motion shall be set down for consideration in the order in which they were given, and.... shall stand on the paper of business in precedence of all subsequent notices.........”
He went on to submit that it was
a matter of extreme importance that the resolutions shall come on in the order in which the notices were given, because it may be a matter of considerable interest to the Brethren that certain resolutions should be dealt with before others. I have little doubt about that. Many Brethren sent in their resolutions earlier in order that they might be dealt with in accordance with the Book of Constitutions, and the point I make is, that if whoever is responsible for altering the Agenda Paper now does so on a future occasion it may create considerable difficulty. I submit that the Book of Constitutions binds, not merely the Initiate, not merely the Master Mason, but also the Board of General Purposes. Therefore, Most Worshipful Pro Grand Master, I ask your ruling as to whether the notices of motion shall be taken in the order in which they are on the Agenda Paper to-day, or whether they shall be taken in the order in which they were given, and comply with the Book of Constitutions?
The Pro Grand Master, Lord Ampthill, after consultation with the Grand Secretary replied:
Brethren, I hold myself most particularly bound by the Book of Constitutions, but this matter is capable of a very natural and simple explanation, which, I am sure, will give satisfaction to all and cause offence to nobody. …. It is this. The Grand Secretary showed the motions of which notice had been given to the President of the Board and asked him what would be the best order in which to take them? The President did not recollect for the moment that there was Rule 55 – any of us may forget the existence of a Rule – and, as it was put to him in that way, he naturally only regarded it from the point of view of the convenience of Grand Lodge and suggested a particular order. It was only after that had happened and the notice had been printed, that he was reminded of the Rule. That is the explanation, and I hope you regard it as a sufficient one….
Nevertheless, Bro Green’s resolution “That the original order of the motions, as they stood on the Agenda on the 18th February of this year, be adhered to” was put to the meeting and declared carried.
After passing an amendment to the Book of Constitutions to allow Honorary Members an unfettered right to attend the Lodges that had elected them to honorary membership, the first Motion relating to the reorganisation of Grand Lodge was called. Its proposer, VW Bro R.A. McCall, KC, PDepGReg, was detained in Court, so it was put back in the agenda and W Bro Norman Armitage rose to propose on behalf of W Bro Keogh Murphy (who was absent through illness)
That this Grand Lodge expresses its regret at the action of the Board of General Purposes in circulating two letters dated the 18th December, 1913, and the 24th January, 1914, respectively, inaccurately stating the effect of the Resolution passed in Grand Lodge on the 3rd December, 1913, which authorised the reception and circulation of the Report of the Board of General Purposes containing nineteen proposals.
JMH: The Board had a very paternalistic attitude towards the Grand Secretary’s Staff and the new pension scheme was a generous one, which, it was admitted in introducing it to Grand Lodge, would in the long run save Grand Lodge money, which the then existing ad hoc provisions would not!
The rest of the meeting was one of those rare occasions when the management of Grand Lodge was caught on the wrong foot! The rather acrimonious debate which followed, and went on for most of the evening, was on technicalities: who had said what and if they had been correctly reported in the official published records, whether or not the procedural rules for debate in Grand Lodge had been followed to the letter (they had not), complete with statements implying that the Pro Grand Master, President of the Board and Grand Secretary did not appear to be as well acquainted with the Book of Constitutions as persons of their eminence should be. The evening was taken up with motions, counter motions and amendments that make reading the Proceedings of the event something of a towel round the head task.
GFR: VW Bro McCall, now released from Court, spoke to his motion “That this Grand Lodge do now proceed to discuss and consider the Report of the Board of General Purposes relating to the Reconstruction of Grand Lodge.” The debate became heated and eventually boiled over when another PDepGReg, VW Bro. J.V. Vesey Fitzgerald, KC, weighed in with
except from Bro. McCall, I have never heard anyone suggest it is beyond the power of Grand Lodge to accept a scheme for devolving some of its powers… and Brethren, although Bro. McCall asserted that with great emphasis, he has given no reasons why we should accept his statement on that point as a sound one….. I do not know whether the members of Grand Lodge wish to be addressed as common jurymen or Judges. Brother McCall's speech struck me as very much like what we hear from him in the Law Courts when addressing a Common Jury. (Cries of “Withdraw.”) I am very sorry if my opinion is not that of others. I am quite sure that anyone who is used to the Courts as Bro. McCall is, will not take objection to what I say, If he does I am sorry. (Cries of “Withdraw.”) If Bro. McCall feels I have said anything to hurt him, and he objects, I will do so.
From the Pro Grand Master: Bro. Fitzgerald has said that if Bro. McCall feels hurt he apologises. Is not that sufficient?
From VW Bro Fitzgerald: If Grand Lodge feels aggrieved I apologise to Grand Lodge.
JMH: Tempers were evidently fraying and the tenor of the debate was certainly descending. To the possible relief of the Pro Grand Master, Lord Ampthill, Brother Samuel Green suggested the setting up of a Committee to go into all the matters, which was agreed to and the meeting closed. Lord Ampthill had obviously been affected by the ferocity of the debate and that some of the attacks had come from senior Grand Officers. When he addressed the assembly after he had invested the new Grand Officers in April 1914 he quoted the first paragraphs of the Address to the Brethren given at the installation of every Master of a Lodge, modifying it to refer to Grand Lodge and stated his hope that if in the future Grand Officers disapproved of the agenda or any other matter they would approach him or some other senior officer to discuss them rather than to launch them on Grand Lodge without notice. He reminded Grand Lodge that its meeting were not a Parliament or a political meeting but a meeting of Freemasons and that there should not be factions or an opposition party but that they should be able to have informed debate and respect each other’s views as Freemasons were taught to do.
GFR: In June, again at Central Hall, Westminster, Grand Lodge gave its unanimous approval to two resolutions: “That there be appointed by Grand Lodge a Special Committee of seven Members, to consider the question of making a further grant to the Royal National Life-Boat Institution, and report to Grand Lodge;” and “That the sum of three hundred guineas (£315) be granted to the fund now being raised in Newfoundland, and assisted by the District Grand Lodge, for the relief of the widows and orphans of the 250 sealers who recently lost their lives in the ice-fields.”
