Wednesday, 13 June 2012 01:00

Was Sir Christopher Wren a Freemason?

Was St Paul's Cathedral built by a mason?

With Christopher Wren’s membership of the Craft remaining disputed, Dr James Campbell explains why he chose this subject for his 2011 Prestonian Lecture

Sir Christopher Wren is so well known he hardly needs an introduction. He is England’s most famous architect, the designer of St Paul’s Cathedral. Indeed, up until the age of the railways he was England’s most prolific architect, designing more buildings in his 90 years than any other.

But what makes Wren really fascinating is that he turned to architecture rather late, having already made a considerable name for himself as a mathematician, astronomer and experimental scientist. He was a founding member of the Royal Society and later its president. He carried out the first intravenous injection, was one of the three men who suggested to Newton that gravity obeyed the inverse square law, and was a professor of astronomy at the age of 26. His contemporaries universally described him as startlingly brilliant. Indeed, the more you learn about Wren the more engaging he becomes.

My interest in Wren dates back to 1987, when I first arrived as an undergraduate in Trinity College, Cambridge, and discovered the magnificent library he built there. It sparked a lifelong interest in Wren and another in the architecture of libraries. An interest in Wren served me well and I eventually did my PhD on him and became an architectural historian. One topic kept coming up in my research on Wren: that of his link with Freemasonry. Authors were completely divided on the subject. Many, of course, simply ignored it entirely, but others could not make up their minds whether he was or was not a Freemason, let alone whether it had any effect on his architecture. That uncertainty continues to this day.

A CONTESTABLE TOPIC

If you go on the UGLE website and look at the lists of famous Freemasons, Wren’s name is nowhere to be found. Writers on the subject have also varied in their opinions. John Hamill said in The Craft that the case is ‘unproven’; David Stevenson has said in the past that there is no evidence; while Lisa Jardine, Wren biographer and distinguished historian, is in no doubt that he was. When you look further back – at the eighteenth century – the books of the time all state that Wren had not only been a Freemason, he had been the Grand Master. Some even go so far as to claim that Wren initiated Peter the Great of Russia and William III of England.

The Prestonian Lectures is the only series of lectures officially sanctioned by UGLE. Every year a new lecturer is appointed by the Trustees and announced in Grand Lodge. They choose their own topic. The subject should be suitable for delivery in open lodge or to a wider audience and should be of the broadest possible interest. Wren’s membership of the Craft seemed to me to be ideal and I am pleased that the Trustees agreed.

William Preston (1742-1818), after whom the Prestonian Lectures is named, had been interested in Wren. Preston was convinced Wren was a Freemason and wrote on the subject. He even went as far as buying what he thought was a portrait of him for his lodge. It is now known to be a portrait of the architect William Talman, and it still hangs in Freemasons’ Hall with a plaque wrongly labelled as Wren.

The lectureship Preston founded went into abeyance in the nineteenth century and was revived in its present form in 1924. Since then there have been eighty-two Prestonian Lecturers. Each is entitled to wear a distinctive jewel bearing Preston’s image. In their year of office they give ‘official’ deliveries to lodges chosen by the Board of General Purposes and unofficial deliveries to any lodges that ask for them.

Wren’s membership of the Craft has never been a subject of a Prestonian Lecture before, but is not an infrequent subject of masonic lectures. Most of those I have read are, I am afraid, rather confused.

Most lecturers rely heavily on Robert Freke Gould’s History Of Freemasonry (1883-87), which devotes over fifty pages to demolishing the previously held beliefs that Wren was a Freemason. Few lecturers bother to return to the original sources or look into more recent discoveries. This became my aim: to present clearly how the confusion had arisen and what we now know, and in presenting the evidence to allow the audience to make up their own minds.

Some history is straightforward. Through a series of reliable sources we are able to say unequivocally that something happened on a particular date. Other matters are not so straightforward – vital pieces of evidence are missing or unreliable. This is the case with Wren. The result is a fascinating story of detective work and of shifting views in history.

THE IDEAL SUBJECT

Wren lived around the time that Freemasonry emerged in the seventeenth century, so the question of his membership also brings up the issue of what Freemasonry was at the time he joined. It therefore provides a fascinating glimpse into the problems we have in studying all parts of early Freemasonry’s history.

