By means of a variety of references in our ceremonies to antiquity. we may be led to suppose that Masonry dates back to biblical days particularly to the building of King Solomon's temple. The
evidence available. however. points strongly to the fact that speculative Freemasonry dates back
only as far as the seventeenth century. or just possible as far back as the reign of Elizabeth 1. This
evidence will be discussed shortly. Operative masonry does, of course, date further into the past. in
England certainly to the period immediately following the Norman conquest in the eleventh enth
century. w hen the major buildings of the Norman style we re begun. such as the cathedrals and
abbey churches at Canterbury. Lincoln. St Albans. Winchester and Gloucester. to name but a few.
Operative masons. how ever. apart from their practical work. were concerned with the moral and
professional behaviour of practicing craftsmen as well as matters such as rates of pay and keeping
out unskilled workers.
What then does operative masonry have to do with speculative Masonry and why are our
ceremonies based on the traditions and vocabulary of medieval builders? Part of the answer lies in
the fact that manuscripts exist which indicates that these medieval builders had not only a set of
articles and ordinances which prescribed their behaviour, but also a history of masonry which
places its origins ns in biblical days. and which told of the approv al of masonry by a variety of
illustrious persons from Solomon in c950 BC to King Athelstan in the tenth century ADA version of
the articles. ordinances, and history exists today in a literary work which dates from c1390. known
as the Regius MS. Another manuscript, the Cooke. containing a more extensive history. dates
from c1420. From references contained in the Cooke Nianuscript. such as those to the
Polychronicon a Latin history whose author died in 1364, and which was translated into English in
1387. it seems unlikely that the history was a product of a period earlier than the mid-fourteenth
century. The Regius Manuscript gives the impression of being one of the several English literary
efforts of the fourteenth century which marked the supersedure of French as the written language,
in this case based on an account of the traditions of operative masons.
The medieval history and code of conduct, the latter subsequently becoming known as the
Charges. were in later centuries repeated in a whole series of manuscripts numberng well over a
hundred, and dating from 1583 to the nineteenth century The later manuscripts clearly belong to
speculative Masonry. several containing additional articles of a speculative nature, while the
earlier seventeenth century manuscripts do not contain an'. internal evidence that they were
necessarily other than documents used by operative masons, although there is a strong possibility
that they reflect the emergence of speculative Masonry.
Certainly, the manuscript dating from 1583 and those that follow, contain two elements which
foreshadow the future development of speculative Masonry. One is a statement to the effect that the
history is to be read or told at the time when a Mason 'should be made, for to give him his
Charge'. The second is a Latin phrase which indicates that the person being made places his hand
upon a Book (probably the Holy Bible) while he listens to the Charges.
Quite how or why speculative Masonry arose is not clear. Explanations range from the purely
social, to reasons bedded in the emergence of intellectual freedom during the Renaissance which
came late to England. We have to assume that there existed an attraction to men of reason in the
traditions of operative masonry These included the charges. the legendary history. the admission
rite, and possibly the recital from memory of the manuscript contents. Later. possibly in the wake
of James I of England. IV of Scotland. came the traditions of Scottish operative masonry including
secret modes of recognition.
The earliest reference we have to an activity which may be differentiated from the practices of
operative masons occurs in a 1621 account book of the London Company of Masons. a guild which
had been founded in 1376 and received its Grant of Arms in 1472-73. The entry in the 1621
account book refers to 'making masons' of seven men. three of whom were already members of the
Company. Later entries use the term 'accepted' or 'Acceptance' an entry in 1648 referring to
someone who was already a Warden of the Company 'Coming on The Accepcon'.
The next reference is dated 1646 and is found in the diary of a man who was clearly not connected
with the building trade. Elias Ashmole. who had been admitted a solicitor at the age of 21, and
later founded the Asmolean museum at Oxford, as a young man of 29 wrote in his diary for
October 16, 1646 that he was 'made a Freemason at Warnngton in Lancashire'. He gives the
names of others present. none of whom can be said to be operative masons.
