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.
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.
Director of Special Projects John Hamill considers the unique status of time immemorial lodges and their vital contribution to Freemasonry
As is well known, on 24 June 1717, four London lodges came together and elected a Grand Master. They agreed to revive the annual feast and to hold quarterly communications, in effect bringing the first Grand Lodge into existence. While much has been said of this now-momentous event, little has been said of the lodges that brought Grand Lodge into being.
According to James Anderson in the 1738 Constitutions of the Free-Masons, the four lodges were at the Goose and Gridiron Ale House in St Paul’s Churchyard; the Crown Ale House in Parker’s Lane, near Drury Lane; the Apple Tree Tavern in Charles Street, Covent Garden; and the Rummer and Grapes Tavern in Channel Row, Westminster.
Of those lodges, the Crown Ale House ceased meeting circa 1736 but the other three still meet today. Because their dates of origin are unknown, and they predate the formation of Grand Lodge itself, they have the status of being ‘time immemorial’.
Today, the lodge at the Goose and Gridiron is now Lodge of Antiquity, No. 2. It was certainly in existence in 1691 and may well have been the lodge within the London Masons Company that Elias Ashmole attended in 1682. It became No. 1 of the premier Grand Lodge in 1717 and until 1760 was known by the name of the tavern at which it met.
In 1760, the lodge took the name of American & West Indian Lodge but in 1770 assumed its present name. When the two former lists of lodges were combined after the Union of the two Grand Lodges in 1813, lots were drawn and Grand Master’s Lodge of the Antients Grand Lodge became No. 1 on the new United Grand Lodge register, with Lodge of Antiquity the No. 2.
From 1809 until his death in 1843, HRH The Duke of Sussex was permanent Master of Lodge of Antiquity. To celebrate the 25th anniversary of his taking office, he permitted the lodge to have its officers’ jewels made in gold.
The lodge at the Apple Tree Tavern is now Lodge of Fortitude & Old Cumberland, No. 12. For reasons lost in time, the lodge accepted a constitution from Grand Lodge in 1723 and became No. 11 on the first numbered list of lodges in 1729. As a result it lost its time immemorial status and, despite attempts in the 19th century to regain that status, it wasn’t until the run-up to Grand Lodge’s 250th anniversary in 1967 that it was restored. The first Grand Master, Anthony Sayer, was a member of this lodge.
The lodge at the Rummer and Grapes in Channel Row is now Royal Somerset House & Inverness Lodge, No. 4. Named Old Horn Lodge in 1767, it united with Somerset House Lodge in 1774 and took that name. In 1828 it united with Royal Inverness Lodge, the first lodge warranted under the United Grand Lodge, and took its present name.
Despite the Great War, a celebration of the bicentenary of the formation of Grand Lodge was held at London’s Royal Albert Hall on 23 June 1917. Members of the three original lodges were processed into the hall to mark their status. At the meeting it was announced that to commemorate their actions in 1717, the officers’ collars of the three lodges would have the addition of a central garter blue stripe, and their Masters were called up to be invested with their new collars by the Grand Master. Later in the year the Duke of Connaught further honoured them by becoming the permanent Master of the three lodges.
At the celebrations for the 250th anniversary in 1967 and the 275th in 1992, the Masters of the time immemorial lodges were processed into Grand Lodge. The Master of Royal Somerset House & Inverness Lodge presented the Bible to the Grand Master; the Master of No. 12 presented the square and compasses; and the Master of No. 2 presented the Wren maul.
Today, to mark the part played in 1717, the present Grand Master will assume the office of Master of the time immemorial lodges at a joint meeting of the three in June. It is a fitting tribute to these distinguished lodges without whose actions in 1717 we might not be celebrating this year.
'Because they predate the formation of Grand Lodge itself, these lodges have the status of being “time immemorial"'
The man believed to have been the first Freemason to have set foot in Australia and who helped arrange the ill-fated expedition of Captain William Bligh which led to the famous mutiny on the Bounty, has had a Lincolnshire Lodge named after him.
Sir Joseph Banks Daylight Lodge No. 9828, which meets at Horncastle, is named after a remarkable man with his family roots in Lincolnshire, who became a famous explorer and naturalist, sailing in 1768 with Captain James Cook on the famous Endeavour, exploring the uncharted south Pacific, circumnavigating the globe and visiting South America, Tahiti, New Zealand, Australia and Java.
Banks was born at Westminster on 13 February 1743, a wealthy young squire of Revesby in Lincolnshire, and his link with Horncastle is that he helped set up a local hospital in the town. He was also an active Mason in the Province.
In Gould’s History of Freemasonry, Banks is mentioned as being a member of Old Horne Lodge No. 4 – now Royal Somerset House and Inverness Lodge No. 4, a time immemorial Lodge.
Although the date of his initiation cannot be verified, it has been confirmed that it was prior to 1769. He was a member of Witham Lodge No. 297, which today is the oldest Lodge in Lincolnshire, and remained on its register until his death on 19 June 1820.
It is fitting, therefore, that Witham Lodge should have been the sponsor of the new Lodge, which is actively seeking to link up with Sir Joseph Banks Lodge No. 300 in New South Wales, consecrated in September 1915, and which meets in Banks Town – another honour conferred on him.
His passion for botany began at school, and from 1760 to 1763 he studied at Christ Church, Oxford, inheriting a considerable fortune from his father at this time. In 1766 he travelled to Newfoundland and Labrador, collecting plants and other specimens. He became a member of the Royal Society in the same year, later becoming its longest-serving President in its 347-year history – holding the office consecutively for 42 years.
He was successful in obtaining a place on what was to become Cook’s first great voyage of discovery between 1768 and 1771, during which time the Endeavour proceeded up the east coast of Australia and through the Torres Strait, charting the area in the process.
Banks was interested in plants that could be used for practical purposes and that could be introduced commercially into other countries. On his return from the Cook expedition, he brought with him an enormous number of specimens and his scientific account of that voyage and its discoveries aroused considerable interest across Europe.
It was Banks who proposed that William Bligh should command two voyages for the transportation of bread fruit and plants – including the voyage of the Bounty – which led to the mutiny in April 1789 involving 12 crew members led by Christian Fletcher.
Banks became an influential figure in New South Wales, founded in 1788 with the arrival of the first fleet, choosing the governors. He was to recommend Bligh for the governorship, which ended in the latter’s deposition from the post following what became known as the Rum Rebellion in 1808.
Banks’s eminence as a leading botanist was honoured by having the genus banksias, comprising about 75 species in the protea family to be found in Australia, named after him. A distinguished scholar, he promoted the Linnaeus system of Latin classification of botanical specimens.
In 1793 his name was given to a group of volcanic islands near Vanuatu in the Pacific, which were explored and named after him by Captain Bligh in gratitude for the earlier help he had given him.
The inventor Robert Stevenson also honoured Banks by naming a schooner after him which accommodated the artificers during the building of the Bellrock lighthouse in the Firth of Forth off Scotland’s east coast, when Banks was vice-president of the Board of Trade during the passage of the Bill for the lighthouse through parliament.
He was further honoured when the city of Lincoln provided a tropical plant house themed with plants reminiscent of his voyages.
He was knighted in 1781, was appointed to the Order of the Bath in 1795 and became a Privy Counsellor in 1797. George III appointed Banks as honorary director to the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew, Banks promoted the careers of many scientists, sending many of them abroad to find new plants and extend the collection at Kew Gardens. A truly remarkable man, it is fitting that he should be remembered by having a Lodge named after him in his home county.