Also bound up with this subject is the history of Lodge No. 2, the Lodge of Antiquity, which met near St Paul’s Cathedral. Preston was a member of this lodge in the late eighteenth century and it has a number of artefacts associated with Wren. A lecture on Wren is thus an excuse to go into the history of this wonderful lodge and its origins.

Lastly a lecture on Wren and Freemasonry is an ideal opportunity to ask the question of whether it had any effect on his architecture. Are there any masonic symbols hidden in the works of Wren?

These then were the reasons I chose Wren as the subject of the 2011 Prestonian Lecture and it was a most enjoyable year. I gave lectures all over the UK, and I even went as far as India. One highlight was being asked to give a lecture to the Christopher Wren Lodge in Windsor, which hired the town hall Wren designed for the occasion.

Modernising Wren’s hospital

The proceeds of the Prestonian Lecture and the booklet that accompanies it go to charity. Half of the proceeds from Dr James Campbell’s lecture are going to The Royal Hospital Chelsea. The hospital is undergoing a major restoration and is seeking funds to adapt Wren’s building to modern living. The other charity is the Royal Masonic Trust for Girls and Boys. So far, James has raised more than £6,500 thanks to the generosity of the lodges who have supported the lecture. The sale of the booklet will hopefully raise more. Was Sir Christopher Wren A Mason? contains the complete text of Dr James Campbell’s 2011 Prestonian Lecture and is available from Letchworth’s in Freemasons’ Hall (letchworthshop.co.uk) for £7.99.

Published in Features
Monday, 14 May 2012 01:00

The Foundations of Modern Freemasonry

Dr Ric Berman will talk about his new publication "The Foundations of Modern Freemasonry" (Sussex Academic Press 2012) on Wednesday 20 June at The Library and Museum of Freemasonry, Freemasons’ Hall, 60 Great Queen Street, London WC2B 5AZ.

Using largely unexplored original sources, many of which have recently become available in digital form, Dr Berman highlights how freemasonry expanded from its London hub using a range of networks and associations.

Some, such as the Royal Society, are familiar to Masonic researchers; others including the London and provincial scientific lecture circuit and the London magistracy, are investigated for the first time.

Dr Berman will also consider what implications this research has for the development of freemasonry after 1750, which is his current area of research.

 The event starts at 6pm and is free - places may be booked by emailing This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Published in UGLE & SGC

QUARTERLY COMMUNICATION OF GRAND LODGE

14 SEPTEMBER 2011

REPORT OF THE BOARD OF GENERAL PURPOSES

 

Board of General Purposes

The Board of General Purposes will meet in 2012 on 14 February, 20 March, 15 May, 17 July, 18 September and 13 November.

 

Attendance at lodges under the English Constitution by Brethren from other Grand Lodges

The Board draws attention to Rule 125 (b), Book of Constitutions, and the list of Grand Lodges recognised by the UGLE, published in the Masonic Year Book, copies of which are sent to lodge secretaries.

Only Brethren who are members of lodges under recognised jurisdictions may visit English lodges. They must produce a certificate (i.e. a Grand Lodge certificate or other documentary proof of masonic identity provided by their Grand Lodge), should be prepared to acknowledge that a personal belief in TGAOTU is an essential Landmark in Freemasonry, and should be able to produce evidence of their good standing in their lodges. It is the Master’s responsibility to ensure that the requirements of Rule 125 (b) are met.

It is particularly noted that the hazard of admitting a member of an unrecognised constitution arises not only in connection with overseas visitors (or individuals resident in this country who belong to an unrecognised constitution overseas). There are Lodges of unrecognised constitutions meeting in England, and care must be taken that their members are not admitted to our meetings.

 

Attendance at Lodges Overseas

The continuing growth in overseas travel brings with it an increase in visits by our Brethren to lodges of other jurisdictions, and the Board welcomes this trend. From time to time, however, Brethren become involved with masonic bodies which Grand Lodge does not recognise, e.g. in visiting a jurisdiction which, quite legitimately so far as it is concerned, accepts as visitors Brethren from Grand Lodges which are not recognised by the UGLE.

