founding grand lodge england 1717, Anderson's constitutions






Founding of the

Grand Lodge of England

in 1717


The 24th of June in 1717 was the often-cited "founding" day of Freemasonry. It was described in the following account which first appeared in Grand Lodge 1717-1967, and was based upon documents created in and about 1738. This description has been augmented with notes and images to round out the events surrounding this landmark date—when Freemasonry emerged into public view, and the first Grand Lodge of Freemasonry was formed.

The history of accepted masonry in England in the seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries cannot, as the previous chapter has shown, be traced as any sort of continuous process of development. It is known that non-operative Lodges were in being during those periods, but evidence of a governing body, or indeed of anything like the nucleus of a controlling organization, central or local, is tantalizingly vague, or even lacking altogether. The establishment of a Grand Lodge in London in 1717 therefore marks not only the starting-point in the story of organized Freemasonry in England,[i] but is also a turning-point in the development of speculative Freemasonry, by way of accepted masonry, from the operative craft.

The recorded history of Grand Lodge dates only from 1723 when the first Minute Book was commenced, and so for a contemporary account of the formation of Grand Lodge, and of the first six years of its existence, we have to depend almost exclusively on Dr. James Anderson, the author-compiler of the Constitutions[ii] of 1723. The historical portion of Anderson’s Constitutions consists in essence of a digest of the legendary history of the building craft from the 'Old Charges'. Anderson (and later editors of the Constitutions in the eighteenth century, following him) copied this feature and brought his own fertile imagination to bear on it. In his second edition, the New Book of Constitutions of 1738, he brought this history up to date by continuing it down to the year of publication. It is this chronicle, in a style very like minutes of the actual meetings of Grand Lodge, with Anderson’s own comments on the development of the Craft in the period, that provides the only connected story of Grand Lodge until official records begin in 1723.

Anderson, in a much-quoted passage, describes the steps taken, after the suppression of the 1715 Jacobite rising, by four old London Lodges to establish themselves under a Grand Master in order that regular joint meetings of their officers—'called the Grand Lodge'—might be 'revived'. Anderson’s History infers that such meetings, or at least and Annual Assembly and Feast, had, on occasion, taken place under Sir Christopher Wren and earlier, but the most that can be said for this statement is that it is 'not proven'. Now, however, a definite move was made and a preliminary meeting held:


…After the Rebellion was over A.D. 1716, the few Lodges at London finding themselves neglected by Sir Christopher Wren, thought fit to cement together under a Grand Master as the Center of Union and Harmony, viz. the Lodges that met,

1.      At the Goose and Gridiron Ale-house in St. Paul’s Church- Yard.

2.      At the Crown Ale-house in Parker’s-Lane near Drury-Lane.

3.      At the Apple-Tree Tavern in Charles-street, Covent-Garden.

4.      At the Rummer and Grapes Tavern in Channel-Row, Westminster.

They and some old Brothers met at the said Apple-Tree, and having put into the Chair the oldest Master Mason (now the Master of a Lodge) they constituted themselves a Grand Lodge pro Tempore in Due Form, and forthwith revived the Quarterly Communication of the Officers of Lodges (call'd the Grand Lodge) resolv'd to hold the Annual Assembly and Feast, and then to chuse a Grand Master from among themselves, till they should have the Honour of a Noble Brother at their Head.


Of the four old Lodges which met at the Apple Tree Tavern and formed themselves into the first Grand Lodge, No. 2—that at the Crown Ale House—lapsed about 1736, but the other three maintained a continuous existence, preserving their identity intact (as No. 1), or in amalgamation with other Lodges (Nos.3 and 4), so that their descendants of today are now the Lodge of Antiquity, No. 2 (the original No. 1, the Lodge at the Goose and Gridiron), the Lodge of Fortitude and old Cumberland, No. 12 (the original No. 3, the Lodge at the Apple Tree), and the Royal Somerset House and Inverness Lodge, No. 4 (the original No. 4, the Lodge at the Rummer and Grapes).

The decision having been taken to unite in a Grand Lodge the stage was now set for the first formal meeting and, in Anderson’s words:


On St. John Baptist’s Day, in the 3d Year of King George I. A.D. 1717. the Assembly and Feast of the Free and accepted Masons was held at the foresaid Goose and Gridiron Ale-house.

Before Dinner, the oldest Master Mason (now the Master of a Lodge) in the Chair, proposed a list of proper Candidates; and the Brethren by a Majority of Hands elected

Mr. Antony Sayer Gentleman, Grand Master of Masons, who being forthwith invested with the Badges of Office and Power by the said oldest Master, and install'd, was duly congratulated by the Assembly who pay'd him the Homage.

{  Capt. Joseph Elliot.                   }   Grand

{  Mr. Jacob Lamball, Carpenter }  Wardens

Sayer Grand Master commanded the Masters and Wardens of Lodges to meet the Grand Officers every Quarter in Communication, at the Place that he should appoint in his Summons sent by the Tyler.

Anderson remarks, in a footnote, that meetings of Grand Lodge were called Quarterly Communications 'because it should meet Quarterly according to ancient Usage', but he records no meetings of Grand Lodge, other than the Annual Assembly and Feast, until December 1720, and, indeed, throughout the period under consideration in this chapter, meetings of Grand Lodge (apart from the Annual Festival) are, in the Minute Books, always termed Quarterly Communications irrespective of the intervals—often varying widely—at which they were held.


Drawn from the article by T. O. Haunch "The Formation: 1717-1751" in Grand Lodge 1717-1967 (Oxford: United Grand Lodge of England, 1967), pp. 47-49, Plates II, VII.

The top image is evocative of the English taverns in which early Freemasons met; the aprons are not Masonic.

[i] Following formation of the first Grand Lodge in England (1717) were Grand Lodges in Ireland (1725), Scotland (1736), and in the United States (by 1734 when Benjamin Franklin became Grand Master of Pennsylvania). Each state in the USA has its own Grand Lodge.

[ii] James Anderson, The Constitutions of the Free-Masons (London, 1723). Reprinted by Benjamin Franklin (Philadelphia, 1734).

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Anderson's Constitutions of Freemasons

Benjamin Franklin's reprint

of Anderson's Constitutions

Anthony Sayer

First Grand Master

Early lodges in the

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