New library gallery celebrates tercentenary
To mark Freemasonry’s 300th anniversary, a new and permanent gallery space opens this year with highlights from lodges across the centuries, complete with interactive displays about masonic symbolism and films with ceremonial footage, images and information.
The new Three Centuries of English Freemasonry gallery at the Library and Museum of Freemasonry in Freemasons’ Hall, London, is launched in September 2016.
It traces the development of Freemasonry from its origins in the early days of industrialisation, urbanisation and empire to the significant social institution it had become by the 19th century and explores how it fits into today’s world. This new gallery space, originally designed in the 1930s as the Reading Room, has been transformed to walk the visitor through 300 years of history.
Entering the gallery under the three-dimensional Goose and Gridiron tavern sign (a replica – the original is in the Museum of London), the first area features a timeline, an explanation of Freemasonry’s principles and masonic symbols. Then into the Victorian period, highlighting how Freemasons celebrated their membership by purchasing everyday items like furniture, china and glass for their lodges and homes.
Library and Museum Director Diane Clements commented: ‘We have gained about 30 per cent more space and that has given us the opportunity to show, sometimes for the first time, the most important, rare and often amazing pieces to their best advantage.’
Leicestershire and Rutland Freemasons are currently in full training getting ready to do a 300-mile cycle ride marking their 300th anniversary and aiming to raise £20,000 for the Rainbows Children's Hospice in Loughborough and the Masonic Charitable Foundation (MCF)
On 24th June 1717, four masonic lodges, which had existed for some time in London, formed the Grand Lodge of England which has since continued to administer the 7,000 lodges and it's 200,000 members across England and Wales.
Leicestershire and Rutland have 3,000 members which meet in the 76 lodges across the two counties. Masonic lodges are based in Leicester, Loughborough, Hinckley, Syston, Uppingham, Melton Mowbray, Lutterworth, Market Harborough, Oakham, Coalville and Ashby de la Zouch.
At least 35 Freemasons, aged between 22 and 70 years old, from over 20 different lodges will be cycling in June 2017 to each of the 11 masonic meeting places within Leicestershire and Rutland. They will then head to the headquarters of the United Grand Lodge of England at Freemasons' Hall, Covent Garden in London. When clocking up the 300 miles they will take a short detour to the site of the former Goose and Gridiron Ale House in St Paul's Churchyard, London where the first Grand Lodge was formed before they head back to Leicester.
Simon Oldfield, keen cyclist and organiser said: 'Cycling 300 miles will be a test of all those taking part, everyone is motivated to do the training knowing that we are raising money for two very worthwhile causes as part of our Tercentenary celebrations. It has brought together cyclists of varying age, experience and fitness, building a real team spirit for the challenge ahead.'
The Rainbows Hospice for Children and Young People, based in Lougborough, provides care to those that are affected by life-limiting and life-threatening conditions. Helen Lee-Smith, Head of Individual Giving at Rainbows, said: 'I would like to thank Leicestershire and Rutland Freemasons for organising their 300 mile cycle ride to celebrate 300 years of Freemasonry and for supporting Rainbows. Leicestershire and Rutland Freemasons are doing a wonderful thing raising funds to help us run the hospice – fundraising efforts make such a huge difference to both the children and young people at Rainbows and their families.'
The MCF supports Freemasons, their families and the wider community. David Innes, Chief Executive of the MCF said: 'Our work depends entirely on donations from Freemasons and their families across England and Wales, and we are continually surprised and inspired by the unique and challenging ways that they raise funds for us. We wish all participants in the Leicestershire and Rutland 300 mile bike ride the best of luck and thank them in advance for their hard work and generosity.'
The Provincial Grand Master of the Leicestershire and Rutland Freemasons, David Hagger, added: 'We'll be holding several celebratory events in 2017 and this charity bike ride is a perfect opportunity for our members to raise money for good causes by undertaking this physical challenge. We're keen to shake off our bygone image and this bike ride is a great example of this. Recently we have found that more younger people are attracted to Freemasonry as they seek a social environment with strong values and traditions that also supports the local community.'
He continued: 'During 2017, we'll also be opening the doors to our masonic halls for everyone to see inside and an exhibition on Freemasonry at Newarke House Museum in Leicester highlighting the contribution of Freemasons to our local communities. We hope this will lead to further interest and a better understanding of our historic fraternity.'
