Ashlar Chippings

A great commemorative masonic celebration took place at the Albert Hall 0n 31st October 2017, for the tercentenary of the traditional founding of Grand Lodge in 1717.

As with many aspects of Freemasonry all is not necessarily as it seems! What actually occurred in 1717 was not a Grand Lodge but an assembly and Grand Feast of four lodges in the City of London and Westminster and that is all.

Reference the research ‘Searching for the Apple Tree’ by Andrew Prescott and Susan Mitchell Sommers in Reflections on 300 Years of Freemasonry, Lewis Masonic, 2017, under the auspices of Quatuor Coronati Lodge No. 2076 (EC).


Book of Constitutions by James Anderson in 1723
IMAGE LINKED:  wikimedia Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0)

The first published compilation of Constitutions by James Anderson in 1723, based on George Payne’s labours in 1720, makes no mention whatsoever of any activity in 1717 – how strange! 

Nor was there any mention in the press at the time, normally a-buzz with society news, and particular attention being given to any new society being formed.  Silence! 

The first mention of 1717 is in Anderson’s second edition of the Constitutions in 1738; over twenty years after the events described are supposed to have taken place. 

As far as is known Anderson would not have been present at any such meeting in 1717, so what he describes in a rather mangled fashion would have been second-hand at best.

In 1721 however, much news was abroad when the first noble Grand Master, in the person of Prince John, Duke of Montagu, was elected Grand Master at Stationers’ Hall and two notable things happened. First, the Minutes in Book E of the Lodge of Antiquity (one of the above four) say:

This day the Free Masons of London in the name of themselves and the rest of their Brethren of England vested their separate and distinct rights and powers of congregating in Chapter &c. in the present old Lodges in London in trust and the same was this day Publickly Recognised and Notified to their Brethren in Grand Lodge assembled.

The Masters of the Old Lodges Accepted the Trust for their lodges and were sworn accordingly.


Thus, the previous inherent rights of lodges to meet, and to do so when and where they wished on their own cognisance, was transferred to and vested in a new Grand Lodge, not just of the City of London and Westminster, but of England as a whole.

Second, George Payne’s 1720 compilation of Constitutions was approved at that Grand Lodge; James Anderson later being tasked with its production.

So what? you may say.  Well, until the installation of the noble Duke of Montagu in 1721 there was no Grand Lodge, only an occasional ‘Grand’ assembly and feast of independent London and Westminster lodges headed by one of their number to be the ‘Grand’ Master in the chair. 

The word ‘Grand’ here carrying the meaning of a greater scale than a single lodge.  Also, that noble Grand Master put in place a single set of rules for lodges throughout the country.

So, in this year of 2021, but for the pandemic, we should be having another big party like in 2017 – or has the budget been blown?!

Article by: Hugh O’Neill

Hugh O'Neill

Past Master of Craft lodges under the constitution of the United Grand Lodge of England. Member of Quatuor Coronati Lodge 2076, the world’s premier Masonic research lodge. Masonic historian and orator on Masonic topics.



Further Reading

Series of presentations recorded at Freemasons Hall:  QC Symposium, 15 February 2018


April 2020

Sankey Lectures 2016

Searching for the Apple Tree: What Happened in 1716?  …read more

Recent Ashlar Chippings:

January 2021

Ashlar Chippings

Hugh O’Neill offers his regular chippings collected whilst smoothing the ashlar  …read more

December 2020

Ashlar Chippings

Hugh O’Neill offers his regular chippings collected whilst smoothing the ashlar  …read more

November 2020

Ashlar Chippings

Learn the correct meaning of that ‘H’ word, lesser lights and more..  …read more

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