Square and Compasses

An Exhibition on

the History of English Freemasonry

Freemasons' Hall
Great Queen Street

This Exhibition tells the story of English Freemasonry and is illustrated with documents, paintings, engravings, photographs, regalia, porcelain, glass and silver. It outlines the development of the Craft in England. The exhibition is in five sections.

Operative Masons

Section I

The development of Freemasonry directly or indirectly from the craft of the mediaeval stone-mason, the initiation of Elias Ashmole at Warrington in 1646 and the development of Lodges in Chester (c.1670) and Scarborough (1705). The coming together of four London Lodges on 24th June 1717 to form a Grand Lodge, the first in the world, with Anthony Sayer as its first Grand Master.


Section II

The development of the Grand Lodge as a regulatory body and the appearance of rivals: the Antients Grand Lodge (1751 - 1813); the Grand Lodge of All England (1761 - 1792) at York; the Grand Lodge South of the River Trent (1778-1788) in London. The development of the Lodge as both a ceremonial and a convivial gathering and the use of regalia. The emergence of the Royal Arch as an additional degree, the rise of rival Grand Chapters and development of separate regalia. The building of the first Freemasons' Hall in 1775-1776 and its use for both Masonic and social gatherings. The founding of central charities to look after daughters (1788) and sons (1798) of indigent or deceased Freemasons.

First Grand Lodge
Grand Master

Section III

The involvement in Freemasonry of six of the sons of King George III, in particular the Prince of Wales (later King George IV) and Augustus Frederick, Duke of Sussex. The Union of the premier and Antients Grand Lodges, on 27th December 1813, to form the United Grand Lodge of England.


Section IV

The consolidation and standardisation, particularly of ritual and regalia, brought about by the Union. The spread of the Craft abroad with the development of the British Empire. The public face of Freemasonry, demonstrated in public processions, foundation stone layings, attendance at theatres and Masonic Balls and other events. The development of the three great Masonic Charities: the Royal Masonic Institution for Girls; the Royal Masonic Institution for Boys and the Royal Masonic Benevolent Institution.

Present Grand Lodge

Section V

The activities of Masonic prisoners of war. The building of the present Freemasons' Hall as a Peace Memorial. A gallery of Freemasons who have been eminent in many walks of life. The long connection, from 1737, between the Royal Family and Freemasonry. The reorganisation of the Masonic Charities. The 250th and 275th Anniversaries of Grand Lodge.


This United Grand Lodge of England leaflet is reproduced here with permission.


English Freemasonry has drawn its membership from every branch of Society. Among the more famous members are:


  • King George IV
    (1762 - 1830)
  • King William IV
    (1765 - 1837)
  • King Edward VII
    1841 - 1910)
  • King Edward VIII
    (1894 - 1972)
  • King George VI
    (1895 - 1952)
King George VI
King George VI


  • Sir James Thornhill
  • William Hogarth
  • John Zoffany
  • Sir John Sloane
William Hogarth


  • Sir Joseph Banks
  • Edward Jenner
  • Sir Alexander Fleming
  • Sir Bernard Spilsbury
Sir Alexander Fleming


  • Sir Richard Burton
  • Capt. Robert Falcon Scott
  • Sir Ernest Shackleton
Capt. Robert Falcon Scott


  • Edmund Kean
  • Sir Henry Irving
  • Sir Donald Wolfitt
  • Peter Sellers
Peter Sellers


  • Johann Christian Bach
  • Samuel Wesley
  • Sir Henry Bishop
  • Sir Arthur Sullivan
  • Lionel Monckton
Johann Christian Bach


  • Edmund Burke
  • George Canning
  • Lord Randolph Churchill
  • Cecil Rhodes
  • Sir Winston Churchill
  • Leopold S. Amery
Sir Winston Churchill


  • FM Earl Kitchener
  • FM Sir John French, Earl of Ypres
  • FM Earl Haig
  • Gen. Sir Francis Reginald Wingate
  • FM Sir Claude Auchinleck
  • FM Earl Alexander of Tunis
FM Earl Kitchener

Royal Navy

  • Admiral Sir Sidney Smith
  • Rear-admiral Lord Charles Beresford
  • Admiral Earl Jellicoe
Earl Jellicoe

Royal Air Force

  • Marshal of the RAF Lord Newall


  • Geoffrey Fisher, Archbishop of Canterbury
  • Bishop Percy Herbert of Norwich
  • Sir Israel Brodie
Geoffrey Fisher


  • Dr. T. J. Barnardo
  • 1st Viscount Leverhulme
  • Sir William Butlin
1st Viscount Leverhulme


  • Alexander Pope
  • Edward Gibbon
  • Sir William S. Gilbert
  • Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
  • Rudyard Kipling
Conan Doyle
Rudyard Kipling
HRH The Duke of Kent

The 250th Anniversary of Grand Lodge was celebrated on 24th June 1967. In the presence of over seven thousand brethren, including delegations from many other Grand Lodges, HRH the Duke of Kent was installed as Grand Master at the Royal Albert Hall. He is seen here receiving a congratulatory address from the Grand Lodge of Scotland.

