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A History of Mark Masonry
THE GRAND MARK LODGE (GML) OF ENGLAND
We have previously looked at the origins of Mark Masonry amongst old European operative masons and the state of Mark Masonry before the formation of the United Grand Lodge of England in 1813. In the preceding module an examination was made of Mark Masonry between 1813 and immediately prior to the formation, in 18%6, of the Mark Grand Lodge.
This module deals with the English Grand Mark Lodge and its officers, from its formation until 1857, when the new Grand Lodge was under attack.
By this time pressures of royal succession, parliaments and religion had fallen away. The Industrial Revolution had triumphed - although at social cost - in Britain, and the mighty British Empire was in place. The stage was set for the blossoming of science, the arts, culture - and Freemasonry.
In North America and throughout the growing British Empire Freemasonry was proving popular. The Further Orders, also, found much favour. Foremost, it seems, was the Mark.
The Grand Lodge of England, however, supported only the Craft and Royal Arch degrees. It had actively tried to suppress all other orders and degrees. This meant that an English warranted lodge, in say Canada, could not work the Mark, while nearby Scottish or Irish groups could, and did. This was a situation which was not liked.
Letters of complaint arrived in London. In August 1855 the Grand Secretary reported to the Board (Cryer:229) that the Mark was ‘much practised in America’, and that Scottish and Irish liberalities as compared with the official English position had ‘led to unpleasant feelings’.
It was in November of that year that the Grand Lodge received an address from the Grand Lodge of Canada (Cryer:230) saying that the ‘first and most important grievance’ leading to its breaking away was a want of agreement between the various constitutions regarding the degrees worked.
Grantham (1960:30) reports that the then current opinion was that, overseas, "Unless a liberalisation of outlook were brought about, so it was considered, partial or possibly total isolation of English Freemasonry might occur."
Throughout England (and the always-overridden Wales) there were Freemasons who wanted to gain further degrees, including the Mark. As examined in the previous module some managed to do this, particularly after the departure of Essex, but it was never at an openly accepted or supported level.
"Between 1845 and 1855," writes Handfield-Jones (1969:19), "according to Gould the entire English Craft was in a state of insubordination and discontent."
Eventually some of the orders got themselves organised. Grantham (30) notes that by 1851 ‘substantial advance in respect of the Order of the Temple and of the Ancient and Accepted Rite had already been made’.
These do-it-yourself examples must have given Mark enthusiasts ideas.
Because of its fundamental importance of the beginnings and ‘legality’ of the whole world Mark system - including South Australia’s - the beginnings of the London Bon Accord Mark Lodge are best examined in detail (Grantham gives the clearest account).
It was in 1851 that a Scottish doctor, Brother Robert Beveridge, came to London to visit the Great Exhibition. He met several leading London Masons who wished to know about the Mark. Beveridge wrote to his home chapter, the Bon Accord Royal Arch Chapter 70 SC, Aberdeen, to get authority to confer the Mark Master degree in London. Conferral of such a degree away from home was, by Scottish custom and mandate, legal providing there were two others to help (the old European triangle lodge), and it was not encroaching into the territory of another chapter or similar body. Just to make it obvious to the English, however, Bon Accord Chapter wrote out a formal commission and sent it to Beveridge to ‘form, open and hold’ (Cryer:221) a Mark Lodge.
On the 26 Aug 1831, with the help of two Mark Masters with Scottish credentials, the first London Masons were made Mark Masons. News of the advancements rapidly spread and more Londoners wanted the degree. Bon Accord Chapter, foreseeing a fairly strong on-going demand, on 5 Sep 1851 decided to issue ‘a charter or warrant for holding a Mark Master Lodge in London’ (Grantham:20).
One of the assistants, Dr. William Jones of London, well known in Aberdeen Masonic circles, then visited the Bon Accord Chapter and on 12 Sep 1851 was made the master of the London Mark extension of the Chapter. On the 13th the Chapter drew up a charter for "The London Bon Accord Mark Master Lodge" (Grantham).
On the 19 Sep 1851 Jones consecrated a Mark Lodge and advanced six candidates. The Bon Accord Chapter retained control. It stipulated that, for example, only regularly made Royal Arch companions could be advanced, and that irregular Mark Masons could not join.