The Pro Grand Master, Lord Ampthill then spoke:
Brethren, I beg to move, “That the Board of General Purposes be requested to prepare a scheme for the fitting celebration in 1917 of the Bi-centenary of the foundation of Grand Lodge, with due regard to the fact that genuine Freemasons in every part of the world are looking forward to the occasion with deep interest and with the hope that it may be the means of strengthening the bonds of the fraternity and conforming the true principles of our Order.” It is high time that we should commence preparations for the celebration of our Bi-centenary, an occasion when English Freemasonry will be expected to prove its worth to all the world. .…. For some time past letters have reached me from different parts of the world asking me what the Grand Lodge of England is going to do, and whether other Grand Lodges will be invited to participate in the celebrations or allowed to co-operate by simultaneous celebrations in their own territories. I regret to say that I have not yet been made aware of any similar interest or intelligent anticipation of the event among Brethren in England…… You cannot do better than test the ability of the Board which you have just elected by calling upon them for proposals…. I daresay that a special Committee of a more representative character may be suggested, but it will be time enough to set up Special Committees when there is special work to be done. For the present, all that is necessary is to draw up a general scheme and to promulgate it for discussion in the Craft, so that there may be general approval of anything that is eventually decided I beg to move.
The Deputy Grand Master seconded the proposal, which was declared carried unanimously.
Grand Lodge then moved on to the business of debating at almost interminable length the composition and mode of selection of a special or representative Committee to consider the proposals for constitutional change.
JMH: Grand Lodge support for the Royal National Life-Boat Institution had begun in 1871 and it was a cause dear to many members of the Craft. Those who wish to know more can read about the long association between the Craft and the RNLI in the new issue of Freemasonry Today. Support for Newfoundland was because the majority of the Lodges there were under our Grand Lodge, there being no local Grand Lodge. Interminable the discussions on the proposed Committee certainly were and sight appears to have been lost of what the Committee’s purpose was to be. The proposal to start planning a major celebration to mark the bi-centenary of the formation of the premier Grand Lodge and the interest being shown in it by Grand Lodges overseas certainly resonates today when plans are being hatched to celebrate our tercentenary in 2017 and those same sister Grand Lodges are showing great interest in what might be being planned. Although it is ahead of the time we are talking about today, it should be noted that despite the War over 7,000 brethren, many of them in uniform, gathered in the Royal Albert Hall in June 1917 to celebrate our bi-centenary.
GFR: When Grand Lodge next met, on 2 September, the country was at war. MW Pro Grand Master, in your Presiding Officer’s Remarks this September you quoted the words used by the then Deputy Grand Master, Bro Halsey, and we do not propose to repeat them now. The Grand Secretary read a letter, expressing deep fraternal concern, from the Grand Lodge of Massachusetts, which described itself as our eldest child in the Western Hemisphere, and similar sentiments were echoed by a Past Grand Master of South Carolina and two Past Grand Masters of New Zealand who were present as Visitors at the Quarterly Communication.
JMH: Support from the Grand Lodges in Australia, Canada and the United States of America was to be a constant throughout the War, which in a very real sense brought those Grand Lodges closer to us, particularly when troops from those areas began to go through London, the Brethren amongst them taking an opportunity of visiting Lodges. The Board showed its paternalistic side once again by announcing that those of its Clerks who responded to the “call to the Colours” would continue to have their salaries paid throughout the hostilities and would be guaranteed to resume their labours at Grand Lodge once hostilities ceased. More than half of the clerks answered the call and happily only one of them did not return.
GFR: The following resolution marked an early casualty of the conflict:
That further proceedings in regard to the election of the Representative Committee on the question of the re-organization of Grand Lodge, under the resolution of Grand Lodge of June 3rd, be postponed.
JMH: Mercifully the war put an end to the endless argument over the re-organisation of the administration of the Craft. The intention had been a good one of bringing the Provinces more actively into the central administration of the Craft but the scheme that had been produced was an unwieldy one of multiple layers of Committees at both local and central levels, the division of London into ten Provinces and so much would have been devolved to committees before coming to a central Council and then the Board that it would have been almost impossible to get any policy or changes through in less than eighteen months! Some changes were made during the War, the most important of which was elected Provincial representation on the Board of General Purposes to give the Provinces a voice in central administration.
GFR: In December an amendment was made to the Book of Constitutions to prevent the automatic exclusion of Brethren from their Lodges if the arrears of subscription arose while they were serving their country.
JMH: The amendment was an example of Grand Lodge at its pragmatic best, almost making policy and change “on the hoof” amending a recommendation within Grand Lodge to bring into effect a rule change recognising the difficulties that members on active service would face during what was being slowly realised was not going to be a short war. The year, however, ended as it had begun with a very lengthy and somewhat nit picking debate on the actual wording of the proposition. There was also an attempt to persuade Grand Lodge to make a donation of 1,000 guineas towards the funding of a Masonic Nursing Home to care for members of the services injured on active service. There was a certain amount of support but two major figures questioned whether this was a good use of Grand Lodge’s limited finances as experience had shown that running a private hospital was an enormous economic undertaking. The proposition was negative but in 1917 the Freemasons’ War Hospital and Nursing Home was opened in London, eventually becoming the Royal Masonic Hospital. As time was to show the comments made in 1914 proved correct and the Hospital eventually had to go. But that, as they say, is a story for another day.
Quarterly Communication of Grand Lodge
10 December 2014
Report of the Board of General Purposes
The Minutes of the Quarterly Communication of Grand Lodge held on 10 September 2014 were confirmed.
Nomination of Grand Master
HRH The Duke of Kent was nominated as Grand Master for the ensuing year.
Annual Investiture of Grand Officers: 29 April 2015
So that sufficient accommodation can be reserved for those Brethren who are to be invested and their friends, admission to the Annual Investiture is by ticket only. Brethren to be invested for the first time may invite to be present with them three qualified Brethren, and those to be promoted two qualified Brethren.
Written application for these seats may be made to the Grand Secretary between 1 March and 31 March by Brethren qualified to attend the Grand Lodge: Past Grand Officers; Masters; Wardens (not Past Wardens); Past Masters qualified under Rule 9 of the Book of Constitutions.
