On Saturday 25 April 2022 the Lodge of Aberdeen No. 1 ter celebrated 350 years of the Mark Book and the Rededication of the Lodge.
The ceremony was conducted in the Main Craft Hall of Freemasons’ Hall Aberdeen.
The Master of the Lodge, Brother Michael Reid; Grand Master Mason Brother W Ramsay McGhee accompanied by Grand Senior Warden Brother Alexander Moncrieff and Grand Director of Ceremonies Brother William Gauld; Provincial Grand Master Brother Ian Williamson; the Provincial Grand Master of Warwickshire Brother Philip Hall accompanied by a deputation from the Provincial Grand Lodge of Warwickshire and the Past Masters and Brethren from the Lodge of Aberdeen No. 1 ter.
On display in the East were the Charters issued by Grand Lodge in 1743, and 1891 together with the Mark Book.
The Lodge was opened in due and antient form by the Master, Brother Michael Reid, who welcomed all present to this auspicious day before admitting the Provincial Grand Lodge of Aberdeen City headed by the Provincial Grand Master, Brother Ian Williamson. The emblem of authority was proffered to the PGM who then admitted and welcomed deputations from the Provincial Grand Lodges of Aberdeenshire East, headed by their PGM Bro. Dr Douglas Nicol, Aberdeenshire West, headed by their PGM Brother James Anderson and Kincardineshire, headed by their PGM Brother Graham McKay.
PGM Brother Williamson then received and welcomed into this Province a large deputation from the Provincial Grand Lodge of Warwickshire head by their Provincial Grand Master Brother Philip Hall.
Brother Williamson then returned the emblem of authority to the Master who then received and welcomed a large deputation from the Grand Lodge of Scotland. The Grand Director of Ceremonies, Brother William Gauld introduced the head of the Deputation, the Grand Master Mason Brother William Ramsay McGhee, Depute Lord Lieutenant of Ross and Cromarty, Skye and Lochalsh.
The Master proffered the emblem of authority to the Grand Master Mason and the Wardens of the Lodge vacated their seats in favour of the Grand Wardens.
The Grand Master Mason then announced the purpose of this gathering today, to Celebrate 350 year of the Lodge’s Mark Book and the Rededication of the Lodge and Master’s Regalia.
The Master took the solemn Obligation of rededication on behalf of himself and the Lodge. When called upon the seal the obligation in the customary manner, the Brethren signified their assent by giving the sign of fidelity three times.
The Grand Master Mason and the Grand Office Bearers then conducted the Ceremony of the Three-fold Blessing where Corn was scattered in the South, token of the Divine Goodness exhibited in the liberal provision made for all our wants, spiritual and temporal.
After perambulating the Lodge, wine was poured in the West, symbol of Strength and Gladness.
After again perambulating the Lodge, Oil was poured in the East, emblem of Joy and Peace dedicated to Universal Benevolence and Charity.
Grand Master Mason then Dedicated the Master’s new Regalia and provided a very fine lecture on the symbolism of the regalia, so designed as to be a constant reminder of our duties.
The Collar, the yoke by which we take upon us the burden of service; the Jewel of Office, a constant reminder that we serve each other in our own way to up build the moral values on which the Craft is based; and the Apron, the symbol of purity and honour.
Brother Brian Livingstone PM then presented a short History of the Lodge and Mark Book.
It is not my intention this afternoon to explore Lodge History, as you can read that in your programme for today, and I could not improve on the excellent on-line presentation given by Bro Alistair McIntosh in 2020. I also hope not to put everyone to sleep by repeating everything written in the programme regarding the Mark Book, but it will be the subject of what I tell you about.
I was first “introduced” to the Mark Book 49 years ago, when my Proposer for Lodge membership, Louis Strachan – a long standing family friend – was aware that I had some skill at “fancy writing”. He had informed the ‘powers that be’ and then told me that I was required to bring it up to date with the names of all those who had been Raised to the 3rd Degree. That was the start of what has become an annual reunion between me and the book. With the exception of this year, yet another consequence of the Covid-19 Pandemic – every January since that first introduction in 1973 I have the responsibility to enter the names of our newest members.
