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Aberdeen Freemasons

History of Freemasonry

A body of Freemasons would appear at a town or spot near the Castle of some great Lord who desired to build a Church or to enlarge his castle. They were under the rule of a Master elected from among their number, who nominated 1 man out of every 10 as Warden to supervise the other 9. They first erected temporary huts for their own use, and then a Central Lodge. If they required, they called in the assistance of the local Guild Masons to help in the rough work, but they do not seem to have admitted them to the assembly in the Lodge with which they opened each day's work. They met in secret, none but Freemasons being present, and with a Tyier to guard the door against cowans and eavesdroppers. The word "cowan" is probably of Scottish or North country origin denoting a "dry-dyker," (one who builds rough stone walls without cement), and is therefore not a true Mason although he pretends to do Masons' work.

The Masons obtained a Seal of Cause in 1532 along with the Wrights and Coopers, but beyond being coupled with them in the same Seal of Cause the Masons never became part of the Society formed by the Wrights and Coopers. When the Seal of Cause was obtained, the Masons elected their own deacon, formed a society for themselves, passed bye-laws, and accumulated funds in the same manner as the other associations. But about the middle of the 17th century their Society underwent a curious metamorphosis. Free or "speculative" Masonry was introduced into Aberdeen shortly after the Mason Craftsmen obtained their Seal of Cause, but little was heard of the Mysteries of Masonry until some time after the Reformation, when a regular Lodge was formed in connection with the Masons' Craft Society about 1670. At the outset, Freemasonry was simply an adjunct of the original association of craft masons; but gradually it became its leading feature, and the incorporation of mason artificers eventually became what is now known as the Aberdeen Mason Lodge. The "olde book" of the Aberdeen Lodge contains the "lawes and statutes for reasones gathered out of thir old wreatings by us, who ar the authoires and subscriberis of this booke," and the great bulk of these ordinances have reference to the rules of the incorporation, and are drawn up in similar terms to those enacted by the other Craft incorporations in the town. They have nothing whatever to do with Speculative Masonry, which did not obtain prominence until a charter was obtained from Grand Lodge of Scotland in 1743.


Aberdeen Lodges

The Masons obtained a Seal of Cause in 1532 along with the Wrights and Coopers, but beyond being coupled with them in the same Seal of Cause the Masons never became part of the Society formed by the Wrights and Coopers. When the Seal of Cause was obtained, the Masons elected their own Deacon, formed a Society for themselves, passed bye-laws, and accumulated funds in the same manner as the other associations.  About the middle of the 17th century their Society underwent a curious metamorphosis. Free or "speculative" Masonry was introduced into Aberdeen shortly after the Mason craftsmen obtained their Seal of Cause, but little was heard of the Mysteries of Masonry until some time after the Reformation, when a regular lodge was formed in connection with the Masons' Craft Society about 1670. At the outset, Freemasonry was simply an adjunct of the original association of Craft Masons ; but gradually it became its leading feature, and the incorporation of mason artificers eventually became what is now known as the Aberdeen Mason Lodge. The "olde book" of the Aberdeen Lodge contains the "lawes and statutes for measones gathered out of thir old wreatings by us, who ar the authoires and subscribers of this booke," and the great bulk of these ordinances have reference to the affairs of the Incorporation, and are drawn up in similar terms to those enacted by the other Craft Incorporations in the town. They have nothing whatever to do with Speculative Masonry, which did not obtain prominence until a charter was obtained from Grand Lodge of Scotland in 1743.

 

Some 11 other Lodges, 7 Royal Arch Chapters, and a number of other Orders in Freemasonry occupy the Masonic Temple at 85 Crown Street in Aberdeen, a building devoted entirely to Freemasonry.

The building, which has 3 Lodge rooms, has richly ornamented interior spaces, including such features as the inlaid marble floor featuring the signs of the zodiac.  A fine Sundial embellishes the South Gable.

Aberdeen has one of our oldest lodges in Scotland and has made a distinctive contribution to the history of Freemasonry, in its long association with operative masonry, far exceeding 300 years, and in it’s possession of the celebrated Mark Book of 1670, the Laws and Statues contained therein, and also of one of the copies of the ‘Old Charges’. 

