'Still more of our Yesterdays'
Proceedings of Grand Lodge 201 years ago
9 December 2009
A speech by VW Bro Graham Redman, Assistant Grand Secretary, and VW Bro John Hamill
GFR: MW Pro Grand Master and Brethren, in the early part of 1809, the Antients or Atholl Grand Lodge, apart from authorising expenditure totalling £177–6s–0d for the Erection of a Throne and presenting or resolving to present three Brethren with gold medals in testimony of their services to the Craft, seems to have been preoccupied with the arrangements for a Masonic Procession, Sermon and Festival in celebration of St. John’s Day (24th June).
JMH: 1809 proved to be an expensive year for the Antients Grand Lodge. When one considers that a good craftsman in London was probably earning about 19 shillings and 6 pence per week, £177–6s–0d was indeed a huge sum to pay for a throne. Sadly neither the throne itself nor any description or depiction of it appears to have survived. The gold medals awarded to certain Grand Officers cost 5 guineas each and a number of them have survived and are in the museum here. The obverse has the arms of the Antients Grand Lodge and the reverse a presentation inscription and the name of the recipient.
The Church Service, procession and Festival of St John the Baptist was an annual event. In 1809 it was variously proposed that the event should take place in Islington, Hackney, Lambeth or Camberwell. The service actually took place at Camberwell Church following which the brethren processed to the Grove House, Camberwell for dinner. The Grand Treasurer reported that the day’s costs had been £210–5s–3d leaving a shortfall of £29–1s–6d to be taken from Grand Lodge Funds.
Nor was Charity neglected. In March 1809 £100 from Grand Lodge funds was voted to the Masonic Charity for Clothing and Educating the Sons of Indigent Freemasons. To this, later in the year, was added 200 guineas to celebrate the coming Golden Jubilee of King George III. This special grant would enable the Boy’s Charity to take on another ten boys, bringing the total under their care to fifty.
GFR: In September of that year the Minutes record that:
Bro Jeremiah Cranfield, Past Master of 255 again brought forward a motion presented and afterwards withdrawn at the meeting of Grand Lodge 7th June last, that a committee be appointed from the Grand Lodge to consider of and adopt such prompt and effectual measures for accomplishing so desirable an object as a Masonic Union.
The RW Bro Charles Humphreys, PSGW objected to the motion being received as tending to annihilate the Antient Craft. Hereon a very long debate and conversation ensued.
The RW Deputy Grand Master in the Chair, after maturely considering thereon and as at present advised and according with his duty as Deputy Grand Master conceived it incompatible with his situation in the absence of the Grand Master to receive such Motion. And thereupon the Grand Lodge was closed at past 12 o’clock at night.
In December, Bro Cranfield returned to the charge, by objecting to the adoption of the whole of the minutes of the September Communication, whereon
a long and interesting debate upon the minutes of the 6th September last took place. After some time it was moved by Bro Charles Humphreys, PSGW and seconded that the said minutes be read separately and the sense of the Grand Lodge taken thereon paragraph by paragraph and the question being put thereon the same was carried in the affirmative.”
The minutes were severally read and confirmed unanimously except for the last minute and the motion therein mentioned and moved by Bro Cranfield for a Committee to be appointed to consider and adopt prompt and effectual measures for accomplishing a Masonic Union.
Upon this the debate recommenced and thereon it was moved by Bro Charles Humphreys and seconded that the said motion made by Bro Cranfield and refused to be put by the Deputy Grand Master be expunged from the minutes of the RW Grand Lodge and the question being thereon put passed in the negative.
Afterwards Bro Cranfield’s motion of the 6th September was again read and the question thereon put the same was carried in the affirmative.
JMH: This momentous resolution, brethren, I shall return to in a few moments.
GFR: In February 1809, the Moderns Grand Lodge was opened in due form and – as usual – the Laws relating to the behaviour of Masons in Grand Lodge were read.
The Special Committee appointed in November 1808 to enquire into the charges preferred against the Royal Naval Lodge reported. A number of Brethren had laid eleven charges against the Master, Officers and Brethren of the Lodge, then numbered 57 and now No. 59, and three charges against one of its members, Bro Francis Columbine Daniel. The charges included unjustly and unconstitutionally erasing the names of two of the complainants from the Lodge books without their consent and thereby terming them expelled members; not keeping a set of Bye Laws in the Lodge for the internal government thereof; not regularly registering the members and the Brethren initiated there in the books of the Grand Lodge; not regularly and justly paying the Liquidation fee at the Grand Lodge; irregularly admitting a joining Member who had on a former Lodge night been black balled by nine; and publishing and inserting false statements concerning the transaction of the Lodge. Apart from his having been implicated in several of the charges against the Lodge, and in particular the last, the principal complaint against Bro Daniel was that he illegally presided over the Lodge under the assumed title of ‘Acting Master’.