I have to say that my attitude to this responsibility has significantly changed over the years. In the beginning I was simply adding names on the correct page of “an old book” and judging from the different “hands” on many pages I certainly wasn’t the first in the modern era. The blasé overconfidence, and I suppose a certain amount of arrogance, of youth.
Nowadays, I am extremely conscious of the heavy responsibility, terrified of making a mistake (of which there have been several) or worse, ruining years of history by spilling ink/tea/coffee all over it or having my house burn down while it is in my possession – thankfully I am fully compliant with the Scottish Government Regulations for Fire Alarms so may have a better chance to save it, after of course ensuring that my dear and long suffering wife is safe first!
Every January at our St John’s Supper the book is on display. It used to be on the Top Table in front of the Master and available for perusal by the Lodge Members and their guests. However, after an incident with a glass of wine after dinner and speeches, it is now well out of reach and access is restricted.
But being the “scribe” gives me a unique opportunity to explore the book, and it leads down so many rabbit holes that any activity connected with this book takes many hours longer than first anticipated.
To put the age of the Earliest writings into some kind of historical perspective, Charles II was on the Throne and for the next 15 years, the Industrial Revolution was a hundred years away, Newcomen’s invention of a steam engine is 50 years in the future and James Watt wasn’t born for another 66 years. In the cultural arena Robert Burns was just one year old, Alexander Selkirk, the original Robinson Crusoe was six years from being born. Beethoven, Handel, Mozart (both of them), Shelley, Keats and Wordsworth were all yet to be born and the Bank of Scotland was 25 years from being thought about.
Obviously the most interesting thing about the book is the people. The 49 Authors and subscribers “in order according to our ages as we were made fellow craft, from qth [sic] we reckon our age” include The Earl of Findlater – Mason; The Lord Pitsligo – Mason; immediately followed by George Cattanouch; Piuriuige Macker and Mason. This clearly indicates that Freemasonry was then and hopefully still is today inclusive to all walks of life, reinforced by the writings of James Anderson stating that the Brethren should sit in the order of their “age” and not of their station in life.
James Anderson has played a very significant part in Freemasonry…. But that’s enough about Aberdeenshire West. Our James Anderson is responsible for the creation of the Mark Book as we know it today, and clearly felt himself important enough to have the most gold-leaf adorning his entry in the book, and of course produced a son who is most important to English and American Freemasonry for their Constitutions
Also of significant note in the list of ‘49 Authors’ is John Skene Merchant and Mason. John Skene was Quaker, along with several other Lodge members despite this being illegal at the time. John was fined several times and imprisoned for his disruptive behaviour and eventually emigrated to the USA in the early 1680’s and is acknowledged as the first Freemason in America. He went on to become the Deputy Governor of West Jersey. His parents were also notable in Aberdeen. His father Alexander was Treasurer of the Town Council and Dean of Guild. He was also imprisoned for his beliefs. John’s mother Lilias Gillespie Skene (1626 – 1697) an author poet and prophet whose writings are among the very few still existing of a 17th Century Scottish woman who was not an aristocrat. Just across the road at the entrance to the Quaker Meeting House is a Commemorative Plaque dedicated to Lilias.
There of course are some rogues in there, at least two car salesmen for a start!!! and the more notable (excluding more recent times) is the Rev William Fraser Minister of Slaines. According to the Introduction by David Stevenson to the Facsimile of the Mark Book, he was frequently in trouble for neglecting his duties and apparently resigned because it was suspected that he murdered his wife…… like Wikipedia this requires verification.
Some of the later equally interesting entries include Louis and John Hay Wilson in 1887 both listed as photographers. They were the sons of George Washington Wilson who had set up a business at 25 Crown Street which had a staff of 40 and were at the time the largest publishers of photographic print in the world. This indicates that the Lodge was then, as it seems to be now, happy to embrace new technologies in their membership.
