STB-MA58 May 1958
Copy of one of the oldest engraved Lists of Lodges, showing the
notice for meeting at the Goose and Gridiron, St. Paul's Church.
"Moderns" and "Antients"
The history of early organized Freemasonry is scanty, sketchy, much
of it shrouded in mystery Historians without number have guessed
much and their suppositions, after a long period of discussion of
what might be called "trial and error", finally coalesced into a
fairly coherent story. This began as a "might have been" and
finally became a "must have been" tale.
But the modern Masonic chronicler, in the face of different
conclusions from such stalwarts as Gould, Mackey, Hughan and
company, is perfectly willing to admit the gaps in sources and to
emphasize our uncertainties as to many of the facts.
The first Grand Lodge was formed in 1717. The first account of it
was published in "Anderson's Constitutions" six years later. Not
until 1738--twenty-one years later, with the second edition of
Anderson--did the Masonic world possess the following minutes:
"After the Rebellion was over, A.D. 1716, the few Lodges at London
. . . thought fit to cement under a Grand Master as the center of
Union Harmony, viz., the Lodges that met,
"1. At the Goose and Gridiron Ale- house in St. Paul's Churchyard.
"2. At the Crown Ale - house in Parker's-Lane, near Drury-Lane.
"3. At the Apple-Tree Tavern in Charles Street, Covent-Garden.
"4. At the Rummer and Grapes Tavern in Channel-Row, Westminster.
"They and some old Brothers met at the said Apple-Tree, and having
put into the Chair the oldest Master Mason (now the Master of a
Lodge), they constituted themselves a Grand Lodge pro Tempore in
Due Form, and forthwith revived the Quarterly Communication of the
Officers of Lodges (called the Grand Lodge), resolv'd to hold the
Annual Assembly and Feast, and then chuse a GRAND MASTER from among
themselves, till they should have the Honour of a Noble Brother at
On St. John Baptist's Day, in the 3d Year of King George I, A.D.
1717, the ASSEMBLY and Feast of the Free and Accepted Masons was
held at the aforesaid Goose and Gridiron Ale-house.
"Before Dinner, the oldest Master Mason (now the Master of a Lodge)
in the Chair, proposed a List of proper Candidates; and the
Brethren by a Majority of Hands elected Mr. Anthony Sayer,
Gentleman, Grand Master of Masons,--Capt. Joseph Elliot, Mr. Jacob
Lamball, Carpenter, Grand Wardens--who being forthwith invested
with the Badges of Office and power by the said oldest Master, and
installed, was duly congratulated by the Assembly who paid him the
How many lodges were in London in 1717? We do not know. Were any
others asked to join with the original four in formation of the
first Grand Lodge? We do not know. And we do not know too much even
of the four.
According to the "Engraved List of Lodges", dated 1729, the lodge
which met at the Goose and Gridiron was constituted--by whom or
what, unknown--in 1691. It moved from tavern to tavern, it changed
its name, it became the Lodge of Antiquity, but not until 1774 when
William Preston became its Master did it become really important.
The second of the four old lodges, meeting at the Crown Tavern,
died out in 1736 and disappeared from "The Engraved List" in 1740.
The third lodge, which met in the Appletree Tavern, gave Anthony
Sayer to the first Grand Lodge as its first Grand Master. It seems
to have done much moving about, both as to meeting place and name
and even number. It finally became the Lodge of Fortitude (1768)
and after the Union (1813) in 1818 it united with Cumberland Lodge
and became the Fortitude and Old Cumberland Lodge No. 12.
The fourth lodge was, apparently, composed almost wholly of
speculative Masons, while the other three were still largely of a
membership of the operative or workmen class. It had a membership
of at least seventy and many of these were of England's nobility
and high social distinction. This, "The Old Horn Lodge", was
probably preeminent in the first Grand Lodge in its formative
It is extremely difficult to avoid reading today's ideas and
practices into yesterday's happenings, when those events are so
sketchily supported by documentary evidence. Any American Grand
Lodge today is a body which thoroughly understands its purpose, its
beginnings, its powers, its duties. The first Grand Lodge merely
groped its way in Masonic darkness towards a new conception of
Freemasonry. That it builded so well is our good fortune. That it
had such a difficult time in doing it is perhaps understandable.
The passage of years has greatly smoothed out the mistakes which
the Grand Lodge made, the troubles it encountered and the
difficulties it had to overcome. But, those difficulties resulted
in a new Grand Lodge which appeared in 1751. Whole libraries have
been written as to why. And if no historian is satisfied as to all
the "whys", perhaps all of them together may have been the real
Of the mistakes of the first Grand Lodges, some wholly speculative
features were important. The paragraph "Concerning God and
Religion" in "Anderson's Constitutions" caused much dissension. Now
we know that without that paragraph Masonry would not have
survived--that its wholly non-sectarian character is its greatest
strength. But in the formative days of the first Grand Lodge most
Freemasons were Christian, even Trinitarian Christian. Religious
dissension in modern lodges and Grand Lodges seems to us
impossible; in the formative days it played a big part in the
beginnings of the new, often called "schismatic", Grand Lodge.
