The Premier Grand Lodge of Free and Accepted Masons was established in 1717 by four Lodges which inherited from their operative predecessors certain procedures which had their roots in the distant past. Within ten years the two degrees which they worked had been developed into three; but all the additional material needed for this change could also be called ancient, because it was part of the traditional knowledge of the Craft. Although the form in which the ritual was now cast was new, it seems to have been accepted by the Grand Lodges of Ireland and Scotland constituted in 1725 and 1736 respectively. Information about it was spread by a number of unofficial publications (which we call exposures), and there was such a great demand for these that Grand Lodge thought it necessary to make changes in the ritual formulas in the 1730's so that unauthorized persons should not be able to claim to be Freemasons.
These changes were not approved by the other two Grand Lodges and were not universally adopted in the Lodges affiliated to the Grand Lodge of England. Indeed, about one hundred years later, the Master of one of the four original Lodges (now No. 2 Antiquity) stated that his Lodge had never changed its ritual as required by Grand Lodge. It is probable that many Lodges in England, including some not registered by any Grand Lodge, were in the same position.
There is evidence that in those days Grand Lodge did not raise any objection to Lodges, warranted by the other Grand Lodges, working in England. In 1735 the Master and Wardens of an Irish Lodge in London sought admission to a meeting of the Grand Lodge of England but this was refused, because they did not come with the authority of the Grand Lodge of Ireland. That they were recognized as Freemasons is clear, because they were offered an English Warrant if they desired one, but the offer was not accepted. A few years later a warrant was issued by the Grand Lodge of Ireland for a Lodge to meet in Norwich; and another Irish Lodge, the Middle Temple Lodge, is known to have worked in London at about this time.
These Lodges were almost certainly groups of Irishmen who had emigrated to England and had brought their Freemasonry with them. The economic conditions of the times were conducive to this. The agricultural revolution had started in England and was bringing prosperity to the country. On the other hand, times were hard in Ireland. The social and racial characteristics of the Irish, as well as economic considerations, made impossible the adoption of the new agricultural methods and there was frequent famine. The ruin of the once flourishing woollen industry led to a great emigration and this was increased by the decline of the Irish glass and silk industries. All sections of the population were affected and it is not surprising that many Irishmen, of good education as well as unlettered, from the towns as well as from the villages, found their way to London. Consequently the number of Irish Freemasons in the city became greater: and they could neither form nor join Lodges under the jurisdiction of the Grand Lodge of England because of the changes which followed the exposures. So they formed their own Lodges, adding to the number not warranted by any Grand Lodge.
There were at least five of them in 1751 and another was formed shortly before 17th July of that year when the six met together and established the Most Ancient and Honourable Society of Free and Accepted Masons according to the Old Institutions. The number is significant since at a later date this body asserted that the premier Grand Lodge was not properly constituted as it was formed by only four old Lodges. No evidence exists that a minimum number was required: how could there be when the conception of a Grand Lodge was novel? The Irishmen might just as well have decided to make the mystic number seven but they were satisfied with six.
In the first Book of Constitutions of this new Society, which bore the strange title Ahiman Rezon, it was stated:
THE FORMATION OF THE GRAND LODGE OF THE ANTIENTS.
BY BRO. I. R. CLARKE.
... there were numbers of Old Masons in and adjacent to London from whom the present Grand Lodge of Antient Masons received the Old System free from innovation.
Many of these Old Masons would recognize the advantages of belonging to an organized body of Lodges, even as the Irish and Scots Freemasons had done many years before. They would therefore be prepared to form Lodges and to apply for Warrants from the newly established Grand Lodge. The diffˇrence in procedure between then and now is to be noticed. At the present time a Lodge cannot meet unless it has a Warrant in which its first Master and Wardens are named. One of the first regulations approved by the General Assembly which founded the new Grand Lodge was:
No admission or Warrant shall be granted to any Brothers to hold a Lodge until such time as they have first formed a Lodge of Ancient Masons and sitt Regularly in a Credible House and then to Apply by Petition to be Attested by the Masters of three Regular Lodges who shall make a proper report of them.
