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Freemasonry in Chester

Becoming a Freemason in Chester

Becoming a Freemason

The Dowland Manuscript was first printed in the Gentleman's Magazine in 1815. The contributor, James Dowland, wrote "For the gratification of your readers, I send you a curious address respecting Freemasonry which not long since came into my possession. It is written on a long roll of parchment, in a very clear hand apparently in the 17th century, and probably was copied from a MS. of earlier date." This earlier date is still estimated to be around 1550, making the Dowland the second oldest prose constitutions known. The wages mentioned in the text agree with other manuscripts known to originate in the second half of the sixteenth century. Unfortunately, the original is now lost.

The history is similar to that of the Cooke manuscript. In this case we are told that the first charges proceeded from Euclid's instruction of the sons of the Egyptian Lords. The Master Mason at the construction of the Temple of Solomon is a son of King Hiram of Tyre called Avnon. Again Masonry diffuses from the Temple and enters Saint Alban's England from France. The science suffers in the wars following Alban's death, but is restored under Athelstan. His son, now named as Edwinne, is the expert geometrician who obtains his father's charter for an annual assembly of masons, that should be "renewed from Kinge to Kinge". The assembly under Edwin is for the first time identified as having occurred at York. The articles and points are now replaced with a series of charges, in the form of an oath.

The emergence of York, and the appearance of the more modern form of the charges after a century of silence in the documentary record, have been linked by Prescott to government policy in from the second half of the sixteenth century, which allowed wage increases for London masons, while attempting rigid wage control in the North of England.

Grand Lodge No 1

This manuscript inexplicably appears in Hughan's Old Charges with a date of 1632, which Speth, the next editor, attributed to the terrible handwriting of Rev. Woodford, Hughan's collaborator. It is the first of the charges to bear a date, which is just discernible as 1583, on 25 December. The document is in the form of a roll of parchment nine feet long and five inches wide, being made up of four pieces pasted at the ends. The United Grand Lodge of England acquired it in 1839 for twenty-five pounds from a Miss Sidall, the great-granddaughter of Thomas Dunckerley's second wife. The handwriting is compatible with the date of 1583, although the language is older, leading Henry Jenner to propose that it was copied from an original up to a century older. The contents of Grand Lodge 1 tell the same tale as the Dowland manuscript, with only minor changes. Again, the charges take the form of an oath on a sacred book.

Within this manuscript and the Dowland we find a curious mason called Naymus Grecus (Dowland has Maymus or Mamus Grecus), who had been at the building of Solomon's Temple, and who taught Masonry to Charles Martel before he became King of France, thus bringing Masonry to Europe. This obvious absurdity has been interpreted by Neville Barker Cryer as a coded reference to Alcuin of York, possibly from a misunderstanding of one of his poems. In Carmen XXVI is the line, "Et Nemias Greco infundat sua poculo Baccho", expressing the wish that Nemias should fill Alcuin's cup with Greek wine. Nemias, or Nehemias, was Alcuin's code name for Eberhard, Charlemagne's cupbearer. Cryer presents the possibility that a misunderstanding allowed Nemias Greco to be assumed to refer to the Yorkshire saint and scholar.

Later manuscripts

At this point, the old charges had attained a standard form. What became known as the York Legend had emerged in a form that would survive into Preston's Illustrations of Freemasonry, a work of 1772 which was still being reprinted in the mid nineteenth century. The requirement for every new admission to be sworn to the Old Charges on the bible now meant that every lodge should have its own manuscript charges, and over a hundred survive from the seventeenth century until the period in the eighteenth when their use died out. Describing them all is beyond the scope of a single article, and unnecessary since differences are only in details, such as occasional clumsy attempts to deal with the absence of Edwin, Athelstan's son, from any historical record. Differences also occur in the specifics of the charges and the manner of taking the oath. A very few manuscripts have a separate Apprentice Charge. Families of documents have been identified, and two systems of classification exist. A few documents deserve special attention.


