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Chapters of Masonic History

The Builder Magazine, May 1924 - Volume X - Number 5


Chapters of Masonic History | Index:

PART V - THE OLD CHARGES OF FREEMASONRY and What They Mean to Us oldcharg.html

IN Part X of the present series of brief studies I gave a sketch of the organization of "the Mother Grand Lodge of the world," formed in London, 1717; and in this department last month gave a similar account of the founding of the Ancient Grand Lodge. This account could not be complete without some word concerning the formation of other Grand Lodges, especially since two of them functioned in England itself. I shall begin with the Grand Lodge at York, known as 


Many of the earliest legends and traditions of the Craft cluster about the time-hallowed city of York so that to this day it is a revered name amongst us, and familiar also, especially in the United States where we hear mention every day of the (mis-named) York Rite. According to an old legend, Edwin called a General Assembly of Masons at York in 926, but this is generally doubted, and that because there are no records to prove it. But we do know that for at least two centuries Operative Masonry was better organized in York than in most countries, and we have still in existence the old Fabric Rolls in which was kept a record of the building of York Minster, to show us what manner of men the old Masons were and how they conducted their affairs; these "Rolls", or records, cover the years 1350 - 1639.

It is probable that a lodge organized by those Operative Masons continued on long after their work was finished. According to Hughan the records show that at least as early as 1643 a lodge was in existence there. This lodge, like so many others, succumbed in the course of time to pressure, and began to admit "gentlemen Masons", i.e., men who had no intention of practicing Operative Masonry, and this "Speculative" element came in time to dominate, so that shortly after the beginning of the eighteenth century it assumed entire control. According to an inventory made in 1779 the lodge possessed at that time a MS. book containing records beginning with March 7, 1705 - 6, but this precious volume was somehow lost, and seems now beyond recovery. The existing lodge minutes go back to 1712, which was five years prior to the founding of the first Grand Lodge. At that time it would seem that there was in York one "Mother Lodge", described in latter years, but inaccurately, as having been a Grand Lodge, and that this lodge chartered others; but even so it evidently possessed little strength because the "Mother Lodge" held no meetings at all, at least so far as the records show, during the years 1717 - 1721. An awakening came after a Grand Lodge (properly so called) had been established in London, and after a Book of Constitutions had been published. York Masonic assemblies had been presided over by a President, but in 1725 the style was changed to "Grand Master", and Charles Bathurst was elected to that office; what had been a "private" lodge transformed itself into a "Grand Lodge", and adopted the name "Grand Lodge of All England."

If there was no open friction between this Grand Body and the Grand Lodge already formed there was apparently little or no active cooperation, and in the Grand Lodge of All England itself there was not much strength; after it chartered a few lodges (none of them outside of England) it ceased gradually to function somewhere between the years 1740-1750. Then, after having remained dormant, it was awakened in 1761 to new activity, after such manner as the following minute explains:

"The Ancient and Independent Constitution of Free and Accepted Masons, belonging to the City of York, was, this Seventeenth day of March, in the year of our Lord 1761, Revived by Six of the Surviving Members of the Fraternity by the Grand Lodge being opened, and held at the House of Mr. Henry Howard, in Lendall, in the said City, by them and others hereinafter named."

This revival of the defunct Grand Lodge made possible one interesting episode in the history of Grand Lodges, as will later appear, but it proved in the long run abortive, and in the course of time the Grand Lodge of All England passed gradually out of existence through a process of absorption, perhaps, by the ever growing Grand Lodges that had been established in 1717 and in 1751.

