Saturday, 12 December 2015
My next talk will take place on Friday the 8th of January at Dormer Lodge No.6708, in Birkenhead Masonic Hall on Clifton Road, Birkenhead, Wirral. I've given a talk to the lodge before and it's a great lodge to visit - there is a lot of history associated with the lodge and the hall, and the lodge always makes visitors feel welcome.
The lodge was founded in 1948, and at the time when the name Dormer was chosen, there were four other Lodges in England with the same name; Dormer No.2222 (Surbiton), Dormer No.4389 (Liverpool), Dormer No.5146 (London) and Dormer No.5588 (Salford). Then came Dormer No.6708 followed by Dormer No.7994 (Stretchford), there is also a Dormer Lodge in Canada, not to mention the Dormer Study Circle founded in 1938. Indeed, a close bond has developed between the Dormer lodges and the lodge has received visitors from the 'Dormer Community'.
It's a great lodge to visit and I'm looking forward to giving a talk there again.
Thursday, 10 December 2015
During the latter half of 18th century in an industrial town in the Midlands of England, a number of leading intellectuals and freethinkers met once a month during the time of the full moon to have dinner and discuss natural philosophy. Some Masonic lodges also traditionally met once a month during the time of the full moon so the brethren of the lodge had enough light to find their way home during the otherwise dark streets of an 18th century town in the Winter months. The Warrington based Lodge of Lights passed a resolution in 1810, fixing the regular meeting to “the Monday Evening on or before the Full Moon”; the lodge secretary being instructed to make out a list of these Mondays and give them to each member.[i]
Likewise, members of the Royal Lodge of Faith and Friendship, based in Berkeley, Gloucestershire, also proposed that the lodge should meet “the Monday nearest the Full Moon”.[ii] This is also reminiscent of the Lunar Society, or the Lunar Circle as it was originally called in the mid 1750s, the name given to that group of natural philosophers who met in Birmingham, which included a number of men linked to Freemasonry; boundless intellectuals such as Erasmus Darwin, James Watt, Josiah Wedgwood, Benjamin Franklin and Joseph Priestley. The Lunar Society was thus named, like the aforementioned lodges, because it met on the Monday nearest to the full moon, to provide enough light for the members to travel during the evening.
Though it had a somewhat loose style of membership to say the least, the Lunar Society was an example of like-minded men – or Lunarticks as they styled themselves -working together for a positive aim; to promote natural philosophy. There were no minutes, no constitution and no actual membership list, so only correspondence between ‘members’ survive to provide an insight into the group. One of the leading ‘members’ of the society was Erasmus Darwin; a physician, poet and Freemason who was a close friend to many who were linked to the society, such as Josiah Wedgwood and Matthew Boulton.
As the 18th century progressed, the idea of immortality became embraced by forward thinking Freemasons, such as Erasmus Darwin, who expressed immortality in his poem The Temple of Nature, discussing modern ideas of immortality with a natural philosophical approach.[iii] Darwin studied biology amongst other aspects of natural philosophy, and put forward early ideas of biological evolution in his Zoonomia. In The Botanic Garden, Darwin used Rosicrucian themes of spirits and fairies to symbolise the elements, the older magical images being used to represent new “scientific” thought.
It was this new exploration into natural philosophy and the search for immortality that became an inspiration to Mary Shelley’s work Frankenstein. Darwin’s theories of artificial production of life and the regeneration of nature, was seen as a direct influence on the gothic classic, giving Mary Shelley a nightmare vision of resurrection and immortality, within the realms of natural philosophy. Another Masonic natural philosopher and friend of Darwin, who has also been linked to the Lunar Society was Benjamin Franklin, who may have also inspired the name of Shelley’s masterpiece, Franklin’s experiments with lightening rods being an influence.[iv]
James Watt was a Scottish inventor and mechanical engineer who had formed a successful partnership with Matthew Boulton, who owned the Soho Manufactory in Birmingham, in 1775. Watt improved the Newcomen steam engine, making the steam engine more efficient, becoming a Fellow of the Royal Society, and also becoming a Freemason.[v] He became an influential member of the Lunar Society, and like Darwin, Wedgwood and Priestley, he became much sought after as an intellectual and conversationalist. When discussing the Lunar Society, one can only imagine the scene of so many leading and important intellectuals sat around a dining table discussing a groundbreaking scientific topic.
Josiah Wedgwood was a close friend of Darwin’s, and, though not a Freemason, his name became linked to the Craft. A lodge named after Josiah Wedgwood (No. 2214) was founded in 1887 in Stoke-on-Trent. Josiah Wedgwood’s son was a member of the Etruscan Lodge, which met at the Old Bridge Inn at Etruria. Wedgwood’s business partner William Greatbatch was also a Freemason and was a member of the Etruscan Lodge.[vi] Greatbatch was responsible for designing Masonic artwork on some pottery. This particular Etruscan Lodge closed around 1847, though another lodge with the same name surfaced shortly afterwards. Freemasonry in the Staffordshire area has continued links with the Wedgwood family, and as recently as 1971, two direct descendants of Josiah Wedgwood; with brothers Josiah and William Wedgwood, attending the Josiah Wedgwood Lodge in Stoke.