When history is written
Director of Special Projects John Hamill defends the accuracy of the documentation detailing Grand Lodge’s formation
Were it possible to travel back and forth in time, it would be fascinating to bring back some of those fewer than 100 brethren who came together at the Goose and Gridiron Tavern in London on 24 June 1717 to elect the first Grand Master and bring into being the first Grand Lodge in the world.
The brethren can have had no conception of what they were starting and would be amazed that they were responsible for what has become a worldwide brotherhood, now existing in places that to them were unexplored spaces on the maps of their time.
Masonic historians lament the fact that there is so little documentary evidence for the period, forgetting that those who brought about the formation of Grand Lodge were not aware that they were taking such a momentous step. They did not keep records of their actions until the first minute book of Grand Lodge was begun in 1723. Indeed, had it not been for James Anderson producing his historical information to be incorporated into the 1723 and 1738 editions of the Book of Constitutions, we still might not have known what happened in 1717.
That lack of additional documentation in support of Anderson’s facts has caused some academics to question their veracity. My answer would be to repeat the mantra with which my history tutor began each of our tutorials in my first term as a student: you cannot look at the past with the eyes of the present, you can only look at it in the context of the period.
The four lodges that came together in 1717 became just another group among many other societies and clubs of the time. As no one of social consequence of the day appears to have been involved, it is not surprising that the event was not recorded in the primitive press that existed in the 18th century.
What seems to have been forgotten is that when Anderson wrote his histories there were still many around who would have attended or have known some of those who were present at the Goose and Gridiron in June 1717.
Not only that, Anderson’s writing was approved by a Committee of the Grand Lodge and I have no doubt that had he recorded recent facts wrongly it would have been forcefully pointed out to him and that they would have been corrected before the Book of Constitutions went into print.
Celebrate the past
To cast doubts on Anderson’s statements regarding 1717 because the rest of his early history contains undoubted errors of fact is to ignore how the current definition of what constitutes history has changed.
In Anderson’s day, rather than being a collection of carefully documented and verifiable facts, history was an amalgam of fact, folklore, biblical stories and mythology.
It was not until after the profound effect that Darwin’s On the Origin of Species had on Western intellectual life that historians began to apply the rigorous rules of scientific research to their studies.
Anderson does attempt to trace masonry back to Adam in the Garden of Eden and includes many biblical, legendary and historical figures as at least promoters of masonry if not actual Grand Masters. However, to cast doubt on events that Anderson records as taking place within the lifetime of his readers because of this ‘history’ is to throw the baby out with the bathwater.
Whatever academics might try to prove, I believe James Anderson. He had no reason to invent the meeting on 24 June 1717 and we have every reason to continue to celebrate it. More importantly, we should commemorate what has been built since that simple meeting elected a Grand Master to preside over an annual feast.
‘To cast doubts on Anderson’s statements regarding 1717 because the rest of his early history contains errors of fact is to ignore how the current definition of what constitutes history has changed.’
Hello and welcome to this tour of three of the historic masonic sites in the City of London that are inextricably linked with Freemasonry and its development. We start our journey on the spot where once stood the entrance to the Goose and Gridiron Ale-house, some fifty metres north of the last step leading to St. Paul’s Cathedral. It is here that the foundation of the undisputed first Grand Lodge in the world took place on 24 June 1717.
Unfortunately, and rather surprisingly, there appear to be no mementos of this historic tavern situated in what was St. Paul’s Church Yard and the only surviving item, now in the Museum of London, is the pub sign. Up until the Great Fire of London in 1666, the Goose and Gridiron was known as the Mitre. After being devastated in the blaze, it was rebuilt and renamed The Lyre, on account of the tavern’s musical associations (a musical society met on its premises), and took as its sign Apollo’s lyre surmounted by a swan. However, this image was often unrecognised and misinterpreted and a new name was born from the error: Goose and Gridiron.
battle for the blue plaque
It was in this tavern that four London lodges came together to launch Freemasonry, electing Anthony Sayer (1672-1741/2) – the ‘oldest Master Mason and then Master of a Lodge’ – as its Grand Master. It must be noted here, however, that the only source for all the information we have about the premier Grand Lodge in 1717 is from James Anderson’s reports that were published more than two decades later in 1738.