The shorter form of Scottish Mark ritual, imported intact from the Aberdeen Chapter, was used. It was supposed to be of high quality. The longer form used overseers and the stone rejection playlet. Apart from this the original ritual, says Cryer (179), has many basics similar to the present day English one.
It is probable that this was the ritual compiled by Comp Hector Gaun, Grand Treasurer of the Supreme Grand Chapter of Scotland. He had gathered as many Mark ritual MSS as he could and compiled them into longer and shorter versions. In 1845 these were authorised for chapter use. Descendants of these two versions are still used in Scotland.
The Bon Accord Mark lodge was ‘highly successful’ (Cryer:224). It attracted a good numbers of highly placed craft and chapter members. This appears to be because while other Mark ‘lodges’ existed, they were appended to various lodges and chapters, with which those already committed did not want to get involved. The ‘Scottish’ Mark Lodge, on the other hand, was free of practical entanglements. Further, it had a warrant and constitution emanating from a regular authority.
By later 1855 it had 120 members, growing by 1856 to about 150.
In February 1855 the Bon Accord Mark Lodge advertised it presence in the Freemason’s Monthly Magazine (FMM). In the May issue the editor, Richard Spencer, noted that two letters had been received from a W Gaylor claiming that the London Bon Accord Mark Master Lodge was illegitimate. Spencer decried this, saying that the Lodge was working under the law which had caused warranted Chair Master Lodges to be formed. Although that procedure had now been abrogated the Mark Lodge had been formed prior to that. On this point of argument he was wrong.
In the June 1855 issue the First Principal of the Bon Accord Chapter made it known that William Gaylor was the Grand Scribe N of the Supreme Grand Chapter of Scotland. He went on to say that the Supreme Chapter had stopped issuing Chair Master Warrants, and was once more allowing chapters to grant the degrees of Mark and Past Master, and that was all that Aberdeen had done in the London case.
London apparently gave little credence to the Gaylor objection. A week after his June letter the Right Hon The Lord Leigh was inducted in the Master’s chair of the Bon Accord Mark Lodge. Who recruited him appears not to be known, but it was a masterstroke. A noble of the realm, a sincere man and a friend of the Craft Grand Master, he was on his way to promote the Mark’s destiny.
The magazine row continued. Both sides used imprudent language. Spencer’s, notes Cryer (231) undiplomatic comments helped fuel the flames.
On 20 June 1855 Gaylor brought the matter to Grand Chapter. Bon Accord Chapter’s giving of a charter to London was pronounced illegal. Gaylor then wrote to Spencer’s magazine saying that the Aberdeen chapter had applied to the laws of Supreme Chapter ‘a meaning they were quite incapable of sustaining’. The chapter was asked to withdraw its warrant to London immediately or suffer the consequences.
Cryer (232) is of the opinion that the complaints of the Canadians urged the English Grand Lodge to look at taking action with the Mark, and not the row with Scotland. However, when the events are identified and placed in chronological order it is apparent that the Scottish brawl sequence must have tipped the balance for early action.
The first result was that the BGP appointed, on 7 Nov 1855, a committee, including Grand Chapter members, to look at the Mark to see if it ‘may be deemed part of Ancient Freemasonry’. The members took their job seriously.
The Supreme Grand Chapter of Scotland had obviously been giving thought to the Mark problems and in December 1855 decided to issue special warrants for the formation, in other countries, of Mark Lodges alone. Handfield-Jones is of the opinion that this action was taken because the Grand Chapter was ‘infuriated by the success of the Bon Accord Mark Lodge in London’. This type of warrant was a world first.
These warrants would be issued in any particular country until ‘they can put themselves under a Supreme Body there’. The publication of these decisions led to a lot of thinking and action.
The first Scottish Mark Lodge, ‘The St Mark’s Lodge of Mark Masters No.1 SC’, was warranted on 18 June 1856, first meeting in London on 15 Aug 1856.
The committee (Cryer:234) commissioned to look into Mark Masonry reported on 1 Feb 1856. In included the statement:
The Grand Chapter stated that, "As the Mark Degree is no part of Royal Arch Masonry, the question of its introduction into Masonry be left to the Grand Lodge of England."
Following this, on 5 Mar 1856 (Cryer:235) the following resolution was carried unanimously in Grand Lodge:
English Freemasonry, at last, was recognising the Mark as a legitimate part of regular Masonry. Some Mark Masons were delighted. Others decided to strengthen their own line of Mark work, for example the Ashton Travelling Lodge.
