The Ritual of the Operative Free Masons – P3

The original paper was written, first, to prove that Speculative Free Masonry was derived from Operative Free Masonry; second, to give some account of the Operative Free Masons, of their Ritual, and of their customs.



By Thomas Carr, M.D., P. M. Honorary Member of the Guild of Operative Free Masons

Part 3 — Existing Operative Free Masons.

The full title of the existing Society of Operative Free Masons, to whose Ritual I am about to refer, is that of  – “The Worshipful Society of Free Masons, Rough Masons, Wallers, Slaters, Paviors, Plaisterers, and Bricklayers.”

The Rough Masons and Wallers are inferior craftsmen doing rougher work than that done by the Free Masons.

They are not Fellows of the Lodges of Free Masons, but may be regarded as Associates, having however ceremonies of their own.

They are regarded as “scabblers” and their work is not “in course.” They are allowed to enter the 1st Degree or Apprentice Stone Yard, but not the Second or Fellow’s Yard.

The Slaters, Paviors, Plaisterers, and Bricklayers are of course distinct trades.
In London the Paviors, Plaisterers, and Bricklayers (known as the Tilers and Bricklayers), are also three separate and distinct companies.


Coat of Arms of the Tylers and Bricklayers’ Company,
Fair use, wikipedia

This title of the Society, comprising so many distinct trades is at first sight not a little curious but on investigation it was found that it was not an uncommon state of affairs in the 17th Century.

In Kendal in 1667, the 12th Trade Company comprised. Free Masons, rough masons, wallers, plaisterers, slaters, and carpenters.

In Oxford, a Company was incorporated in 1604 called’ “The Company of Free Masons, Carpenters, Joiners, and Slaters of the City of Oxford.”

In Gateshead a most curious conglomeration of trades was incorporated by a Charter of Cosin Bishop of Durham in 1671.

The trades enumerated are Free Masons, Carvers, Stonecutters; Sculptures, Brickmakers, Tilers, Bricklayers, Glaysiers, Penter-stainers. Founders, Neilers, Pewterers, Plumbers, Millwrights, Sadlers, Bridlers, Trunckmakers, and Distillers.

At Edinburgh, the incorporation of St. Mary’s Chapel’ at one time embraced a great variety of trades such as Sieve wrights, Coopers, Upholsterers, Bowmakers, Slaters, Glaziers, Painters, Plumbers, and Wrights as well as Masons.

Later there were only two in union, the Wrights and’ the Masons, and finally these separated, each becoming a distinct Corporation.

Our greatest interest centres in the City of Durham where we find the combination of trades- the same as in the Society we are specially concerned with.

In 1594 Bishop Matthew Hutton incorporated the “Rough Masons, Wallers, and Slaters.” In 1609 Bishop James confirmed their Bye Laws and Ordinances in which they are designated “Rough Masons, Wallers, Slaters, Paviors, Tylers, and Plaisterers.”

On April 16th, 1638, Bishop Morton gave a new charter to “The Company Societie and Felowshipp of Free Masons, Rough Masons, Wallers, Slaytors, Pavers, Plaisterers, and Bricklayers.”

The Bishops of Durham were Counts Palatinate, so charters originated from them.
These operatives became freemen of the City, which conferred many rights and privileges upon them, and many of the gentry of the County became Honorary Members and regarded it as an honourable distinction; just as today many members of the mercantile and professional classes become Freemen and Liverymen of the Trade Companies of London.

I am a Liveryman of the Worshipful Society of Apothecaries of the City of London.

The Mason’s Company of London was incorporated in the second year of Henry IV (1411) and was granted arms in the 12th year of Edward IV (1473) which are still used by them.



Arms of the Mason’s Company of London  source: wikipedia

The Slaters of London also have arms although not a recognized Company; the Paviors is a small London Company; the Plaisterers were incorporated in 1501 and the Tilers and Bricklayers in 1508.

In London, disputes arose between these various trades and others of a kindred nature as to what was their respective work; these quarrels were particularly acute in and about 1356, and many references to them are found in the old records. Again in 161 5 and 1632 similar difficulties arose.

In the year 1677 “The Worshipful Society of the Free Masons of the City of London” issued a map of England for the information of all the Operative Free Masons, and it showed the country divided into eight districts:

(1) City of London.
(2) Westminster.
(3) Southern.
(4) Bristol.
(5) Chester.
(6) Island of Anglesea.
(7) Lancaster.
(8) York.

In former times, Durham had apparently been a separate district.

The Worshipful Society of Free Masons, Rough Masons, Wallers, Slaters, Paviors, Plaisterers, and Bricklayers, claims a coat of arms which still hangs in the Guild Hall at Durham and which is really a combination of the arms of the separate trades.

In chief, on the dexter side, are those of the Masons; in the centre those of the Slaters; on the sinister side those of the Paviors; below on the dexter side, those of the Plaisterers; on the sinister side, those of the Tilers and Bricklayers.

The arms in each case are similar to, if not identical with, those of the London Companies. The date on this armorial combination is 1784, but the incorporation it represents, as already stated, was made in 1638.

In London the use of the word “Free” in the title Free Mason was allowed to lapse towards the end of the 17th Century; possibly because it had ceased to be a distinction when members of all the other London Companies were equally free, and probably because the Free Masons had ceased to include Rough Masons &c. in their Corporation.