There is further evidence during the seventeenth century but the above is sufficient to make the
point that there was in existence, during the first half of the seventeenth century. a masonic
practice which was separate from that of the operatives. The records of the London Masons'
Company prior to 1621 unfortunately have not survived and we are unable to trace further back the
practice of making of masons of men who were already in the Company.
What we are left with is the fact that speculative Masonry. although dating back a mere three to
four centuries, is founded on traditions of operative masonry which date back to the fourteenth
century. There are. of course. other possibilities but these must. until further evidence is uncovered.
THE OLD CHARGES
In everyday terms, the 'ancient charges' are brought to our attention by the Installation Ceremony
in which the Master Elect has read to him certain Ancient Charges and Regulations printed in the
Book of Constitutions. These ancient charges are derived from manuscript documents, commonly
referred to as the Old Charges, or Manuscript Constitutions. The earliest two manuscripts date
back to the late fourteenth and early fifteenth centuries, and relate to medieval operative masons.
The manuscripts usually consist of two sections. One contains a series of moral and professional
charges such as 'no Master or Fellow shall take upon him any Lord's work nor any other man's
work unless he knows himself able and sufficient to perform the same . . or. 'no Mason shall be a
thief, or conceal any such unjust action. so far forth as he may wit or know.
These charges are preceded by a legendary history which explains the origin of the charges and
the beginnings of the craft of masonry in biblical days. tracing it to its development in England.
The history is called 'legendary because it bears little relation to historical fact. For example.
Euclid. a noted geometrician of the third century BC. is referred to as the clerk of Abraham
(approximately 2000 BC) from whom he received masonic instruction. Of particular interest is the
appearance in its narration of Solomon's Temple. together with a reference to his master mason
from Tyre. In later years. speculative Masonry expanded this episode during the formulation of
what today is the third degree. The contents of one of the early manuscripts is given at the end of
There are over 100 of the Old Charges known today. They descend from one another in the
sense that each appears to have been copied from an earlier version. We do not. of course, possess
all the Old Charges created, but it is possible to draw up a table of descent using similarities in the
account of the legendary history. copying errors, and the introduction of new material. In this way
a kind of family tree has been drawn up. This, together with actual dates of the documents. where
known, has made it possible to arrange them chronologically and to trace the development of its
contents. The legendary history was revised on several occasions. but in its earliest form it
probably dates from the fourteenth century.
The following will give an idea of the distribution of the Old Charges over the period up to the
end of the sixteenth century:
Following these, there are seven Old Charges dated to the first half of the seventeenth century. and
about 40 dates to the second half of the seventeenth century. Judged by their content, those of the
sixteenth century and later were used when 'any Mason should be made'. They clearly contain an
obligation in the sense of placing the hand on a Bible while the Charges are given. This practice
would not have been unique to those in the mason's trade since it was common guild practice for
newcomers to swear upon the Bible to observe the ordinances of the guild. Gradually. however, the
Old Charges changed character as new material crept in. Some Old Charges were expanded to
contain conditions on which a person may be accepted as a Freemason, and these are quite
definitely related to speculative Freemasonry. One condition attaching to the entry to a Lodge
stipulates the person bringing a 'Certificate of the Time and Place of his Acception'. At some
stage, then, the legendary history and charges were borrowed by speculative Masonry and
developed. With the exception of additional material such as the speculative conditions and
revisions of the legendary history the later Old Charges remained in the same mould as those of
the earlier period, and we have to turn to other material for information on the development of
speculative Masonry (see The Development of the Ceremonies).
- c1390 : Regius Poem
- c1410 : Cooke Manuscript
- 1583 : Grand Lodge No I Manuscript
- c1600 : Lansdowne Manuscript
THE DEVELOPMENT OF GRAND LODGE
The development of Grand Lodge covers three separate stages:
The premier Grand Lodge was founded by a small group of London Lodges. Unfortunately no
minutes were kept until those of 1723, but it appears from the account given by Anderson in his
second Constitutions (1738) that four Lodges meeting in ale-houses and taverns in St Paul s
Church-Yard. Drury Lane. Covent Garden and Westminster. determined to form a Grand Lodge
and selected from amongst themselves a Grand Master. They restricted their jurisdiction to Lodges
in London and Westminster. an area of no more than a few square miles. However, they were
joined by existing Lodges or themselves constituted new Lodges. for within a short period the
number of Lodges associated with the new Grand Lodge had grown considerably.