James Hadden and Gavin Hadden, both listed as Merchant and Provost were part of a family who owned the spinning and weaving Hadden Mill in the Green which in the late 19th Century was one of the biggest Carpet Manufactures in Britain.
As you will see from the “programme notes, the Lodge of Aberdeen has from its membership provided one Grand Master Mason, a Grand Master – although they are one and the same – and three Provincial Grand Masters of Aberdeen City. In January 2018 I received an email explaining that the sender was the son and grandson of former Lodge members. Now, if you’ve been paying attention January is when I actually have access to the book and I was able to look up and photograph the appropriate page and send it as part of my reply. A subsequent request was to see if I could find “Uncle George” which I duly did and replied with another photo. The sender was keen to visit the Lodge and donate/return something from the “family archive”. As it turns out the sender William (Will) Watson, whose grandfather Patrick was a PM. His great uncle was George Nicol PM and PGM, but the most astonishing coincidence of this is that George Nicol lived at the address now occupied by PM and PPGM Alistair McIntosh.
As I said earlier it is truly incredible to look at the entries in this book and it is impossible not to get drawn into Google or whatever to try and find out just a little bit more, and then find a link to another nugget of information. I have not covered a fraction of what I could tell you principally because the time required to research it would prevent me doing anything else, and my wife still needs rescuing from that fire.
I am greatly honoured to be entrusted by the Lodge to maintain the book as a Living document, and while I do not know who my predecessors are, apart from the originator of the book in its current iteration “James Anderson Glasier Measson and Wreatter of this book” with his gold leaf embellishment. I have replaced the gold leaf with 21st century technology and recorded a short video of the completion of one entry, one that gave me I think the most pride to enter – that of my son David – so that future Brethren may know the association of book and this writer.
The Grand Master Mason then addressed the Master, Wardens, Brethren of the Lodge of Aberdeen No. 1 ter and all Brethren present saying how wonderful a day this has been. “It is quite incredible, and humbling, to think that the Brethren who preceded the current Brethren, have, over the past 350 years witnessed many of the landmark events that, in their own way, shaped the history of Scotland. Accordingly, this is very much a time to reflect, to remember and to recall all that has happened in the past, but it is also an ideal time to start planning seriously for the future. There is much to be done in the aftermath of Covid and I have no doubt that the Brethren of this antient and honourable Lodge will, as their forefathers have done, rise to the challenges that confront them”.
The Master then invited the Provincial Grand Master of Warwickshire, Brother Philip Hall, to make the presentation of the masonic jewels that have been residing in a museum for over a hundred years.
The jewels came into the possession of Warwickshire in 1928 when they formed part of a larger collection of masonic miscellany donated to the Province by W. Bro Edwin Booth to celebrate the bicentenary of the Province. The PGM of Warwickshire at that time was Bro. Colonel William Wyley who was PGM from 1918 to 1940. The collection formed the basis of what became a sizeable museum that grew over the years and was displayed in various meeting places including New Street, Broad Street and finally in the large HQ we had built in Stirling Road, Birmingham. Sadly, those premises were sold a few years ago and the museum was necessarily spread around the Province to those rooms that had the space or wanted specific artefacts. The jewels hence ended up in Alderson House in Warwick.
Bro. Paul Leadbetter has contributed to this story and how fortuitous it was that he arrived at Alderson House in Warwick about an hour early on the 17th February 2019 for a Masonic meeting.
With time on his hands he took the opportunity to take a look at some of the Masonic artefacts on display in Alderson House and came across the jewels and, being inquisitive and interested in Masonic history, he photographed them and sent a copy to his good friend Bro. John Miller who forwarded the photograph to the Secretary of the Lodge of Aberdeen.
Sometime later during the period of Covid Bro. Leadbetter joined in the History and Heritage group’s presentation that given via Zoom on the history Lodge of Aberdeen 1 ter, and he saw his photograph displayed. Having contacted the Lodge Secretary he then set proceedings in place with The Province of Warwickshire in an endeavour to have them consider repatriating the jewels, which they did last Saturday.
One can’t help thinking that if Bro. Leadbetter had not arrived early for that Masonic meeting in 2019 the jewels would still be in Alderson House and the Lodge of Aberdeen unaware of their existence.
