A Retrospective Glimpse Of Scottish Freemasonry

To compress a review of Craft Masonry during the past quarter of a century or so into the limited space at our disposal means that our facts must be simply stated and that there must be no side tracking or speculating what might have been the present condition of things if so and so had not happened.

The Grand Lodge of Scotland was instituted on Tuesday, 30th November 1736, at a meeting held in Mary's Chapel, Niddry's Wynd, Edinburgh, by the Masters and Wardens or Proxy Masters and Proxy Wardens of the following Lodges viz., Mary's Chapel; Kilwinning; Canongate Kilwinning; Kilwinning Scot's Anns; Kilwinning Leith; Kilwinning Glasgow; Cupar of Fife; Linlithgow; Dunfermline; Dundee; Dalkeith; Aitchison's Haven; Selkirk; Inverness; Lesmahagow; St Bride's at Douglas; Lanark; Hamilton; Dunse; Kirkcaldy; Journeymen Masons of Edinburgh; Kirkintilloch; Biggar; Sanquhar; Peebles; Glasgow St Mungo; Greenock; Falkirk; Aberdeen; Maryburgh; Canongate and Leith, Leith and Canongate; Montrose. It held its first Quarterly Communication on 12th January 1737, at which William St Clair, of Roslin, presided as Grand Master.

In 1878 Brother Sir Michael R. Shaw Stewart, Bart, was Most Worshipful Grand Master Mason, and David Murray Lyon firmly established as Grand Secretary, two very strong men who were destined to do great work in establishing Grand Lodge in its present proud position. Up to this period the affairs of Grand Lodge had been allowed to drift along pretty much at their own sweet will, partly because of the apathy of its constituent members. In corroboration of this statement it may be pointed out that there were about 500 Lodges on the roll, of which nearly 200 were absolutely unrepresented by either Master or Wardens. This being so, it can easily be conceived how the affairs of Grand Lodge could reach the chaotic state in which we find them. Sir Michael R. Shaw Stewart and D. Murray Lyon steeled themselves to reform matters, and they soon began to draw about them brethren from distant provinces up and down the country who proved themselves worthy of all recognition. The financial affairs of Grand Lodge were very soon found to be in a perilous condition, in fact bordering on insolvency. A distinguished brother, addressing a meeting quite recently, said that there was difficulty in meeting its gas and water bills, and there was a danger of these necessaries being cut off. At the Festival of St Andrew in 1878, a speaker, in proposing the health of the Grand Master Mason of Scotland, remarked that "five years ago, when Sir Michael Shaw Stewart was first invited to take the Throne, the finances of Grand Lodge were not in a good position. Sir Michael was well aware of the work he had to do and made up his mind to do it, and by his thorough business qualities, his energy and his determination to get at the root of matters, he had exposed what was wrong in the finances of Grand Lodge and had placed these in a satisfactory position. For that they owed him an eternal debt of gratitude."

In his reply Sir Michael, referring to the funds of Grand Lodge, said "the income for the year ending 30th November had been upwards of £4,000 and the expenditure £2,500. These figures would show that Grand Lodge was in a better financial position. They had an excellent hard working Grand Secretary and the Finance Committee was paying more attention to its duties. Referring to the Earl of Rosslyn's proposal, when his Lordship was Grand Master, to contribute towards a fund for benevolent purposes, Sir Michael Shaw Stewart said Grand Lodge must have felt at that time that in their state of debt it was premature to contribute for benevolence, but he referred to this in the hope that Grand Lodge was now in possession of such funds that they were entitled to remember that one of the chief objects of Masons was to do good to those around them." To show the apathy of the Brethren generally, outside of the Capital, it may be mentioned that at this Festival of St Andrew, at which about 200 Brethren attended, there were only twenty-eight Lodges represented, and of these fifteen belonged to Edinburgh, and only two were from Glasgow and one from Ayrshire.

"The minimum fee for initiation to a Lodge was 21/-, exclusive of the registration fee 5/6, and with a view to the extinction of the debt of Grand Lodge and the application of its surplus revenues to charitable purposes, the fee payable to Grand Lodge for each Diploma shall be 5/-, and each Daughter Lodge shall, from and after 24th June 1879, pay towards the said object 1/- for each entrant — to be remitted with the fees for registration and diploma."