In 1721 the first nobleman was chosen as Grand Master and the tradition of a noble or Royal
occupying the office has continued ever since. Within twenty years both Ireland and Scotland
followed the example of the first Grand Lodge and constituted their own Grand Lodges.
In 1727 a committee was appointed to administer a charity fund and contributions from private
Lodges began in 1729. Gradually this committee had its powers enlarged until it became almost a
Board of General Purposes. The first Provincial Grand Masters had been appointed by 1726. It was
by no means an office of delegated authority equal to that of the present organisation. but it
demonstrates the speed with which the concept of a Grand Lodge took hold in outlying areas such
as Wales and Cheshire. By 1728. overseas Lodges had been constituted in Gibraltar. Madrid and
- 1. The formation of the original Grand Lodge in 1717 and its subsequent existence.
- 2. the inception of a separate Grand Lodge in 1751 followed by a long period of rivalry between the two bodies.
- 3. the union of the two Grand Lodges in 1813 and the period of expansion running up to the present time.
The initial impetus. certainly at government level, died out shortly afterwards and a long period
of lack-lustre administration followed. A series of Grand Masters showed little interest in their
duties. Also, following Prichard's Masonry Dissected in 1730. an exposure which provided details
of the ceremonies sufficient to alarm Grand Lodge. it was decided to implement certain variations
'in the established forms' to detect imposters. These were not popular with those who were against
any innovation in Masonry. Thus the ground was prepared for the formation of a second. and rival,
Grand Lodge in 1751.
It consisted initially of some 80 Masons. many of them Irish, who took care to specify both in their
title and their rules, that the~' were an 'Ancient and Honourable Society of Free and Accepted
Masons' who desired to 'revise the Ancient Craft upon true Masonical principles~. Possibly.
however. they simply wanted to be free to or~anise themselves outside of the control of the
indigenous Grand Lodge. They were assured of a place in posterity when, in the second year of
their existence. thex' elected Laurence Dermott as Grand Secretary. In the same way that
Anderson had popularised the original Grand Lodge and Masonry as a whole, Dermott employed
his talents and energy to create an ascendancy for the 1751 Grand Lodge. He produced a set of bylaws
for private Lodges. and in 1756 issued the first edition of the Constitutions of his Grand
Lodge. Ahiman Rezon. Seven further editions followed, the final one in 1813. Dermott is also
credited with popularising the terms Antients' which describes the new Grand Lodge. and
'Moderns' describing the original Grand Lodge. The terms had appeared in a satire by Swift. The
Battle of the Books, published in 1704 and on the whole Swift supports the ancients, represented
by Homer. Aristotle. Plato. etc against the moderns represented byMilton. Dryden. Descartes. etc.
The Antients, as they became known. had within 20 years some 200 Lodges on their Register.
which represented just under half that of the premier Grand Lodge In 1771 the third Duke of
Atholl was installed Grand Master and, except for a 10 year interval, he and his son. the fourth
Duke, reigned until the Union in 1813.
Moves towards a reconciliation began during the closing years of the eighteenth century. There
was some incentive from the political situation following the French Revolution. and the outbreak
of war with the French. when societies requiring an oath not authorised by law were being suppressed.
Freemasons' Lodges were exempted but it had been demonstrated that a united body of
Freemasons would be more effective.
A Lodge of Promulgation was formed in 1809 by the original Grand Lodge to report on the
differences of ritual between the Lodges of the two bodies.
