FREEMASONRY IN SCOTLAND IN 1717


What was the position of Freemasonry in Scotland when, in 1717, the Grand Lodge of England was founded in the City of Westminster, London? It is almost certain that the membership of the 'four old Lodges' which met at the Goose and Gridiron tavern to found the first Grand Lodge in the world was made up of gentlemen and artisans. It is unlikely that there was in any of the four Lodges an 'operative mason', i.e. a man who earned his daily bread as a stone-mason. The position in Scotland at that time was very different.

In 1717 there were in existence at least twenty Lodges in widely separated parts of the country. There were Lodges in Edinburgh, in Kilwinning, in Inverness, in Dundee, in Stirling, in Perth, in Aberdeen, in Glasgow, and in other smaller towns throughout Scotland. It must not be assumed, however, that these Lodges were the Scottish counterparts of the four old London Lodges. Far from it, for the majority of these active Scottish Lodges were still composed of operative members, that is to say men who earned their living at the building trade. On the other hand most of the Lodges had a smaller or greater number of ' non-operatives ', that is to say members who had no connection with the trade of a stone-mason and who had joined the Lodge out of curiosity or as honorary members, or maybe as patrons. In 1717, Freemasonry as we know it today was still,
in Scotland, in the transitional stage. And yet there are curious discrepancies to be found.

The Lodge of Edinburgh (Mary's Chapel) had admitted non-operatives to its membership as early as 1634 and the Lodge of Aberdeen had admitted some twelve members of the University by 1670. In neither of these Lodges did the nonoperatives take control until well after 1717. In the Lodge at Haughfoot, which worked from 1702 until 1764 (and never took a Charter from the Grand Lodge of Scotland), all the members were nonoperatives. One might have expected such a Lodge to be found in one of the larger centres of population—but Haughfoot is a small village in the more inaccessible hinterland of the borders between Scotland and England. That a small village in a then somewhat remote part of Scotland should have a fully-functioning speculative Lodge is one of the mysteries of early Scottish Freemasonry.

The organisation of the Mason Trade in Scotland was under greater central control by authority than it was in England. The Schaw Statutes of 1598 and 1599 mention three Lodges, at Edinburgh, at Kilwinning and at Stirling, as being in control, under the overall supervision of the Master Mason to the King of Scotland, of all work in three different parts of the country. From other sources it seems likely that Lodges in St Andrews, Dundee and, possibly, Aberdeen, exercised similar control in the North-Eastern part of the country.

By 1717 the use of stone as a building material in England had been largely superseded by brick, at least in so far as house-building was concerned. This resulted in a decline in the Mason Trade. 2
That was not the case in Scotland, where stone continued to be used as the main building material. The Mason Trade remained active and provided employment all over the country—and the Lodges continued to flourish. This explains in large measure why the Scottish Lodges remained active long after the English Operative Lodges had begun to decline.

The admission of non-operatives into the Scottish Lodges is something that has yet to be explained. In the earliest days it was probably done as something of a gesture to a patron who had given a large amount of work to the Lodge. Later it may have been curiosity or possibly an antiquarian desire to become a member of an organisation which was in some danger of dying out and thus perpetuate it. This motive is still present today in many of the old Guilds in the Scottish Cities; indeed those Guilds which have survived are now mainly convivial clubs whose members are in no way connected with the Trade of the Guild. It is possible that a similar motive brought the first non-operatives into the Mason Guilds. Whatever the reason, we are still in the dark as to why these non-operatives began to turn, slowly but surely, an operative Craft into a speculative Society.

By 1717 the process of turning the Operative Lodge into a Speculative Lodge had, in England, advanced sufficiently far to permit of the founding of the first Grand Lodge—an organisation quite unknown to the Operative Lodges. In Scotland the process had not advanced so far and it was not until 1736 that the non-operatives were strong enough to found the Grand Lodge of Scotland.

By 1717 the Scottish operative Lodges were, in the main, still composed of actual
stone-craftsmen with a sprinkling of nonoperatives. The ceremonies used at the admission of both kinds of members were brief—if the evidence of the Register House MS, the Haughfoot Fragment and the Kevan MS are to be taken as indicative of the ceremonies worked. Only two ' degrees ' were known, Apprentice and Fellow. In this case it must be understood that the title ' Fellow ' was equivalent to Master and a Fellow was entitled to employ apprentices. He was in fact the master of his trade. Even today the word Fellow is still used in this sense in connection with many professional bodies, such as the Royal College of Surgeons, where to be a Fellow is an indication that one has reached the highest rank in the profession. The Third Degree, as we know it today was quite unknown in Scotland and the earliest record of it is in the year 1728. It was unknown in at least one Lodge as late as 1750, although the Lodge had been working since 1701.

The Scottish Lodges in 1717 still exercised a considerable control over entry into the building trade in each City or Burgh. It was, in some respects, the equivalent of the modern trade union. It collected dues, looked after the widows and orphans of its members and, through the Dean of Guild, exercised control over the type of buildings erected within the Burgh boundaries. Apart from the Lodge at Haughfoot, the Scottish Lodges, in 1717, did not allow their nonoperative members to have any say in the running of the Lodge. It was not, for example, until 1728 that the Lodge of Edinburgh elected a non-operative to the office of Warden.

In contrast to England the Scottish Lodges in 1717 did not meet in taverns. They met in premises belonging to the Lodge and at 3
least one of these old Lodge buildings still survives and is in use today as a Lodge Room. This Lodge Room, known as St John's Chapel, belongs to Canongate Kilwinning, No. 2, and was consecrated in the first half of the eighteenth century. This is the oldest Lodge Room in the world, and a visitor to the Lodge Room today feels that he is in a hallowed place, a place which has remained unchanged for close on two hundred and fifty years. Many of the other old seventeenth-century Lodge Rooms have been pulled down in the name of progress and the Lodge Room of the Lodge of Edinburgh (Mary's Chapel) was demolished in 1787, having been built in 1504.

The Scottish Lodges do not appear to have had documents corresponding to the Old Charges which were held in such high esteem in England. On the other hand copies of the Schaw Statutes and the St Clair Charters are to be found along with copies of the English Old Charges, the latter obviously having been brought to Scotland by travelling brethren.

The student who would delve deeper into the early history of the Craft in Scotland should read Murray Lyon's History of the Lodge of Edinburgh (Mary's Chapel), R. S. Lindsay's History of Lodge Holyrood House (St Luke) and Harry Carr's History of Lodge Mother Kilwinning. These three volumes will provide a complete study of the Scottish Craft from its earliest operative days to the beginning of the present century.

This article was written by GEORGE DRAFFEN OF NEWINGTON Past Substitute Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of Scotland and was previously published in the GLOS yearbook in 1968 and the Transactions of the Quatuor Coronati Lodge 1970.

 

 


 

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