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MASONIC PAPERS

by Dr ANDREW PRESCOTT


THE UNLAWFUL SOCIETIES ACT OF 1799

First published in M. D. J. Scanlan, ed., The Social Impact of Freemasonry on the Modern Western World The Canonbury Papers I (London: Canonbury Masonic Research Centre, 2002), pp. 116-134

`Mr Pitt used to say that Tom Paine was quite in the right, but then he would add, "What am I to do?"'

Hester Stanhope[i]       

On 2 April 1799, the M.P. for Southwark, the wealthy banker and evangelical philanthropist Henry Thornton, wrote to the under-secretary in the Home Office, William Wickham, passing on information given to him by a Battersea distiller named Benwell. One of Benwell's employees had recently been asked to join a society which met at Wandsworth. If he joined, he would have to swear a secret oath. He would `get a shilling for every attendance at the society, of which he would have to expend 6d at the place of meeting'. He would receive a further 2s 6d for every new member he introduced to the society. Thornton and Benwell were convinced that this was a cell of the subversive organisation known as the United Englishmen. Thornton had urged Benwell to work with a local magistrate to find out the names of all the members of this mysterious Wandsworth club. Thornton ended his letter to Wickham by assuring him of his willingness to assist in `detecting the secret societies which may infest the parts around us'. Wickham passed on Thornton's information to the Home Secretary, the Duke of Portland. The Duke thanked Thornton for this intelligence, since the Home Office was uncertain of the exact strength of the United Englishmen. The news that money was being offered as an inducement to join was particularly interesting. The Duke suggested that Benwell should encourage his employee to join the group, so that he could give the Home Office information about it.[ii]

This exchange encapsulates the atmosphere of late 1798 and 1799, when seditious societies bound by secret oaths, the harbingers of a French invasion, were seen round every corner.[iii] This atmosphere created a groundswell of support for the passage in July 1799 of one of the most sweeping of the legislative measures introduced by Pitt's government to forestall the threat of revolution. This act, `An act for the more effectual suppression of societies established for seditious and treasonable purposes; and for the better preventing treasonable and seditious practices',[iv] to give its full name, was, almost by accident, to form the mainstay of the relationship between freemasonry and the state in Britain for nearly two hundred years, until its repeal by the Criminal Justice Act of 1967.[v]

One of the most important of the radical bodies which emerged in Britain in the wake of the French Revolution was the United Irishman, a `United Society of the Irish nation; to make all Irishmen citizens - all citizens Irishmen', which was established in 1791.[vi] Its initial aims were catholic emancipation and radical parliamentary reform; by 1796 it had become an avowedly republican movement. The United Irish sent embassies to France to seek support for an uprising and independence, but the French and United Irish failed effectively to coordinate their efforts. In 1796, the French landed at Bantry Bay, but did not give the United Irish any advance warning; two years later, the French were in turn caught by surprise by an Irish rebellion and failed to provide adequate military support. The arrests of United Irish leaders which had helped precipitate the rebellion and the fierce repression of the rising left the United Irishmen a much diminished movement.

In England, the most prominent of the radical bodies which sprang up after 1789 was the London Corresponding Society. In 1794, a number of its leaders were arrested and tried for treason. These trials were unsuccessful, but subsequent legislation and internal difficulties had by 1797 reduced the influence of the L.C.S. From this time, an increasingly close alliance developed between Irish republican movements and those on the British mainland, with the formation of societies of United Englishmen and United Scotsmen on the Irish model. Some of the remaining members of the L.C.S. played an important part in the United movement in Britain. Further impetus was given to the United societies by Irish migrants active in Manchester and other parts of the north-west.

Despite the great blows suffered by the republican movement in 1798 as a result of the arrest of much of its leadership and the failure of the Irish revolt, Pitt's government remained uncertain of the real strength of the United bodies and was worried that they were regrouping. Shortly before Christmas 1798, the opposition Whigs accused Pitt of justifying repressive measures by scare mongering. Pitt responded by declaring that, if need be, the truth of his allegations could be proved.[vii]  The following month, parliamentary committees were appointed to examine secret evidence held by the government and to report back to parliament on the nature of the threat.[viii] The House of Commons secret committee reported on 15 March 1799.[ix] It declared that, from the documents shown to it by the government, it had found the `clearest proofs of a systematic design, long since adopted and acted upon by France, in conjunction with domestic traitors...to overturn the laws, constitution and government, and every existing establishment, civil or ecclesiastical, both in Great Britain and Ireland, as well as to dissolve the connection between the two kingdoms...' The secret committee went on to state that `The most effectual engine employed for this purpose has been the institution of political societies, of a nature and description before unknown in any country, and inconsistent with public tranquillity and with the existence of public government'.

The report described the various United bodies and their connections with the London Corresponding Society. It emphasised their use of `an oath of fidelity and secrecy' to `form themselves, under the eye and in defiance of government, into one body, compacted  by one bond of union'. The report described how these societies `principally carried on their intercourse by agents, who went from place to place, and were recognized by signs, which were frequently changed'. The documentary appendix of the report included examples of membership certificates issued by London divisions of the United Irish, certifying that the bearer had passed various tests. Equally alarming to the committee was the organisational structure of these groups. The elaborate hierarchy of the United Irish, with their overall executive directory and subordinate baronial, district and county committees, was described in detail. The appendix reprinted the rules of various United groups in full. In the view of the secret committee, a sinister feature of these organisations was that the forms of election used meant that the membership as a whole did not know the composition of the executive committee.

The report noted how previous legislation had restricted subversive lectures and meetings, but added that `many of the debating societies, which subsist at the present time, appear, to your committee, to be, in great measure, directed to the same pernicious objects, and to require further animadversion and correction'. Likewise, the committee was concerned about `the establishment of clubs, among the lowest classes of the community, which were open to all persons paying one penny, and in which songs were sung, toasts given, and language held, of the most seditious nature'. The secret committee also called for further restrictions on the press, which it considered  excessively licentious.

The trustworthiness of the information in the secret committee's report has been hotly debated for a long time.[x] The most trenchant criticisms were made in the 1820s by the radical and former member of the L.C.S., Francis Place, in his Autobiography.[xi]  Place singled out as particularly ludicrous the claims of the secret committee that there were forty divisions of United Englishmen in London. In Place's view, the United Englishmen in London amounted to no more than a few disreputable hot-heads, egged on by government spies.[xii] However, Place was anxious to demonstrate his own respectability and to show that the L.C.S. in its early days was a force for moral improvement. Moreover, he was based in London and was not well-informed about conditions in north-western England, Scotland and Ireland.[xiii] Whatever the truth of the allegations of the secret committee, its political consequences can be more easily established.

