The red aprons
Director of Special Projects John Hamill explores the history behind the Grand Stewards, the lodge without a number
Like many membership organisations, Freemasonry relies on volunteers to run smoothly. One of the longest-serving groups of volunteers is the Grand Stewards, whose members, because of their privilege of wearing crimson collars and edging to their aprons, can cause confusion when they visit outside London.
The Grand Stewards’ prime function is to organise the Grand Festival, which immediately follows the annual investiture of Grand Officers on the last Wednesday in April each year. That has its origins in the famous meeting that took place on 24 June 1717 when the first Grand Lodge was formed. Indeed, for the first few years the annual feast and election of the new Grand Master appears to have been all that Grand Lodge did.
As the 1720s advanced and the number of lodges and members increased, organising the Grand Feast became more complex, so a number of individuals volunteered as stewards for the event.
In 1728, to formalise the arrangement, Grand Lodge invited 12 individuals to form a team to take on the preparations. This proved successful and the stewards became Grand Stewards, with their own jewel of office to be suspended from a crimson ribbon and the privilege of having their aprons lined and edged in the same colour. The original jewel was said to have been designed by William Hogarth, himself a Grand Steward in 1735.
The Grand Stewards received a further privilege in the same year when they were given a warrant as the Stewards Lodge. Originally they also carried a number but, in 1792, the Grand Stewards Lodge was formed, which was permitted to meet ‘without number, but first on the list of regular lodges’. Like the three time immemorial lodges, which formed the original 1717 Grand Lodge, the Grand Stewards Lodge meets without a warrant.
The Grand Stewards grew into a powerful body, with 12 representatives of the lodge entitled to attend and vote in Grand Lodge (usually only the Master and Wardens represented a lodge). The Grand Officers, for much of the 18th century, were chosen from among their number. Both these practices were lost after the Union of the two Grand Lodges in 1813, although the Grand Stewards retained the right to occupy the front rows on the north and south areas of the Grand Temple.
Up until the Union, the outgoing Grand Stewards had the right of nominating their successors, which naturally led to the office becoming associated with a small group of London lodges. Although the Antients Grand Lodge used stewards occasionally and had a Stewards Lodge (in effect, their Committee of Charity), they did not have a similar system of Grand Stewards.
After the Union in 1813, the Grand Master, HRH The Duke of Sussex, began to formalise many of the pre-Union practices. In 1815, 18 London lodges were given the privilege of each year nominating one of their members for appointment by the Grand Master as a Grand Steward. Many of these lodges had previously provided Grand Stewards for the premier Grand Lodge.
The Grand Stewards were to assist at great ceremonials and the Quarterly Communication. In addition to organising the Grand Festival, they were to bear its cost. This later proved to be problematic and the present system was evolved, whereby Grand Lodge sets the ticket price for the Grand Festival and the Board of Grand Stewards makes its plans in the full knowledge that any costs exceeding those funds will fall on the board itself.
In making the new arrangements in 1815, the Duke of Sussex set up a curious anomaly. During their year of office, the Grand Stewards are Grand Officers. At the end of their year they become Past Grand Stewards and retain the right to wear their distinctive regalia but cease being Grand Officers – unless they are promoted or already hold Grand Rank.
On a number of occasions, I have seen consternation cross the brow of a lodge Director of Ceremonies when a Past Grand Steward visits his lodge. He does not fit into any of the conventional groups, so where does he go in the procession?
Is he saluted? And where does he fit in on the toast list…?
‘A Past Grand Steward does not fit into any of the conventional groups, so where does he go in the procession?’
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’
Encounters: Artists and Freemasonry explores individual artistic responses to the values of Freemasonry and its legendary history, its symbolism and stories over the last three centuries.
Drawing on the collections of the Library and Museum and with examples from across Europe, this exhibition includes the work of William Hogarth from the 1700s, the photographer Alvin Langdon Coburn from the 20th century and the Art Nouveau artist Alphonse Mucha. There are also examples of the work of contemporary artists.
The exhibition is open Monday to Friday, 10am to 5pm, from Monday 25th February to Friday 20th September 2013.
When craft becomes art
Artists have been associated with Freemasonry since the 18th century. For some, Freemasons and their lodges were a useful source of patronage, while others responded to the values of Freemasonry and its legendary history, incorporating its symbolism and stories in the art they produced. Drawing on the collections of the Library and Museum and with examples from across Europe, an exhibition at Freemasons’ Hall will explore those individual artistic responses.
William Hogarth and Alvin Langdon Coburn looked at Freemasonry within their established fields of satirical prints and photography, respectively. Many artistic styles and media across three centuries are featured, including examples of contemporary artists.
Sir James Thornhill, Hogarth’s father-in-law and the leading decorative painter of the early 1700s, was a keen Freemason. His artistic work includes the frontispiece for the 1725 engraved list of lodges. It was engraved by John Pine and Thornhill’s design shows an architect with a set of building plans that he is showing to a king, clearly a reference to masonic ceremonies.
Alphonse Mucha was a Czech artist whose poster and advertisement designs frequently featured young women in flowing robes, and were typical of the Art Nouveau style of the late 1800s. In the 1920s he designed the jewels for the then newly formed Grand Lodge of Czechoslovakia.
The exhibition is open from 25 February 2013 to 20 September 2013 and admission is free