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A History of Mark Masonry
THE GRAND MARK LODGE OF ENGLAND 1857 - 1998
We have previously looked at the operative origins of mason marks, Mark Masonry before 1813, its development to 1857 and the foundation of the ‘Grand Mark Lodge of Mark Master Masons of England and Wales and its Districts and Lodges Overseas’.
We now go on to examine the development of that organization, and its interactions with Mark Masonry throughout the world, to 1998. But first -
Bon Accord Royal Arch Chapter No. 70 SC, was responsible for the formation of the London Bon Accord Mark Lodge. It was thus indirectly responsible for the formation of every independently standing Mark lodge in the world.
The Scottish Grand Chapter gave it short shrift. Warned in 1855 to withdraw its warrant from London, Bon Accord maintained that it had merely followed old custom. It refused to withdraw. Grand Chapter then declared it suspended.
In February 1856 the Bon Accord Chapter opened a meeting and said that as it had existed prior to the formation of the Scottish Grand Chapter it had prior rights. It then determined that it would find another sponsor body, and adjourned the meeting.
That meeting remains adjourned to this day. There remains the fascinating possibility that when Grand Bodies become less stiff in their bearing the Bon Accord Chapter may pick up its adjourned meeting. Bon Accord is the most famous chapter in the world. It is the chapter to which all independent Mark lodges are forever indebted.
Lord Leigh had in humble fashion in 1857 called a meeting in an attempt to get the new Mark Grand Lodge some support. All went well until Warren, the editor of one of England’s two Masonic journals, got his nose out of joint and tried to destroy the little grand lodge.
However, Leigh’s manner managed to convince some semi-independent Mark ‘lodges’ that banding together was a good thing, and they trickled in. This convinced others, and so the numbers multiplied relatively quickly for a while. By the end of 1857 15 lodges in all had joined.
The lead of the London Bon Accord Lodge encouraged some Mark bodies to cut themselves loose from their parent bodies and go it alone. This was a new development. One such lodge was the Newstead Mark Lodge, with a semi-independent history probably going back to the 1700’s. It made itself independent in 1858, and even warranted two other lodges.
Unpleasantness, however, was occurring. By late 1858 many members were complaining about the English-Scottish stand-off. There was the problem, too, that Scottish-warranted Mark lodges in England were not allowed to receive brethren from English lodges.
In February 1859 The Thistle Mark Lodge No 3 SC joined. This was a breakthrough, although other Scottish-warranted lodges were slow to change allegiance.
It was far from plain sailing. Collins, the ineffectual Grand Secretary, continued to procrastinate on just about everything. He sent, for example, no replacement certificates to the Thistle members. They eventually complained. Leigh found out and, in 1860, had an assistant secretary appointed. Fredrick Binkes was efficient. Collins faded away. It took Binkes ‘some years’ (Cryer:263) to catch up what business he could.
The Scottish Grand Chapter did not approve of the English effort to sort itself out. In late 1858 Gaylor, Grand Scribe N of the Scottish Supreme Grand Chapter, wrote a ‘scurrilous’ (Cryer:256) to an English Masonic journal. He used a non-de-plume. He denounced the Mark Grand Lodge. Grand Lodge had to grin and bear it.
It was in December 1858 that it was found that there were more Scottish-certificated Mark Masters in England than in Scotland. It had become a big business. Scots Mark lodges kept on being formed. No 17 was Collinswood Mark Lodge, Victoria.
In Scotland a crises was looming. In 1858 the Grand lodge of Scotland, finding that the Mark Degree was still being worked in many of its lodges, formerly recognised it. This upset the Supreme Grand Chapter of Scotland, which had come to regard the Mark as its own. It threatened to confer the blue degrees.
In 1860 a joint committee of inquiry was formed. In the end a compromise was reached - dual control. The Craft would continue to work the Mark, seeing it as the second part of the Fellow Craft Degree. The Chapter would also continue to work it, as a fourth degree.
With Binkes, who had come from Thistle Lodge, at the helm things began to pick up. By 1861 Grand Mark Lodge had 53 lodges on it roll, including 20 newly formed ones.
In 1864 the Grand Lodge had more members than the Scottish had. The Scottish Grand Chapter then said that it would recognise The English Grand Mark Lodge if the English Grand Craft Lodge and Grand Chapter did. These two bodies, of course, refused to recognise the Mark Grand Lodge, so the Scots would not budge.
In the following decade three more Scots Mark Lodges joined, although two more were formed. In 1865 the Grand Mark began handing out benevolence, raising funds at ‘charity festivals’. The stated aim was a speedy response, as opposed to the Craft’s slow. A Benevolent Fund was established in 1868.