Masonic Year Book
The next edition of the Masonic Year Book 2015–2016, will be available next summer. The charge will be £13 per copy, plus postage and packing where appropriate. It is proposed to produce a new edition of the Directory of Lodges and Chapters during 2015 at a charge of £13 per copy. Copies of the current edition are still available from Letchworth’s shop and may be ordered in the usual way.
Every Lodge will receive one copy of the Masonic Year Book and the Directory free of charge. The Board emphasises that these copies should be available to all the members of private lodges and not regarded as for the exclusive use of the secretary to whom, for administrative reasons, they are dispatched.
Metropolitan and Provincial Lodges
As in previous years copies will be dispatched direct to secretaries of lodges.
Sufficient copies will be dispatched to District Grand Secretaries for distribution to lodges in the Districts. Lodges abroad not in a District will receive their copies direct.
Prestonian Lectures 2015
The Board has considered applications for the delivery of the official Prestonian Lectures in 2015 and has decided that these should be given under the auspices of the following: Royal Standard Lodge, No. 398 (Montreal and Halifax); Shepherd’s Bush Lodge, No. 1828 (London); Warwickshire Installed Masters Lodge, No. 4538 (Warwickshire); Torbay Masters Lodge, No. 8227 (Devonshire) and Worthing Lodge of Installed Masters, No. 9860 (Sussex). The Lecturer, W Bro Professor R. Burt, states that the title of the Lecture will be: Wherever dispersed – the Travelling Mason.
Assistant Grand Chancellor
The Board considers that it would be beneficial to the administration of Grand Lodge’s external relations if the Grand Master had the power to appoint a second Assistant Grand Chancellor, thereby mirroring his power in respect of Assistant Grand Secretaries. Notice of motion to amend the Book of Constitutions appeared on the Paper of Business.
Resignations from Private Lodges under Rule 183
Rule 183 sets out a clear procedure to be followed if a Brother wishes to resign from a lodge (as opposed to resigning from the Craft). The first proviso to the Rule allows a Brother twenty-one days within which to withdraw his resignation if so desired by a majority of the members present when the resignation is communicated or notified to the lodge at a regular meeting. It has been represented to the Board that the period of twenty-one days may, under modern conditions, be unduly restrictive. London and many Provinces now operate a system of ‘exit interviews’ with the aim of ascertaining whether a resignation is owing to a general disillusionment with Freemasonry, or is related to the particular lodge of which he is a member. In the latter case it is often possible for the Metropolitan or Provincial authorities to find a more convenient or congenial lodge for the Brother to join so that his masonic career is not interrupted. The Board considers that a period of sixty days would be more helpful in the process of retaining a Brother in the Craft and a Notice of Motion that Rule 183 be amended accordingly was on the Paper of Business. The Board also gave guidance on the operation of the Rule and the measures that may be taken when a resignation is received.
Recognition of a Foreign Grand Lodge
On 24 December 1885 a group of lodges in the State of Vera Cruz in Mexico (which had been regularly consecrated by two Grand Lodges in Mexico which no longer exist) united to form the Grand Lodge of the State of Vera Cruz. This Grand Lodge already recognises the York Grand Lodge of Mexico, which recognises, and shares territorial jurisdiction within Mexico with the Grand Lodge of the State of Vera Cruz and which has stated that it would have no objection to our recognising the latter.
The Grand Lodge of the State of Vera Cruz having shown that it is regular in origin and that it conforms to the Basic Principles for Grand Lodge Recognition, the Board has no reason to believe that it will not continue to maintain a regular path and recommends that it be recognised. A resolution will be moved accordingly and appears at item 6 of the Paper of Business.
The Board had received reports that the following Lodges had resolved to surrender their Warrants: (a) Lodge of Hospitality, No. 1697, in order to amalgamate with Lodge of Tranquility, No. 274 (East Lancashire); and (b) Langtree Lodge, No. 6166 and Norley Lodge, No. 7319, in order to amalgamate with Lodge of Antiquity, No. 178 (West Lancashire).
The Board recommendation that the lodges be removed from the register in order to effect the amalgamation was approved.
Erasure of Lodges
The Board had received a report that nineteen lodges had closed and surrendered their Warrants. The Lodges are: Liverpool Dramatic Lodge, No. 1609 (West Lancashire); Semper Vigilans Lodge, No. 3040 (London); Aquarius Lodge, No. 3113 (London); Victory Lodge, No. 3986 (Northumberland); Sir Francis Drake Lodge, No. 4375 (London); Prometheus Lodge, No. 4977 (London); Lyonsdown Lodge, No. 5477 (Hertfordshire); Woxenden Lodge, No. 5672 (London); Lodge of St Christopher, No. 5999 (Warwickshire); Lodge of Four Virtues, No. 6275 (Hertfordshire); Montem Lodge, No. 6687 (Buckinghamshire); Alcedo Lodge, No. 7073 (London); Lodge of Aviation, No. 7210 (London); Birmingham Old Edwardian Lodge, No. 7115 (Warwickshire); Star of Hackney Lodge, No. 7272 (London); St. Barbara Lodge, No. 8724 (Middlesex); Albion Lodge, No. 8876 (KwaZulu-Natal); Northumberland Park Lodge, No. 8916 (Hertfordshire) and Steadfast Lodge, No. 9654 (London).
The Board recommendation that they be erased was approved.
Ten Brethren were expelled from the Craft.
A presentation was given on the Proceedings of Grand Lodge of two hundred and one hundred years ago by J.M. Hamill, Assistant Grand Chancellor and G.F. Redman, Deputy Grand Secretary.
List of new lodges for which Warrants have been granted by the Grand Master showing the dates from which their Warrants became effective:
25 September 2014
No. 9899 Motorcycling Lodge of West Kent (West Kent)
No. 9900 Combined Services Lodge (Berkshire)
No. 9901 Thornbury Lodge (Gloucestershire)
No. 9902 West Surrey Installed Masters Lodge (Surrey)
A Quarterly Communication of Grand Lodge is held on the second Wednesday in March, June, September and December. The next will be on 11 March 2015. Subsequent Communications will be held on 10 June 2015, 9 September 2015, 9 December 2015 and 9 March 2016.
The Annual Investiture of Grand Officers takes place on the last Wednesday in April (the next is on 29 April 2015), and admission is by ticket only.