On 19 April 1799, the House of Commons debated the report of its secret committee. Pitt rose to announce the measures proposed by his government.[xiv] The suspension of Habeas Corpus was to continue, and powers would be sought to move prisoners about the country as the government sought fit. Pitt continued: `we must proceed still farther, now that we are engaged in a most important struggle with the restless and fatal spirit of Jacobinism, assuming new shapes, and concealing its malignant and destructive designs under new forms and new practices. In order to oppose it with effect, we must also from time to time adopt new modes, and assume new shapes'. Not only should the societies mentioned by name in the secret committee's report, the L.C.S., the United Irish, the United Britons, the United Scotsmen and the United Englishmen, be suppressed, but all societies of this type should be made unlawful. Pitt described the characteristics of the societies he wanted to outlaw: `These marks are, wicked and illegal engagements of mutual fidelity and secrecy by which the members are bound; the secrecy of electing the members; the secret government and conduct of the affairs of the society; secret appointments unknown to the bulk of the members; presidents and committees, which, veiling themselves from the general mass and knowledge of the members, plot and conduct the treason - I propose that all societies which administer such oaths shall be declared unlawful confederacies...' Noting the remarks of the secret committee about debating clubs, Pitt also proposed that all meetings where money was taken at the door should require a magistrate's licence.[xv] The final part of the measures proposed by Pitt were major new restrictions on printers. All publications should in future bear the name of their author and publisher. A general register was to be established of all printing presses, including those owned by private individuals.

George Tierney, the effective leader of the Foxite opposition in the Commons who in the previous year had fought a duel with Pitt[xvi], replied. He criticised the report of the secret committee, declaring that he `never saw a report made to this House that was so little supported by the evidence'. He complained that the proposed law would give undue power to the crown, and breed an army of spies and informers. He pointed out that the effect of such a bill would be `to pull down every club in the country', since most clubs took some kind of money and would come within the scope of the proposed legislation. Tierney's greatest concern, however, were the restrictions on printers, which he thought worse than an imprimatur. He could never support such measures: `I had rather be subjected to the most bitter reproaches and malicious statements for the remainder of my days, than have the press limited to the extent to which this goes'.

Despite Tierney's opposition, a motion was passed to bring a bill to implement these measures, and the bill was duly published the next day,[xvii] receiving its first reading in the Commons on 22 April.[xviii] This bill outlawed the L.C.S., United Englishmen, United Scotsmen, United Irishmen and United Britons by name. It also defined as an unlawful combination and confederacy `every society, the members whereof shall...be required or admitted to take any oath or engagement...' Societies were required to admit members `by open declaration at a public meeting of such society'. Every society was required to keep a book containing the names of all its officers, committees and members, which was to be open to inspection by the entire membership. Membership or support of any society which breached these regulations  would be a criminal offence. Magistrates acting on the word of a single informer could impose summary fines on offenders; where offenders were indicted by jury and tried in a higher court, the punishment was transportation.

Any premises on which public meetings or lectures were held (apart from universities and properly constituted schools) required a magistrate's licence, even if the premises in question consisted of an open field. Similar licences were also required by reading rooms which charged for admission. The most elaborate provisions of the bill were the restrictions on printing. Anyone possessing a printing press or even type was required to register with the clerk of the peace, who would forward the information to the Home Office. Vendors of printing presses and type had to keep full accounts, open for inspection by a Justice of the Peace. The names and addresses of printers were to appear on the title and end papers of all books. Printers were to keep an archive of all their publications. The sellers of publications which breached these regulations could be summarily arrested.[xix] It was these restrictions on the press which attracted most criticism of the bill when it came to its second reading in the Commons on 30 April.[xx]

Such wide-ranging legislation was bound to create problems by inadvertently catching in its net harmless and respectable activities. Many of these difficulties became apparent when the bill came to committee on 6 May.[xxi] The restrictions on lectures created difficulties for such places as the Inns of Court and Chancery, and exemptions for these were added to the bill. Exclusions from the restrictions on printers were inserted for the King's printer and the two university presses. The kind of absurd situation to which the bill could potentially give rise was illustrated by one exchange in which an M.P. asked `whether astronomical lectures came under the exempting clauses, as the Justices were not compelled, but only allowed to grant licences'. Pitt replied that such occasions `might be made a cloak for seditious lectures'. The M.P. was not convinced, but the government was adamant that no such exemption could be permitted. When the bill came to receive its third reading on 9 May, it was belatedly realised that parliament itself could fall foul of the regulations on printers, and a clause was hastily added `by way of Ryder, declaring that the Provisions of the Bill shall not extend to Papers printed by Order of either House of Parliament'.[xxii] 

One major difficulty which had become apparent was the position of freemasons. The provisions of the bill against the use of secret oaths in societies potentially placed freemasons in a difficult position, although arguably these oaths were outside the scope of bill since they were not seditious.[xxiii] More problematic was the requirement that initiations should take place in a public meeting. The grand lodges must also have been uneasily aware that they did not have a comprehensive register of members of the sort required by the bill, and that the compilation and distribution of such a register would have been an enormous undertaking.

The two English Grand Lodges and the Scottish Grand Lodge had quickly taken action to try and deal with these problems before the bill got to committee. On 30 April, the day on which the bill received its second reading, Pitt received a request for a meeting with masonic representatives, and a delegation went to Downing Street on 2 May.[xxiv] The masonic representatives included Lord Moira, Acting Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of England, the Duke of Atholl, Grand Master of the Ancients' Grand Lodge and Past Grand Master Mason of Scotland, as well as other grand officers.[xxv] The most important official record of this meeting is a note in the minute book of the Hall Committee of the Modern Grand Lodge, reporting that the Prime Minister had `expressed his good opinion of the Society and said he was willing to recommend any clause to prevent the new act from affecting the Society, provided that the name of the society could be prevented from being made use of as a cover by evilly disposed persons for seditious purposes'.[xxvi] William White, Grand Secretary of the Moderns, afterwards recalled the meeting in similar terms, recalling that Pitt `paid many compliments to the Society and said there was no imputation against its conduct, and that it was only wished to adopt some regulations to prevent the name of our Society from being perverted by bad people to a cover for their machinations against the government'.[xxvii] Lord Moira also subsequently recalled how `I have pledged myself to His Majesty's ministers that should any set of men attempt to meet as a lodge without sanction, the Grand Master, or Acting Grand Master (whomsoever he might be), would apprise parliament'.[xxviii] Pitt himself reported to the House of Commons that the freemasons `were very ready to acquiesce in any security the legislature would require from them for the tranquillity of the state'.[xxix]

However, it seems that Pitt probably also pointed out that the government had worrying information which suggested that the masons needed to be more vigilant. Among the documents which had been shown to the secret committee was a letter sent to the Home Office by John Waring, a catholic priest at Stonyhurst, who described how an Irishman named Bernard Kerr had told him he was `a freemason, a Knight Templar, and belonged to a society of people who called themselves United Englishmen'. Kerr had shown him the printed rules of the United Englishmen, which he kept in a large portfolio together with his papers of admission as a Knight Templar.[xxx] These concerns about connections between the United bodies and freemasonry were not idle. Many of the United Irishmen were freemasons and many features of their organisation, such as the use of oaths and secret signs, were drawn from masonic models.[xxxi]