The members of the Committee had found themselves hampered in their investigations, particularly that into the non-payment of fees to Grand Lodge, by a lack of co-operation on the part of the Lodge. The matter was deferred to the April Communication, then to November and eventually stood over to the following year.
JMH: The tribulations within the Royal Naval Lodge took up an inordinate amount of the time not only of the premier Grand Lodge itself but of its Committee of Charity (which in addition to its charitable function worked as a sort of Board of General Purposes) and the special Committee set up to investigate the charges laid against members of the lodge. The reason Grand Lodge took such an interest was money. The premier Grand Lodge had large debts resulting from the building of the first Freemasons’ Hall in 1775 and its later extension and renovation. To reduce the debts they introduced a Liquidation Fund and required lodges to pay a levy to the fund in respect of each of the members of their lodge. The investigation committee found that Royal Naval Lodge owed £168 – 4s – 6d in registration fees to Grand Lodge, had paid nothing into the Liquidation Fund in the years 1799, 1805 or 1807 and had made no returns of names or monies since April 1807.
As so often happens, the problems in the lodge centred around one character: Francis Columbine Daniel. A successful surgeon and apothecary, Daniel was a strong minded character of decided views who brooked no opposition. He was a member of lodges under both the premier and the Antients Grand Lodge and had a great interest in charity. He persuaded members of the Royal Naval Lodge to set up and fund a charity to clothe and educate the sons of indigent or deceased Freemasons, which in 1816 united with the similar charity under the Antients Grand Lodge to become the Royal Masonic Institution for Boys. Outside Freemasonry, Daniel is remembered for two things: inventing an inflatable life vest for sailors, which won him gold medals from both the Royal Humane Society and the Royal Society of Arts, and gaining a knight hood by accident. Attending a garden party at Buckingham Palace he joined what he thought was a queue waiting to be presented to the King and was somewhat amazed when he was asked to kneel and had each shoulder tapped with a sword! Having been dubbed he could not be “un – dubbed” but his accident caused a major review of the procedures for the installation of future knights.
GFR: At the April Communication another topic was raised:
The minutes of the Committee of Charity were read and confirmed, whereupon it was resolved that the Grand Lodge do agree in opinion with the Committee of Charity that it is not necessary any longer to continue in force those measures which were resorted to in or about the year 1739 respecting irregular Masons and do therefore enjoin the several lodges to revert to the Ancient Land Marks of the Society.
JMH: Reporting of Masonic meetings in the press in the 1720s had led to great public curiosity about Freemasonry. This, in turn, led to enterprising journalists producing articles and pamphlets claiming to reveal the secrets and rituals of Freemasonry. In 1730 one Samuel Prichard produced a pamphlet entitled “Masonry Dissect’d” which for the first time gave details of all three of the Craft degrees. He must have been reasonably accurate as a significant number of individuals used his work to gain access to lodges and make claims on the lodge charity box. This panicked the premier Grand Lodge which, in the late 1730s, to catch out these impostors, reversed the first and second degree pillar words. Unfortunately they appear not to have informed the Grand Lodge of Ireland of the change, which was to have a significant effect on English Freemasonry.
In the 18th century, as today, there was a significant Irish population in London. Many of them had become Freemasons before leaving their native land but after the ritual change in the late 1730s were rejected as impostors when they attempted to visit lodges. After a decade of such rejections, on the basis that if you cannot join them beat them, a group of mainly Irish brethren in 1751 met at the Turks Head Tavern in Greek Street, Soho, and formed themselves into a Grand Committee until such time as a noble brother could be elected to serve as their Grand Master. Thus was the Antients Grand Lodge born. They were proud to accept the epithet Antients as they claimed that the original Grand Lodge had departed from the ancient landmarks and they alone were working “Masonry according to the ancient institutions”.
The decision by the premier Grand Lodge to reverse the 1730s changes was the first step towards negotiating an equable union with the Antients. In October 1809 they set up a special Lodge of Promulgation whose brief was to ascertain that their ceremonies were in accord with those practised in Ireland, Scotland and lodges over the seas and to establish the landmarks of the Order. That was the public reason, the reality was that they wished to bring themselves more into line with the practices of the Antients lodges to ease the road to union.
My co–presenter referred a few moments ago to Brother Cranfield’s motion in the Antients Grand Lodge to form a committee to look at a possible union. It rather begs the question of why a simple Past Master rather than a senior member of the Antients Grand Lodge should raise such an important resolution. Cranfield was a member of Oak Lodge No. 255 (still in existence as Oak Lodge No. 190). Another member of that Lodge was one Francis Columbine Daniel, whom we have seen was active in both Grand Lodges. Daniel was well known to Thomas Harper, who despite being Deputy Grand Master of the Antients Grand Lodge was also active in the premier Grand Lodge and like Daniel had served as a Grand Steward and was a member of the Grand Stewards Lodge. Harper and Daniel were both advocates of a union of the two Grand Lodges. Would I be laying myself open to accusations of being a conspiracy theorist were I to suggest that Cranfield was possibly a stalking horse acting for Harper and Daniel?