In 1813 the fourth Duke of Atholl was succeeded as Grand Master of the Antients by the
Duke of Kent. brother of the Duke of Sussex who was then the new Grand Master of the original
Grand Lodge. The two Grand Lodges signed their Articles of Union in the same year. The Duke
of Kent proposed his brother. the Duke of Sussex. as first Grand Master of the United Grand
Lodge. and the latter was formally elected following the ceremony of Union on 27 December
The Duke of Sussex remained Grand Master for 30 years. Throughout the remainder of the
nineteenth century. which saw only four Grand Masters. this pattern of stability was maintained,
culminating in the Grand Mastership of the Prince of Wales up to his enthronement as King
Edward VII in 1901. The twentieth century has provided an equally steady period beginning with
the Duke of Connaught, who was Grand Master for 38 years. and apart from the war years and
those immediately following, bringing us up to date with the Earl of Scarborough who was Grand
Master from 1951 to 1967. and the present Grand Master, the Duke of Kent who took office in
The brief summary below gives some idea of the major events, other than those already
mentioned, which occurred during the existence of Grand Lodge:
The growth of Freemasonry under the United Grand Lodge can be seen from the following table, which shows the number of Lodges constituted during each of the following periods:
- 1724 Committee of Charity appointed
- 1776 First Freemasons' Hall in Great Queen Street
- 1788 Royal Masonic Institution for Girls founded
- 1798 Royal Masonic institution for Boys established (by the Antients)
- 1837 Grand Lodge Library started
- 1838 Royal Masonic Benevolent Institution founded
- 1902 Boys' school at Bushey completed
- 1913 Grand Lodge approves the opening of Masonic Nursing Homes, the predecessors to the Masonic Hospital
- 1933 Present Freemasons' Hall opened
- 1933 Royal Masonic Hospital opened
- 1934 Girls' school at Rickmansworth opened
This growth was in no small measure attributable to the influence and control exercised by Grand Lodge which enabled Masonry to retain its purity and stability.
- by 1820: 363
- 1820 to 1840: 109
- 1840 to 1860: 394
- 1860 to 1880: 995
- 1880 to 1900: 938
- 1900 to 1920: 1243
- 1920to 1940: 1782
- 1940 to 1960: 1890
- 1960 to 1980: 1218
Anderson's Constitutions, published in 1723. was the forerunner of the present Book of
Constitutions. In it were published the first General Regulations and while these occupied a mere
12 pages out of a total of 91, they represent the beginnings of a set of Rules which today governs
Anderson came to London from Scotland and served as a Minister of the Church of Scotland. In
1721 he started work on a history of the Order based loosely on the material in such of the Old
Charges as were known to him. The history eventually occupied some 48 pages of his Book. To
this he added the General Regulations. credited to George Payne when he was Grand Master in
1720: a summary of the ancient charges: a postscript which detailed the manner of constituting a
new Lodge: and several pages of songs, The General Regulations were particularly concerned with
Grand Lodge and the Grand Master, but amongst the references to private Lodges one or two are to
be found which are familiar to us today, for example:
But no Man can be enter'd a Brother in any particular Lodge, or admitted to be a Member
thereof. without the unanimous Consent of all the Members of that Lodge then present when the
Candidate is propos'd. . . . Nor is this inherent Privilege subject to a Dispensation: because the
Members of a particular Lodge are the best Judges of it.
In 1738 Anderson produced a second and enlarged Book of Constitutions. The History much
extended. and more fanciful. and the General Regulations had been amended. Both the old and the
new form of the Regulations were given, although the new form consisted more of annotations and
amendments to the original. In the above example, the Regulation had been amended to allow a
Lodge 'to admit a Member. if not above 3 Ballots are against him. However, the old form in the
1738 edition does not match precisely the text of the 1723 edition. Either Anderson was quoting
from a later text or in typical style he was not too concerned with accuracy.
Nevertheless. both editions of the Constitutions issued by Anderson had the approval of Grand
Lodge. and had been perused by a Grand Lodge committee. No doubt they were concerned less
with the History and past Regulations. than with the accurate presentation of the rules then in
In 1754 another Committee was appointed to revise the 1738 Constitutions (Anderson had died
in 1739) and the revised third edition under the editorship of John Entick appeared in 1756. Two
more editions followed before the Union in 1813. The present Book of Constitutions lists the 1815
edition. ie the sixth as the first of the principal editions to have been published under the authority
of the United Grand Lodge.
The 1841 edition omitted the History and began the regular form used since. A thorough re
ision took place with the issue of the 1884 edition. Considerable attention had been given to the
task by the Board of General Purposes. and the proposed changes were circulated in 1882 by order
of Grand Lodge before being accepted to the satisfaction of all.
