British Freemasonry – A Brief Introduction (Part 3)

Richard H. Ryder, 2018

In parts one and two of this Introduction to British Freemasonry you received a brief overview of the Craft in England, Scotland, and Ireland; an introduction to early British lodges; a description of membership grades; and the events leading up to the formation of the Grand Lodge of England.  In this last installment The United Grand Lodge of England becomes a reality, English Provincial Grand Lodges are formed, and the Grand Lodges of Scotland and Ireland follow suit.

The Premier Grand Lodge in London

By 1717, Freemasonry in Britain was flourishing among men in the upper echelons of society.  On June 24th members of the “Old Lodges” in London began to meet as the Premier Grand Lodge, located at the Goose and Gridiron ale house.  The oldest Master Mason, Anthony Sayer, became the Grand Master. Members agreed to meet once per year and partake in a grand feast.  Sayer appointed Grand Wardens, decreeing the three should meet four times per year, although there is no evidence these four yearly meetings ever occurred.

Also unproven is a desire by the Grand Lodge or Sayer to control lodges elsewhere in London.  This changed with his successor, George Payne, who enforced regulations created by Grand Lodge.  Also, other procedural changes began to occur. William Cowper of Horn Lodge was appointed as Grand Secretary, who’s duty was to record minutes of the meetings, the first of which are dated June24, 1723. That same year James Anderson published the first official Constitution of the Freemasons, a combination of The Old Charges documented in the Regus and other medieval manuscripts.

Soon, the makeup of the Grand Lodge, particularly the Grand Master, began to reflect British nobility. This stayed so for several years, causing people to view the Grand Lodge as a meeting place for society’s elite leading to the decline of operative influences. Freemasonry began to reflect the social status of the men who financed the construction of the medieval cathedrals instead of those who labored to build them.

Provincial Grand Lodges and the United Grand Lodge of England

As the Premier Grand Lodge in London grew in stature and power, its authority with provincial lodges grew also. Although some lodges, like those in York, resisted being associated with the social elite at Grand Lodge, most however did not. With the advent of the Industrial Revolution, cities grew and wealthy industrialists, wanting to be perceived as gentlemen, sought out Freemasonry. Soon, urban membership expanded while rural membership decreased resulting in the death of some lodges.

Attending lodges near places of employment became more the exception than the norm. Gradually, members began to meet in temples and halls, rather than drinking establishments, inns, and coffee houses.

As the number of lodges grew, it became increasingly harder for the Grand Lodge in London to manage and govern the provincial lodges.  Simple communication was difficult due to the geographic dispersion of the increasing number of lodges. To remedy this, Provincial Grand Lodges were created along county lines and charged with constituting new lodges.  Then, in 1813, the United Grand Lodge of London was formed with King George’s son, Augustus Frederick, Duke of Sussex, as its first Grand Master.

The Grand Lodge of Scotland

As in London, four old Scottish lodges gathered on November 30, 1736 to form the Scottish Grand Lodge with William St Clair elected as its first Grand Master. His ancestors are credited with building Rosslyn Chapel and his family prided themselves as heads of Scotland’s Masonic movement.

It did not take long for Kilwinning and other Scottish lodges to rise against each other in dissention over historical precedence.   In 1743, Canongate Kilwinning Lodge in Edinburgh, without authority from the Scottish Grand Lodge, began chartering lodges in Scotland and then America.  The Jacobite cause brought about additional friction and it wasn’t until 1746, following the Battle of Culloden, that Masonic wounds were mended.  All saw the benefit in apposing the English as a common enemy.

The Grand Lodge of Ireland

In the Emerald Isle, the Earl of Rose became Grand Master of the Grand Lodge in Dublin on June 26, 1725 and Freemasonry quickly spread, with some lodges going off on their own. A year later a rival grand lodge, The Grand Lodge of Munster, arose in Cork, but lasted only until 1733, bending to the authority of The Grand Lodge in Dublin. The rouge lodges also submitted. In the early 1800’s The Grand Lodge in Dublin survived a challenge by the Grand Lodge in Ulster, resulting in what we know today as The Grand Lodge of Ireland