Convocations of Supreme Grand Chapter
Convocations of Supreme Grand Chapter are held on the second Wednesday in November and the day following the Annual Investiture of Grand Lodge. Future Convocations will be held on 30 April 2015, 11 November 23015 and 28 April 2016.
What unites us
Picking and choosing which principles of Freemasonry apply, such as discussing religion or politics, risks undermining the very essence of the Craft, argues Director of Special Projects John Hamill
Recently I had the privilege of presenting a new Master Mason with his Grand Lodge certificate. The recipient, afterwards, asked me why I had emphasised that he should contact Freemasons’ Hall before attempting to visit lodges overseas and what exactly irregular Freemasons were.
I explained that overseas there are many organisations that call themselves Freemasons and in many ways follow our practices, but they differ in that they have rejected what we would regard as fundamental principles of the Craft. In particular, they do not require their candidates to have a belief in a Supreme Being and allow their lodges to discuss matters of religion and politics, as well as make public comment on politics and state policy. We therefore do not regard them as true Freemasons and bar our members from associating with them.
The subject of regularity has been much discussed at meetings of European Grand Masters and at the annual meetings of European Grand Secretaries and Grand Chancellors, as well as being a topic of conversation when masonic leaders attend each other’s Grand Lodges. The rules covering regularity were developed over a very long period and were codified by the United Grand Lodge of England in 1929 when we promulgated our Basic Principles for Grand Lodge Recognition. They have since become the standard against which regular Grand Lodges measure new Grand Lodges seeking recognition.
So if there are rules, why does the subject have to be discussed? The short answer would be that Freemasons love to discuss and question long-held views. The more serious answer is that there are groups within regular Freemasonry who seek a more liberal interpretation of our fundamental principles and landmarks.
That, to my mind, is dangerous and will lead to there being no difference between regular and irregular Freemasonry. Regular Freemasonry has developed over a long period and imbues its members with a strong sense of morality combined with fairness and kindness to others. It seeks to bring people together so they can discover what they have in common, rather than what divides them, and how they can use that for the good of the community.
‘Freemasonry in no way replaces religious belief but its teachings of morality, tolerance, charity and kindness can support the individual’s personal faith.’
We insist that candidates have a belief in a Supreme Being because it is the one thing that unites us. Freemasonry draws its members from disparate backgrounds – the membership has always been a microcosm of the society in which it exists. The one thing we have in common is that we have a belief, however we practise it and whatever religion we may follow. Freemasonry in no way replaces that belief but its teachings of morality, tolerance, charity and kindness can support the individual’s personal faith.
The banning of religious and political discussion goes back to the earliest records. Most historians now believe that Freemasonry as we understand it developed in the seventeenth century, which was a period of intense religious and political turmoil. Those who developed Freemasonry were seeking to provide a setting in which men of goodwill could come together in peace. By knowing what divided them, they could discover what they had in common and use that for the good of the community.
Freemasonry became, in the words of the First Charge, ‘the centre of union between good men and true, and the happy means of conciliating friendship among those who must otherwise have remained at a perpetual distance’. That sentiment is worth defending.
Letters to the Editor - No. 29 Spring 2015
What unites us
I have always been an enthusiast for the papers of John Hamill, Director of Special Projects, and agree invariably with what he has written. His article, ‘What Unites Us’, in the winter issue of Freemasonry Today is no exception. He mentions: ‘The one thing we have in common is that we have a belief, however we practise it and whatever religion we may follow.’
Masonry is clearly not a religion but it does bear the imprimatur of religiosity.
It has long been my conviction that our beautiful rituals were written by clerics or men of a religious bent. If only the love and decency experienced in the lodge could be extended to the wider world, we would be giving a priceless gift to mankind.
Herbert Ewings, Septem Lodge, No. 5887, Surbiton, Surrey
Turning the tide
With a partnership that stretches back more than one hundred and forty years, the Royal National Lifeboat Institution and Freemasonry have a shared history. John Hamill charts its origins
As a seafaring nation with a proud naval history – and a great delight in messing about in boats – it is not surprising that one of our best known and much loved national charities is the Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI).
Its founder was Sir William Hillary, who resided on the Isle of Man. He had witnessed many shipwrecks around its coast and had on numerous occasions helped in rescuing people from the wrecks. He began to lobby for a national organisation to assist ships in distress, resulting in the formation, in 1824, of what is now the RNLI.
The RNLI relies entirely on the generosity of the public to fund this essential work, and rescues an average of twenty-two people every day. It is able to provide its services because the crews who man the lifeboats, those who look after the lifeboat stations and equipment, and those who do the local fundraising are all volunteers.
It costs around £385,000 a day to keep the service going, which might seem a lot until you start to consider the costs of building, maintaining and fuelling the lifeboat fleet, as well as providing the crews with protective clothing and the equipment that is vital for their work.
What is less well known is the long association between Freemasonry and the RNLI.
It was in 1871 that members of Lodge of Faith, No. 141, London, came up with the idea of providing a lifeboat for the RNLI. They raised £260 and petitioned Grand Lodge to provide the additional funds to purchase a boat. Grand Lodge agreed and, learning that the lifeboat at North Berwick needed replacing, provided the funds for a thirty-foot, state-of-the-art vessel, together with a lifeboat carriage to get it to the water. The boat provided sterling service for sixteen years.
In 1875, HRH Albert Edward, Prince of Wales, was installed as Grand Master. He was sent on an extended tour of India to represent Queen Victoria, who had become Empress of India. This was a journey not without its hazards and dangers in those days, so when Albert returned, Grand Lodge decided to mark his safe homecoming in some permanent way.
To the rescue
A committee recommended that Grand Lodge provide £4,000 to build two new lifeboat stations, complete with lifeboats, where the RNLI had no presence; Clacton-on-Sea in Essex and Hope Cove in Devon were the chosen sites. The boat at Clacton was named Albert Edward in honour of the Grand Master and Hope Cove’s was named Alexandra after his wife. The lifeboat station at Hope Cove still exists and is adorned with the Prince of Wales’s insignia, as well as a plaque marking its origins.