As the Scots continued to refuse recognition, in 1869 the Grand Mark Lodge reluctantly passed a regulation which would enable it to issue warrants in Scotland. It was hoped that it would never have to be used.
By 1870 nine of the old ‘independent’ Mark lodges had joined Grand Mark. Minerva joined in 1862, and managed to keep it its old workings.
By 1870, also, the Grand Mark Lodge ws considering (Handfeild-Jones:42) taking under its wing the Ark, Link and Wrestle, Most Excellent Master and other degrees. In the end only the Mariner was adopted.
The first known Mark Tracing Board belongs to the Albany Mark Lodge, originally a regimental lodge formed in 1848. It depicts the gathering of materials and a partly built Temple. The next known board is of 1862.
It was in 1870 that a competition was held to design a Mark Tracing Board. That by a Brother Rosenthal (Cryer:295) was accepted. It shows a pathway with columns, and other masonry structures through an archway. The archway displays many symbols, these being well known to all Mark Masons. Copies were made and sold, but the board was not made compulsory. A descendent is in common use in South Australia.
A Brother Arthur Carter presented Grand Lodge with a new Tracing Board in 1892. He claimed that it incorporated all of the older one; but it does not. The arch of symbols, for example, is missing. It was a pleasing picture, however, and was adopted as the official Board that year. It is not universally liked.
Tokens were in use in England in the 1820s (Cryer:300), and ever since. Until recently, with the formation of the Mark Token Collectors Club in England in 1987, there was little variety. They were originally the size of a penny, and featured keystones, mauls and similar. Shekels, larger and of white metal, were also used - and still so in Queensland. They feature the pot of manna, the flowering rod of Aaron and similar, and Samaritan script. The pot of manna stems from old rituals where the candidate ate from such a pot. Most tokens bear various letters and messages, such as ‘Son of Man Mark Well’, both in English and Hebrew. Some carry ciphered messages.
In Scotland every chapter has its own design, and they are extraordinarily popular in America, with an enormous number of varieties, commemoratives and keepsakes. There they are called pennies; (‘They Received Every Man A Penny’). Tokens are also referred to, in various places, as coins or shekels. Tokens a mainly round, but also come in very many shapes, such as a heptagon vault cap-keystone, shield and triangle. The are usually made of bronze, but metals of all kinds are used, including, in America, gold commemoratives. Some American chapters issue ‘wooden nickel’ pennies. Some Scottish chapters issue small paper tokens, looking like paper money.
The Antients used ciphers. Laurence Dermott, their Grand Secretary, for example, used the now familiar system of three ‘pig pens’ (noughts and crosses) and a Saint Andrew’s Cross. These held the alphabet, the second frame having the letters dotted. Other layouts and methods accumulated.
Dunckerly introduced a cipher system to the Friendship Chapter at Portsmouth in 1769, for their record making. They used it for almost a century. It is recorded that in 1880 a woman ‘cleaning up’ came across a large quantity of ‘Devil’s Books’ (Cryer:68) and papers, and burnt them in a back yard bonfire. They were in ‘devil writing.’ Terrible. They were Friendship’s old cipher records. By chance a brother rescued two. One turned out to be the first minute book.
There are now a great number of Masonic ciphers in use.
A Grand Mark committee in 1870 found that the Royal Ark Mariners Degree had been worked from at least 1790, sometimes under Mark authorities such as the Old Kent Lodge of Mark Masters. At the same time it was reported that the degree ‘has never been considered essential or even important’ (Handfield-Jones:43).
The Mark, however, considered that the Mariner degree was somehow connected, had something, and was worthy of exposure. It also found, however, that it could not just take it over, because it was claimed elsewhere. The famous Dunckerly had been ‘Grand Commander’ of the ‘Society of Antients Masons or Diluvian Order or Royal Ark and Mark Mariners’. There is a reference to this dated 1794.
A ‘transparently illegal’ (Handfiels-Jones:44) and fraudulent ‘Grand Lodge of Royal Ark Mariners’ had been ‘revived’ in 1870. It operated, in a tiny way, under a Brother Morton Edwards, a man who was capable of causing trouble. The Grand Mark Lodge announced its protection in 1871, but had to play along with Edwards. It was at last, in 1884, able to buy him out.
While looking at the Mariners other orders and degrees were found in need of patronage. In 1870 it was expressed that these, other than chivalric, held in other countries by Craft Grand Lodges or Supreme Chapters, could be brought into the Mark’s fold. These included Excellent Master, Most Excellent Master and Super Excellent Master.
In 1871 a convention of ‘intimate alliance’ was signed with the governing body of the Red Cross of Constantine. A similar convention was signed with the Order of the temple and another with the Supreme Council 33° .
