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A History of Mark Masonry


Part I


To more fully understand and appreciate speculative Masonry as we know it we will begin with a look at masonry in operative times. In particular the development of the Mark aspect, as far as we know or can reasonably deduce, is examined.

In This Assignment

The World-Wideness of Mason Marks The Middle Ages: The Templars, English Developments. Early Well Documented Operative Organisations: Germany - The Steinmetzen. Scotland - The Schaw Statutes, Scottish Lodge Developments.

Recent Operative Usage


The Masonic historians Knoop & Jones (p. 211) point out that mason marks are found in a great many lands. Consisting of marks or symbols carved on stones or impressed in clay bricks, these identified their stone shapers or brick makers.

Such marks (Brindal:28) can be found going back 5,000 years or more. They are in Egyptian pyramids, on Greek temples and in the preserved cities of Herculaneum and Pompeii. They are in widespread Roman ruins, Hindustan, Asia Minor and Central and South America. They are common in the great ruins of England, France, Germany, Scotland, Spain, Italy and Portugal.


The Templars

The European crusades to regain control of Palestine from the Muslims began in 1095 AD. Jerusalem was taken in 1099, but after eight crusades the Holy Land was completely lost by 1291.

A leading group to emerge from this movement was that of the warrior monk Knight Templars. Usually recorded as having been founded in 1118, but perhaps in 1114 (Baigent:42), they were closely associated with the Cistercian Order of monks, who undertook extensive building.

Gaining enormous wealth and power - some now say the beginning of which was by finding long-hidden treasures and documents beneath Jerusalem’s Temple Platform (Gardner:258, Baigent et al:88, Hancock:102) - the Templars went from strength to strength. They had specialist units, each dealing with aspects such as banking and shipping. One such specialist group was of architects and builders. This group carried out an extensive building program, such as castles, preceptories and temples. They used ‘their own teams of masons’ (Baigent:136).

They went on to introduce Gothic architecture to Europe, the first example of the advanced design being on the Temple Mount south of the Dome of the Rock. It remains still, as a mosque, and its porch is very similar to that of Chartres Cathedral (Hancock:plates 24, 25.). The Templar building squads were helped by the Cistercian monks, who formed building guilds named the ‘Children of Solomon’. They built ten cathedrals in France alone bearing the name Notre Dame (Gardner:262), that in Paris being begun in 1161. Over 800 Gothic Cathedrals were built in Europe between the 12th and 15th centuries. There was plenty of scope for mason marks.

It is known that the Templars, stern, strict and practical in their ways, had grades or degrees, probably eleven, and elaborate rituals and ceremonies. Although it cannot be proved the inference is that those Templars specialising in building used adapted grades and ceremonies for the organisation and running of their building squads. If so it would almost certainly have had to involve rules and usages on marks.

It is also possible to conjecture that the controllers, architects and master builders in a building group were Templars and Cistercians, and that the stone workmen, ordinary builders and labourers were locals drafted and trained for their tasks. It is even possible to think that some Templar members of a building ‘lodge’ were non-operative, sitting in to keep a general eye on things. There is no proof, but things have to begin and evolve from somewhere, and this simple and relatively straight-forward possibility needs consideration.

There is some knowledge of one such building group (Cryer:15) operating at this time, that being formed in 1202 to begin the building of Winchester Cathedral.

On Friday 13 October 1307 the Templars were suddenly and ruthlessly arrested by the King of France, abetted by the Pope, and cruelly put down. But their legacy, including in the form of hundreds of Gothic Cathedrals being built throughout Europe, lived and lives on. It may just possibly even include the founding of the lodge system (including its odd focus on King Solomon’s Temple) as we know it in its evolved form today.

English Developments

The earliest marks so far found in England are dated at 1119 AD (Brindal:34), at Norwich Cathedral. The concept put forward by most masonic writers that ancient masons were not capable of developing or using complex ritual and ceremony has been, until recently, widely accepted. Instead, there has been widespread promotion of the idea that speculatives ‘invented’ our customs and degrees, and relatively recently. But, as Cryer (14-15) points out, those medieval professionals who could design, organise the building of, and actually construct, such a mighty entity as the Gothic Cathedral could easily manage some telling ritual and ceremony.

