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Freemasonry and Social England in the Eighteenth Century



Part I

Transactions of the Manchester Association for Masonic
Research - 1929

THE subject I have selected for my Paper this evening is
one concerning which little or no attention has apparently
been paid by students. Many books have been written in
which the social conditions existing in England in the 18th
century have been passed under review, and we have also
Histories of Freemasonry in England during the same period,
but in neither case has any serious attempt been made to
connect the widespread growth and universality of the latter
with any of the improved conditions of the former. It is, I fear,
quite impossible in the time at my disposal to analyse with
any considerable detail the various facts concerning
Freemasonry, which may have affected the social life of
England as a whole but I will endeavour to set before you,
in as brief a manner as possible, the principles and tenets
inculcated in Freemasonry from the early part of the 18th
century, and indicate broadly the lines upon which further
investigation might be undertaken, with the view of
ascertaining, if possible, the effect of these teachings of
Freemasonry upon the social conditions then existing.

From the 13th century, and probably even earlier, Masons,
when congregated together, appear to have met in Lodges -
then the workroom attached to the building in progress. At
the beginning of the 18th century only a few such groups
remained, such as those at Alnwick and Swalwell - then
meeting in taverns - whose records survive to show that they
existed for the operative purpose of regulating the Masons'
trade. There were also, in London and elsewhere in
England, isolated and independent Lodges of Freemasons,
composed mainly if not entirely of non-operative Masons, in
which speculative or symbolical Masonry was practised. We
know that Sir Robert Moray, a Founder and first President of
the Royal Society, was made a Freemason at Newcastle in
1641, and also that Elias Ashmole, the celebrated Antiquary,
was made a Freemason at Warrington in 1646. Then again
there is evidence that Charles, first Duke of Richmond, was
a Freemason in 1695, and other names might be mentioned
did time permit. Until 1717 these isolated speculative Lodges
were apparently independent of any central control but we
know that in each of them certain ceremonial observances
were carried out in connection with the making of a
Freemason, one account telling us that the ceremony was
"very formal."

In 1717 four Lodges meeting in London agreed to form
themselves into a Grand Lodge, and on the 24th June they
elected their first Grand Master, with two Grand Wardens. In
1721, John, second Duke of Montagu, became Grand
Master, and ever since that date this Grand Lodge has been
ruled by nobility or royalty. For the first six years of the life of
this Grand Lodge its activities were confined to London and
the Bills of Mortality. In 1723 Lodges were constituted at
Edgware, Acton and Richmond, and in the following year the
extension to the Provinces was in active operation, Lodges
springing up at Bath and Bristol in the West and Norwich in
the East.

In 1725 there were about 70 Lodges under the central
organisation, with some 1,400 Brethren. By 1731 the Lodges
had grown to 83, and included Lodges at Gibraltar, Lisbon
and Calcutta. The number of Brethren had by then risen to
approximately 2,400. Subsequently new Lodges were
founded in steady succession and by the end of 17 40 there
were 187 Lodges under the Grand Lodge of England.

In 1751 the Grand Lodge according to the Old Constitutions
was formed in London by six Lodges, none of which appear
ever to have been under the jurisdiction of the older Grand
Lodge. The Brethren of these six Lodges were mostly Irish
and no doubt many of them learnt their Masonry in Ireland,
where a Grand Lodge had been established for that island,
certainly from 1725 and perhaps even earlier. This rival
Grand Lodge - known familiarly as the Grand Lodge of the
Antients - progressed rapidly. Its Brethren were drawn from
men of a lower social status than were those in the Lodges
under the premier Grand Lodge, thus widening still further
the avenues through which the teachings of Freemasonry
passed into the world at large.

By 1775 the aggregate number of Lodges under both the
Grand Lodges was 578 and at the close of the century this
number had grown to 768. But throughout the period English
Freemasonry did not confine itself to the British Isles. It was
carried into every nook and cranny of the inhabited world,
particularly where English speaking people dwelt. 271 of the
768 Lodges in 1800 were in places outside England and
Wales. In addition the Grand Lodges of Ireland and Scotland
have constituted many Lodges under their respective
jurisdictions, not only at home but also in various other parts
of the world.

Having glanced at the rapid growth of Freemasonry during
the 18th century, I now come to the main portion of my
subject, which comprehends a consideration of whether the
Members of all these Lodges of Freemasons, either
collectively or individually, had any influence upon the social
conditions of that period.

Trevelyan, in his recent History of England, states:-

"It was the special function of the 18th century to diffuse
common sense and reasonableness of life and thought, to
civilise manners and to Harmonise conduct."

It is not, however, an easy matter to recognise any one of
the many factors which conduced towards this end, for there
were many influences at work, independent of each other, all
tending towards the same object. Was one of these factors
Freemasonry, which, from records commencing from 1722,
is known to have inculcated the principles of Brotherly Love,
Relief and Truth towards each other, besides toleration,
temperance and other social and moral virtues.