It was at one time thought that the lodge dated from the rebuilding of St. Machar Cathedral, begun in 1359, when masons were brought from Melrose and were said to have introduced St. John’s Masonry to Aberdeen and founded the lodge.

Modern historians, however, consider this unlikely, as in those days Old Aberdeen and Aberdeen were two quite distinct places, and there is nothing in our records to connect us with Old Aberdeen. More likely this distinction belongs to the honoured sister lodge St. Machar (No. 54), who refer to the matter in the book issued at their Bicentenary in 1953, whilst admitting that proof is absent.
Freemason's Lodge - Crown Street - with its fine Sun Dial

 

For more reliable information regarding the mason craft in Aberdeen we must look to the old records of the burgh, almost unbroken since 1398, which contain numerous references to Masons, particularly in regard to such important buildings as St. Nicholas Church, King’s College and the Bridge of Dee. The first reference in the town records to the ‘’lodge’’ is in 1483, in which year one if the minutes mentions The Masons of the Lodge. This is the earliest recorded instance of the use of the word in connection with the Scottish Craft. Over the next few years many agreements and rules regarding conduct are recorded, and in 1544 we learn that Alexander Rutherford presented to the town 4 great chandeliers of iron “lying in the lodge”.

In 1527 the magistrates issued a proclamation known as the Seal of Cause, incorporating certain crafts and granting them disciplinary powers. By this the mason craft obtained for the first time official recognition as one of the crafts of the town, but whilst the other crafts eventually formed a joint organisation the masons always kept separate and developed along different lines.

In 1541 the masons received a second Seal of Cause and the lodge was then reconstituted on a new footing. When eventually the lodge obtained it’s charter from the Grand Lodge of Scotland dated 30th November, 1743, by which it was acknowledged as a regular lodge under the title and denomination of The Lodge of Aberdeen in all time coming, it started it was made to appear by an extract of some of their old writings and other documents produced that year 1541 there had been a regular lodge formed in Aberdeen but the records had by accident been burned”

In the absence of the lodge records previous to 1670 there is no definite evidence to show that the lodge of 1670 was the direct successor of the lodge of 1483 and 1541, but from indications provided by our traditional history it seems very probable this organisation continued in the years between. The question of the date of formation of the lodge was reconsidered by the Grand Lodge of Scotland in 1891, when recognised as having existed before 1670. It’s position on the roll was then advanced from No. 34 to No. 1 ter, thereby conceding to the lodge a position in accordance with it’s history which had long been claimed by it’s members.

During its long history the lodge has had many meeting places. In its earliest days it was forbidden to meet in house where there is people living, and meetings were held in the open air in some secluded spot-chiefly at the point of Ness (Girdleness) but also at Carden’s Haugh and Cunninhar Hill. The first recorded building was on St. Katherine’s Hill, and later in the Gallowgate. In 1700 a Mansion belong to the Gibbs and used for the lodge was at Futtiesmyres on the Links.  It was within the grounds later occupied by the Gas Works that James Gibbs the famous Architect, was born in 1682, at the house known then and long after as the " White House at Futtiesmyre."  (or the White House o' the Links)

In 1755 ground was acquired at what is now the corner of Union Street and King Street, on which a hotel, the New Inn, was built containing lodge rooms, the entrance to which was from the street still known as Lodge Walk. Later premises in Exchequer Row were in use the move to the present magnificent temple in Crown Street in 1910.

Very few lodges possess more complete or more interesting records relating to the early days of masonry. R. F. Gould in his History of Freemasonry says “Many of these documents possess features exclusively their own, whilst some are unsurpassed by any others of a similar character in interest and value”. Unfortunately lack of space allows the briefest reference here to these records. By far the oldest and most important is the Mark Book which was commenced in 1670, when it records the names of 49 fellow crafts and master masons and 11 apprentices-conclusive proof of our existence prior to 1670. It is noteworthy that even at that date only 10 members were operative masons. In 1748 the original book having worn out, a new one was commenced in which were pasted 28 pages from the original, and it is this book which is still in use, though it has been rebound with modern covers. Of the 49 original names 4 are peers and many others are known to have been men of prominence in the town. The Mark Book also contains the Laws and Statues of the Lodge and the Mason Charter. The Laws and Statues are of great importance, not only on account of being a Masonic document written 300 years ago, but because they supply the best and fullest example of the rules of an old Scottish Mason Lodge. The Mason Charter is a record of the traditional history and teachings of the lodge.