This document was purchased by the British Government as part of a collection amassed by William Petty, Marquis of Lansdowne. It was bundled with papers from William Cecil, a prominent Elizabethan politician who died in 1598, and was assumed to belong to the same period. Analysis of the handwriting places it a hundred years later, and later papers have been found in Cecil's bundle. Lansdowne is still frequently cited as an Elizabethan document.

The Constitutions of the Free-Masons, "For the Use of the Lodges" in London and Westminster, was published in 1723. It was edited by the presbyterian clergyman, James Anderson, to the order of John Theophilus Desaguliers, and approved by a Grand Lodge committee under his control. This work was reprinted in Philadelphia in 1734 by Benjamin Franklin, who was that year elected Grand Master of Masons in Pennsylvania. It was also translated into Dutch (1736), German (1741), and French (1745).

Anderson was minister of the Presbyterian church in Swallow Street, London, which had once been Huguenot church, and one of its four Deacons was Desaguliers' father. At the time of his meeting with Desaguliers, he seems to have passed himself off as a Talmudic scholar. His reward for his labours was the copyright on the work. In time, and to Anderson's dismay, it was condensed into "pocket" editions over which he had no control and from which he received no income. It was expanded, updated, and re-published in 1738.

The historical section, which comprises almost half the book, has already been described. This is followed by the "Charges", general rules for the conduct of Freemasons, and Payne's Regulations, the specific rules by which Grand Lodge and the lodges under its control were to be governed. The ceremony for dedicating a new lodge was briefly outlined, and the work finished with a section of songs. For the first time, the old hand-written charges and constitutions was replaced by an accessible, printed condensation of all there was to being a Freemason, omitting only the ritual. Although the historical section was attacked at the time, and ever since, as being a work of obvious fiction, the work remains a milestone in masonic history. The "Antient Charges" published in the current Book of Constitutions of the United Grand Lodge of England have altered little from those originally published by Anderson.

In common with other trades or mysteries, medieval Masonry recognised three grades of craftsman;— the apprentice, the journeyman, and the master. An apprentice who had learned his craft became a journeyman, qualified to do all manner of masonic work. The master was also qualified as a project manager, often functioning as architect as well. He would sketch the day's work on a tracing board for execution by the journeymen and apprentices. The Schaw Statutes of 1598 show how this had evolved in the lodge system of Scottish Masonry. An apprentice, after serving his term of seven years, could elect to pay to join a lodge, becoming an "entered apprentice". (Alternatively, he could elect to freelance on the lower grades of building work as a "Cowan".) The journeymen were referred to as "fellows" or "fellows of the craft", which accords with the Regius poem's injunction (line 51) that masons should "calle other felows by cuthe". The members of the lodge were "Brithers" (brothers), a Scottish legal term for those bound to each other by oath. The Master was simply the mason in charge of the lodge, or one who had held that distinction.

While the swearing of some sort of oath goes back to the earliest records of organised Masonry, the first recorded ritual is not until 1696, in the Edinburgh Register House manuscript. From this, and from other documents of the same period, such as the Trinity College, Dublin manuscript of 1711, we can form an idea of the ritual of an operative lodge at the end of the 17th century. On taking of the oath of an Entered Apprentice a mason was entrusted with appropriate signs, a "Mason's Word", and a catechism. This was accompanied by much horseplay, which was probably excised as the craft became more gentrified. The fellowcraft was made to take a further oath, and entrusted with two further words and the "five points of fellowship", which in 1696 were foot to foot, knee to knee, heart to heart, hand to hand, and ear to ear. The distinction between a fellowcraft and a master is unclear, and in many documents they appear to be synonymous. As accepted masons became initiated, where the various words and signs could no longer be regarded as professional qualifications, the entered apprentice ritual and the fellowcraft/master were sometimes condensed into one ceremony.