This regulation that only well established Lodges should be accepted was meant, no doubt, to ensure the permanence of the Warrant, but at first it did not work out like that. There is no evidence to show how long the five unwarranted Lodges had been working before they met in General Assembly, and when they received Warrants in 1752 these all carried the date of the foundation of their Grand Lodge. Unfortunately four were struck off before 1755 and the senior of them, No. 2, went in 1769. No. 1 was reserved from the beginning to be the Grand
Master's Lodge, following the Irish usage. Most of the other Lodges warranted, however, had a much longer existence and the new Grand Lodge was firmly established when the first edition of Ahiman Rezon was published in 1756.
In this publication the founders of "Antient" Masonry are described as "Men of some Education and an Honest Character but in low Circumstances": they were recent immigrants who had accepted subsistence jobs on arrival. We know more about them than we do about the founders of the premier Grand Lodge, for their names are given in a book started by their first Grand Secretary, John Morgan, and called Morgan's Register. There were eighty members in the six Lodges and the employment of many is stated, but only two can be regarded as having professional status. One was an attorney, who was soon marked "Gone to Ireland"; the other was Ensign Lachlan McIntosh who did so much to help the Society that he was later described as "the steadfast friend of the Ancient Craft". The rest were truly in low circumstances, being workmen, painters, tailors, shoemakers and so on. Quite a number of them returned to Ireland before very long, but among those who stayed was a very remarkable man, Laurence Dermott. After seven months as Secretary, Morgan obtained an appointment in the Navy. Dermott succeeded him and was the dominating influence in the Grand Lodge of the "Antients" until his death in 1791, the greater part of its existence. (The description he wrote of his fellow members is a description of himself at the time.)
He was born in Ireland in 1720 and initiated as a Freemason in 1740 in Lodge No. 26 in Dublin. He served in all the offices of the Lodge, it being remembered that at that time these were changed twice yearly on each of the St. John's days, and he was installed as Master in 1746. In the same year he became a Royal Arch Mason, only two years after the first recorded appearance of the degree in Ireland. It was not known to the Freemasons in England for at least twenty-five years after the establishment of the premier Grand Lodge, it had no part in their system and was officially repudiated by them throughout the century, but Dermott was so sure that it was part of "Ancient Masonry" that he insisted on •t as an article of faith for the "Antients" from their beginning. At that time he was an immigrant working painter, but it is clear that he was an educated man with great force of character. It is not surprising, therefore, that he quickly became a man of means, a wine merchant, able to make valuable presents to Grand Lodge, and Deputy Grand Master when he ceased to be Secretary in 1771.
The Deputy Grand Master was the effective, though not the nominal ruler of Grand Lodge. For five years the Society tried, without success, to find a noble Grand Master whose acceptance of the office would give them prestige and who would be able to speak for them with authority when occasion required. Until 1753, indeed, it was ruled by a Grand Committee, because it held that a Grand Master was essential to take the Chair, either in person, or by his duly appointed Deputy, when a Grand Lodge assembled. Even when such an influential person was in office he was absent from the meeting more often than not and the Deputy presided. It is not to be inferred that the Grand Master took no interest in the affairs of the Society. That was far from being the case with the 3rd and 4th Dukes of Atholl, who did so much for it that it is often referred to as "The Atholl Grand Lodge". More frequently it is named as that of "The Antients": both spellings of this word appear in the minutes but this is the designation normally used. Apart from the Grand Masters only three brethren with a title held high office during its sixty years' existence: Ensign McIntosh, Captain James Nisbet and Sir Watkin Lewis were Grand Wardens in 1753, 1756 and 1790 respectively. It began by being the Masonic Society of less exalted men and it remained as such.
