The lodge of Aberdeen is 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 our 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’’.
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 four 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 house for the lodge was build at Futtiesmyres on the Links, and 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, 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 four 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. During the present century three past masters-Brothers A.L. Miller, R.P. Masson and G.G. Nicol-have become Provincial Grand Master of Aberdeen City Province. During the Second World War activity almost ceased, but in 1945 a nucleus of active members got going again, and under a succession of excellent masters the lodge soon got back on its feet. The present office-bearers are masons of the highest calibre and keenness and there is no doubt that the lodge enters its fourth century with every prospect of continuing success.