As far as can be ascertained both London and Westminster Free Masons dropped the association with other trades in about 1655-6. This is only a suggestion as it is very difficult to get any exact knowledge on this point.

As regards York Division we can give more accurate information. W. Bro. Stretton informs me that when he took his obligation as an Entered Apprentice to the Operative Society in 1867 Rough Masons, Wallers, Slaters, Paviors, Plaisterers, and Bricklayers were all present.

When he was passed to the Degree of a Fellow of the Craft in May, 1874, only Free Masons were present, as was also the case when he was advanced to the Third Degree, that of a Super Fellow.

The Trade Union Act of 1871 had been passed in the meantime and this was the cause of the separation of the Rough Masons, Wallers, Slaters, Paviors, Plaisterers, and Bricklayers from the Free Masons in the York division.

These trades began to leave the Free Masons in 1871 as soon as the Trade Union Act was passed and by the end of 1883 there were none left in Lodges 91 or 110, and W. Bro. Stretton informs me that there have been none in the York Division for some years.

Certainly since 1883 they have not had notices sent them to attend Meetings of Free Masons; but they still have meetings of their own, and Operative Masons tell me that some of the old Ritual is worked by some of the Trade Unions, but I have had no opportunity of verifying this statement, although I accept it.

The old Operative members in the York Division still (1911) regard these Rough Masons &c. as Associates or Free Brothers but not as Fellows.

They exchange the 1st Degree Grip and Word with them and will give them money for a drink; but they are not Fellows or Accepted Masons and they will not teach them anything, higher than the First Degree.

These Operative Free Masons are divided into two classes, and each class into seven degrees. The two classes are Straight or Square Masons, and Round or Arch Masons.

A man can only belong to one of these two classes or kinds, either the Square or the Arch, never to both, although a man may be transferred from one to the other, usually from the Square to the Arch, if the Masters so order it.

When a man is apprenticed he selects which form he intends to follow.

The “Square” is the symbol of the Square Mason and the “Compasses” the symbol of the Arch Mason. Blue is the colour of the Square Mason, and Red is the colour of the Arch Mason.

A good deal of elaborate stuff has been written of recent years as to the origin of these colours in Speculative Masonry, the Orders of the Garter and of the Bath have been suggested as prototypes for colour.

A lot of time and imaginative writing would have been saved by a reference to the customs of the Operatives. The Free Masons’ original arms were granted them by Edward IV but the combined Trades arms have two supporters whose first appearance I have been unable to trace.

Of these supporters the one on the dexter, or right, side has a “square” in his hand and is a Square Mason and his clothes are faced with Blue. The one on the left, or sinister, side has a pair of “compasses” in his hand and is an Arch Mason and his clothes are faced with Red.

Each of these two great classes of Square and Arch Masons is divided into Seven Degrees, with special secrets and special working rules and technical instruction restricted to each Degree.

1. The Apprentices to the Craft of Free Mason.
2. The Fellows of the Craft of Free Mason.
3. The Super Fellows who have their Mark.
4. The Super Fellows who also are Erectors on the Site.
5. The Intendents and Super Intendents or Menatzchim.
6. Those who have passed the Technical Examination for the position of Master. Really Certified Masters, known as Passed Masters. Also known as Harodim particularly in Durham and the North.
7. The Grand Masters, of whom there are only three.

In these two higher grades, VI and VII, it is possible for a man of high social position to be a Passed Master or a Grand Master in both Square and Arch Masonry.

The Operative Lodges to which I have the honour to belong are Nos. 91 and no, both situated at Leicester and both in the York Division, not because of their geographical position but because of their origin. Really they are in the part of England belonging to Westminster.

No. 91 was founded in 1761 at Leicester under the authority of the Worshipful Society of Free Masons of the City and Division of York, for Free Masons who were sent from York to repair the Churches at Leicester in that year, and who had, most of them, been previously employed on York Minster.

This Lodge was in a languishing condition from 1883 until 1909, only meeting once a year; but it is now in good condition again, with regular monthly meetings at high XII on every Second Thursday.

The Speculative Lodge No. 279 on the Grand Register of England was formed in 1790 by a split from this Operative Lodge.

Charles Horton, the First Master of the Operative Lodge No. 91, becoming the First Master of the Speculative Lodge No. 562, now No. 279.

The other Operative Lodge is the Mount Bardon Lodge No. 110 with over 300 members and works at the Bardon Hill Quarries.

It was founded by George Stephenson in 1831 when the Leicester and Swannington Railway was being made.

I owe my introduction to both these Lodges to my friend W. Bro. Clement E. Stretton, Civil Engineer of Leicester; who is PPrGSW. for Leicestershire, P.M. and P.Z. 279 Speculative, and Past Third Grand Master VII Degree in the Operative, York Division.

As already stated, since the introduction of Trade Unionism these Operative Guilds have lost their supremacy.

In 1867 there were over 2,300 Operative Masons belonging to the Society in Leicestershire, in 1910 there were under 600.

Extracted from: The Ritual of the Operative Free Masons (1911) by Thomas Carr, M.D. Honorary Member of the Guild of Operative Free Masons.

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The Ritual of the Operative Free Masons 

By: Thomas Carr, M.D.

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