Another member of the Lunar Society was Joseph Priestley. Priestley was a dissenting minister, philosopher, groundbreaking scientist, a tutor at the non-conformist Warrington Academy, and a supporter of the American and French Revolutions. There is no evidence to suggest that he was a Freemason, but he certainly mixed in Masonic circles. Leading intellectual figures and natural philosophers Dr Richard Price and Benjamin Franklin were both Freemasons, and they both influenced Dr Joseph Priestley in his work while he taught at the Warrington Academy, which, from 1757-1786, became Britain’s most progressive learning centre for the sons of non-conformists. Benjamin Franklin is of course, another illustrious name linked to the Lunar Society.
Creating an intellectual nexus, the Academy became an exceptional and desirable location for students, Priestley expressing its ideology and ethos in his memoirs:
‘..the Academy was in a state peculiarly favourable to serious pursuit of truth, as the students were about equally divided upon every question of much importance, such as Liberty and Necessity, the sleep of the soul, and all the articles of theological orthodoxy and heresy ; in consequence of which all these topics were the subject of continual discussion.’[vii]
By the mid 18th century, many non-conformist families were involved in industry, such as Josiah Wedgwood, whose son, John, attended the Academy. John ‘Iron-Mad’ Wilkinson was also a supporter of the Academy, his daughter Mary, marrying Joseph Priestley,[viii] and Wilkinson’s son, William, also attending the Academy.
Tutors such as Priestley, who became a tutor at the Academy in 1761, and others such as John Reinhold Forster, Dr William Enfield and Jacob Bright, all had excellent reputations, the status of the Academy growing as a result. It was during his time at Warrington that Priestley travelled to London, becoming friends with Benjamin Franklin and Richard Price. The Royal Society would also become an influence on Priestley, when he became a Fellow in 1766 on the merit of his work on electricity. Price and Franklin had both recommended Priestley, and his History and Present State of Electricity had been written while he was at Warrington after being encouraged by Franklin to conduct his own experiments.[ix] The links between Freemasonry and the Royal Society were still strong at this time, the scientific mind of the 18th century being attracted to the expressive ideals of natural philosophy which were apparent in both societies. Priestley finally left the Academy in 1767, and had applied to accompany Captain Cook on his second voyage to the Pacific, but was stopped by the Board of Longitude, which, being mainly made up of the established Anglican Clergy, took offence to Priestley’s extreme religious views.
Academy tutor John Reinhold Forster, who had befriended the Freemason Joseph Banks, the botanist who had accompanied Cook on the first voyage, was offered the position on the second voyage instead of Priestley. Forster was one of the two recorded Academy tutors who were Freemasons, being initiated into the Lodge of Lights in Warrington in the same year he came to England, in the December of 1766.[x] Forster later joined the Zu den drei Degan Lodge in Halle, were he worked as a professor of Natural History and Mineralogy after returning from the Cook voyage. He served as orator and warden, though he had to leave the Lodge when he fell into ‘adverse circumstances’.[xi] His son George, who taught Natural History at Cassel, was also a Freemason, and in 1784, the Zur Wahren Eintracht Lodge in Viena, held a Lodge of Festivity in honour of his presence there. This Lodge also boasts a variety of other prominent figures of the time, such as Haydn, Alxinger, Denis, Born, Eckhel, and Sonnenfels.[xii] Jacob Bright was the second recorded Academy tutor to have been a member of the Lodge of Lights, entering the lodge some five months before Forster in the July of 1766.[xiii] Bright played quite an active part in the lodge, becoming Worshipful Master in 1771-2.[xiv]
Priestley had moved to Birmingham in 1780, and though he had been involved in the society for over a decade, his closer proximity to the ‘Lunarticks’ resulted in its most productive and prolific phase (it was at this time that the society began to meet on Mondays rather than the usual Sundays to accommodate Priestley’s ministerial duties). However, with the advent of the French Revolution in 1789 and the subsequent Priestley Riots in 1791, the society began to suffer; unlike Freemasonry which does not discuss politics in the lodge room, tension between members due to political differences began to fragment the society. Priestley left for the USA in 1794, and Matthew Boulton and James Watt had to arm their employees to protect their Soho Manufactory from rioters. Despite the society being continued by the sons of Wedgwood, Boulton and Watt, it had ceased to exist by 1813, thus one the world’s most intellectual and forward thinking collectives came to an end.
[i] Minutes of the Lodge of Lights, no.148, 29th of October, 1810, Warrington Masonic Hall. Not listed.
[ii] Minutes of the Royal Lodge of Faith and Friendship, no.270, Berkeley, Gloucestershire. Not listed.
[iii] Erasmus Darwin joined the St. David’s Lodge, No. 36, in Edinburgh in 1754. He was also a member of the renowned Canongate Kilwinning Lodge No. 2.
