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Chapters of Masonic History

The Builder Magazine, February 1924 - Volume X - Number 2


Chapters of Masonic History | Index:


If my short study of Operative Masonry published last month I adverted briefly and in passing to the fact that in the days when Masonic lodges were most completely "Operative," or devoted to actual building activities, there was a certain element of non-Operatives in the membership, a thing made necessary by the conditions under which ecclesiastical buildings were erected.  Oftentimes the work was under the general superintendency of a bishop or other church authority who, in the nature of things, would have to have the freedom of the lodge; at the same time there were employed educated clerks to take care of the books, and possibly also learned men to assist in working out some of the more technical problems. Where a cathedral was erected by a local corporation it was necessary that its representatives be given access to records and otherwise be permitted to have a share in directing the activities; also, it may be, men of high station entirely outside the Craft were occasionally, and for various reasons political or social, admitted to some kind of footing within the brotherhood.  An example is furnished in the Cooke MS., of date about 1450, wherein it is said of "Prince Edwin" that "of speculative he was a master"; the meaning of this may be either that this dignitary was friendly for the Craft, or else that he knew something of the "geometry" which lay at the basis of all building design.  In any event men were admitted to some kind of lodge membership who made no pretence of practising the art, a fact that need cause no surprise for it was quite in keeping with the principles and practices of the guilds. The acceptance of these non-Operatives may possibly have had some effect on lodge ceremonies.  In the nature of the case such a brother could not take oath to keep the trade secrets about which he was to learn nothing; neither could he be required to produce a master's piece, as regular apprentices were, because he would not possess the skill.  So little is known about this matter that one can only indulge his faculty for speculation, nevertheless it is of some consequence in one's effort to recover a picture of lodge usages in the olden days.  The main point just here is that from earliest times it was not deemed unlawful or irregular for Operative lodges to accept on some kind of footing of membership non-Operative men; with this in mind it will be easier to understand how in later years non-Operatives became accepted in such numbers as at last to out-top Operatives altogether.




In the fifteenth century Operative Masonry began to decline; in the following century it almost went out of existence, and that chiefly owing to the Protestant Reformation in England.  All gilds were suppressed by Henry VIII (see Statutes of 37 Henry VIII, c. 4, and I Edward VI, c. 14) and monastery corporations were dissolved, their funds being confiscated by the Crown.  Cathedrals were no longer erected; in the eyes of the Puritans, who rapidly came to the front, they were monuments of the Papist religion and therefore deemed dangerous so that many of them were defaced or partly demolished; the same bitterness was directed against all other structures of a similar kind, so that the old lodges of Operative Masons, called originally into existence to erect such, found themselves without occupation.  Some of them, so it is believed, turned their attention to the palatial homes for the rich country gentry, but most of them perished or else maintained a languid existence.


Other influences operated to the same end.  The civil wars left the country exhausted.  New cities sprang up with new traditions, and some of the old centers of gild life passed into the background.  At the same time, and owing to a dearth of labourers, foreign workmen were imported from France, the Netherlands, Germany, and Italy, and these had other customs and traditions.  In the world of thought other revolutions, silent but powerful, took place, one of them giving rise to the foundation of the famous Royal Society, of which eminent members of the first Grand Lodge were members, some of them quite active.  In other words the whole life of England underwent a profound change, so that such an organization as the Craft of Freemasonry had to change with it, and found itself in a set of circumstances quite different to those that had obtained in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries.


