Celebrating 300 years

It’s been 300 years since the well-known story of four London lodges who came together on St John’s Day, 24th June 1717 and founded the world’s first Grand Lodge

To commemorate the Tercentenary of this date, a commemorative stone has been unveiled outside the Tower Entrance of Freemasons’ Hall. 

Three of the four lodges who made this vital contribution to Freemasonry are still active today – Lodge of Antiquity No.2, Royal Somerset House and Inverness Lodge No.IV, and Fortitude and Old Cumberland Lodge No.12. They are referred to as Time Immemorial lodges and have the unique distinctions of being allowed to operate without the requirement of a warrant, and of having a band of dark blue in their lodge officers' collars.

The occasion was marked by a joint meeting at Mansion House where the United Grand Lodge of England’s Grand Master, HRH The Duke of Kent, was proclaimed as the Master of all three lodges.

Next time you walk past Freemasons’ Hall, make sure to cast your eyes over this commemorative stone and its history of four lodges coming together to found the Premier Grand Lodge.

Published in UGLE

Quarterly Communication

14 June 2017 
An address by VW Bro John Hamill, PGSwdB, Deputy Grand Chancellor

MW Pro Grand Master and brethren, at a dinner party last year the conversation turned to the idea of time travel and, were it to become possible, which period we would like to go back to. I said that, for something I was involved in professionally, I would like to go back to a specific day and location in London to meet and ask questions of a particular group of people and that I would like to bring some of them to our time to see what they had given birth to on that day.

It will not surprise you to learn that the date I selected was St John’s Day in summer, the 24th June, in the year 1717 and the location was the Goose and Gridiron tavern in St Paul’s Churchyard. As we know, on that day representatives of four London lodges came together, elected a Grand Master and Grand Wardens and resolved to “revive” the Annual Feast and Quarterly Communications which it was claimed had fallen into desuetude due to the neglect of Sir Christopher Wren when Grand Master. As we also know today, that resolution was based on a pious fiction as there is no evidence for there having been any Grand Lodge or Grand Master before 1717.

To us, with the benefit of hindsight, the meeting on 24 June 1717 was a momentous and historical event – but put into the context of the time a different picture emerges. One of the problems of dealing with 1717 and the first few years of the Grand Lodge is the lack of hard facts to work with. It was not until 1723 and the appointment of William Cowper, Clerk of the Parliaments, as Secretary to the Grand Lodge that minutes began to be kept. Of the four lodges which came together to elect a Grand Master in 1717 three are still working today – the Lodge of Antiquity, the Royal Somerset House and Inverness Lodge and the Lodge of Fortitude and Old Cumberland – but their early minutes have long been lost so that, with the exception of those elected to the offices of Grand Master and Grand Wardens we have no records of whom their members were in the years 1717–1725, when the Grand Lodge first called for lodges to submit lists of their members, or who attended the meeting on 24 June 1717. What we can deduce from secondary evidence is that the meeting was not a huge assembly. The Goose and Gridiron survived until the 1890s and just before it was demolished an enterprising masonic historian drew sketches of its exterior and measured the room in which the Grand Lodge was formed. The room would have held less than a hundred people who would have had to stand very close to each other to fit into the room!

Our primary source for what happened in those early years is the history of the Craft with which Rev Dr James Anderson prefaced the Rules governing Freemasonry in the second edition of the Book of Constitutions he published on behalf of Grand Lodge in 1738. Because Anderson’s history of the Craft pre-1717 is more than somewhat suspect, some historians have cast doubts on his description of the events in Grand Lodge from 1717–1738. What they forget is that he compiled it on behalf of the Grand Lodge and that it was vetted by a Committee of the Grand Lodge before it went into print. Although writing 20 years after the events of 1717 there would still have been brethren around who were involved in those early years, not least Rev Dr John Theophilus Desaguliers Grand Master in 1719 and Deputy Grand Master in 1722, 1723 and 1725, who would have been very quick to point out any errors of fact in Anderson’s comments on the Grand Lodge.

