THE MOTHER GRAND LODGE 1
THE SHORT TALK BULLETIN OF THE MASONIC SERVICE ASSOCIATION
THE MOTHER GRAND LODGE I
It has often been remarked how casually, if not accidentally, so many great
movements seem to start. They seem to spring up of themselves, at the
bidding of impulses of which men are only vaguely aware, and the full
measure and meaning of which they do not know. As in the Alps a shout
or the report of a gun may start an avalanche of ice, because of the poise
of forces, so in history a little act often releases a vast pent-up power.
A perfect example is the "Revival" of Masonry in 1717, which not only gave
a new date to our annals, but a new form and force to the Craft, sending
it to the ends of the earth on its benign mission. So true is it that we may
almost say that modern Masonry, in its origin and organization, is as much
a mystery as ancient Masonry with its symbols and rites, and the mystery
may never be solved.
Out of a period of dim half-light and much obscurity the new Masonry
arose, and knowing what it is, we have a keen curiosity to know how it
came to be what it is. How many questions we are eager to ask, answers
to which are not bound, or likely to be found, unless unguessed records
should leap to light. Anyway, our brethren of those formative days
practiced the Masonic virtues of silence and circumspection to an
extraordinary degree, telling us very little of what we should like to know so
How many Lodges of Masons existed in London at that time is a matter of
conjecture, but there must have been a number. What tie, if any, united
them for common action and fellowship we do not know. Some were
purely Operative Lodges, others seem to have been purely Speculative -
there were such lodges, such as the one in which Ashmole was initiated as
early as 1646 - while others, as we shall see, were mixed; made up of men
part of whom were Accepted Masons and part actual working Masons.
The Craft, as all agree, was in a state of neglect, if not disintegration. It
enjoyed a period of prosperity in the re-building of London after the great
fire in 1666, but as we read in the only record we have, "the few lodges at
London finding themselves neglected by Sir Christopher Wren, thought it
fit to cement under a Grand Master as the centre of union and harmony."
Wren was the great architect of the day, the builder of St. Paul's Cathedral.
Whether he was actually a lodge member or not is uncertain, but such was
the reason given for the forming of a Grand Lodge.
Gould, our great historian, in describing "the Assembly of 1717," out of
which the first Grand Lodge grew, remarks that "unfortunately, the minutes
of Grand Lodge only commence on June 24th, 1723" - six years after the
event! For the story of those first six years we are dependent upon an
account not written, or at least not published, until the second edition of the
Constitutions of 1738 - twenty-one years after, the event to which it refers!
Surely, no other movement of equal importance ever left so scanty a record
made so long after the fact.
Why no minutes were kept - or if kept at all, were lost - we do not know.