The Girls' and Boys' Institutions were combined to form the Masonic Trust for Girls and Boys, now the Royal Masonic Trust for Girls and Boys. The Boys' School closed in 1977 but the Girls' has become the Royal Masonic School for Girls at Rickmansworth, with plans to go co-educational. The greater part of the Trust's work is concerned with providing grants for out-education and welfare covering schooling, further education and vocational training. The Trust is also able, funds permitting, to assist children or children's charities having no Masonic connections.

In the 1960s the Royal Masonic Benevolent Institution began to expand its residential facilities. In the last twenty years, with generous help from various Provinces, eleven homes have been provided, in England and Wales, made up of a mixture of sheltered accommodation and residential homes in which the residents can be cared for and nursed, if necessary, until the end of their lives.

Over the last five years the Grand Charity has made major donations to research into heart disease, cancer, gerontology and to support Hospices. Each year some 75,000 UKP is given in amounts from 500 UKP to 5,000 UKP to a wide range of national medical and welfare Charities. Support of the Royal National Lifeboat Institution continued with the presentation of the tenth lifeboat, named after HRH the Duchess of Kent, in 1982.

Note that the above was written in 1992

The Present Freemasons' Hall

The present, and third, Freemasons' Hall was built 1927-1933, by voluntary subscriptions, as a memorial to those who gave their lives in the First World War.

In addition to being the headquarters of English Freemasonry the Hall provides a central meeting place for London Lodges and Chapters. There are nineteen Lodge rooms in addition to the Grand Temple, together with Conference and Committee Rooms for more informal meetings,. Offices are provided for the Grand Secretary and his staff to administer the Craft, Royal Arch and Grand Charity, and workshops for the necessary maintenance of the fabric.

The Library and Museum act both as a repository for the records and treasures of Freemasonry and as an information centre for researchers and visitors from all over the world.

Procession in Bulowayo

The English had taken Freemasonry with them wherever they settled in the growing British Empire. In due time District Grand Lodges were established in many parts of India, the Far and Middle East, the West Indies, Australia, New Zealand and Africa. The Prince of Wales and his successor HRH the Duke of Connaught (Grand Master 1901-1938) visited Lodges or met delegations of brethren wherever they travelled in the Old Empire. The Duke is seen here processing to lay the foundation stone of the New English Church at Bulawayo in 1910.

Laying a Foundation Stone

Freemasonry was very much in the public eye in the 19th and early 20th centuries. Reports of great Masonic occasions and local lodge meetings appeared in the national and local press. Two weekly Masonic newspapers, providing reports of meetings, comments on Grand Lodge affairs, Masonic news and historical items, were readily available at newsagents and station bookstalls. Freemasons were also very visible. Processions celebrating national or local events would automatically include representatives of the local Lodges in their regalia. The foundation stones of churches, Civic buildings, bridges and other public structures were often laid with Masonic ceremonial in full view of the local inhabitants. The event was usually preceded and followed by a procession around the town. HRH Albert Edward, Prince of Wales, laid many foundation stones, both at home and abroad during his period as Grand Master, 1874-1901. He is seen here at Truro Cathedral in 1880.

Grand Masonic Ball, Oxford

The work of the Girls' and Boys' Institutions continued to expand in the 19th century. A new Girls' School was built at Wandsworth Common in 1852 providing places for over one hundred girls. The first Boys' school was built at Wood Green in 1856. Competition for places at the Schools was fierce but welfare grants could be provided for unsuccessful petitioners.


In 1836 a plan for an 'Asylum for aged and decayed Freemasons' was announced but met with fierce opposition from the Grand Master, HRH the Duke of Sussex, who believed that monies raised should be spent in providing annuities not in supporting bricks and mortar. A Grand Lodge annuity scheme had been in existence for some time and, happily, the Asylum at Croydon and the annuity scheme were combined to form the Royal Masonic Benevolent Institution in 1850. The three great Masonic Charities were funded entirely by donations and legacies. Each held an annual celebration of their foundation which in the 1860s became formalised into an annual Festival sponsored by a Provincial Grand Lodge.