Moreover, the problems were not restricted to Irish masons. On 17 April, shortly before Pitt met the masonic deputation, James Greene, a freemason and lawyer staying in Leeds, wrote to the Home Secretary, describing a meeting of a lodge at Leeds. `Being no stranger to the disaffected principles of too many in this place and especially among the lower class of freemasons', he wrote, `I made it a point to visit a lodge of that class; and tho' politics are never introduced while the lodge is sitting, it became a topic out of the lodge when a part of the fraternity withdrew from the lodge room to supper, when a shrewd sensible fellow began to inveigh against the measures of the government, and spoke in very high terms in favour of the Cannibalian government in France, to which I exhibited a seeming pleasure. After the lodge was over, and since, I got a great deal of information from him by seeming to be one of that infernal class, and being desirous to obtain more, I begged to see him as often as he could make it convenient to talk matters over. He called upon me several times at my lodgings, and having given credit to the seeming sincerity of my attachment to that they call the cause, and confiding in my secrecy as a free mason, produced a letter from one of the leaders among the United Irishmen, dated Dublin the 31st of March ult[im]o.' This letter referred to a major United meeting which was to take place, under cover of a masonic gathering, at Paisley in Scotland. Greene concluded his letter as follows: `Now my Lord, if your Grace will approve of it, as I am in the higher orders of masonry, and as I have every reason to believe that I can be of signal service in this matter, I will very readily undertake to conduct matters as occasion may serve so as to nip the evil in the bud, or let it run to such a length as may come to a riper maturity, and tho' there are too many rotten of the Craft fraternity, I can with great truth aver that the general part of the mass are strictly loyal'.[xxxii]

The aftermath of Pitt's meeting with the masonic delegation suggests that he gave them the gist of the information received from Greene. Although it seems that the lodge in Leeds was not an Antient lodge, it was the Antients who took these concerns most seriously, perhaps because of their greater strength in the north-western industrial towns, where the United groups were strongest, and their closer connections with Irish masonry. Immediately after the meeting with Pitt, the Grand Officers of the Antients met at the Crown and Anchor Tavern in the Strand. They agreed to recommend two emergency measures. The first was `to inhibit and totally prevent all public masonic processions, and all private meetings of masons, or lodges of emergency, upon any pretence whatever, and to suppress and suspend all masonic meetings, except upon the regular stated lodge meetings and Royal Arch chapters, which shall be held open to all masons to visit, duly qualified as such'. It was also agreed `that when the usual masonic business is ended, the lodge shall then disperse, the Tyler withdraw from the door, and formality and restraint of admittance shall cease'. These two measures were formally approved on 6 May at a Grand Lodge of Emergency, with the  Duke of Atholl himself in the chair.[xxxiii] 

The actions of the Antients and the assurances given to Pitt convinced him that the Grand Lodges were determined to ensure that freemasonry could not be used as a front for radical activity, and at the committee stage of the bill Pitt himself accordingly introduced amendments to exempt them from the act.[xxxiv] He proposed what was essentially a system of self-regulation operated by the Grand Lodges. The relevant clause read as follows:

`...nothing in this act contained shall extend, or be construed to extend, to prevent the meetings of the Lodge or society of persons which is now held at Free Masons Hall in Great Queen Street in the County of Middlesex, and usually denominated The Grand Lodge of Freemasons of England, or of the Lodge or society of persons usually denominated The Grand Lodge of Masons of England, according to the Old Institution, or of the Lodge or society of persons which is now held at Edinburgh, and usually denominated The Grand Lodge of Free Masons of Scotland, or the meetings of any subordinate lodge or society of persons usually calling themselves Free Masons, the holding whereof shall be sanctioned or approved by any one of the above mentioned lodges or societies...'[xxxv]

The amendment envisaged a system whereby the Grand Secretaries would each year deposit with the clerks of the peace a certificate containing details of the time and place of meeting of all approved lodges in the county, together with a declaration that the lodges were approved by the Grand Master. All lodges were to keep a book in which each member was to declare, on joining, `that he is well affected to the constitution and government of this realm, by King, Lords, and Commons, as by law established'. This book was to be kept open for inspection by local magistrates. The Grand Lodges were thus to be made responsible for policing freemasonry; lodges whose names did not appear on the return made by the Grand Secretaries would be criminal conspiracies.

It was in this form that the bill went to the House of Lords, where it received its first reading on 10 May and its second on 3 June.[xxxvi] The bill went into committee in the House of Lords on 5 June. The debate was lead by the Foreign Secretary, Lord Grenville. Much of the debate consisted of a detailed consideration of the regulations for the control of printing types and the effects of the legislation on catholic and non-conformist schools. A number of amendments were passed, the most notable of which was that the Gresham College lectures should enjoy the same immunity as the universities and Inns of Court.[xxxvii] No amendments were made to the clauses concerning freemasons, but concern was expressed about them in the course of the debate. Lord Grenville himself observed that `With respect to the clause adopted by the other house of parliament for exempting societies of freemasons from the operations of the bill...,though he did not mean to propose setting it aside, yet it did not appear to him to be fraught with that clearness and certainty which he could wish. He was free to express his belief, that whatever the conduct of masonic societies in foreign countries might be (where in some instances designs of the most destructive tendency were brought to perfection) these societies in this country harboured no designs inimical to the state, or suffered or entertained such in their lodges. Yet what the clause provided was of an anomalous nature, and new to the functions of parliament. The officers, & c., of the subordinate lodges were to be approved by the grand master and others of the principal lodges before they could be entitled to hold their meetings. Now, how such officers, who were to have the licensing power, were to be constituted and appointed, that house, as a legislative assembly, knew nothing. It was not his own intent to propose any specific amendment to the clause; he only throw out the observation, in order that other lords, more conversant in such matters, might if they were willing, come forward and suggest something...'[xxxviii]

Grenville thus felt that the idea of self-regulation raised serious constitutional difficulties; it seemed to him inappropriate that Grand Officers should be given statutory authority effectively to license masonic lodges when parliament itself had no control over how those grand officers were appointed. The Duke of Norfolk, declaring himself to be a mason, expressed some alarm at Grenville's remarks and `deplored the idea of setting aside the exempting clause, as tending to their annihilation.' Grenville assured Norfolk that he was not proposing removing the clauses, just asking for a better method of regulating lodges. Norfolk was unable to suggest a new formulation and proposed instead that the act last only for a year, which was unacceptable to Grenville.[xxxix] The clauses concerning the freemasons survived the committee stage in the House of Lords, but the concerns raised by Grenville were soon to resurface and present a serious threat to freemasonry.  

On 20 June, the bill came up for its third reading in the House of Lords.[xl] The first speaker in the debate was the pedantic and cantankerous Earl of Radnor,[xli] who proposed an amendment to drop the exemptions for freemasons. He said that `Not being himself a mason, and having heard that they administered oaths of secrecy, he did not know, whether in times so critical as the present, it was wise to trust the freemasons any more than any other meetings'. He went on to add that `their meetings were, in other countries at least, made subservient to the purposes of those illuminati who had succeeded in the overthrow of one great government, and were labouring for the destruction of all others. This he conceived to have been proved in a work some time since published by a very learned Professor (Dr Robinson), and he was desirous to guard against any similar practices in this country'.[xlii] It seems that this was the first point at which Robison's famous 1797 anti-masonic work was mentioned by name in the course of the discussion of the 1799 legislation.