In this connection, Brethren are reminded that it is part of their duty as members of the English Constitution not to associate masonically with members of unrecognised constitutions, and should such a situation occur, they should tactfully withdraw, even though their visit may have been formally arranged.

To avoid this danger, and potential embarrassment to hosts, Brethren should not attempt to make any masonic contact overseas without having first checked (preferably in writing) with the Grand Secretary’s Office at Freemasons’ Hall, Great Queen Street, London WC2B 5AZ, that there is recognised Freemasonry in the country concerned and, if so, whether there is any particular point which should be watched.

The Board recommends that the terms of this warning should be repeated verbally in open lodge whenever a Grand Lodge Certificate is presented, and in print once a year in a lodge’s summons.

Brethren should also be aware of the masonic convention that communications between Grand Lodges be conducted by Grand Secretaries. They should therefore not attempt without permission to make direct contact with the Grand Secretary of another Constitution. This does not preclude direct contact on a purely personal level between individual Brethren under different Grand Lodges.

 

Grande Loge Nationale Française

At the June Quarterly Communication of Grand Lodge the President made a statement relating to the turbulence existing in the Grande Loge Nationale Française (GLNF) and indicated that the Board would continue to monitor the situation closely.

The Board regrets that the situation within the GLNF has deteriorated. Notwithstanding the letter its current Grand Master wrote to our Pro Grand Master, he failed to relinquish his mandate on 27 June. This has done nothing to ease the discord.

Some 600 lodges or more have dissociated themselves from the Grand Lodge or have indicated that they will be doing so. This means that their members, unless they have dual membership with lodges that remain under the GLNF or a lodge in another jurisdiction with whom this Grand Lodge is in amity, would cease to be able to visit our lodges. It would be an impossible task for our lodges to know which French masons could visit us and which could not.

Harmony within lodges and with fellow masons has always been one of the customs and usages of Freemasonry. This is a fundamental principle urged upon candidates at their initiation. Indeed, it is so fundamental that it has never been considered necessary to enshrine it as a Rule in the Book of Constitutions, though the Antient Charges which are published as a part of the Book of Constitutions urge the cultivation of brotherly love, ‘avoiding all wrangling and quarrelling, all slander and backbiting’.

The Board considers that the GLNF may be in breach of paragraph 8 of the Principles for Grand Lodge Recognition –‘That the principles of the Antient Landmarks, customs, and usages of the Craft shall be strictly observed’ – which are also included with the Book of Constitutions.

The evidence of substantial disharmony within the GLNF is overwhelming. However, the Board is reluctant at present to recommend withdrawal of recognition from a Grand Lodge with which the UGLE has been in amity for nearly 100 years. It therefore recommends that with immediate effect relations with the GLNF be suspended, that is to say that:

1. Our Brethren should no longer be permitted to join or to visit Lodges under the GLNF; and

2. Our lodges should no longer be permitted to elect as a joining member or admit as a visitor any Brother who is a subscribing member of a lodge under the GLNF, unless he is also a subscribing member of a lodge under UGLE or under a Grand Lodge, other than the GLNF, recognised by UGLE.

This suspension would not force any of our Brethren who are currently also members of lodges under the GLNF to resign from any such lodges, nor would it prevent such Brethren from continuing to exercise, as members of lodges under the GLNF, such rights, including those of visiting, as they enjoy under the GLNF.

A Resolution to give effect was approved.

The Board hopes that it will not be too long before harmony is restored within the GLNF so that we may resume normal relations with our Brethren in France.

 

Amalgamation

Sir James Martin Lodge No. 4255 has resolved to surrender its Warrant in order to amalgamate with Semper Vigilans Lodge No. 3040 (London).

A resolution that the lodge be removed from the register in order to effect the amalgamation was approved.