From Anderson’s account in its first years the Grand Lodge met only for the Annual Assembly and Grand Feast to elect the Grand Master and Grand Wardens. From two other sources we can deduce that the Grand Lodge began to act as a regulatory body in 1720. Both the 1723 and 1738 editions of the Book of Constitutions include a postscript describing the ancient manner of constituting a new lodge as practised by the Grand Master George Payne in 1720. A very rare masonic book entitled “The Book M or Masonry Triumphant” published by a brother Leonard Umphreville in Newcastle upon Tyne in 1736 includes a report of a meeting of Grand Lodge in 1720 in which a Code of Rules for the government of the Craft compiled by the then Grand Master, George Payne, was adopted. The report was followed by the list of 39 Rules, which formed the basis of the Rules printed in the first edition of the Book of Constitutions published in 1723.

Some have questioned why there were no press reports of the event in 1717, but they have been looking at the past with the eyes of the present. In 1717 Freemasonry was largely unknown. The late 17th and 18th centuries were a great age of societies and clubs many of them meeting in taverns and the growing network of fashionable coffee houses in the Cities of London and Westminster. If noticed at all, the formation of Grand Lodge would have been seen as just another society. It was not until the early 1720s when Past Grand Masters George Payne and Dr Desaguliers began to attract members of the nobility and the Royal Society into Freemasonry that the press of the day began to notice Freemasonry, reporting on the initiations of prominent men of the day and the annual Grand Feasts of the Grand Lodge.

It was not until 1723 that the Grand Lodge became fully established as the regulatory body we know today. By that year, in addition to the keeping of minutes of Quarterly Communications and the publication of the first Book of Constitutions, the Grand Lodge had extended its authority outside the Cities of London and Westminster, issuing deputations to constitute lodges in the Provinces and bringing into the fold some independent lodges that had been meeting quietly in the northern provinces. The Rules compiled by Payne in 1720 and published in the Book of Constitutions in 1723 introduced the concept of regularity, stating that no new lodge would be countenanced as regular unless it had been personally constituted by the Grand Master or a brother deputed by the Grand Master to act for him.

At a conference sponsored by our premier lodge of research, Quatuor Coronati Lodge No. 2076, at the Queen’s College, Cambridge, last September two academics gave a paper suggesting that we were celebrating four years too early and casting doubts on the meeting in 1717. Having carefully studied their paper my response is that old fashioned polite English expletive: balderdash! Their thesis seems to boil down to an academic semantic argument as to what constitutes a Grand Lodge. They appear to think that we were not a Grand Lodge until 1721 because there is no evidence for any attempt at regulation before that date. It is beyond doubt that at the meeting on 24 June 1717 Anthony Sayer, Capt John Elliot and Jacob Lamball were, respectively, elected Grand Master and Senior and Junior Grand Wardens – officers of a Grand Lodge. The academics appear to believe that, like Athene springing fully armed from the head of Zeus, for the meeting in 1717 to be accepted as the formation of a Grand Lodge it should have immediately acted as a regulatory body. Life rarely works that way!

In talking of time travel I said I would like to bring back from 1717 some of those involved in the meeting on 24 June. In their wildest imaginings they could not have envisaged what their simple and small meeting would give birth to: a worldwide fraternity of regular Freemasonry spread over the whole world. They would find some things that they would recognise from their practice of Freemasonry but would also find much that was very different. Over the last 300 years Freemasonry has developed and expanded in ways they could not have imagined. What English Freemasonry has demonstrated over the last 300 years is that it is a living organisation capable of changing its outward forms and adapting itself to the society in which it currently exists. It has had a wonderful knack of making those changes without in any way changing those fundamental and inalienable principles and tenets on which Freemasonry was founded and which would certainly be recognised by those who met in 1717. The more I study our ancient Craft the more I am convinced that whatever problems we may face from time to time, provided that we maintain that delicate balance between managed change and not altering our basic principles and tenets, Freemasonry will ride over those problems and future generations will be able to enjoy its fellowship and privileges as we and the many generations that have gone before us have done since that happy day in 1717 on which Grand Lodge was born.