The Duke of Atholl responded to Radnor, and, in the words of the report in The Senator `defended with great earnestness and ability the institutions of freemasonry'.[xliii] The fullest account of his speech is in The Senator, and is worth quoting at length:

`The Noble Duke contended, that the imputations thrown upon freemasons by the Noble Earl, on the authority of a recent publication, however justified by the conduct of the lodges on the continent, were by no means applicable to those of Great Britain. His Grace avowed, that the proceedings in masonic lodges, and all their obligation to secrecy simply related to their own peculiar little tenets and matters of form. There were no set of men in the kingdom, and he had the best opportunities of knowing, having had the honour to preside over a great part of them in England as well as in Scotland, who could possibly be more loyal or attached to the person of their sovereign or the cause of their country. There was nothing in the masonic institution hostile to the law, the religion or the established government of the country; on the contrary, they went to support all these, and no person who was not a loyal or religious man could be a good mason. Of those well established facts perhaps the Noble Earl was ignorant in consequence of his not being a mason, but they were strictly true: added to these considerations, the masonic system was founded on the most exalted system of benevolence, morals, and charity, and many thousands were annually relieved by the charitable benevolence of masons. These very laudable and useful charities must necessarily be quashed did the bill pass into a law, as recommended by the Noble Earl. The very nature and foundation of freemasonry involved in them the most unshaken attachment to religion, unsuspected loyalty to sovereigns, and the practice of morality and benevolence, in the strictest sense of the words. To such regulations as went to prevent the perversion of their institution to the purposes of seditious conspiracy, he could have no objection, and as a proof of the readiness with which they would be acceded to by the masonic societies, he need only mention that this subject had occupied their attention for several years past...'

The Bishop of Rochester, Samuel Horsley, who produced a famous edition of Newton's works and was a former secretary of the Royal Society, spoke next. He declared that he was `a member of the branch of masonry which existed in Scotland' and agreed with everything the Duke of Atholl had said: `the innocence of these [masonic] institutions was unquestionable, and other objects which it embraced were of the most laudable nature'. However, this applied only to genuine and regular lodges in  Britain and was not, in his view, true on the continent. There was a risk that continental influences could affect freemasonry in Britain: `As secrecy was absolutely necessary,  no person could say that the doctrine of innovation, which had diffused itself on the continent, had not found its way into this country'. The Bishop reminded the House that Robison had calculated that there were no less than eight illuminated lodges in Britain. He felt torn between his loyalties as a mason and his duty as a legislator, but in the end his obligations as a member of the House of Lords required him to support Lord Radnor, since `By the bill as it then stood, the meetings of such lodges were sanctioned, or were approved by persons appointed they knew not how, or by whom; by individuals, however respectable they might be as such, of whom they, as a House of Parliament, had no cognizance'. In other words, the Bishop felt, as Grenville had earlier, that a responsible parliament should not countenance a system of self-regulation by the grand lodges.

What happened next is not clear. According to one account, Radnor's amendment was passed, and freemasonry in Britain was within an ace of becoming a criminal conspiracy.[xliv] Whatever the exact sequence of events, the day was saved by Lord Grenville. Grenville proposed substituting the clause implementing a system of regulation by the grand lodges with others, `the effect of which his Lordship stated in substance to be, to require that the objects and purposes of such lodges as should be permitted to meet, should be declared to be purely masonic, and only for the avowed objects of the institution, the principal ends of which he conceived to be those of charity and benevolence; that the mode of certifying should be, that two members of the lodge should make affidavit before two or more magistrates of the particular place where the lodge was held, and of the number and names of its members. That these accounts should be transmitted to the clerk of the peace, who should, once a year at least, furnish a general account of the whole within his district, to the magistrates sitting in quarter sessions, who should be empowered, in case of well-founded complaints against any particular lodge, to suppress its meetings'. The onus for regulation was thus to be shifted from the grand lodges to the justices of the peace, who would rely on certification by local lodges. All specific mention of the grand lodges in the bill would be removed, and it would refer only to `the societies or lodges of Free Masons'.

The Duke of Atholl agreed to accept Grenville's compromise, and amendments in this form to the bill was passed,[xlv] although Radnor still felt it necessary to enter in the Journal of the House of Lords a formal protest against the exemptions for freemasonry.[xlvi] The convoluted story of this piece of legislation was still, however, not concluded. When the Lords' amendments were communicated to the Commons, it was found that, by passing Grenville's new clauses, the Lords had exceeded their authority. The Speaker observed that these amendments imposed new burdens on the people, which was an exclusive privilege of the House of Commons. The only way of dealing with this problem was to shelve the old bill and bring forward a new one incorporating the revised clauses on freemasons, which would have to go through the entire parliamentary procedure again. The new bill was therefore brought forward later that day, and its process expedited, so that it received the royal assent on 12 July.[xlvii]

The grand lodges energetically circularised secretaries of lodges reminding them of their obligations under the act and providing pre-printed forms for the necessary declarations and returns.[xlviii] Chapters of the Royal Arch also received similar circulars.[xlix] One odd side-effect of the hasty way in which the amendments had been passed was that only lodges which existed before 12 July 1799 were protected by the legislation.[l] This meant that the grand lodges could not authorise new lodges, and had to resort to the expedient of giving lodges the warrant and number of extinct lodges.[li] The measures of the 1799 act were extended and refined by further legislation against subversive clubs in 1817,[lii] and it was assumed that this resolved the problem about new lodges, but many years later this was found not to be the case.[liii]

The 1799 act was largely an exercise in closing stable doors after horses had fled.[liv] The United Irish were already regrouping into an even more secretive and militaristic organisation.[lv] London radicals resorted to holding informal tavern meetings which fell outside the scope of the legislation.[lvi] Even on occasions when the 1799 act might have been useful, other legislation was used. For example, the 1799 act would have been applicable in the case of the Tolpuddle Martyrs, who used oaths and rituals of initiation, and who sought organise their `General Society of Labourers' as lodges under the jurisdiction of a grand lodge.[lvii] However, the Tolpuddle Martyrs were prosecuted under the 1797 Unlawful Oaths Act, not the 1799 legislation. Likewise, when prosecutions were brought against radical printers such as Richard Carlile (who wrote his well-known Manual of Freemasonry while imprisoned at Dorchester), charges of seditious libel or blasphemy were usually preferred.[lviii] Later, the 1799 and 1817 acts were easily circumvented by chartist organisations, which distributed advice on how to avoid prosecution under this legislation.[lix]

The main legacy of the 1799 act was the various returns made to the clerk of the peace. The returns of printers, continued until 1865 when the restrictions on publications and reading rooms were lifted, are a vital source of information on the history of provincial publishing.[lx] The returns of freemasons, continued up to 1967 and still preserved in county record offices, have been little used as a source of masonic history.[lxi] The returns are probably fuller for the earlier nineteenth century than later; in 1920 the London clerk of the peace estimated that only half the lodges made returns.[lxii] However, the 1799 act seems to have been appreciated by the Grand Lodges, which perhaps felt that it gave them some standing in law and also provided a potential means of proceeding against lodges acting irregularly.[lxiii] In 1920, Grand Lodge circularised lodge secretaries reminding them to make their returns, prompting the secretary of a lodge in Clapton to write to Lloyd George urging him to repeal the old act.[lxiv] A more serious problem arose in 1939, when the deputy clerk of the peace in Essex wrote to lodges pointing out that only those founded before 12 July 1799 were entitled to exemption under the act. Counsel's opinion confirmed this view. The United Grand Lodge of England sought to promote a private bill creating a general exemption for freemasons from the act. The government was, however, apprehensive about changing this legislation by private bill. A Home Office official observed that the old act could still be useful against the I.R.A. and Fascist organisations. In any case, in wartime there was no parliamentary time for legislation of this kind. A compromise was agreed whereby the Attorney General agreed not to prosecute any freemasons' lodges under the  terms of the act, and clerks of the peace were asked to accept returns without comment.[lxv] Consequently, it was not only until the major criminal law reform of the 1967 Criminal Justice Act that the 1799 Unlawful Societies Act was finally repealed.[lxvi]

 


[i] Memoirs of the Lady Hester Stanhope as related by herself in conversations with her physician (London: Henry Colburn, 1845), 2, p. 22;  cited by John Ehrman, The Younger Pitt: The Consuming Struggle (London: Constable, 1996), p. 311. Ehrman notes that Hester Stanhope `is a notoriously unreliable witness'.