It is a fact of some significance that the number of non-Operatives accepted in membership appears to have increased as the Craft as a whole waned away; most of our writers have seen in this the connections of cause and effect, and there is no reason to suppose them in error.  The oldest lodge minutes still extant in England date from the early eighteenth century; but in Scotland the records are much older, the minutes of Mother Kilwinning dating from 1642, Aberdeen from 1670.  From those minutes, and from  other old records, we learn that  not only were non-Operatives early taken into membership by Scotch lodges but that they (the non-Operatives) took an active part in lodge affairs. Bro. Murray Lyon, whose History of the Lodge of Edinburgh has so long been a standard work, says that the first authentic record of a non-Operative being made a member of a lodge is of date June 8, 1600, when John Boswell, Laird of Auchinleck, is named among the brethren.  Two years prior to that time, however, still another non-Operative must have been on the rolls because we know that in 1598 William Schaw, whom Lyoll believes to have been an honourary member, signed and promulgated two sets of statutes, or codes of laws, one for use by the Craft in general, the other for use by the lodge of Kilwinning.  Schaw signed himself as "Master of the Work, Warden of the Masons." In July, 1634, Lord Alexander, Viscount Canada, Sir Anthony Alexander and Sir Alexander Strachan were admitted to the lodge of Edinburgh.  As historian of the Scottish Craft par excellence, Lyon's words of comment in this connection are worth quoting:


"It is worthy of remark that with singularly few exceptions, the non-Operatives who were admitted to Masonic fellowship in the lodges of Edinburgh and Kilwininng during the seventeenth century were persons of quality, the most distinguished of whom, as the natural result of its metropolitan position, being made in the former lodge.  Their admission to fellowship in an institution composed of Operative Masons associated together for purposes of their Craft would, in all probability, originate in a desire to elevate its position and increase its influence, and once adopted the system would further recommend itself to the Fraternity by the opportunities which it presented for cultivating the friendship and enjoying the society of gentlemen, to whom, in ordinary circumstances, there was little chance of their ever being personally known.


"On the other hand, non-professionals connecting themselves with the lodge by the ties of membership would, we believe, be activated partly by a disposition to reciprocate the feelings which had prompted the bestowal of the fellowship, partly by curiosity to penetrate the arcana of the Craft and partly by the novelty of the situation as members of a secret society and participants in its ceremonies and festivities."




Hughan has given expression to the surprise felt by most of our scholars at the fact that lodge records should go so much farther back in Scotland than in England; he writes, "Why so many minute books are still preserved in Scotland, dating long before the institution of the Grand Lodge, even some from the seventeenth century, and yet scarcely any are found in England, seems inexplicable." Alnwick Lodge records go back to 1703.  It appears that a non-Operative lodge existed at York, to judge by the records, as early as 1705.  The extinct Haughfoot Lodge had a non-Operative majority with a ritual and ceremony as early as 1702.  These entries show that non-Operative practices were in vogue years before the founding of the first Grand Lodge of Speculative Masonry in London, 1717.


The earliest extant record of a man having been made, a non-Operative Mason on English soil is that of Robert Moray who was "made" at Newcastle, by members of the lodge of Edinburgh with the Scottish army, May 20, 1641.  But the most famous of all the earliest non-Operative Masons by far was Elias Ashmole, made a Mason at Warrington Oct. 16, 1646.  Ashmole was born at Lichfield in 1617, was educated for the bar, became a captain during the Great Rebellion, was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society, had conferred on him the degree of M.D., was made Windsor Herald, and in addition to all these interests and activities denoted much time to a study of occultism, astrology, botany, history and various other subjects.  His third wife was the daughter of his friend, Sir William Dugdale.  An industrious collector of curios and objects of antiquarian value, he presented his collection to Oxford University, where it is still known as the Ashmolean Museum.  He was author of a History of the Garter.   His diary was first published in 1717, and then a second time, as a kind of appendix to Lilly's History of His Life and Times, in 1774.  The diary contains two items concerning Freemasonry, as follows, spelling and punctuation as in the original:


(Ashmole MS. 1136)

1646. [folio 19, verso]


Oct. 16th. - 4:30 P. M. I was made a Free Mason at Warrington in Lancashire, with Coll: Henry Mainwaring of Kanincham in Cheshire.  The names of those that were there of the Lodge; Mr. Rich Penket Warden, Jr. James Collier, Mr. Rich Sankey, Henry Tattler, John Ellam, Rich: Ellam and Hugh Brewer.


