The Grand Lodge constituted in 1717 was titled'”The Right Worshipful Fraternity
of Accepted Free Masons,” and later became “The Most Ancient and Honorable
Fraternity of Free and Accepted Masons under the Constitution of England” more
generally known as The Premier Grated Lodge or The Grand Lodge of England. Their
purpose was to revive the institution from its depressed state. Their original
jurisdiction extended for about three square miles, not all England, but they were
certainly the start of today’s Grand Lodge system.
They are often called “The Moderns,” a term that probably originated with their
rivals. And rivals there were. Some lodges felt that the creation of a Grand Lodge was
in violation of Masonic law, while others simply were against being ruled from the city.
By 1725 the Lodge in York had declared itself a Grand Lodge. The ultimate problem
arose when Dr. James Anderson, D.D. was commissioned “to digest the (Gothic
Constitutions) into a new and better method.” His Constitutions were adopted in 1723
and the 1738 edition included changes in the modes of recognition to tell the true from
the impostor – a change that was greatly disapproved in some circles, and possibly was
the immediate cause of the formation of the “Ancient” Grand Lodge.
On July 17, 1751 “The Most Ancient and Honorable Fraternity of Free and
Accepted Masons, according to the Old Institutions” usually referred to as the “Ancient
Grand Lodge of England” or “Athol Grand Lodge” was formed by six lodges that
appear to have been mostly of Irish Masons. The work of this Grand Lodge was similar
to that used in both Ireland and Scotland. Laurence Dermott was its guiding hand,
serving as Grand Secretary from 1752 to 1771 and then Deputy Grand Master until
1787. He wrote its Book of Constitutions – the Ahiman Rezon (i.e. the Law of Prepared
Brothers, or A Help to a Brother.) This title will be found in the law of many US Grand
Lodges, including that of Virginia.
A key provision of the Ancient work was the inclusion of the Royal Arch Degree
as a part of the working. This was a stumbling block for all proposals to unite the two
Grand Lodges, and was also source of problems among lodges in the US.
Although Freemasonry in the United States was no longer influenced by that of
England, we should note in passing that on November 25, 1813 the two Grand Lodges
united as “The United Grand Lodge of Ancient Freemasons of England.” The key
compromise in The Articles of Union “declared and pronounced, that pure Ancient
Masonry consists of three degrees, and no more, viz., those of the Entered Apprentice,
the Fellow Craft and the Master Mason (including the Supreme Order of the Holy Royal
Although early Irish Masonic records are lacking, there is a Freemason’s Stone in
Dublin which appears to date from about 1602, and a lecture given in Dublin University
in 1688 makes references that imply that Masonry was not unknown at that time. The
Grand Lodge of Ireland was established no later than 1725 and followed the Ancient
form of work.
Scotland had many operative lodges, but apparently speculative members were
not very welcome, and a central authority even less so. (John Robinson notes that
American Freemasonry can be classed as Reformed, English – Conservative, and
Scottish – Orthodox.) The example of England and Ireland proved too strong, however,
and in 1736, thirty-three lodges met in Edinburgh and constituted the Grand Lodge.
In addition, four other Grand Lodges were established in England prior to 1800,
but most of these had no influence on Freemasonry in the United States. The notable
exception was the Lodge at York which declared itself a Grand Lodge in 1725. While
never particularly successful, it expired in 1790, it was the lodge of William Preston,
whose Illustrations of Masonry as revised by Thomas Smith Webb form the basis for
most of our Lodge ritual today.