Launching a Masonic Lifeboat The Board of Benevolence, under Grand Lodge control, met monthly to consider petition from brethren or their dependents. It also continued Grand Lodge's long established practice of contributing to appeals after natural disasters both at home and abroad. It also began its long connection with the Royal National Lifeboat Institution, either providing new lifeboats or contributing towards the cost of establishing lifeboat stations.
Launching a Masonic Lifeboat  
Prince of Wales

Freemasonry, as a fellowship, has always had an important social side. Before the Union there was little differentiation between meeting and refreshment but after 1813 refreshment was divorced from the actual meeting to become the Festive Board, a formal dinner with toasting and speeches. Music had, and still can play, an important part in Lodge meetings. Before the Union, toasts would be accompanied by songs and the evening would he rounded of by singing part-songs and glees. In Victorian times music was provided throughout the dinner and entertainments would be provided between the formal toasts.

From the 1720s Grand Lodge and individual Lodges would take over a theatre for the evening, all the proceeds going to charity. The performances would often begin and end with specially composed Masonic prologues and epilogues.

The ladies had occasionally been asked to dine with the Lodge but in Victorian times; Masonic Balls, with the brethren in regalia, began to be held and enterprising composers produced 'Masonic' waltzes, marches and other music. By the early 1900s these balls had become annual Ladies Festivals, held combining dinner and dancing as a compliment to the ladies.


Grand Registrar's Purse
Articles of Union (Obverse) Articles of Union were agreed and signed by both Grand Masters and their Committees at Kensington Palace on 25th November 1813 and were then ratified by both Grand Lodges. They were of such importance that for many years they were carried into every Grand Lodge meeting by the Grand Registrar in a purse heavily embroidered with the Arms adopted by Grand Lodge, which did not formally apply for a grant of Arms until 1919. Articles of Union (Reverse)

Grand Master's Apron The need to amalgamate the two former systems was taken as an opportunity to standardise various elements. A Lodge of Reconciliation was warranted to bring uniformity in matter of ritual, though the refusal to allow printed rituals ensured a wide variety in the manner in which the ritual was carried out. In l814 the Board of Works introduced standard patterns of regalia and jewels from which no deviation was permitted without the Grand Master's permission. Grand Officers were provided with plain undress and heavily embroidered full dress aprons edged with garter blue, the most ornate being the Grand Master's apron. A list of Lodge officers was approved and each was provided with an emblem of office to be worn from a sky blue collar.
Master Senior Warden Junior Warden Chaplain Treasurer

Despite the many changes brought about by the Union there was only one short-lived breakaway from Grand Lodge. Some Lancashire Lodges were suspended in 1819 for refusing to come to terms with the changes and immediately formed themselves into what became known as the Wigan Grand Lodge. The revolt had petered out by the mid-l830s and the Lodges fell into abeyance.

Secretary Director of Ceremonies Deacons Charity Steward Almoner

As a result of the firm leadership of the Duke of Sussex and his aides the United Grand Lodge was firmly established and became recognised throughout the Masonic world as the fountainhead of Masonic regularity. From a little over six hundred Lodges in 1814 it has grown to some eight and a half thousand Lodges in England, Wales and Districts abroad. Many of its Lodges abroad, together with others formed by the Grand Lodges of Ireland and Scotland, have achieved independence, and sovereign and independent Grand Lodges have been established in the Canadian Provinces, Australian States, New Zealand and India. Although these, and other regular Grand Lodges abroad, are totally independent they enjoy a happy relationship with the United Grand Lodge of England, the Mother Grand Lodge of the world.

Assistant Director of Ceremonies Organist Assistant Secretary Inner Guard Steward Tyler
Three Chairs

HRH the Prince of Wales (later King George IV) was elected Grand Master of the premier Grand Lodge in 1790 and remained in office until 1813. For his Installation a new throne and Grand Warden's chairs were made, which remained in use until 1932 but are now used only for the Installation of a new Grand Master. The portrait is from the studio of Sir Thomas Lawrence (1769)-1830).


Five of his brothers became involved in Freemasonry. The most active was HRH Augustus Frederick, Duke of Sussex (1773-1843). He succeeded his brother as Grand Master in 1813, took a leading part in achieving the Union of the two Grand Lodges and became first Grand Master of the United Grand Lodge, remaining in office until his death. In celebration of his twenty-fifth anniversary as Grand Master he was presented by a grateful Craft with a silver table centre-piece by Robert Garrard.