GFR: We now fast-forward one hundred years to 1909. In March, after the adoption of various reports, the Pro Grand Master declared:
Brethren, I have been sorry to hear within the last few days that the Resolution which I have now to propose is giving rise to difference of opinion, and even in some quarters, I grieve to hear, to a feeling which almost approaches resentment, but I trust that the explanation which I have to offer will succeed in removing misunderstanding, for it is to misunderstanding, I venture to think, that difference of opinion is due.
The resolution proposed by the Pro Grand Master, which followed the grant of an honorarium to the Grand Registrar of 1,000 Guineas in 1906, was
“That in view of the Resolution of the 6th June, 1906, affirming the principle that the duties of the Grand Registrar ought not to be rendered gratuitously, and in view of the great and growing importance to Grand Lodge in her relations with the colonies and with foreign countries of the correct and authoritative interpretation of Masonic Law, it is desirable that the remuneration of the Grand Registrar should take the more satisfactory and regular form of an annual retaining fee of such an amount as may fairly be tendered to distinguished counsel.”
The Motion was seconded by a Past Grand Chaplain, but opposed by the Vice-President of the Board of General Purposes. The Deputy Grand Master spoke in support of the motion, concluding his remarks with:
I am convinced that whenever the time comes … for a new Grand Registrar to be
appointed, if we are to have the man we ought to have, we shall have to pass this Motion. I do submit it would be much more graceful and gracious to pass it now.
The Motion was put and declared to be lost.
JMH: When one looks at the Grand Lodge finances and sources of income in 1909 it is not surprising that the suggestion that the Grand Registrar be paid a retainer of at least 500 guineas was negatived. Grand Lodge’s income came from registration fees for new and joining members, fees for warrants, patents, dispensations and appointments to Grand Rank, rents for the use of Freemasons’ Hall and from the Tavern and investment income. Lodges paid quarterage in respect of each member but this went to the Fund of Benevolence. Grand Lodge dues as we know them were not introduced until 1930! There was also the matter of principle. If the Grand Registrar were to be remunerated what about the Grand Superintendent of Works, who freely advised Grand Lodge on all property matters, and even the Grand Director of Ceremonies who was regularly called on to rule on matters of protocol and ceremonial?
The debate was – to be polite – robust, despite the motion having been proposed by the Pro and supported by the Deputy Grand Master. When the Rev JT Lawrence rose to support the motion there were cries from the floor of “Time, Time”!
GFR: How different from the proceedings of the Grand Lodge in the 21st century!
This time last year we left off at that part of our history which mentioned the problems with the Freemasons’ Tavern. In December 1909, the Board of General Purposes which had been giving progress reports throughout the year reported
that the work connected with the reconstruction and enlargement of “Freemasons’ Tavern,” hereafter to be known as “The Connaught Rooms, Freemasons’ Hall,” is approaching completion, and will be ready for occupation by the end of the year.
The Board has concluded an arrangement with Bro George Harvey, at one time a manager of the Hotel Cecil, for granting him a lease of the premises for seven, fourteen, or twenty-one years; and looking to the high esteem in which he is held by very many members of the Craft, to whom he is well known, and to his great experience in connection with establishments of a similar character, the Board confidently believes that the arrangement is one which will be as beneficial to the Craft as it hopes it will be to Bro Harvey.
The greater part of the building has been entirely re-modelled. The principal Banqueting Hall has been enlarged to an extent sufficient to accommodate 800 diners. Additions and improvements have been made to the smaller dining rooms, and the kitchen and service arrangements have been entirely reconstructed, greatly enlarged, and in every way adapted to the most modern requirements.
JMH: When last December I quipped that “like the poor, problems with the Connaught Rooms were always with us” I had no knowledge of what would happen next door during 2009! In 1809 and 1909 problems with the Freemasons’ Tavern were happily settled and with the installation of new managements lengthy periods of good management and service to Freemasonry followed. With the installation of the Harvey family in 1909 the Tavern became the Connaught Rooms, as a compliment to the then Grand Master. A Brother Lewis Ferguson queried the rents and the costs of the refurbishment. The President of the Board informed him that the rent was £500 for the first year rising by increments to £3050 and the refurbishment of the building had cost Grand Lodge nearly £30,000. The present Board of General Purposes did rather better. As the President announced in September the new lessees, Principal Hayley, were to invest in excess of £5 million refurbishing the Connaught Rooms and a commercial rent was being paid to Grand Lodge. We can only hope that the new incumbents will have the same flair and care as the Harvey family in 1909 and that the Grand Connaught Rooms will live up to its new name!