The first Grand Lodge had much poor leadership (as well as some
fine leaders). Anthony Sayer, apparently an operative Mason, was no
real leader. Lord Byron (Grand Master 1747) appeared before his
brethren but little--so little that there was an abortive movement
to displace him.
There was much complaint about "irregular makings"--Grand Lodge
kept a loose, not a tight rein, on its lodges and members.
Grand Lodge made a number of innovations in the then ritual and
practice which were bitterly resented by many. Perhaps these
changes had to be made. In its early years the first Grand Lodge
ran head on into public ridicule and many exposes were published;
these made it easy for scoundrels to pretend to Masonic rank and to
have the authority to confer degrees--a crime, by the way, still
with its criminals to practice it!
Of these changes the late, great H. L. Haywood wrote:
"Clandestinism became so rife that at last Grand Lodge, in
self-defense, determined upon making changes in the esoteric work
that would enable regular lodges to detect frauds. It is now next
to impossible to learn with certainty just what these changes were,
but according to the enemies of the Grand Lodge of 1717 and to
scattered references in Grand Lodge records they were somewhat as
follows: The installation ceremony of the Worshipful Master was
either abolished or suffered to go by default; the Third Degree was
remodeled; the symbolism of the preparation of a candidate was
changed; one of the most important secrets of the First Degree was
transferred to the Second, and vice versa; some of the old
'geometrical secrets' long practiced among 'ancient Operative
Masons' were either entirely omitted or else changed out of all
recognition, etc. As a proof that such charges of innovations were
not without foundation in fact is an entry in the Constitutions of
the Grand Lodge of 1717, 1784 edition, which says, 'Some variations
were made in established forms,' and this goes on to explain that
these changes were made, 'more effectually to debar them (i.e.
clandestines) and their abettors from the Lodges.'"
Besides all this there was much dispute concerning the degree of
Royal Arch. The new, wrongly called "schismatic" Grand Lodge, in a
master stroke by Laurence Dermott, its Grand Secretary, denominated
as the Antients, desired the Royal Arch as a part of symbolic
Masonry. The older, first Grand Lodge, called by Dermott the
Moderns, did not practice it. And indeed this difference must have
been a powerful influence, as the Union, in 1813, specifically
included the Royal Arch in pure ancient Freemasonry.
Finally there was the Irish question; the Moderns did not recognize
Irish Masons and many of them wanted to join in London lodges.
So, from one cause or another, from many causes or all causes, came
the new Grand Lodge of Antients and a most dynamic personality at
its head and front as Grand Secretary.
Again quoting the indispensable Haywood:
"Dermott was born in Ireland in 1720, twenty-two years before the
birth of William Preston, who first saw the light of day in
Edinburgh, July 28, 1742, and who alone of all the luminaries in
Freemasonry shares with Dermott an equal fame. Dermott was
initiated in Ireland in 1740, and went through the chairs of Lodge
No. 26, Ire- land, where he was installed Worshipful Master, June
24, 1746. It appears that he was fairly well-educated for those
days, and Gould is of the opinion that he probably knew a little
Hebrew, which will account for the fondness he had of covering his
papers with Hebrew characters--that ancient and difficult language!
He moved to London, probably as a youth, with little in his pocket
but many schemes boiling in his head, which head was tireless,
alert, witty, sarcastic, and often a bit unscrupulous in waging war
on his foes, of which his energy made him many. It seems that he
engaged himself as a journeyman painter (Preston became a
journeyman printer, it will be remembered ) and that he prospered
so that in after years he spent much money in charity and in
Masonic activities. In late records he was described as a wine
merchant, and it appears that he enjoyed the luxury of gout. Once
made a Mason he never rested but devoted himself to it as to a
mistress, with passionate earnestness, never permitting himself to
become discouraged, and always in the front line of battle. Aside
from his genius in putting a Grand Lodge under way his greatest
achievement was the composition of his AHIMAN REZON (meaning Worthy
Brother Secretary), the Constitutions of the new Grand Lodge, and
afterwards adopted by many other Grand Lodges, our own
Pennsylvania, Maryland and South Carolina among them."
The new Grand Lodge grew rapidly and there was "confusion in the
Temple" in London; how should the profane distinguish between two
Grand Lodges, two sets of lodges, two complications of claims?
Dermott's master stroke of naming--the names stuck--added to the
confusion for if the Antients were not ancient, what were they? And
could the Moderns possibly be the older? Two Grand Lodges, two sets
of lodges, disputes and quarrels among Masons, Irish Freemasons
with Irish tempers and Irish determination (a majority in the newer
Grand Lodge) . . . Freemasonry was in a sorry pass!