The Deputations from the visiting Provinces retired from the Lodge and the Master closed the proceedings in due and antient form.
Prior to sitting down to dinner, the Master, Bro. Reid, Bros Stuart Davie and Paul Whitwell presented themselves in 1670 period costume. They descended the stair carrying the Mark Book and delivered it into the hands of the Current Lodge Secretary.
The Dinner following the Ceremonies of Rededication and celebration of the Mark Book.
To propose a toast to the Grand Lodge of Scotland, the Master, Bro. Michael Reid.
Most Worshipful Grand Master Mason, Grand Lodge of Scotland office bearers, Provincial Grand Masters, Past Provincial Grand Masters, Reigning Masters, Past Masters, Brethren all, it is a pleasure to be invited to toast the Grand Lodge of Scotland, an organisation that started as a younger sister to Aberdeen 1 ter, but very quickly grew to become the guiding light and respected mother for the whole of Scotland and, of course, is so active on the international stage.
I have to say that in my twenty years of masonic activity, Grand Lodge of Scotland has always been a splendid source of help and resource. For an organisation that oversees 636 Lodges in Scotland (according to the 2021 Year Book) 320 District Lodges spanning the globe, together with acting as Superintendent for 27 others internationally, it is a tremendous honour that the most Worshipful Grand Master Mason and his key office-bearers have found time in their diaries to undertake a Rededication Ceremony for Aberdeen No.1 ter. As we know from the Most Worshipful Grand Master Mason’s weekly updates, he travels extensively and indeed Sir, the weekly updates have been a splendid way of maintaining communication, harmony and understanding as we all negotiated the Covid-19 pandemic. For this we are all most grateful.
Occupying such a wonderful building in Edinburgh, organising benevolence across Scotland, particularly with respect to raising money for prostate cancer and operating Masonic Homes with such efficiency, who would not be proud to be a member of such an organisation……and the humanitarian appeal for Ukraine launched last month is another example of the benevolence that Grand Lodge of Scotland demonstrates internationally. Talking of international, I am sure that everyone in the room wishes Grand Lodge of Scotland every success in the fourth international Scottish Masonic Conference which is being held towards the end of November in Edinburgh.
As we all know, the Grand Lodge of Scotland was founded in 1736 and it is reported that about one third of the Scottish Lodges that existed at that time were represented at the initial meeting. Records show that, at such meeting, national Lodge numbers were allocated to those as they entered. Our 1 ter folklore reflects that Aberdeen arrived after a long and arduous journey to Edinburgh and was the 36th Lodge to enter the room and hence, was allocated number 36.
Legend also has it that as the Aberdeen delegation were returning to Aberdeen, a discussion ensued around the allocated number of 36, with many indicating that this was unfair : brethren, perhaps an early indication of our North East view that the Central Belt have always dictated matters without proper consultation.
It is reported in the 2021 Year Book, that Grand Lodge of Scotland recognised how important it was to recognise the legitimacy of all Lodges that existed before 1736, whilst trying to exercise an element of consistency of regulation. The method of doing so was by Grand Lodge issuing a Charter of Confirmation to Lodges that existed prior to 1736. Of course, for Aberdeen, that was not good enough because we had number 36. As you might imagine, matters moved quite slowly in those days but a petition was quickly organised locally to recognise Aberdeen as being one of the oldest Lodges in Scotland.
The Aberdeen 1 ter legend refers to an ongoing and spirited debate between the Lodges of Aberdeen, Edinburgh Mary’s Chapel and Melrose St John. All three Lodges petitioned Grand Lodge of Scotland to be allocated number 1 because they each contended that they were the oldest and deserved being recognised as number 1 i.e. being ranked immediately after Mother Kilwinning No. 0.
In one document issued by Grand Lodge of Scotland regarding Aberdeen (and noted in your programme) it was reported that “it was made to appear by an extract of some of their old writings mentioned in the memorial and other documents produced that, in the year 1541, there had been a regular Lodge formed in Aberdeen, but that their records had been burnt by accident”. Indeed brethren you will see a brief history of some of the older lodges on your placemat this afternoon : found amongst some of our Lodge’s older documentation.