 

Erasure of Lodges

The Board had received a report that 23 lodges had closed and have surrendered their Warrants. The lodges are: Athenaeum Lodge No. 1491 (London), Lombardian Lodge No. 2348 (London); King George V Lodge No. 3529 (East Lancashire), Providence Lodge No. 3697 (London), Doric Lodge No. 4073 (Yorkshire, West Riding), St Helen’s Lodge of Integrity No. 4151 (West Lancashire), Portman Lodge No. 4747 (London), Pandora Lodge, No. 4966 (London), Winckley Lodge No. 5438 (West Lancashire), Woodland Lodge No. 5478 (East Lancashire), Estreham Lodge No. 5494 (London), Eureka Lodge No. 5505 (East Lancashire), Temple of Friendship Lodge No. 5886 (Surrey), Magnum Bonum Lodge No. 6613 (London), Fellowship and Peace Lodge No. 7002 (London), Hackney Brook Lodge No. 7397 (London), New Era Lodge No. 7400 (Hertfordshire), Teddington St Mary’s Lodge No. 7469 (Middlesex), Brookmans Park Lodge No. 7655 (Hertfordshire), Summa Petens Lodge No. 7682 (London), Tavistock Lodge No. 8376 (Surrey), Bi-Centenary Lodge of Nottinghamshire No. 9070 (Nottinghamshire) and Star and Phoenix Lodge No. 9286 (London).

The Board recommendation that they be erased was approved.

In 1993 a Warrant was granted for Lodge of Shankar No. 9526 (Bombay) and in 1996 a Warrant was granted for Universal Lodge No. 9644 (Guyana). Both Warrants were issued, but neither lodge has been, or is now likely to be, consecrated.

The Board recommendation that the lodges be formally erased was approved.

 

Masonic Communications in an Electronic Age

The Grand Secretary gave a talk to Grand Lodge on the above subject.

 

List of Approved New Lodges

28 April 2011: No. 9866 Abuja Lodge, Abuja, Nigeria and No. 9867 The Leeds Lodge, Leeds Yorkshire, West Riding.

 

Expulsions from the Craft

Twelve members have been expelled from the Craft.

 

Quarterly Communication meetings

The Quarterly Communication of Grand Lodge will meet on 14 December 2011, 14 March 2012, 25 April 2012 (Annual Investiture), 13 June 2012, 12 September 2012 and 12 December 2012.

 

Supreme Grand Chapter meetings 

The Supreme Grand Chapter will meet on 9 November 2011, 26 April 2012 and 14 November 2012.

 

Report of the Council of the Library and Museum Charitable Trust for the year ended 31 January 2011

The Library and Museum of Freemasonry at Freemasons’ Hall in London is open to the public, free of charge, Monday to Friday 10 am–5 pm. The book, object and archive collections are available for the enjoyment of visitors of all ages by way of the permanent displays and increasing online resources which are also available for those who cannot visit in person. Temporary exhibitions highlight aspects of the collections.

During 2010 the Library and Museum organised two exhibitions: Freemasons and the Royal Society and The Masonic Emporium. Both exhibitions drew extensively on the Library and Museum’s own collections.

The Royal Society exhibition marked the 350th anniversary of its founding. Work related to the exhibition resulted in the online publication of a searchable biographical listing of nearly 400 Freemasons who were also Fellows of the Society. Loans to the exhibition were made by Alma Mater Lodge, No. 1492, in Cambridge. The Royal Society provided images from their collections.

In The Masonic Emporium the Library and Museum explored the growth of a commercial market for masonic items and the businesses which developed to supply it in the 19th century. The exhibition was supported by Toye, Kenning and Spencer, who kindly lent photographs and documents from their archives and specimen items from the manufacturing process. A number of objects were lent from private collections. A free illustrated exhibition guide was published for this exhibition.

Tours 

A record number of more than 30,000 visited the Library and Museum during the year (2009–2010: 25,622) of whom approximately 60% were not Freemasons. For many visitors the highlight was the tour of the ceremonial areas provided by Library and Museum staff. The Library and Museum and the ceremonial rooms of Freemasons’ Hall were opened on Saturday, 18 September 2010 for London Open House. More than 2,500 visitors were received that day.

Provision of research resources

Increasing use is being made of the Library and Museum as a research resource with over 170 new readers registered during the year (2010: 200). The issue of books and documents has continued to increase steadily. Many enquiries are dealt with by mail or increasingly electronically.