The last occasion on which Grand Lodge, through its Board of Benevolence, provided a lifeboat was in 1980. The fifty-four-foot Arun-class lifeboat has worked all round the British Isles as part of the RNLI General Reserve Fleet, and was named the Duchess of Kent in honour of the Grand Master’s wife. The naming ceremony took place on the Thames alongside County Hall on 27 April 1982, when His Royal Highness was in the curious position, as Grand Master, of presenting the new lifeboat to himself as president of the RNLI.
The Grand Master had been president since 1969, when he succeeded his mother, HRH Princess Marina, Duchess of Kent. She, in turn, had succeeded her husband, HRH Prince George, Duke of Kent, who was our Grand Master from 1939 until his death in war service in 1942.
In total there have been fourteen masonic lifeboats (see panel) but it is not just through the provision of lifeboats that Freemasonry has supported the RNLI. Over a long period, many Provinces, lodges and individual brethren have made regular donations to the RNLI.
Nor has support been limited to the Craft. The last masonic lifeboat to be launched was funded by the Grand Lodge of Mark Master Masons in 2009 and is named the Mark Mason, operating out of Angle in Pembrokeshire. And, of course, many of the volunteers who work for the RNLI are Freemasons.
Masonic lifeboat history
North Berwick, 1871–1887
Hope Cove, 1878–1887
Hope Cove, 1887–1900
City Masonic Club
Relief Fleet, 1910–1918
Hope Cove, 1903–1930
Duke of Connaught Peterhead, 1921–1939
General Reserve Fleet, 1939–1951
Duchess of Kent
General Reserve Fleet,
Angle, Pembrokeshire, 2009–present
• Lady Leigh was the wife of Lord Leigh, Provincial Grand Master of Warwickshire, 1852–1905.
• HRH The Duke of Connaught was Grand Master 1901–1939.
• Valerie Wilson was the wife of Leslie Wilson, former Deputy Provincial Grand Master of Middlesex.
Letters to the Editor - No. 29 Spring 2015
I could add to the article on Freemasonry and the Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI) in the winter 2014 issue of Freemasonry Today with another lifeboat launched and supported by Lodge of Friendship, No. 5909, in October 2007.
The Master of the lodge named the new Atlantic 85 inshore lifeboat at Aberystwyth, at the naming ceremony and service of dedication in April 2008.
The Atlantic 85 was the most advanced inshore lifeboat ever produced by the RNLI and its introduction at Aberystwyth is thanks to the legacy of Joan Bate, sister of a Past Master of the lodge, the late Arthur Bate. Lodge of Friendship is honoured to be associated with this lifeboat at Aberystwyth and has continued to support it.
Alan Harris, Lodge of Friendship, No. 5909, Birmingham, Warwickshire
I read with great interest John Hamill’s article, ‘Turning the Tide’, in the winter issue of Freemasonry Today. It reminded me that in 1997 the Grand Charity donated £30,000 towards a new Severn-class lifeboat based at Spurn Point on the River Humber, and she is aptly named Pride of the Humber.
The Grand Master accompanied by the then Deputy Grand Master Iain Ross Bryce, who was the Chairman of the Northern Area Appeal Fund, attended the naming ceremony and dedication service, which was held at the Promenade, Hull Marina on 24 September 1997. After the dedication service Iain Ross Bryce invited the Grand Master to name the new boat, in which they then travelled down the river.
The Duchess of Kent lifeboat gave excellent service to the Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI) for over twenty years and was launched two hundred and fourteen times, saving seventy-one lives.
It was eventually retired out of service in May 2003 and sold.
The lodges and chapters within the Province of Yorkshire, West Riding and the sister Province of Yorkshire, North and East Ridings continue to support the RNLI with some donations going to the new boathouse, which was opened by Her Royal Highness The Duchess of Kent on 7 September 2007.
I think Freemasonry in general can be very proud of its support for this charity because the RNLI staff are ordinary people doing an extraordinary job.
Alan Hurdley, Rugby Football Lodge, No. 9811, Huddersfield, Yorkshire, West Riding
Keep calm and carry on
Director of Special Projects John Hamill argues the case for a national scheme that would record how Freemasonry helped during World War II
Such has been the media’s concentration on commemorating the centenary of the start of World War I that those events rather overshadowed the seventieth anniversary of the D-Day Landings – probably the last major commemoration of that event, as its survivors are now all in their late eighties and nineties.
World War II did not come as such a major shock as World War I. Indeed, to many of us, it was not a question of if, but of when war would break out.
It was also to have a far more devastating effect on those who stayed at home, and had rather more impact on Freemasonry than its predecessor.
In 1939, Grand Lodge still met on the first Wednesdays of the usual months, so a meeting took place within four days of war having been declared. A circular sent to all lodges then suspended all masonic meetings until further notice. There was a determination to ‘carry on as normal’ and, by the end of September, it was agreed to resume meetings.
At the Quarterly Communications in September and December 1939, emergency resolutions were passed to cover the crisis – giving Masters the authority to alter the dates and meeting places of their lodges as circumstances required. As the war progressed, there were further changes, not least the suspension of paying subscriptions and dues by those who were on active service.
Once aerial bombing began, it was suggested that lodges should meet during the day to avoid their members being exposed in the evenings. With the rationing of food and material, dress and regalia codes were relaxed, and it was proposed that post-meeting refreshments should be kept to a minimum.
With the scarcity of all sorts of raw materials, not least precious metals, in 1940, Grand Lodge suggested that brethren might like to sacrifice their personal masonic jewels to assist in the war effort. At that time, Stewards’ jewels for the Charity Festivals were solid silver, and founders’ and Past Masters’ jewels were usually gold. The brethren met the challenge, and in 1941, Grand Lodge was able to announce that £20,000 had been passed to the Treasury for the war effort.
Freemasons’ Hall in London had been built as a memorial to those brethren who fell in World War I and was initially known as the Masonic Peace Memorial. It survived the Blitz largely undamaged as other parts of Holborn and Covent Garden were destroyed. Until the post-war rebuilding of London, the tower of Freemasons’ Hall was one of the tallest structures in central London and it was apparently used by German pilots as a landmark to help guide them across the London sky.