On reading over the foregoing carefully it will be noticed there is no time limit for the payment of the proportion of initiation fees due to Grand Lodge, consequently it was quite a usual matter of course for Secretaries to hold over said payments until the new member had attained the full compliment of all his degrees. Now, it was, and still is, a known fact that some members, through various causes, never got the full length of their Masonic career, while others spread the three ceremonies over a very long period of years, hence the reason of their names never being entered in Grand Lodge records and Grand Lodge being deprived of such proportion of the fees that it was justly entitled to. Grand Committee has now ended this anomaly by getting a law passed that makes it compulsory for Lodge Secretaries to send in the names along with the proportion of fees to Grand Secretary within a month of the members date of joining any Lodge. This makes it a certainty that every new member is properly recorded in Grand Lodge, and no matter how many years may elapse before said member completes his degrees, or even if he never completes them at all, his name will be found recorded in Grand Lodge and said body will have also received the proper proportion of fees due to it. This is a move very much in the right direction, as it not only increases the revenue of Grand Lodge but it also allows Grand Secretary to be absolutely correct in his annual statistics.

For many years it was not an unusual thing for a member to receive the three degrees at one meeting of the Lodge on the plea of emergency, the excuse usually being that said brother was "going to sea," "leaving the town," or "going away."

Cases are not unknown of a neophyte entering a Lodge and not leaving the premises before receiving no less than eight degrees. Needless to say this abuse was responsible for turning out some very unsatisfactory, nay, almost useless material. It was often the case that a Brother burdened with so many degrees had to leave Scotland before getting much, if any, instruction and seek his fortune in one of our great Colonies. Such a Brother, with all the confidence that sometimes goes with ignorance, often sought admission to one of these Colonial Lodges and by his unpreparedness to face up to the rather exhaustive examination that our Colonial Brethren put visiting Brethren through, must have often been covered with confusion and brought the blush of shame on Masonry in the motherland. After many forceful protests from the Colonies against this evil Grand Lodge had to take action to put a stop to it once and for all, by enacting that under no circumstances should a shorter period than fourteen days be permitted between the conferring of each degree. This excellent law allows the candidate to reflect on and study his previous instruction before being advanced to a further stage in his Masonic career, and thus we hope to turn out Craftsmen who will be a credit to Scottish Freemasonry. The initiation fee, previously mentioned, continued to be the minimum until Grand Lodge, by a sweeping majority, resolved to raise it to 42/-. This slight increase caused a good deal of excitement and many doleful comments, particularly in some of the remote country districts, as some of these Lodges seemed to think the crack of doom had sounded and their existence would speedily come to an end. But these gloomy forebodings have proved very far from actualities; indeed it is safe to remark that some of these Lodges which had, up to this time, had but a languishing existence soon began to experience very much more prosperity and got a better class of membership. The minimum fee has been since increased to 63/-. During the next few years following 1878 the Grand Lodge Benevolent Fund began to show its present vigour, and it was, and still is, able to display that most excellent gift of benevolence. It would serve no useful purpose, and space will not permit to follow its progress from year to year. Suffice it to say that at the Festival of St Andrew in 1912 the Most Worshipful the Grand Master Mason announced that the sum of £1,132 had been disbursed during the year then ended. Grand Committee had also looked around for another outlet for their benevolent work, and the result of their deliberations was to recommend Grand Lodge to establish an Annuity Fund. This scheme was accepted with avidity and was soon set agoing. This fund consists of donations from Lodges and individual Brethren, of one half of the annual free income of Grand Lodge and of any other sums that Grand Lodge may see proper to grant, and to give it a further helping hand Grand Lodge decided to hold a huge Masonic Bazaar in Edinburgh, by which means a handsome sum of money was added to it, and now, as a further help, the daughter Lodges are compelled to take up an annual collection at their Installation Meeting[1] or at some other convenient meeting, and from the Grand Secretary, Brother David Reid's Annual Letter, it may be learned that no less a sum than £38,900 has been distributed in annuities since its inception in 1889. This annual collection has been a great success, so much so that the Annuity Board are gratified at being able to report that it amounted to £1,609 10s. 2d. for 1911-12, and for the fourteen years, 1899-1912, the subscriptions have amounted to £14,944 10s. 9d. The premises of Grand Lodge, the foundation stone of which was laid by the late Duke of Athole, grandfather of the present Most Worshipful the Grand Master Mason, about fifty years ago, naturally became too small for the proper administration of Grand Lodge affairs and Grand Committee had to consider what best should be done to bring the buildings up to date. After careful consideration it was decided to pull down the old building and erect a more modern structure on the same site, the foundation stone of which was laid by the Most Honourable the Marquis of Tullibardine, D.S.O., M.V.O., M.P., the present Most Worshipful Grand Master. In order to relieve the funds of Grand Lodge of the cost of this building the daughter Lodges were asked to subscribe and the result has been that in 1911-12 the sum of £1,141 has been contributed by Provincial Grand Lodges, Lodges and individual members towards the building fund of Grand Lodge, which, together with the sum of £2,518 contributed in the previous year, makes a total of £3,659. It is to be hoped this contribution will be made very much larger before the fund closes.