The members of the Ancient Grand Lodge, organized on the latter date, of which an account was given last month, desired above all things to claim for themselves as great an antiquity as possible; it was for this reason, no doubt, that they fell into the habit of describing themselves as "Ancient York Masons"; this was only a dodge, without legitimate right or excuse, and it has caused a certain amount of confusion since. I have only now, on the day I write, been reading the Proceedings of one Grand Lodge in the United States in which this Grand Lodge claims descent from York because it was chartered by the "Ancients" and these "Ancients", so it is alleged in the volume, were York Masons; they had called themselves so. As a matter of fact the York Grand Lodge chartered no lodges in America, and the use of the name "York" is in all such cases illegitimate, though it may be accepted by way of paying tribute to an ancient Masonic center, and to one of the best loved cities in the world. On this matter I shall conclude with a quotation from W.J. Hughan, taken from Clegg's Mackey's Revised History of Freemasonry, page 1130:

"All the 'York' Lodges succumbed on the decease of their 'Mother Grand Lodge,' and there has not been a representative of the Antient York Grand Lodge anywhere whatever, throughout this (19th) century. It never at any time chartered Lodges to meet out of England, and was always opposed to the 'Athol Masons' [or 'Ancients'] of London, though the latter sometimes did, unfairly, style themselves 'Antient York Masons,' a title affected since by several Masonic bodies, with as little authority."


William Preston, a Scotch printer who came to London in 1760, was made a member in 1774 of the Lodge of Antiquity, a "time immemorial body" that held rank (and does still) under the Constitutions of the Grand Lodge of 1717 as the oldest lodge on the list. Because of his zeal, learning and ability, and because of his inauguration of the Preston lectures, as well as his writing the famous Illustrations of Masonry (first published in 1772) Preston ranks with Desaguliers, Anderson, Dermott and one or two others as among the most brilliant names in the history of English Freemasonry. (See note.)

Prior to Preston's admittance to the Lodge of Antiquity that famous old lodge had been on the down grade but through his energy, and because he brought a new infusion of blood into it by means of the initiation of a number of young men, his own leadership soon brought it to a high degree of efficiency once again.

This work attracted the attention of Grand Lodge so that he was made assistant Grand Secretary, James Heseltine being Grand Secretary. Heseltine believed that a new edition of the Constitutions of Grand Lodge should be published so he engaged Preston to take up the task. After he had done so, and the book was about ready for publication, Heseltine suddenly insisted that Noorthouck, Treasurer of the Lodge of Antiquity, should be given an equal share in the enterprise. Preston resented this and as a result fell into a quarrel with both brethren, especially with Heseltine, who was not noted for an irenic disposition.

While these feelings were still hot Preston was inadvertently and innocently led into a violation of Grand Lodge rules, a thing that happened after this wise. On Dec. 27, 1777, Preston led his lodge to divine service at St. Dunstan's Church, Fleet street; the service ended he and his brethren, attired in their aprons and gloves, walked a few yards across to the Mitre Tavern. Now it happens that in 1747 Grand Lodge has passed a resolution prohibiting all public processions except with the express consent of the Grand Master, therefore the Lodge of Antiquity had become guilty of a technical violation of the rules.

Heseltine immediately pounced upon this as a means of getting a thrust at Preston. In making a reply Preston stepped into a trap by taking the position that since Antiquity Lodge possessed a "time immemorial" charter and had not been brought into existence by Grand Lodge, it had a right to regulate its own domestic affairs. This furnished Heseltine and his friends with a new weapon that they were not slow to use; Preston was expelled by Grand Lodge.

Upon this the Lodge of Antiquity split in two. That portion headed by Preston and his friends immediately applied for a deputation from the Grand Lodge of All England (at York: see above) and thereupon set themselves up as a new Grand Lodge, using the style, Grand Lodge of All England South of the River Trent; it was constituted Nov. 15, 1779.

The history of this baby Grand Body is as short as the simple annals of the poor. Preston says that it warranted several lodges but thus far only two such warrantings have been verified. The move was evidently out of joint with the times. After a few years, during which Preston largely lost interest in Masonry, he succeeded in getting a memorial considered by Grand Lodge and, after he had made his repentance, was in May 1789 restored to full standing in Grand Lodge. Upon this the Grand Lodge of All England South of the River Trent passed out of existence. It left no mark behind it on the developments of the Craft and was never at any time anything more than a private schism.