Published in Speeches

Unique occasion for Univesities Scheme

Yesterday at Freemasons' Hall was the unique consecration of David Kenneth Williamson Lodge No. 9938. 

The new lodge, which was sponsored by Lodge of Antiquity No. 2, is to be the Installed Masters’ lodge for the Universities Scheme, of which David Williamson, Past Assistant Grand Master, was the first President.

The consecration was done by Pro Grand Master, Peter Lowndes, with David subsequently installed as the Primus Master by the Deputy Grand Master, Jonathan Spence.  David's first act as Worshipful Master was to invest the Assistant Grand Master, Sir David Wootton, as the acting Immediate Past Master.  It is a very rare thing to get all three Rulers at an event other than Grand Lodge!

David Williamson tweeted:

David Kenneth Williamson

David Kenneth Williamson was born in Bombay, India in October 1943. He was educated at King Edward VI School, Lichfield, Queen Mary College, University of London, and King's College, Cambridge.

Having trained to be a pilot, after winning an RAF flying scholarship aged seventeen, and following a brief spell as a schoolmaster, David joined the British Overseas Airways Corporation (now British Airways) in 1968. He became Assistant Flight Training Manager on the Boeing 737, before undertaking the same role on the Boeing 747-400 fleet until he retired in 1998.

He was initiated into Freemasonry in the Andover Combined Services Lodge, No. 8300, aged 29 on the 17th April 1972, and was Master of that Lodge in 1982. Despite being initiated in the Province of Hampshire and Isle of Wight, it was in Middlesex that David's Masonic career took hold. He was appointed a Provincial Deputy Grand Director of Ceremonies in 1992, Provincial Grand Director of Ceremonies from 1995 to 1997, and Deputy Provincial Grand Master from 2000 to 2001.

Within Grand Lodge, he was appointed an Assistant Grand Director of Ceremonies in 1995, and a Deputy Grand Director of Ceremonies from 1998 until his appointment as Assistant Grand Master in March 2001, a role he held for thirteen years. He served as a Grand Steward on the 2014-2 15 Board. He founded the Universities Scheme in 2005 andwas its President until 2015.

Outside the Craft, he was Third Grand Principal in Supreme Grand Chapter from 2010 to 2016, Grand Senior Warden in the Grand Lodge of Mark Master Masons in 2002, and in 2014 became a member of the Supreme Council 33° of the Ancient and Accepted Rite for England and Wales and its Districts and Chapters Overseas (as Grand Chancellor).

The Universities Scheme 

The Universities Scheme was founded in 2005 to establish or enhance arrangements and opportunities for undergraduates and other University members to join and enjoy Freemasonry. Building on the centuries old traditions of University Masonry at Oxford and Cambridge, the Scheme works with Provinces, Districts, and the Metropolitan Grand Lodge to identify Lodges, and now Royal Arch Chapters, willing to reach out and welcome young men from their local universities to join the Craft and Royal Arch.

The Scheme currently includes 72 Lodges and 3 Chapters, across the English Constitution. The 'DKW' Lodge will be its 73rd and will serve as the Scheme's Installed Masters' Lodge.

Published in UGLE
Wednesday, 10 December 2014 00:00

'Our Yesterdays' - Graham Redman and John Hamill

Quarterly Communication

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.

Published in Speeches

Independent thinker

Embracing tolerance and approaching life with an open mind, it’s no coincidence that the Duke of Sussex played such a pivotal role in shaping modern Freemasonry, writes Malta Grand Inspector Dr Lawrence Porter

The Duke of Sussex, Grand Master from 1813 to 1843, is a towering figure in the history of English Freemasonry. He played a pivotal role in the unification of the Premier and Antient Grand Lodges to form the United Grand Lodge of England in 1813. It’s impossible to overestimate the importance of his influence on the structure and status of modern English Freemasonry. Without his vision, energy and, above all, his sense of tolerance, the United Grand Lodge of England would not exist in its present form. Just imagine if we still had two competing Grand Lodges and how this would dampen the effectiveness of English Freemasonry throughout the world. 