During the Blitz, the people of London sheltered in the Underground at night. The workers from Covent Garden Market and the occupants of the local Peabody Buildings preferred the basement of Freemasons’ Hall, which had been cleared of all the archives and other papers, to Holborn Underground station. Whether this was connected with the fact that each morning the then Grand Secretary Sydney White and his Secretary, Miss Haigh, provided tea and sandwiches for them, history does not record.
A greenhouse was even built on the Grand Temple to grow soft fruits and vegetables.
Just as there has been a national scheme to record what people at home and in the services did during the war, should we not have a similar project for Freemasons? If so, we need to hurry; many of those who took part in World War II will not be with us for much longer, and their memories are irreplaceable.
‘World War II did not come as such a major shock as World War I. Indeed, to many of us it was not a question of if, but of when war would break out.’
Letters to the Editor - No. 28 Winter 2014
Keep calm and record
In the autumn issue of Freemasonry Today, John Hamill suggests that there should be a project to record what Freemasons contributed during World War II both at home and abroad. He reminds us that time may be against us. However, I trust he is aware that Grand Lodge should already be in possession of a significant quantity of records of what brethren contributed during that period.
On 15 May 1946 the Board of General Purposes instructed each lodge to ‘collect detailed information and prepare a report to be incorporated in the minute book of the lodge, and a copy to be sent to the Grand Secretary for preservation in the records of Grand Lodge’. The Board asked for details of each brother’s service, including those who were disabled or made the supreme sacrifice. It also asked for information on the effect on meetings and attendances, plus any losses of records or property.
In the 1946 minute book of my mother lodge, Telephone Lodge, No. 3301, there is a copy of the report sent to the Grand Secretary and it makes fascinating reading. Noting that many of our members stayed in Britain as they worked in a reserved occupation, it nevertheless records that many brethren served with the Home Guard, in civil defence, as fire wardens or as business premises wardens. It records that brother HR Harbottle was appointed OBE for his contribution to the GPO War Group, while brother Shipton is recorded as having worked on ‘radar and secret devices’. It tells of the need to move meetings to the summer months during daylight and that all dining ceased. Finally, the lodge reported no loss of property except the lodge’s printing dies, which were at the printers when it was blitzed. This report formed a rich resource when I was updating our lodge history for our centenary in 2008.
So not only should Grand Lodge’s archives have all these reports, but lodges should find a copy of their own contribution in their minute book.
Peter Walker, Telephone Lodge, No. 3301, London
John Hamill replies
I am aware of the reports asked for by Grand Lodge. Sadly, less than a third of lodges supplied the requested information. Those who did gave the basic information but what I was suggesting was recording personal impressions to give a human face to the basic records.
I know from talking to brethren over many years that there are fascinating stories that will be lost when those individuals are no longer with us.
What’s heritage worth?
While historic masonic items may not have huge monetary value, Director of Special Projects John Hamill explains why they are still national treasures
A few years ago the Library and Museum of Freemasonry, with incredible assistance from a dedicated team of brethren in the Provinces, conducted one of the largest national archive surveys that has ever taken place in this country. The result was a formidable database of all the lodge and chapter records in masonic hands in this country. It will be a veritable gold mine for future researchers into English and Welsh masonic history and is also proving to be a major source for local historians.
The survey was limited to ‘words on paper’ and, partly because of time constraints, did not include regalia, furniture, masonic equipment or artefacts. That leads me to one of my hobby horses: that masonic historians in the past have primarily depended on only the written records that are available and have largely ignored what can be learnt from non-documentary items.
During the twenty-eight years I was involved in the Library and Museum, I was privileged on many occasions to be invited to speak in the Provinces.
I soon developed a habit of arriving early, if visiting a masonic hall I had not previously attended, in order to have a look at what they might have hanging on their walls or in, often dusty, display cases. I soon began to appreciate the wealth of material that still survived and began to keep notes of anything unusual or rare. I also began to realise that very few of those running the halls were aware of the treasures in their custody, or that some of them had a monetary value.
Happily, that neglect and ignorance has been changing since the late 1990s with the creation of the Masonic Libraries and Museum Group, which is formed of dedicated volunteers with a love of masonic history. The group has gradually persuaded their respective Provinces that they have collections of importance, which should be properly catalogued and looked after because they form an important part of our heritage – and in many cases, include items that are irreplaceable.
History for sale
A recent auction sale in south London illustrates the value certain masonic objects can have. The first part of the sale was probably the last major collection of masonic jewels and artefacts in private hands in this country. Formed by Albert Edward Collins Nice between the 1930s and his death in 1969, it was rich in eighteenth- and nineteenth-century jewels, which, in addition to having masonic importance, were superb examples of the jeweller and silversmith arts. Competition was fierce and some surprising prices were paid for the star items.
The Antiques Roadshow and its many spin-offs have given the public a false sense that because something is old it must be worth money. Monetary value, however, is not everything. Particularly in a specialist area, an item can have very little monetary value to the outside world but be of major importance to the history of the organisation concerned. In my early days in the museum, people would wander in with an item and ask what it was and if we would be interested in having it. Today, thanks to antique-valuing programmes on television, they ask what it is and what it is worth!
We live in an age in which the importance of our heritage in all parts of our lives is being increasingly recognised. We took the major step of finding out, and taking steps to preserve, our archival heritage in Freemasonry. Perhaps now is the time to take the same steps in relation to the treasures, in the widest sense of that word, that rest in our buildings.
‘An item can have very little monetary value to the outside world but be of major importance to the history of the organisation concerned.’
From the Nile to the Thames
One Freemason proposed the idea of presenting Cleopatra’s Needle as a gift to the British government. John Hamill explains how its eventual arrival in London was organised and paid for by another
Like St Paul’s Cathedral, the Tower and Big Ben, Cleopatra’s Needle is one of London’s most recognisable landmarks. It was presented to the British government in 1819 by the ruler of Egypt and Sudan to commemorate the victories of Lord Nelson at the Battle of the Nile and Sir Ralph Abercromby at the Battle of Alexandria. But it was to lie in the sands outside Alexandria for nearly sixty years because successive British governments refused to pay the enormous costs of transporting it to London.
Giovanni Battista Belzoni (1778-1823) was born in Padua. After various adventures in Italy, Prussia and Holland he arrived in England in 1803 and made his living as an entertainer. At six feet seven inches in height and with enormous strength, he was often billed as the ‘Patagonian Samson’.