Next in seniority to the Grand Lodge of 1717, and sharing with it and with Scotland the lion's share of establishing world-wide Freemasonry, is the Grand Lodge of Ireland. There was a time when little was known about Irish Freemasonry, especially of the eighteenth century, but such ceased to be the case upon the publication of Dr. W.J. Chetwode Crawley's Caementaria Hibernica ("The Freemasonry of Ireland"), a magnificent work which ranks with Gould's larger history as to its scholarship but far surpasses that massive production in the grace and appeal of literary art - a thing in which Dr. Crawley easily stands supreme among the greater historians of the Craft.

Dr. Crawley, to whom the present paragraphs are almost entirely-indebted, shows that Freemasonry was well known in Ireland at least as early as 1688, and that at a very early date (comparatively speaking) the type of ritual later adopted by the Grand Lodge of 1717 was practiced by Irish Masons. One of the proofs of this is found in the records of the initiation of Miss St. Leger, the most famous of all "lady Freemasons." Her case shows, first, that a Speculative Lodge was working at Doneraile in 1710; second, that two degrees were then practiced; and third, that the initiatory ceremonies were strikingly similar to those employed after the "Revival" in 1717.

Early in that century two Grand Lodges flourished side by side in Ireland, one of them, with its headquarters at Cork, being the Grand Lodge of Munster; little is known about the beginnings of either one of them, but a record shows that the Monster body was in action at least as early as 1726, and that it had at that time at least one subordinate body, of which minutes are extant of date Feb. 2, 1726. One very interesting feature of these minutes is that they mention the appointment of deacons, the first such mention in the history of the Craft. Scotland had employed deacons in the century preceding but of a different kind. On this subject Dr. Crawley wrote a paragraph important to be read:

"We must carefully distinguish between the Deacon of the early Scottish Minute Books and the Deacon of the Irish Ritual. The former occupied almost, if not altogether, the highest post among his Brethren, having precedence over the Warden, and presiding over the meeting when occasion required. The latter held the lowest official position in the lodge, and was mainly concerned with ritual. The former correspond to the Dean (i.e., Deacon) of Faculty, the latter to the lowest order of the ministry, the Deacon of ecclesiastical parlance. The similarity does not go beyond the name."

In 1733 the Grand Lodge of Munster ceased to exist by absorption or fusion, probably, with the Grand Lodge of Ireland, having headquarters at Dublin. So little is known about the founding of this Grand Body that we must rest content with knowing that by 1725 it was in full swing because in that year it had as Grand Master, Richard, 1st Earl of Rosse. It appears that the Munster lodges came under its authority in 1731 or thereabouts and as a result of the influence of the Grand Lodge of Ireland's third Grand Master, James, 4th Baron Kingston.

In 1805 one Alexander Seton led a revolt, growing out of a quarrel that had to do with the Higher Degrees, and with some friends and abbettors set up a schismatic Grand Lodge of Ulster. This distracted the activities of Ireland for nine years only.

The close relations between English and Irish Freemasonry at that early date is shown by the first Book of Constitutions published in Ireland; this was compiled by John Pennel, Grand Secretary at Dublin, and was an almost exact counterpart of the Anderson Constitutions of 1723. In 1751 a Book of Constitutions, properly revised for Irish uses, was prepared by Edward Spratt, Grand Secretary; this version, as noted in the preceding chapter of the present series, served as a model for Laurence Dermott's Ahiman Rezon.

In addition to being the first section of the general Craft to employ deacons the Grand Lodge of Ireland is also notable in that it was the first to grant a lodge warrant, as we now understand the term, when such an instrument was granted to the First Lodge of Ireland in 1731; and also in that it was the first to grant ambulatory warrants, i.e., warrants for military and naval lodges, a fact that afterwards played an incalculable part in the developments of Freemasonry at large.


The history of Freemasonry in Scotland is a subject of peculiar value to the Masonic student because it makes more clear than that of any other country just how Operative Masonry gradually evolved into what we have come to call Speculative Freemasonry, because in Scotland, more than in Ireland or England, the records are less broken. By dint of piecing one scrap of information with another one can gain a pretty complete picture of the whole process.