The present Book of Constitutions is almost entirely taken up with the Laws and
Regulations for the Government of the Craft together with illustrations of the Jewels. Chains.
Collars and Aprons of the various Offices. It is the twenty-eighth edition to have appeared since
the formation of the United Grand Lodge.
THE DEVELOPMENT OF THE CEREMONIES
Charting the development of the ceremonies is an extremely difficult task due to the lack of
evidence. It seems advisable, therefore, to work backwards as far as it is possible to do so, and
progress our understanding from the familiar to the unfamiliar.
These are a comparatively recent innovation. For example, the Emulation Lodge of improvement
did not authorise the production of its own ritual until as late as 1969, although printed rituals had
begun to find general acceptance during the closing decade of the previous century.
The earliest complete record in printed form of the three ceremonies was published in 1838 by
George Claret. The ceremonies as portrayed by Claret are substantially as we know them today. In
1870 The Perfect Ceremonies of Craft Masonry published by A Lewis appeared. This went
through several editions. before incorporating changes in 1898 which brought it closer to
Emulation upon which it claimed to have been based. It became a very popular book. and several
other printed rituals followed in its wake.
Lodges of Instruction
Several lodges of instruction were in existence soon after the Union in 1813. but the most
famous. Stability and Emulation. were founded in 1817 and 1823 respectively. Both had a proud
tradition of handing down orally an unchanged ritual. and while the purity of each body's
tradition ~vas at times hotly contested. they have each deli' ered to us a ritual which is
essentially the same and. moreover. substantially agrees with that presented by Claret in 183&
The Lodge of Reconciliation (1813-16)
This Lodge was appointed by the United Grand Lodge to settle the ritual procedure to be used by
its Lodges. The Lodge contained an equal number of representatives from each of the former
Grand Lodges. By late 1814. the ritual procedure they had formulated was being demonstrated.
and final approval by Grand Lodge was obtained in 1816. We may assume that the accepted
procedures were much as those portrayed by Claret and handed down by Emulation and Stability.
We have less evidence. however, of the forms which were in existence in the Lodges of the two
Grand Lodges during the previous century.
The Exposures of the Eighteenth Century
There were numerous exposures published during the eighteenth century. Amongst the best known
are Prichard~ Masonry Dissected of 1730. Three Distinct Knocks of 1760. and J & B of 1762.
These exposures are important in two respects: they shec light on the ritual of Lodges of the
period, albeit only those from which the authors derived their material: and the~ contributed
hugely to the standardisation of ritual. Theii content became. in time. representative of a large
number o Lodges. Masonry Dissected ran to three editions within th first two weeks of its
appearance. and by the time Three Distinct Knocks (TDK) arrived in l7bO. a further 14 edition had
been brought out. TDK itself ~vent to six editions befon the end of the century. and its pirated
offspring J & B ran t. 30 editions during the same period.
In terms of providing information on contemporary ritual there is evidence that the 1760s
exposures do reflect the practice of Lodges of the period. This evidence resides in ai annotated
cops' of J & B by a member of an Irish Lodge. on Zimmerman. In the margins of his copy he noted
th differences between the ceremonies he witnessed, and that contained in the printed version. The
differences are slight. tending to support the view that these exposures are representative of
'Antient' working in England. I & B itself. however, contains additions to its plagiarised original
(TDK) which were in keeping with the practice of the 'Moderns'.
There also appeared in France during the 30 years preceding TDK and J & B. a whole series of
exposures of French Masonic practice. These were sold in England either in French or in
translation. and will also have had an influence on the development of the English ritual.
Three Distinct Knocks and I & B
These exposures of 1760 and 1762 contain elements of which there is no earlier evidence in
English documents. The new elements include:
A formal Opening and Closing of the Lodge (not each
degree) very reminiscent of today's first degree work.
Calling off and Calling on.
Three separate obligations.
Symbolical explanation of the working tools
The Presentation of an Apron
The following provides a very brief outline of the ritual in J & B: The admission meeting starts
with a short ceremony in which the candidate is conducted hoodwinked round the floor, has the
hoodwink removed after he states that he desires to become a Mason of his own free will and
choice. takes an obligation similar to that we use today, is taught the sign, grip and password of an
EA. and is given an apron.