The earliest existing Minute Book dated 1696 – 1778 records only admissions of members and elections of office-bearers, but general minutes are complete from 1737, and treasurer’s cash books from 1719. The old minutes are of interest, reflecting as they do the life of a Masonic lodge in those days, with great bursts of activity following periods of inertia, and also the growing influence of non-operative masons.

In 1753 Lodge St. Machar was formed and the lodge of Aberdeen no longer stood alone as representing masonry in the town. Since then of course many other lodges have formed, but our lodge has continued it’s leading role at all times.


Foundation Stone Ceremony at Virginia Street

On 2 occasions the St Machar Lodge appeared in public, on the occasion of the Master's laying the foundation stone of the Bridge over Virginia Street, and of the Chapel of Ease at Gilcomston. The following are the accounts given of these in the minutes:-

"At ye desire of Alex. Bannerman, one of ye members of said Lodge, who had undertaken to build the Bridge over Virginia Street in Aberdeen; praying ye Master to call a General Meeting to walk in Procession for laying ye Foundation Stone yreof [thereof]. Therefore upon ye 11th day of March 1768 ye Master called a General Meeting; and ye vote being put, Procession, or not, it was carried in ye Affirmative; and in consequence yreof, they proceeded upon ye 15th of said Month, an year above mentioned; ye ceremonies whereof were as follows, viz.:-

"The Brethren of ye Lodge of St. Machar assembled at ye Trinity Hall at 11 o'clock:-about half after 12 they went in Solemn Procession, thro' ye principal Streets in ye following order:-

Military with drawn swords.
Entered Apprentices.
Masons of other Lodges.
Drums and Fifes.
Gentlemen Masons.
Arch-Masons.
Band of Musick.
Stewards of ye Lodge.
Treasurer.
Wardens of ye Lodge.
The Square, Level, and Plumb, carried by three Operative Masons.
The Cornucopia and Mallet, carried by ye Officer, and an Operative Mason.
The vessels for ye Wine and Oil, carried by two Gentlemen Masons.
Sword of Gustavus Adolphus, carried by a Gentleman Mason.
The Book, carried by a Gentleman Mason.
The Master, supported by two former Masters.
Gentlemen Masons.
A Detachment of the Military.

"How soon ye Brethren came to ye Ground, it was surronded by ym [them], none being allowed to enter ye circle, but ye Provost and Magistrates. The Master, wt [with] ye assistance of two operative Brethren, turned ye stone, and laid it in its Bed. The Stone is in the South-East corner of ye south pillar of ye Bridge; the Square, Plumb, Level & Mallet were successively delivered to ye Master, and re-delivered in ye same manner to ye persons by whom they were borne; he applied ye Square to ye part of ye Stone which was Square; he applied ye Plumb to ye several Edges of the Stone; he applied ye Level above ye Stone, in several Positions; & wt ye mallet he gave ye Stone three Knocks, on which ye Brethren gave three Huzzas; Then ye cornucopia, & ye two vessels were delivered; ye cornucopia to ye Substitute, and ye two Vessels to ye Wardens; and were successively presented to ye Master; and he, according to an ancient ceremony, poured out ye Corn, Wine & Oil on ye stone, saying:- "May ye bountiful Hand of Heaven ever supply this City with abundance of Corn, Wine, & Oil, and ye other conveniences of Life." This being succeeded by three Huzzas, ye Master said, "May ye Grand Architect of ye Universe, as we have now laid this Foundation Stone, of his kind Providence enable us to carryon and finish what we have now begun; and may he be a Guard to this Place, and ye City in general, and preserve it from Decay and Ruin to ye latest Posterity.

" 'My Lord Provost and Magistrates,

" 'In ye publick character I hold, at ye head of my Brethren of the ancient and honourable Society, I presume to address you: and in their Name, and for myself, I return you my most humble and hearty Thanks for ye Honour you have done us, in witnessing our laying this Foundation-stone; may you and your Successors be happy Instruments of forwarding this great and good work, as it will add greatly to ye Ornament of this City; and I hope it will be a lasting Honour to you, and a means of transmitting your Memories to ye latest Posterity.

