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History Of The Revival Of Masonry In The South Of England


BOOK Iv - The History of Masonry in England

illustrations of masonry
william preston

On the accession of George I. the masons in London and its environs, finding themselves deprived of sir Christopher Wren, and their annual meetings discontinued, resolved to cement under a new Grand Master, and to revive the communications and annual festivals of the Society. With this view, the lodges at the Goose and Gridiron in St. Paul's Church-yard, the Crown in Parker's-lane near Drury-lane, the Apple-tree tavern in Charles-street Covent-garden, and the Rummer and Grapes tavern in Channel-row Westminster, the only four lodges in being in the south of England at that time, with some other old brethren, met at the Apple-tree tavern above mentioned in February 1717; and having voted the oldest master-mason then present into the chair, constituted themselves a Grand Lodge pro tempore in due form. At this meeting it was resolved to revive the quarterly communications of the fraternity; and to hold the next annual assembly and feast on the 24th of June, at the Goose and Gridiron in St. Paul's Church-yard, (in compliment to the oldest lodge, which then met there,) for the purpose of electing a Grand Master among themselves, till they should have the honour of a noble brother at their head. Accordingly, on St. John the Baptist's day 1717, in the third year of the reign of king George I. the assembly and feast were held at the said house; when the oldest Master-mason, and Master of a lodge, having taken the chair, a lift of proper candidates for the office of Grand Master was produced: and the names being separately proposed, the brethren, by a great majority of hands, elected Mr. Anthony Sayer Grand Master of masons for the ensuing year; who was forthwith invested by the said oldest Master, installed by the Master of the oldest lodge, and duly congratulated by the assembly, who paid him homage. The Grand Master then entered on the duties of his office, appointed his wardens, and commanded the brethren of the four lodges to meet him and his wardens quarterly in communication, enjoining them at the same time to recommend to all the fraternity a punctual attendance on the next annual assembly and feast.

Among a variety of regulations which were proposed and agreed to at this meeting, was the following: "That the privilege of assembling as masons, which had hitherto been unlimited, should be vested in certain lodges or assemblies of masons convened in certain places; and that every lodge to be hereafter convened, except the four old lodges at this time existing, should be legally authorised to act by a warrant from the Grand Master for the time being, granted to certain individuals by petition, with the consent and approbation of the Grand Lodge in communication; and that without such warrant no lodge should be hereafter deemed regular or constitutional." In consequence of this regulation, some new lodges were soon after convened in different parts of London and its environ, and the masters and wardens of these lodges were commanded to attend the meetings of the Grand Lodge, make a regular report of their proceedings, and transmit to the Grand Master, from time to time, a copy of any bye-laws they might form for their own government; that no laws established among them might be contrary to, or subversive of, the general regulations by which the fraternity had been long governed.

In compliment to the brethren of the four old lodges, by whom the Grand Lodge was then formed, it was resolved, "That every privilege which they collectively enjoyed by virtue of their immemorial rights, they should still continue to enjoy; and that now law, rule, or regulation to be hereafter made or passed in Grand Lodge, should deprive them of such privilege, or encroach on any landmark which was at that time established as the standard of masonic government." When this resolution was confirmed, the old masons in the metropolis, agreeably to the resolutions of the brethren at large, vested all their inherent privileges as individuals in the four old lodges, in trust that they would never suffer the old charges and ancient landmarks to be infringed. The four old lodges then agreed to extend their patronage to every new lode which should hereafter be constituted according to the new regulations of the Society; and while they acted in conformity to the ancient constitutions of the order, to admit their Masters and Wardens to share with them all the privileges of the Grand Lodge, excepting precedence of rank.

Matters being thus amicably adjusted, all the brethren of the four old lodges considered their attendance on the future communications of the Society as unnecessary, and therefore trusted implicitly to their Masters and Wardens, resting satisfied that no measure of importance would ever be adopted without their approbation. The officers of the old lodges, however, soon began to discover, that the new lodges, being equally represented with them at the communications, would, in process of time, so far out-number the old ones, as to have it in their power, by a majority, to subvert the privileges of the original masons of England, which had been centered in the four old lodges: they therefore, with the concurrence of the brethren at large, very wisely formed a code of laws for the future government of the Society, and annexed thereto a conditional clause, which the Grand Master for the time being, his successors, and the Master of every lodge to be hereafter constituted, were bound to preserve inviolable in all time coming. To commemorate this circumstance, it has been customary, ever since that time, for the Master of the oldest lodge to attend every Grand Installation; and taking precedence of all present, the Grand Master only excepted, to deliver the book of the original constitutions to the new installed Grand Master, on his promising obedience to the ancient charges and general regulations. The conditional clause above referred to, runs thus:

"Every annual Grand Lodge has an inherent power and authority to make new regulations, or to alter these, for the real benefit of this ancient fraternity; providing always THAT THE OLD LAND-MARKS BE CAREFULLY PRESERVED: and that such alterations and new regulations be proposed and agreed to at the third quarterly communication preceding the annual grand feast; and that they be offered also to the perusal of all the brethren before dinner, in writing, even of the youngest apprentice; the approbation and consent of the majority of all the brethren present, being absolutely necessary to make the same binding and obligatory."

This remarkable clause, with thirty-eight regulations preceding it, all of which are printed in the first edition of the Book of Constitutions, were approved, and confirmed by one hundred and fifty brethren, at an annual assembly and feast held at Stationers'-hall on St. John the Baptist's day 1721, and in their presence subscribed by the Master and Wardens of the four old lodges on one part: and by Philip duke of Wharton, then Grand Master; Theophilus Desaguliers, M. D. and F. R. S. Deputy Grand Master; Joshua Timson, and William Hawkins, Grand Wardens; and the Masters and Wardens of sixteen lodges which had been constituted between 1717 and 1721, on the other part.

By the above prudent precaution of our ancient brethren, the original constitutions were established as the basis of all future masonic jurisdiction in the south of England; and the ancient land-marks, as they are emphatically styled, or the boundaries set up as checks to innovation, were carefully secured against the attacks of future invaders. The four old lodges, in consequence of the above compact, in which they considered themselves as a distinct party, continued to act by their original authority; and so far from surrendering any of their rights, had them ratified and confirmed by the whole fraternity in Grand Lodge assembled. No regulations of the Society which might hereafter take place could therefore operate with respect to those lodges, if such regulations were contrary to, or subversive of, the original constitutions by which they were governed; and while their proceedings were conformable to those constitutions, no power known in masonry could legally deprive them of any right which they had ever enjoyed.

The necessity of fixing the original constitutions as the standard by which all future laws in the Society are to be regulated, was so clearly understood by the whole fraternity at this time, that it was established as an unerring rule, at every installation, public and private, to make the Grand Master, and the Masters and Wardens of every lodge, engage to support these constitutions; to which also every mason was bound by the strongest ties at initiation. Whoever acknowledges the universality of masonry to be its highest glory, must admit the propriety of this conduct; for were no standard fixed for the government of the Society, masonry might be exposed to perpetual variations, which would effectually destroy all the good effects that have hitherto resulted from its universality and extended progress.

During the administration of Mr. Sayer, the Society made no very rapid progress. Several brethren joined the old lodges; but only two new lodges were constituted.

Mr. Sayer was succeeded in 1718 by George Payne esq. who was particularly assiduous in recommending a strict observance of the communications. He collected many valuable manuscripts on the subject of masonry, and earnestly desired that the brethren would bring to the Grand Lodge any old writings or records concerning the fraternity, to shew the usages of ancient times. In consequence of this general intimation, several old copies of the Gothic constitutions were produced, arranged, and digested.

On the 24th of June 1719, another assembly and feast was held at the Goose and Gridiron before mentioned, when Dr. Desaguliers was unanimously elected Grand Master. At this feast, the old, regular, and peculiar toasts or healths of the free-masons were introduced; and from this time we may date the rise of free-masonry on its present plan in the South of England. The lodges, which had considerably increased by the vigilance of the Grand Master, were visited by many old masons who had long neglected the craft, several noblemen were initiated, and a number of new lodges constituted.

At an assembly and feast held at the Goose and Gridiron on the 24th June 1720, George Payne esq. was re-elected Grand Master, and under his mild but vigilant administration the lodges continued to flourish.

This year, at some of the private lodges, to the irreparable loss of the fraternity, several valuable manuscripts, concerning their lodges, regulations, charges, secrets, and usages, (particularly one written by Mr. Nicholas Stone, the warden under Inigo Jones,) were too hastily burnt by some scrupulous brethren, who were alarmed at the intended publication of the masonic constitutions.

