DRESS AND REGALIA
As well as adopting practices derived from the antient gilds of the City of London, Masonry has acquired something from the noble Orders of Chivalry. It is a matter of common knowledge that prominent members of the Craft have been Garter Knights and that garter blue is the colour specified in the Book of Constitutions for Grand Rank regalia except that of the Grand Stewards, for which crimson is laid down.
It is generally considered that crimson follows the usage of the Order of the Bath which was revived in 1725 by King George I. According to the detailed account given in The British Chronologist (1775), the King appointed the Duke of Montagu to the rank of Great Master and created thirty-six other Knights among whom were the Duke of Richmond (Grand Master 1724) and the Earl of Inchiquin, who was appointed our Grand Master in 1726. John, Duke of Montagu had been our Grand Master in 1721.
The earliest surviving references to the Stewards' crimson appears to be that in the minutes of Grand Lodge for 17 March 1731:
Dr Desaguliers taking Notice of some Irregularities in wearing the Marks of Distinction which have been allowed by former Grand Lodges.
That none but the Grand Master, his Deputy and Wardens shall wear their Jewels in Gold or Gilt pendant to blue Ribbons about their Necks and white Leather Aprons lined with blue Silk.
That all those who have served any of the three Grand Offices shall wear the like Aprons lined with blue Silk in all Lodges and assemblies of Masons when they appear clothed.
That those Brethren that are Stewards shall wear their aprons lined with red Silk and their proper Jewels pendant to red Ribbons.
That all those who have served the Office of Steward be at Liberty to wear Aprons lined with red Silk and not otherwise.
That all Masters and Wardens of Lodges may wear their Aprons lined with White Silk and their respective Jewels with plain White ribbons but of no other Colour whatsoever.
The Deputy Grand Master accordingly put the Question whether the above Regulation should be agreed to.
And it was carried in the affirmative Nemine con.
Notwithstanding some modification in the size and shape of the apron, apparent from some surviving contemporary portraits and prints, and of course expansion in the composition of Grand Lodge, the resolution is largely unchanged in so far as the clauses relating to the Stewards are concerned.
Grand Stewards acquire sanction to wear red upon appointment to their office. Members of a 'Red Apron' lodge, of which to-day there are nineteen, whether by initiation or joining, wear normal Craft clothing until receiving such an appointment, which may follow upon nomination to the Grand Master by their lodge. A pre-requisite of any nomination is an undertaking by the Grand Steward elect to fulfil the obligations entailed. The Grand Master possesses the right of veto which has, albeit rarely, been exercised.
Grand Stewards of the year wear plain red collars as also do the Officers and Past Masters of Grand Stewards' Lodge. Past Grand Stewards' collars are edged with silver (or gold in the case of two lodges). Since 1835, the Grand Stewards' jewel of office has been a cornucopia between the legs of a pair of compasses.
In 1797 a Grand Steward for the year proposed that 'every Member of this Board should wear a plain Blue Coat with Yellow Buttons and the initials G.S. engraved on each button, a white waistcoat and black silk breeches . . .' On a show of hands this 'appeared to be unanimously agreed' and Bro. David Gwynne, the Master of the Old King's Arms Lodge and a Grand Steward in 1793, who happened to be present by invitation in connection with a totally different matter 'took the directions to make the same accordingly'. This style of dress was adopted again in 1798 and perhaps continued for some years, but uncertainty arises owing to the absence of the Board's minutes for several years.
The next reference to clothing appears in the Board's minutes for 1811 when it was decided that the Stewards should wear black suits with white gloves. Reaction set in the following year when the dress approved is once more a blue coat with gilt buttons, white waistcoat, etc. Fashion however decreed that in 1813 the formal wear of 1811 should be chosen and this continued henceforth.
"Grand Stewards 1728 - 1978," C. MacKechnie-Jarvis. Ars Quatuor Coronatorum vol xci (1978). London : 1979. excerpt pp. 179-80.