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The Centre for Research into Freemasonry
University of Sheffield

by W. Bro. John Wade, PPSGD (Derbys. & Yorks. W.R.)
PM, 4069, 9539 (EC)
Member of 337 (SC)
Vice-President, Sheffield Masonic Study Circle

Lecture given at Lodge Chimera N° 160 on the rolls of the Regular Grand Lodge of Italy
- Arezzo, Italy on 21st November 2002.


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The Centre for Research into Freemasonry

University of Sheffield



Masonic Research has always been an interest of mine since I joined the Craft in 1979, although I am really waiting for retirement before I can get down to some of the areas I find particularly interesting.  In the meantime I have been involved in the activities of the Sheffield Masonic Study Circle for a number of years, formerly as Secretary and next April becoming President.  I am also involved with the Canonbury Masonic Research Centre in London and of course with the Centre for Research into Freemasonry in Sheffield, where I am a sort of unofficial link between the non-masons in the Centre and the local masonic community in Sheffield, which includes 26 Lodges from the Province of Yorkshire West Riding, meeting at Tapton Hall, not too far from the University and 13 Lodges from the Province of Derbyshire, meeting at Dore Masonic Hall on the outskirts of Sheffield.


The Centre for Research into Freemasonry was established by the University of Sheffield in the academic session 2000-2001.  The Centre forms part of the University's award-winning Humanities Research Institute, and was formally launched on 5 March 2001. 

This is the first Centre to be established in a British University, although there are many scholars working in research areas which include freemasonry in other universities.  A number of these scholars have already presented seminar papers in Sheffield.

Professor Andrew Prescott, a medieval historian and expert on humanities computing, has been seconded from the British Library to the University of Sheffield for three years to establish the new Centre.

The Centre is funded by the United Grand Lodge of England, the Province of Yorkshire West Riding and Lord Northampton, the recently appointed Pro Grand Master of the United Grand Lodge of England, who have provided £250,000 over three years. While the freemasons are providing funding for the Centre, they have, at their own insistence, no involvement in appointments to the staff of the Centre or to the research agenda of the Centre. The funding is administered by a specially-established Trust which includes a representative of the freemasons and of the University of Sheffield, together with independent members.

The Centre undertakes and promotes objective scholarly research into the historical, social and cultural impact of freemasonry, particularly in Britain.  Until the 1930s, freemasonry was an important part of English civic life.  Indeed, freemasonry is one of the cultural phenomena of British origin which has had the biggest international impact.


Sheffield’s award-winning Humanities Research Institute (HRI) is one of the UK’s leading centres for humanities computing, and has been a pioneer in inter-disciplinary and team-based research in the humanities.

The projects in the HRI, drawn from a wide range of humanities disciplines, use innovative techniques for handling digital text, images and multi-media to explore issues in humanities research which cannot be readily investigated by other means. The Institute’s aim is to assist in the creation of the essential tools for humanities research in the 21st Century.

The Institute was awarded the Queen’s Anniversary Prize in 1998.  Among the Projects are:   

The Hartlib papers (1988 – 1994).

The Canterbury Tales Project.

The John Foxe Project.

Gide; Flore Tristan; Galdos; French film stars

NOF: Cistercian abbeys; Old Bailey proceedings


However, the history of freemasonry has been unaccountably neglected by professional scholars in Britain. This contrasts with Europe and America, where the historical, literary and artistic heritage of freemasonry has for a long time been the subject of intense scholarly scrutiny, and is very much part of the academic mainstream.

One of the reasons why historians neglect freemasonry is the lack of good critical bibliographies and guides to research resources. The Centre is developing such bibliographical guides and will make them available on the Centre's web site.  Future bibliographies planned for 2002 include a bibliography of histories of craft freemasonry, the Royal Arch and additional degrees for all English counties and major towns, and a bibliography of the works of the ‘Sheffield school’ of masonic historians associated with Douglas Knoop.  In the meantime, a useful short bibliography has been produced by Matthew Scanlan for the Cornerstone site.  It can be accessed from the Sheffield website.

The assumption that eveything is secret is another factor which has hindered non-masonic scholars in their research.

The Craft is perceived by many non-masonic scholars and indeed by many of its own scholars as being obsessed with its origins.  I think this is very understandable, but it must not be allowed to stifle the very important work which needs to be done on so many aspects of freemasonry. 

Unfortunately, many masonic scholars have failed to relate their research to broader intellectual themes, thereby diminishing the academic value of their researches to historians.

The aim of the Centre is to put the study of freemasonry firmly on the academic map in Britain.  The research agenda of the Centre is appraised and assessed by an advisory committee of distinguished academics from the University of Sheffield and other academic institutions.


