Fraternalism before 1717: Or When
is Freemasonry NOT Speculative?
CRAFT, TRADE OR MYSTERY
PART ONE: BRITAIN FROM GOTHIC CATHEDRALS TO THE TOLPUDDLE CONSPIRATORS
Dr. Bob James
We have seen that many of the assumptions underpinning LH and the tradition
of the labour movement's 'true believer' rest upon the work of the Webbs. We
have seen that they and their followers have suggested, but have not explored,
'modern, ie real trade unions' and 'real trade unionism' were only possible when
'rites of association', which 'probably' derived from Freemasonry, were
jettisoned as industrialisation took hold. The larger context of these
assumptions is the mass of self-serving assertions about the shaping influence
of 'trade unions' and the labour movement on 20th century western democracies.
We have noted a second set of claims about the huge importance of 'Friendly
Societies' to the welfare of the whole of British and British-derived society.
'Official' historians of the Affiliated Orders of such societies have similarly
sourced them in 'the ritualism, ceremonialism, symbolism, and degrees of the
Ancient Fraternity of Freemasons.'204
For their part, in-house historians of Freemasonry have no doubt about the
long term positive influences of 'the mystic tie.' In the case of Australia:
Like the mighty Amazon (the Masonic movement) began in a series of
small trickles and has since broadened into a wide, deep, and imposing stream
that means so much to the character of the nation fertilised by its beneficent
The few academic historians who have looked seriously at Freemasonry, none of
them in Australia, have come away impressed:
Masonry played an important role in shaping the momentous changes
that first introduced and then transformed the eighteenth-century
enlightenment in America, helping to create the nineteenth-century culture of
democracy, individualism and sentimentalism.206
If any of these claims is true, all students of Australian society should
have access to relevant, supportive material and encouraged to fundamentally
change their view of white Australian society. If all three are separately true,
the originating heritage of Freemasonry, should be compulsory reading.
Unfortunately, major problems begin immediately with attempts to assess any
of the claims regarding Freemasonry, since in-house SF historians themselves do
not agree about the circumstances of SF's own 'creation.'
The most usual origin claims connect the mediaeval stonemasons with
Speculative Freemasonry [SF] but there are many variations on this one theme,
including many highly imaginative interpretations. Certain Freemasons have
sought an organic connection between the symbolic and the
historical elements, and have sourced SF's historical evolution in
the Old Testament story of Solomon's Temple which features heavily in their
ritual. The 'biblical' claims no longer concern the average SF, but a minority
continue to argue for or spend a great deal of time searching for convincing
connections with the earliest of Middle Eastern rites and sites.
Outsiders, and many insiders, totally dismiss any connection with a heritage
older or further distant from London than mediaeval England. Here I note only
that 'modernists' have no trouble accepting that the origins of Western art,
literature, philosophy, religion and democratic practice are to be found in the
Mediterranean, so why so much trouble sourcing the guilds and/or Western
A further layer of historiographical dismissal has had 'the modern' requiring
no input from even the mediaeval. Norman Davies' The Isles recently
provided a succinct description and by implication the significance of a
'systematic propoganda' which has, not only fed into SF 'histories' but led,
more broadly to 'the English myth.' Set running by Thomas Cromwell, clothed in
golden words by Shakespeare, reinforced by the Protestant Establishment of the
17th and 18th centuries, and set in stone by the 'Whig Interpretation', the
'spin' had 3 themes:
one is the denigration of the late mediaeval period...the second
is the deification of the English monarchy as a focus for the founding of
English Protestantism and of modern English patriotism. The third involves the
exclusion of all non-English elements in descriptions of the roots of later
Historiographical problems similar to those occuring with 'trade union'
creation stories occur with the SF 'evidence', including gaps in key parts of
the record, and leaps of logic bordering on the bizarre. And as with LH,
correcting these 'problems', where it is possible, does not require a denial of
the importance of SF but a re-formulation bringing SF and the lives of ordinary
working people into sustained contact with 'the pillars' of real-time history.
There are only three 'official' qualifications required for membership of the
United Grand Lodge [UGL], and therefore Australian 'Freemasonry' - to be an
adult male, willing to swear belief in a Supreme Creator. Today, however, SF
continues to be seen by many non-Masons as elitist, secretive, white, Christian
and conservative as well as a male bastion. They may be surprised to know it
has, at various times, also been attacked as everything evil, perverse and
anti-Christian, as being a religion in its own right, as being the home for
political revolutionaries and for being the power base of fascists and right
Insiders insist SF adheres only to its stated principles. But they admit that
providing clear, historically accurate answers to questions asked and
accusations made is extremely difficult, if not impossible. Even determining
what is being talked about is a complicated exercise.
This study is focused on that 'Speculative Freemasonry' practised by the
'United Grand Lodge of England, Scotland, Ireland and Wales' which its advocates
would argue has been a more-or-less natural progression from the formation by 4
apparently autonomous London lodges in 1717 of a Grand Lodge, which then
proceeded to either invent or formalise a series of rituals, beliefs and
organisational practices. These proved increasingly popular until today:
Freemasonry is unquestionably the largest, oldest and most
influential of all secret societies.208
The same author has, however, struck a cautionary note:
Just about everything concerning Freemasonry is shrouded in
mystery or in the even more impenetrable Nacht und Nebel of Masonic
pietism. (Author's emphasis)
The essential story contained within all SF ritual is a search for knowledge,
at once secret, and possibly unknowable. Sought for practical reasons as much as
for reasons to do with spiritual enlightenment, 'the knowledge' takes on the
characteristics a searcher projects on to it. As ineffable as a comforting
'light' or as theoretically substantial as the alchemist's gold, 'the knowledge'
has, in practice, been measured more often in terms of a comradeship, a
confidence in public speaking or in delivering ritual, and in 'knowing' that
one's peers value one's contribution. The very flexibility, even ambiguity of
the search and its goal - the Holy Grail/Enlightenment/Divine Grace - have
proven sufficient to justify the continuing need for an administration tasked to
do little more than to not-hinder the searchers. This complacency at the centre
has, of course, proven double-edged.
Taking the SF ritual at face value can be a source of disillusion for the
initiate. From the first undertakings made by an 'Entered Apprentice', secrets
are revealed - a grip, a token and a word. In the third Craft Degree, 'he' is
told that what secrets have been revealed thus far are not the real or 'genuine'
secrets. Thus, he presses on into the Royal Arch, where he finally receives what
has been construed as the lost word, the secret name of God, a termination which
only deepens the mystery surrounding the unknowable-ness of 'the Supreme
Architect' and invites the 21st century whinge, can this really be what all the
fuss has been about?
One might expect the secrets to be about building - but while there is much
talk of building in general, there is precious little mention of building
practices. Rather, while the many interpretations of SF's origins and its need
for this degree or that to be complete do not move SF far from the
historically-real procedures of building, their intention is rather to place
'the builders' in close personal contact with profound human fears and possible
experiential resolutions. For example, to get into the Royal Arch rite, as put
by one author, one must be 'prepared' ie, one must have 'passed through the
veils' between life and death.
This connection with a spiritual context does not weaken the 'operative
origins' arguement, indeed if the operatives can be shown to have been seeking
'light' in their work, the conditions for SF are satisfied. Such an
interpretation does add further levels of potential distraction. It does seem to
this searcher that the rites and artefacts created by the mediaeval operatives
in context demonstrate concern with the inevitably ineffable implications
of their daily, physical work. It seems reasonable to conclude on the evidence
that they spun allegories and developed ceremonial to give substance to what we
might call an 'extra dimension', but which to them was nothing more than a set
of lodge practices designed on the one hand to educate and on the other to
ensure loyalty and solidarity.
It has been easy for the moral fables and symbolic allusions associated with
operative masons to be trivialised as the unsophisticated expression of a
perjoratively simple faith, or made part of an irrational and therefore
ultimately historically useless tangle, involving the worlds of alchemy, magic
and the occult. Some supporters of the 'spiritual operatives' approach, however,
have argued that what SF took up in the 17th and 18th centuries was not a basis
for expansion but rather a poor imitation of a genuine 'freemasonry' lost as the
guilds and Companies declined, were suppressed or were turned to other purposes,
and that since 1717 the grasp by even the most serious brethren of the 'real
secrets' has been minimal.
Books claiming to 'expose' SF were in circulation even before 1717 and the
first inklings of an industry were apparent almost as soon as the 1717 Grand
Lodge was established. A further wave of publications appeared in the last years
of the 20th century, once more claiming to 'finally' reveal the truth about
'masonic secrets.' Modestly, the authors of The Hiram Key, for example,
claim to have 'located the secret scrolls of Jesus and his followers' and that
their findings are of major importance 'not only to Freemasons, but to the world
Both initiated Freemasons, these authors say their research began when they
concluded from 'the inside' that 'modern' Freemasonry was a waste of time. They
dismiss in a single sentence the approach being explored here without,
apparently, having looked at any of the detailed research material which
We had easily decided that the stonemason theory of the origin of
Freemasonry does not hold up under close examination for the simple reason
that guilds of stonemasons did not exist in Britain.210
We will see that this claim is one of the more unfortunate 'leaps of logic'.
The Knights Templar are a popular, replacement 'source' for such crusading
authors. A later work by the same authors, The Second Messiah,211
claims to connect the Shroud of Turin, the Knights Templar and Scottish
Freemasonry with the death of James, brother of Jesus, via the core symbolic
ritual of Freemasonry, that of the murder and discovery of Hiram Abiff. Another
effort, The Templar Revelation purports to connect Mary Magdalene, John
the Apostle and the Knights Templar to Leonardo da Vinci.212
Robinson, another Freemason, in building his case for the Knights and 'the Lost
Secrets of Freemasonry' argued that before 1717 Freemasonry was secret, and that
the Knights were outlaws and refugees from Church and State. His evidence? One
An Old Charge of Masonry says that if a brother comes to you, give
him 'work' for two weeks, then give him some money and direct him to the next
lodge. Why the assumption that he will need money? Because he is running and
The tramping networks, whereby as a result of being 'impressed' or 'called'
by the King, stone masons were perhaps the first to be paid travelling
allowances, are apparently quite unknown to this author, a common but
significant weakness in the SF literature.214
Across the range of 'expose' literature, which has concentrated on the
'phenomenology' of Freemasonry and why 'Masons irritate or alarm people', the
many very real ways in which 'the Craft' has continuously affected and been
affected by real history have been obscured - such as the presence of 'lodges'
in British Public Schools and their role in the production of the men who then
used their schoolday ritualism in taming and Britishing 'the colonies'.215
Northern hemisphere Freemasons have a long record of research into their own
'myths and legends', but have kept much of it to themselves. Their
historiography has suffered modish fashions, too, and Freemasonry as a whole has
sometimes queered its own pitch by 'encouraging' notions of a higher and grander
status for itself than that of a mere 'benefit society'. Attempting to do this
while not being able to provide a convincing historical context has proved
life-threatening. Its opponents have built arguments on the elitist elements,
but even concern for their recordable history has been turned against Freemasons
by apparently sympathetic scholars:
The second paradox is this: Freemasonry has existed almost
unchanged since the beginning of the eighteenth century, quietly defying
history and the march of time, while simultaneously being more obsessed with
its own history than any other institution in the world. From the start, the
Craft ... has assiduously recorded its existence year by year, month by month,
day by day, constantly defining its own past, while remaining almost
unaffected by the history of mankind in general.216
Continued mis-interpretation and ill-founded attacks from frustrated but
fascinated outsiders has gradually worn down the resolve and the insularity of
the administrators of SF, who now find themselves forced to react because of
declining numbers and influence. SF's decision-makers are today dealing more
publically with at least the better-founded criticism than they once did.
