The Masonic Trowel

... to spread the cement of brotherly love and affection, that cement which unites us into one sacred band or society of brothers, among whom no contention should ever exist, but that noble emulation of who can best work or best agree ...

[What is Freemasonry] [Leadership Development] [Education] [Masonic Talks] [Masonic Magazines Online]
Articles] [Masonic Books Online] [E-Books] [Library Of All Articles] [Masonic Blogs] [Links]
What is New] [Feedback]

 Masonic quotes by Brothers

Search Website For

Add To Favorites

Help Me Maintain OUR Website!!!!!!

List of Contributors

PDF This File

Print This Page

Email This Site To ...

early masonry in England

by Bro. Harry M. Furniss
Published in MASONIC BULLETIN, BCR; - March, 1975.

An opinion has long been held that a Grand Lodge of Masons was established at the city of York in 926 by Prince Edwin, the brother of King Athelstan and grandson of Edward the Great.

This tradition derives from the old Legend of the Craft which Mackey in his "History of Freemasonry" made quite clear is an error, or incorrectly interpreted, or both. Yet the story persists, and is interesting.

A number of documents have been discovered which record a large assemblage of Freemasons in York in 926. Dates, names and facts differ from manuscript to manuscript, but Mackey felt that some major event certainly occurred.

One of the strongest reasons for believing in the York assembly is the fact that some four hundred years passed before the event was first recorded (as far as we know). Mackey concluded that a tradition which lasted that long unchallenged must have been genuine.

However on the question as to whether or not a Grand Lodge was formed at York, most modern Masonic historians have serious reservations. Mackey, after studying all viewpoints in his thorough fashion, concluded that there had been a "general assembly" of Freemasons at York, and that a code of laws had been adopted which became the basis on which subsequent Masonic Constitutions were formed.

Centuries later when the York Speculative Freemasons broke completely with their Operative brethren, they assumed the title "Grand Lodge of All England" to distinguish themselves from London's "Grand Lodge of England." This curious distinction, wrote Mackey, followed the ecclesiastical usage of the country which in dividing the government from the church, called the Archbishop of York "Primate of England" and the Archbishop of Canterbury "Primate of All England."

There is no doubt that Operative Freemasonry was established with great vigor at York during the building of the cathedral in the fourteenth century. The fabric rolls of York Minster - one with a date of 1350 - record contracts and regulations pertaining to labor and refreshment. Masons, at that time, were directed to report to the lodge "at as early an hour as they can clearly see by daylight to work . . . and shall stand there faithfully working as long as they can clearly see to work, or at high noon, or on a holiday." There was an hour off for lunch, "within the space of time that one can walk half a mile" - a common method of computing time in those days.

The Master, for his work, received 10 pounds of silver annually, and was furnished with a house within the enclosure of the cathedral. While work on York Minster was progressing, other branches of the guild were employed on other cathedrals. Canterbury was repaired and enlarged in 1174; Salisbury begun in 1220; Ely finished in 1252; and Westminster Abbey begun in 1245 and finished in 1285.

These records, Mackey pointed out, established that the history of Freemasonry at York and the north of England was about the same as it was in London and the admission of honorary members similar in practice and time.

Other than this, there seems little to support the theory of an eighth century Grand Lodge at York. Indeed, a minute book of York Lodge dated 1706 indicates quite plainly that the transformation from Operative to Speculative Freemasonry was under way and that the title "Grand Lodge of all England" was only assumed in 1725.

At that, Mackey feels the words Grand Lodge are misleading and that the meager historical details really meant nothing more than a difference in terminology between Private Lodge, Mother Lodge or General Lodge - all on the same level, and all illegally constituted under Masonic law.

There is also a difference of opinion among historians as to the "Edwin" involved in the story. One acceptable interpretation holds that the Edwin mentioned in the Legend of the Craft was not the brother of King Athelstan (10th century) but really the King of Northumbria (17th century).

The one word everyone seems to agree on is "old" and most historians are now inclined to style it "The Old York Lodge" although the Regulations written in 1723 by the Grand Lodge at London were adopted by York in 1726.

Prior to this there were 19 unusual "regulations" in effect in York Lodge which Mackey calls a set of rules for a social club rather than moral or philosophical guideposts for Freemasonry.

The "Rules" laid down fines for certain offenses, stipulated that "the bowl shall be filled with Punch once" but if any more shall be called for by a Brother, he shall pay for it himself.

There were "Rules" for clerks, and stewards, and the settlement of disputes, and an interesting subscription of two shillings which was demanded of each new member to pay the waits.

These were musicians who paraded the towns in the north of England at Christmas, often in livery and wearing silver badges. In earlier days their musical ability was said to be sure that they were able to assist the choristers of York Minster.

While there may be doubt about the origins of Freemasonry at York, it is a fact that a wooden church was built there in 627 by Edwin, King of Northumbria. Edwin was a progressive ruler who introduced Christianity to his Kingdom. However, the Church was destroyed and rebuilt and finally incorporated in the cathedral which after some 845 years was completed in 1472.

The last mention of the Grand Lodge of all England was in a minute of the York Lodge dated August 1792. Apparently it was never formally dissolved, but was simply absorbed by the Grand Lodge of England.

back to top

[What is Freemasonry] [Leadership Development] [Education] [Masonic Talks] [Masonic Magazines Online]
Articles] [Masonic Books Online] [E-Books] [Library Of All Articles] [Masonic Blogs] [Links]
What is New] [Feedback]

This site is not an official site of any recognized Masonic body in the United States or elsewhere.
It is for informational purposes only and does not necessarily reflect the views or opinion
of Freemasonry, nor webmaster nor those of any other regular Masonic body other than those stated.

DEAD LINKS & Reproduction | Legal Disclaimer | Regarding Copyrights

Last modified: March 22, 2014