In England a 1352 Statute of Edward III records the name ‘freemasons’ and acknowledges the existence of ‘Operative Masons’ Guilds’ (Cryer:16). The guild system, however, although almost universal for other trades and occupations, did not become the norm for masons, they being enveloped in other, more authority-ridden groupings.

There is no doubt that English masons had marks. Apart from the obvious old examples everywhere a 1356 corporation’s regulation for London Masons (Cryer:20) stated - translated to modern English - "That the Master shall oversee that the journeymen shall take their hire according as they are skilled and may deserve for their work pieces". Banker marks had to be used to check this (banker - quarry bank or workshop bench on which the stones were worked).

In the mid thirteen hundreds the mason company (Jones:88) system came into being. The ‘Worshipful Company of the Freemasons of the City of London’, for example, was formed. Operative and incorporated, it included a few non-operatives. A number of such companies were formed around the country. At Oxford, in 1604, a company was formed comprising of Free Masons, Carpenters, Joiners and Slaters. A consequence of this system was that mason groups, previously usually independent, had to lump in with other and lesser building trades. Secret ceremonial work would have been more difficult to arrange. A fact of incorporation, also, meant that town officials intruded.

In the meantime ‘The Society of Free Masons’ had come into being. The first form of their coat of arms was granted by Edward VI (1442 - 83). This later included supporters, one in a blue-faced jacket holding a square, and one in a red-faced jacket holding a pair of compasses.

From their earliest times (Cryer:26) masons were divided into two classes, straight or square masons and round or arch masons. The straight mason was given a square and prepared rectangular stones and built straight-forward walls and the like. Round masons were given a pair of compasses and built arches, prepared columns, carvings and so on. They held a higher grade - there were seven altogether - and were paid more. Taverns to which straight masons repaired often had a signboard featuring a square. Those where round masons congregated were signed with an open compass. If both met in the same establishment then the sign featured an open compass over a square.

When a mason was a proven master of his craft he was no longer required to use his mark (Cryer:21), although some still did. At Canterbury cathedral the regular, local, masons from 1413 onwards appear not to have used their mark, and the expert work, such as artistic capitals, was never marked. Itinerant masons, however, later came in, forming a ‘loygge’ in 1428, with the records indicating that the lodge masons were always required to mark. It appears that the mark was a way to check the work of relative strangers.

Just as the old Templar influence was weakening in masonry, Baigent (137) points out, Constantinople and the Byzantium Empire fell to the Turks. This was in 1453. One result was a massive flow of refugees and treasures to western Europe. Included were numerous texts of all sorts, built up over a rather incredible 1,000 years, beginning with the legendary Library of Alexandria. The impact was enormous, putting great pressure on the all-powerful Church of Rome’s system of ruling Europeans. It went on to transform Western civilisation, being a most important factor leading to the European Renaissance.

In 1532 Henry VIII made England Protestant. English religious building slowed, but other types increased, and with new, Renaissance, ideas in architecture and building, including newly rediscovered Classical. The masons had to adapt and evolve. It appears that their organisations moved closer to those of recent times.

At the building of Sandgate Castle, 1539-40, for example, Knoop & Jones (182) note that the mason in charge of works, below the two commissioners, was known as a warden. He was a master mason named Robert Lynsted. Lynsted signed the account books each month with his mark; here we find another use for a mason’s mark.

An English apprentice normally served for seven years. If he then proved his worth he moved to the grade of a fellow of the craft or journeyman (Cryer:16). He was still under an overseer, but he was free to find work where he could. As he was usually illiterate he was given a grip of recognition to use on his journeys, and a mark. These also gave and proved his qualifications.

In 1603, because there was no English heir, James VI of Scotland, a Stuart and Presbyterian, became James I of England. His son became Charles I in 1625, and married a Catholic, which upset the Protestants. In 1629 Charles dissolved the parliament. Meanwhile the Puritan faction grew strong, beginning in 1642 the destructive English Civil War against the king. In 1649 Cromwell began his ferocious government, beheading Charles. It was not until 1660 that the monarchy was resumed - all this anarchy interfered with the craft of the masons - and the development of Freemasonry. It was followed in 1666 by the Great Fire of London. The end results, however, included a great demand for masons, and the old ‘closed shop’ systems broke down.

