Gloucestershire Freemasonry can be traced back to 1738, just 21 years after the foundation of the Premier Grand Lodge in London in 1717.
Freemasonry evolved from the guilds of stonemasons and cathedral builders of the Middle Ages. The earliest Lodges were often named after the building where the meetings took place, which not surprisingly would have been an inn or tavern. Travelling craftsmen required a suitable hostelry to lodge for what might be extended periods during the construction of a major building. In some cases, accommodation might be provided on site, this being referred to as a Lodgement, which in other circles may have both legal and military connotations.
It would be easy to imagine that after a hard day’s toil, a team of craftsmen would return to a preferred inn – where working stonemasons would be warmly greeted and spend the evening in good fellowship.
Before retiring for the evening, a warm meal, a drink, and a good deal of banter could well have ensued, and as with any group of skilled craftsmen, ‘tricks of the trade’ would be discussed and exchanged. Perhaps the locations of good jobs with well-paying masters, or potential new building sites would be revealed. That valuable information would be restricted to those ‘in the know’ and, specifically, those of the same rank of craftsmen, who closely guarded their skills and knowledge.
As cathedral building declined, so some of these working masons began to accept honorary members to strengthen their small alliance, and so, from a few of these lodges, developed a modern, or speculative Freemasonry, relying much on symbolism. Particularly in the 17th and 18th centuries, they adapted the rituals and trappings of ancient religious orders and chivalric brotherhoods. In 1717 the first Grand Lodge, an association of lodges, was founded in England.
This was the ‘age of enlightenment’, also known as the ‘age of reason’; a time when intellectual, scientific, and philosophical advancement ranged across Western Europe. Ideas centred on the pursuit of knowledge and the value of human happiness. Those searching answers also sought places to discuss their ideas and theories, so literary salons, coffeehouses and Masonic lodges provided the solution. There was an ‘explosion’ of Freemasonry!
Gloucestershire was no different; a total of 22 Lodges can be accounted for in the years from 1738 to 1891; 14 of which survived this initial period and became established to form some semblance of a Province. So, what kind of person was attracted to Freemasonry in our county? Frankly, anyone who wanted to contribute to the advancement of society at this exciting time. One profession which was prominent was engineering; Clegram and Keeling spent their busy lives here in Gloucestershire, and the innovative family companies of Lister, Daniels, Watts, and Brain, all contributed to employment and beyond, providing a new formula of social assistance to the populous as a whole through their benevolence.
Clearly, Freemasonry has evolved from its roots where a Lodge represented a tightly bound team of skilled craftsmen meeting out of necessity, to that of a social group based on companionship mutual respect, self-improvement, and for the betterment of society. Today Gloucestershire has 83 ‘Craft’ Lodges and over 2500 members.