Grand Lodge could not decide who should be given the number 1, but realised that a decision was required. Tradition in Aberdeen has it that Aberdeen, Melrose St John and St Mary’s Chapel were invited to Edinburgh in order to decide matters. Failing the ability to reach agreement by the documentation tabled, the Grand Master Mason of the day placed three nails of different lengths into his fist and invited each Lodge representative to draw a nail. The longest being 1, second longest 1 bis and the shortest nail……1 ter.
And so it came to pass, that the wisdom of Grand Lodge of Scotland allowed three Lodges to share number 1 and continue in both harmony and peace thereafter until this very day.
I am aware that others have other explanations why, in 1743, the Lodge of Aberdeen No.1 ter was recognised as having existed since at least 1670 and I am sure that if I asked Bro Bob Cooper, GLoS Curator to research the matter, he may well produce a different story : such is the continuing attraction and mystic of Scottish masonic history and legend.
Brethren, we are indeed honoured to have such an illustrious and capable organisation at our head, led by the Most Worshipful Grand Master Mason Ramsay McGhee. A man who is not content to rest on his laurels but already has plans for growth, development and enhancement of the Craft. Sir, we will support you in your endeavours and you are always assured of the fealty of Aberdeen No 1 ter.
Brethren, please be upstanding and join me in a toast to the Grand Lodge of Scotland.
The Grand Master Mason, Bro. William Ramsay McGhee thanked the Master for his excellent toast.
To propose a toast to the Provincial Grand Lodge of Aberdeen City, Bro. Philip L Hall Provincial Grand Master of the Provincial Grand Lodge of Warwickshire
MW Grand Master Mason, Provincial Grand Master, Worshipful Master and Brethren. What a great honour it is to be able to propose the toast to the Provincial Grand Lodge of Aberdeen City, a clearly very old and distinguished Province within the Grand Lodge of Scotland. It is all too clear this evening that whilst we are all brothers together there are many differences. I had the great experience a few years ago of being a DGDC in UGLE which afforded me a couple of opportunities to visit Districts overseas, Zimbabwe and Hong Kong. It was only having done so that I confess I became aware of the camaraderie that exists between the various constitutions often represented with brethren from the Scottish, Irish and Netherlandic constitutions all sitting together in their own regalia in open Lodge. From a DCs perspective learning the protocol was a nightmare but everyone as you would expect were both kind and patient. But I am reminded of those wonderful differences and to parody George Bernard Shaw’s description of the English and the Americans being ” two countries separated by a common language” so you could fairly describe English and Scottish freemasonry as two fraternal organisations separated by common ritual – and aren’t we all the richer for that!
I know that all of Warwickshire brethren will return home full of stories to regale our brethren whether that be in Birmingham and Coventry and even Rugby of this delightful experience.
The opportunity to visit Aberdeen and return the ancient officers’ jewels to their rightful home was too compelling to ignore. I am very grateful to W Bro Richard Barker, who amongst his many other roles in Warwickshire has also held responsibility for the large and once rather impressive museum.
It was Richard who instigated this delightful visit here today back in pre-pandemic days, but there were also other brethren, not least Provincial Grand Secretary of Warwickshire and the Lodge secretary W Bro Alistair McIntosh for putting the final details together and making it happen.
I explained in the other room that our once magnificent museum in Warwickshire has been somewhat fragmented by the sale of our former (but sadly unaffordable) headquarters. Whilst many of the artefacts we held are on display in various rooms across the Province it felt morally wrong to hold onto these jewels when they could be so appropriately returned to their natural home. I am privileged that not only have Warwickshire been able to do this but also to have done so in the presence of the Grand Master Mason of Scotland and on such an auspicious occasion has made us all doubly proud.