Belzoni came into contact with some of the small circle who were to become the advisers to HRH The Duke of Sussex when he became Grand Master. It is not known where Belzoni was initiated, but he entered the Royal Arch in Cambridge and the Knights Templar in Norwich. His splendid Royal Arch jewel is worn today by First Principals of the Chapter of St James, No. 2.
Uncovering the ancient
In 1815, Belzoni was persuaded by the agent of Egypt’s Turkish ruler, Pasha Mohammed Ali, to go there to try and help restore that country’s prosperity. Arriving in Cairo, he became fascinated by ancient Egypt and from 1816 to 1820 carried out excavations at Abu Simbel, Thebes, Philae, the Valley of the Kings and Fayum.
Belzoni made many discoveries, not least the tomb of Pharaoh Seti I, making careful notes and extensive drawings of the temples, tombs and wall decorations that he discovered. He is rightly considered to be the father of modern Egyptology, but modern archaeologists would abhor his practice of removing statues, wall paintings and artefacts from his discoveries.
In 1821, Belzoni exhibited his Egyptian treasures in Piccadilly, to huge public acclaim. A narrative of his activities, published in the previous year, quickly went through three printings and was translated into French, German and Italian, while his collections were later auctioned off and bought by the British Museum.
It was Belzoni who suggested to Pasha Mohammed Ali that the obelisk now known as Cleopatra’s Needle be presented to the British government. Belzoni organised its transportation to Alexandria but did not have the finance to move it any further.
It was not until 1877 that the interest of another Freemason, Sir William James Erasmus Wilson (1809-1884), led to the obelisk finally making its journey to England. Wilson was a surgeon who made his name and fortune by specialising in dermatology. One of the first in this field, he wrote a number of works that became the standard textbooks on the subject. He is credited with introducing the idea that a daily bath was a simple way of remaining healthy, and was involved in the movement to provide local bath and wash houses to promote hygiene and public health.
Elected Fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons, Wilson served on many of its committees and was its president in 1881. He was also elected a Fellow of the Royal Society, and knighted for his services to medical science and his extensive philanthropy. Wilson was much involved in Freemasonry in London and Kent.
‘The whole exercise of transporting Cleopatra’s Needle and organising its final resting place in London cost Wilson almost £10,000.’
Having heard of the obelisk, Wilson began to plan for its transportation. On the advice of engineers, it was encased in an iron tube around which a pontoon was built, complete with rudder and sails. It was to be towed by a merchant vessel, with a small crew steering it from a covered ‘bridge’ built over the tube.
The final chapter
The journey from Cairo through the Mediterranean and out into the Atlantic was largely uneventful. However, disaster struck on entering the Bay of Biscay on 14 October 1877. A sudden storm almost overturned the pontoon, the tow lines broke and it was at the mercy of high seas. The small crew was rescued but in the attempts to retake control of the pontoon, several sailors perished. Eventually the pontoon drifted to the coast of France from where it was salvaged and reconstructed at a cost of £2,000.
The Needle was eventually towed up the Thames, and the wrangling then began as to where it should be erected. Initially it had been planned to stand the obelisk near the Houses of Parliament, but both Houses objected. Finally it was agreed that it should be erected on the new Victoria Embankment, then being constructed as a river road linking Westminster and the City of London. Wilson engaged architects to design a plinth and surroundings, to include two sphinxes, to display the obelisk.
The foundation stone of the plinth was laid with masonic ceremonies and on 12 September 1878 the obelisk was raised. The whole exercise of transporting Cleopatra’s Needle and organising its final resting place in London cost Wilson almost £10,000.
Letters to the Editor - No. 27 Autumn 2014
Giving the needle
I was very interested in John Hamill’s excellent article, ‘From the Nile to the Thames’, on the story of the transfer of Cleopatra’s Needle from Alexandria to the Thames Embankment. However, there are a few extra points I’d like to add to the story.
Contrary to the usual tale, the famous queen did have something to do with the obelisk that bears her name. It was Cleopatra, and not Belzoni, who transferred the needle from Heliopolis to Alexandria to stand with its partner (now in New York’s Central Park) at the water gate of the Caesarium built by Cleopatra to honour the late Julius Caesar.
The needle was reported as lying flat by an English traveller in the seventeenth century. The final impetus required to move it to Britain was a threat by an Italian landowner who owned the area where the needle resided – he planned to demolish the obelisk to free the site for further development.
It was originally planned to be put in front of the Houses of Parliament, but fears about the safety of the District Line immediately below the site – rather than political squabbling – resulted in the decision to place the needle on the Embankment.
As an interesting adjunct, when the plinth was built, several artefacts were encased beneath it, including a wooden pole found at the opening of one of the so-called ‘air shafts’ in the Queen’s Chamber of the Great Pyramid. Perhaps one day, carbon analysis of this piece of wood will settle the age of the pyramid once and for all.
Brian Skinner, Lodge of Fraternal Unity, No. 7330, London
John Hamill’s interesting article on Cleopatra’s Needle brings to mind another example of Freemason Sir William James Erasmus Wilson’s generosity.
In his excellent book, Benevolence and Excellence, Alan Scadding states that in 1871 Dr Erasmus Wilson offered to the Royal Medical Benevolent College to build a house for the headmaster’s family and forty scholars.
Thus was established in 1873 Wilson House, which ran almost independently of the college for a period – the headmaster charging non-medical parents higher fees for their sons who would be educated ‘under the headmaster’s special eye’.
In 1896, the Royal Medical Benevolent College changed its name to Epsom College and today, Wilson House stands in its original building as a boarding house for girls and a fully integrated part of Epsom College.
The building stands on the Wilson terrace at the top of Wilson Steps, which access Wilson Pitch.
Peter Dodd, Old Epsomian Lodge, No. 3561, London
All at sea
It is no coincidence that the same man who invented the life preserver and received a mistaken knighthood also had a wholly unique relationship with Freemasonry. John Hamill considers the life of Francis Columbine Daniel
On 21 July 1806, crowds thronged to the River Thames in London to view an exhibition of Francis Columbine Daniel’s patented life preserver. Made from leather and silk, it was the forerunner of today’s inflatable life vest. A report of the demonstration cites people floating down the river playing musical instruments and smoking pipes – even loading and firing sporting guns.