[ii] Public Record Office, HO 42/47, f. 18.

[iii] The literature on the political and social conflicts of this period is enormous. The following draws chiefly on: Marianne Elliott, Partners in Revolution: The United Irishmen and France (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1982); Albert Goodwin, The Friends of Liberty: The English Democratic Movement in the Age of the French Revolution (Cambridge, Ma.: Harvard University Press, 1979);  Gwyn A. Williams, Artisans and Sans-Culottes: Popular Movements in France and Britain during the French Revolution, 2nd ed. (London: Libris, 1989); J. Ann Hone, For the Cause of Truth: Radicalism in London 1796-1821 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1982); E. P. Thompson, The Making of the English Working Class , 3rd ed. (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1980); Clive Emsley, British Society and the French Wars 1793-1815 (London: Macmillan, 1979);  Jennifer Mori, Britain in the Age of the French Revolution (London: Longman, 2000);  Clive Emsley, Britain and the French Revolution  (London: Longman, 2000); Clive Emsley, `An aspect of Pitt's "Terror": prosecutions for sedition during the 1790s', Social History 6 (1981), pp. 155-184; Clive Emsley, `Repression, "terror" and the rule of law in England during the decade of the French Revolution', English Historical Review 100 (1985), pp. 801-825; Roger Wells, Insurrection: The British Experience 1795-1803 (Gloucester: Alan Sutton, 1983);  Iain McCalman, Radical Underworld: Prophets, Revolutionaries and Pornographers in London 1795-1840 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1988); Iain McCalman, `Ultra Radicalism and convivial debating clubs in London, 1775-1838', English Historical Review 102 (1987), pp. 309-333; Edward Royle, Revolutionary Britannia? Reflections on the Threat of Revolution in Britain, 1789-1848 (Manchester, Manchester University Press, 2000), pp. 1-66;  Ehrman, op. cit., pp. 158-194, 277-316.

[iv] 39 Geo.III, c. 79. The provisions of the act are summarised in R. F. Gould, The History of Freemasonry (London: Thomas C. Jack, 1885), 4, pp. 486-7.

[v] In the 1985 Book Club Associates edition of Stephen Knight, The Brotherhood: The Secret World of the Freemasons (London: Guild Publishing, 1985), there is a statement on the first page that `Under the Unlawful Societies Act of 1799 - unlikely, of course, ever to be enforced - Freemasons are permitted to hold meetings only if yearly returns providing names, addresses and descriptions of brethren are submitted to local Clerks of the Peace. This is rarely done, so most gatherings in masonic lodges are held in breach of this law'. This Act had been long repealed by the time Knight was writing, so this is completely wrong, which doubtless explains why this statement was withdrawn in the 1985 Panther Books reprint of this book, although a reference to the Unlawful Societies Act still appears in the index. Knight's reference to this act is a characteristic example of the way in which he invariably attempts to put freemasonry in the worse possible light. He attempts to suggest that the aim of the 1799 Act was to outlaw or regulate freemasonry, whereas, as will be seen, the aim of the 1799 Act was to outlaw such dangerous innovations as organisations with committees and elected officers, and freemasonry was specifically exempted frrom this because it was seen as presenting no threat.

[vi] Elliott, op.cit.; Nancy J. Curtin, The United Irishmen: Popular politics in Ulster and Dublin, 1791-1798  (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1994); David Dickson, DŠire Keogh and Kevin Whelan, The United Irishmen: Republicanism, Radicalism and Rebellion (Dublin: The Lilliput Press, 1993).

[vii] Parliamentary History 34 (1798-1800), pp. 124-5.

[viii] Parliamentary History 34 (1798-1800), pp. 208-9.

[ix] The reports of the secret committees were printed separately and widely circulated. The report of the House of Commons committee is most conveniently consulted in Commons' Journals 54 (1799), pp. 329-371, and Hansard's Parliamentary History, 34 (1799-1800), cols. 579-656. The secret committee of the House of Lords reported on 27 May and the report can be found in Lords' Journals 42 (1798-1800), pp. 222-4, Parliamentary History  34 (1799-1800), cols. 1000-1006, and The Parliamentary Register, 3rd series, 9 (1799), pp. 524-531. 

[x] Wells, op. cit., p. 168.

[xi] The Autobiography of Francis Place, ed. Mary Thale (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1972), pp. 138-152, 176-186.

[xii] Ibid., p. 178. 

[xiii] cf. Thompson, op. cit., pp. 63, 188-90; Wells, op. cit., p. 168.

[xiv] For reports of this debate, see The Parliamentary Register, 3rd series, 8 (1799), pp. 456-482, Parliamentary History  34 (1799-1800), cols. 983-998  and The Senator 23 (1799), pp. 1368-1401. Quotations are taken from The Parliamentary Register.

[xv] On the debating societies and their suppression by the 1799 act, see further Mary Thale, `The London Debating Societies in the 1790s', Historical Journal 32 (1989), pp. 57-86.

[xvi] Ehrman, op. cit., pp. 126-8.

[xvii] `A Bill for the more effectual suppression of societies established for seditious and treasonable purposes; and for the prevention of other treasonable and seditious practices'. The bill was presented by Sir Richard Glyn, the Lord Mayor of London. It is reproduced in facsimile in Sheila Lambert, House of Commons Sessional Papers of the Eighteenth Century (Wilmington, Delaware: Scholarly Resources Inc., 1975), 120 (Bills, 1798-9), no. 4934 (pp. 365-384).

[xviii] Commons' Journals 54 (1798-9), p. 473.

[xix] On the regulations concerned with printing and publishing, see further William B. Todd, `London Printers' Imprints 1800-1840', The Library 5th Series 21 (1966), pp. 46-50, and Warwickshire Printers Notices 1799-1866, ed. Paul Morgan, Dugdale Society 28 (1970), pp. xi-xxxv. 

[xx] The Parliamentary Register, 3rd series, 8 (1799), pp. 546-9; The Senator 23 (1799), pp. 1444-7.

[xxi] The Senator 23 (1799), pp. 1461-1462.

[xxii] Commons' Journals, 54 (1798-9), p. 530.