What York is in the traditions of the English Craft Kilwinning is to Scotland. According to one old book "a number of Freemasons came from the Continent to build a monastery at Kilwinning and with them an architect or Master Mason to superintend and carry on the work. This architect resided at Kilwinning, and being a gude and true Mason, intimately acquainted with all the arts and parts of Masonry, known on the continent, was chosen Master of the meetings of the brethren all over Scotland. He gave rules for the conduct of the brethren at these meetings, and decided finally in appeals from all the other meetings or lodges in Scotland." (Quoted from Clegg's Mackey's Revised History of Freemasonry, page 663.) Kilwinning Abbey was in the County of Ayr, on the southwest coast of Scotland, about twenty-five miles from Glasgow, and was founded in 1140 by Hugh de Morville.

This is the basis of the "Kilwinning tradition" and as such was accepted by the author of Laurie's History of Freemasonry; but D. Murray Lyon, the chief authority of Scottish Masonic history (see his History of the Lodge of Edinburgh), attacked it, and with so much success that it has been pretty well abandoned, at least by general historians.

The oldest admittedly authentic Constitutions used by the Scotch draft are "The Statutes and Ordinances to be observed by all the Master Masons within the realm; set down by William Schaw, Master of Work to his Majesty and General Warden of the said Craft with the consent of the Masters hereafter specified:'

These Ordinances are found in the minutes of the Lodge of Edinburgh, also called St. Mary's Chapel, which fill six volumes, extend from Dec. 28, 1598, to Nov. 29, 1869, and contain other material of incalculable value. Along with the Schaw Statutes must be placed, as of almost equal importance, the St. Clair Charters. The former of these two precious documents was evidently written in 1600 or 1601, and was signed by William Schaw. This document sets it forth that whereas the Lords of Roslin had from "age to age" been considered the official patrons and governors of the Craft in Scotland, and whereas they had become negligent the Craft had, by universal consent of all Masons, agreed that henceforth William Sinclair should become "their patron and judge under the King." The second St. Clair charter is largely confirmatory of the first, and was written, so it is believed, about 1628.

A fourth important document in Scottish history is the "Edinburgh Kilwinning MS." This was used by the Kilwinning Lodge in the seventeenth century and also by lodges founded by Kilwinning, which was a "Mother Lodge," chartering subordinate bodies in something like the fashion later employed by Grand Lodges. The important point about this Manuscript is that it is a close copy of an English Manuscript Constitution, thereby implying that even at that early date the influence of English Freemasonry was being felt in the northern Kingdom.

In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries many non-Operatives, often lords of high position, were admitted members in Scotch lodges; these non-Operatives exercised a deep influence on the Craft, as had been the case in England; and also, as in England, this non-Operative element came in time to dominate, so that by the beginning of the eighteenth century a definite movement set in toward a complete transformation of the institution. This tendency was doubtless greatly stimulated in 1721 when Dr. John Theophilus Desaguliers, who had played so important a part in the founding of the first Grand Lodge at London in 1717, visited the lodge at Edinburgh. Two meetings were held during his visit at which non-Operatives of high station were entered and passed. The minutes of these meetings, according to Lyon,
"render it probable that taking advantage of his social position, he had influenced the attendance of the Provost and Magistrates of Edinburgh and the other city magnates who accompanied them as applicants for Masonic fellowship in order to give a practical illustration of the system with which his name was so closely associated with a view to its commending itself for adoption by the Grand Lodges of Scotland."