For this observer, however, the persistent impression is that 'official'
English-speaking SF has constructed an in-house version of its own 'true
believer' and has attempted to contain issues within 'the Craft.' Akin to LH's
central definitional problem, the major SF problem is one of identity and
identification. Very simply, a collision of logic and ideology has made what
distinguishes 'operative freemasonry' from 'Speculative Freemasonry' extremely
difficult to determine. And while it is not acknowledged publically, evidence
shows the amount of conflict within 'the Craft' over fundamental beliefs has
Much of the difficulty stems from SF's failure to resolve its central dilemma
- how and whether to choose between its apparently plebeian origins and its
politically-useful patrician sensibilities. SF literature often gives the
impression that the organisation is committed to the belief that it derived from
operative stonemasons, but just as often directly undermines that committment or
allows it to be undermined.
In the meantime, Yates, a keen-sighted 'outsider' researching the links
between 'the Craft', the equally-misunderstood 'Order of the Rosy Cross' or
Rosicrucians, and the Royal Society of Isaac Newton, et al, has concluded:
The origin of Freemasonry is one of the most debated, and
debatable, subjects in the whole realm of historical enquiry.217
Another historian not usually quoted by Masonic researchers, Margaret Jacob,
Much of what has been written on Freemasonry is worthless and
every library is filled with non-scholarly literature on the
There is simply no adequate account, in English, of the origins of
The very well regarded 19th century SF scholar Gould, author of the
muti-volumed History of Freemasonry asserted in 1890 to the London
that the Symbolism we possess has come down to us, in all its main
features, from very early times, and that it originated during the splendour
of Mediaeval Operative Masonry, and not in its decline.219
Elsewhere he wrote:
(The) direct...line of Masonic descent is traceable to the lodges
of operative masons who flourished towards the close of the mediaeval
By 'Symbolism' he meant the rites of association and their 'speculative'
meanings. Perhaps this contribution has slipped into disuse because, rather than
cultivate a vibrant, newly-emergent image of SF, it argues that speculative
freemasonry was actually in decline in 1717 and that many elements of the
artisinal ritual which were taken up by Grand Lodge were accepted in ignorance
and that from that time understanding amongst the brethren of their own heritage
has slipped even further.
Gould was a painstaking researcher, accustomed as a barrister to sift and
weigh evidence. He considered masses of minor and obscure as well as public and
highly significant documents, many of which most of us will never access. He was
most carful in his analysis and not at all obsequious to SF tradition. He was
aware of the social, economic and political contexts surrounding the events of
which he was writing and aware, too, of the frailties and vanities of the human
players. SF scholars today could do worse than return to his work and that of
his contemporaries, and begin their debates anew.
Gould does not claim to have answered every question and neither do I regard
his account as without major flaw. I am not in a position to argue out here the
issues involved, and I make no claim to 'be on top of' all the relevant details
but I make two points, both of which I would make about many of the authors who
have come after him.
Firstly, Gould assumes that when 'gentry' and non-operative artisans began to
enter the operative lodges and were 'made' speculative freemasons, they received
the same secrets, practical or esoteric, that a contemporaneous operative mason
would have received as he/she entered the lodge for the first time. From this
assumption flows a second significant but equally erroneous assumption, that the
ceremonial used by 'speculatives' in lodges they came to control was all
of the ceremonial known to contemporaneous operatives.
Phrasing my initial doubts this way, of course, leads to the realisation that
operative rites may well have altered in many respects at different places
and/or times. Much of the debate within SF circles has been very simplistic:
whether (all and every) operatives had one, two or three degrees and of what
For the operative apprentice entering lodge as a novice, the
Speculative concensus has been that the 'service' was very simple,
probably only an oath, a reading to the candidate and a brief, catechetic
examination. A second more practical examination, when the apprentice was out of
'his' time tested his suitability to become a 'fellow', has been agreed as
likely, but strong argument has ensued over the liklihoood of a third, to make
'him' a Master of the trade. In SF after 1717, a third degree ritual was
allegedly composed, in keeping with the embellished first and second degrees now
known as 'Entered Apprentice' and 'Fellow Craft'.
I see no reason why operatives would necessarily disclose all, even
much of their practical secrets or their esoteric secrets to 'strangers'. There
would be no need for them to do so, and disclosure of any secrets would, as we
shall see, be against the oath they had taken.
Much play has also been made of what's called the 'Old Charges' and other
operative documents not providing information about ceremonial rites and
'secrets', again the concensus being that this proves the operatives had no such
rites at the time the document was created. This seems very unsound reasoning.
Secondly, Gould had access to operative stonemasons as he was writing but
appears to have made no attempt to approach or to appraise their activities. He
does say that his concern was only with 'speculative' masonry, and that this
distinction excused him from following certain lines of enquiry. This seems
especially specious for a lawyer.
A school of SF researchers known as 'the Authentics' held sway within the
ambit of the London-based UGL for most of the 20th century. They were committed,
they said, to rigorous examination of documents and to a need to accept no more
and no less than those documents provided. Heresay, romantic conjecture and
fantasy were put aside, the need was for hard evidence. Even so, their debate
has been, shall we say, studiously unproductive. Some have had absolutely no
The trade secrets of the operative masons became the
esoteric secrets of the speculative masons.221
Others have made crystal clear their belief that it was absurd on a number of
levels to think that artisans had originated 'their' rituals:
The problem is one of credible history, a believable basis for
thinking that an organisation of dusty stonecutters with scraped hands and
knees, backs aching from struggling with heavy blocks of stone in all weather
conditions, somehow turned into a noble company led by kings and princes,
dukes and earls - not to mention that the entire process was accomplished in
Such a vigorous dismissal almost hides the fact that Robinson and others like
him evince no interest in understanding the world of 'dusty stonecutters'. The
harsh conclusion intrudes that an approach to that material not only requires
intellectual rigour and an overturning of personal, snobbish assumptions, but is
less likely than wild speculations about the Knights Templar, the Shroud of
Turin and some well-known personage such as Leonardo da Vinci, to produce a
runaway best seller among the (mostly) ill-educated masses.223
Less extreme dismissals of the operatives have claimed that after 1717, the
operatives' few basic notions, a simple rite or two, were embellished and
extended into a grand, new creation. The very influential SF researcher,
Professor of Economics Douglas Knoop, wrote in 1941 to the effect that
'fundamental changes in masonic working' were introduced after 1717 which
ultimately transformed the whole chain of ceremonies.224
In 1978, he capped an extensive research and publishing program by issuing with
his collaborator, GP Jones, incidentally another academic economist, The
Genesis of Freemasonry, to oppose the lingering effects of 'mythical or
imaginative' histories of SF with their own 'comparative and analytical'
account. They argued that only towards the end of the 18th century did a major
concern for symbolism appear within SF:
So long as lodges were mainly convivial societies, or institutions
for discussing architecture and geometry, there could be little scope for
symbolism. That would not arise until freemasonry had become primarily a
system of morality.225
This belief is derived from, and used to strengthen their circular conclusion
that operative masons never treated their working tools as allegorical.226
I believe this is unsound and note that in the face of their apparent certitude,
Knoop and Jones insisted their conclusions were no more than 'tentative' working
hypotheses and that even a 'comprehensive and universally true definition' of SF
was not available to them.227
For the 1967 publication, Grand Lodge, 1717-1967, the United Grand
Lodge of England assembled as 'official' an array of 'in-house' historians as
was possible. The first section, 'Freemasonry Before Grand Lodge' by Harry Carr
drew upon Unwin's Gilds and Companies of London, Trevelyan's English
Social History and much in-house research to establish a schema for 'the
transition', ie, the process whereby the speculative 'Craft' of Freemasonry
evolved out of the operative 'craft' of (stone)masonry.[Note the use of
In his concluding paragraph Carr said:
Officially the story begins in 1717, but the seeds were sown in
1356 with the first code of mason regulations promulgated at Guildhall in
But elsewhere he asserted: 'the Freemasonry of today bears no resemblance to
the craft as it was in the 1300's', in effect that 'the Craft' bears no
resemblance to 'the craft' which preceded it and gave it its essentials.
So, again we have problems of logic and problems of, what shall we call it,
'hubris', associated with an as-yet-unexplained, and certainly ambiguous
distinction being asserted through the presence or the absence of capitalisation
- eg, 'craft' vs 'Craft'; 'masonry' vs 'Masonry'.
The 'whole story in detail' is impossible to tell, says Carr, indeed what
scholars have is little more than a collection of jigsaw pieces:
The essential foundations of the Craft are to be found,
nevertheless, in England where its history actually begins with a study of the
conditions...which led first to the evolution of mason trade organisation, and
later gave rise to the early 'operative lodges.'(p.3)
Carr relates the development of gild organisation, initially the religious
gilds, then the 'Gild Merchants' (Note the capitals again), then 'craft gilds'
which, despite their lack of capitalisation achieved dominance over the others
by 'the end of the fourteenth century':
Craft regulations were usually based on ancient customs that had
long been in use in the trades and they were imposed by consent of the
municipal authorities, whose sanction gave them the force of law.
A 'craft gild' is defined by Carr as - '(an association) of men engaged in a
particular craft or trade, for the protection of their mutual interests and for
rights of self-government.'(p.4) 'Lodge' turns out to be far harder to define.
In Carr's hands, the 'lodge' is first a workshop, a place to store tools and to
rest. Then it becomes a term for the association of workers using this site. To
be an 'operative lodge' it is required that the association of masons, bound
together for their common good, 'share a secret mode of recognition to which
they are sworn on admission.' (p.13) This level of organisation, he claims, was
not achieved until the 16th century and at that stage the rites probably
consisted only of 'an oath of fidelity and a reading of the Charges.'
Later, 'secret words and signes' were added, and perhaps by the end of the
17th century, when operative masonry was well into its decline and operative
lodges were admitting more and more 'non-operatives', two degrees only were
being 'worked' - that of the 'entered apprentice' and 'fellow craft or master'.
Carr asserts that at this stage the ceremonies 'contain nothing that might be
described as "speculative masonry"', thus implying that the bulk of what now
distinguishes SF ritually and allegorically was developed by non-operatives
after 1717. However, at the same time:
It is certain that the original ceremonies, however brief, had
begun in the gilds and companies even before the advent of lodge
It is probable that (a) nucleus of catechism and secrets was the
basis of our masonic ritual throughout all the stages of operative,
non-operative, and 'accepted' Masonry.
Although his account can be seen in the overall context of SF publications as
moderate and probably an attempted compromise, Carr remains caught in a trap of
his own making. Similarly to the Webbs, he wants the object towards which he is
working to be the most finished form of an historically-legitimate evolutionary
process, and to have benefitted from but to have shucked off all the
unnecessary, 'primitive' beginings. His major problem is, as it is with SF as a
whole, that there is sufficient evidence to show that the gilds were neither
'primitive' nor totally without 'speculative' beliefs. And as already pointed
out there is no necessary connection between SF and operative freemasonry
- any claimed, or dismissed connection, equally requiring proof.
It needs to be made clear here that the documents which supposedly provided
operative rites to the non-operatives in the London Grand Lodge soon after 1717
were allegedly destroyed even before their 'adaptations' were made public.
In London in 1356, Carr says, 'twelve skilled masters' representing the two
branches of stonemasonry, the 'hewers' and the 'layers or setters', were brought
together by the municipal authorities to approve a code of regulations for the
trade. Further evidence shows just 20 years later, the trade of mason is in the
list of 47 'sufficient misteries' of the City, whereby 4 of their number served
as delegates on the Common Council, 'sworn to give counsel for the common weal
and "preserving for each mistery its reasonable customs."' He assays evidence of
the functions carried out by this body and concludes that by 1481 its
organisation included regulations for a distinct livery or uniform, annual
assemblies, election of Wardens with power of search for false work,
restrictions against outsiders, payment of quarterly contributions and the
maintenance of a 'Common Box' - 'in fact all the machinery of management for an
established craft gild.' Since he doesn't actually explore the options, there
would appear to be an ideological perspective to his key distinction:
(There) is no evidence at this time of any kind of secrets, or
degrees, or lodge, in connexion with the London Masons'
It would seem strange to Carr and his colleagues to find me commenting at
this stage that no direct evidence, which is the sort of evidence he is
referring to, exists of degrees, secret work or lodges 'in connexion with'
any trade. My point is that operative stonemasonry was not different in
kind so why expect that its practitioners would act differently to those of
other occupations. But the point has also to do with the nature of secrecy. In a
non-paper era especially, why would one expect secrets to be written down, let
alone made available to the authorities? Carr agrees that craft gilds were
already recognisably fraternal, and I therefore suggest it is hard to imagine
them without trade secrets and/or without ranks of achievement. Carr would
appear to have assumed the nature of 'masonic' secrecy from his understanding of
SF not from an understanding of the stonemason's occupation.