[xxiii] But cf. e.g. Gould, op. cit., 4, p. 488.

[xxiv] Library and Museum of Freemasonry, Hall Committee Minute Books, no. 4 (1788-1813). The minute of the meeting of 30 April is as follows: `In consequence of the Bill now in Parliament for the more effectual suppression of seditious societies, which contained clauses that might materially affect the existence of the Society, on account of its meetings being secret and the administering of oaths, the Committee was convened to consider what could be done to avert the danger with which the Society was threatened if the Bill passed into a Law, when after the most mature deliberation it was resolved that Mr [John] Dent be requested to ask the favor of the Right Honble William Pitt, to receive a Deputation of the Society, in order to explain the nature of it to him and its attachment to the Government of the Country, to express its readiness to submit to any Regulations the Legislature might judge necessary to prevent the name or meetings of the society being perverted to any seditious purposes & to solicit a modification of the present clauses. Mr Dent having left the committee, soon after sent a Letter, expressing that he had seen Mr Pitt, at the House of Commons, who would be happy to receive a deputation of the Society in Downing Street next Thursday morning at 11 o'clock.'  The Hall Committee appointed the following as representatives of the Moderns at the meeting: Lord Moira, Sir John Eames, Senior Grand Warden, Sir Ralph Millbanke, MP, Rowland Burdon, MP, John Dent, MP, James Heseltine, Grand Treasurer, Charles Marsh, George Downing, William White, Grand Secretary.

[xxv] This meeting is noted by John Hamill, The Craft (London: Crucible, 1986), pp. 49-50, but the involvement of other masonic representatives apart from Moira is not mentioned.

[xxvi] Library and Museum of Freemasonry, Minutes of the Hall Committee, No. 4 (1788-1813), minutes of the meeting on 23 July 1799 (partly printed in Ars Quatuor Coronatorum 93 (1980), p. 47. A short report of the outcome of the meeting and the insertion of the exemption is in the Library and Museum of Freemasonry, Antient Grand Lodge Minute Books, no. 4 (1796-1812), Grand Lodge meeting 5 June 1799, `Upon hearing the report of the R.H. Deputy Grand Master respecting the proceeedings relative to a Bill now pending in parliament for the suppression of private meetings of societies and now containing a clause granting a privilege to the Grand Lodge of Free Masons of England according to the Old Constitutions and to all subordinate lodges under them to be exempted from the penalties and operation of the said Act. It was resolved unanimously that the thanks of the Grand Lodge be given to the R.W. Grand Master the Duke of Atholl for his uniform and unremitting attention to the Honor and Interest of the Ancient Craft and particularly for his care and extertions in the instance of the bill now pending in parliament from the operation of which the Ancient Craft is by a clause in the said bill exempted'. This minute predates Atholl's vigorous defence of freemasonry in the House of Lords.    

[xxvii] Printed from the Historical Correspondence files at the Library and Museum of Freemasonry by T. O. Haunch, in his comment on H. H. Solf, `The Origin and Sources of the Schroeder Ritual', Ars Quatuor Coronatorum 92 (1979), p. 100.

[xxviii] The letter in which Moira made this declaration is printed in full in David Murray Lyon, History of the Lodge of Edinburgh embracing an account of the Rise and Progress of Freemasonry in Scotland (Edinburgh and London: William Blackwood, 1873), p. 266

[xxix] The Senator 23 (1799), p. 1461.  

[xxx] Public Record Office, HO 42/46, f. 363; cited by Thompson, op. cit., p. 187. 

[xxxi] Jim Smyth, `Freemasonry and the United Irishmen' in Dickson, Keogh and Whelan, op. cit., pp. 167-175.

[xxxii] Public Record Office, HO 42/47, f. 51.

[xxxiii] Library and Museum of Freemasonry, Antient Minute Books, no. 4 (1796-1812): minute of meeting on 6 May 1799. This ban is also reported in Gould, op. cit., 4, p. 452 and J. R. Clarke, `External Influences on the Evolution of English Masonry', Ars Quatuor Coronatorum 82 (1969), p. 269.

[xxxiv] The Senator 23 (1799), p. 1461.

[xxxv] This is from the bill as sent to the House of Lords following its third reading by the Commons, which is reproduced in facsimile in F. William Torrington, House of Lords Sessional Papers Session 1798-9 (New York: Oceana Publications, 1974), 1, pp. 199-218. The exemptions initially proposed by Pitt initially covered only the two English Grand Lodges, and the exemption for the Scottish Grand Lodge was only added when the committee stage of the bill was reported to the commons on 8 May: The Senator 23 (1799), p. 1465 (the reports in The Senator at this point appear more circumstantial and reliable than those in The Parliamentary Register, 3rd series 8 (1799), p. 556, which suggests that the committee had inserted exemptions only for the Antients, and that the exemptions for both the Moderns and Scottish Grand Lodge were added only when the committee stage of the bill was reported). Gould, op. cit., 4, p. 487, citing Lyon, op. cit., p. 267, notes that the bill was `much modified in its passage through Committee', but does not attempt to trace details. Lyon's account confuses matters by considering the insertion of the reference to Scottish Grand Lodge only in the context of the dispute between the Scottish Grand Lodge and Mother Kilwinning. He refers (pp. 266-7) to a remonstrance sent by the Lodge of Kilwinning to William Fullarton, the MP for Ayrshire, which protested about the fact that the bill referred only to the Grand Lodge in Edinburgh, while `another, more ancient and equally respectable, and remarkable for its attachment to the laws and constitution of the country (the Lodge of Kilwinning) was taken no notice of'. Mother Kilwinning assumed that this omission sprang from ignorance on Pitt's part, and requested Fullarton `to make the necessary application, and through the proper channel, to have that lodge, and those holding charters from her, likewise exempted from the operations of this Bill'. Lyon suggests that the removal of the specific references to the Grand Lodges from the Act was due to this intervention on the part of Mother Kilwinning, but in fact, as is shown below, the removal of the references to the Grand Lodges in the House of Lords was due to doubts about the propriety of the proposed system of self-regulation. It seems likely that Fullarton took no notice of the remonstrance from Mother Kilwinning. There is no record of his speaking in any of the debates. Alternatively, he may have raised the matter privately with the government, and they may have refused to extend the exemptions.

[xxxvi] Lords' Journals 42 (1798-9), pp. 200, 243; The Parliamentary Register 3rd series 8 (1799), pp. 637-642; The Senator 23 (1799), pp. 1582-1589.

[xxxvii] Lords' Journals 42 (1798-9), pp. 246-9. The bill as amended by committee in the Lords is reproduced in facsimile in Torrington, op. cit.,  pp. 243-262.  

[xxxviii] The Senator 23 (1799), p. 1592.

[xxxix] Ibid., pp. 1592-3.

[xl] The fullest report of this debate is in The Senator 23 (1799), pp. 1728-1732, and all quotations are taken from this account unless otherwise stated. Another report is The Parliamentary Register, 3rd series, 9 (1799), pp. 26-8.

[xli] The Complete Peerage, 10, p. 718 note d, cites a description of Lord Radnor by Beckford: `...queer looking punctilious...that Grand Borer after forms and precedents in the House of Lords and Dictator at Quarter Sessions and Turnpike meetings, by way of relaxation in the Country...cross grained, close fisted and a notorious driver after hard bargains...'