From about 1725 the ceremony of making a Freemason had
developed into a series of three degrees, which were
conferred upon Masons in the Lodges - Entered Apprentice,
Fellowcraft, and Master Mason. Each of these three degrees
had its own special teachings. The Degree of Entered
Apprentice sought to reach the moral and social duties of
Man to God, his Neighbour and Himself the second Degree
of Fellowcraft - often given at the same time as the first
taught the desirability of searching into the hidden mysteries
of nature and science while the third, or Master Mason's
Degree carried on the teaching requisite for a good moral
character by inculcating fidelity and trustworthiness with true
fellowship in this life, and finally emphasising the life after
death, or the immortality of the soul.

From so-called exposures, which began to make their
appearance in print from 1723 onwards throughout the
century, and also from other contemporary sources, it is
quite certain that the three Degrees gradually developed into
three ceremonies of a very solemn character, well in keeping
with the principles and tenets sought to be inculcated in
those ceremonies. In the 6th of the Charges in the
Constitutions of 1723 it is stated:-

"You are not to behave yourself ludicrously or jestingly while
the Lodge is engaged in what is serious and solemn." In
some early By-Laws of the Maids Head Lodge, Norwich,
recommended to them by Dr. J. T. Desaguliers, there was
one as follows :-

"That no ridiculous trick be play'd with any person when he is

In 1728, William Oakley, Master of the Lodge at the
Carpenter's Arms, Silver Street, Golden Square, London,
addressed his Brethren. In the course of that speech he
exhorted them that,

"their character and behaviour ought to be such as shall not
be liable to bring any Reflection on the Craft."

He concluded this exhortation by wishing that the Brethren

"love, cherish, relieve, and promote the Interest of each

In the Freemason's Pocket Companion, published by William
Smith in 1735, a short charge to new admitted Brethren is
given. This emphasises many of the tenets of Freemasonry.
It is too long to quote in full, but I will give you one or two

"There are three general Heads of Duty which Masons ought
always to inculcate, viz.: to God, our Neighbours, and
our-selves. To God, in never mentioning his Name but with
that Reverential Awe which becomes a Creature to bear to
his Creator, and to look upon him always as the
Summum-Bonum which we came into the world to enjoy
and according to that view to regulate all our pursuits.

"To our Neighbours, in acting upon the Square, and doing as
we would be done by.

"To ourselves in avoiding all Intemperances and Excesses,
whereby we may be rendered incapable of following our
work, or led into Behaviour unbecoming our laudable
Profession, and in always keeping within due bounds, and
free from all Pollution. In the State a Mason is to behave as
a peaceable and dutiful Subject conforming cheerfully to the
Government under which he lives."

Then, further on, we are told:-

"He is to be a Man of Benevolence and Charity, not sitting
down contented while his Fellow Creatures, but much more
his Brethren, are in want, when it is in his Power (without
prejudicing himself or Family) to relieve them."

Then, again, there is the following exhortation to the Initiate

"He is to be a Lover of the Arts and Sciences, and to take all
opportunities of improving himself therein."

In the Dedication to the Grand Master, Lord Carysfort,
prefixed to Scott's Freemasons' Pocket Companion,
published in 1754, there is the following :-

"We daily increase both in good and useful Members, and in
that generous Fund of Voluntary Charity, that raises the
admiration of the World, at the Mutual Love and Harmony,
which cements the Brotherhood and is always ready to give
Relief to those who are worthy and in Distress."

It may further be noted that the Lodges used Prayers in
connection with the opening of the Lodge and the
performance of the Ceremonies. Some of these have been
preserved and show the solemn nature of the blessings
sought. As an example I quote from two used about 1730.
The first appeared in the Irish Constitutions of 1730, and

"Most Holy and Glorious Lord God thou Great Architect of
Heaven and Earth . . . . . . .in thy lame we assemble and
meet together humbly beseeching thee to bless us in all our
undertakings, to give us thy Holy Spirit, to enlighten our
Minds with Wisdom and Understanding that we may know,
and serve thee aright, that all our Doings may tend to thy
Glory, and the Salvation of our Souls."

The second Prayer is from one of three very similar prayers
found among the Rawlinson MSS. at the Bodleian Library,
Oxford. In it occurs the following :-



Part III

Transactions of the Manchester Association for Masonic
Research - 1929

And yet again,

"You are to act as becomes a moral and wise Man you must
also consult your health, by not continuing together too late,
or too long from home, after Lodge Hours are past and by
avoiding Gluttony or Drunkenness, that your Families be not
neglected or injured, nor you disabled from working."