In addition to secrecy, SF, like LH, has a need to see itself as democratic
in the modern sense, there is therefore a need to massage real-time history with
regard to governance. Carr went on:
Apart from London, far the best evidence in Britain for mason gild
organisation comes from Edinburgh, and the records there are doubly important
because they also furnish valuable confirmation as to the manner in which the
operative lodges arose.(p.8)
It seems the gild system in Edinburgh began in the 1400's when the craft
organisations called 'Incorporations' were granted powers of self-government
under 'Seals of Cause'. The 'Masons and Wrights' petitioning together received
such a document in 1475. Carr comments:
As in London, the authorities encouraged this type of
organisation, and by the end of the fifteenth century practically all the
Edinburgh crafts were similarly incorporated...These regulations, like the
London Masons' ordnances of 1356 which they closely resemble in several
points, were drawn up by the crafts themselves and they indicate...the
condition of the mason craft in Edinburgh at that time. (p.9)
According to our author 'the lodge' appears in the city after this
It is certain [!] that at some time between 1475 and 1598 the
passing of EA's [Entered Apprentices] to the grade of FC [Fellow Craftsman]
was transferred from the Incorporation to the Lodge.
So, 'operative lodges' appeared in the towns and cities by the end of the
16th century, their functions including - regulating the entry of apprentices,
the passing of fellows, the settlement of disputes, the prevention of
enticement, the punishment of offenders, and the protection of the trades from
the intrusion of untrained or itinerant labour, ie all 'internal arrangements.'
He then has to admit that evidence exists for 'some sort of lodge development
long before that time'. This takes us outside the city limits. Documents from
the 13th century refer to a 'lodge' as the common space for masons on a building
site, eg a cathedral, where, again I interpolate, it would seem difficult to
imagine a totally non-speculative climate:
At York Minster in 1370 a strict code of ordinances for masons was
drawn up by the Chapter, regulating times and hours of work and
refreshment;...(penalties for breaches)..The men were forbidden to go more
than a mile from the 'lodge' in their free time; new men were to work a week a
more on trial and if they were found 'sufficient' by the Master of Works and
the Master Mason they were sworn 'upon the book' to adhere to the rules.
Throughout this document the word 'lodge' refers primarily to the masons'
workshop, but it was also their home, refectory and 'clubroom'. [My
Carr has used capitalisation to build a sense of uniqueness for SF. Now, we
find that the lodges occupied by these groups of 'attached masons' on building
sites outside city limits were 'ephemeral' and the brethren were 'wholly under
the control of the authorities whom they served'. They are therefore not proper
...the 'operative lodge' in its third and highest stage of
development was a permanent institution and the word 'lodge' in this case is
used to describe the working masons of a particular town or district organised
to regulate the affairs of their trade...We call them 'operative lodges'
because their activities were concerned only with men who earned their
livlihood in some branch of the mason craft, or building
All of which makes me wonder if Carr has been reading the Webbs. It also
seems he believes that social, religious or benevolent activities do not mark
'proper' lodges because where those exist no evidence has been found indicating
concern with trade regulation matters. This would seem an inadequate reading of
the evidence, but in general terms, Carr, like many SF authors, assumes that any
absence of evidence for some point is proof for its opposite, at least as long
as that assumption helps in his vigorous pursuit of the conclusion he had in
mind before he began.
In the case of the 'Old Charges', manuscripts, often fragmentary, which date
from 1390, he is dismissive of any suggestion of mediaeval mason assemblies
because that would undermine Grand Lodge's claim that 1717 was the first. And so
on. He says that 'no internal records' of the lodges of the apparently non-gild
'attached masons' have survived but he can still make the jump from documents
setting out their conditions of employment - 'where the industrial life of the
masons was fully controlled in the interests of the employers', which is of
course arguable in itself - to:
there was a noticeable absence of organisation among themselves,
both in trade matters and in social or benevolent
So, the gilds of 'town' masons had no degrees, secrets, etc, and the lodges
of 'attached masons', outside the town, had no municipal organisation or control
and no social or benevolent activities, and both were therefore incomplete.
His analysis of what are called the 'Old Charges' seems to this reader to
contain arbitrary and a-historical distinctions, all in the name of setting up a
highly-fanciful image of 'something-that-is-to-come.'230
The 'Old Charges' are a series of 120 documents which, in Carr's words are '(a)
major source of evidence on the development of mason craft organisation in
England.' Carr says that 'their general pattern...is the same' and that each
consists of two parts - firstly, a 'largely traditional history of the mason
craft' and secondly, 'a code of regulations for masters, fellows, (ie qualified
craftsmen) and apprentices.' The texts usually contain, he says, vague
arrangements for 'large-scale assemblies' of masons 'implying a widespread
territorial organisation', arrangements he dismisses by going on to say there is
no evidence to show that any assemblies ever took place.
This is of course where he ought to have begun, with a close analysis of
these documents, allowing them to lead him rather than the other way around,
particularly in the light of an amazing admission buried in description of the
'largely traditional history':
It is probable that this 'history' was compiled in order to
provide a kind of traditional background for long-standing craft customs that
were embodied in these texts.
Any 'long-standing craft customs' written about, fancifully or not from 1390
on, are exactly the sorts of evidence required to make sense of this
'transition' experience. His unnecessarily restricted conclusion is the correct
one, but he makes nothing of it:
(there) was one peculiarity which distinguished the lodges from
the craft gilds or companies. The masons of the lodge shared a secret mode of
'recognition', which was communicated to them in the course of some sort of
brief admission ceremony, under an oath of secrecy...From now on, unless there
is some special qualifying note in the text, the word 'lodge' will be defined
as an association of masons (operative or otherwise) who are bound together
for their common good, and who share a secret mode of recognition to which
they are sworn on admission. [Carr's emphasis]
The regulations contained in the Charges were addressed separately to
'masters' and 'fellows', he agrees, and many are normal craft regulations. Where
they relate to apprentices they are usually identical with other indenture
Despite these similarities, however, it is important to stress
that the regulations in the MS Constitutions [the 'Old Charges'] are
not gild ordnances, because they lack certain features which were an
essential feature of all such codes...(evidence of elections of officers,
annual assemblies and municipal sanction)..One other (distinguishing) feature
is the inclusion of a number of items which were not trade matters..but
designed to preserve and elevate the moral character of the craftsmen. It
is this extraordinary combination of 'history', trade and moral regulations
which makes these early masonic manuscripts unique among contemporary craft
documents. (p.14) [My emphasis]
Carr has made no reference to, let alone done any analysis of other craft
regulations, and he has repeatedly admitted the partial nature of his 'pieces of
jig-saw'. Yet he makes statements of ringing certainty. His attitude has been
helped by his predecessors having arbitrarily removed from the pile of relevant
evidence hard facts difficult to massage in the necessary direction.
One such example concerns the records of a guild of stonemasons at Lincoln
founded on the Feast of Pentecost, 1319. Knoop and Jones insisted that it 'had
become [!] merely [!] a social [!] and religious fraternity' by 1389 while
another SF scholar Vibert 'refers to it as a religious fraternity among the
masons', all of which is about refusing it status as a 'craft' or trade-based
guild, whereby its obvious possession of both a trade-orientation and
symbolic sensitivities can be disregarded. A second intention is a discounting
of this guild's insistence on referring in its documents to both 'fratres'
['brother'] and 'sorores' ['sister'].231
Every brother or sister on entering the gild shall pay four
shillings or one quarter of best barley at the three terms of the year, and
four pence, namely one to the deacon, one to the clerk and two to the ale.
All cementarii [stonemasons] of this gild shall agree that any cementarius
who takes an apprentice shall give 40 pence to the maintaining of the candle,
and if he be unwilling to give, the amount shall be doubled.232
Carr's selectivity catches him out eventually when he makes the statement
that 'most important of all' the points which are 'the strongest possible
evidence' showing that these MS Constitutions were 'not designed for the
craftsmen in the towns' is their common:
injunction to cherish travelling masons and 'refresh them with
money to the next lodge',(p.16)
in other words the existence of 'tramping networks'. He sees these only as 'a
kind of hostel and "labour exchange" for workers outside the city limits. We
will see that in context they are a key, positive part of the fraternal
'jig-saw', in or outside the city walls.
Sufficient evidence exists to also counter the arguement that the
cathedral-building masons did not stay long enough in one place in mediaeval
times to have equally strong 'trade' organisation to those in other occupations.
The Fabric Rolls of York Minster, Chapter Act Books of the Cathedral Chapter and
the city's Freemen Rolls have convinced at least some SF researchers that
from the middle of the fourteenth century, if not earlier, there
is evidence of a well-established system or order amongst the masons at the
Minster, most of whom were employed by the Chapter year after year if not
permanently...(It) is possible to see...a well-developed system of Master,
Wardens and Master Masons, but even more significantly something which may
surely be regarded as approaching an initiation ceremony.
The Statute of Labourers in 1360 distinguished 'Master masons of freestone,
or Masons called Freemasons' from 'masons called layers' and Exchequer Accounts
for Westminster of 1532 show gradations in the ranks of masons from those
working with stone, below them those working at setting of stone, then
successively roughlayers and wallers, then hardhewers, who worked chiefly at the
quarries, and lowest of all, entaylers, who were more assistants or
Carr used the internal lodge records of St Mary's Chapel Lodge, Edinburgh
which run from 1539, to illustrate that subsequent, important changes in
'masonry' resulted from economic pressures. After 1671 when disastrous fires
made it necessary for as many 'masters' to be available as possible, certain
'entered apprentices' who were reluctant for financial reasons to move to the
next level, were heavily pressured by the municipal authorities into 'passing'.
This totally broke with the custom of 'passing' or 'making' being dependent on a
candidate being able to prove his or her competence by completing a set task:
From this time, the 1680's, we date a gradual change in the
character of the Lodge from a 'closed-shop' association of skilled craftsmen
to a trade association of 'members', ie a society in which actual numbers and
Lodge income were to become more important than technical skill. (p.37)
Migrant or 'forrin' labour was able to get work more easily, and new Lodges
were opened within the area where previously St Mary's Chapel had been the
controlling authority, Carr commenting - 'No operative lodge could function
properly if it had a rival on its own doorstep.'
From this time Lodge interests were less trade-oriented and more benevolent
and financial, in Carr's terms - 'The Lodge was acquiring some of the
characteristics of a benefit society.' An interesting admission but another
major error. Again he seems to have misjudged the nature of the earlier forms of
After 1700 St Mary's could not even control its own journeymen, some using
the courts to win the right to form their own Lodge, and to confer 'the Mason
Word', the ultimate secret. In 1726, several members won an internal dispute to
force the admission of several non-masons who wished to join and to contribute
funds. What then quickly became a totally 'speculative' Lodge, ie non-operative,
issued its first By-laws in 1736 containing not one regulation concerned with
the trade. (p.38)
A complementary address Carr made to the major SF Research Lodge AQC
continued this vein. Although central to his research Carr, like Gould, seems
totally uninterested in the function of ritual in operative lodges, the
involvement of secrecy or of status marks in such ritual or the purpose of the
surviving moral tales and legends.
The 1991 edition of a popular history of SF, first published in 1953 and
since then revised and re-published many times maintained:
Up to the present time, no even plausible theory of the 'origin'
of the freemasons has been put forward.235
This is a remarkable statement and stretches the whole organisations'
credibility to breaking point. The two authors, both well-respected Masons,
don't improve the situation by following the above sentence with:
The reason for this is probably that the Craft, as we know it,
originated among the operative masons of Britain.
