Although there remains much speculation about when and how Freemasonry originated, there appears to be agreement among Masonic scholars that it descends from an organisation of operative Masons (skilled Masons actually working with stone), who built the historic cathedrals and castles around the middle ages…
During the early part of the 17th century there is evidence of gentlemen being made Masons in non-operative Lodges (not practising Masons).
In 1717 four of these Lodges came together at the ‘Goose & Gridiron Tavern’ in St. Paul’s churchyard and declared themselves to be a Grand Lodge, this being the first in the world, and elected Anthony Sayer as their Grand Master.
Shortly afterwards in 1723 the new Grand Lodge published its first rule book, referred to as ‘The Book of Constitutions of Masonry’.
1725 saw the formation of the Grand Lodge of Ireland and 1736 likewise of Scotland. The three Grand Lodges then began to introduce Freemasonry overseas. During the 18th and 19th centuries this progress was mirrored in the development of the British Empire.
In 1751 a rival Grand Lodge, whose original members were Irish Masons, was formed in London. They referred to the original Grand Lodge as ‘the Moderns’ whilst regarding themselves as ‘the Antients’. Both existed side-by-side for over 60 years without recognising each other.
In 1813, after much negotiation the two Grand Lodges in England merged to form the United Grand Lodge of England. During this period considerable progress was made in standardising the ritual, procedures and regalia.
By the early 1900s over 2,800 Lodges had been formed. In between the First and Second World Wars close on 1,000 more Lodges had been set up. In many cases the Founders were servicemen who wanted to continue the camerarderie and friendships formed whilst in service of their country.
1967 marked the 250th anniversary of the Grand Lodge which was celebrated at the Royal Albert Hall, when HRH The Duke of Kent was installed as the Grand Master, the office of which he still holds today.
To bring the story completely up-to-date, preparations are now well underway to celebrate the Tercentenary of the Grand Lodge which will take place in June 2017.