The Grand Master had approved of the Mark coming in, and Grand Lodge had geared up (Cryer:239) to administer it.
Then some Mark Masons began to have second thoughts. Following the on-going conservative nature of Grand Lodge the Mark could well be sidelined. Grantham (43) writes,
This is not an uncommon occurrence. In the English Order of the Red Cross of Constantine the old Order of the Knight of Rome is reduced to a quick lustration or cleansing of hands, the Order not even being named. With the foundation of the South Australian Red Cross of Constantine in 1984 the degree was enlarged to a ceremony of a few minutes, but still not given the dignity of being designated a degree. In the Knights Templar the old ‘Knight of the Mediterranean Pass’ has been reduced to a word of recognition. Other Orders, eg the Rose and KT Priests, confer many degrees by naming them alone.
At a meeting of the Bon Accord Mark Lodge on 21 May 1856 ‘final steps’ were taken to ‘form a Grand Lodge of Mark Master Masons’. Bon Accord would fight for the Mark.
Plans were made. It is almost certain that the Grand Master was spoken to. Opponents to the Mark were on hand. At the next Grand Lodge communication, 5 June 1856, the minute approving the Mark was debated and lost. The Mark was back out in the cold again.
Someone had to look after it.
The Bon Accord Mark Lodge, and some other English Mark Masons, welcomed the attention now given the Mark. But, wrote Gould (1955:65), "... not approving what they could not but regard as a systematic attempt to introduce a foreign masonic authority into England, resolved to constitute a Grand Lodge with jurisdiction over the Mark Degree in this country..."
In general, also, there was widespread uncertainty on how English Mark Masonry might function and fare in the future. There was some apprehension (Cryer:235), also, that the Craft might go through another shake-up, take the Mark and somehow humble it. A separate supreme Mark authority was the only answer.
Cryer (237) thinks that the Bon Accord Mark Lodge consulted fairly widely on the move to form a controlling body. All evidence of this, however, has disappeared, except for a minute by the St George’s Mark ‘Lodge’ at Bottoms, a remote corner of Yorkshire. But they certainly did not reach all Mark ‘lodges’.
Shortly after the Grand Lodge’s rejection of the Mark, on 23 June 1856, Bon Accord held a meeting at which three other Mark ‘lodges’ were present. These were: Royal Cumberland, from Bath; Northumberland and Berwick, from Newcastle-on-Tyne, and Old Kent, of London (Cryer:243). This was to consider "That a Grand Mark Masters Lodge of England and it’s (sic) Dependencies be forthwith established..." Then they immediately formed it. Lord Leigh was elected Grand Master. Lord Methuen (Mackenzie, 1912:22) became Dep Grand Master. A General Board for the year was appointed.
One of the 14 Board members is of great interest to South Australians - Dr Benjamin Arthur Kent. A colonist visiting London, he was to return to South Australia where he had a strong social and Masonic influence. Kent Town was named after him.
The new Mark Grand Lodge wrote to Companion Rettie, of the Bon Accord Chapter, for advice on regalia. Rettie designed it - ‘we must assume’, writes Handfield-Jones (33), ‘it was a new creation’.
On 26 June 1856 the Grand Lodge advertised its presence in ‘The Times’, looking for lodge membership. This prompted a Mason to write to Spencer’s FMM. ‘Where has the ‘Grand Mark Lodge’ sprung from?" he asked. Were circulars sent out or announcements made? Have those who are Mark Masters been called together, and the present movement arisen out of such convention?
Cryer shows (245-7) that Bon Accord members Dr William Jones and Dr Robert Norton were trouble makers, earlier expelled from a Craft lodge. They appear to have been behind the bad tactics and policy used in forming the Grand Mark Lodge and its early running, the latter being referred to (248) as having ‘chaotic internal affairs’.
William Collins, secretary of the Bon Accord Mark Lodge, was appointed the Grand Lodge’s first secretary, with no clerical help. Apparently regarding the office as a grandiose one, he neglected the duties the new Grand Lodge demanded. Essential letters were not attended to. Certificates were delayed or never issued. Warrants were not sent - including Kent’s new South Australian Mark Lodge. Old Albany Lodge was sent no Warrant of Confirmation, so pulled back from joining. Even communications were not notified or held.