They proceed to bury on page 246, two brief paragraphs on 'The Worshipful
Society of Free Masons, Rough Masons, Slaters, Paviors, Plaisterers and
Bricklayers' in whose history one imagines a 'plausible theory' could be sought.
Indeed, Pick and Knight begin these two paragraphs with the bald statement:
This society is popularly known as 'The Operatives' because it
preserves the old operative rituals in its ceremonies.
Not, notice, 'because it is believed that' or 'its members believe that' but
simply 'because it preserves the old operative rituals.' Perhaps I'm missing
something, not being an SF but I would have thought that possession of 'the old
operative rituals' would, in itself, be sufficient evidence to resolve the major
issue once and for all. Any doubts that exist could be addressed very easily
through seriously conducted comparative tests.236
I return to this shortly.
Some mainstream Freemason researchers moved in the 1990's to break out of the
impasse. Markham, author of the prestigious 1997 Prestonian Lecture, 'Some
Problems of English Masonic History' joined brethren urging that 'the Craft'
engage with outside historians for 'despite its very interesting historical
character, Freemasonry has never been understood by non-masonic historians as
part of general history.'237
He was most concerned with the damage done by anti-Masonry attacks published and
circulated over the years, but he acknowledged that not all Masonic 'histories'
had been useful:
There have been many theories of (the) origin of Freemasonry (some
logically argued, and others eccentric in the extreme). A general approach has
been to take a preconceived theory and try to make it fit with the various
surviving divergent fragments of evidence of early masonic history; and there
has been a general lack of success.238
In sadness, not anger, I note that in 1890 Gould had made plain to his
colleagues in SF research his opinion that:
(The) domain of Ancient, as distinguished from that of
Modern Masonry, has been very strangely neglected, and that if we
really wish to enlist the sympathy and interest of scholars and men of
intelligence, in the special labours of the [Research] Lodge, we must make a
least a resolute attempt to partially lift the veil, by which the earlier
history of our Art or Science is obscured.239
In order that his meaning would be totally clear to all, he spelt out that:
(By) the expression 'Ancient Masonry' is to be understood the
history of the Craft before, and by that of 'Modern Masonry' the
history of the Craft after the era of Grand Lodges. The line of
demarcation between them being drawn at the year 1717.
Apparently making a break, academic and SF Prescott announced in 2000 the
establishment of the Centre for Research into Freemasonry at Sheffield
University, to 'encourage and undertake objective scholarly research into
the social and cultural impact of freemasonry' [NB lack of a capital - emphasis
mine] Prescott said he and his colleagues at the Centre took as their
intellectual manifesto an article by Oxford historian Roberts published in 1969
where could be found:
It is surprising that in the country which gave freemasonry [no
cap] to the world it has attracted hardly any interest from the professional
historian...The result has been at best faithful reproduction of traditional
hagiography and at worst lunatic speculation. 240
Markham acknowledged the use of secrecy by lodges was a contributor to the
situation he was addressing and that in Ireland especially, ritual and rules
were simply not committed to paper until late in the 18th century.241
He made clear that the later the ritual the more likely it was to occupy a
greater number of words, but that on a number of significant occasions attempts
were made to get back to an earlier, simpler version, what was known in
continental Europe as the 'English' rite:
(the) French were not content with limiting the movement to the
supposed moral customs, secrets and ritual of stonemasons, and soon related it
also to ideals of knighthood...When, in the late 18th century, particularly in
Germany, excesses arose in the attempted development of Masonry and its
rituals, including attempts to use them for commercial gain, it was to the
pure ideals of 'English Masonry' that a return was sought.242
Curiously, this 'English' rite almost certainly owed its survival to the
committment of Irish masons who were responsible for what is now called the
'Antient' form, which Markham believed research has shown, was of mediaeval
Whether this made these 'masons' both speculative and operative at the same time
is the $64 question, and one I can't answer at the moment.
The 'Antients' were a group of lodges, whose 'history' is not clear, unhappy
with changes introduced after 1717, on the basis of their claimed knowledge of
the earlier rites. Many of them aligned with a Grand Lodge at York until 'the
Union' of 1813, when what I would call a 'revised' SF incorporated sufficient
'Antient' material for that 'faction' to agree to a merger with the London-based
Grand Lodge, the 'Moderns.'
Although it is likely, therefore, that basic, 'Craft' SF ritual today is
closer to that of the mediaeval operative stonemasons than it was for the period
1723 to 1813, an outcome impacting on the Webbs' interpretation of labour
history, this is not the whole story.
'Operative' derives from the latin 'operarii' for 'handicraftsman', while the
original 'lodges', first referred to in England around AD1200, were site
buildings for workmen to eat in, keep their tools in and for the conduct of
their fraternal business.244
There is little doubt that the name 'free-mason' existed for a particular kind
of operative stonemason, viz, one who worked with 'free stone' said to be
favoured for figure carving, while others worked with 'rough' stone and were
But the notion of a 'free' man able to practice a craft only because 'he' had
attained 'his' free status was also common.
In general, it is believed that an artisan became 'free' to the trade when
'he' (usually but not always male) achieved 'master' status, which meant 'he'
had passed through the intermediate 'degrees' and had completed a 'master
piece.' The craft gild commonly comprised three classes of members - the
masters, the journeymen and the apprentices, matching exactly the 3 'Craft'
degrees of 'evolved' SF. The levels or degrees were not arbitrary. Cipola has
Class and group conflicts played a fundamental part in determining
who could and who could not form a guild...Within the guilds, a definite order
of precedence faithfully reflected the distribution of power.
This Italian scholar acknowledged the range of functions guilds carried out
but had no illusions about their political role:
All these functions should not be underestimated. But neither
should one underestimate the fact that one of the fundamental aims of all
guilds was to regulate and reduce competition among their own members...(In)
any study of the level and structure of employment and wages in centuries
preceding the eighteenth, guilds' actions must of necessity occupy a position
of the first importance.246
Lipson came to the same conclusion:
Although wages and prices were often regulated by the municipality
and subsequently by the state, the assessment of wages and the fixing of
prices were also a common feature of gild activity.247
The SF 'in-house' literature seems most at error when it diminishes the
'benefit society' functions of mediaeval fraternalism. Lipson used these
functions of the craft gild's natural enemy, the trading class, to make the
Apart from its control of trade, the merchant gild served other
functions which exhibit in a strong light the core of fraternalism inherent in
the gild system.248
Lipson noted, as just one craft example among many, that after 1487 poor
members of the Carpenters' Brotherhood were to have weekly: 'A reward of the
common box of the craft after the discretion of the masters and wardens.'
Earlier, in 1333, the carpenters had instituted a provision that
if any brother or sister fall into poverty by God's hand or in
sickness...so that he may not keep himself, then shall he have of the
brotherhood each week fourteenpence during this poverty, after he hath lain
sick a fortnight.249
During his poverty the unfortunate brother was also to receive the livery
clothing at the common cost, in order that he might not be put to shame in the
presence of the guild assembly. Lipson quotes similar arrangements amongst the
'Taylors', the grocers, the white tawyers, the barber surgeons, the tanners,
goldsmiths, weavers, etc, etc. This was no system of welfare without strings:
It was a common stipulation, therefore, that any one admitted to
the gild should take oath to keep the ordnances of the craft, and disobedience
would thus expose the offender to penalties in spiritual courts.250
(In) the effort to provide a fair remuneration for the worker and
to reconcile the conflicting claims of producer and consumer,...principles of
industrial control and conceptions of wages and prices (were developed by the
mediaeval craft gilds) to which we may perhaps one day return.251
Where argumentation between scholars continues over, for example, whether the
qualifier 'craft' in front of 'gild' is necessary, at what date it becomes
necessary to distinguish artisinal from 'merchant' guilds, and what
qualification it actually introduces, differences often seem semantically-based.
When it is possible to bring a range of resources to bear, some long-standing
positions would seem untenable. The distinctions drawn earlier between town
craft organisation and lodges outside town limits would appear to be
unrealistic, as would the treatment of stonemasonry, or 'the building trades' as
Ladders of 'degrees' have been dated to before the 10th century eg, seven
ecclesiastical degrees from 'ostiary' up to that of bishop.252
In addition to acknowledgement as a 'made' apprentice, and as being 'free' on
the trade, specific 'degrees' of skill and status were needed for attainment of
the rank of 'master carpenter', 'master fishmonger', 'master felt-maker', and so
SF researcher Speth has studied guilds or Companies of Free Carmen, Free
Fishermen, Free Dredgers, Free Fishers, Free Watermen, Free Vintners,
and SF author (Bernard) Jones has commented:
many a craft that had been a 'mistery' to start with had
become...a code or a system of mysteries and secrets, which everybody seeking
to join it had solemnly to swear to keep inviolate...fraternities besides the
masons had Deacons and Masters and Box Masters..And the Mason's mystery was
not alone in veiling its moralisings in allegory and illustrating them with
symbols drawn from its own craft.255
Gould noted that 'master-pieces' were required from 'Framework Knitters' as
well as from masons256
Nevertheless, he, in particular, was anxious to deprecate suggestions that other
crafts than the masons had their secret modes of recognition. It seems to me
that one term he uses, 'squaremen', was obviously intended to cover trades which
had the square as a working tool, and as later scholars have concluded, he seems
wrong to deny that such craftsmen were on the same trajectory as
Involvement of 'gentry' directly in a lodge or group of lodges, whatever the
person's interest in or knowledge of building with stone, was likely at
different times for different reasons.258
In other words, it's easy to see that the SF 'transition' involving
'speculatives' was no new or unique organisational device. After Edward III
reconstituted and legitimated the trading fraternities by recognising their
and providing them with charters or letters patent, the King himself led a rush
of non-operatives to join. Presumably meaning he was initiated in a
mock-up manner, and given access to some ersatz secrets, it is recorded that he
'became' a Linen-Armourer. His successor Richard II became a brother of the same
the great, both clergy and laity, as well as principal citizens,
dazzled with the splendour of such associates, hastened in both reigns to be
enrolled as tradesmen in the fraternities.260
The records also remind us that a 'writer, politician or solicitor was
(often) a member of the Needleworkers Company',
Daniel Defoe was a Butcher, Samuel Pepys a Clothworker, Dick
Whittington a Mercer and William 111 a Grocer... while Her Majesty the
(current) Queen is associated with the Drapers Company, and HRH the Prince of
Wales with the Fishmongers.261
We are told that the Lodge of Free Gardeners at Haddington in Scotland had,
from their Incorporation in 1676, accepted the admission of non-gardeners 'at a
Haddington, for example, was a Scottish rural town with representatives of
all the usual trades and crafts, nine of which, during the 16th and 17th
centuries, sought, 'in common with their counterparts in other towns', official
recognition as Incorporations from the Haddington Burgh Council in the form of a
'Seal of Cause' or 'Charter':
For such a relatively small Burgh it is perhaps surprising that no
less than nine trades and crafts obtained Incorporation status...85%-95% of
Scotland's population lived outside of the Burgh's at this time. The
Gardeners, therefore, (who lived outside the Burgh) organised themselves as
best they could and their ('Interjunctions for ye Fraternitie of the Gairdners
of East Lothian') of 1676 suggests that they modelled their organisation on
similar lines to other trades.263
Exploring even less usual territory, Le Roy Ladurie wrote of the nomadic
sheep herders of (French) Montaillou:
Sometimes for a few seasons, when favoured by good fortune and
well rewarded for his labours, Pierre Maury managed to be his own boss. He
would then use various techniques: fraternal mutual aid, the hiring of paid
shepherds or association with another employer...264
Elsewhere he referred to the 'total brotherhood between friends unlinked by
blood' which was central to Occitan culture and which was 'institutionalized in
the ritual forms of fraternity' recorded from the beginning of the 14th
The idea of a fraternally-organised nomadic occupation is most intriguing, as
the combination of travelling and brotherhood appears in a number of guises in
this story. Already referred to is 'the search' at the heart of the chivalric
The legends of chivalry are the veiled alllegories of the eternal
search for spiritual truth in a world of natural realities.