Out of it all mason ‘societies’ evolved, and we can note ‘The Worshipful Society of Free Masons of the City of London’. In 1677 (Cryer 26) this society issued a map showing that England was divided into eight operative districts, with London at the head.

It is known that in the 1700’s these societies had their own rituals, catechisms and lectures, and a recent re-discovery of a printed version of one indicates where speculatives probably gained a good deal of their core material. Masons were being grouped again with other trades, as evidenced by ‘The Worshipful Society of Free Masons, Rough Masons, Wallers, Slaters, Paviors, Plaisterers and Bricklayers’ (Cryer:25). Incorporated, this contributed to their downplaying.

The use of a mark system in an operative English lodge was shown in the records of Alnwich Lodge (Cyer:19) - now lost - which accepted speculatives. Many marks were dated before 1680. Still existing minute books from 1701 show the use of marks. An apprentice in an old operative lodge had, at the end of his term, to prepare a rough ashlar. If it passed he was made a Fellow of the Craft, becoming a ‘Free Man and a Free Mason’ (Cryer:28). He then had a year to dress his stone into a smooth ashlar, and if passed, he could apply for admittance into the third grade, Super Fellow. He was then given a mark in a ceremony which, Cryer writes (29), ‘the Speculative Mark Mason of today would recognise as the degree of Mark Man’.

In the 1800’s a ‘Guild of Operative Free Masons’ (Cryer:25) reappeared, which flourished to about 1870. It then diminished, owing to altered economic condition and the growing influence of trade unions. Only a few of its lodges remained by WW1.


Two countries where the use of a mark, and therefore almost certainly mark ceremonies, occurred under documented systems were Germany and Scotland.

Germany - The Steinmetzen

German tradition (Cryer:15) says that stone cutters (dressers or masons) formed a brotherhood for the building of Magdeburg Cathedral, which was started in 1211. This could well have followed the Templar practice. The cathedral bears mason marks, as does Cologne Cathedral, the rebuilding of which began in 1248. Tight mason groups were focussed around each German cathedral, which, wrote Feidal - drawn upon by Cryer (15) for evidence - had their own recognition signs, trade instruction methods, duties privileges.

Although there is no direct evidence from those distant times, the known use of mason ceremonies and the presence of marks indicates some form of mark grading or ‘degree’, and its accompanying ceremony, possibly in a system not much different from those in England and Scotland. It is known from the Torgau Statutes of 1462 that a German journeymen ‘took his mark at a solemn admission feast’ (Pick:121). This mark could not be used until his stone had been passed by his lodge’s warden or mentor.

In 1440 Johann Gutenberg set up his printing press in Mainz. Thus begun a revolution that was to give great thrust to the just emerging Renaissance. The movement was to bring great changes, including to masonry.

It was in 1452 that Jacob Dotzinger succeeded in uniting the mason lodges of Germany into a general or ‘Grand Lodge’ (Cryer:17), and was nominated as Grand Master. Its statues and regulations were written in 1459, gaining absolute status in 1498, when they were approved by the Holy Roman Emperor Maximillian I. Regulation 26 stated that ‘the Master shall, within 14 days of his becoming a Fellow, deliver to the new Craftsman his mark or token’, provided he passed a warden’s examination.

The Renaissance in Germany was greatly boosted in 1517, when Martin Luther began the Protestant reformation. Masons were to move away from central Roman Catholic direction, building types were to change and the whole industry and its organisation was to evolve.

In the 1600’s it is definite that the steinmetzen free of his apprenticeship was formally admitted into his lodge, as a Fellow Craft, with an obligation ceremony. He was then given his mark, which he had to pledge never to alter. He would then work for a master. The mark allowed verification of work done, important for pay day.


For the English to argue that the Scots "... are not pertinent to the history of masonry suggests a perverse determination to reject evidence which is unwelcome because it shows that these elements emerge in Scotland and not England!" (Stevenson:50).