The Ashton-Under-Tyne Travelling Mark Lodge, of some fame, was ‘basically a Craft lodge’ (Handfield-Jones:100). It would arrive, on a Sunday, at a town on its circuit and open in the third craft degree. Then it would open in its Mark Degree.
An old lodge formed some time in the 1700’s and working under various craft warrants, it appears to have felt snubbed by the London Mark Masons. The Ashton Travelling Lodge had generated, over on-going decades, much regional interest in the Mark. It had brought in hundreds of candidates. Believing its own ceremony to be older and more authentic than Bon Accord’s, and that it had an inherited authority to deal with Mark matters which the ‘manufactured’ Bon Accord did not, it appointed a committee to examine the situation.
English critics were saying that the new London Mark Grand Lodge was ‘born in sin and shapen in iniquity’ (Cryer:245). The founding Aberdeen Bon Accord Chapter was defiant to its superior. How could such a group have authority or respect?
The outcome was that on 19 Oct 1856 Ashton formed "The Honourable United Grand Lodge of Mark Master Masons of the Ashton-Under-Tyne District". It was generally named ‘The Grand Lodge of Mark Masonry in England’. It included lodges it had formed or influenced.
Ashton was not alone in its efforts to, as it saw it, maintain old English standards. The Old Albany Mark lodge was crudely treated by Collins, the Bon Accord/Grand Mark secretary, and stated that as a time immemorial lodge, working without a warrant when there were none to be had, it had sovereign powers. No upstart could dissolve it. In 1856 it issued a warrant to a new Mark lodge.
With the new Grand Mark Lodge’s bad publicity many of the semi-independent Mark lodges looked elsewhere. Jones (1950:535) wrote:
‘Mark lodges began to apply to the Supreme Grand Royal Arch Chapter of Scotland for Warrants, and within a year or two there were about fifty (sic) Mark lodges spread over England, Wales, and also Colonies, all owing allegiance to the Scots Grand Chapter, as did also two Provincial (Australian) Grand Mark Lodges, those of Victoria and New South Wales."
New lodges formed themselves, also, under the Scottish umbrella. All these lodges worked the Scottish ‘long’ working, thus paving the way for the present English Mark working.
Lord William Leigh is described by Cryer (237-8) as a hardworking man, a careful manager, a good family man and altogether a person of integrity. He was not of the ‘conniving’ type.
As 1857 dawned the Grand Lodge had only four lodges, two of these being daughters of the Bon Accord Mark Lodge. The only ‘outside’ lodge which had joined was the old Phoenix Mark Lodge, descended from Dunckerley’s famous Friendship Chapter.
In early 1857 Leigh acted. He wrote a most diplomatic letter on Mark Masonry and sent it to every known Mark lodge in England. In it he stated that he was but on the same level as every other Mark Master. He invited all to a meeting to discuss whether it would be best to let the current situation continue, or to form a union. If a vote was taken on the latter he would step down as Mark Grand Master and allow democracy to prevail.
A meeting occured, with about 70 present, at the Freemason’s Tavern, London, on 30 May 1857. A widely representative committee was formed to examine the situation. On 15 June it reported unity was favoured, and that the existing Grand Mark Lodge was the best option.
Things looked good. Unfortunately, however, William Warren, who had been an activist in the Scottish cause, and who was the editor of the Freemason’s Monthly Magazine and Masonic Mirror, had been upset. Although elected to the committee he had not been consulted on meeting times, and could not attend any. He only discovered the committee’s findings from the rival Masonic journal. His journal then denounced the whole business, thereby undoing a lot of Leigh’s good work..
In the meantime the Scottish Mark Lodges continued to increase. The situation was not good.
Cryer, N: The Arch And The Rainbow, Lewis, Addlestone, 1996.
Grantham, J: History Of The Grand Lodge Of Mark Master Masons Of England, CL of MMM, London, 1960.
Handfield-Jones, R: A New Comprehensive History Of The Grand Lodge Of Mark Master Masons Of England, GL of MMM, London, 1969.
Mackenzie, K: The Mark Work, Lewis, London, 1912.
Gould, F: ‘Some Notes On The Mark Degree’, 1955, in GL Scot Yearbook, Edinburgh, 1971.
Jones, B: Freemason’s Guide And Compendium, Harrap, London, 1950-82.
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Last modified: March 22, 2014