Brydon collected up the worlds of 'bards, troubadors, meistersingers and
strolling gypsy players' to spread the net of his generalisation to cover
townspeople who might never have left their walled security:
Having spent many years in the study of the old Artisan Guilds,
Fraternities and Mystical Associations of Europe, it has always appeared to me
that at the heart of these institutions, there lay a ritual symbolism
involving a search for something remote, hidden or lost.266
The place of symbolic searching is clear enough in the SF rituals, while
actual tramping networks would appear to provide a map of the links between the
'ancient craft organisation' and both speculative freemasonry and the 'modern'
The Webbs observed 'the inevitable passage of (a) far-extending tramping society
into a national Trade Union', but gave the phenomenon only limited
as did Hobsbawm.269
Beginning his corrective, Leeson quoted a 14th century rule of the fullers of
If a stranger to the city comes in, he may upon giving a penny to
the wax, work among the bretheren and sisteren and his name shall be written
on their roll.270
The 'wax' was for a candle to be lit to the trade's saint. A century and a
half later, among the shoemakers of Norwich, the 'stranger' was still charged a
penny. A 'stranger' was someone not born within the town or village; he might
also be called a 'forren', someone 'from outside', an 'uplander' or an 'alien.'
Rules for the entertainment of the stranger varied according to trade, place and
circumstances. Tilers who came to Lincoln were told simply: 'Join the gild or
leave the city.' Hatters coming to London were quizzed about any debts they
might have left in their last employ and coppersmiths admitted strangers who
promised to abide by the rules, which included paying into the common fund to
care for the 'poor' or unemployed of the craft.
Leeson drew the links between the tramping networks and the constant
struggles within trades for control over hours and conditions of employment,
including the 'right to search', ie, to look for and confiscate unauthorised
work, and over the number of 'masters'.271
The tramping system was more than just an ever-present safety-valve. It was a
defining part of the context whether the movement of tradespeople around the
country resulted from a need for work, for relief from poverty or to escape
unwelcome attentions from the authorities. Linking 'inns of call' where the
lodge brothers welcomed, checked and sent on if necessary the tramping
'stranger', the network ultimately became the basis of 'modern' benefit society
organisation. Prior to that the 'tramp' card or 'ticket' and the benefits it
provided were integral parts of an evolving code of mutuality based on working
people's living circumstances.
In 1995 an SF scholar advanced an 'origins' theory based on later versions of
these same networks:
In 17th century England, where political and religious factors, as
well as outright villainy, might spell danger for a traveller in a strange
place, anything which could guarantee him a safe lodging and freedom from
betrayal to enemies or rogues would be a great boon. That was precisely what
the operative masons could offer to (non-operatives) possessed of their
What in mediaeval times were known as 'pilgrims' were a major reason for the
English mediaeval 'hospice' being established in certain towns and in certain
locations within those towns.273
Ludlow, categorisable as an historian of 'friendly societies' and arguing in
1872 that sufficient vestiges of the 'thousands of fraternities' existing
in the 14th century survived to provide a transition to modern 'friendly
agreed the 'charity' of these 'mutual aid societies' during this 'first European
industrial revolution' helped to finance hospitals and chapels as well as the
The Crusaders were 'wandering brothers', their routes to Jerusalem and back home
'tramping networks'. This material provides much-argued connections between the
Crusade's Templar Orders and 'modern' SF, while less controversially, one
historian has emphasised the fraternal societies' pageants and banquets along
with their charity work:
Among the latter were almshouses, free schools, hospitals,
scholarships, lectureships, (and) fellowships.276
'Tramping' was not an exception, an aberration. It was part of an integrated
world of gild-activities. Howell summarised the objects of 11th century
guilds as 'the support and nursing of the infirm guild-brothers, the burial
of the dead, the performance of religious services and the saying of prayers for
their souls.' The requirements of a common meal before the annual celebration of
'their' patron saint and alms for the poor were set out, along with 'mutual care
of the brothers...by money contributions in case of death, in support of those
who went on a journey and of those who suffered loss by fire.' An oath sworn on
'their' saint's relics affirmed 'faithful brotherhood towards each other, not
only in religious matters but in secular matters also.' Howell concluded:
To effect these objects a complete organisation existed, and a
system of regulations was framed for the purpose of carrying them out...The
essence of the manifold regulations in these three guild-statutes appears to
have been the brotherly banding together, into close unions, of man and man,
sometimes even established on and fortified by an oath, for the purpose of
mutual help and support. This essential characteristic is found in all the
guilds of every age from those first known to us...to their descendants of the
present day, the modern trade unions.277
As towns grew in size, new trades and increasing numbers of 'foreigners'
threatened to overwhelm the local men, a situation which had to be regulated,
most obviously through the numbers allowed to work each craft. Thus, over time,
what I will generalise as 'lodge' processes, integrating religious ceremonial
with business affairs, had to be made increasingly formal and concerned with
disciplined adherence to custom:
The life and soul of the craft-guild was its meetings, which
brought all the guild-brothers together every week, month or quarter. For the
sake of greater solemnity, these were opened with certain ceremonies; the
craft-box, containing the charters of the guild, the statutes, the money, and
other valuable articles, having several locks, the keys of which were kept by
different officers, was opened on such occasions with much solemnity, all
present having to uncover their heads.278
Howell, as did Brentano279,
took the time to look at the results provided by a range of specialist
researchers. Beside others already referred to, such as Unwin280,
serious guild historians whose work rarely appears in SF or LH writing include
and William Kahl283.
Howell might have gone on paraphrasing Brentano's account:
These meetings possessed all the rights which they themselves had
not chosen to delegate. They elected the Presidents (originally called
Aldermen, afterwards Masters and Wardens).284
Regular, periodic payments were a late development but the moral character of
an artisan was a paramount consideration at all times:
The admission of an apprentice was an act of special solemnity
corresponding to the important legal consequences it involved. As it was the
begining of a kind of Novitiate to citizenship, it generally took place in the
Town Hall, in the presence of town authorities, or in solemn meeting of the
Craft-Gild...At the expiration of his apprenticeship the lad (then a man) was
received into the Gild again with special forms and solemnities, and became
thereby a citizen of the town.
Brentano's perspective, as did Cipolla's, encompassed mainland European
countries such as France and Germany, information from which sources have been
almost entirely dismissed by British SF scholars on what appear to be
In particular, Brentano's approach included much useful detail on the role of
inns and innkeepers, of 'travelling payments' and 'travelling networks':
Every Gild and every journeyman's fraternity kept a 'black list'.
In this, as well as in the testimonials of travelling journeymen, the names of
the reviled were entered, so that the warning against them spread throughout
the whole country.285
Disputes when they occurred, were rarely about wages as such, they were about
status, privileges and customs, as these embodied payments, demarcation markers,
and the like. It was not surprising that when machinery, cross-border trade and
entrepreneurial negotiations began to appear that workmen and many employers
fought their own trade's Company to have 'the old ways' upheld and sought
assistance from municipal authorities, in the first instance, then the law
A number of authors refer to the work of yet-another comparatively unknown
author, Toulmin Smith, who collected and annotated over 500 gild-statutes
produced in the English Parliament in the years 1388-9 in response to two writs
- one addresed to 'The Masters and Wardens of all Gilds and Brotherhoods', the
other to 'The Masters and Wardens and Overlookers of all the Mysteries and
Crafts.' Ludlow's conclusion was that the available evidence showed conclusively
that the gilds of the 14th century 'under forms to a great extent religious'
could fulfil the purposes
on the one hand of a modern friendly society, in providing
for sickness, old age and burial; on the other hand of a modern trade
society, by rules tending to fix the hours of labour and to regulate
competition, combined with such friendly purposes as before
No doubt there were many deviations from the principle but in theory oaths of
secrecy about anything that occurred in 'lodge' were required of apprentices,
and master masons are known to have sworn not to pass on 'trade secrets' to
their assistants. In 1355 in York the 'Orders for Masons and Workmen' began
The first and second masons of the same, and the carpenters, shall
make oath that they cause the ancient customs underwritten to be faithfully
Keith Thomas has charted some of the street level reasons for the 'declining
appeal of the magical solution' from the 16th century in northern Europe, such
as rising levels of health and material welfare, the beginnings of newspapers,
advertisements, fire fighting, deposit banking and trade or life insurance, in
other words practical and this-worldly provisions against hazards and
misfortune. In doing so he observed:
We are therefore forced to the conclusion that men emancipated
themselves from these magical beliefs without necessarily having devised any
effective technology with which to replace them...But the ultimate origins of
this faith in unaided human capacity remain mysterious...The most plausible
explanation seems to be that their (the Lollards, 'early heretics') spirit of
sturdy self-help reflected that of their occupations...In the fifteenth
century most of them were artisans - carpenters, blacksmiths, cobblers, and,
above all textile workers...Their trades made them aware that success or
failure depended upon their unaided efforts, and they despised the substitute
consolations of magic.288
The 'spirit of sturdy self-help' would not appear to be sufficient
explanation. Islamic scholars 500 years and more before had sought the 'ancient
wisdom' of Plato, Aristotle and Pythagoras, had copied and distributed texts
Christendom still regarded as heathenish outpourings. Generations of Muslims had
then argued over the ideas and had innovated pragmatic solutions to their more
local problems, setting in train the rationalist revolution which ultimately
penetrated Western Europe. Did the guilds 'begin' in the 'Middle East'? Probably
not, but Gothic Cathedrals and stonemasonry did. Why would the symbolic and the
ritual context of what became 'The Craft', the building and destruction of
Solomon's Temple, the loss, the search for and the location of the secret
knowledge, not arrive with the practical skills of stone building?
The erosion of European mediaeval magical beliefs was seen to be necessary
in practice precisely because of the prevalence of dangerous or
impractical 'charms and magical observances' in a range of crafts and
manufacturing techniques, for instance, the spinning and weaving of cloth:
In the early industrial period the mining industry generated a
host of semi-magical practices..(such as 'knockers', taboos against whistling
underground, and divining rods)..The building industry similarly gave rise to
a mystic fraternity...non-operative Freemasonry..
The shift in emphasis was not swift nor ever comprehensive and the assistance
of God became more valuable rather than less in the new religion. But a greater
space for individual expression was opening up, where, ultimately, even the most
devoted practitioners of mutual aid would lose sight of the need for mutual
The efficient, ruthless or astute master craftsmen, rising in the social
scale, took 'their' organisation with them, since they were the most powerful.
This left a gap for renewed 'industrial' organisation and militance by those
left behind, the small masters and journeymen.289
Protection of the trade Court was sought by older members of Companies from the
inevitable worker combinations:
By (their) judgments, unruly apprentices were whipped, journeymen
on strike were imprisoned and masters offending against regulations were
fined. Members were forbidden to carry trade disputes before any other court,
unless the court of their Companies had first been appealed to in vain.290
Increasing conflict between the parties was bound to flow into struggle for
an impartial 'umpire.' The records show working people insisting over and over
again that long-established custom and procedure, codified in legislation, be
followed, their opponents insisting that changed times required changed,
'modern' procedures. The location of decision-making power over work and its
context was in fact slowly shifting into the hands of increasingly powerful,
law-oriented elites opposed to the idea that control of the product of a work
unit be in the hands of that unit.