The Templar influence in Scotland was significant and rather concentrated. This was because on the eve of the French betrayal of the Knights Templars, 13 Oct 1307, the whole Templar Atlantic fleet, forewarned, disappeared, together with most of the Templar treasure and old documents. It has recently been proved that most of it sailed to Scotland (Baigent: 63-76), which was at that time excommunicated by the Pope, and beyond his power to invade. They landed on the Irish coast side.

The Templar’s speciality of warfare and the great wealth they commanded brought them instant acceptance, and so began a new chapter in Scotland’s evolution. Of particular note to us is the Templar building skills and organisation; although not yet proven there can be little doubt that they had significant input to Scottish building abilities, and gave firmness to mason lodges already established. Where there was a lodge there was the use of mason marks. The Temple was in Scotland, of course, long before its destruction in 1307. Kilwinning lodge, probably the oldest organised in Scotland, claims to have begun in 1140, with the start of the building of Kilwinning Abbey. This was in the same region in which the fleeing French Templars were later to land. The situation is a thought-provoking one.

The English had a habit of invading Scotland. In the period being discussed this began with Edward 1’s invasion of 1300. The Battle of Bannockburn followed in 1314, and there were wars in 1334, 1355, 1388, 1448 and 1496. The renown Battle of Flodden occurred in 1513. All this turmoil and destruction had great effects regarding masonry. Operative mason lodges were often disorganised, with members drafted for war service, buildings were wrecked, and there was an on-going rebuilding need. But from the viewpoint of Masonic history the destruction and loss of old documents is crucial. Scottish Freemasons find it almost impossible to prove their ancient lineage and systems because the English systematically looted, burnt or carried off all and any documents they could find. Others were hidden and never recovered. The country remains virtually gutted of old documents.

Scotland was to change. The Reformation began in 1528, and in 1560, under the influence of John Knox, the Protestant Church of Scotland was founded. The Renaissance had reached Scotland, with the usual effects on masons.

The Schaw Statutes

William Schaw, who was given by the Crown the title of ‘general warden’ of all Scots masons, in 1598 set forth his first set of Statutes, These were to be observed by ‘all master masonries with this realme’ (Stevenson: 34). He began them by stating that they were a collection of all the good ordinances made by their predecessors. These he put into a systematic codex, but there is little doubt that, if for no other reason than the different customs held by various operative lodges - which included the offices of wardens and deacons - some rationalisation occurred. Never-the-less he stated that lodges should in general continue with their old statutes and ways.

Schaw ruled that on being taken on apprentices had to be booked - ‘orderlie buikit’ - with his master’s lodge. When he had shown his worth he was to be ‘entered’ on the apprenticeship roll, and bound to his master for at least seven years. The mason then usually had to work - for pay - for another seven. After this he could be made a ‘brother and fellow in craft’ (Stevenson:35). However, in Scotland a ‘fellow’ was also a master. Upon becoming a fellow his mason’s mark (Pick:212) was officially placed in a mark registration book. There remains no copy of a grade or mark ceremony from this time, although there are ‘hints’ (Stevenson:50) of ceremonies. In view of the extensive Templar influence in Scotland, however, and the general practice elsewhere, there probably was one. Certainly their existence is known of not much later.

What is clear, however, according to Springett (50), the first statutes ‘mark the arrival of the modern type of lodge’.

Scottish Lodge Development

Urban masons in Scotland - as in England - were often lumped together with other trades in an incorporated body. Incorporation brought privileges and status; but through it burgh authorities had control. It did not suit the mason, because they wanted to go their traditional ways. It also did not fit well with masons because many were itinerant, and were lost in big multi-purpose bodies.

It appears, however, that the Schaw Statutes brought to many masons an opportunity to form or consolidate (Stevenson:36) discrete lodges, in ways that put them outside of the control of the burghs. They could meet outside burgh boundaries (eg, the ‘open fields and hills’) or argue their way around officials.

Anticipating or following the first Schaw Statute masons, for example, brought forth the lodge of Aitchison’s Haven in 1599, the minute books of which, amazingly, are still extant. In that year marks are shown as registered (Jones:532). Note also that the oldest surviving minute of The Lodge of Edinburgh (Mary’s Chapel), 1599, is signed by the warden and attested to by his mark. Like all the others it was then an operative lodge, but included some speculatives. For example the Laird of Auchinleck attested to a 1600 minute of the lodge with his mark.