Nevertheless these men laid good foundations and built effectively. Morgan's Register opens with:
These are reproduced in full in Quatuor Coronatorum Antigrapha (Masonic Reprints of the Q.C. Lodge), Volume XI, so they need only to be summarized here. The first three Rules related to the Constitution of Grand Lodge and attendance at it. It was to meet on the first Wednesday of every month and hold a committee for the regulation and government of the Lodges; the Chair was to be taken by the Masters of the Lodges in order of their seniority until a Grand Master should be appointed. The meeting was to consist only of the regularly installed Masters and Wardens of the Lodges, or Past Masters who had been duly appointed their deputies. Absentees without good cause were to, be fined. The next three provided that a Master or Warden must have been a Mason for at least one half year; that no person should be made a Mason until the Secretary should have been informed of his name, occupation and place of abode, so that other Lodges could be apprised; and the admission of Old Masons was regulated, a clearance certificate from the brother's previous Lodge being required. All complaints and appeals to, Grand Lodge were to be made formally, by Petition. Then came the rule already cited about the formation of a new Lodge and there was a scale of charges for this, including 10s. 6d. for a Warrant. Returns were to be made by every Lodge, on the two St. John's days, of the names of the Master and Wardens for the ensuing half-year and of the names of all the members of the Lodge, together with dues of 1s. 0d. per quarter for each of them "for the use of indigent brethren": and there was to be a payment of 1s. 0d. for every newly made Mason, as a registration fee. No other Lodge was to be held on the first Wednesday and rules for the conduct of Grand Lodge were laid down. The death of a registered brother was to be notified to the Grand Secretary so that he could summon all the Lodges to attend the funeral and, if necessary, pay for it.
Two observations fall to be made about the Rules. The first is the insistence that a Master of a Lodge must be regularly installed. Attention is called to this again in an early minute, for it appears that it was often neglected by the rival Grand Lodge. At the Union the ceremony of installation was declared to be one of the true landmarks of freemasonry. In addition, the expectation that the Grand Secretary would be able to notify the proposal of a candidate, or the death of a brother, to all the other Lodges indicates clearly that, at first, only a local jurisdiction for Grand Lodge was anticipated.
Morgan does not seem to have kept minutes of the meetings while he was Secretary and the first entry in the Minute Book is headed "Transactions of the Grand Committee" on 5th February 1752, the date on which Dermott was appointed Grand Secretary. His Masonic knowledge was called into service immediately, for in March he reported that he had inquired into a complaint that certain brethren "had initiated many persons for the mean consideration of a leg of mutton for dinner or supper" and had pretended to have made some brothers Royal Arch men but they "had not the least idea of that secret". In April he produced a copy of the Byelaws of his former Lodge in Dublin and these were compared with those written by Morgan in the Register. Dermott's rules were preferred and ordered to be adopted; and the pages on which Morgan's were written were torn out. It is typical of his attention to detail that he is known to have written with his own hand "Rules & Orders" (or By-laws) for Lodges subsequently warranted.
So the record continues. Dermott gave lectures, directed ceremonies, inspected Lodges and instructed them; petitions and complaints were dealt with, and indigent brethren were assisted. At last William, 1st Earl of Blesington, who had previously been Grand Master of Ireland, accepted the Chair and was installed by proxy in the person of his predecessor, Hon. Edward Vaughan, on 27th December 1756. Dermott had been waiting for this. The "Antients" Grand Lodge was firmly established: its Book of Constitutions had been advertised to be published in 1754 and delayed until now so that it could be dedicated to a noble Grand Master. It stood for "the Old Institutions", for the necessity for a ceremony of installation of a Master, for the integration of the Royal Arch with Craft Masonry. All these "spiritualities" of Freemasonry, these essential beliefs, were accepted at the Union in 1817. The premier Grand Lodge, the Moderns, contributed the "temporalities" of a Freemasons' Hall, of many brethren of rank and other distinction, of a Prince of the Blood as Grand Master and of a King as the Patron of the Craft. Both spiritualities and temporalities were necessary in order tha Freemasonry should continue to flourish for another one hundred and fifty years.
RULES & ORDERS
to be Observ'd By the Most Ancient and Honble. Society of Free and Accepted Masons As agreed and settled by a Committee appointed by a General Assembly Held at the Turk's Head in Greek Street Soho on Wednesday the 17th of July 1751 And in the Year of MASONRY 5751.