The Provincial Grand Lodge of East Lancashire
The Provincial Grand Lodge of East Lancashire

History of The United Grand Lodge of England

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 , on 24th June 1717. They elected Anthony Sayer, Gentleman, 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.


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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. 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 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 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. In Gibraltar however, fierce rivalry existed between the various Lodges of the Ancient and Modern Constitutions particularly during the Grand Mastership of the Reverend William Leake (1788-1789) who refused any contact with the ‘spurrious’ lodges not under the jurisdiction of the Premier Grand Lodge of England. This caused much animosity between the Brethren which lasted until the forced resignation of Leake and the appointment of HRH Edward the Duke of Kent as PDGM in 1790.

Premier Grand Lodge

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.

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.

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.

The Union

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.

The need to amalgamate the two former systems was taken as an opportunity to standardize 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.

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.

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.

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.

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 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.