After thirty-six years appears another extract that contains mention of the Mason's Company of London.  It is here given in full:


March 1682.  [folio 69. verso]  


10th. - About 5 P.M. I recd. a Sumons to appe. at a Lodge to be held the next day, at Masons Hall London.


11th. - Accordingly I went, and about Noone were admitted into the Fellowship of Free Masons.


Sr. William Wilson Knight, Capt. Rich: Borthwick, Mr. Will: Woodman, Mr. Wm. Grey, Mr. Samuell Taylour, and Mr. William Wise.


I was the Senior Fellow among them (it being 35 years since I was admitted). There were present besides my selfe the Fellowes after named.


Mr. Tho: Wise Mr of the Masons Company this present yeare. Mr Thomas Shorthose, Mr. Thomas Shadbolt, Waindsford Esqr., Mr. Nich: Young, Mr. John Shorthose, Mr. William Hamon, Mr. John Thompson, and Mr. Will: Stanton.


Wee all dyned at the halfe Moone Taverne in Cheapside, at a Noble Dinner, prepaired at the charge of the New-accepted Masons.





The Mason's Company doubtlessly referred to in the quotation just above is the subject of an invaluable book by Edward Conder bearing the title Hole Crafte and Fellowship of Masons.  This body of Masons was incorporated in 1410 - 1411 and received a grant of arms in the twelfth year of Edward IV 1472-1473) from William Hawkeslowe, Clarenceaux King of Arms.  The city records of London show that this body must have been functioning as early as 1356 because rules for its guidance were formed in that year.  In 1530 the name was changed to the "Company of Freemasons." Conder thinks there is good reason to believe that this Company began somewhere early in the thirteenth century.


The interesting point here, in the light of our present purpose, is the fact that associated with this Mason's Company was another, and perhaps subsidiary organization, styled "The Accepcon" (Acception).  It met in the same hall and was somehow connected, as one may learn from Conder:


"Unfortunately no books connected with this Acception - i.e., the Lodge - have been preserved.  We can, therefore, only form our ideas of its working from a few entries scattered through the accounts.  From these it is found that members of the Company paid 20s. for coming on the Acception, and strangers 40s.  Whether they paid a lodge quarteridge to the Company's funds it is impossible, in the absence of the old Quarteridge Book, to state.  One matter, however, is quite certain from the old book of accounts commencing in 1619, that the payments made by newly accepted Masons were paid into the funds of the Company, that some or all of this was spent on a banquet and the attendant expenses, and that any further sum required was paid out of the ordinary funds of the Company, proving that the Company had entire control of the Lodge and its funds."


It looks as if members of the Acception were not Operative Masons; if that was the case it is plain that non-Operative Masons were admitted on some footing as early as 1619, and probably long before that.  If this supposition be sound it follows that some kind of non-Operative, or Speculative Masonry, was in existence in the metropolis more than a century before the founding of the first Grand Lodge.  Also it would appear that Ashmole was in attendance on the "Acception" at the time referred to in his second entry quoted above.  On the strength of this fact some writers, Bro. A.E. Waite for example, have suggested that the seed from which our modern symbolical Masonry had its origin may have been planted there by such men as Ashmole, who were interested in symbolism, ritual, occultism and all such matters.


That something was known of a society of Freemasons during the latter half of the century is proved by reference to such in a few books of the time.  Randle Holme (the third of that name), in his Acadamie of Amorie, published in 1688, refers to the Freemasons in this wise:


"I cannot but Honour the Fellowship of Masons because of its Antiquity; and the more, as being a member of that Society, called Free-Masons."


Two years before the appearance of the Holme volume Dr. Robert Plot published the Natural History of Staffordshire, in which he referred to Freemasons in a vein somewhat satirical:


"To these add the Customs relating to the County, whereof they have one, of admitting Men into the Society of Free-Masons, that in the moorelands of this County seems to be of greater request, than anywhere else, though I find the Custom spread more or less all over the Nation; for here I found persons of the most eminent quality, that did not disdain to be of this Fellowship. Nor indeed need they, were it of that Antiquity and honour, that is pretended in a large parchment volume they have amongst them, containing the History and Rules of the craft of masonry.