[iv] M. Roberts, Gothic Immortals, (London: Routledge, 1990), pp.101-3. Also see D. King-Hele, Erasmus Darwin and the Romantic Poets, (London: Macmillan, 1986).
[v] James Watt is discussed as being a member of Somerset House Lodge, see <http://www.mqmagazine.co.uk/issue-17/p-39.php> accessed 23rd of December, 2013. In an alphabetical list of Fellows of the Royal Society who were Freemasons compiled by Bruce Hogg and assisted by Diane Clements (2012), Watt is said to be a member of a Scottish Lodge.
[vi] See V. Greenwald, ‘Researching the Decoration on a Greatbatch Teapot’, in The American Wedgwoodian, December 1979, (The Potteries Museum, Stoke-on-Trent).
[vii] Joseph Priestley, Memoirs of Joseph Priestley, (Allenson, 1904), p.11.
[viii] P. O’Brien, Warrington Academy 1757-86, Its Predecessors & Successors, (Wigan: Owl Books, 1989), p.21.
[ix] See Joseph Priestley, The History and
of Electricity, ( Present State :
Printed for J. Dodsley, J. Johnson and T. Cadell, 1767). London
[x] List of Members of the Lodge of Lights no.148,
, 27th of December,
1766. Warrington Masonic Hall. Not listed. Warrington
[xi] A.F.A., Woodford, Kennings Cyclopaedia of Freemasonry, (London: Kenning, 1878), p.228.
[xiii] List of Members of the Lodge of Lights no.148,
28th of July, 1766.
Warrington Masonic Hall. Not listed. Warrington
This article is copyright to Dr David Harrison, 2015.
The above article first appeared in The Square.
Tuesday, 8 December 2015
I know, however, but of one ancient book that authoritatively challenges universal consent and belief, and that is
’s Elements of
Thomas Paine, The Age of Reason, Part II, Chapter 1, 1795.
Thomas Paine is celebrated today as an eighteenth century revolutionary, radical and republican who wrote countless controversial but ground breaking pamphlets, such as Common Sense and The Age of Reason. He also wrote the enigmatic Origins of Freemasonry, published posthumously as part ritual exposé and part Masonic history. His interests in Freemasonry were obvious, and the fact that some of his supporters and associates, such as Benjamin Franklin, George Washington, James Monroe, La Fayette, Nicolas de Bonneville and Richard Price, were Freemasons, has led some historians, such as Margaret Jacob, to believe Paine was also a Mason. Certainly during the nineteenth century, Masonic historians such as R.F. Gould and A.F.A. Woodford went to painstaking lengths to distance Paine from the Craft, his very association to Freemasonry causing embarrassment and shame, with Gould even stating that Paine wasn’t the author of the exposé. Woodford dismissed Paine’s involvement with Freemasonry, declaring that his exposé had no value, and contemptuously stated that Masonry was no way honoured with Paine’s connection, not wanting the Craft to be associated with such a political radical. Ironically, all of the attention that Paine received from Masonic historians was seen as proof in itself in some circles.
Paine’s colourful life began in Thetford in 1737. He was set to follow his Quaker father as a corset-maker, but he was never at rest and constantly sought knowledge. His first wife died in childbirth, and Paine seemed to enter a period were he did various jobs, drifting into teaching and finally working in excise. He married for a second time, though they were to separate as Paine’s interest in politics developed. His first foray into the political arena was to petition Parliament on behalf of his fellow excisemen for better working conditions, an adventure which led him to the
coffee-houses and to a meeting with Freemason
Benjamin Franklin, who was visiting London
at the time. Paine’s lobbying was
ignored and he lost his job as a result, so in 1774, on invitation from
Franklin himself, he left for the American colonies. London
Once there, Paine settled into
and with an introduction from Philadelphia ,
he became the editor of the Pennsylvania Magazine, quickly becoming a man of
letters, embracing the spirit of reform in Franklin and spearheading the
anti-slavery movement. Indeed, America was constantly name-dropped
into his writings, Paine using him as a seal of approval. It was his use of ‘common’ language, so easily
understood by the Franklin
people, which made his pamphlet Common
Sense so successful during the American Revolution, gaining Paine the
admiration and support of another Freemason, George Washington. Paine’s writing skills and friendship with Franklin
and Washington enabled him to stay at the forefront of the political action and
he was made secretary to Congress’ Committee for Foreign Affairs from
1777-79. After Paine left the position,
he continued to be active in foreign affairs, and letters from Paine to America reveal a
personal friendship at this time, Washington
arranging a hefty salary for Paine. Despite
this, Paine was not happy at the way the Revolution was going with the
political power being shared by the landowning elite, and he began to make
In 1787, Paine returned to
, were he once again entered
into political debate, joining radical clubs in England with William Blake (no stranger to Freemasonry
himself) and promoted his invention of an iron bridge. When the French Revolution erupted in 1789,
Paine saw an opportunity to start again and wrote The Rights of Man in response to Edmund Burke’s rebuke of the
Revolution. Burke had written in answer
to Richard Price’s sermon on the Revolution, and Paine defended the Freemason
Price, confirming the natural rights of man against the tyranny of Kings,
supporting the ideas of the Enlightenment made popular in London by
Voltaire. Paine fled for France on the
advice of Blake, and again with the help of friends like the Freemason La
Fayette, he entered the political arena, assisting in forging the new French
However, events soon turned sour with the Terror, and as an Englishman who spoke no French, he began to attract suspicion and gained enemies after pleading for the life of King Louis. He was imprisoned and only released by the intervention of another Freemason, James Monroe in 1793. Paine stayed on in
living for a time with Monroe and another Freemason Nicolas de Bonneville, where
he completed his most controversial work to date: The Age of Reason. Spiritually, Paine supported the approach known as Deism – a belief
system which derives the existence of God based on Reason as apposed to sacred
scripture, and in The Age of Reason, Paine
refers to God in a scientific sense as a Creator of a mechanized Universe. Disillusioned,
he finally departed to the France
in 1802 with the help of Thomas Jefferson, who had also moved in a Masonic
milieu, although actual proof of his membership has never been found. Paine
died seven years later. USA
Paine sought a Utopian vision for the world, embracing the recognizable essence of Freemasonry, promoting ideals such as democracy, education, morality, religious toleration, and the fashionable Newtonian natural philosophy, Paine sharing
’s views that the
existence of God was to be found in Nature.
