Freemasonry and when did it start?
is one of the oldest secular fraternal societies. Its members enjoy
mutual association and friendship within the strict codes of principle
and morality that are prescribed.
support charitable needs at Grand Lodge and local Lodge levels. They
strive to be loyal members of Society and to contribute to their
origins are uncertain. There are a number of theories that Freemasonry
was in existence when King Solomon built the Temple at Jerusalem and
that the stonemasons who built the Temple were organised into Lodges.
Other speculative theories link Freemasonry with the builders of the
Egyptian Pyramids, and also the Knights Templar who escaped to Scotland
when the Knights were persecuted in Europe.
evidence has been found to connect Freemasonry with these or any of the
other theories, which abound. It is a fact that we do not know how
Freemasonry originated. The theory most favoured by serious students of
Freemasonry is that it developed from mediaeval stonemasons, who built
great castles and cathedrals. These ‘operative’ masons met in
‘lodges’ for rest and refreshment. Over a period of time, the
‘lodges’ represented groupings of ‘operative’ Masons who
developed standards and practices to regulate their craft and skills. In
common with other trades and guilds operating at that time ‘Lodges’
developed initiation ceremonies for new apprentices. This took place at
a time when the only way to prove the authenticity of a stonemason,
other than testing his skills over many hours, was by word of mouth, the
discreet passing of private words, one to another.
early 17th Century, operative ‘Lodges’ started to accept
men who were not operative masons. The reason for this is unknown but
towards the end of the century some Lodges lost any connection with
‘operative’ stonemasons and became styled similarly to those which
exist to-day, Lodges of ‘free and accepted or speculative’ Masons.
recorded Lodge of ‘free and accepted Masons’ is evidenced in the
diary of Elias Ashmole, the renowned Lichfieldian, Antiquary and Founder
of the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford. He records being made a Freemason in
1646 at a Lodge held at his father-in-law’s house at Warrington.
Ashmole listed those present and none had any connection with operative
from the uncertainty of Freemasonry’s origins, it is possible to state
with certainty when regularly organised Freemasonry was established. On
24th June 1717, four London Lodges formed a Grand Lodge and
for a number of years held an annual feast and elected a Grand Master
and two Wardens, the three senior ranking officers in a Lodge. By 1730,
the Grand Lodge had over 100 Lodges within its control and had issued a
Book of Constitutions, a form of guidance and regulations by which all
Lodges should operate. This demonstrates the desire of Freemasonry from
the earliest days of regular organisation, to enforce standards amongst
members and to be publicly accountable for those standards. A Book of
Constitutions to this day provides standards and guidelines by which all
Lodges and members must operate.
In 1751, a
rival Grand Lodge, consisting of those who were unable to join the
London Lodges, was established. There followed a degree of conflict
between the two Grand Lodges. The new Grand Lodge claimed to practice
the ‘Old Institutions’ of Freemasonry, whilst alleging that the
Grand Lodge, formed in 1717, had departed from the established customs
of Freemasonry. This rivalry continued until 1813, when the Grand Master
of the Premier Grand Lodge, His Royal Highness Augustus Frederick Duke
of Sussex, and his brother, His Royal highness Edward, Duke of Kent, the
Grand Master of the Antients Grand Lodge, formulated Articles of Union
between the two Grand Lodges. On 27th December 1813, the
United Grand Lodge of England came into being at a special great
beginnings, Freemasonry has spread around the World. Around 1725, the
Grand Lodge of Ireland was formed and in 1736 the Grand Lodge of
Scotland. It can be justifiably claimed that Freemasonry universal
traces its origins back to the Grand Lodges established in the British
the beginnings of Freemasonry in Staffordshire?
Masonic Province of Staffordshire was formed in April 1791. It now has
over 200 years of continuous service to the ideals of Freemasonry. It is
interesting to reflect on how it all began and the immense changes in
society that have taken place.
following history of the Province is a summary of a paper produced by F
A Cotton, Past Grand Assistant Director of Ceremonies, in the United
Grand Lodge of England and a prominent Freemason in this Province.
Masonic Province of Staffordshire celebrated its Bi-Centenary in April
the year that the Guillotine was introduced (although the French
Revolution had begun some two years earlier): Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
died; the first ten amendments to the Constitution of the USA were voted
and Washington DC was founded: Ordnance Survey established in Britain,
and Boswell published his ‘Life of Johnson’.
events were carefully recorded and detailed for posterity – were that
our subject was! Masonically speaking, if Elias Ashmole had not kept a
journal which recorded his own initiation (which unlike most Journals of
his time, was printed) and if Dr Robert Plot had not decided to publish
‘The Natural History of Staffordshire’, no-one would have known
anything of the existence of Freemasons’ Lodges in Warrington in 1646,
London in 1682 or in the Moorlands of Staffordshire and indeed
throughout England in 1686. From the time that Dr Plot published his
celebrated History in 1686, down to 1717, when the Premier Grand Lodge
of England was established, hardly a vestige of evidence remains to
substantiate the presence of Freemasonry in this country. Even in 1717,
all that can be traced is five or six struggling Lodges in London, one
in York, and one or possibly two in the north of England. Throughout the
whole of the Midlands in 1717 no Lodge is known or even supposed to have
existed but by 1725 there is evidence of 61 Lodges in London and 9 in
Lodge that we know of founded in the County of Stafford was constituted
on 28th March 1732. It met at the Bell and Raven in Rotton
Row, Wolverhampton, and the first Master was Viscount Dudley and Ward.