In a list of the Grand Secretaries of the Antient Grand Lodge it
will be noted that Dermott served eighteen years: 1751, John
Morgan; 1752-70, Laurence Dermott; 1771-76, William Dickey;
1777-78, James Jones; 1779-82, Charles Bearblock; 1783-84, Robert
Leslie; 1785-89, John McCormick; 1790-1813, Robert Leslie.
Most instructive still is the list of Grand Masters elected: 1753,
Robert Turner; 1754-56, Edward Vaughan; 1756-59, Earl of
Blesington; 1760-66, Earl of Kelly; 1766-70, Hon. Thomas Mathew;
1771-74, John, third Duke of Atholl (also spelled Athol, Athole);
1775-81, John, fourth Duke of Atholl; 1783-91, Earl of Antrim;
1791-1813, John, fourth Duke of Atholl; 1813, Duke of Kent.
Of the sixty years during which the Antients had a Grand Master, a
Duke of Atholl occupied the throne for thirty-one years therefore,
the Antients were often called Atholl Masons." For a similar
reason, the Moderns were sometimes called "Prince of Wales Masons."
Introduction to Freemasonry states:
Dermott kept the Antients a Christian body and wrote distinctively
Christian sentiments and references into its Constitutions and its
Meanwhile other Grand Lodges arose; they were not very important
and never grew very large, but they belong in the story of
Freemasonry; the "Grand Lodge of All England," "The Grand Lodge of
England South of the River Trent," "The Supreme Grand Lodge," all
made their bids for recognition, lived their little day and passed
on, each leaving its trace, its influence, but unable to contend
against the Antients and the Moderns.
The benefits which came from the clash seem today to be greater
than the evils. Then Freemasons saw only harm in the rivalry which
split the Fraternity. Now we can see that where one Grand Lodge
established lodges on warships, the other retaliated with Army
Lodges which carried Freemasonry to far places; where one body
started a school for girls, the other retorted with a school for
boys--both still in existence, by the way. Where one Grand Lodge
reached out to the provinces, the other cultivated Scotland and
Ireland. Both worked indefatigably in the American Colonies.
The heart burnings, the jealousies, the sorrows and the contests
between the Antients and Moderns, if they exhibited less of
brotherly love than the Fraternity taught, were actually spurs to
actions. Without some such urge Freemasonry could hardly have
spread so fast and so far. As the United States became a much
stronger and more closely welded union after the cleavage of
1861-65, so Freemasonry was to unite at last in a far greater,
stronger and more harmonious body when the two rival Grand Lodges
came together, composed their differences, forgot their rivalries,
and clasped hands across the altar of the United Grand Lodge.
The reconciliation is as astonishing and mysterious as the discord.
The death of Dermott, who was gathered to his fathers in 1791,
fighting for the Antients to the last, removed one cause of
difference between the two Grand Lodges; as the Antients had grown
in power and prestige not only in England but in the Colonies until
they outnumbered the Moderns in both lodges and brethren, the
Moderns might well have thought that union would be a life saver;
time heals all differences and what had seemed important in 1751 in
fifty years had dwindled in vitality.
What is amazing is that after the difficult period, when overtures
were made, refusals recorded, committees appointed and differences
finally composed, the Antient Grand Lodge, in accepting the idea of
reconciliation, receded from almost all the positions for which it
had fought so long! It was as if the spirit of combat, so alien to
the gentle genius of Freemasonry, had worn itself out and brethren
became as eager to forgive and forget and compromise as they had
previously been strong to resist and to struggle.
Whatever the spirit which caused it, the final reconciliation took
place in Freemasons' Hall in London, on St. John's Day, December
27, 1813. The two Grand Lodges filed together into the Hall; the
Articles of Union were read; the Duke of Kent retired as Grand
Master in favor of the Duke of Sussex, who was elected Grand Master
of the United Grand Lodge.
The second of the Articles of Union reads: "It is declared and
pronounced that pure ancient Masonry consists of three degrees and
no more; viz, those of the Entered Apprentice, the Fellowcraft and
the Master Mason (including the Supreme Order of the Holy Royal
In 1815 a new Book of Constitutions pro- claimed to all the world
forever the non-sectarian character of Freemasonry in this Charge
concerning God and religion:
"Let a man's religion or mode of worship be what it may, he is not
excluded from the Order, provided he believes in the glorious
Architect of heaven and earth, and practices the sacred duties of
Newson says of this:
"Surely that is broad enough, high enough; and we ought to join
with it the famous proclamation issued by the Grand Master, the
Duke of Sussex, from Kensington Palace, in 1842, declaring that
Masonry is not identified with any one religion to the exclusion of
others, and men in India who were otherwise eligible and could make
a sincere profession of faith in one living God, be they Hindus or
Mohammedans, might petition for membership in the Craft. Such in
our own day is the spirit and practice of Masonic universality, and
from that position, we may be very sure, the Craft will never