This ceremony is followed by a lecture (probably taken in comfort at table with refreshments)
which employs a catechism. ie question and answer. to communicate the remainder of the
information concerned with the degree. It includes, for example. a description of the Working
Tools. which for this degree consists of the 24 inch gauge. the square. and common gavel.
The second degree includes the present-day password and an obligation and penalty similar to
that of today. The sign too is the same and the catechism includes a very familiar description of the
The third degree again has the present-day password. a similar penalty and includes in its
catechism the legend of Hiram Abif and the five points of fellowship.
Prichard's Masonry Dissected
The first edition of this exposure was published on the 20 October 1730. It is a 32 page pamphlet
of which the larger part is concerned with giving an account of the ceremonies. This is given in the
form of a catechism. which describes in part what happened or was learned at each of the three
ceremonies. Masonry Dissected depicts a very rudimentary ceremony. possibly concerned only
with sketching the broad outlines. Reference to a 1735 Charge to the Initiate (see Appendix) will
show that certain parts of the ceremony. at least, were well developed and not in keeping with the
brevity of the ceremonies described by Prichard's exposure. However, taking Masonr Dissected as
it stands, it does provide us with an insight into some of the features of the ritual of the period:
Three degrees were worked
1 The 'Enter'd 'Prentice's Degree' contains an obligation which. while shorter, contains the major elements of today's first degree obligation.
2 The Fellow-Craft's Degree' contains references to the Temple. the Pillars, the letter G. etc but not a separate obligation.
3 The 'Masters Degree' contains much of the Hiram legend but almost no description of the ceremony itself.
Earlier Eighteenth Century Documents
There are 16 other surviving documents. dating from 196 to 1730, which contain catechisms and
descriptions of Lodge work. Six of these appeared in print in newspapers or as pamphlets. The
remainder are manuscripts, some a mere page or two in length. Some of these portray events in
Scotland, and probably do not reflect contemporary practices in England, while others may
represent procedure in different parts of the country, It is worth remembering that Masonry was
not organised until the advent of Grand Lodge, and then only gradually. Different practices existed
in different parts and there was no reason, other than that of following fashion, for uniformity in
Masonic custom. New developments in some areas co-existed with unchanged practices in others.
The documents mentioned above may be consulted in The Ear/v Masonic Catechisms by Knoop.
Jones and Hamer (see Recommended Books). Most of them contain a description of versions of the
five points of fellowship. All of them provide some information related to the procedure of
admission to a Lodge.
Other references to ritual include the following:
The Trinity College Dublin, Manuscript dated 1711 indicates three classes of mason, ie
'Enterprentice', 'fellow craftsman', and 'Master', each with a different token and word.
The earliest reference to a raising occurs in the Graham MS of 1726, and includes mention of
substituted secrets. The grave, however, was not that of Hiram but of Noah.
The earliest mention of Hiram's grave occurs in the Wilkinson MS of c1727:
The Old Charges
- Q What is the form of your Lodge
- A An Oblong Square
- Q Why so
- A the Manner of our Great Master Hirams grave
And so we are back at the Old Charges as our only lead to what took place, in a ritual sense. in
the seventeenth century. One circumstantial piece of evidence points strongly to the fact that
these manuscripts were used during ceremonies at which Masons were made: the Sloane 3848
MS is dated 16 October 1646 and inscribed as having been written by an Edward Sankey. On that
day, at Warrington, Ashmole was initiated and one of those 'of the Lodge' was Mr Richard
Sankey. a Warrington landowner, who had a son named Edward. It is possible to conclude, from
the foregoing, that the Old Charges were copied to provide versions to be used at actual
ceremonies, and that as the practice spread. an increasing number of copies were required.
Indeed. by 1722 the first printed version (Roberts) probably provided the answer to a greater
demand brought about by a growing number of Lodges.
Ouite what form these ceremonies took we do not know. Perhaps the best answer is to quote
from the Grand Lodge No I MS of c1583:
And he made a booke thereof howe the Craft was founde, and he himself bade and commanded that
vt should be redd or told when anyMasson should be made, and for to gixe him his Chardges.