Daniel was born in King’s Lynn in 1765, his father hailing from Edinburgh and his mother from Norwich. After education at a grammar school, Daniel was apprenticed to a surgeon and apothecary at Wapping in East London in 1779. Nine years later he set up his own practice and became a Freemason. It was possibly a foretaste of his later, somewhat eccentric masonic life that he was initiated twice: first in a lodge under the Antients Grand Lodge and then in one under the rival Premier Grand Lodge (the Moderns), both in Wapping.
The area was a hive of naval activity and it was Daniel’s observation of many drownings that led to his resolve to find a means of preserving life in and on the water. His 1806 exhibition brought him to the attention of the Lords of the Admiralty and a further display in the presence of their Royal Highnesses the Dukes of York, Cambridge and Cumberland gained him celebrity status. His invention won him gold medals from the Royal Humane Society and the Royal Society for Arts, and brought him to the attention of the Court, which was to lead to a certain notoriety.
Daniel’s celebrity led to his being invited to a garden party at Buckingham Palace in 1820. Joining what he believed was the receiving line to be introduced to the king, he was surprised when asked to kneel and a sword was tapped on both his shoulders. Having been dubbed a knight he could not be ‘undubbed’ and so left the event as Sir Francis Columbine Daniel.
‘A prominent member under both Grand Lodges, Daniel had made enemies because of his sometimes high-handed, if well-intentioned, actions.’
Life in lodges
Led by William Burwood, members of Daniel’s Antients’ lodge, the United Mariners, had formed a charity in 1798 ‘to cloathe and educate the sons of indigent or deceased Freemasons’. Daniel had been a great supporter, but had made enemies because of his sometimes high-handed, if well-intentioned, actions. The members forced the Antients Grand Lodge to open its eyes to Daniel’s prominent membership under both Grand Lodges. Daniel refused to choose between his affiliations and, in 1801, was expelled from the Antients.
In 1808, Daniel retired from his medical practice to concentrate on Freemasonry and charity. He persuaded his Moderns lodge, Royal Naval, to form a boys’ charity to assist the sons of impoverished or deceased members. The Premier Grand Lodge had founded a girls’ school in 1788 and the move was successful. In 1813, the two Grand Lodges united and their boys’ charities were then amalgamated in 1817, becoming the Royal Masonic Institution for Boys, now part of the Royal Masonic Trust for Girls and Boys.
Daniel seems to have run Royal Naval Lodge as his personal fiefdom, alternating between being its Master and Treasurer, and introducing seafarers into the lodge. It was undoubtedly a success, but Daniel was not good at making returns of new members to Grand Lodge or paying their registration fees. In 1810 he was suspended from the Premier Grand Lodge until the debt was cleared. That happened in 1817, and he was welcomed back into the Premier Grand Lodge.
Rather like a shooting star, Daniel had a brief blaze of glory and then disappeared. There is no record of him in Freemasonry after 1821 and he must have died shortly after as in 1825 his daughter, who had fallen on hard times, applied to lodges in Somerset for assistance on the strength of her late father’s membership. Turbulent as his life may have been, he left an indelible track through both his life preserver and his work for the sons of Freemasons in distress.
In the line of fire
Director of Special Projects John Hamill explains how, unlike its successor, World War I saw Freemasonry tolerated, if not encouraged, by the enemy
Over the coming months we will be reading and hearing a great deal about the events leading up to World War I, its progress and final outcome. Unlike previous wars, this ‘Great War’ was the first to have a major effect not only on those involved in the fighting but also on those left at home. We all know about the Blitz during World War II, but how many today remember the Zeppelin raids dropping bombs on London and coastal areas during World War I? And, of course, the attrition in the trenches meant that there were very few families unaffected by death or serious casualties.
Regular Freemasonry has always stood apart from politics and did so throughout the war, refraining from making any comment upon it. Indeed, reading through the printed proceedings of Grand Lodge and Grand Chapter during that time, it would be difficult to realise that a major conflict was taking place. Small changes were made to the rules to enable those on active service to maintain their membership, dress codes for meetings were relaxed, and there were regular reports from the Board of Benevolence about sums donated to various relief bodies. But there was no comment on the war at all.
Such was the determination of the Craft to continue life as normally as possible that they even managed a muted celebration of the bicentenary of the formation of Grand Lodge at a special meeting at the Albert Hall on Saturday, 23 June 1917.
‘Regular Freemasonry has always stood apart from politics and did so throughout World War I, refraining from making any comment upon it.’
Honour among men
Despite its horrors, World War I has been called the last ‘gentleman’s war’ because of the way in which it was conducted and the honourable treatment accorded to prisoners of war. We have all heard of the unofficial Christmas truces in the trenches when troops from both sides met in no-man’s land to play football together. There are also examples of masonic activity continuing in prisoner-of-war camps with the passive agreement of the enemy.
The Grand Secretary must have been very surprised when, on 18 December 1914, he received a letter through the post signed by one hundred and twelve brethren who were civilians interned in a camp at Ruhleben near Berlin, sending Christmas wishes to the Grand Master and Grand Lodge. When read aloud in Grand Lodge, their letter led to immediate calls for a fund to be raised by which food and comforts could be bought and sent to them, an act of mercy that the German authorities allowed to continue for the rest of the war.
Under the terms of the Hague Convention, service personnel who fell into German hands were encamped in neutral Holland. Among them were many Freemasons. With the connivance of the German authorities, the Grand East of the Netherlands consecrated two lodges – Gastvrijheid at Groningen and Willem van Oranje at the Hague.
After the horrific debacles at the Dardanelles, there were many British and Empire prisoners of war in Turkey. Records exist of them working Lodges of Instruction at camps in Yozgat, Busia and Afium Karasia. At the British Base Reinforcement Camp at Rouen, more than one hundred soldiers of all ranks petitioned the National Grand Lodge of France to have a lodge at the base. They were consecrated on 16 December 1916 as Jeanne D’Arc Lodge, No. 5.
How different the enemy’s attitude to the Craft was at that time compared to the years leading up to and during World War II, when fascist dictators openly persecuted Freemasons, many thousands of whom perished in prisons and labour and concentration camps.