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.