Nothing else is known of it, no records whatsoever have been preserved.
Indeed the details quoted are those which remain on the engraved copper
plate list of Grand Lodge. It survived a mere 22 years, being erased in
1754, but it is of great interest because surprisingly that Lodge
pre-dated any Lodge in the neighbouring counties of Derby, Shropshire,
Worcestershire, Leicestershire and even in the great town of Birmingham.
18th Century was a time of great national transition and
international disquiet. With the comparatively recent loss of America
and the French Revolution on our doorstep, the background against which
the Province came into being was to say the least eventful if not
turbulent, but it did create the opportunity for greater private wealth
and social activity by many more people.
short span of years between the accession of George III and that of his
son William IV, the face of England changed dramatically. Open fields
and common pasture were hedged or fenced and cultivated, hamlets grew
into populous towns, chimney stacks rose to dwarf ancient spires and
highroads were made – straighter, stronger and wider. The North and
Irish seas and the navigable reaches of the great rivers were joined
together by canals, and steam packets began to ply on the estuaries and
the narrow seas. Communications were made much easier.
outstanding feature of the social history of the period – the thing
that above all distinguishes the age from its predecessors – was the
rapid growth of population. In the second half of the eighteenth
century, population increased by 40% and, with the increase in the other
factors of production, the standard of living of the people – or most
of them – improved greatly. The field became open for the exercise of
initiative and enterprise – a perfect setting for the establishment
and development of opportunities for successful men to meet socially or
for their own improvement. About this time – 1751 – the
‘Antients’ constituted a Lodge at the Crown Inn, Penkhull Street,
Newcastle-under-Lyme, which lapsed around 1766.
first Provincial Grand Master for Staffordshire was appointed, there
were only two ‘Modern’ Lodges meeting in the County, No 77 founded
in 1768 at the Swan Inn, Wolverhampton, and Lodge of Unity No 502
founded in 1787 meeting in Lichfield. There was possibly one
‘Antient’ Lodge – St John’s No 224 – meeting in Lichfield but
there was no contact between the three.
1764 and 1800, a total of 13 Antients or Modern Lodges were constituted
in the County. All passed out of existence and with the exception of one
old minute book of Lodge No 42, which lapsed in 1795, and some old
relics preserved by Noah’s Ark Lodge, the only trace of them is in the
all too brief records of Grand Lodge. Between 1800 and 1805, two Antient
Lodges were formed later to be erased, and in 1804 four new Lodges were
constituted in the Potteries. Three were erased but the fourth, St
Martin’s Lodge No 98 (then numbered 130, later 115) is the oldest.
Noah’s Ark Lodge No 347 (originally 668) holds a Warrant dated 1815
and Menturia Lodge No 418 and St Peter’s Lodge No 419 were both
consecrated in 1834. Since then, several have come and gone, but none
erased since the Derbyshire Lodge No 122 in 1866.
Provincial Grand Master was the Rev Francis Henry Egerton, son of the
Bishop of Durham, later to become Eighth Earl of Bridgewater, who was
already Provincial Grand Master for North Wales and Shropshire. The
Shropshire Calendar stated that in 1791 the Rev Egerton had his patent
for North Wales and Shropshire confirmed but found that the Counties of
Stafford, Flint, Denbigh and Montgomery had been added, hence
Staffordshire was granted the status of a Masonic Province and gained
its first Provincial Grand Master, the fact being noted in a letter from
Egerton himself, dated 13th April 1791, to the Grand
who had himself been initiated in France and who throughout was
relatively inactive, lived his latter years in Paris, became very
eccentric and died in February 1828, unmarried and surrounded by
pampered cats and dogs. In his time a very talented and able man, he was
elected as a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1781, of the Society of
Antiquaries in 1791 and left many valuable documents to the British
Museum. He also left a substantial sum of money for the benefit of the
poor at Whitchurch and was buried at Little Gadesdon near the family
seat of Ashridge in Hertfordshire. Masonically his successors over the
centuries were, have been and are much more conscientious and successful
in the discharge of their
these beginnings developed Freemasonry in Staffordshire – a thriving
Province of 99 Lodges, the most recent being the Black Country Heritage
Lodge, which was consecrated in 1999.