A new version of the Library and Museum website was launched in November 2010 designed with easier navigation and with more images to convey the variety of the collections. This provided the opportunity to reissue the series of downloadable Information Sheets on a range of frequently requested topics. Also included on the site is guidance for lodges and chapters about the care of their records.

Cataloguing

Good progress continued to be made with over 650 museum items catalogued (2010: 509). This included the collection of 18th century plated and pierced metal Masonic jewels. In addition, 2,755 books (2010: 4,810) and 1,835 detailed archive records (2010: 1,385) were added to the catalogue. Work has continued on cataloguing the print and photograph collection and over 1,500 images are now available.

Conservation

Following the Historical Records Survey which was undertaken in 2008–2010, the Library and Museum co-ordinated a grant scheme to support conservation work on lodge and chapter records. The scheme attracted 35 applications from lodges and chapters in 18 Provinces and 12 grants were made. It is intended to administer a similar grants scheme in 2011. Library and Museum staff also gave several presentations at Provincial offices on conservation.

Acquisitions

Donations of regalia, books and artefacts have continued to enable the Library and Museum to expand its collections and the Council is grateful for the generosity of all donors.

Raising awareness of the Collections

Members of staff spoke at lodges around the country and at meetings of family history societies and local and specialist history groups. The Curator, Mark Dennis, presented a paper on masonic regalia at the International Costume Conference in Athens in April.

Director Diane Clements and Archivist and Records Manager Susan Snell, presented papers at the Women and Freemasonry conference organised by the University of Bordeaux in May and these will be published in 2011-2012.

Susan Snell also spoke to the Jewish Genealogical Society of Great Britain and gave a paper to the British Records Association conference in December on Masonic charity.

In November 2010 a joint event, Freemasonry and Ancient Egypt, was run with the Petrie Museum at University College, London. Due to the success of this event it was repeated early in 2011.

Plans for future periods

One of the most important resources used by the Library and Museum are the membership registers maintained by UGLE for the century or so after the 1880s. These exist as unique volumes. During 2011 the Library and Museum is undertaking a project to microfilm these volumes to assist with their future preservation.

For 2011 the temporary exhibition programme will include Building Solomon’s Temple and The Patriot Freemason: Freemasonry in American Society. Work continues on documentation, cataloguing and re-storage.

Financial Review

As at 31 January 2011 the consolidated net assets of the Library and Museum Charitable Trust were £2,719,700 (2010: £2,634,699).

The activities of the Library and Museum are funded by donations, fees charged for genealogical research and booking fees for Saturday tours. The Friends of the Library and Museum established in 2001 enables individuals (whether Freemasons or not), lodges and chapters to support the Library and Museum by way of an annual subscription.

Friends receive regular Newsletters and can attend special events. The Friends scheme is open to all those interested in developing their understanding of the varied collections of the Library and Museum and who wish to contribute to their development and care.

The Library and Museum’s trading subsidiary, Letchworth’s (Freemasons’ Hall, London) Limited made a Gift Aid contribution to the Library and Museum of £92,202 (2010: £75,740).

This Report comprises extracts from the Annual Report and Accounts for the year ended 31 January 2011. For a copy of the full Annual Report and Accounts please write to the Director.

Published in UGLE
Wednesday, 01 September 2010 14:42

Looking Forward At The Library And Museum

The Library and Museum has continued to make good progress in meeting its objective of making its collections available to as many people and to the widest possible range of audiences as possible in order to improve the understanding of Freemasonry and its role, past and present, in society, director Diane Clements told the Quarterly Communication of Grand Lodge in September.

The most obvious way that this was done was by it being open, free of charge, every weekday, including to people joining the regular guided tours. In the past four years, visitor numbers had increased by 40 per cent thanks to the existing staff of guides working with others, especially security and maintenance.

To mark the 350th anniversary of the Royal Society staff worked with North Yorkshire Province to produce a list of more than 350 masons who were also Fellows of the Society. The list is available on the Library and Museum website and include Sir George Everest of mountain fame, psychologist Charles Myers, generally credited with the first use of the term ‘shell-shock’, and zoologist Edward Hindle who, as part of his distinguished scientific career, introduced the golden hamster as a domestic pet.