Unwin's broad and detailed consideration of guilds291
sought to understand the evolution, not of magic, but of organisation and 'the
transformation of social forces into political forces.' He believed there was
nothing new about the 'modern.'292
His analysis of the fraternal associations led him to believe they constituted
the driving force behind centuries of political change293:
The political liberty of Western Europe has been secured by the
building up of a system of voluntary organisations, strong enough to control
the State, and yet flexible enough to be constantly remoulded by the free
forces of change. It is hardly too much to say that the foundations of this
system were laid in the gild.294
During Edward III's reign a special Statute was passed to solve a labour
shortage but it proved a failure and savagely repressive laws prohibiting the
movement of artisans provoked the Peasants' Rebellion of 1361. Subsequently,
wages and conditions drifted, for a time, in favour of the employee. The 1568
Elizabethan 'Statute of Apprentices' (5 Eliz c.4) transferred jurisdiction over
apprentices and journeymen to Justices of the Peace.295
We can agree with Howell's argument about 19th century labour-capital conflicts
that this legislation was not a break but the key link between the previous 500
years and the subsequent 300 years:
The regulations in the statute of apprentices...codified the
orders or ordinances existing for centuries among the craft-guilds, and
applied them to all the trades of the time.296
Here the key shift was to make magistrates the arbitrators in disputes,
particularly with regard to the quality and quantity of wages and of
apprentices. Under 5 Eliz c.4:
(No-one) could lawfully exercise, either as master or journeyman,
any art, mystery or manual occupation, except he had been brought up therein,
for seven years at least, as an apprentice.
Whoever had three apprentices must keep one journeyman, and for every other
apprentice above three, one other journeyman.
Wages were to be assessed yearly by the justices of the peace, or by the
town-magistrates, at every general sessions first to be holden after Easter.
The same authorities were to settle all disputes between masters and
apprentices, and to protect the latter.
The later Act of James 1. c.6, expressly extended the power under 5 Eliz c.4
for justices and town-magistrates to fix wages for all labourers and workmen.
Unwin has explained how what was a second wave of Company Charters and
legitimations in the 17th century was inevitably caught up in the great
political and religious struggles of the time and was part of the mechanism
changing the nature of the major economic cleavage between mercantile and
industrial capital into one between wage labourers and employers of labour. As
the Stuart protectionist policies were defeated by Parliament's intransigence,
it was, again, the small master, 'whose class constituted the industrial
democracy of the time', and the journeymen who were forced into defensive
Policies intended to protect the more local small master and journeyman from
the competition of 'forrins' were incompatible with the interests of the larger
manufacturer and exporter who wished to service markets further afield. As the
Civil War broke out, the journeymen and the small master were in the throes of
adapting while conserving as much of past practice as possible.298
The Long Parliament of 1640-1, appealed to by the rank-and-file 'in its most
revolutionary period', could not turn a deaf ear, but results were slight and
after the Restoration in 1660 of Charles II the older, 'gentry' influences
resumed complete control. New charters were sought, in vain. Indeed the idea of
an incorporation of craftsmen now took on a dangerous, sinister aspect for those
already in power. Unwin refers to opposition by the Carpenters, Joiners and
Shipwrights Companies to the attempt by the sawyers, whom they employed, to
obtain independent status by charter:
If they are incorporated, the smallest combination amongst them
will bring the building trades to a standstill, as experience has sufficiently
shown in the past even without incorporation. Moreover their main object is to
"all those sorts of Labourers who daily resort to the city of
London and parts adjacent, and by that means keepe the wages and prizes of
these sorts of labourers att an equal and indifferent rate"
and their success would be
"an evil president, all other Labourers, to Masons, Bricklayers,
Plaisterers, etc, having the same reason to alledge for incorporation."299
Unwin concluded that failure along these traditional lines drove the
wage-earning class into secret combinations 'from the obscurity of which the
trade union did not emerge till the nineteenth century.' This interpretation is
interesting as it is from this time of 'diving down' that observers begin to
speak of fraternities and benefit societies as 'secret societies.' On Unwin's
part it seems to be an attempt to link his material to that of the Webbs, upon
whom he relies entirely for post-1700 detail. He draws on their contrast of 'the
unsteady, isolated and impermanent character of journeymen's combinations in the
fifteenth century' with 'the increasingly coherent, continuous and influential
activity of trade unions'.300
What it seems to me we have is an ideological shift occasioning selective
blindness. 'Trade unions' could be officially sanctioned while they were called
'craft gilds' and controlled by the issue of charters. Recourse to magic might
occur behind closed doors, but charms and spells were not about to be used in
official documents or public ceremonies. 'The word' was being replaced by words,
but what some called 'magic' others would see as part of the era's religious
faith. 'Travelling networks' were OK while they aided pilgrims and labour
shortages but not if 'the State' decided that a) they were causing a drain on
funds, or b) they were helping subversion, or c) they were part of an
oppositional 'labour movement' bent on the destruction of capitalist enterprise.
As power shifted and ideology was fashioned to suit, language shifted. By the
17th century, mediaeval terms for worker combinations were replaced with 'club'
and 'tavern society'. SF scholars could here assist students of British
post-Stuart industrial relations to explore the parallel and not entirely
separate worlds of sanctioned and non-sanctioned trade combinations. The
non-sanctioned kind were illegal since 2-3 of Edward VI, c 15, and 5 of
Elizabeth, c 4. Up to 1795 a worker could not legally travel in search of
employment out of 'his' own parish, but of course 'he' often had no alternative.
Thus, we have a transition but not a break or a replacement. Mediaeval trades
had 'degrees of skill and status', and had developed fraternal 'lodges' with
formal internal structure including oath-taking ritual, for sociability,
religious observance and mutual defence purposes. Some or all of a search or
journey, certainly represented in the perambulation of the SF lodge room, an
oath-taking, a symbolic death, quartering the year with meeting-feasts which
emphasised the Saint's Day of St John, and levels of status or 'degrees', appear
on both sides of the 'transition'. It is probable therefore that operative
guilds provided the essential ideas and the basic ritual structure to more than
Unwin's account ends with a story of an extended conflict in the last decades
of the 17th century between the Feltmakers Company and journeymen hatters. He
appears to be arguing that the lack of known records of a hatters' combination
alongside instances of their court appearances, indicating such an organisation
operating, supports his assertion that the operatives had suddenly decided to go
underground. Court evidence actually asserts the men had "Clubs" 'where they
entered into unlawful combination' and "raised several sums of money for the
abetting and supporting such of them who should desert their masters' service" -
ie, a system of unemployment or strike benefits. Unwin commented in Webberian
terms that, of course, a combination of journeymen was no new thing, but that
the important question was:
How far did it resemble a modern trade union? or to put the
question in another form, how far did it possess the conditions essential to
continuous existence and successful activity?301
Lipson whose analysis in the main supports that of Unwin responds to this key
question by giving two answers - firstly, in reference to the 'craft guilds' and
secondly to the journeymen guilds:
At first (the craft guilds) appear to have been private and
voluntary associations which struggled into existence in the face of vigorous
opposition on the part of the municipal authorities...Subsequently, however,
the authorities... actively encouraged the formation of crafts and the...gild
system, in order to tighten their hold over those engaged in trade and more
effectively to exact a satisfactory standard of workmanship....The craft gilds
now became public bodies invested with semi-legal authority, an organic but
strictly subordinate department of civil administration..302
Lipson argues these guilds were quite different to 'modern trade unions' on 6
Webberian grounds which remain unconvincing: that is, they comprised only
skilled artisans; they were urban not rural; membership was compulsory; they
included all grades of producers, including entrepreneurs; they were not selfish
but were concerned for public welfare; and they were semi-public bodies,
'integral parts of municipal administration'.
He argued that the later, 15th century 'journeymen gilds' bore a 'very
striking similarity' to 'trade unions':
Unlike the craft gilds, (they) comprised only the class of
wage-earners banded together in defiance of their employers, and their efforts
to secure an improvement of their economic position make the parallel to trade
unionism still more evident.303
However, he knocked them out on the grounds that they 'failed [!] to
establish a stable and permanent organisation' and they 'failed', repressive
legislation apart, because the more gifted and energetic leaders kept rising up
and out of journeymen ranks - again, a less-than-convincing argument. A
continuing, perceived need for secrecy, and for secrets, from guild times to
'modern' times among the artisans renders Unwin's thesis about a sudden 'diving
down' into 'secret societies' untenable and strengthens the liklihood of
linkages between the mediaeval benefit societies and the 19th and 20th
Interestingly, SF authors rarely discuss a break in the flow of fraternal
transmission, either in the short-term, at the confiscations of monastic lands
and wealth by Henry VIII in particular, or in the longer-term, during the
bureaucratic-transition of guild/Company decision-making structures to State
institutions. Ludlow quoted the relevant legislation including a key
qualification to support his belief that no significant break occurred:
The religious gilds were first struck at in 1545, by the 37 Henry
VIII; c.4, which enabled the king to grant a commission to certain persons to
enter upon the lands of all colleges, charities, hospitals, fraternities,
brotherhoods, gilds, and stipendiary priests, and to seize them to the king's
use. Two years later (1547), the Act 1 Edw. VI, c. 14,...absolutely
confiscated to the Crown..."all fraternities, brotherhoods and gilds, within
the realm of England and Wales...and all manors, lands, tenements, and other
hereditaments belonging to them or to any of them" other than
"corporations, gilds, fraternities, companies and fellowships of mysteries or
James II used sometimes contradictory policies regarding the London
in seeking control of Parliament. His replacement of original Charters with new
ones worded more to his liking, was accompanied with the statement that he
designed not to intermeddle or take away...the rights, propertyes
or priviledges of any company nor to destroy or injure their ancient usages or
franchises of their corporations...306
Other evidence, such as the 'lodge books' of the Coventry Silk Weavers of the
1650's, indicates that from English guilds to Companies in format and in 'rites
of association', very little had changed.307
A Scottish example from a later period is further illustrative. It appears
that on 4 January 1690 William and Mary of Orange signed a Charter, validating
and confirming all former charters 'in favor of the gild-brethren, tradesmen, or
any society, or deaconry' within Glasgow at least, said Charter being further
confirmed by act of parliament on 14 June, 1690. These Corporations, 'the only
considerable body in that community' and still governing that City in 1777,
included fourteen incorporated trades. They had all been 'raised' in the period
1520 to 1560, the 'cause of erection' in all cases being 'in order to raise a
fund for the maintenance of (their) poor.' These trades were only granted legal
place within the governing structure by a 'letter of gildry' in 1605, a
letter confirmed by act of parliament, 11 September, 1672. The oath sworn in
1770 as a freeman member of one of these corporations included:
Here I protest, before God, that I confess and allow, with my
heart, the true Protestant religion, presently professed within this realm,
and authorised by the laws thereof. I shall abide thereat, and defend the same
to my life's end; renouncing the Roman religion, called Papistry...308
The Merchants and the Trades each, then, had their 'House' which was their
governing body and their funds collector and disburser, in other words their
'Grand Lodge.' In 1777, it was still the case that 'deputies' from each of the
constituent trades, plus an elected Deacon, 'Baillie' and a Collector made up
the 'parliament' of the Trades-House. Each of the Corporations was governed in a
similar fashion: eg, the hammermen, by a deacon, a collector and 12 masters; the
coopers by a deacon, a collector and 8 masters; the masons by a deacon,
collector and 6 masters; and so on. These were all elected annually by the
freemen of the trade, and the disposal of the public money, belonging to the
corporation, was vested in them. The tradesmen paid for their 'freedom of the
town' and a 'freedom-fine' from which the poor of that trade were relieved
usually at the rate of 2/- per week.
The Edinburgh Society of Journeymen Shoemakers 'having existed since 1727'
reprinted their 'Articles' in 1778. A selection follows [NB the use of 'Preses,
I. That each entrant shall not be above the age of thirty-six
years, brought up to the said trade, and a Protestant; shall be attested by
two members to be of a healthy constitution, free from all hereditary or
constitutional disease, of a good moral character; must be subject to the
Society's regulations...The Society shall not be regulated by any party or
faction, but by a majority of votes, according to the tenor of articles.
II. That each entrant shall pay Seven shillings and sixpence Sterling,
besides clerk and officer's fees, as entry money, and fifteenpence Sterling
every quarter day as quarter accounts...
IV. Each member shall remain twelve months from the date of his entry
before he can receive any supply in sickness or lameness, burial-money...