[xlii] The Parliamentary Register, 3rd series 9 (1799), p. 26

[xliii] The Times report of the debate is partially printed by W. Sharman in his comment on M. Brodsky, `Some Reflections on the Origins of the Royal Arch', Ars Quatuor Coronatorum  102 (1989), pp. 128-9. He also mentions the comments of the Duke of Norfolk during the committee stage in the House of Lords.

[xliv] The Parliamentary Register, 3rd series 9 (1799), p. 27, which suggests that Grenville introduced the amended clauses in order to rescue the situation after Radnor's amendment had been passed. The more precise account in The Senator, however, suggests that Grenville's compromise had been put forward before a vote was taken, and that Radnor's amendment was carried in order to allow Grenville's new clauses to be added to the bill as riders.

[xlv] Lords' Journals 42 (1798-1800), p. 277. The Duke of Atholl's role in successfully defending freemasonry as a whole in this debate has been largely forgotten, and most of the credit has been given instead to Lord Moira. On 5 September 1799, the Antient Grand Lodge recognised Atholl's contribution by passing the following resolution: `that the thanks of the R.W. Grand Lodge be given to the Most Noble Prince the Duke of Atholl et co. et co. R. W. Grand Master for his very sincere uniform and unremitting attention to the honor and interest of the ancient craft and particularly for his care and attendance during the progress of the bill lately pending in parliament by whose extertions alone the Ancient Free Masons of this kingdom are indebted for the privilege and benefit of holding their meetings in conformity to the rules and orders of the said fraternity and that the same be fairly transcribed and transmitted to his Grace in the most respectful manner': Library and Museum of Freemasonry, Antient Grand Lodge Minutes, no. 4 (1796-1812) (partly printed in J. R. Clarke, op. cit., p. 269). This minute is followed by a further vote of thanks to the Deputy Grand Master of the Antients: `Resolved unanimously that the thanks of the RW Grand Lodge be given to Wm Dickey Esqre RW Deputy Grand Master and the rest of the Grand Officers now present for their uniform and steady attention to the honor and interest of the ancient craft particularly during the progress of the bill lately depending in parliament and the exigence of the present times.' The failure sufficiently to acknowledge Atholl's role in saving freemasonry in Britain from extinction seems to have rankled with the Antients. In 1802, following the collapse of negotiations for a union, various pamphlets attacking the Antients were distributed in London, including a reprint of resolutions passed against the Ancients by the Modern Grand Lodge in 1777. Robert Leslie, the Grand Secretary of the Ancients, wrote a furious letter to the Master of an Antient lodge in Peterborough about the reappearance of these resolutions: `I was wholly ignorant that the records in Queen Street contained any such personalities and reflections against His Grace the Duke of Atholl or so much rancour against our Grand Lodge. His Graces Conduct in Parliament when he recently and nobly defended the Principles of Ancient as well as Modern Masonry Merited no such New insult as the Republication and delivery of the above Letters: and if such Rancour remained upon the Records of the Grand Lodge in Queen St it ought then if not long before been blotted out or buried in oblivion.': R. Leslie to Worshipful Master and Wardens of Antients Lodge No. 160, 16 September 1802: Library and Museum of Freemasonry, Returns (SN 1600). 

[xlvi] Ibid.: `DISSENTIENTE. Because I cannot think it becomes the wisdom of any legislature, at any time, to recognise a society whose numbers, members, motives, tenets and pursuits are unknown to it, and studiously concealed, especially when concealed through the medium of oaths administered by assumed and therefore (in my opinion) unlawful authority; and much less that it becomes the prudence of this House to do so, at a time when it is notorious that the supposed obligation of such oaths has been the actual mean of the mischiefs which the societies suppressed by this bill have effected, and been endeavouring, as asserted by this bill, to effect in Ireland; and when it is still more notorious, that societies (the same in their origin, profession and their name) have been the instrument, by means of such oaths, and such secrecy, of shaking to their foundation, in a considerable part of Europe, every establishment, civil and ecclesiastical. The present innocency of this society, as existing in Great Britain, asserted in debate, but not proved (and for my part believed, but not known) ought not, in my opinion, even though it had been proved or known to have been the pretext for disfiguring so salutory a bill by an exception, and this a permanent exception, in its favour; since it is evident that the essential secrecy of the Society of Free Masons has a natural tendency to facilitate treasonable and seditious practices; and since it is historically true that it has already been the instrument of giving such practices effect to an unexampled extent. RADNOR'. 

[xlvii] Commons' Journals 54 (1798-9), pp. 712-6, 720, 723, 728; Lords' Journals 42 (1798-1800), pp. 317-8, 322, 324; The Parliamentary Register, 3rd series 9 (1799), p. 82; The Senator 23 (1799), p. 1793. It is striking that the Lords finally passed the bill against unlawful societies on the same day that they passed the Combination Acts - both pieces of legislation were apparently prompted by the government's concern to suppress large organisations administering oaths and run by elected officials, which were regarded as a frightening new political development.

[xlviii] On 30 July 1799, the Modern Grand Lodge issued a communication from the Grand Master to all Masters of lodges, reprinting the terms of the act and providing a pro-forma for making the return. Similar forms were issued by Ancient Grand Lodge. The circular issued by the Grand Lodge of Scotland is reproduced in Alexander Lawrie, The History of Freemasonry  (Edinburgh: Alex Lawrie, 1804), pp. 270-7. In 1801, J. Modern wrote to William White, the Grand Secretary of the Moderns, asking if Anchor and Hope lodge, Bolton, might meet, as the Clerk of the Peace had refused to accept the annual return of members on the grounds that it was two or three days late: Library and Museum of Freemasonry, Historical Correspondence, 4/A/11.

[xlix] On 24 August 1799, Benjamin Cooper, the Grand Recorder, circularised Royal Arch chapters as follows: `Excellent Companion, The following sheet having been sent to every lodge of freemasons in England, I send you a copy thereof, and on the other page you will find a form for registering your chapter, which you must cause to be filled up and delivered within the time limited, or you can no longer be allowed to meet.': Public Record Office, CHES 38/30.

[l] A point noted by Lawrie, op. cit., p. 145, who noted that `the progress of Free Masonry in Britain was retarded by an act of parliament in 1799, in which the fraternity was virtually prohibited from erecting new lodges in the kingdom'. Lawrie goes on to point out, however, that `the exemptions which [the legislation] contained in favour of Free Masons, are a complete proof that government never credited the reports of these alarmists; but placed the most implicit confidence in the loyalty and prudence of British masons' (loc.  cit.)

[li] This is discussed fully in J. M. Hamill, `English Grand Lodge Warrants part 1', Ars Quatuor Coronatorum 90 (1977), pp. 104-6.  See also Gould, op. cit., 4, pp. 452, 487. The restriction lead to a flood of enquiries between 1800 and 1803 to the Grand Lodges about the procedure for setting up new lodges and obtaining warrants from dormant lodges: se e.g. Library and Museum of Freemasonry, Historical Correspondence, 1/F/13, 4/A/19, 5/B/4, 5/H/4, 5/H/10, 6/C/12, 6/C/16-17, 7/6/67. The inconvenience caused by this was considerable, and in 1803, Henry Jennet, the Provincial Grand Master of the Moderns for Bristol, wrote to the Grand Secretary, William White, urging him to `get the restrictions taken from their Society and be again allowed to grant constitution  warrants': Library and Museum of Freemasonry, Historical Correspondence, 3/A/8.