The activity that has been so apparent during the past thirty years or so in Grand Lodge affairs has been fostered and maintained by the more intelligent interest its members have been able to take by means of the proceedings being printed and circulated a week or so before each quarterly Communication. In the olden days the minutes of Grand Lodge were read at each Communication. The attendance at these meetings was comparatively small, therefore the business brought before Grand Lodge was known to but few, and probably soon forgotten except by those who actually took part in any particular debate. Now we have ample time to calmly read the minutes at our own fireside and can study the enormous amount of work transacted at the meetings of the various committees.

All this increased activity in Edinburgh naturally gave a great impetus to Provincial Grand Lodges. While it must be admitted that there have been a great many Provincial Grand Masters who have permitted no private business nor personal convenience to interfere with the duty they owed to their Provinces, but have done their duty nobly and well, and have seen that their Provinces have been kept in the highest state of efficiency and regularly visited and work inspected, yet it cannot be denied that other Provincial Grand Masters were not so deeply conscious of the obligations and responsibilities of their office but allowed their provinces to drift along with very little or no supervision. Consequently some Provinces began to languish and almost decay, but when the revival took place and the new printed minutes began to be read these Provinces saw at once that Grand Lodge would support them loyally in getting these matters put into proper working order, and it is now a pleasure to reflect on the fact that each province is now most efficiently supervised. Each Lodge is regularly visited by Provincial Grand Lodge Office-bearers, its books having in some cases been leisurely gone over by Provincial Grand Secretary or some other provincial Office-bearer several days before the visitation takes place. This system of inspecting the books is much to be commended in place of the old system of inspecting the books on the night of visitation when the meetings are usually crowded, the Office-bearers more or less excited, and the ante-rooms uncomfortably small. The daughter Lodges were also filled with a desire for taking a greater interest in the Provincial work, and it is now a customary thing to see the Quarterly Communications, both of Grand Lodge and Provincial Grand Lodges, very largely attended by the proper representatives of the daughter Lodges. The increase of the minimum fee for initiation and the specified time of interval between each degree have also had good effects on Lodge prosperity. This is amply proved by so many Lodges continually raising their fees and only working certain degrees at previously determined dates. It may be interesting to note that at this date (1912) there are about 800 Lodges in full working order on the roll of Grand Lodge and that about 550 are represented in Grand Lodge.

Now we fear the limit of space at our disposal must be quite exceeded so we must be brief with the exoteric or social side of our subject.

Going back to about 1878 we find the social part of a meeting of almost any kind was considered to be a very important part of the evening's business. At an ordinary Lodge meeting business was so protracted because of so frequently working the whole three degrees at the one sederunt, that it was considered quite the proper thing for a little refreshment to be provided at the close of the meeting. Alas, every phase of social society has a weak spot in it somewhere and the weak spot of this practice was that the Brethren frequently exceeded "elders hours" either from necessity or choice. The usual three or four purely social meetings in the year were prolonged to quite unreasonable lengths, and this probably gave rise and a colour to the many jests at the Craft's expense that appeared in the humorous papers at that time (Punch for instance). How all these things have changed! At an ordinary Lodge meeting, where it is usual to find only one degree on the agenda, the members have little opportunity of becoming really intimate with each other, since, as soon as the business of the evening is over, the members rush off home with scarcely a "good night," and at the stated social meetings a mere handful of members are seen sitting round the social board at eleven o'clock, and these meetings are closed on or about midnight. The question is often debated as to whether or not Scottish Freemasonry is now sufficiently social. It must be left in this position, but it must not be forgotten that one of the R.W.M.'s. charges is that he pledges himself to cultivate the social virtues as well as to cultivate truth and promote concord amongst the brethren.

The principal object of this short paper is to remind Brethren of what the Order has come through, and that had it not been for the heroic efforts of our Brethren of a past generation, and for the splendid work of our present Grand Committee and Grand Lodge Permanent Staff, under the leadership of our excellent Worthy Grand Secretary, Brother David Reid, and Worthy Grand Treasurer, Brother E. A. Chisholm, the Craft would, by no means, have been in the same prosperous and flourishing condition in which it now stands, nor would it be that power for good over the length and breadth of the land that it now is, nor would it be looked up to and respected by all who take the trouble to look into its affairs and benefices. It should, therefore, be the constant care of all our members to preserve this position by paying a constant attention to their Masonic duties and obligations and by exercising their benevolence judiciously but liberally, ever remembering the injunction that it is only he that gives that can hope to receive. This injunction, of course, refers to time and talents as well as money.

  1. The Grand Lodge of Scotland maintains the custom of allocating the alms gathered at an installation meeting to the Grand Treasurer's Benevolent Fund, an exception being made for lodges overseas, where the dispensation of the alms is optional. (The Skirret)

Ayrshire Masonic Magazine 1914