In Pritchard's Masonry Dissected, an exposure of masonic ritual written in 1730 by a disillusioned ex-mason, we see for the first time something recognisable as the three degrees of modern Freemasonry. On being admitted to a lodge, a new mason naturally progresses through the degrees of Entered Apprentice, Fellowcraft, and Master Mason. There still remains the rank of Installed Master, which comprises the Master in charge of the lodge and its past masters, and involves its own ritual, words and signs, but entails being elected to take charge of the lodge for a year. These are the regular degrees and ranks of "craft" Masonry, common to all constitutions. Other, "higher" degrees are optional and require a mason to join a side-order, except in lodges constituted under the Grand Lodge of Scotland, which are empowered to confer the Mark Master Mason degree on Master Masons, as an extension to the second or Fellowcraft degree. (see main article, Freemasonry)

Chester is a walled cathedral city in Cheshire, England, on the River Dee, close to the border with Wales. With a population of 79,645 in 2011, it is the most populous settlement of Cheshire West and Chester, which had a population of 329,608 in 2011, and serves as the unitary authority's administrative headquarters. Chester is the second-largest settlement in Cheshire after Warrington. Chester is also the historic county town of the ceremonial county of Cheshire.

Chester was founded as a "castrum" or Roman fort with the name Deva Victrix in the reign of the Emperor Vespasian in 79 AD. One of the main army camps in Roman Britain, Deva later became a major civilian settlement. In 689, King Æthelred of Mercia founded the Minster Church of West Mercia, which later became Chester's first cathedral, and the Angles extended and strengthened the walls to protect the city against the Danes. Chester was one of the last cities in England to fall to the Normans. William the Conqueror ordered the construction of a castle, to dominate the town and the nearby Welsh border. Chester was granted city status in 1541. Chester is one of the best-preserved walled cities in Britain. It has a number of medieval buildings, but many of the black-and-white buildings within the city centre are Victorian restorations, originating from the Black-and-white Revival movement. Apart from a 100-metre (330 ft) section, the Grade I listed walls are almost complete. The Industrial Revolution brought railways, canals, and new roads to the city, which saw substantial expansion and development – Chester Town Hall and the Grosvenor Museum are examples of Victorian architecture from this period. Tourism, the retail industry, public administration and financial services are important to the modern economy. A considerable amount of land in Chester is owned by the Duke of Westminster who owns an estate, Eaton Hall, near the village of Eccleston. He also has London properties in Mayfair. Grosvenor is the Duke's family name, which explains such features in the city as the Grosvenor Bridge, the Grosvenor Hotel, and Grosvenor Park. Much of Chester's architecture dates from the Victorian era, many of the buildings being modeled on the Jacobean half-timbered style and designed by John Douglas, who was employed by the Duke as his principal architect. He had a trademark of twisted chimney stacks, many of which can be seen on the buildings in the city centre.

Douglas designed amongst other buildings the Grosvenor Hotel and the City Baths. In 1911, Douglas' protégé and city architect James Strong designed the then active fire station on the west side of Northgate Street. Another feature of all buildings belonging to the estate of Westminster is the 'Grey Diamonds' – a weaving pattern of grey bricks in the red brickwork laid out in a diamond formation. Towards the end of World War II, a lack of affordable housing meant many problems for Chester. Large areas of farmland on the outskirts of the city were developed as residential areas in the 1950s and early 1960s, producing, for instance, the suburb of Blacon. In 1964, a bypass was built through and around the city centre to combat traffic congestion. These new developments caused local concern as the physicality and therefore the feel of the city was being dramatically altered. In 1968, a report by Donald Insall in collaboration with authorities and government recommended that historic buildings be preserved in Chester. Consequently, the buildings were used in new and different ways instead of being flattened. In 1969 the City Conservation Area was designated. Over the next 20 years the emphasis was placed on saving historic buildings, such as The Falcon Inn, Dutch Houses and Kings Buildings. On 13 January 2002, Chester was granted Fairtrade City status. This status was renewed by the Fairtrade Foundation on 20 August 2003.

Population    79,645

Demonym     Cestrian

OS grid reference    SJ405665

• London       165 mi (266 km) SE

Unitary authority     

Cheshire West and Chester

Ceremonial county



North West

Becoming a Freemason in England

Becoming a Freemason in United Kingdom

Post town      CHESTER

Postcode district      CH1-CH4

Dialling code            01244

Police Cheshire

Fire     Cheshire

Ambulance   North West

UK Parliament        

City of Chester