Moderns and Antients in English Freemasonry
Premier Grand Lodge of England and Antient Grand Lodge of England
Prior to 1717 there were Freemasons’ lodges in England, Scotland, and Ireland, with the earliest known admission of non-operative masons being in Scotland. On 24 June 1717, three existing London lodges and a Westminster lodge held a joint dinner at the Goose and Gridiron alehouse in St. Paul’s Churchyard, elected Anthony Sayer to the chair as Grand Master, and called themselves the Grand Lodge of London and Westminster. The City of London Corporation has erected a Blue Plaque near the location. Little is known of Sayer save that he was described as a Gentleman (a man of independent means) when he became Grand Master, but later fell on hard times, receiving money from the Grand Lodge charity fund.
In 1718 Sayer was succeeded by George Payne, a successful Civil Servant. The society then passed into the care of John Theophilus Desaguliers, a scientist and clergyman, then back to Payne. In 1721, the Grand Lodge managed to obtain a nobleman, the Duke of Montagu to preside as Grand Master, and so was able to establish itself as an authoritative regulatory body, and began meeting on a quarterly basis. This resulted in lodges outside London becoming affiliated, accepting sequentially numbered warrants conferring seniority over later applicants.
In 1723, by authority of the Grand Lodge, James Anderson published the Constitutions of Masonry for the purposes of regulating the craft and establishing the Grand Lodge’s authority to warrant Lodges to meet. The book includes a fanciful history of the Craft, which nevertheless contains much interesting material.
Throughout the early years of the new Grand Lodge there were any number of Masons and lodges that never affiliated with the new Grand Lodge. These unaffiliated Masons and their Lodges were referred to as “Old Masons”, or “St. John Masons”, and “St. John Lodges”.
During the 1730s and 1740s antipathy increased between the London Grand Lodge and the Grand Lodges of Ireland and Scotland. Irish and Scots Masons visiting and living in London considered the London Grand Lodge to have deviated substantially from the ancient practices of the Craft. As a result, these Masons felt a stronger kinship with the unaffiliated London Lodges. The aristocratic nature of the London Grand Lodge and its members alienated other Masons causing them also to identify with the unaffiliated Lodges.
On 17 July 1751, representatives of five Lodges gathered at the Turk’s Head Tavern, in Greek Street, Soho, London and formed a rival Grand Lodge – “The Grand Lodge of England According to the Old Institutions”. They considered that they practiced a more ancient and therefore purer form of Masonry, and called their Grand Lodge The Ancients’ Grand Lodge. They called those affiliated to the Premier Grand Lodge, by the pejorative epithet The Moderns. These two unofficial names stuck.
The creation of Lodges followed the development of the Empire, with all three home Grand Lodges warranting Lodges around the world, including the Americas, India and Africa, from the 1730s.
Formation of the United Grand Lodge of England
Freemasons’ Hall, London is the headquarters of the United Grand Lodge of England. In 1809 the Moderns appointed a “Lodge of Promulgation” to return their own ritual to regularity with Scotland, Ireland and especially the Ancients. In 1811 both Grand Lodges appointed Commissioners and over the next two years, articles of Union were negotiated and agreed. In January 1813 the Duke of Sussex became Grand Master of the Moderns on the resignation of his brother, the Prince Regent, and in December of that year another brother, Duke of Kent became Grand Master of the Antients. On 27 December 1813 the United Grand Lodge of England (“UGLE”) was constituted at Freemasons’ Hall, London with HRH the Duke of Sussex (younger son of King George III) as Grand Master. A Lodge of Reconciliation was formed to reconcile the rituals worked under the two former Grand Lodges.
The new Grand Master had high hopes for Freemasonry, having a theory that it was pre-Christian and could serve the cause of humanity as a universal religion. However, his autocratic dealings with ordinary lodges won him few friends outside London, and sparked open rebellion and a new Grand Lodge of Wigan in the North West. Within Grand Lodge, opposition centred on Masonic Charity. Robert Crucefix launched the Freemason’s Quarterly Review to promote charity to keep Freemasons from the workhouse, and to engage masons in the broader argument for social reform. The Earl of Zetland’s complacent and inept management of Grand Lodge played into the hands of the reformers, and by the end of the 1870s English Freemasonry had become a perfect expression of the aspirations of the enlightened middle classes.
Freemasonry in contemporary times
In response to conspiracy theories about Freemasons and generally hostile views gaining new life, due to the works of Stephen Knight and Martin Short, the United Grand Lodge of England began to change the way it dealt with the general public and the media from the mid-1990s, emphasizing a new “openness.” This presentation was summed up by Provincial Secretary of East Lancashire, Alan Garnett who declared, “we’re not a secret society or a society with secrets, but we are a private society.” Lodges across England and Wales began holding open days, to allow the general public to see what they do. Freemasons’ Hall, London and the Library and Museum of Freemasonry also opened to the general public, including guided tours.
Today, the United Grand Lodge of England or Grand Lodge currently has over a 200,000 members meeting in over 6,800 Lodges, organised into a number of subordinate Provincial Grand Lodges which are approximately equivalent to the historic counties of England.
Lodges meeting in London (an area generally within a 10-mile radius of Freemasons’ Hall) are, with five exceptions, administered by the Metropolitan Grand Lodge of London, headed by the Metropolitan Grand Master.
Lodges meeting outside London, and within England, Wales, the Isle of Man and the Channel Islands, are grouped into 47 Provincial Grand Lodges (UGLE), each headed by a Provincial Grand Master.
Lodges that meet outside England, Wales, the Isle of Man and the Channel Islands are grouped into 33 District Grand Lodges, each headed by a District Grand Master.
Five Groups (i.e.: currently too small to make up a District), each headed by a Grand Inspector.
Five Lodges in London and 12 Lodges abroad that are directly administered by Freemasons’ Hall.