So the Centre will:

Demonstrate the richness of the resources that are available

Provide bibliographies and guides to manuscript resources

Look at the modern history of the institution

Build links with continental and American scholars

Above all, relate the research to mainstream academic themes


One of the aims of the Centre is the running of an active public programme of lectures, seminars and conferences, and developing its own large-scale research projects.

The programme of seminars has included papers on such subjects as the origins of freemasonry by Professor David Stevenson, the friendly societies and freemasonry by Professor Andy Durr and Eighteenth century masonic music by Andrew Pink.

            The Centre’s first international conference, Lodges, Chapters and Orders: Fraternal Organisations and the Structuring of Gender Roles in Europe, 1300-2000 was held during the summer of 2002 and was very successful.  Abstracts of the papers delivered at the Conference are available on the Sheffield website.

            Professor Andrew Prescott has delivered papers at major conferences, such as the Canonbury Conference in London, the Kirkcaldy International Conference in Scotland and the Cultural Atlas Conference.  He has also given talks in a large number of Lodges across England.


The development of research resources has continued throughout this last year and includes:

Documents in Freemasonry, a series of CD-ROMs which will reproduce books, manuscripts, visual materials and other primary sources of outstanding importance for investigating the social, historical and cultural impact of freemasonry. The CD-ROMs are published by Academy Electronic Publications.  Andrew Prescott is also the editor of the first CD-ROM Preston's Illustrations of Masonry, which contains first the text of the 9 extant editions produced in England during Preston's lifetime, secondly an intuitive interface for browsing and searching the editions, thirdly an exploration of the text's evolution across the 9 editions and lastly introductory analyses & digitised images of the 1788 edition.

An introductory bibliography on the website.  This bibliography at present contains only about 60 entries, which are categorised by country and by subject, as we shall see shortly when we have a brief look at the website itself.

The Project aims to put Lane's Masonic Records, a directory which lists all the UGLE lodges which ever existed, their names, numbers, meeting places and other details, on to a computer database.  There are a number of annotated copies of Lane at Great Queen Street which are crammed with corrections and notes on individual lodge entries. As soon as it has mounted Lane onto a database, the Centre will apply for a grant to have the additional information in these annotated copies inserted in the database.   So an enhanced Lane will be provided. This in itself is quite a sizeable project - a good nine month's work - and having done this, the Centre will then seek a further grant to produce a continuation of Lane up to the present day.  This will be one of the main research aims of the Centre over the next two or three years.

A searchable version of The Freemason will also shortly be available on the website.


At present, the main priority of the Centre for Research into Freemasonry is the development of a research agenda which will help place the study of freemasonry in the mainstream of humanities scholarship. During the initial three year period of funding, the Centre will not be offering any taught courses on freemasonry at undergraduate and postgraduate level.

However, two postgraduate research students have been enrolled and more will follow.  The Centre welcomes enquiries about postgraduate research into any aspect of the social, cultural and historical impact of freemasonry, and will assist in developing applications to the appropriate academic department of the University. Enquirers are advised to read the web pages of the Graduate Research Office, and to contact the Centre at any early stage for advice on development of their application.

A lecture is currently being given each year as part of the foundation course in History to first year Undergraduates at Sheffield.

A project was undertaken last year with students in the School of Architecture which focussed on the Old Masonic Hall in Sheffield, and there are plans for the next five years, including summer schools and diploma courses aimed at amateur masonic researchers.


Research is, of course, at the heart of the activity of the Centre for Research into Freemasonry at Sheffield.

One priority is the exploration of social trends and connections of membership through the study of membership records.

Detailed studies of membership records in Wales, London and elsewhere have been completed.

Also the Centre will be examining the connections between freemasonry and the radical tradition in Britain (particularly Paine, Carlile and Bradlaugh).

Andrew Prescott’s first conference paper, ‘The Unlawful Societies Act of 1799’, has now appeared in the very recently published Canonbury Papers Volume 1 : The Social Impact of Freemasonry on the Modern Western World.


The Centre has produced a number of newsletters over the last two years and has just published the first edition of a monthly e-zine.

Finally, the main means of communication is through the Centre’s website:


Publications of the Centre for Research into Freemasonry are available at :
Academy Electronic Publications

A Review of the CD-ROM Preston's Illustrations of Masonry is available on
Pietre-Stones Review of Freemasonry : Masonic CDrom & Book Reviews

Canonbury Papers Volume 1 : The Social Impact of Freemasonry on the Modern Western World is available at :
The Canonbury Masonic Research Centre

A Review of the Canonbury Papers Volume 1 is available on
Pietre-Stones Review of Freemasonry : Masonic CDrom & Book Reviews

The italian version of this paper is available at : Loggia Chimera n°160 , Gran Loggia Regolare d' Italia


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