V. The Preses shall be chosen every quarter-day by a poll from the whole
Society, and whoever is chosen by a plurality of votes shall take the charge;
if he should refuse, shall pay Two Shillings and Sixpence Sterling. The
Key-Masters shall be chosen by the roll...The Preses and Key-Masters, shall
choose, every one for himself, two Committee members...
VII. The Preses and Key-Masters shall visit the sick and lame in rotation,
weekly, along with a Committee member...
VIII. It is appointed and agreed, that all Quarter-Accounts, Fines, etc,
shall only be employed for the support of the sick and the lame, and to pay
the other dues of the Society; and the Society determine to transact nothing
contrary to the right and property of the sick and lame...
XI. Any person convicted of raising or following a faction, or inducing
animosities into the Society, shall be suspended from all benefits from the
Society, for the space and term as the Society shall find...
XXIV. It is agreed and appointed, that no cursing, swearing, or indecent
behaviour shall be found in any member at their meetings...no member shall be
found accessory to mobs or tumult..309
The lack of any reference to trade regulations in these Articles and their
concern that all monies were used for benefit payments, have been taken to
indicate an a-political and generally passive attitude. Rather, they indicate
the custom that all trade regulations would be handled at the 'Trades-House'
[Trades Hall] level, not at individual 'lodge' level.
On the one hand, the guilds over 700 years developed, among other things, a
corporate structure, the Company, in order to strengthen or to establish
monopolies over their particular trades. On the other, their very success
prompted firstly, Royal attempts to dominate economic affairs, secondly,
rank-and-file dissension, and thirdly, competition which, encouraged by
increased levels of production, distribution and consumption, burst and
overwhelmed the controls over work practices the brethren had collectively
struggled for so long to put or to keep in place.310
The Livery Companies showed the way for industrial capitalism. They initiated
the 'very features which (shaped) modern business associations'. At the same
time their 'social and fraternal structure', surviving into the 19th and 20th
centuries, clearly showed they were 'the legatees of mediaeval traditions.' And
the most important tradition?
The most important tradition enabling the Companies to live long
after they had lost their monopoly of supervision over their trades and crafts
was that of fraternal charity.311
Such a legacy was increasing, not declining, in relevance since competition
was sharpening artisinal isolation. That is, the rich and powerful were forging
improved methods of being rich and powerful, increasing the vulnerability of
'their employees' yet each strata continued a committment to fraternal charity.
By the Settlement Act of 1662 two justices of the peace were given power to
eject any newcomer to a parish without means. Briggs has commented this was a
measure 'intended to deal with the whole population of the poor as only rogues
and vagrants had been dealt with previously.' Whether called 'rogues',
'vagrants' or 'tramping brothers' the intention and the effect would seem to
have been the same. Enclosures, pauperism, cheap labour, factories and mines
using techniques of mass production, and producing defensive combinations of
alienated individuals - the road ahead was clear.
Fraternal charity, we may see therefore as the vehicle for the rites of
association into the period after the onset of the Industrial Revolution,
proper. The long, slow gestation of economic rationalism has meant the
originating ideas and purposes behind the rites have grown fainter, but the
language and the general format has blurred less than we might think, since they
were more-or-less 'fixed' before terminal damage had been done.
What has made 'modern' fraternalism most difficult for practitioners or would
be practitioners is that a sense of the connections between the material and the
immaterial has been largely lost. Imagining the ineffable has not become
unfashionable, as much as it has rusted and decayed due to lack of use. This
does not imply that reviving or rebuilding fraternalism in all its aspects
requires a return to mediaeval, Catholic beliefs or 'magic' practices, but a
re-education of capacity to 'see' the necessary connections.
'Charges' such as that of the Alnwick, and Swalwell Lodges, both in the north
of England, and others, need to be approached with this requirement in mind. To
judge their 'content' on the basis of the presence or absence alone of certain
words is, I believe, to miss much of the point.
The 'Orders to be Observed by the Company and Fellowship of Freemasons att a
Lodge Held at Alnwick [Newcastle, England] Septr 29, 1701, Being the Genll Head
Meeting Day' are only likely to be found within SF literature yet as Gould tells
us this was a fully operative lodge till 'at least the year 1763' when it was
(probably) absorbed into SF ranks. Verified lodge minutes run from 1703 to 1757.
(These) records...constitute the only evidence of the actual
proceedings of an English lodge, essentially, if not, indeed, exclusively
operative, during the entire portion of our early history which precedes the
era of Grand Lodges.312
Disappointingly, he goes on to say:
It should be stated that the question of degrees receives no
additional light from these minutes, indeed, if the Alnwick minutes stood
alone...there would be nothing whatever from which we might plausibly infer
that anything beyond trade secrets were possessed by the members.
He brings to bear evidence from what became in SF hands the Lodge of Industry
at Swalwell, a village in the County of Durham, for which
operative records run from 1725 to 1735 when it also accepted a
'deputation' from the London Grand Lodge and became, officially, a speculative
lodge. The 1st and last, the 14th, Alnwick 'Orders' read:
1st - That it is ordered by the said Fellowship thatt there shall
be yearly Two Wardens chosen upon the said Twenty-ninth of Septr., being the
Feast of St Michaell the Archangell, which Wardens shall be elected and
appoynted by the most consent of the Fellowship. 313
14 - Item, That all Fellows being younger shall give his Elder fellows the
honor due to their degree and standing. Alsoe thatt the Master, Wardens, and
all the Fellows of this Lodge doe promise severally and respectively to
performe all and every the orders above named, and to stand bye each
Gould quibbles at the lack of mention of 'the Master' at certain other points
of these Orders, as he does at a lack of mention of 'Degrees' with a capital. He
does not seem to find the 11th Order convincing either:
Thatt if any Fellow or Fellows shall att any time or times
discover his master's secretts, or his owne, be it nott onely spoken in the
Lodge or without, or the secretts or councell of his Fellows, that may extend
to the Damage of any of his Fellows, or to any of their good names, whereby
the Science may be ill spoken of, forr every such offence shall pay..£3 13s
He footnotes this Order with one taken from the Swalwell Lodge minutes,
If any be found not faithfully to keep and maintain the 3
ffraternal signs, and all points of ffelowship, and principal matters relating
to the secret craft, each offence, penalty £10 10 0.315
After discussing the possible implications of these he weakly concludes only
that the absence of mention of 'Degrees' within Alnwick Lodge might imply that
it was unaffected by the parallel existence of SF lodges closeby, in other words
that it is still only to the SF history that we should look for a formalised
degree structure. He makes no attempt to explain what 'the Science', 'the secret
craft' 'points of ffelowship', etc, might mean in this operative context in the
north of England in the 18th century.
He notes 'the general uniformity' of the Alnwick and Swalwell minutes and
that it was with 'much solemnity' that the 'head or chief meeting day', the
festivals of St John the Evangelist/St John the Baptist, were commemorated.
Again, note reference to a 'true and perfect lodge' in the following 1708 minute
of an operative lodge:
At a true and perfect Lodge kept at Alnwick, at the house of Mr
Thomas Davidson, one of the Wardens of the same Lodge, it was ordered that for
the future noe member of the said Lodge, Master, Wardens, or Fellows, should
appear at any lodge to be kept on St John's day in (church), without his apron
and common Square fixed in the belt thereof, upon pain of forfeiting two
shillings and sixpence..(etc).. 316
Note also the size of this fine compared to that for disclosing secrets,
above. Gould further notes that nearly forty years after the formation of
London's Grand Lodge and perhaps 20 years after it had received a 'deputation'
consonant with its adoption of a speculative 'Charter', the minutes of Swalwell
Lodge 'teem with resolutions of an exclusively operative character', for example
that of 'entering an apprentice in the time-honored fashion handed down by the
oldest of our manuscript Constitutions.'317
He also notes, but in a totally other context that lodges 'composed of
"operative Masons" [NB his capital] were formed or received constitutions - in
1764 and 1766.'318
On the other side of the self-imposed divide, the assuredly 'speculative'
side, Gould records the 'Old Rules' of a Grand Lodge which preceded that at
London, viz that at York. Thus the
1 - 'Articles Agreed to be kept and observed by the Antient Society of
Freemasons in the City of York, and to be subscribed by every Member thereof
at theur Admittance into the said Society.
Imprimis - That every first Wednesday in the month a Lodge shall be held at
the house of a Brother according as their turn shall fall out.
2 - All Suscribers to these Articles not appearing at the monthly Lodge,
shall forfeit Sixpence each time.
3 - If any Brother appear at a Lodge that is not a Suscriber to these
Articles, he shall pay over and above his club [ie, subscription] the sum of
Note the use of 'club'. Gould, here, falls into an error he castigates in
others, accepting as proof of the claims made, a letter stating the writer has
the actual proof in front of him, viz a list of the names of the GM's of this
'Grand Lodge' for the period 1705 to 1734. That these claimed gents are
all 'Sirs' or 'Esquires' I forbear to mention. What Gould could have discussed
was how it came about that this 'Lodge' came to be, or to claim, the status of
being a 'Grand Lodge' and before 1717.
A 1984 revision of Max Weber's thesis concerning an 'affinity' between the
rise of bourgeois capitalism and Calvinist-Puritanism in England focussed on Sir
Edmund Coke's struggle with Court-assumed prerogatives over economic
Coke, using language and concepts which would be strengthened and extended by
Adam Smith, was suggesting free trade as a third force opposed to the 'two
traditionalisms', the guild monopolies and 'court-bound capitalism'. He
specifically argued that restrictions on entry into misteries and guild control
of work conditions amounted to restrictions on trade which were, by definition
against the common good and needing to be outlawed.321
When Parliament broke monarchical power, the era of economic rationalism began
and the course of industrial relations as we know them was set.
At a time, therefore, when 'speculatives' were entering lodges and coming to
grips with the ritual they found there, it is probable that the object of their
attentions had already deteriorated in spiritual value, because the worm
of rational individualism had already achieved noticeable influence, and had
declined in material worth because a number of protective functions had
already suffered damage.
There has always been a question as to 'why?' outsiders wanted to join
operative lodges. Hart's research322
and that of Yates support an argument for a widespread 'speculative' current and
possible underground network in the 17th century, more Protestant than
Catholic/Jacobin. Yates was particularly interested in the SFreemasonry of Elias
Ashmole, a brother 'made' in the 1640's, his Rosicrucian beliefs and his early
invitation to join the Royal Society. She brought these aspects together to
emphasise the growth of what we now like to see as rational science out of
magical, cabalistic and hermetic scholarship.323
I note in passing that other scholars have related the preservation of the
sacred knowledge of 'the Rosy Cross' to the phenomenon of 'the wandering
Yates hypothesised that SF was 'suggested' by the Rosicrucian manifestos in
the early 1600's and that in a similar and connected way, the Royal Society
resulted from the movement for an 'Invisible College' central to Rosicrucian
beliefs. After 1660 and the Stuart Restoration, 'Rosicrucianism, Freemasonry and
the Royal Society were..virtually...indistinguishable from one another.' Of the
three tiers of Rosicrucian magic, it was the lowest, of 'practical' mathematics
and mechanics which, slowly, came to dominate in the Royal Society - the others
being the 'super-celestial world' of the angelic conjuration and a middle world
of celestial mathematics. Respect for angelic protection and the key belief of
'en-light-enment' through knowledge received special loading in SFreemasonry
symbolism, while the intense religious conflicts of the time had to be put aside
both for cosmic harmony and for the pursuit of knowledge. Thus,
for some it was perfectly natural to pronounce a prohibition on speaking about
religion or politics within lodge, a 'modern' departure from mediaeval
Magic's decline in importance and Gould's argument that a handed-down ritual
was bereft of much of its relevance clearly fit with the Catholic-Protestant
struggle in a way that can provide the most cogent account of the SFreemasonry
'breakout' from its heritage. Such is the ambiguous nature of the transition,
however, SF is today still being described by some supporters as 'ceremonial
SFreemasonry initially fitted the model of a defensive, 17th century
artisan-small employer alliance suggested by Unwin and others. Its political
choices eventually took it out of the immediate context it had long shared with
other 'benefit societies' but not out of touch with them. A greater use of and
dependence on written words - 'what someone said' - would lead to finer and
finer distinctions by later scholars, some of which at least would be foreign to
the original users. Too much hanging on the nth degree of a possible nuance
would dismantle many an observer's capacity to feel the spirit of the material,
to 'see' its integrity.