On Sept. 29, 1735, Canongate Kilwinning Lodge appointed a committee for "framing a proposal to be laid before the several lodges in order to the choosing of a Grand Master for Scotland." To further this project in August of the following year John Douglas of the Lodge of Kirkcaldy was made a member of Canongate Kilwinning and then appointed Secretary in order to make out "a scheme for bringing about a Grand Master for Scotland." Meanwhile it had been arranged that the four lodges of Edinburgh should hold counsel looking toward the same end, and as a result four lodges, Mary's Chapel, Canongate Kilwinning, Kilwinning Scots Arms, and Leith Kilwinning, assembled at Edinburgh, Oct. 15, 1736. Other meetings were held, and the project was brought before all the lodges in Scotland. Out of about one hundred lodges thirty-three assembled in Edinburgh Nov. 30, 1736, and there formed themselves into a Grand Lodge.

According to the traditions embodied in the St. Clair MSS. the real chief authority of the Craft was embodied in that family; but at the assembly just referred to, William St. Clair presented a formal document in which he relinquished all claims to any such jurisdiction. He was immediately elected Grand Master.

Thereafter nearly all the lodges in Scotland applied for warrants from the new authority, although for several years thereafter many of them retained their Operative character.

From this very brief account - altogether too brief to present an adequate picture of the founding of the Grand Lodge of Scotland - it will be seen that in Scotland the transition from Operative to Speculative Freemasonry was made gradually. And while English Speculative Freemasonry undoubtedly exercised considerable influence in that process there was never at any time any appeal to the Grand Lodge of England for official warrants. Bro. Clegg, in his Revised Mackey's History of Freemasonry, has given a succinct statement of this important fact in a paragraph excellent to be quoted:

"The Freemasonry of Scotland produced from its own Operative Lodges its Speculative Grand Lodge, precisely us was the case with the Freemasonry of England. In this respect it has differed from the Freemasonry of every other country where the Operative element never merged into the Speculative. The latter was always a direct and independent importation from the Speculative Grand Lodge of England, wholly distinct from the Operative Freemasonry existing at the same time."

Note. See Study Club article for April, 1924; also article on Preston in same issue.


(Mackey's Encyclopedia (Revised Edition):
Ahiman Rezon, 37; Aitchison's-Haven Lodge, 42; Aitchison's-Haven Manuscript, 42; Bruce, Robert, 121; Burns, Robert, 124; Chapel, Mary's, 142; Deacon, 197; Desaguliers, 207; Drake, Francis, 220; Ecossais, 228; Grand Lodge, 306; Harodim, Grand Chapter of, 319; Ireland, 357; Kilwinning, 381; Kilwinning Manuscript, 382; Lawrie, Alexander, 427; Manuscripts, Old, 464; Preston, William, 579; Ramsay, Andrew Michael, 607; Schaw Manuscript, 666; Schaw, William, 667; Scotland, 671; St. Clair Charters, 715; St. Clair, William, 716; York Constitutions, 866; York Grand Lodge, 867; York Legend, 867.


A.Q.C. (on Ireland), VIII, 53, 79, 110, 172; IX, 4, 18, 153; X, 58, 111; XI, 190; XII, 164, 167; XIII, 130, 142; XV, 100; XVI, 69, 174; XVII, 93, 137, 230; XXI, 58, 181; XXIV, 68; XXVI, 131, 196. A.Q.C. (on Scotland), I, 10, 139, 193; II, 164; III, 172; VI, 69, 108; VII, 56, 101, 137; VIII, 4, 45; IX, 171; XI, 195; XIV, 131; XIV, 131, 177; XXIV, 30. Caementaria Hibernica, W.J. Chetwode Crawley. Collected Essays on Freemasonry, R.F. Gould. Concise History of Freemasonry, R.F. Gould. Early History and Records of the Lodge, Aberdeen 1 ter, A.L. Miller. Grand Lodge of England, A.F. Calvert. History of Freemasonry, Findel. History of Freemasonry, R.F. Gould. History of Freemasonry, Laurie. History of Freemasonry in York, Hughan. History of the Mother Lodge, Kilwinning, Robert Wylie. Illustrations of Masonry, William Preston. Irish Master Masons Handbook, Fred J.W. Crowe. Mackey's Revised History of Freemasonry, Clegg. Unpublished Records of the Craft, Hughan.

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