The Girls' School

A Girls' School was opened in London in 1788 by members of the premier Grand Lodge. The moving force was Chevalier Bartholomew Ruspini, Surgeon-Dentist to King George III. It was financed by voluntary subscriptions and collections at the annual Anniversary Festival held in Freemasons' Hall. After the dinner the girls were brought in and paraded round the Hall to meet their benefactors. The girls were provided with food, clothing and a basic education in domestic arts.

Members of the Antients Grand Lodge founded a charity for boys in 1798. Believing that bricks and mortar cost too much to maintain they refused to build a School, insisting that all the money collected should be expended in providing grants to deserving boys to enable them to complete their education or to pay premiums to enable them to be apprenticed to a useful trade.

As with the girls the boys' charity was financed solely by collections from lodges and individual donations.

Boys' Aniversary Ticket
Royal Arch Document

The Royal Arch had appeared as a degree additional to the Craft by 1740, though it is now regarded as the completion of the Master Mason's degree.

Originally worked in Lodges, a Grand Chapter with its own subordinate Chapters was brought into being by the signing of the Charter of Compact in 1766 by members of the premier Grand Lodge.

The Antients continued to work the Royal Arch as a fourth degree within their Lodges.

In 1817 Supreme Grand Chapter was formed with its own Chapters, which must be attached to a Craft lodge.

The Royal Arch has its own distinctive regalia and jewels.

Grand Hall

In 1768 the premier Grand Lodge took the momentous decision to build a Hall as its headquarters in London. A site was purchased in Great Queen Street, an architectural competition held, the Foundation Stone laid, and on 23 May 1776 the Hall was formally dedicated to the purposes of Freemasonry.

In addition to providing offices and meeting rooms the Hall, fronted by the Freemasons' Tavern, was to prove a popular venue for concerts, musical and literary recitals, dinners and balls during the London 'season'.

Designed by Thomas Sandby (1721-1798), the Grand Hall survived until 1931 when it was found to be structurally unsound and was demolished.

The watercolour, circa 1800, by J Nixon, was the basis of a very popular engraving.

Masonic Pottery

The Lodge is the basic unit in the Craft. To be regular, under either Grand Lodge, a Lodge had to be personally constituted by the Grand Master or a deputy for him. From the 1750s each new Lodge was provided with a Warrant of Constitution, which document had, and has, to be present at every meeting of the Lodge for its proceedings to be Masonically regular.

The principal officers of the Lodge, the Master and Senior and Junior Wardens, were adopted from the guild system. The sole purpose of the Lodge was, and is, to make Masons, passing them through the three steps of Entered Apprentice, Fellowcraft and Master Mason in which they are taught to practise the three great principles of Brotherly Love, Relief and Truth.

Masonic Glassware

Lodges in the 18th century met in inns and taverns. Meetings were fairly informal and refreshment was an important part of the proceedings. As a result enterprising glass, porcelain and pottery manufacturers began to decorate their wares with Masonic symbols either for Lodge use, for special presentations or for purely domestic decoration. As brethren had to be summoned to both Grand and private Lodge meetings and wished to have certificates as proof of their membership, engravers began to produce elegantly designed copperplates from which such documents could be printed.


Faith Hope and Charity

A rival Grand Lodge sprang up in London in 1751. Formed by Irish Masons who had been unable to gain entry to English lodges it became known as the Antients Grand Lodge from its early members' claim that the premier Grand Lodge had departed from 'the landmarks' whereas they were practising Masonry 'according to the Antient Constitutions'. By warranting travelling Lodges in Regiments of the British Army and Provincial Grand Lodges in the Colonies, with authority to constitute new Lodges locally, the Antients did much to spread English Freemasonry abroad. They also did much to foster the Royal Arch and various additional Masonic Orders.

To complicate matters further two other Grand Lodges appeared. In 1761 the old Lodge at York was revived as The Grand Lodge of All England. It existed for some thirty years during which it elected its own Grand Masters, constituted thirteen subordinate Lodges and erected its own Royal Arch and Knight Templar bodies. It was also responsible for giving authority to the fourth Grand Lodge. The Grand Lodge South of the River Trent was a breakaway group from the time immemorial Lodge of Antiquity who, after a quarrel with the premier Grand Lodge in 1778, applied to York for a Warrant as a Grand Lodge and had a separate existence, with three Lodges, in London until they begged pardon of the premier Grand Lodge and once again became part of the Lodge of Antiquity in 1788.