Indeed, in part one of his Age of
Reason, a number of chapters are dedicated to the Newtonian system of the
Universe, in a fashion which is very similar to the presentation of the Craft
ritual, giving an almost poetical description of the Earth and five other
planets rotating around the Sun, explaining how gravity orders the harmony of
the Solar system. The search for the
hidden mysteries of Nature and Science certainly captivated Paine who himself
dabbled in architecture and experimented with inventions, designing an iron bridge
and a smokeless candle! Newton
His Origins of Free-Masonry, which was regarded after his death as a missing chapter belonging to the unpublished third part of the Age of Reason, presented a description of the Masonic ritual along with his theory that Freemasonry was a form of Sun worship. Curiously, the essay fits in with his work in the Age of Reason, and as a whole it follows a mystical Newtonian theme of a modern ordered Universe that complements God as being revealed in Nature and Reason. The work certainly echoes Masonic themes, with Paine using ancient knowledge by
to support his views on the Newtonian
Universe and discussing the Biblical cubit, a measurement used in the
construction of Solomon’s Euclid . Temple
Paine did however make a lasting contribution to Freemasonry, his Origins being influential to Carlile’s Manual of Freemasonry, Carlile quoting Paine when writing his thoughts on the Craft’s history. A number of lodges in the
named after Paine, and when he died many lodges throughout USA
honoured him. If Paine did enter into
Freemasonry, it would have been during the period of the American Revolution,
his life being at the epicentre of the social elite at that time, his closeness
to America , La Fayette and Monroe suggesting
that he was undoubtedly aware of their Masonic membership. Paine was certainly
attracted to clubs and societies throughout his life, such as the White Hart
Club which Paine attended when he was an exciseman in Lewes. He was a founding member of the first
Anti-Slavery Society in Franklin, Washington
and he was involved in the society of Theophilanthropists and Philosophical
Society, in which he discussed the Newtonian Universe and Euclid’s geometry. Paine was unquestionably informed by the
ethos of Freemasonry, an ethos that influenced his writings and inspired his
vision of a just and fairer society, an aspiration wholly in
accord with Freemasonry today as much as in the later eighteenth century. What was dangerously revolutionary and
radical then, is much applauded now. America
The above article is copyright to Dr David Harrison, 2009.
This article originally appeared in Freemasonry Today, 2009.
Monday, 7 December 2015
All this has changed as David Harrison, an author whose books on Freemasonry I’ve reviewed (see below) has written the perfect guide to the subject with his “A Quick Guide to Freemasonry” (Lewis Masonic, Hersham, Surrey, UK, 96 pages, black and white and color illustrations, $16.95, available on Amazon.com).
This quality paperback is beautifully printed on glossy paper in a handy double-column format and has the answers to just about every question a new member would ask. It’s also aimed at lodge mentors and established members, Harrison told me.
And, to make it useful for traveling Freemasons, it has information on the Craft as it’s practiced in the U.S., Canada, Australia and New Zealand.
Harrison uses a Q and A format for his questions. If you want to know about the rolled up pants leg, you’ll find it here. Different colored aprons? Harrison explains their significance. White gloves and hats? It’s in the book. Harrison provides end notes and a bibliography. I found the FAQs to be very useful, and rituals in the UK and the U.S. are given proper attention — along with the aforementioned sections on Canada, Australia and New Zealand.
Harrison covers the roles of the officers, the festive board, toasting, and an examination of all the current English Masonic rituals: Emulation, Bottomley, Nigerian, the Bristol, York and Hull working. Effectively, the handbook is an easy-to-understand beginners guide—a why, how, and when of Craft Freemasonry.