"Into which Society when they are admitted, they call a meeting (or Lodg as they term it in some places), which must consist at lest of 5 or 6 of the Ancients of the Order, when the candidats present with gloves, and so likewise to their wives, and entertain with a collation according to the Custom of the place: This ended, they proceed to the admission of them, which chiefly consists in the communication of certain secret signes, whereby they are known to one another all over the Nation, by which means they have maintenance whither ever they travel: for if any man appear though altogether known that can shew any of these signes to a Fellow of the Society, whom they otherwise call an accepted mason, he is obliged presently to come to him, from what company or place soever he be in, nay, tho' from the top of a Steeple (what hazard or inconvenience soever he run) to know his pleasure and assist him; viz., if he want work he is bound to find him some; or if he cannot doe that, to give him mony, or otherwise support him till work can be had; which is one of their Articles."


John Aubrey, a friend of Dr. Plot's and also an antiquarian, wrote the Natural History of Wiltshire at about the same time, on one pen copy of which he inscribed a memorandum that reads:


"Memorandum.  This day, May the 18th, being Monday, 1691, after Rogation Sunday is a great convention at St. Paul's Church of the Fraternity of adopted masons, where Sir Christopher Wren is to be adopted a brother, and Sir Henry Goodric of the Tower, and divers others.  There have been kings that have been of this sodality."




This reference to Wren raises a question about which there has been a long continued debate.  Was the famous architect, the builder of St. Paul's, and of London after the great fire, a Mason? Of course, he was an architect and therefore a member of the Craft in a general sense, but was he a member of a lodge? Gould devotes fifty-four of his most heavily shotted pages to prove that he was not, and that any statement to that effect is fable pure and simple.  Bro. F. De P. Castells wrote a trenchant criticism of these pages in a splendid essay published in Transactions of the Authors Lodge, Vol. II, page 302.  "We all admire Gould's erudition," he remarks; "his History is a monumental work. But in this matter he has shown himself more learned than wise, for he has placed himself in a false light, in which we see him as a carping critic, cavilling, parrying with facts, and casting doubt upon everything suggesting the thought of Wren being a Mason." Some will believe, perhaps, that Bro. Castells has a little overstated the matter, but that is neither here nor there; he rests his own case on four pieces of evidence; first, the Constitutions of 1738; secondly, an excerpt from the Postboy, a London paper which, in its announcement of Wren's death, refers to him as "that worthy Freemason"; thirdly, the Aubrey notation quoted above, and fourthly, Preston's statement to the effect that "Wren presided over the old Lodge of St.  Pauls during the building of the cathedral." But what would appear to be the clincher in Bro. Castell's argument is given in his postscript, in which there is so much matter of interest that it may well be quoted in its entirety:


"What precedes was delivered as a Lecture.  Since then, however, having seen the records of the Lodge of Antiquity which Bro. Rylands has brought to light, I feel that the question is absolutely settled.  The Lodge had once records that went back to 1663.  But when an Inventory was made in 1778, everything anterior to 1721 had disappeared.  This is referred to in a Memorandum as 'the outrage,' because it was a case of misappropriation.  Still, the few records now extant are ample to satisfy any one.  Thus, the Minutes of a Meeting held on June 3, 1723, give the substance of what the Brethren had decided: 'The set of Mahogany Candlesticks presented to this Lodge by its worthy old Master, Sir Christopher Wren, ordered to be carefully deposited in a wooden case lin'd with cloth to be Immediately purchased for the purpose.' The reason for this was that as 'the worthy old Master' of the Lodge had died, they were anxious to preserve the candlesticks as precious mementos of his connection with the Lodge.  There is also a Memorandum about a 'General Assembly of a greate Number of Free Masons Held on the 24th of June, 1721,' which is remarkable for including among those present 'Christopher Wren, Esq.,' the only son of the architect, whose name reappears in a similar way eight years later.  Obviously the son was one of those who helped to bring the premier Grand Lodge into existence; thus we can understand that the father should have appointed him as his deputy when the Fraternity celebrated the Capestone in 1710.  And yet Gould, when he wrote his History, did not know that anyone had ever claimed the son as a member of our Order! The question has been raised whether the original Lodge of Antiquity was one of Speculative Freemasons.  The three Candlesticks afford good ground for presumption, but let the Members of the Lodge speak for themselves.  In the Minutes of a Meeting on November 3, 1722, we read: 'The Master reported the proceedings of the Grand Lodge and Bro. Anderson's appointment to revise the old Constitutions.  It was the Opinion of the Lodge that the Master and his Wardens do attend every Committee during the revisal of the Constitutions that no variation may be made in the Antient Establishment.' This zeal to maintain the old order enables us to affirm positively that the Grand Lodge of 1717 did not create Freemasonry, but simply re-organized the Fraternity."