It was in 1650 that Cromwell’s English army invaded Scotland, bringing the usual destruction of property, records and society, this time with Puritan zeal. Never-the-less the now invigorated lodge system survived. It had, also, the usual extra work to attend to.

By 1670 the ancient Lodge of Aberdeen consisted of 3/4 speculatives and 1/4 operatives (Pick:212). Membership lists include marks. The mark system there had been a permanent part of operative usage, and was continuing on unaltered in the transition to speculative masonry.

It was in 1707 that the English Act of Union forced Scotland to join with England. The disastrous defeat at Culloden in 1774 sealed Scotland’s fate; but the Scottish lodges continued. Most English Masonic writers, however, act as though they consider all things Scottish - and Stuart - inferior, and since the Union Scottish lodge history and importance has been so relegated. Never-the-less the Scottish system grew and flourished; for example, in 1982 one in eighteen Scottish adult males (Henderson:414) were Freemasons.

The speculative Mark Degree, though doubtlessly older, can be proved to have been worked in Scotland in a recognisable Masonic form (Draffen:52) by Lodge St John, of Banff, in 1778. Thereafter evidence is abundant.


A Bro T Whytehead (Cryer 25) said that in 1883 he had visited an operative workshop being used for the restoration of York Minster. He noticed that the overseer had traced on a tracing board a structure to be replaced and had placed on each traced stone the mark of the mason who was to prepare it.

The clerk of works of Truro Cathedral, it was noticed in 1886, recorded the marks (Brindal:34) of masons he supervised who were building at various places in Truro

Bro Mike Dundas, now of South Australia, at a lecture delivered in 1997 noted that he had been an operative mason on Portland Island, England. There was no operative lodge and no ceremony, but on his becoming an apprentice the supervisor gave him a set of tools - some of which he exhibited - each marked with a form of his initials. He had to use that mark on the base of every stone he prepared.

In 1991 a well known South Australian Mark Master, originally from England, reported to this historian that he had belonged to an English operative lodge, and had been given his mark at a most formal ceremony.


Baigent, M, Leigh, R: The Temple And The Lodge, Cape, London, 1989.

Baigent, et al: The Holy Blood And The Holy Grail, Corgi, London, 1983.

Brindal, K: ‘The Mason Mark’, in Masonic Research In South Australia 1990 - 1994 Vol 1, SA Lodge of Research, Adelaide, 1995.

Cryer, N: The Arch And The Rainbow, Lewis, Addlestone, 1996.

Draffen, G: ‘The Mark Degree’, in GL of Scotland Year Book, Edinburgh, 1995.

Dundas, M: Lecture, Adelaide, 12 Sep 97.

Gardner, L: Bloodline Of The Holy Grail, Element, Shaftsbury, 1996.

Gould, F: ‘Some Notes On The Mark Degree’, 1955, in GL of Scotland Year Book, Edinburgh, 1971.

Grand Lodge of Mark Master Masons of England..., Year Book 1997-98, London, 1997.

Grantham, J: History of the Grand Lodge of Mark Master Masons of England..., GL of MMM, London, 1960.

Hancock, G: The Sign And The Seal, Mandarin, London, 1993.

Handfield-Jones, R: A New Comprehensive History Of the Grand Lodge os Mark Master Masons Of England..., GL of MMM, London, 1996.

Henderson, K: Masonic World Guide, Lewis, Shepperton, 1984.

Knoop, D & Jones, G: The Mediaeval Mason, Manchester UP, Manchester, 1993.

Newton, E: ‘The Mark Degree. in AQC Vol 72, Quator Coronati Lodge, London, 1964.

Pick, F & Knight, N: The Pocket History Of Freemasonry, Muller, London, 7th Ed, 1983.

Springett, B: The Mark Degree, Lewis, London, 1946.

Stevenson, D: The Origins Of Freemasonry Scotland’s Century 1590 - 1710, Cambridge UP, 1988.

Turnbull, R & Denslow, R: A History of Royal Arch Masonry, Trenton MO, 1995.

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