And, to top off an excellent work, Harrison includes reliable web sites for Internet searchers — a valuable resource! I recommend “A Quick Guide to Freemasonry” to members of the Craft, as well as those outside the Craft who want accurate information about Freemasonry. Did I say it’s beautifully designed and printed? Yes, I know I did! But it’s worth repeating; this is a handsome book that would make an ideal gift: a gift that would be appreciated.
This review was originally published in various US news outlets and was placed on Amazon and Goodreads by author David Kinchen.
Leading Masonic authors Dr David Harrison and Fred Lomax re-examine Friendly Societies, Freemasonry and other Fraternal Orders of England in this, their latest work. The authors present the individual histories of the Odd Fellows, Foresters, Druids, Buffaloes, Gardeners, and more obscure Orders such as the Rechabites; putting forward the similarities with Freemasonry, in its ritual and regalia. There has not been a book on this subject for over ten years. Several of these societies developed a fraternal aspect to their activities, using Freemasonry as their model via ritual and practice; open to men and women of all walks of life. Declaring their organisations free of politics and religion, yet declaring a strong financial support for their members at a time when the ordinary worker had little or no protection against illness or injury at work. A number of these societies developed into extremely large organisations that are still successful and remain so today, despite the decline of a considerable number in the wake of the arrival of the Welfare State in the UK. Many were small local organisations which met in pubs and clubs; others had local offices on the high street. The book shows how the larger organisations survived and prospered. This book will be of interest to both Freemasons and members of the orders featured in the book as its buy knowing our connections with each other we learn more about ourselves. The book is richly illustrated, depicting the personal stories associated with the various Orders. The photographs will also show various never-before-published regalia, jewels, and artefacts, which will demonstrate the importance of the Orders and their contribution to British social history during the industrial revolution. Paperback 160 pages – illustrated throughout.
This review was originally posted on Amazon by John Soderblom. Soderblom is a US based Masonic author and a leading member of the Massachusetts Lodge of Research.
I think only Chester, which I also visited, rivals York for its Roman heritage. And, while you’re in York, don’t forget to visit the Shambles, a picturesque street of overhanging buildings, that was once an open-air slaughterhouse!
Smallish (about 130,000 people) York has never been intimidated by the giant city in the south of England, London, and this pride extends to its role in the history of British Freemasonry.
Historian David Harrison, whose books on Freemasonry I’ve regularly reviewed, tells this story in a new quality paperback, “The York Grand Lodge” (Arima Publishing, Bury St. Edmunds, Suffolk, England, 144 pages, illustrations, appendixes, index, $16.00, available from Amazon.com).
Like all of Harrison’s books, the story of the staunchly independent Grand Lodge of All England at York, is both scholarly and readable. Harrison is a Mason; I’m not, but I’m fascinated by secret societies and alternative styles of living like the Amish, Quakers, Shakers, Mennonites, Mormons, etc. and by “Utopian” communities like Brook Farm, Amana, Oneida, and New Harmony. “The York Grand Lodge” also appealed to my interest in historical disputes.
The London-based United Grand Lodge of England (UGLE) prevailed, but, as Harrison points out, the York Grand Lodge may have survived longer than originally thought and it also influenced that other northern lodge of rebellious Freemasons, The Wigan Grand Lodge.
Remnants of the Yorkists and their approach to Freemasonry have surfaced in the 21st Century, as Harrison points out on pages 120-122 in the conclusion of his entertaining book.
To clarify the differences in the U.S. between the York Rite and the Scottish Rite, I emailed Harrison. Here’s his reply:
“Scottish Rite is divided into the northern and southern jurisdictions in the US, they have 33 degrees.
The York Rite is more of a collection of Masonic approved rites and orders such as the Royal Arch, Knights Templar and Mark degree. Again it’s a US body.
Some Masons are so keen they do both ‘pathways’: they progress from the normal blue or craft lodges ( the three main degrees) to enter other orders or grades. Albert Pike was a member if the Scottish Rite Southern jurisdiction – a 33rd degree Mason.”
* * *
Who is Albert Pike, you ask: According to Wikipedia, “Pike published a book called ‘Morals and Dogma of the Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite of Freemasonry’ in 1871, of which there were several subsequent editions. Pike is still regarded in America as an eminent and influential Freemason, primarily only in the Scottish Rite Southern Jurisdiction.” Pike (1809-1891) was a native of Boston, MA who joined the Confederate Army in the Civil War after long service in the U.S. Army. He reached the rank of brigadier general (one star) in the Confederate Army.
Here’s what Harrison has to say about his new book:
“The York Grand Lodge book was a pleasure to research; I visited the ancient city of York in northern England a number of times and I wanted to visit the places that the York Masons of the eighteenth century visited, places like the Punch Bowl tavern and the Merchant Adventurers’ Hall. It was an honour to research the York Grand Lodge manuscripts, examine the Jacobite links of some of the Grand Masters and look at the Knights Templar ciphers. I thoroughly enjoyed writing the book, and I hope you enjoy reading it.”
I certainly enjoyed reading Dr. Harrison’s latest book and I think many readers will find it informative and enjoyable. This applies to Masons and non-Masons alike.