Cataloguing of the collections continued and information was available on the electronic catalogue on the website. Staff had catalogued all the sheet music – over 1,500 items – and archive material including the records of erased lodges and thousands of prints and photographs of individuals.

They had also undertaken a detailed analysis of what is required to catalogue and photograph all the items in the museum collection – 40,000 objects.

They will be starting a two-year project to digitise English eighteenth and nineteenth-century masonic periodicals this autumn, which will become available in comprehensive indexes and searchable. There are also more than 2,000 readers registered to use the archive collections.

Library and Museum staff also answer more than 3,000 queries a year and had given presentations at conferences and presented papers to professional and specialist groups. Material from the collections had been lent to other museums at home and abroad.

Work with provinces and districts has focused on the Historical Records Survey, which aimed to discover the extent and condition of all lodge and chapter records in England and Wales. The 60 per cent or so response rate, which was a fantastic achievement by local co-ordinators and thousands of lodge secretaries and chapter scribes, would ensure that local masonic history made a considerable contribution to Freemasonry’s tercentenary.

The Masonic Libraries and Museums Group is run by representatives of provincial libraries and museums and which Library and Museum staff support. Over the past ten years this group has helped to foster new museums and libraries in several provinces so that the heritage of Freemasonry could be preserved at a local level.

The Library and Museum has been awarded grants from external sources. One recent grant enabled them to establish a properly racked paintings store, another contributed towards the conservation of the world-class collection of Old Charges. Profits from the shop at Freemasons’ Hall are gift-aided to the Library and Museum. Since 2003, the shop had sold nearly 120,000 books, more than 90,000 Craft ties and 1,247 miniature masonic teddy bears.

The Library and Museum was looking forward to making a major contribution to the Royal Arch bicentenary celebrations in 2013 with an exhibition and to the tercentenary in 2017.

They would also be marking the 2012 Olympics in London. Plans include an exhibition on Freemasonry and Sport which will cover the important role played by leading masons in the first London Olympics in 1908 as well as the masonic involvement of sportsmen generally.

VISITOR INFORMATION
Venue: The Library and Museum of Freemasonry, Freemasons’ Hall, Great Queen Street, London, WC2B 5AZ
Exhibition dates: Thursday 1 July – Thursday 23 December 2010
Exhibition free of charge to all visitors
Opening hours: Monday to Friday, 10am to 5pm. Museum closed at weekends
Visitor information: www.freemasonry.london.museum or 020 7395 9257

Published in Features
Wednesday, 01 September 2010 13:39

Edward Jenner - Freemason And Natural Philosopher

David Harrison Looks At The Work Of This Pioneering Scientist

It has been said that the discovery of the smallpox vaccine in the late eighteenth century by Freemason, Edward Jenner has saved more lives than the work of any other man: Jenner has been fairly described as the ‘father of immunology’

The publication in 1798 of Jenner’s findings that cowpox could protect against the feared and usually fatal disease – smallpox – gained him instant support by members of the scientific community. Recognition of his work was reflected in the foundation of the Jennerian Society in London in 1803 by admirers in order to promote vaccination among the poor; Jenner was actively involved in its affairs. Government grants followed and Jenner carried out further experimental work on his vaccine. His interest in science led him to form a number of scientific societies and he was to become a Fellow of the Royal Society.

Jenner was an active Freemason, serving in 1812 as Master of the Royal Lodge of Faith and Friendship, No. 270, based in Berkeley, Gloucestershire. This lodge was regularly visited by the Prince of Wales – the future George IV – and was a lodge that was to become associated with the Jenner family.

The Defeat of Smallpox

Jenner was born in Berkeley in 1749 and had been inoculated against smallpox while at school. This inoculation, or variolation as it was termed, was a method of deliberately introducing smallpox to a person, thus giving them the disease so they could acquire immunity. It was a practice that carried its own risk of infection to others but was seen as safer than becoming infected with the disease during an outbreak. However, this variolation was to adversely affect his general health throughout his life and no doubt gave him the impetus to find an effective and safer method of immunity against the disease.