" 'My Brethren, and Fellow-Citizens,

" 'We have now begun a work of no small Importance; and I hope our Brother, who is at present materially engaged, as well as all those who shall hereafter engage in compleating ye Plan, will so avail themselves, as shall add to ye Honour of Masonry in general; and I look upon it, my Brethren, as a particular good Fortune to ye Lodge of St. Machar, of having ye Honour of laying this Foundation; and I wish ye success of this good City may afford many ye like opportunities, which must give satisfaction to every good Man, and be a Pleasure to every well-wisher of Bon-Accord.'

"The ceremony being over, the Provost and Magistrates took leave; and the Brethren returned to the Trinity-Hall in the same order, escorted by the Military. At the Hall-Gate, the Brethren opened, and received the Master with three Huzzas; and paid him the compliments due to his Rank; They then proceeded with the usual State into the Hall; where they were entertained in that Elegant, and harmonious Manner usual among Masons. During the whole Ceremony, the greatest Regularity was observed; and although many thousands of spectators were present, no Person received any Hurt.

The South East Corner was where the public steps rose from Virginia Street to the level of Marischall Street - The bridge was later widened and replaced with a concrete structure.


Foundation Stone Ceremony at Chapel of Ease - Gilcomston

"Wednesday, 2nd May 1770, The Foundation-Stone of ye Chapel of Ease at Gilcomston, was Laid. At Eleven O'clock, ye Office-Bearers and Brethren of ye Lodge of St. Machar met at ye Trinity-Hall; from whence they marched in Solemn Procession to ye Place where the Chapel is intended to be built, on an Eminence at ye Denburn. The Stone was laid wt ye usual ceremonies, after which ye Master said, 'May ye Grand Architect of ye Universe, who has assisted us in laying this Foundation-Stone (for a Place of publick worship) of his kind Providence enable us to carryon and finish what we have begun; may he be a Guard to this Place, and Preserve it from Decay and Ruin to latest Posterity.' Then addressing himself to ye Gentlemen Clergy he said,

" 'Reverend and worthy Sirs,

" 'In ye publick Character I now hold at ye Head of this honourable Society of St. Machar's Lodge, I think it my Duty to address you on this happy occasion; I do yrefore heartily congratulate you on ye success of your Endeavours for ye good of ye Parish of St. Machar in particular, and of ye publick in general. This useful work will redound to your everlasting Honour; and I wish in sincerity, yt your worthy Example may be followed in many oyr [other] places; as ye Populounsness and Prosperity of this happy Country calls loudly for it; you have on this occasion shown your care for ye Good of Mankind, not only by your indefatigable Endeavours to forward this great and good work; but also by your own generous contributions; may you be blest wt [with] Health, and satisfaction while in this world, and when you depart from it, and rest from your labours, your works will then follow you.' Addressing himself to the Lodge, he said,

" 'Worthy Brethren,

" 'It is with ye utmost satisfaction yt I congratulate you on this publick and happy occasion, which kind Providence has favoured us with, in prosperity ye Work of our Hands, by giving success to our weak Endeavours for the publick Good. This is now ye 2d time wtin [within] ye space of two years, that I have had ye Honour of calling you together, to lay ye Foundation of two publick Buildings, which for their Utility, I may say, none has exceeded in this Part of the Country in our Day, and which will to Posterity be lasting Monuments to your Honour. I give you my sincere Thanks, Brethren, for your ready and willing attendance on this occasion, and I wish ye grand Architect of ye Universe may preserve you from all Evil, and grant you Health and vigour to prosecute and finish this useful undertaking.' Each of these Addresses was followed by three Huzzas.

"After which they marched thro' ye Town, to their Lodge, where a cold collation [(food) contributed or ‘pooled’ by the members] was provided; and the Brethren parted with ye utmost satisfaction and good Humour.

"Most Parishes in this Synod have contributed very liberally towards ye erection of this Chapel.


Mr. Alexander Hadden was Master of Shoreworks of the City of Aberdeen in 1846: on 9th June of that year, was laid, with Masonic Honours, in presence of the public bodies and a large assemblage of the citizens, the Foundation Stone of the Victoria Dock, Aberdeen.


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Last modified: 01/09/2013