On this day in history : 24th June 1717 – The Grand Lodge of the English Freemasons is founded in an ale house in London – when the City’s four existing Lodges unite to form one organisation….

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Freemason Masonic Symbol – Public domain

The four separate Lodges met at The Goose and Gridiron, St. Paul’s Churchyard, London; each group was named for the ale house where it held its meetings…. The Apple Tree Tavern, Covent Garden – The Crown, off of Drury Lane – The Rummer and Grapes, Westminster and of course, The Goose and Gridiron…. They had come together on St. John the Baptist’s Day to form what was originally known as ‘The Grand Lodge of London and Westminster’ and later became ‘The Grand Lodge of England’…. The very first Grand Master was Anthony Sayer….

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Goose and Gridiron – Public domain

It is often assumed the Freemasons originated in England – certainly during the early 1700s Freemasonry rapidly spread to the Colonies and across Europe….but it appears to actually have its roots in Scotland….

By the late 1500s there were at least 13 Lodges established across Scotland – from Perth to Edinburgh…. The oldest minutes of a Lodge meeting in the world come from Aitchison’s Haven in East Lothian from a meeting held in January 1599…. In July 1599 the Lodge of Mary’s Chapel in Edinburgh started to keep minutes too….

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King George VI with Scottish Freemasons – Public domain

There are various myths as to how Freemasonry came to exist…. One being that some of the Knights of the Templar, after their defeat by King Philip of France in 1307, fled to Argyll in Western Scotland and set up a new organisation – The Freemasons….

Another theory is that the lineage goes all the way back to King Solomon…. It is said his temple was built with secret knowledge – which was then passed down from one generation to the next among the stonemasons….

The latter idea may be a little closer to the truth…. Freemasonry has most certainly been around since the Middle Ages – and could quite easily have come from the stonemasons who travelled across the land building castles and cathedrals…. Using secret words and symbols they would acknowledge each other and protect their trade from outsiders…. Perhaps this is where the ‘secret handshake’ came from….

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Man in Freemason regalia – State library of Queensland via Flickr

In time other trades became involved….and we had ‘Free Carpenters’, ‘Free Potters’ – or which ever trade a man belonged to…. Rather like the guilds of the time these Medieval trade associations were places to make contacts, pass on tricks of the trade and trade secrets….at the same time keeping outsiders out….

Freemasonry has long been seen as sinister, shadowy, secretive and full of conspiracy theories…. Whereas, it is actually one of the oldest non-religious, non-political and charitable organisations….where it is believed everybody is equal….

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Freemasons Hall, London – home of the United Grand lodge of England – Eluveitie CC BY-SA 3.0

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