Augustus Fredrick was born a Royal Prince on 27 January 1773, the ninth of the fifteen children of George III and Queen Charlotte. On 27 November 1801, at the age of twenty-eight, the King made him Duke of Sussex. 

Progressive reputation

Augustus had a reputation for open-mindedness and was considered the most liberal of his siblings, being something of a social reformer. He was educated abroad, entering the University of Göttingen in 1786 at the age of thirteen. He was the only one of the princes not to pursue a military career, although some commentators have attributed this to the fact that he suffered from asthma rather than his well-known liberal propensities.

In opposition to the views of some of his older brothers, in particular the Duke of Cumberland, Augustus favoured Catholic Emancipation. He was also, despite his devout Christianity, a strong supporter of the Jewish community. In 1815, the Duke accepted patronage of the Jews’ Hospital and Orphan Asylum, which survives to this day as the charity Norwood. 

He also lent his influence to promote various benevolent schemes and was once referred to as ‘the most charming beggar in Europe’.

Augustus was a prominent supporter of the arts and also of scientific research and progress. He became president of the Society of Arts in 1816 and president of the Royal Society in 1830. An active president of the Royal Society, Augustus hosted many parties at Kensington Palace, often at great personal expense. 

Glittering career

Augustus was initiated into the Lodge of Victorious Truth in Berlin in 1798 while studying in Germany. 

He took rapidly to masonry, eventually occupying the Chair of his German Lodge. Back in England, in 1800 Augustus joined his brother George’s Prince of Wales Lodge, now No. 259. The Duke joined the Lodge of Friendship, No. 6, in 1806 and Antiquity, No. 2, in 1808. In 1814, he was instrumental in the resuscitation and, later, amalgamation of several lodges to form Royal Alpha Lodge, No. 16 – which was the Grand Master’s personal lodge and remains so until this day. 

In 1813, Augustus was elected Grand Master of the Premier Grand Lodge while his elder brother, the Duke of Kent, became Grand Master of the Antients, and they became involved in the completion of the negotiations for the unification of the two Grand Lodges. 

The Articles of Union were finalised at the end of 1813 and on 27 December 1813, the Duke of Kent graciously stood aside for his younger brother to take the reins of the new Grand Lodge. Augustus remained Grand Master for thirty years until his death in 1843. He referred to the union of the two Grand Lodges as ‘the happiest event of my life’.  

Augustus was a very hands-on Grand Master, resolving ‘to rule as well as to reign’. He attended some of the meetings of the special Lodge of Reconciliation (1813-1816), personally chaired the Board of General Purposes and was involved in the detail of all of the major Board decisions. The Union did not proceed quite as smoothly as it might appear from our vantage point, two hundred years further on. Indeed, Augustus faced significant resistance to the changes necessary to bring together two proud organisations with similar aims and ceremonies, but with important differences.

‘Augustus astounded the nation by becoming the first royal to be buried in a public graveyard. After his death in 1843, he was laid to rest in Kensal Green Cemetery.’

Demonstrating his independent thinking, Augustus astounded the nation by becoming the first royal to be buried in a public graveyard. After his death on 21 April 1843, and following the instructions recorded in his will, he was laid to rest in Kensal Green Cemetery in North London. Such a choice of burial place by a royal prince required the permission of Queen Victoria. He had been the Queen’s favourite uncle and gave her away at her wedding to Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha in 1840. The Spectator of 29 April 1843 wrote: ‘Her acquiescence in his selection of a place of burial may be received as an indication that she understood as well as loved him.’

A visit to the Kensal Green Cemetery is worthwhile. After the Duke’s burial there, and later the burial of his sister, Princess Sophie, the cemetery became fashionable and many famous people followed suit. However, the inscription on the tombstone is now difficult to read and I believe that Freemasons would do well to pay more attention to the final resting place of our Grand Master.

Published in Features
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

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