This review originally appeared in various US news outlets and was placed on Amazon and Goodreads by David Kinchen.
Sunday, 6 December 2015
The opening lines of Charles Dickens’s masterpiece about the French Revolution are appropriate in describing David Harrison’s “The Liverpool Masonic Rebellion and the Wigan Grand Lodge” .
It’s a scholarly examination of a rebellion in the English world of Freemasonry that will appeal to masons and non-masons alike because the rebellion encompassed virtually all the elements of the clash of ideas in the first part of the 19th Century England — and it has characters — especially revolt leader Michael Alexander Gage — worthy of Dickens.
And, like “A Tale of Two Cities” it deals with two cities: the proud masons of the great port city of Liverpool in what the Brits call the North West, clashing with the London-based establishment of the United Grand Lodge of England (UGLE), since 1717 the governing body of English Freemasonry.
Harrison traces the story of the last great Masonic rebellion in England, which occurred in 1823. The rebellion, which began in Liverpool, sent shock waves through the fragile world of organized Freemasonry in England, which had only unified ten years before. The rebellion was set against the backdrop of revolt and radicalism in England during the early nineteenth century, and the book reveals a story full of Dickensian intrigue and skulduggery as the rebel Freemasons tried to resurrect the ‘Antient’ Grand Lodge.
While Harrison’s latest book can of course be read as a standalone account, understanding the reasons for this rebellion in the ranks of men who call each other “brethren” can be more quickly absorbed by those who’ve read and enjoyed Harrison’s previous two works: “The Genesis of Freemasonry” and “The Transformation of Freemasonry.”
It’s not a spoiler to reveal that the rebellion, begun in Liverpool and continued in Wigan (pronounced “wiggan”) was doomed to failure, but don’t skip ahead to find its fate in a town immortalized by George Orwell of “Animal Farm” and “1984” fame, Wigan (“The Road to Wigan Pier”). Like “Down and Out in London and Paris” “The Road to Wigan Pier” dealt with the poverty of the Depression years. Read about the grievances — real and imagined — of the masons of Liverpool and Wigan and other Lancashire town.
In order to clarify some points I encountered in my reading of Harrison’s latest book, including the role of the inland town of Wigan, I emailed him. Here is his response:
“The ‘Moderns’ wanted to work just the three Craft degrees; entered apprentice, fellow-craft, and Master Mason, the ‘Antients’ also practised a fourth degree – the Royal Arch degree, and on the union of 1813, it was decided that there should only be the three Craft degrees, with the Royal Arch being the completion of the third. It was a fudge, but one that left a bitter taste in the mouth of the ‘Antients’. Many Masonic symbols also became disused after the union, more mystical and ancient symbols, such as the scythe, Noah’s Ark, and hourglass, fell by the wayside. The north-west was also undergoing an intense industrial change, and for people to be told what to do by the London aristocracy was also difficult to take, seeing that London was, still at this time, a week away by road.
“Wigan has a canal going from Liverpool — called the Leeds-Liverpool canal, and at Wigan, there was a dock, at the dock they had a pier, affectionately called Wigan pier, most of the mill workers and miners in Wigan were in poverty, and Orwell paints a picture of this extreme poverty – almost using the Wigan pier as a symbol, as piers were constructed in Victorian times as places of pleasure for the rich who could afford a vacation to the coast.
“I think because of Orwelll’s work, people around the world still believe Wigan is this dark industrial town, but it is a place now which celebrates its history, and there is very little industry there today.”
Harrison wasn’t exaggerating; I looked up Wigan, Liverpool and the canal and found gorgeous photos that should attract any tourist. In my 1979 visit to England and Scotland, I discovered that few countries preserve their industrial heritage better than the U.K., the birthplace of the Industrial Revolution.
This review originally appeared in various US news outlets and was placed on Amazon by author David Kinchen
Saturday, 5 December 2015
‘The Genesis of Freemasonry’ is the first in a series of books by Dr David Harrison which trace themes in the history of Freemasonry. Harrison is a well established and respected author and a contributor to a number of publications on Freemasonry, together as a regular speaker on the lodge circuit. Published in 2008 (and revised and updated in 2015) Harrison’s attractive tome opens with the problematic question of Masonic origins. Since the eighteenth-century, numerous explanations (both plausible and far-fetched) have been put forward to explain the history and provenance of the Craft leading scholars such as Francis Yates to state: ‘’The origin of Freemasonry is one of the most debated, and debatable, subjects in the realm of historical enquiry”. Sensibly Harrison begins his study not with primordial Adam (who, according to Anderson’s mythical history in the ‘Constitutions’, must have “had the Liberal Sciences, particularly Geometry, written in his heart”), but through an overview of Freemasonry from the transition of what his calls ‘Operative’ to ‘Speculative’ masonry which he dates around 1640. Perhaps the question of utmost importance is what attracted non-stonemasons to stonemasons lodges in the first place? Perhaps here the antiquarian William Stukeley provides the definitive answer, drawn to Freemasonry because it led him to suspect: “it to be the remains of the famous mysterys of the Antients”.Harrison points to the connection between the Royal Society, several founders of which were themselves Freemasons. In the course of his chapter on origins Harrison also mentions many of the other theories that have been claimed to play a part in the development of Freemasonry- the believed connection with the Knight Templar, the Rosicrucian myths (important influences on Moray and Ashmole), Hermetic (including alchemical) and Cabalistic influences.