[lii] 57 Geo. III c. 19 (clause 26 contains the exemption for freemasons, which was also extended to the Quakers and other religious meetings). The legislation is briefly noted in Gould, op. cit., 4, p. 487.

[liii] Public Record Office, HO 45/18359.

[liv] However, it should be noted that other organisations which had a ritual component were not as fortunate as the freemasons. The Home Office files include a number of documents describing the constitution of the United Order of Odd Fellows, suggesting that special attention was paid to them in April 1799: Public Record Office HO 42/47, ff. 180-192. These include a copy of `The General Laws of the Noble Order of Odd Fellows', in which every reference to the use of secret words and signs or any kind of ritual has been struck through, suggesting that the Home Office put pressure on the Odd Fellows to discontinue such practices.

[lv] Elliott, op.cit., pp. 244-251.

[lvi] Wells, op. cit., p. 52; Iain McCalman, `Ultra Radicalism and convivial debating clubs in London, 1775-1838', English Historical Review 102 (1987), pp. 309-333.

[lvii] Rex v. Lovelass and others: 6 Car. & P. 596-601; S.C.1 Moody & Rob. 349. One of the witnesses in the case described the ritual as follows: `He asked if we were all ready. Some one answered, that we were; and he said, then, blind your eyes. We then all tied our hankerchiefs round our eyes, and being thus blindfolded, we were led into another room, where something was read to us by some person whom I did not know. I think, from the reading of it, it was out of the Bible; I don't recollect any part of it. We then knelt down, when a book was put in our hands, and an oath administered to us. I don't recollect what the oath was about. We then rose up and were unblinded, when the picture of death, or a skeleton, was shewn to us, upon which the prisoner James Lovelass said `Remember your end!' We were then blinded again, and again knelt down, when something was read out of a paper, but what it was I don't remember. I kissed a book when I was unblinded first. I saw George Lovelass dressed in white; he had on him something like a parson's surplice'. The trade union was to be organised on masonic lines: `there should be a lodge in every parish, a committee, a grand lodge, and contributions to support those who quit their work when desired by grand lodge'.

[lviii] See e.g. Joel H. Wiener, Radicalism and Free thought in Nineteenth-Century Britain: the Life of Richard Carlile  (Westport and London: Greenwood Press, 1983),  pp. 43-50,  175-6

[lix] See e.g. Public Record Office, HO 45/289.

[lx] Morgan, op. cit., and  `English Provincial Imprints, 1799-1869', The Library, 5th series 21 (1966), pp. 60-2. The regulations on printers had been largely forgotten by the 1830s and were an occasional source of irritation to publishers and authors threatened with prosecution under legislation they had never heard of: see e.g. Public Record Office...The regulations on printers were largely repealed in 1869 by 32 & 33 Vict c 24, although the requirements still in force today for the printers name and address to appear on the title page, and for printers to keep an archive of their publications, are rooted in the 1799 legislation.  Paul Morgan points out (`English Provincial Imprints', p. 60) that the central register kept by the Home Office was destroyed in 1897 `on the grounds that the actual notices were filed with the Clerks of the Peace who granted the certificates'. However, in some cases the Clerks of the Peace did not retain the returns, so that this vital information for the history of provincial printing has disappeared. The Printers' Registrations for Warwickshire have been edited by Paul Morgan, Warwickshire Printers' Notices, ed. cit. The Printers Registration for Northumberland, Cumberland and the West Riding of Yorkshire have been tabulated by the History of the Book Trade in the North group: PH6 (March 1966), PH13 (1967) and PH 66 (1994).

[lxi] Honourable exceptions include W. Sharman, `Early Jewish Masons in the Province of Northumberland', Ars Quatuor Coronatorum 100 (1987), p. 231. Family historians have, characteristically, shown much greater interest in the returns: see e.g. Pat Lewis, My Ancestor Was a Freemason (London: Society of Genealogists, 1999). Many lists of quarter session records, including brief lists of surviving returns, are now being made available online by county record offices as part of the Access to Archives project: www.a2a.gov.uk. However, most of the listings are of files of returns. It is possible that the original returns may not have been systematically kept, and that the enrolled returns are more comprehensive. The interest of these returns is nevertheless apparent from an inspection of the Access to Archives list of 1799 returns in the WR/SF series of the London Metropolitan Archives, Westminster Quarter Sessions records. These include the returns of the Ancients Grand Lodge (WR/SF/1799/15), the Modern grand Lodge (WR/SF/1799/16) and the Modern Grand Chapter (WR/SF/1799/16). While there are some returns from bodies thart cannot be readily identified in Lane, such as WR/SF/1799/10, from `Lodge no. 5 meeting at the King's Arms Tavern, Palace Yard, Westminster', other Westminster lodges apparently made no return, such as the Lodge of Stability, no. 217, and St Andrew's Lodge, no. 231.

[lxii] Public Record Office, HO 45/18359. According to H. Mendoza, `The Articles of Union and the Orders of Chivalry', Ars Quatuor Coronatorum 93 (1980), pp. 63-4, for some time before the repeal of the act, Royal Arch Chapters had stopped making returns, considering presumably that the craft lodge certificate covered them.

[lxiii] This is particularly evident in Scotland where the 1799 act provided the Grand Lodge with means to take legal action against seceding lodges: Lyon, op. cit., pp. 264-80. These prosecutions were unsuccessful. In England, the curious pride taken in the passing of the exemptions is evident in, for example, the insertion on lodge certificates of slogans such as `Masonry Universal Sanctioned by Parliament 1799': Ars Quatuor Coronatorum, 93 (1980), p. 47. J. Hamill comments on Sir James Stubbs's Prestonian lecture `The Government of the Craft' that the Grand Lodges `only managed to succeed in extracting regular annual returns from home lodges by the assistance of the 1799 Unlawful Societies Act which enabled them threaten lodges with the withdrawal of their warrants if they did not comply with the regulations concerning annual returns and registrations'. Stubbs in reply commented `I wish I had thought of using the 1799 Act before Lord Scarman's committee got rid of it as a threat to dilatory Lodge Secretaries though in fact the gentle threat of being reported to the Board of General Purposes was generally sufficient': Ars Quatuor Coronatorum, 95 (1982), p. 77. 

[lxiv] Public Record Office, HO 45/18359: letter from Frank Orfleur, secretary of the Clapton lodge, no. 1365, to David Lloyd George, 29 April 1920.

[lxv] Public Record Office, HO 45/18359; FS 23/259; LCO 2/1223. Another copy of the `Freemasons Lodges Bill' of 1939 is in the Library and Museum of Freemasonry, Great Queen Street.

[lxvi] As late as 1965, a detailed explanation of why lodge secretaries had to make annual returns to the Clerk of the Peace appeared in Ars Quatuor Coronatorum 78 (1965), pp. 276-7.