From the before-mentioned speech of Edward Oakley I
propose to quote once more in order to show that those in
power were desirous of giving full effect to the ancient
Charges of the Freemasons. In the course of his address to
the Brethren of his Lodge, Bro. Oakley said:-

"I must now, in the strictest manner, charge you to be
careful, and diligently to enquire into the Character of such
Persons who shall intercede to be admitted to this
Honourable Fraternity I therefore, according to my Duty,
forwarn you to admit, or even to recommend to be initiated
Masons, such as are Wine-Bibbers or Drunkards, witty
Punsters on sacred Religion or Politicks, Tale-Bearers,
Bablers, or Lyars. litigious, quarrelsome, irreligious, or
prophane Persons, lew'd Songsters, Persons illiterate and of
mean Capacities and especially beware of such who desire
admittance: with a selfish View of Gain to themselves all
which Principles and Practices tend to the Destruction of
Morality, a Burden to Civil Government, notoriously
scandalous, and entirely repugnant to the Sacred Order and
Constitution of Free and Accepted Masons."

This is surely in advance of the times remembered by Dr.
Samuel Johnson, "when all decent people of Lichfield got
drunk every night and were not the worse thought of." I think
that all the early Lodge By-Laws that I have read deal with
this subject, and impose fines upon any Brethren who enter
the Lodge "disguised in liquor," or as one Lodge phrased it,
"distempered with drink." Persistent disregard of these
By-Laws meant permanent exclusion from the Lodge and
there are Lodge Minutes to confirm that the various penalties
were duly inflicted. Thus in the Lodge of Felicity, No. 58,
there was a By-Law of 1742, which reads :-

"That if any Member of this Lodge shall in Lodge hours be
judged by the Majority of the Company to be Disguised in
Liquor he, or they, so offending shall pay two Shillings each
for the use of the Lodge."

The Lodge, at that time, was composed of Tradesmen and
servants of the Nobility who resided in the neighbourhood of
Jermyn Street.

Then again there is a considerable body of evidence in
support of the endeavours made by Freemasonry to purge
its Members from swearing and other profaneness,
lewdness and other unchivalrous conduct towards
womenfolk, although these latter were, of course, ineligible
as Members of the Society. In a Speech made by Isaac
Head, at Helston, Cornwall, on the 21st April, 1752, he said:-

"Let us also be resolutely fixed in the great duty of sobriety
and not suffer Liquor to get the Ascendancy of our Reason.
An whilst we are careful to avoid the Shameful sin of
Drunkenness let us at the same time remember that we are
in Duty bound to abstain from another Vice, which is too
common in this present Age I mean the detestable Practice
of Swearing by, and invoking the Solemn Name of the Great
and Glorious God on the most trifling occasions . . . . .This
Vice is a Scandal to Society and Degrades the Man below
the Level of the Brute Tribe."

In the By-Laws of the Lodge of Antiquity, No. 2, printed in
1760, there is the following rule:-

"If any Brother Curses, Swears or says anything Irreligious,
Obscene or Ludicrous, Holds private Committees, Disputes
about Religion or Politics, offers to lay Wagers, or is
disguised in Liquor during the Lodge hours such offending
Brother shall be immediately fined by a private Ballot for
each Offence . . . . each fine not to be under one shilling nor
to exceed Five Shillings."

Many other Lodge By-Laws could be quoted, and from the
body of evidence thus available it seems quite clear that
Freemasonry was making an earnest endeavour to improve
the manners of the Brethren (and we hope with success) at
a time when from the literature of the period, and other
contemporary evidence, we learn of the prevalence of
coarseness and violence of manners, the oaths which were
continually upon the lips of all classes of men, and the
persecution with which young ladies of beauty and
distinction were often pursued in public places.

Another subject for consideration is that of the Benefit and
Friendly Society. These were well-known prior to the 18th
century, and were probably a survival of the Mediaeval Guild
system. Although Freemasonry is now no longer even
associated with such Societies yet at times during the 18th
century many of the Lodges undoubtedly partook of the
nature of Benefit Societies and at the close of the century
the premier Grand Lodge founded a Masonic Benefit Society
as distinct from any of its charitable foundations. But if
Freemasonry cannot be connected with the birth of this
system of thrift there are many Societies of that nature which
seem to have taken their inspiration from Freemasonry.
Such Societies as those of the Oddfellows, Foresters, Druids
and Buffaloes, with their varied regalia of aprons and collars,
and their ceremonies of initiation, may all I think be traced to
the influence exercised by Freemasonry upon the 18th
century citizen.

