and a bit about Freemasonry in general!
The questions of when, how, why and where Freemasonry originated are still the subject of intense speculation. There is speculation but no proof that it descended from the mysteries of classical Greece or Rome or was derived from the religion of the Egyptian pyramid builders. Other theories include that Freemasonry sprang from bands of travelling stonemasons acting by Papal authority or evolved from a band of Knights Templar who escaped to Scotland after the order was persecuted in Europe.
The honest answers to the questions when, where and why Freemasonry originated is that we simply do not know. That said, there is general agreement amongst historians and researchers that Freemasonry developed, either directly or indirectly from Medieval stonemasons – otherwise known as Operative Masons – who built the great cathedrals and castles.
Those who favour this theory say there were three stages to the evolution of Freemasonry:
- The stonemasons gathered in huts or Lodges to rest and eat.
- These Lodges gradually became meetings for stonemasons to regulate their craft.
- Eventually, and in common with other trades, they developed primitive initiation ceremonies for new apprentices.
As stonemasons were accustomed to travelling all over the country, they had:-
- No trade union cards or certificates of apprenticeship
- They began to adopt a private word which they could use when arriving at a new site to prove they were properly skilled and had been a member of a hut or Lodge.
- They found it easier to communicate a secret word to prove who you were and that you were entitled to your wages, than it was to spend hours carving a block of stone to demonstrate your skills.
It is known that
- In the early 1600s these operative Lodges began to admit non-stonemasons. They were Accepted or Gentlemen Masons.
- As the 1600s drew to a close, more gentlemen joined the Lodges, gradually taking them over and turning them into Lodges of free and accepted, or speculative Masons.
- The Lodges no longer had any connection with the stonemasons’ craft.
In 1646 we find the first evidence of a Lodge completely made up of non-operative Masons. Elias Ashmole, the antiquary and founder of the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford, records in his diary:-
- That he was made a Free Mason in a Lodge held for that purpose at his father-in-law’s house in Warrington.
- He records who was present at the meeting: all have been researched and found to have no connection with operative Masonry.
In 1717 four London Lodges, which had existed for some time, came together and declared themselves a Grand Lodge. This was the first Grand Lodge in the world.
- From this moment on Freemasonry grew in popularity
- Spreading across much of the world, expanding as the British Empire grew
In 1849, at the top of West Street, Warwick, opposite the Lord Leycester Hospital, was a flourishing hostelry called the Bulls Head. The Landlord was one Charles Harris. Charles was a prominent Freemason, a PM of Shakespeare Lodge which held its meeting in the Bulls Head and until now this had been a satisfactory arrangement for all parties. Unfortunately, for reasons which have to be guessed at, in 1849 Shakespeare Lodge voted in favour of moving its meeting place.
Naturally, Charles Harris, the landlord, was not pleased, to say the least! And Charles, who was also a member of Guy’s Lodge in Royal Leamington Spa, resigned from Shakespeare Lodge.
We do not know if he discussed his problems with his friends in Guy’s and in Trinity Lodge, Coventry, but what we do know is that six months later dispensation was given for the formation of a new Lodge, The Lodge of Unity to be held… yes, you’ve guessed it – at the Bulls Head Inn!
Our first WM was W.Bro. William Barnwell, a Past Master of Guys Lodge in Leamington. W. Bro. Charles Harris (the landlord) acted as the Immediate Past Master and all the other officers were from Guy’s Lodge.
In 1926, some 76 years later and The Lodge of Unity moved in with Shakespeare Lodge to share their rooms at 3 High St. By 1962 it had become evident that the kitchens at “The Shakespeare Rooms” as they had become known, were inadequate, and the lack of a car park was becoming an issue and new premises were required.
When 23, High Street became available a W. Bro Gerald Alderson Asst. PGM immediately made an offer to secure it and The Lodge of Unity was the 1st Lodge to meet in these rooms.
To mark the first 100 years of the Lodge in 1949 and the 150th anniversary in 1999 celebrations were held at Warwick Castle.
How many Freemasons are there?
The United Grand Lodge of England has over 250,000 members. The Grand Lodge of Ireland (which includes N. Ireland, Eire, Scotland) has as a further 150,000 members and there are approximately 6,000,000 members worldwide.