Moving on now, if you look to your right you will see, on the last column of the building you are facing, the official blue plaque commemorating the foundation of the Grand Lodge. It simply states:
Near This Site
The Grand Lodge
First Met in 1717
Nonetheless, after eight years of perseverance, on 15 June 2005, the then Lord Mayor, Alderman Very Worshipful Brother Michael Savory, finally unveiled the blue plaque that we are now so proud of.
foundations of freemasonry
It is interesting to consider how amazed our founding forefathers would no doubt be at the spread of Freemasonry through the four quarters of the globe. You see, the four lodges did not originally meet with the aim of forming a Grand Lodge. Rather, their decision to unite stemmed from a need to strengthen each individual lodge’s membership. Indeed, in unity they found this strength and it was at the initiative of other lodges wishing to join the group that a Grand Lodge was declared and formed as a controlling body. Freemasonry has never looked back.
Follow me now please, past Paternoster Square, Goldsmiths, The Saddlers’ Hall and Guildhall Yard, and let us make our way into the passage entrance of Mason’s Avenue. Now, once we move twenty metres into the alleyway, we are standing in front of the Select Trust Building.
Let me first point out that the whole of this two- hundred-yard-long avenue has not changed in four centuries. The imitation Tudor-style buildings are recent, of course, but the shape and size of the alley has remained identical and right here, on what is now 12-15 Mason’s Avenue, stood the Hall of the Worshipful Company of Masons, one of the City of London Livery Companies with which our society is closely, and at times quite wrongly, identified.
The Masons Company has its earliest record dating to 1356 and received its Grant of Arms in 1472. By then the building on this site was already functional and it was only demolished in 1865, some four hundred years later. As a reminder of the old days, the present building, which was completed in 1980, has the beautiful stained-glass windows with masonic emblems incorporated into the design. A gilded inscription embedded into the wall serves as a further reminder. It reads:
On This Site Stood
The Hall Of The
A 1463 – 1865 D
For our third and sadly last stop on this tour, let us walk the short distance to the Royal Exchange. From this vantage point you have a particularly good view of the main entrance to the Bank of England, which is popularly known as ‘The Old Lady of Threadneedle Street’.
The Bank of England has been situated in this area since its inception in 1694, with three bank buildings rising on this same site since 1734. As an interesting aside, did you know that the Bank of England was the first purpose-built bank in the British Isles? Another notable, and quite surprising fact is that the Bank of England remained a private entity until the Parliament Act of 1946, after which it was finally nationalised.
soane’s speedy advancement
Returning to the building, Sir John Soane (1753-1837) was the bank’s third architect and worked on it for forty-five years (1788-1833). However, the only part of his work that still remains is ‘the curtain wall’, which is the elongated windowless screen wall that you can see along the front. This wall encloses the whole of the block, which consists of an area of three and a half acres containing the premises of the bank.
The Duke of Sussex, who was elected as the new Grand Master of the United Grand Lodge of England in 1813, favoured Soane’s architectural work. As such, when the Duke of Sussex directed the extension of the Grand Lodge premises in Great Queen Street, one of his many dynamic and innovative activities, it was Soane who undertook and completed the task.
On 25 November 1813, an emergency meeting of the Grand Master’s Lodge, No. 1, under the Grand Lodge of the Antients, was held at the Crown and Anchor Tavern in the Strand. At this meeting Soane was initiated as an Entered Apprentice, passed to the degree of a Fellowcraft and raised to the degree of a Master Mason. In addition, following the inauguration of the United Grand Lodge of England, Soane was formally appointed President of the Board of Works and given the appropriate high masonic rank of Grand Superintendent of Works – both a well-deserved and speedy advancement by any standard.
This brings us to the end of our tour in which I hope to have shown you the significance of the City of London to the history of Freemasonry, along the way unearthing a few masonic gems that you may not have known existed. Thank you very much for joining me – I hope you have enjoyed your trip and I wish you a safe journey home.
Little is known about Anthony Sayer for the simple reason that there has been a lack of research into the first Grand Master. One explanation for this may be that he has been regarded as an ordinary person with low social standing, and has therefore been deemed of little importance. However, this approach flies in the very face of the essence of Freemasonry as we are all brothers, equally entitled to our regard.
Anthony Sayer was elected to be the first Grand Master on a majority show of hands by the members of the four lodges (some say six lodges and others add some ‘unattached’ older brethren) that met at the Goose and Gridiron Ale-house in St. Paul’s Church Yard, on 24 June 1717. The lodges had previously met at the Apple Tree Tavern, in Covent Garden in 1716 and agreed to form a Grand Lodge.