From these quotations and from the considerations of early Operative practices adverted to in the opening paragraphs of this paper it is evident that the element of non-Operative membership and principles was in the Craft from early times; and that a conservative interpretation of Masonic history would suggest that this element came in time, and that owing to changes without and within the Craft, to over-balance the Operative influence, resulting at last in a complete re-organization of the Fraternity.  But according to a more radical view, which also needs to be considered, this non-Operative element could not, of itself and without extraneous assistance, have ever proved powerful enough to work the many changes that took place in the "revival" of 1717.  Other influence must have been at work, as this view holds, and that from outside the Craft, to cause such revolutionary changes as undoubtedly took place. Some of the arguments put forward by those holding this position deserve consideration.


Very little is really known about the formation of the first Grand Lodge, but it appears certain that much friction was engendered among the "old members" and the independent old lodges by the radical changes that were made by the first Grand Lodge.  This fact might mean that innovations in ritual and regulations were made and that this aroused the enmity of the "old brethren" who dreaded innovations; if so, it would show that new material was introduced from the outside, else there would not otherwise have been any dissatisfaction with the new order of things.




It might be possible to offer the elaborate system of symbolism built up about King Solomon's Temple as a case in point just here. The oldest Masonic MS. does not trace Masonry back to King Solomon but far beyond him to Nimrod and to Euclid.  In the Dowland MS., dated at about 1550, Hiram Abif is mentioned, but merely as one name among many.  In 1611 the King James version of the Bible made its appearance in England and aroused an almost universal interest, particularly in the Old Testament accounts of Solomon and his Temple.  Late in the same century and early in the following, this interest was so general that many models of the Temple were constructed and exhibited in populous centers, and handbooks describing them received general circulation, a thing that must have been peculiarly interesting to the old Masons, who had probably long cherished traditions concerning that historic edifice.  When Anderson prepared the first edition of his Constitutions he incorporated in a foot-note a learned explanation of the name "Hiram Abif," a thing he would not have done had not his readers been already interested. The inference from these facts, thus briefly sketched, is that there had long existed in the Craft a germ of interest in Solomon's Temple; that this germ found itself in an environment favourable for development when interest in the matter became popular; and that this development found a place in the Ritual early in the eighteenth century in a form now thrice familiar.  If this reading of the matter is well founded it follows that the Temple symbolism is a case of development inside the Craft due to external conditions.