I gather Provincial Grand Master that you were only recently installed. I was also installed in a rather unorthodox manner back in November 2020 – amidst many pandemic related restrictions with just me and five other brethren present as we were restricted to the rule of 6 at that time. We meticulously followed those rules and contrived a ceremony that was every bit as precious to all despite the low numbers – I confess to being rather proud of that.
So from one new boy to another – I wish you every luck for your term of office. Typically, in England PGM’s are appointed for a term not exceeding 10 years and as I am also the head of Warwickshire Royal Arch I think that will be enough.
Finally, the Province of Warwickshire is a little older than Aberdeen City in its formation as I note you will be celebrating your bicentenary in 2027 as we will be celebrating our tercentenary the following year. Ever mindful of the speed with which diaries fill up brethren, and if you are so minded, we would be honoured if we could return both the favour and the hospitality by inviting you to our celebrations that year – I like to give plenty of notice brethren! And so brethren, may invite the brethren of Warwickshire together with all brethren below Provincial Grand Rank to rise and join with me in a toast to the Provincial Grand Lodge of Aberdeen City.
The Provincial Grand Master of the Province of Aberdeen City, Bro. Ian Williamson suitably replied and thanked Bro. Hall for his kind words.
To propose the toast to the Lodge of Aberdeen No. 1 ter, Brother Michael Zanré, Master of Lodge St George No. 190
RWM, MW Grand Master Mason, RW Provincial Grand Master, distinguished Brethren, Brethren all. It was with great delight that I accepted the invitation from the Master Brother Reid to propose the toast to the Lodge of Aberdeen No. 1 ter on such an auspicious day.
When we consider what a Lodge is, we think about the Members of that particular Lodge – the men who strive to perpetuate the Lodge’s existence, reputation and success. My conclusion is that the Lodge is its Members.
Given that we are today celebrating the 350th anniversary of the Mark Book, I want to acknowledge and salute in particular the members of the Lodge of Aberdeen who lived at the time in the second half of the 17th century.
When we celebrate an anniversary there is a natural tendency to think of our predecessors’ era through modern eyes or at best through the medium of a sanitised television period drama.
What we tend to forget are the huge numbers of changes which have taken place in terms of living conditions and quality of life since 1670. During the course of the 17th century and still very recent in the memory of the citizens of Aberdeen at that time was the signing of the National Covenant in 1638 and the subsequent sacking of the City by a Royalist army under the Marquis of Montrose in 1644. Three days of pillaging and rape ensued. Later in the decade King Charles 1 was executed – a great shock to the minds of men – as the divine right of Kings was still an acceptable concept.
The majority of the population still lived in the country, eking out a living in a primitive agricultural system where narrow strips of land were cultivated by poor tenant farmers. In terms of local population, the majority of the land and wealth in the area were in the hands of the nobility, notably the Forbes and Gordon families.
In the middle were the lesser landowners, wealthier burgesses, lawyers, clergy, physicians, surgeons and apothecaries. The bulk of society was made up by a range of common people many of whom lived close to the margin of subsistence when even the adverse vagaries of the weather could mean starvation.
While there were some notable stone buildings in Aberdeen at this time, most dwellings were timber built, and as the only source of light and heat were candles and open fires, outbreaks of fire were commonplace.
There was high infant mortality and the health of the population was not helped by the lack of sanitation, living cheek by jowl with animals and the noxious fumes produced by unregulated industry. The excerpt from the Third Degree ritual comes to mind: “Remember to perform thine allotted task while it is till day for the night soon cometh when no man can work”, a stark warning which was so pertinent at that time. No street lighting, no electric power, no drains or clean drinking water, instead, smoke, stench and squalor.
It is no wonder then that old age and death for most people who attained adulthood occurred in their early to mid-fifties, but many died much younger, especially of disease. Only a few years before, in 1647, the plague claimed the lives of 1760 people in Aberdeen out of a population of around 8000.
At the close of the century, repeated bad harvest in the 1690 caused famine, starvation and untold misery, Aberdeen was unable to feed its poor and nationally the population fell by 13 percent.
In addition, the crime and punishment system at the time which was imposed on the population was absolutely barbaric. There were a long list of crimes including witchcraft which could lead to the death penalty in various forms including beheading, hanging, burning, pressing and drowning. Torture was not unknown using the boot and thumb-screws.
