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Algoma District Travelling Square

 

600 Years Of Freemasonry - April 09, 1980

 

The Travelling Square which was presented to Port Arthur Lodge No. 499 by Fort William Lodge No. 415, on December 13, 1976, must again resume its journey of Masonic enlightenment.  On April 5, 1977, it was presented to Shuniah Lodge No. 287, along with the kindest of fraternal regards from the brethren of Port Arthur Lodge No. 499.

 

Shuniah Lodge No. 287 to Superior Lodge No. 672, April 9, 1980.  Brethren:  This volume of lectures contains a wealth of Masonic knowledge and philosophy, the end result of many hours of devoted study by Brethren of the Algoma District, - who have contributed their talents for the benefit of all. 

 

To have been asked to join this group is an honour.  To find a topic suitable for such an occasion as this is no simple task.

 

Pray forgive me then, if I fall back upon a question I have had tucked away for many years – Where did Freemasonry, as we know it today, get its start?

 

I do not refer to our legendary beginnings, so beautifully portrayed in the Work, but to the origin of the freemason, the lodge, the Old Charge, and our Landmarks.  There would appear to be a place in this book for such information.

 

Bro. Harry Carr has traced Masonic Ritual over a period of 600 years, and believes these six centuries to be but an extension of three to four hundred years – without written record – which may well have seen the founding of the mason trade in Britain.  Carr is convinced that Freemasonry, as we know it today, is a purely British product.

 

Between the early part of the 14th century, at the time of Edward II and Robert Bruce and the days of Elizabeth I, a period of approximately 200 years, there was little if any communication between these two great countries.  And it will be seen to have involved the mason trades when it is noted that the architecture of this period developed separately in each country.

 

With the fact of the barrier to communication in mind, let us jump ahead to the year 1721.  The Freemasonry of London and the Freemasonry of Edinburgh met in the person of Desaguliers.  This Brother, who had been made a Mason in London in 1718 or 1719, was able to satisfy the Brethren of Edinburgh that he was indeed a Mason, and qualified to enter the Lodge.

 

In other words, Brethren, Scottish and English Masonry were essentially similar at the point in time, in spite of the fact that there had been an independent developmental process in each country.

 

And in this connection, I will ask you to remember one additional fact.  Communications broke down in the days of the operative lodges and guilds, and were renewed in the days of speculative Freemasonry.

 

And yet, with the exception of some minor points, they were almost exactly similar.  In other words, Freemasonry started BEFORE the break.

 

Bro. Harry Carr, in Vol. 81 of the Q. c. Transactions for the year 1968, and Bro. Lionel Vibert, in Vol. 85 of the Q. C. transactions for the year 1962, have provided a great wealth of detail on the origin of the Craft and Craft Ritual, in Scotland and England, and I would refer the interested Brother to these volumes, the basis of this paper.  This evening, I will confine myself to the briefest outline, in the interests of time and muscular fatigue.

 

We may conclude, the, that the Craft had its origin, and had developed its essential features, at the time of Gothic construction, and its control by one Fraternity.  This would be before the wars of the Edwards, and at a time when men could pass freely between the two countries.

 

The foundations had been well laid by this time.  However, the history of the lodges in the two countries was very different.

 

Organization first becomes apparent in about 1356, even though there were masons in England long before this.  In this year, the “mason hewers” and the “mason layers and setters”, as the result of an unsettled dispute, approached the Mayor and Aldermen and obtained permission for the adoption of a simple code of trade regulations, because the trade had never been regulated by member of the trade itself.

 

From this came the London Mason Company.

 

The craft guilds, in their earliest form, were municipally-favoured organizations for the control of the trades within the towns.  However, the vast majority of masons had to earn their living on the larger scale building projects, and these were out of town, in the smaller centres.  It would seem probable that this essential mobility in the mason trade was the principle reason for the rise of the operative lodge.

 

Certainly, the earliest documents that point to the beginning of the Masonic lodge organization, the Old Charges or Manuscript Constitutions, all seem to suggest, mainly by the absence of certain rules, that they were not designed for use in the towns, where the trade was controlled by the guild or by municipal regulations.

 

The Old Charges have survived in about 130 versions, the oldest being c. 1390, and although there are differences in the texts, they all follow the same basic pattern.  The Regius MS. (q1390), and the second oldest, the Cooke MS. (1410), are very similar, and have been shown to have common ancestors dating from about 1356, the earliest know code of mason regulations.

 

In Edinburgh, in 1475, the masons and wrights formed an incorporation, the Scottish equivalent of a craft guild, and had its representatives on the town council, as in London.  They controlled the trades, fixed prices, wages, hours of work, the taking of apprentices, and the admission of fellows.