Those holding the view that the "revival" in 1717 was due largely to influence from outside sources point to Kabbalism, Knight Templarism, Rosicrucianism, Hermetism, etc., a consideration of all of which would require too much space; but even so, one other "outside" influence may be referred to now, for it has not received as much attention as it appears to deserve.  I refer to the English club, which was so potent a social influence in the English life of the eighteenth century.  Almost every man, rich or poor, belonged to one; there were drinking clubs, musical clubs, literary clubs, fat men's clubs, Odd Fellows' clubs, Chinese clubs, clubs for men with large noses, and for small, and every other imaginable form of organization for purposes of sociability.  In a day when daily newspapers were nonexistent and books were scarce, these clubs were centers of gossip and general information as well as societies for the propagation of various "causes," all of which is embalmed forever in the essays of Addison, Steele, Goldsmith and the other immortals of the time.  Did the early lodges of Speculative Masons come into existence in response to this need for clubs? The question needs a more thorough ventilation than it has yet received, because there is something to be said for it.  Gould, it will be recalled, attributed Desaguliers' membership in the Craft to his desire for club life, and Bro. Arthur Heiron has shown how powerful was the club influence in eighteenth century Freemasonry in his excellent book Ancient Freemasonry and the Old Dundee Lodge.  For my own part I do not believe in the "club theory" of the origin of Speculative Masonry, but the matter is offered here as an example of those theories which look toward outside influences as explaining the transformation of Operative Freemasonry into Speculative, and as a suggestion to students that they investigate a fascinating field.


By way of conclusion it may be said that until more is known concerning the Transition Period it will be necessary for every Masonic reader to feel his way through the dark as well as he can, keeping his judgment on many matters in suspense, for as yet little is really known, and that is often enough conflicting; nevertheless and notwithstanding it would appear to some of us that what we do know shows an unbroken continuity between the old Operative Masonic lodges and the Institution which replaced them in 1717, and that in a large way the practices and principles of the medieval Masons were continued into Speculative Freemasonry; we still have Apprentices, Fellows and Masters; we still meet in lodges as of old, under the government of Masters and Wardens; we observe close secrecy, and make use of ceremonies of initiation divided into grades or degrees; holding it together, like a solid framework, is the emblematic and symbolical use of builders' tools and practices, and at the center of it all stands the most famous building in history and the most famous builder under such circumstances of drama and mystery as helps every Freemason the better to understand himself, and the world, and God, and the secrets of the life that is life indeed.






Accepted, 10; Anderson, 57; Antiquity of Freemasonry, 66; Apprentice, Entered, 70; Ashmole, 81; Constitutions, 175; Cromwell, 186; Degrees, 203; Desaguliers, 207; Dunckerley, 223; Edwin, 230; Fellow Craft, 261; Free and Accepted, 281; Freemason, 282; Freemasonry, Early British, 283; Geometry, 295; Gilds, 296; Hermetic Art, 323; Innovations, 353; Kabbala, 375; Kilwinning, 381; Legend, 433; Lodge, 449; Mason, 471; Master Mason 474; Operative Art, 532; Points of Fellowship, 572; Progressive Masonry, 591; Scotland, 671; Speculative Masonry, 704; Stone-Masons, 718; Symbolic Degrees, 752; Wren, 859; York 866.




Ars Quatuor Coronatorum, Author's Lodge Transactions, I, II, III.  Constitutions of the Freemasons, Anderson.  A Short Masonic History, Armitage.  Natural History of Wiltshire, Aubrey.  Grand Lodge of England, Calvert.  Mackey's Revised History of Freemasonry, Clegg.  Hole Craft and Fellowship of Masons, Conder.  Evolution of Freemasonry, Darrah. Ahiman Rezon, Dermott. Club Makers and Club Members, Escott. History of Masonry, Findel.  Concise History of Freemasonry, Gould. History of Freemasonry, Gould.  Ancient Freemasonry and the Old Dundee Lodge, Heiron.  Acadamie Armory, Holme. Masonic Sketches and Reprints, Hughan. Spirit of Masonry, Hutchinson.  Medieval Architecture, Kingsley.  History of the Lodge of Edinburgh, Lyon.  Guild Masonry in the Making, Merz. History of Lodge Aberdeen, Miller. The Builders, Newton. Essay on the Usages and Customs of Symbolical Masonry in the 18th Century, Oliver.  Preston's Masonry, Oliver.  Tradition, Origin and Early History of Freemasonry, Pierson.  Natural History of Staffordshire, Plot.  Illustrations of Masonry, Preston.  Freemasonry Before Existence of Grand Lodges, Vibert. Story of the Craft, Vibert.  New Encyclopedia of Freemasonry, Waite.  Freemasonry and the Ancient Gods, Ward.

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