Yet a further interesting avenue for social study is that of the
Army. Commencing from 1732, when the Irish Grand Lodge
warranted a Lodge in the 1st Regiment of Foot, and
continuing until the Union of the two English Grand Lodges
in 1813, the approximate number of Regimental Lodges
which have existed under the English, Scottish and Irish
Grand Lodges, are as follows:- English 141 (Antients 116,
Moderns 25), Scottish 21, and Irish 190, thus showing a
grand total of 352 Lodges. Of these some were erased,
many became dormant and some became civil Lodges. In
1813 only 219 of these Military Lodges remained, England
having 65, Scotland 19 and Ireland 135. To trace the effect
these Lodges, and the principles and tenets inculcated
therein, had upon the rank and file of the Army of the 18th
century, who undoubtedly joined the Craft in considerable
numbers, would be an extremely interesting line of research.
The result might supply part, at least, of the answer to the
question propounded by Lecky in his History, in which he

"It is indeed a curious thing to notice how large a part of the
reputation of England in the world rests upon the
achievements of a force which was formed mainly out of the
very dregs of her population and to some considerable
extent even out of her criminal classes."

It was, I believe, Carlyle who stated,

"Universal History, the history of what man has
accomplished in this world, is at bottom the history of the
Great Men who have worked there."

It may, therefore, be fitting to give you the names of a few
Brethren who achieved eminence during the 18th century,
especially as we are told by G. M. Trevelyan, in his History
of England:-

"The Greatness of England during the epoch that followed
the Revolution is to be judged by her individual men, by the
unofficial achievements of her free and vigorous population.
The glory of the 18th century in Britain lay in the genius and
energy of individuals acting freely in a free community."

No less than eleven of the Royal House became
Freemasons during the 18th century, including nearly all the
sons of George lII. From 1721, when John, Duke of
Montagu, became Grand Master, representatives from most
of the titled families have joined the Brotherhood. Dukes of
Norfolk, Richmond, Marlborough, Grafton, St. Albans,
Buccleugh, Atholl and Manchester have been Freemasons.
Again, Ambassadors such as the Earls of Chesterfield,
Albemarle and Essex, and Lord Waldegrave, were of the
Craft. So, too, were Courtiers such as Lord John Hervey,
Lord Baltimore and the Earl of Carnarvon. Lord Petre, a
leading Roman Catholic, was Grand Master, and after his
death, in 1801, it was found that he had spent 5,000 pounds
annually in charity. Of distinguished Soldiers and Sailors
who were Freemasons, I might mention the third Earl of
Hyndford, Sir Adolphus Oughton, Lord Blayney, Sir Robert
Rich, Viscount Cobham, Sir Eyre Coote and Sir Charles
Napier as to the former, and Earl Ferrers, Sir Peter Parker,
Lord Rodney and, it is believed, Lord Nelson as to the latter.
Amongst English Statesmen known to have been
Freemasons were the Duke of Newcastle, Henry Pelham
and Henry Fox, first Lord Holland, whilst in America
Benjamin Franklin and George Washington may be
mentioned. Many Clergy have joined the Society, including
Dr. William Howley, who became Archbishop of Canterbury.
Of the Doctors, we know to be Freemasons there are Sir
Richard Manningham, who founded a lying-in Infirmary, in
1739, and his son Thomas, also Edward Jenner, who
discovered vaccination. In passing, I may mention that
nearly 50 of the Fellows of the Royal Society, whose names
appear upon the 1723 List of Fellows, were Freemasons.
Amongst other celebrated Freemasons may be mentioned
Dr. John Arbuthnot, Theobald, the Shakespearian Critic,
James Thomson, Author of the Seasons, James Quinn the,
Actor, Beau Nash of Bath and Edward Gibbon the Historian.
Poets such as Robert Burns and Sir Walter Scott were
Freemasons, as also were Artists such as Joseph Highmore,
Sir James Thornhill, William Hogarth and Sir William
Beechey, R.A. the influence of Freemasonry upon Hogarth
would form a most interesting study.

The Brethren I have named, as well as a host of other
famous men too numerous to mention, were members of
Lodges wherein Brethren drawn from all stations of life
foregathered. Histories inform us that Humanitarianism was
an 18th century product, and that the rigid class barriers
caused by class hatred broke down as the century
advanced. May not the interchange of thought by Brethren in
various social grades aided by the principles of Freemasonry
have played their part in this movement, for as Mrs. George
tells us in London Life in the 18th century,

"The rigidity of class distinction was breaking down as the
idea of humanity began to gain upon the conception of a
community made up of classes and sections."

It is just because we find that the change in the attitude
towards social conditions was the outcome of this new spirit
of humanity, and because that spirit of humanity was so
clearly inculcated in the Lodges of Freemasons, where
Brotherly Love was one of the Grand Principles of the Order,
that I venture to couple the two together.

And now I must take leave of these interesting speculations,
however inadequate my treatment of them may have been.
But, in thus saying farewell, let me express the hope that
one day Students will consider this period of English History
from the particular standpoint I have indicated.
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