The Grand Mark Lodge displayed some sageness. In 1871 it invited a delegation from America expert in degrees lost in England. English (Cryer:274) Mark leaders were initiated into the Cryptic or Royal and Select Degrees. Councils were consecrated. A Grand Council subsequently followed. The Mark was filling in for the Craft, which had long distanced itself from the field.
Then followed the ingenious move of inviting all the ‘stray’ grand bodies to share the Mark Hall, and the Mark secretary. Perhaps Grand Mark was angling to head them up. Perhaps it was just anxious to lessen its costs. Those which accepted the home were Royal and Select, 1871, Allied, 1880, Red Cross of Constantine, 1891, and Order of the Temple, 1897.
The Scottish Grand Chapter maintained its position. In 1870 it formed two new Mark lodges in England. It also established a Mark Province, for Lancashire. This was getting a bit rich.
The Rev Cannon George Portal was then the Grand Master. He had done his best. He had earlier gone to Scotland, asking for rationality. He had written to all Scottish mark lodges in England, asking them to join. They could keep their ritual and customs. In effect, he turned the other cheek.
But Edinburgh was playing it hard. Portal replied in kind. He had the six English Mark lodges in Lancashire agree to be formed into an English Mark Province. He then organised an impressive body of notables and an impressive province-formation ceremony for Saturday, 29 October, 1870. Pomp and ceremony were the order of the day. Portal and his deputy, Earl Percy, did the honours. A crowd of notables attended. By the end of the year there were two more English Mark lodges in the Province.
The members of the Scottish Mark loges in Lancashire got the message. They were also fed up with being forbidden to visit English Mark lodges.
In 1872 the Provincial Mark Grand Secretary for Scotland in Lancashire wrote to London offering union. A fair deal was done, and on 2 October 1872 a Moveable Mark Grand Lodge was opened in Manchester. Again, crowds attended. The Scottish patents were handed in and English ones handed out. There was great applause.
It was in April 1871 that the Grand Mark Lodge managed to arrange a combined meeting with the Grand Chapters of Scotland and Ireland. The English Craft Grand Lodge was also invited, but would not attend.
There was no breakthrough. It began to dawn on the Scots and the Irish, however, that the Craft Grand Lodge had not declared the Grand Mark Lodge irregular. It just did not acknowledge it.
English Masonic journals were now making the Grand Mark Lodge’s situation internationally known. The Grand Lodge itself began writing to all other grand bodies in local control of the Mark.
In late 1870 the Irish Grand Chapter recognised English Mark certificates for visiting purposes. It would not, however, recognise the Grand Mark Lodge as the sole Mark authority, as it believed that the English Grand Chapter, and even the Craft, had an interest in the Mark as well.
Then, in August 1870, the Grand Royal Arch Chapter of Canada recognised the Grand Mark Lodge of England as the supreme authority for the Mark in England.
Canada set the pace. The Grand Chapters of Iowa and Pennsylvania followed in 1871. Ireland then understood the situation, and granted recognition in 1875.
Two years later the central union of the Grand Chapters of the United States recognised the Grand Mark. Next year Colombia, Illinios and West Virginia did. Quebec, Maine, Texas and North Carolina followed suite in 1879.
The Grand Lodge of England continued its policy of treating the Further Orders as artificial. The Mark, also, was its largest ‘competitor’. The Craft went on to cause problems for the Grand Mark Lodge.
In 1872 the Craft commissioned a report into the Mark. As a result a statement was issued. Included (Cryer:276) was -
By 1872 Scotland was on its own. Grand Chapters everywhere in the world had recognised the validity of the Grand Mark’s claim to the Mark in England.
Members of Scottish chapters throughout the world were confused (Cryer:262-5) regarding visiting other chapters. Members of Scottish Mark lodges were not allowed to visit lodges of Grand Mark Lodges. Were they allowed to visit chapters of constitutions recognising England?
Besides, it no longer seemed ‘Masonic’ to put down the English effort.
In the end Scotland had to capitulate. This it did on 18 June 1879. But not all that gracefully.
There ere 19 Scottish Mark lodges left in England. These it would keep. However, it would form no new ones in England. It reserved the right to form them anywhere else.
There was no exchange of representatives. The diplomatic Scottish Earl of Kintore, however, became grand Master of the English Mark in 1884. He arranged a ceremonial exchange.
Now that all was settled the English Mark proved most popular. By 1881 there were 252 Mark lodges in England and Wales, and a further 29 spread around the colonies, owing allegiance to it (Handfield-Jones:71), a total of 281 lodges.
The Prince of Wales was advanced in 1883. He expressly stated (Handfield-Jones:79) that he wished to see the Mark remain independent of the Craft or any other body. He became King Edward VIII in 1886, remaining as Grand master. Most of the Grand masters since then have been of high noble rank.