Wilkinson, The Friendly Society Movement, Longmans Green & Co,
the 'Foreword' by Lord Gowrie, Grand Master, in K Cramp & G Mackaness,
A History of the United Grand Lodge of Ancient, Free and Accepted Masons of
New South Wales, Vol 1, Angus 7 Robertson, 1938, p.v.
Bullock, Revolutionary Brotherhood, Uni of North Carolina Press, 1996,
Davies, The Isles, Macmillan, 2000, p.426.
Axelrod, International Encyclopedia of Secret Societies and Fraternal
Orders, Facts on File Inc, 1997, p.90
Knight & R Lomas, The Hiram Key, Arrow, 1997, p.xvi, p.22.
Knight & Lomas, 1997, as above, p.32.
Knight & R Lomas, The Second Messiah, Century, 1998.
Picknett & C Prince, The Templar Revelation, Corgi, 1998.
Robinson, Born in Blood, Arrow, 1989, p.232.
Brooke, The Gothic Cathedral, Elek, 1969, p.83.
Rich, Elixir of Empire, Regency, 1989.
Piatigorsky, Freemasonry, Harvill, 1999, p.xiii.
Yates, The Rosicrucian Enlightenment, Paladin, 1975, p.252.
Jacob, The Radical Enlightenment, George Allen 7 Unwin, 1981, p.7,
Gould, 'On the Antiquity of Masonic Symbolism', AQC, Vol 3, 1890, p.25.
Gould, The History of Freemasonry, Jack, 1884, Vol 3, p.61.
Roberts, 1972, as above, p.21.
Robinson, Born in Blood, Arrow, 1993, p.178.
comments of S Ashton, 'St Alban Who Lovyd Welle Masons', AQC, Vol 102,
1989, espec. pp.178-9.
Knoop, The Genesis of Speculative Masonry, published privately, 1941,
Knoop & Jones, 1978, as above, p.8.
Knoop & Jones, 1978, p.10.
Knoop & Jones, 1978, as above, pp.10-11. See Stevenson on this - The
Origins of Freemasonry, 1988, p.215.
Carr, 'Freemasonry Before Grand Lodge', Grand Lodge, 1717-1967, Oxford
UP for United Grand Lodge of England, 1967, p.2.
Carr, as above, p.46.
quotations in this section are from pp.1-13.
Williams, 'Gild of Masons at Lincoln', AQC, Vol 42, p.64, and 'Gild of
Masons at Lincoln', AQC, Vol 54, p.108; L Vibert, 'The Early
Freemasonry of England and Scotland', AQC, Vol 43, p.200; Knoop &
Jones, 'The Evolution of Masonic Organisation', AQC, Vol 45, p.293; F
Pick, 'Inaugural Address', AQC, Vol 56, p.293.
Williams, Vol 42, as above, p.67.
Purvis, 'The Mediaeval Organisation of Freemasons' Lodges', Prestonian Lecture
for 1959, in H Carr (ed), The Collected Prestonian Lectures, 1925-1960, Vol
1, Lewis Masonic, 1965, pp.457-461.
Published as a pamphlet, '600 Years of Craft Ritual', dated '24th June, 1968.'
Pick & G Knight, The Pocket History of Freemasonry, Hutchinson,
Compare the approaches in A Frere, Grand Lodge, 1717-1967, OUP for UGL
of England, 1967, pp.5-7, and E Ward, 'The Birth of Freemasonry', AQC,
Vol 91, 1979, as just 2 of many examples.
Markham, 'Some Problems of English Masonic History', AQC, vol 110,
1997, p.8; see also M Brodsky, 'Breaking the Ring', AQC Vol 108,
pp.1-6; J Morfitt, 'Freemasonry in Wolverhampton,1834-1899', same volume,
Markham, as above, p.6.
Gould, 'On the Antiquity of Masonic Symbolism', AQC, Vol 3, 1890, p.7.
Roberts, 'Freemasonry: possibilities of a neglected topic', EHR, 1969,
pp.323 & 325.
on this point, J Ward, Freemasonry and the Ancient Gods, London, 1921,
espec Ch 6.
Markham, 1997, as above, p.2.
Markham, 1997, as above, p.5, p.6.
Howell, p.27 for 'operarii' and his early chapters for the detail of the
C Brooke, The Gothic Cathedral, Elek, 1969, p.75, note 6, Ch3.
Cipolla, Before the Industrial Revolution, Methuen, 1985, pp.95-6.
Lipson, An Introduction to the Economic History of England: 1 The Middle
Ages, Black, 1915, pp.305-6, incl fn.4, p.305.
Westlake, as above, p.6.
Salzman, as above, p.41. See also Brooke, as above, p.83.
Speth, 'Free and Freemasonry; A Tentative Enquiry', AQC, Vol 10, 1897,
Jones, Freemasons' Guide and Compendium, Harrap, 1965, p.67.
Gould, as above, p.89, fn2.
Gould, as above, p.82, p.84, fn1, p.383, pp.393-4.
Gould, as above, p.92, fn 5 for a court beadle taking an oath not to reveal
Freemasonry researcher Jones defines 'livery' as 'a sign or badge taking the
form of clothing of peculiar cut and colour, designed or chosen by the Masters
and Wardens of each individual company.' He notes: 'The movement towards
liveries came late in the thirteenth century. Not only members of guilds or
companies, but the servants of the nobles and rich men, began to wear livery,
much to the alarm of the [English] Crown, which, about a century later, while
allowing the guilds and companies of the cities and boroughs to continue to
wear livery, forbade anyone else to do so if of less estate than a knight.' -
B Jones, Freemasons' Guide and Compendium, Harrap, 1950, p.71.
Herbert, The History of the Great Livery Companies of London (etc), 2
Vols, 1834, reprinted Kelley, 1968, Vol 1, pp.28-29.
Tostevin, 'The Records of Guilds and Livery Companies', Family History
Monthly, Feb, 1998, p.30.
Cooper, 2000, as above, p.7.
Cooper, An Introduction to the Origins and History of the Order of Free
Gardeners, QC Correspondence Circle Ltd, London, 2000, p.4.
264. E Le
Roy Ladurie, Montaillou, Penguin, 1980, p.118.
Roy Ladurie, as above, p.126; see also p.129.
Brydon, The Guilds, the Masons and the Rosy Cross, Rosslyn Chapel
Trust, pamphlet, 1994, np.
Webbs, The History..., p.25.
Hobsbawm, 'The Tramping Artisan', in Labouring Men, Weidenfeld, 1968,
Leeson, as above, p.23.
Leeson, Travelling Brothers, 1979, espec. Chapter 16, and pp.252-259.
Sandbach, 'The Origin of Species - The Freemason', AQC Vol 108, 1996,
Clay, The Mediaeval Hospitals of England, Cass, 1966, p.xviii.
Ludlow, 'Gilds and Friendly Societies', (in 2 Parts), Contemporary
Review, 1872-73, pp.563-4.
Armytage, A Social History of Engineering, Faber, 1976, p.50, for a
'modern' interpretation of guilds.
Palgrove, 'Your Questions Answered', Practical Family History, March,
Howell, 1890, as above, pp.6-7.
Brentano, The History and Development of Guilds and the Origins of Trade
Unwin, The Guilds and Companies of London, Cass, London, 1938;
Industrial Organisation in the 16th & 17th Centuries, Cass, 1957;
and his Studies in Economic History: The Collected Papers of George
Unwin, edited by R Tawney, Cass, 1958.
Herbert, The History of the Twelve Great Livery Companies, 1837, 2
Thrupp, The Merchant Class of Mediaeval London, 1300-1500, 1948.
Kahl, The Development of London Livery Companies - an historical essay and
a select bibliography, Harvard Graduate School, for the Kress Library of
Business & Economics, 1960; see also his Introductory essay to the 1963
reprint of Unwin, 1938.
Brentano, 'On the History and Development of Gilds and the Origin of Trade
Unions', Preliminary Essay to Toulmin Smith's English
Brentano, as above, p.clvi.
Ludlow, 'Gilds and Friendly Societies', Contemporary Review, (in two
parts) 1872-3, Pt 1, p.563.
Gould, 1887, as above, p.302; see also G Hills, 'Some Usages and Legends of
Crafts Kindred to Masonry', AQC, 28, pp.115-116; F Crowe, 'The Free
Carpenters', AQC, 27.
Thomas, Religion and the Decline of Magic, Penguin, 1973, pp.778,
Jones, 1950, as above, p.71.
particular his Industrial Organisation in the 16th and 17th Centuries,
Cass, (1904) 1957 reprint; and The Gilds and Companies of London, Cass,
(1938) 1963 reprint.
Unwin, Studies in Economic History, 1958, p.35.
summary taken from an Introductory essay by W Kahl, to G Unwin, Gilds and
Companies of London, Cass, 1963, espec pp.xxxv-xliii.
Unwin, as above, pp.13-14 Later specialist authors have referred to the
technological innovations of the 11th and 12th centuries as an 'industrial
revolution' and to the transformation of the next three centuries as 'class
warfare' - see, eg, J Gimpel, The Cathedral Builders, Russell, 1983,
Summary from Robinson, as above, p.105.
Howell, 1890, as above, p.70.
Unwin, Industrial Organisation in the 16th and 17th Centuries, 1904,
Unwin, 1957 (1904), pp.201-4.
Unwin, 1957, p.213, quoting Jupp's Carpenters Company.
Unwin, 1904, as above, p.200.
Unwin, 1957, p.221.
Lipson, An Introduction to the Economic History of England: The Middle
Ages, Black, 1915, p.339.
Lipson, 1915, as above, p.363.
Ludlow, 'Gilds and Friendly Societies', Contemporary Review, (in 2
parts), 1872-73, Pt 1, p.565.
Knights, 'A City Revolution: The Remodelling of the London Livery Companies in
the 1680's', EHR, No 449, Nov, 1997.
Quoted by author at prev ref, p.1148.
Quoted by W Fretton, 'Ancient Guilds and Modern Friendly Societies',
Oddfellows Magazine, Oct, 1879, p.240-3.
Gibson, The History of Glasgow..(etc)., 1777, Ch 7, espec. p.157. copy
at Goldsmiths-Kress microfilm library, Reel No 1109, Item No: 11534.
Articles of the Journeymen Shoemakers of the City of Edinburgh, 1778,
Goldsmith-Kress Library, Reel No: 1135, Item No: 16697.
Kahl, 1960, p.25, pp.2-3.
Kahl, The Development of London Livery Companies, 1960, as above, p.30.
Gould, History.., v.4, p.260.
Gould, History.., v.4. p.262.
his pp.264-5 for discussion.
Gould, History.., v.4, p.263, fn.5.
Gould, v.4, p.266.
Gould, v.4, pp.268-69.
Gould, v.4, p.493.
Gould, v.4, p.407.
Little, Religion, Order and the Law, U of Chicago, 1984, pp.189-90.
Little, 1984, as above, pp.196-7.
Hart, Art and Magic in the Court of the Stuarts, Routledge, 1994,
G Tudhope, Bacon Masonry, Berkeley, 1954, arguing that Francis Bacon
was the author of the Masonic ritual, the Hiram Abiff story and Freemasonry's
social purpose - to join 'Rationall and Experimentall Philosophy in a regular
correspondence' and in that way and that way alone, to discover the Divine
Plan. For a scholarly, insider-view which doubts Bacon's relevance and much
else, see AE Waite, The Brotherhood of the Rosy Cross, University
Bryden, 1994, as above.
F Yates, The Rosicrucian Enlightenment, Paladin, 1975, espec from
Anon, Co-Masonry- A Brochure, International Co-Freemasonry Australia
Federation, 1990?, p.10.
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