Still less do we know why the first Grand Lodge was formed without a
Constitution. The General Regulations did not appear until 1721, and the
Constitutions in 1723. The impression is unmistakable that it was only an
experiment, in response to a growing need of a "center of Union and
Harmony," and that those who took part in it did not dream that they were
launching a movement destined to cover the earth with a great fraternal
fellowship. Four lodges united to form the Mother Grand Lodge, those that
1. At the Goose and Gridiron Ale-house in St. Paul's Church Yard;
2. At the Crown Ale-house in Parker's line, near Drury line;
3. At the Apple-Tree Tavern in Charles-street, Covent-Garden;
4. At the Rummer and Grape Tavern in Channel-Row, Westminster.
In those days, as in our own day in London, lodges met in taverns and ale-
houses - the hotels of the time. Their meetings were festive, and often
convivial, in the manner and custom of the day. A rare old book called
Multa Paucis asserts that six lodges, not four, were represented, but there
is no record of the fact, though members of other lodges were no doubt
present as guests. Indeed, we have a hint to that effect in the meager
record, as follows:
"They (the four Lodges) and some other old Brothers met at the said
Apple-Tree, and having put into the chair the oldest Master Mason (now the
Master of a Lodge) they constituted themselves a Grand Lodge pro
Tempore in Due Form, and forthwith revived the Quarterly Communication
of the Officers of Lodges (called the Grand Lodge), resolved to hold the
Annual Assembly and Feast, and then chuse a Grand Master from among
themselves, till they should have the honour of a Noble Brother at their
Such is the record of the preliminary meeting - what would we not give for
a full account of its discussion and proceedings! Diligent search has been
made among the records, diaries and papers of the time, but few facts
have been added to this record. Even the date of the meeting is omitted,
but it must have been in the spring or early summer of 1717, as the
meeting at which the Grand lodge was actually organized took place
shortly afterward, in June of that year, and was held in the Goose and
Gridiron Ale-house in St. Paul's Churchyard, near the west end of the
The old Ale-house had a long story, being one of the most famous in the
city, whereof we may read in London Inns and Taverns, by Leopold
Wagner. Before the Great Fire it had been called the Mitre, the first "Musick
House" in London, and the meeting-place of the Company of Musicians, its
sign being a Swan and a Lyre. Its master had gathered many trophies of
travel, which he displayed, and which are said to have formed the nucleus
of the Britain Museum. After the fire it was rebuilt on the same site, but the
new sign was so badly made that the wits of the town called it the Goose
and Gridiron, and the name clung to it. The record goes on:
"Accordingly, on St John Baptist's Day, in the 3rd year of King George 1,
A.D. 1717, the Assembly and Feast of the Free and Accepted Masons was
held at the foresaid Goose and Gridiron Alehouse.
"Before dinner, the oldest Master Mason (now the Master of a Lodge), in
the Chair, proposed a list of proper candidates; and the Brethren by a
majority of Hands elected Mr. Anthony Sayer, Gentleman, Grand Master of
Masons (Mr. Jacob Lamball, Carpenter; Capt. Joseph Elliot, Grand
Wardens), who being forthwith invested with the Badges, of Office and
Power by said oldest Master, and installed, was duly congratulated by the
Assembly, who paid him the Homage.
"Sayer, Grand Master, commanded the Masters and Wardens of Lodges to
meet the Grand Officers every Quarter in Communication, at the place that
he should appoint in the Summons sent by the Tyler."
So reads the only record that has come down to us of the founding of the
Mother Grand Lodge. Who were present, besides the three officers named,
has so far eluded all research; their faces have faded, their names are lost -
but imagine the scene! The big room extended the width of the house,
thirty feet one way and nearly twenty the other. In the center was an oak
table, around which the delegates from the various lodges sat on chairs,
smoking their pipes. The seat of Anthony Sayer was before the fireplace,
with its polished brass fire-irons, with chestnut-roasters and bed-warmers
hanging on either side of it.
It was an hour of feast and fun and fellowship, as they sat down to dinner
together, as English lodges do today. Each man had a rummer of foaming
ale before him on the table, and as he drained it betimes it was refilled by
a handsome maid, Hannah, whose name has survived long after others
were lost. Only a few memories live of that event which divided the story
of Masonry into before and after: the famous sign in front of the house, so
ugly that a Swan and a Lyre were mistaken for a Goose and a Gridiron; the
skittleground on the roof; the small water-course, a rivulet of Fleet Brook,
for which a way had to be made through the chimney; the pillar that
propped up the chimney, and - Hannah, the maid.
How strange that the Masons of England allowed the old Ale-house to be
taken down in 1893 - it ought to have been kept as a shrine of fellowship
and fun. But so little interest was taken in its fate that the historic sign was
sold to a citizen of Dulwick, who put it in his greenhouse. Later on,
however, the old relic was recovered, and it now has a place of honour in
the Guildhall Museum, along with other tokens of a London that is no more.
Alas, so little do men see, and so lightly do they value, what is passing
before their eyes.
What of the men who formed the Mother Grand Lodge? They did not -
could not - realize what they had done so casually and in a spirit of frolic,
much less foreknow its meaning and future. They merely wanted to make
a "centre of union and harmony," as they called it, between the lodges of
the city. There was no thought of imposing the authority of Grand Lodge
upon the country in general, still less upon the world, as is clear from the
Constitutions of 1723, which are said to be "for the use of Lodges in
London." Yet, so great was the necessity for a Grand Lodge, that, once
started, the impulse spread to Ireland, Scotland, and the ends of the earth.
Link was added to link until it put "a girdle around the earth."
As a great man of the Craft has said so picturesquely, it is possible, and it
is true, to say that Masonry was born in a Tavern, but it belongs to
Almighty God; and so gentle was its spirit, so friendly and tolerant and wise
withal, that it began to make the life of the Tavern like a vestibule for the life
of the church.