The redoubtable Binkes completed 28 years of service as Grand Secretary in 1889. He was succeeded by Charles Matier. Matier was responsible for getting many of the Further Orders under the same roof as the Mark (Cryer:265) in London.
In 1889 the ‘Provincial Grand Lodges’ in the colonies became ‘Districts’, and were charged to largely run their own affairs. In that year, also, the first ‘daughter’ Mark Grand Lodge was formed, in New South Wales.
That remarkable old lodge, Ashton, kept on keeping on its independence. In 1870 the local Deputy Provincial Grand Master visited them, trying to get them to join. He stressed his view that there must be uniformity. Whose uniformity? Ashton saw value in diversity, and refused to submit. Like Scotland had, and perhaps correctly, it saw the Grand Mark as irregular.
Ashton influenced many Mark lodges. In 1857 it had formed ‘The Honourable Grand Lodge of mark Master Masons of the Ashton-under-Lyne District (Cryer:249). This ws a valiant attempt to protect the Mark, at least in its region, when it looked almost certain that the Grand Craft Lodge was about to swallow it.
In 1898 the editor of the Masonic Record asked questions about this Ashton Grand Lodge. This appears to have stirred the Grand Mark Lodge, which dispatched a letter to Ashton in March 1889, abruptly stating that the ‘so-called’ Grand Lodge would be declared a ‘Clandestine Lodge’ in May, and all Masonic connections to it would be severed., unless it submitted. London ha d forgotten its own treatment by Scotland.
Ashton replied, pointing out that, far from being clandestine, it had been working its old ritual, and openly, for over one hundred years. The lodge them asked that the term be withdrawn. They wanted to know in which way London could put down a strong, popular, body. In June London declared Ashton spurious and clandestine.
A strange turn then occurred. Instead of sticking to its no-doubt well founded integrity it gave in. It appears that this was due to the new presence of a persuasive person, a Dr Foreman (Cryer:282).
London was pleased. Suddenly Ashton was not spurious. It was made a TI (Time Immemorial) Lodge. Dr foreman received his reward by being made a Past grand Overseer of England.
So England lost another ancient working.
Victoria became the second ‘daughter’ Grand Lodge in 1901. South Australia followed in 1906. In 906 the last numbered lodge was 586. 1,448 certificates had been issued. Thus, in 25 years the English Mark Grand Lodge had more than doubled its strength.
In 1917 England ordered all of its lodges to have a Tracing Board. It is difficult to imagine how ritual was managed without one.
Queensland, in 1832, became the fourth ‘daughter’ Grand Lodge.
By 1956, the centenary Year, the Grand Mark Lodge of England warranted lodge No 1,202 (Grantham:214). There were 1,036 active lodges. A total of 103,541 certificates had been issued.
Prince Michael of Kent became the Grand Master in 1982, with 1,340 lodges having been warranted. He remains the leader.
India formed a Grand Mark Lodge in 1985, and Finland in 1986. Both are ‘daughters’ of England.
Membership in August 1989 was 61,025 (GMLEng, Notice Paper, Mar 90:5). In December 1997 it had declined to 56,051 (GMLE, NP, Feb 98:3).
In 1998 the Grand Mark Lodge of England had 1,492 active Mark lodges (GMLE, Year Bk, 98:83). The oldest was Bon Accord, London, formed 10 December 1856. The last was No 1,793.
There were 860 active Mariner lodges, the oldest being Phoenix, Portsmouth, formed 8 July 1856. The most recent was East Africa Lodge of Installed Commanders No 1,787, Nairobi.
The Grand Mark Lodge of England is now in close contact with the Knight Templars, Red Cross of Constantine, the Allied Degrees, Secret Monitor, and Royal Order of Scotland. It is in amenity with 70 Royal Arch Chapters.
The extant ‘daughter’ Mark Grand Lodges (GMLE, TB, 98:344) are -
Cryer, N: The Arch And The Rainbow, Lewis, Addlestone, 1996.
Grantham, J: History of The Grand Lodge of MMM of England..., GL of MMM, London, 1960.
Handfield-Jones, R: A New Comprehensive History of The Grand Lodge of MMM of England, GL of MMM, London, 1969.
Mackenzie, K: The Mark Work, Lewis, London, 1912.
Gould, F: ‘Some Notes On The Mark Degree’, 1965, in GL of Scotland Year Book 1971, Edinburgh, 1971.
GML of MMM of England, Notice Paper, Mar 1990.
GML of MMM of England, Notice Paper, Feb 1998.
GML of England, Year Book, 1998 - 99., London, 1998.
Jones, G: Freemason’s Guide And Compendium, Harrap, London, !950 - 82.
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Last modified: March 22, 2014