Skip to content

E.3.1 The First, or Premier, Grand Lodge

E.3 The Grand Lodges

The first Grand Lodge in the world was founded in London in 1717. It was not, however, until 1730, the year in which Prichard’s “Masonry Dissected” was published, that new ceremonials and esoteric rituals were made available in written form to all the lodges to replace the old ones of pre-1700. The first Grand Lodge was at the base of the spectacular growth of Freemasonry in the following years.

The first Grand Lodge was created with the idea of a club in the mind of the founders. In the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries, meetings of accepted Masons had some esoteric content, but were mostly convivial affairs. Lodges, after all, met in taverns like all ordinary clubs. The first known club dates from 1659 and they soon became very popular. However the creation of the first Grand Lodge that met four times a year must not be seen as the creation of a new club. Freemasons did not need one more club since their lodge was already providing all they needed in this way. Of the four lodges that created the first Grand Lodge, one had mostly well-to-do members while the other three had mainly artisans and Craftsmen among their members. This shows that they saw the first Grand Lodge as a friendly society that would look after the members and their families in case of necessity. Their main aim, however, was to bring together a well-organised Masonic centre to co-ordinate the London Lodges and writes a new Constitution; and in this they succeeded. With the decline of the old operative fraternities, the Old MS. Charges written by people living in another time and in other conditions, had lost most of their usefulness, but they still contained some elements worth saving.

The four lodges met on St John’s Day in 1717 with the oldest Lodge Master in the chair; they decided to hold quarterly meetings -known as Quarterly Communication- and an early General Assembly and Feast when the next Grand Master would be elected. The first Grand Lodge restricted its jurisdiction to London and Westminster following the practise of the London Company of Masons. The “four old lodges” believed that their existence was going back in the long past, and they did not take into consideration the fact that new lodges could have been created since. And some had come to life outside and inside the first Grand Lodge jurisdiction and their members were also regular Masons. They were individually independent and would not accept any outside jurisdiction, although they greeted visiting Masons from other lodges. From the start the first Grand Lodge met their opposition. The first Grand Lodge succeeded, however, to bring many London and country lodges under its jurisdiction, and it also created new ones. The Grand Lodge grew very fast and extended its jurisdiction outside London (64 loges in 1725) to become, finally, a national organisation.

At the beginning the first Grand Lodge membership included a Grand Master elected annually, two Wardens and, as members, the Masters and the Wardens of the four old lodges that had founded it as well as those of the lodges that joined later on. The ordinary lodges had a Right Worshipful Master, A secretary, sometime a Treasurer, a Tyler, and a Steward or some Brethren acting as such. For the first three years all officers of the first Grand Lodge were elected, but this changed after 1720. The Grand Master was authorised to appoint his Wardens and, sometime, a Deputy Grand Master; the Grand Wardens chose also some Stewards to assist them. From 1732 each Steward nominated his successor and, from 1735, it was decided that all Grand Officer, except the Grand Master, had to be chosen among the past Stewards. From 1735 the Grand Stewards formed their own lodge that sent twelve representatives at each communication -meeting- of the Grand Lodge instead of the Master and Wardens of each lodge. In 1736 it was decided that the Grand Lodge would include all present and former Grand Officers, the Masters and Wardens of each member lodge, and the Master, Wardens and nine representatives of the Stewards’ Lodge. The nomination of the Stewards was the responsibility of the Stewards’ Lodge. In 1779 it was decided that only Past Stewards, paying regular members of the Stewards’s Lodge, were eligible for Grand Office. In 1792 the Stewards’ Lodge became the Grand Stewards’ Lodge. The Grand Stewards rank as Grand Officer while in office and their duty consists to organise the annual grand festival under the Grand Master’s direction and to organise all meetings, including the quarterly “Communications”. Past and present Grand Stewards alone can become members of the Grand Stewards’ Lodge which, being a Master Masons’ Lodge, cannot raise masons.

In 1724 the Old Lodge of York organised itself into a Grand lodge and Ireland and Scotland followed in 1725 and 1736. Many military lodges came into existence and they met where the regiment was at the time.

Dr. James Anderson edited the first Constitutions of the first Grand Lodge in 1723. It was based on the Old MS. Charges of the fourteenth -or earlier- century. The title “Constitutions” was used by the London Company of Masons to describe their copies of the Old Charges. The Old MS. Charges brought Masonry, or Geometry, from the children of Lamech to Solomon and, through a long way, to England. Anderson traces the origin of Masonry to Adam who taught geometry to Cain so that he could build a city. From there, it went down to Noah and his son, and to Moses. He derives all civilised architecture from Solomon’s Temple and traces sciences’ progress from Greece, to Sicily, and finally, to Rome. Art was lost in England when the Romans left but Charles Martel brought it back from France after the Saxon invasion. Anderson states that his history comes from the general records of the Craft and their faithful traditions. In fact, he drew most of it from the Bible and older writers, including Cooke. Anderson issued a new version of the Constitutions in 1738 and this was revised completely by John Entick in 1756. Anderson’s Constitutions have had a large influence on world Masonry. The first Irish Constitutions of 1730 was based on Anderson’ and the American borrowed fully his text for their own use.

In 1717 there were only four lodges affiliated to the Grand Lodge, but many more existed outside its jurisdiction. It was difficult, if not impossible, for these other lodges to join, and the new ones created later on found the same difficulties, since there was no rules stating how this should be done. The second Grand Master, George Payne, had the necessary rules adopted and incorporated in the Constitutions. From then on new lodges knew how to join and old ones could, if they wanted, regularise their position with the Grand Lodge and many did. However many old lodges, operative and speculative, refused to join. As an example we can mention the old lodge of York which, not only refused to affiliate, but also declared itself in 1725 to be “the Grand Lodge of All England held at York”. It became dormant in 1740, was revived in 1761, and disappeared in 1792.

The first reference to a Jewish Mason in England dates from 1732 and refers to Daniel Delvalle or Dalvalle, a Master of the Cheapside lodge. There is also a reference of 1658 concerning the arrival at Newport, Rhode Island, USA, of fifteen Jewish families of Dutch origin bringing with them the three first degrees of Masonry and working them until 1742. There are many doubts concerning this story as no speculative Masonry existed in Holland until the eighteenth century.

Many old lodges that had existed for a long period of time refused to affiliate with the Grand Lodge claiming their right to remain free and independent. Their members maintained their right to do what they liked and refused to follow the rules imposed by the Grand Lodge. Some new lodges also grew outside the Grand Lodge influence.

The Roman Catholic Church is known to have always been against Freemasonry, even if many Roman Catholics, including priests and higher authorities, have been, and are, members of the Craft. Popes Clement XII in 1738 and Benedict XIV in 1751 issued Bulls against Freemasonry. The Roman Catholic Church has two main objections against the Craft: first, the solemn oath of secrecy and, second, that Freemasonry “tends to undermine belief in Catholic Christianity by substituting for it what is practically a rival religion based on deistic or naturalistic principles”. Freemasonry, of course, proclaims not to be a religion at all, but a system of morality and philosophy. Moreover the Craft admits members of all religions as long as they proclaims to believe in the “Glorious Architect of heaven and earth”.