The title deeds of the Craft
Director of Special Projects John Hamill traces the origins of the Antient Charges and what they reveal about masonic values
On the first occasion on which a brother is installed as Master of a lodge he is required to give his assent to a Summary of the Antient Charges and Regulations, read out to him by the Secretary. This summary first appeared in print in the second edition (1775) of William Preston’s Illustrations of Masonry, in which he outlined the installation ceremony and since 1827 has formed part of the Book of Constitutions.
For something to be called a summary begs the question: ‘Of what?’ The charges and regulations are predominantly based on The Charges of a Freemason, first published in the first edition of the Constitutions, compiled by the Rev Dr James Anderson in 1723 and printed in every subsequent edition of the Book of Constitutions. They are divided into six sections: Of God and Religion; Of the Civil Magistrate; Supreme and Subordinate; Of Masters, Wardens, Fellows and Apprentices; Of the Management of the Craft in Working; Of Behaviour (with six subsections).
Anderson stated that he had ‘digested’ them from a series of old documents relating to masonry in England, Ireland, Scotland and ‘lodges overseas’. The latter was something of a pious fiction as there were no lodges overseas until the late 1720s.
These documents used to be known as the Old Manuscript Constitutions and are now, collectively, the Manuscript of Old Charges. More than 130 versions of them have survived (many now in the Library and Museum of Freemasonry) and more than 20 other versions have disappeared. Many of them are parchment rolls almost six feet in length and up to nine inches wide.
‘Some of the versions from the late 1600s in the final section begin to give us our first glimpses of ritual.’
The two oldest versions – The Regius Poem circa 1390 and the Cook manuscript circa 1420 – are in the British Library and their content applies only to stonemasons. The next oldest is the Grand Lodge No. 1 manuscript, which carries the date 1583 and includes elements relating to speculative masonry. The majority of the extant versions can be dated to the 1600s when we begin to get evidence of speculative lodges, and a small group are from the 1700s and appear to have been copied out of antiquarian interest.
There are differences between the surviving versions, but they have a common tripartite form. They begin with an invocation to God, followed by a history of the mason Craft, and end with a series of charges, that is the duties that a mason owed to God, the law, his employer, his family and society in general. Some of the versions from the late 1600s in the final section begin to give us our first glimpses of ritual and ceremonial.
Making a mason
In the custom of the times during which they were written, the historical section is an amalgam of legend, biblical stories, folklore and some facts tracing masonry almost back to Adam in the Garden of Eden. It includes many biblical, historical and legendary figures as at least promoters of masonry, if not in fact Grand Masters. When Anderson digested his version of the history he made no difference between operative and speculative masonry, giving birth to the idea that Freemasonry was a natural outgrowth from the operative Craft, an idea that has been much disputed by masonic historians over the past 50 years.
It is clear from some of the later versions of the Old Charges that reading of them was a part of the original ceremony of making a mason. Indeed, some masonic historians have characterised them as the ‘title deeds’ of the Craft. Their importance to us today is not only that they are the originals of the Antient Charges that we all subscribe to, but as evidence that the fundamental principles and tenets of the Craft are truly time immemorial, immutable and unchangeable.
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.’
From Hogarth’s satirical engravings through to membership certificates designed by Mucha, historian Lucy Inglis discovers how artists have responded over the centuries to the principles, symbolism and patronage of Freemasonry
An exhibition held in the Library and Museum at Freemasons’ Hall, Encounters: Artists and Freemasonry Over 300 Years seeks to bring together artists who have made significant contributions to the art associated with Freemasonry. In some cases, these are images and objects, such as books of instruction and jewels involved in masonic ceremonies. Elsewhere, abstract interpretations of masonic symbolism add a further element to the range of art on offer.
The exhibition begins in earnest at the start of the eighteenth century, when the formation of the first Grand Lodge led to the publication of Constitutions (official rule books) and lists of lodges featuring detailed engravings. The Constitutions and lists were sanctioned by the Grand Lodge of England and the artists employed on their design used biblical imagery and references to classical architecture to stress a view that Freemasonry, even in the 1720s, had a long lineage. This early series, showing work by Sir James Thornhill and John Pine in particular, is dominated by superb examples of William Hogarth’s contentious contributions to the masonic artistic canon.
Appearing on the register of a lodge on Little Queen Street, Hogarth was a Freemason by 1725. Despite being part of the brotherhood, he defaulted to his trademark satirical social commentary with The Mystery of Masonry Brought to Light by the Gormogons (1724). Typical of Hogarth, the Gormogons depicts real people, including James Anderson, author of the Constitutions, who is shown with his head through the rungs of a ladder, apparently engaged in kissing the buttocks of an aged crone in mocking reference to his attempts to regularise Freemasonry. Also featured is Hogarth’s Night (1738), showing Sir Thomas de Veil, a vocal critic of London’s gin trade, as an inebriated Master.
There is a strong showing of later eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century masonic art, culminating in significant works by Alphonse Mucha. The jewels and apron he designed are intriguing, while the large-scale membership certificate is particularly striking.
‘artists used biblical imagery and references to classical architecture to stress a view that Freemasonry had a long lineage’
When the Republic of Czechoslovakia was formed as an independent state in 1918, Mucha’s art played a key role in forming the state’s new identity. He even designed its new banknotes and postage stamps.
The work of Alvin Langdon Coburn will be new to many visitors. Coburn was born in Massachusetts in 1882 and took up photography at the age of eight. In his late thirties, after exhibiting successfully in New York and London, he moved to North Wales and in 1919 became a Freemason, embracing the organisation wholeheartedly. His portrait of US President Theodore Roosevelt is the most striking and well known of his photographs shown at the exhibition, although Coburn was not yet a Freemason when the image was captured in 1907.
Of the modern art featured in this exhibition, two artists are particularly prominent. Trevor Frankland, Master of Philbrick Lodge, No. 2255, in Essex in 1994, contributed (before his death in 2011) two pieces representing the journey of the Ashlar: a screen print called Ashlars in the Making (undated) and a large-scale work on wood and hardboard named The Perfect Ashlar (1972). The Perfect Ashlar has depth and layered interest well suited to its subject matter.
Yanko Bonev, a sculptor born in north-eastern Bulgaria and a former Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of Bulgaria, also contributed large-scale pieces of modern art. After an early career in monumental public sculpture, he became a Freemason when the organisation was introduced to Bulgaria in the 1990s and turned his hand to smaller bronzes.
This is an exhibition that has been painstakingly put together and is adroitly pitched at the visitor who may not have considered the strong links between art and Freemasonry before. It also contains hidden depths for those with more detailed knowledge of the rites and rituals of Freemasonry and their associated histories. There is much here to discover.
Encounters: Artists and Freemasonry Over 300 Years runs until 20 September 2013, Monday-Friday, 10am-5pm. Freemasonry Today would like to thank Martin Cherry for his assistance in putting this article together.
‘this exhibition contains hidden depths for those with more detailed knowledge of the rites and rituals of Freemasonry’
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.