 

The lodge is not mentioned, and may be assumed not to have existed at that time.  The earliest records of the Lodge of Edinburgh are in the form of minutes dated 1599.  This was an operative lodged.  At this time, and until the early 1700’s, the Lodge of Edinburgh was entering apprentices, passing fellow-crafts, exercising full trade control within the lodge, settling disputes and punishing offenders.

 

In 1598 – 1599, there were several lodges in different part of Scotland, with that of Edinburgh at the height of its power, and exercising many of the functions originally under the jurisdiction of the Incorporation.  Division had occurred, with the Incorporation governing prices, wages, hour of work, and all matter arising externally between the craft, employers, and the public in general.  The Lodge now controlled the internal matters, over and above the entering of apprentices and passing of the fellow-crafts, including the exclusion of Foreign labour from outside the town, prohibiting the employment of “cowans” or unskilled labour, and the responsibilities that go with self-government.

 

It is felt that, sometime in the early 1500’s, the Lodge of Edinburgh had arisen, and assumed many of the powers of the Incorporation.

 

The history of the lodges in the two countries is quite different.  In England, with one possible exception, the guilds were confined to the major centre, while the lodges were outside the towns.  These guilds were quite distinct from the freemasons and their lodges.  Both existed side by side, but both were separate entities.  As time went on, the major building projects were completed, and the lodges disappeared.  More often than not, leaving no trace of their passing.  Thus we have little record of the transition of the lodge in England.

 

Within the London Mason Company, in 1620, there existed a select group, separate from the remainder, call the “ACCEPTION”, and it is believed whose function it was to make Masons (Accepted Masons).  This was somewhat similar to the Edinburgh situation, although there is no evidence to support the view that this group had any control over the trade.

 

Lodges, therefore, at least in England, began at the larger building sites outside the large towns, where they could and would control their own affairs, as distinct from those of their employers.

 

The four Lodges that came together to form the first Grand Lodge in London, in 1716 – 1717, have no previous history.  They were derived from associations of freemasons, not from the town guilds.

 

In Scotland, the term Lodge was first used in 1483, in association with a town guild, in Aberdeen.  Incorporated in 1527, they were no longer confined to a church or single large structure, but could move in and out of the borough.  Thus they carry on through – with no break – as an Incorporation, while still preserving its character as a Lodge of Freemasons.

 

The Lodge is at work today – from the 15th century, and although we have minutes from 1670 only, they are today the direct descendants of a body that was both an operative freemasons lodge, and a craft guild.  Lodge after lodge in Scotland has a similar history.  Here were have a national organization of the craft.  In 1590, we have records of the appointment of a Warden for the Counties of Aberdeen, Banff, and Kincardine, who held office under the General for Scotland.

 

The Lodges were kept alive, to act as centres of administration for other building projects.  The Lodge at Kilwinning, was one of these, and is the second oldest Lodge.

 

Thus, it is the firm belief of many learned men, that Freemasonry has its foundations in the mason trades of the 1300’s of which we have record and in all probability many years before this.  Gothic was the major form of architecture, and the artisans moved freely (hence freemasons) about the country, from lodge to lodge, seeking shelter, food, rest, employment and information.

 

In effect, an international organization might be said to have been formed.  Here we see the solid foundations of our Craft.

 

Then come two hundred years of strife, and all interchange ceases.  Even the architectural forms develop along different lines,

 

An yet, in spite of the separation, and the 200 years involved, the Freemasonry of the two countries had developed, independently, along such similar lines, that a Brother of one country could prove himself and enter a Lodge of the other country.

 

Our origins, Brethren, and a goodly portion of our working, lie in the operative guilds and lodges of the mason trade of Great Britain in the 14sans moved freely (hence freemasons) about the country, from lodge to lodge, seeking shelter, food, rest, employment and information.

 

In effect, an international organization might be said to have been formed.  Here we see the solid foundations of our Craft.

 

Then come two hundred years of strife, and all interchange ceases.  Even the architectural forms develop along different lines,

 

And yet, in spite of the separation, and the 200 years involved, the Freemasonry of the two countries had developed, independently, along such similar lines, that a Brother of one country could prove himself and enter a Lodge of the other country.

 

Our origins, Brethren, and a goodly portion of our working, lie in the operative guilds and lodges of the mason trade of Great Britain in the 14th century, and very probably much earlier.

 

Thank you Brethren

 

Ross A. Wilson

Shuniah Lodge No. 287

April 09, 1980