For this reviewer, early Freemasonry was akin to a sponge, absorbing many diverse beliefs and philosophies to produce a multilayered intellectual tapestry of ideas that could inspire debate amongst its members, together with fostering a sense of companionship that comes from belonging to a mutually beneficial society.
Following these opening chapters Harrison includes a particular interesting section exploring the symbolism on Masonic gravestones. This is accompanied by a host of the author’s own photographs illustrating a variety of tombstones of Freemasons.
In the following chapters Harrison explains the importance of symbolism to Freemasonry (and particularly the importance of allegory and metaphor), much of which is derived from Solomon’s Temple. Harrison explains that for centuries decoding the dimensions of Solomon’s Temple had been an obsession among intellectuals with men such as Juan Bautista Villalpando, Isaac Newton and William Stukeley carrying out detailed studies of the Temple’s believed divine proportions. It is particularly interesting to note that a high point of interest in Solomon’s Temple in England was the 1720s and 30s which corresponded with the rapid growth of Freemasonry, both at home and abroad. In a later chapter, Harrison provides examples of the influence of Solomon’s Temple on eighteenth- century British architecture including Chiswick House in London which features Masonic and Hermetic ceiling paintings by William Kent and which has several rooms with dimensions based directly on the ‘Sanctum Sanctorum’ within the Tabernacle of Moses and the Temple of Jerusalem (dimensions converted from the Roman cubit to English feet).
In the chapter, ‘Freemasonry in Flux’, Harrison concentrates on the Dr John Theophilus Desaguliers and James Anderson, both Freemasons and two of the architects behind the formation of Premier Grand Lodge of England of 1717. That the formation of Premier Grand Lodge was political cannot be in doubt, following as it did the Jacobite rebellion of 1715 which was a serious wake-up call for the newly arrived Hanoverians and it’s Whig government. Anderson’s ‘Constitutions’ of 1723 was a manifesto for a new Masonic regime in which older ritual was either discarded and replaced with new ritualistic elements and inventions which often offended more conservative Masons. As Harrison shows, Premier Grand Lodge was soon to experience their own problems, with challenges of ‘antienticity’ from the direction of the York Grand Lodge who claimed to have a much more ancient pedigree back as far at least to King Athelstan.
The theme of discord and rebellion is extended by Harrison into the last three chapter which deals with the rival lodges in the guise of the York Grand Lodge and the successful challenge by the ‘Antients’ from 1751. These chapters provide an interesting introduction to the rival lodges, themes on which Harrison has successfully expanded upon the his later books ‘The York Grand Lodge’ (2014) and ‘The Liverpool Masonic Rebellion and the Wigan Grand Lodge’ (2012).
Harrison’s ‘The Genesis of Freemasonry’ is a handsome book. It contains a generous selection of photographs to accompany the scholarly text. There are, however, a number of printing errors which I have been assured have been rectified for the 2015 revised edition. Such errors are but niggles in a book that is informative and can be enjoyed by the Freemason and general reader alike.
This review was originally placed on Amazon by the British based architectural historian Ricky Pound,
Friday, 4 December 2015
David Harrison, the British historian whose “The Genesis of Freemasonry” I reviewed last April, continues his history of the controversial society up to modern times with “The Transformation of Freemasonry: The Revolution of the World” (Arima Publishing, 264 pages, $24.00).
I use the word “controversial” because Freemasonry: “the secret society that is also a society of secrets” as some have characterized it, was greatly affected by the political upheaval of the French Revolution at the end of the 18th Century, leading to the Unlawful Societies Act of 1799, which required lodges to provide names of members. In fact, as Harrison reveals at the beginning of his latest book, the original draft of the act would have banned Freemasonry entirely. Only the intervention of people in very high places — and Freemasonry has always had such protectors — saved the Craft, as many Masons refer to their movement.
Harrison’s book deals with Great Britain and its colonies, including Canada, but he touches on the U.S. with discussions of Freemasonry during the American Revolution, the slave trade period and the Civil War. After achieving independence from Great Britain, the U.S. continued trade with the former mother country and U.S. Freemasonry continued its links with England and Scotland.
In the U.S., Freemasonry continued to be controversial, especially after the 1826 disappearance and presumed death of Capt. William Morgan, a Mason who threatened to reveal secrets of the Craft. The backlash from the incident, especially by those who assumed his disappearance (his body was never found) was the work of a Masonic conspiracy, slowed the growth of the Craft, at least temporarily. It also contributed to the formation in 1828 in upstate New York of the Anti-Mason Party, a single-issue political party that opposed the Craft and its alleged influence on the nation. It was America’s first third party.