At a quarterly communication held this year at the Goose and Gridiron on the festival of St. John the Evangelist, it was agreed, That, in future, the new Grand Master shall be named and proposed to the Grand Lodge some time before the feast; and if approved, and present, he shall be saluted as Grand Master elect: and that every Grand Master, when he is installed, shall have the sole power of appointing his deputy and wardens, according to ancient custom.

At a Grand Lodge held in ample form on Lady-day 1721, brother Payne proposed for his successor, John duke of Montague, at that time master of a lodge. His grace, being present, received the compliments of the lodge. The brethren expressed great joy at the prospect of being once more patronised by the nobility; and unanimously agreed, that the next assembly and feast should be held at Stationers'-hall; and that a proper number of stewards should be appointed to provide the entertainment; but Mr. Josiah Villeneau, an upholder in the Borough, generously undertook the whole management of the business, and received the thanks of the Society for his attention.

While masonry was thus spreading its influence over the southern part of the kingdom, it was not neglected in the North. The General Assembly, or Grand Lodge, at York, continued regularly to meet as heretofore. In 1705, under the direction of sir George Tempest bart. then Grand Master, several lodges met, and many worthy brethren were initiated in York and its neighbourhood. Sir George being succeeded by the right hon. Robert Benson, lord mayor of York, a number of meetings of the fraternity was held at different times in that city, and the grand feast during his mastership is said to have been very brilliant. Sir William Robinson bart. succeeded Mr. Benson in the office of Grand Master, and the fraternity seem to have considerably increased in the North under his auspices. He was succeeded by sir Walter Hawkesworth bart. who governed the Society with great credit. At the expiration of his mastership, sir George Tempest was elected a second time Grand Master; and from the time of his election in 1714 to 1725, the Grand Lodge continued regularly to assemble at York under the direction of Charles Fairfax esq. sir Walter Hawkesworth bart. Edward Bell esq. Charles Bathurst esq. Edward Thomson esq. M. P. John Johnson M. D. and John Marsden esq. all of whom, in rotation, during the above period, regularly filled the office of Grand Master in the North of England.

From this account, which is authenticated by the books of the Grand Lodge at York, it appears, that the revival of masonry in the South of England did not interfere with the proceedings of the fraternity in the North. For a series of years the most perfect harmony subsisted between the two Grand Lodges, and private lodges flourished in both parts of the kingdom under their separate jurisdiction. The only distinction which the Grand Lodge in the North appears to have retained after the revival of masonry in the South, is in the title which they claim, viz. The Grand Lodge of all England; while the Grand Lodge in the South passes only under the denomination of The Grand Lodge of England. The latter, on account of its situation, being encouraged by some of the principal nobility, soon acquired consequence and reputation; while the former, restricted to fewer, though not less respectable, members, seemed gradually to decline. Till within these few years, however, the authority of the Grand Lodge at York was never challenged; on the contrary, every mason in the kingdom held it in the highest veneration, and considered himself bound by the charges which originally sprung from that assembly. To be ranked as descendants of the original York masons, was the glory and boast of the brethren in almost every country where masonry was established; and, from the prevalence and universality of the idea, that in the city of York masonry was first established by charter, the masons of England have received tribute from the first states in Europe. It is much to be regretted, that any separate interests should have destroyed the social intercourse of masons; but it is no less remarkable than true, that the brethren in the North and those in the South are now in a manner unknown to each other. Notwithstanding the pitch of eminence and splendor at which the grand Lodge in London as arrived, neither the lodges of Scotland nor Ireland court its correspondence. This unfortunate circumstance has been attributed to the introduction of some modern innovations among the lodges in the South. As to the coolness which has subsisted between the Grand Lodge at York and the Grand Lodge in London, another reason is assigned. A few brethren at York having, on some trivial occasion, seceded from their ancient lodge, they applied to London for a warrant of constitution; and without any inquiry into the merits of the case, their application was honoured. Instead of being recommended to the Mother Lodge to be restored to favour, these brethren were encouraged in their revolt; and permitted, under the banner of the Grand Lodge at London, to open a new lodge in the city of York itself. This illegal extension of power justly offended the Grand Lodge at York, and occasioned a breach, which time, and a proper attention to the rules of the Order, only can repair.

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