Dr James Anderson in the first Constitutions of 1723 records that at that meeting it was resolved to choose ‘a Grand Master from among themselves, till they should have the honour of a noble brother at their head’. Anderson goes on to refer to Sayer as ‘Mr Anthony Sayer, Gentleman’. This lack of further information regarding who he was and what he did has led to speculation that Sayer was of no real financial means. It certainly suggests that he was not a person with any connection to the aristocracy and therefore of low social standing.
Falling into disrepute
The matter is further clouded by the fact that Sayer had to call on the charitable assistance of the Grand Lodge. This is recorded on a number of occasions in the minutes of Grand Lodge, as is the extent to which he was assisted in some cases. Sayer’s reasons for asking for assistance are not known but it may be that he had simply reached the lowest spoke of fortune’s wheel. It is also recorded that he was charged with clandestine and irregular practice in relation to the Craft, but it was later found that his actions were only irregular, and he was admonished accordingly.
Sayer ended up acting as Tyler of his lodge up to his death after leaving the Grand Master’s chair, and in the interim was also Senior Grand Warden and Warden of his own lodge. This is considered a great demotion by some commentators, with detractors claiming that he was a ‘nobody’ who could not maintain his standing in the Craft and was in fact bettered by those who followed him.
other side of the coin
If these facts are interpreted in the true spirit of Freemasonry, with an open and charitable mind, the converse view could be true. It could be argued that Sayer was held in such high estimation among his brethren and fellows that he was elected on merit by the majority of brethren present as the best person for the job. At the very least, if this were not the case, it might be said that he graciously volunteered for what was undoubtedly an important and difficult role, overseeing the new concept of uniting lodges under one umbrella – a concept which has subsequently survived the wreck of mighty empires and the destroying hand of time.
Another view that may be considered is the humility of Sayer. When he was in need of assistance, he was not too proud to ask for it. Similarly, neither did his ego stand in the way of him acting as Tyler when previously he had been Grand Master. His misfortune did not cause him to turn away from the Craft and it could be argued that Sayer should be held up as a role model for Freemasons today.
When he left this life for the Grand Lodge above in late 1741, Sayer was buried in St. Paul’s Church, Covent Garden in January 1742. Standing as a further indication of the esteem in which he was held by his peers, a newspaper article recorded the event as follows: ‘A few days since died, aged about 70 years, Mr. Anthony Sayer, who was Grand Master of the most Ancient and Honorable Society of Free and Accepted Masons in 1717. His corpse was followed by a great number of Gentlemen of that Honorable Society of the best Quality, from the Shakespears Head Tavern in the Piazza in Covent Garden and decently interr’d in Covent-Garden church.’
There may be several reasons why Sayer’s lineage cannot be traced, not least of which is that records of the era have not all survived, therefore forcing researchers to come to a dead end. However, it has been deduced that the family name ‘Sayer’ was quite common in southern England at the time, but the Christian name ‘Anthony’ was less so, and might be considered more continental in flavour.
It could well be that Sayer was not born in this country. Many people of the time were immigrants who upon settling here changed their names. Notably two people, who are also buried in St. Paul’s Church, come into this category: Grinling Gibbons (1648-1721) and Sir Peter Lely (1618-1680). Gibbons, a famous sculptor in wood, was born and educated in Holland while Sir Peter Lely was born in Holland and was originally named Pieter van der Faes. He was portrait painter to the court of King Charles II. Both became naturalised citizens of England and both were consummate craftsmen, with Gibbons shown in a portrait painted by Sir Godfrey Kneller (1646-1723) holding a pair of compasses and contemplating the proportions of a classical bust depicted in death mode.
There may yet be facts that can still be discovered about Sayer. Perhaps researchers might look at the wider course of European history for this, rather than stay within the confines of English masonic history. Perhaps we need to start again with the facts we have and look at them with an open mind and in a new light; to tread paths of research that have not yet
been taken. This approach may eventually unearth the real ‘Mr Anthony Sayer, Gentleman’, which, with the 300th year of Grand Lodge fast approaching, is perhaps long overdue. Most importantly, we ought not to forget the values we seek to uphold as part of our Craft and remember what the true reasons for being a Freemason are.
Steven Smith is a member of the West Essex Round Table Lodge, No. 9310