Perhaps Harrison, in a future book or article, can explore the influence of the U.S. Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798 and the influence of these controversial acts — passed under the Federalists and which led to the election of Thomas Jefferson in 1800 — on movements like Freemasonry. The link between Freemasonry and the Mormon movement would also be a fascinating topic to explore. There’s a connection with upstate New York, the home region of Joseph Smith, founder of the Mormon movement, and many religious and communal movements in the U.S. Smith’s 1830 book “The Book of Mormon” was considered anti-Mason, but Smith, following in the footsteps of his Freemason father, became a Mason, founding a lodge in Nauvoo, Illinois in 1842.
I wasn’t particularly surprised to learn from Harrison’s well researched and well written account that there were Masons on both sides of the slavery debate, abolitionists and supporters alike. Masonry had morphed from an operative society of actual stone workers to a philosophical movement much like it is today, and it included merchants, lawyers and aristocrats on both sides of the slavery debate, especially in Liverpool and the textile manufacturing towns of the Midlands that depended on cotton produced in the Southern states of the U.S.
It would help for a reader of Harrison’s latest book to first read “The Genesis of Freemasonry,” but it’s not absolutely necessary: Harrison supplies enough material from his earlier book to make the transition to the new book easier, including discussions like the one on Page 16 detailing charity and education as integral parts of British Freemasonry, dating back to the foundation of the “Premier” or “Modern” Grand Lodge in London in 1717.
Along with delving into Masonic links with the slave trade, especially in Liverpool and the Trans-Atlantic links with the USA, Harrison discusses the mysterious Liverpool Masonic Rebellion and the Wigan Grand Lodge, subjects that will probably appeal much more to Masons than those who aren’t members. Harrison also looks at how Freemasonry transformed itself during the 19th century, and how the Craft began to appeal to Victorian Occultists.
From the first, as Harrison notes in “The Genesis of Freemasonry” and emphasizes in the present book, Freemasonry attracted writers, including American Mark Twain and Brits including Rudyard Kipling, H. Rider Haggard and the creator of Sherlock Holmes, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, who was attracted by the occult aspect of the Craft. I was surprised to read that Mark Twain (Samuel L. Clemens) was a Mason, inducted into the Polar Star Lodge No. 79, A.F. & A.M. in St. Louis, MO in 1861. Surprised because I’ve always considered Twain to be resistant to higher powers and religion, and becoming a Mason requires a belief in a higher power. Twain was technically a Presbyterian.
One claim of Masonry that has always intrigued me was its declaration of equality, with class distinctions being left at the door of the lodge. This needs to be taken with the proverbial grain of salt, especially in class-conscious Britain. There may have been a modicum of equality among members, but Masonry from the first excluded blacks and, often, Jews, despite drawing upon Old Testament matter for most of its rites, including the story of Hiram Abiff and the building of Solomon’s Temple.
Harrison discusses the formation of Prince Hall Lodges for black Masons, an event precipitated by English Freemasonry. The first Masonic lodge that admitted blacks was founded in Boston by a black man named Prince Hall, with its charter granted by the English Grand Lodge “as American lodges did not permit black membership” (page 112).
In a reply to my e-mail query, Harrison said that some Masonic lodges rejected Jews as members, which led to the formation of Jewish lodges: “There are indeed a number of Jewish lodges in the UK, these seemed to have flourished in the early-mid 20th century and are still going strong in areas which have strong Jewish communities, such as Southern Liverpool, parts of Manchester and of course London. It could be a topic I cover for future editions…”
The issue of Catholicism and Freemasonry has always intrigued me, especially since the Roman Catholic Church has long been formally opposed to Freemasonry. This led to another e-mail exchange between this reviewer and Harrison: “In England during the 19th century there was still a stigma concerning Roman Catholics, and though Freemasonry officially was open to all religions, at local level there is evidence that certain lodges were reluctant to be associated with Catholics, especially with their leaders, hence the example of a lodge in Liverpool changing its name from De Grey and Ripon after Earl De Grey and Ripon — the Grand Master — married a Catholic.”
Harrison continued: “Though today, despite various Popes being against Freemasonry in the 18th century, in many Catholic countries Freemasonry is flourishing, I’m on Facebook and have around 3,000 followers, many from Mexico, Argentina, Spain, Italy, so it seems that while Freemasonry is struggling in England, it’s booming in other countries.”
Speaking of Facebook, “the social network,” Freemasonry was perhaps the original social network, bringing members of diverse classes and professions together and inspiring the formation of groups like Odd Fellows and Foresters, who often copied Masonic garb and rituals. I was familiar with the Odd Fellows, but I had to look up Foresters, mentioned in “The Transformation of Freemasonry.” It’s a fraternal organization, based in Toronto, with the official name of the Independent Order of Foresters (IOF).
If you’re a Mason, “The Transformation of Freemasonry” is a must read book; if you’re not and are interested in history and social movements, it’s also a must.
About the author
David Harrison is a lecturer in history at the University of Liverpool, where he earned his doctorate. He is also a Mason.
This review originally appeared in various US news outlets and was placed on Amazon by author David Kinchen.