At thirteen Jenner was apprenticed to a local surgeon before going on to study surgery and anatomy under the celebrated surgeon John Hunter in London, who became a lifelong friend. He returned to his native Berkeley in 1773 and set up a successful practice of his own. It was here in 1796 that Jenner made his observation that milkmaids who had caught the milder disease known as cowpox – which resulted in a blister rash mainly on the hands – seemed to be immune from the more aggressive and deadly smallpox.

To test his theory, Jenner had to experiment by introducing cowpox to someone who had not had smallpox, which he confidently did with James Phipps, the eight-year old son of his gardener. Jenner made a few scratches on the boy’s arm and rubbed into them some infected material from the hands of a milkmaid, Sarah Nelmes, who had contracted cowpox. Jenner then introduced smallpox to the boy through the traditional variolation technique and, as predicted, the boy did not develop the disease. Jenner subsequently tested many other people with his vaccine, proving his theory that cowpox gave a greater immunity to smallpox.

Natural Philosophy

Edward Jenner was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1789, not for his medical work but for his research on the study of the then misunderstood nesting habits of the cuckoo. Indeed, Jenner embraced the study of nature in a wider sense, examining many aspects of the natural world in order to gain a deeper understanding of what he saw as God’s work. He was also an avid fossil-hunter and geologist: in 1819 he found a fossil of what would become known as the plesiosaur. At this time, a theory was developing that regarded fossils as the remains of species that could be extinct, a theory which Jenner came to support, saying that ‘Fossils are…monuments to departed worlds’.

Fascinated by new ideas concerning any form of natural philosophy, Jenner had taken an interest in ballooning, launching his own balloon in 1784, which successfully flew a number of miles. He also enthusiastically studied the hibernation of animals during winter as well as the mystery of bird migration. He suggested that some birds left Britain for the winter and returned for the summer – a theory that contradicted the tradition that birds slept in mud for the winter.

He maintained an active correspondence with other eminent Freemasons of the period who shared his theories and ideas; Freemasons such as Sir Joseph Banks, a member of the Royal Somerset House and Inverness Lodge, No. 4, who served as president of the Royal Society, and Erasmus Darwin, initiated 1754 into Lodge St. Davids, No. 36 (S.C.), who was involved with the Birmingham-based Lunar Society, a number of whose members were Freemasons.

The Royal Lodge of Faith and Friendship held a Science Select Lodge organised by Jenner where lodge members had to produce a paper on a specific scientific subject; this Science Select Lodge was reminiscent of the Lunar Society meetings. Other lectures had taken place within masonic lodges throughout the country, such as the Old Kings Arms Lodge, No. 28, London, the lectures being intricately entwined with the lodge meeting itself. Another example of scientific teaching taking place within lodges can be seen in the Lodge of Lights, No. 148, Warrington, which held lectures on Newtonian gravitational astronomy in 1800 and 1801. All three lodges are still working today.

The Royal Lodge of Faith and Friendship continued to celebrate the life and work of Edward Jenner after his death in 1823 and other members of Jenner’s family, such as his nephews Henry Jenner and the clergyman William Davies, became members. The lodge emblem, used to this day, commemorates the gift to Jenner of a wampum belt by the Five Nations of North America after Jenner personally sent them a sample of the cowpox virus along with a copy of his work on vaccination; Jenner wore this belt in front of his apron at the last masonic meeting he attended.

In 1825, members of the Provincial Grand Lodge of Gloucestershire subscribed sufficient funds to erect a memorial statue to him in Gloucester Cathedral.

Jenner certainly studied many aspects of the ‘hidden mysteries of nature and science’ and seemed to have found in Freemasonry a means by which he could convey his scientific beliefs as well as his spiritual and moralistic values. His studies of nature were firmly in balance with his belief in God’s grand design of the universe. In a letter to his friend, the Rev. Thomas Pruen, he wrote:

The weather may be inconvenient for the designs of man, but must always be in harmony with the designs of God, who has not only this planet, our Earth, to manage, but the universe. The whole creation is the work of God’s hands. It cannot manage itself. Man cannot manage it, therefore, God is the manager.

ugle logoSGC logo