The rival Premier and Antient Grand Lodges managed an uneasy co-existence both at home and abroad for some sixty-three years, neither officially regarding each other as regular. Despite this, certain prominent brethren had memberships in both Grand Lodges and further away from London, Lodges under both met together at least on a social level.


The Goose and Gridiron

First Grand Master

The Grand Lodge of England was formed, as the first Grand Lodge in the world, by the coming together of four London Lodges at the Goose and Gridiron Tavern, St. Paul's Churchyard (left), on 24th June 1717. They elected Anthony Sayer, Gentleman, (above) as the first Grand Master and resolved to meet annually at a Grand Feast.

The lodges began to attract men of intellect, notably Dr. John Theophilus Desaguliers (Grand Master 1719) and other members of the Royal Society and the aristocracy, (John 2nd Duke of Montagu, the first noble Grand Master 1721) who changed the Grand Lodge from a simple Feast to a regulatory body.

By 1730 the Grand Lodge had published its Constitutions (1723); begun to keep official Minutes (1723); issued an annual engraved List of Regular Lodges(1723); set up a Charity Committee and Central Charity Fund (1727); held authority over seventy four Lodges in England and Wales, and had begun to export the Craft abroad by issuing deputations to form lodges in Gibraltar and India.

Development at home was aided by the appointment by patent of Provincial Grand Masters to represent the Grand Master in the Counties. The success of the premier Grand Lodge was crowned in 1782 by the installation of HRH Henry Frederick, Duke of Cumberland as Grand Master.


an early Mason The early evidence of Freemasonry is very scarce. There are some one hundred and thirty versions of what are now known as the Old Charges, dating from circa 1390. These are parchment rolls up to nine feet in length or paper sheets formed into notebooks containing a legendary history of the mason trade and Charges reciting the duties of a mason to his God, his master, his craft and his fellows. An illustration from a late version, the King George IV MS, shows the Arms of the London Company of Masons later adopted by the premier Grand Lodge.

The earliest evidence of the 'making' of an English non-operative Mason is that of Elias Ashmole, the Antiquary, made in a Lodge called for that purpose at Warrington, Cheshire, on 16th October 1646. He recorded the event, and a later visit to a London Lodge in 1682, in his diary.

Randle Holme III was a member of a lodge in Chester in the 1670s and by 1686 Freemasonry was well enough known to warrant a mention in Robert Plot's Natural History of Staffordshire. There are claims that at least seven Lodges were meeting in London and one in York in the 1690s. Certainly we know that in 1705 there were four Lodges meeting in London and one each in York and Scarborough.


Common Gavel     Chisel     24 Inch Gauge
Square     Level     Plumb Rule
Skirret     Pencil     Compasses

Freemasonry is believed to have originated in England in the late 16th or early 17th centuries, descending directly or indirectly from the craft of the mediaeval stonemason. Directly, by operative lodges accepting non-operative members who gradually took over and transformed the lodges into purely speculative ones. Indirectly, in that a group of men interested in promoting tolerance in an intolerant age came together and adopted the stonemason's tools and customs as allegorical aids to teach their precepts.


Old Meeting

Freemasonry is one of the world's oldest secular fraternal societies, whose members are concerned with moral and spiritual values. They are taught its precepts by a series of ritual dramas, which follow ancient forms and use stonemason's customs and tools as allegorical guides. The essential qualification for admission is a belief in a Supreme Being. Freemasonry is open to men of any race or religion who can fulfil this essential qualification and are of good repute. Although it has a religious basis Freemasonry is neither a religion in itself nor a substitute for religion. It expects its members to follow their own faith. It has no theology or dogma and by forbidding the discussion of religion at its meetings prevents the development of any dogma. Nor is there a separate Masonic god. The use of honorifics, such as the Great Architect, is simply to enable men of different faiths to meet together, offer prayers and address their God without differences of religion obtruding. To the Christian the Great Architect is his God; to the Jew, Hindu, Sikh, Muslim etc. he is the God of his particular religion. Its aims, principles, constitutions and rules are available to the public and its members are at perfect liberty to acknowledge their membership. 

A Freemason is taught that his prime duties are to his God, to the laws of the country in which he lives and works, and to his family . Any attempt to use his membership to promote his own or anyone else's business, professional or personal interests, and any attempt to shield a Freemason who has acted dishonourably or unlawfully, is contrary to the conditions on which he seeks admission.

By following the three Great principles of Brotherly Love, Relief and Truth a Freemason hopes to show tolerance and respect for the opinions of others; to practise charity within the community as a whole both by charitable giving and voluntary efforts; and to strive to attain truth and high moral standards in his own life.