These then were the life threatening challenges which our Brethren faced on a daily basis. And yet, despite the abject poverty, the political and religious turmoil, the general health of the population and the threat of a cruel legal system, the Brethren of the Lodge of Aberdeen on 350 years ago are an inspiration – to be admired for their fortitude and their courage in upholding our masonic values and leaving a wonderful legacy to those Brethren who came after them right down to the present day.
Brethren, the toast is the Lodge of Aberdeen No. 1 ter.
Reply to this toast, the Master, Bro. Michael Reid
Most Worshipful Grand Master Mason, Grand Lodge of Scotland office bearers, Provincial Grand Masters, Past Provincial Grand Masters, Reigning Masters, Past Masters, Brethren and guests, it is my great pleasure to thank Bro Mike Zanré for his kind and thoughtful words about our Lodge. Well researched and splendidly delivered.
As has been mentioned many times, and reflected on the Lodge’s current notepaper, 2020 was the Semiseptcentenary [350 years] of the Mark Book. That pesky interloper Covid-19 stopped us having a celebration in 2020 but here we are in 2022 and it is splendid to have so many guests at the Lodge rededication and Mark Book celebration.
I would like to take a few moments to speak a little bit about the Mark Book and then, by way of demonstrating its great antiquity and value to the Lodge (and indeed freemasonry in Scotland), reflect upon what the Mark Book has experienced throughout its 350 year life as it rested on the Lodge mantelpiece at each annual dinner (which we refer to as our St John’s Day Supper). Here it is today : on display for you to see.
Professor David Stevenson of St Andrews University was invited to review the Mark Book and write a general critique in 2010. As Professor Stevenson narrates, the Mark Book is unparalleled in its elaboration in recording Masonic lore, using intricate calligraphy and gilding in places to impress and emphasise the importance of its contents. Our Mark Book shows that we are the first Lodge in the UK to have drafted our own laws and statutes. In fact, these laws and statutes are set out in the Mark Book, and approved by the Lodge by way of a minute of a meeting dated 27 December 1670. Of course, given the fact that the handwriting is hard to decipher and prepared in Olde Scots the original document is difficult to decode accurately into modern English.
As you might imagine in 1670, rank and privilege was very important in Society, yet here we have the Mark Book saying “so we entreat all our good successors in the Mason craft to follow our rule as your patterns, and not to strive for place. For here you may sit in the order written above and amongst the rest our names, persons of a mean degree are inserted before great persons of quality”.
The main thrust of this is clear i.e. those who joined the Lodge are listed in chronological order of joining, and that is the order in which they sat within the Lodge, despite the fact that it meant people of lower social standing sitting above noblemen and other great persons of quality. Even the first list of members is not in accordance with rank/title of the day. Most unusual in the society that existed in 1670.
This wording was written by Lodge member James Anderson Snr who obviously felt it necessary to stress that in the Lodge, the social hierarchy of the outside world was to be ignored, which of course reflects freemasonry in the modern world in that the idea of brotherhood is equality with social status being irrelevant.
Professor Stevenson opines that this is by far the earliest evidence in any UK Lodge that, when meeting and conducting business, Freemasons temporarily sought to subvert the prevailing principles of social hierarchy. Perhaps unsurprisingly, there are reports that this created tensions in the Lodge. However, to the credit of the Lodge at that time, such tensions did not become publicly evident until the late 1700s (i.e. by which time the Lodge was nearly 90 years old) when it was reported that several members objected to the expense and splendour of the New Inn Lodge rooms built by the Lodge in the city centre 1755 because they thought that the vast majority of money raised by masonic activity should be directed to charitable purposes rather than internal extravagance.
Indeed brethren, our Mark Book has lived through some interesting times. For example, around the time of the creation of the Mark Book, there was much to concern the citizens of Aberdeen. In late 1644 the Marquess of Montrose invaded Aberdeen and there was much fighting and turmoil, and it was only three years later that there was a severe outbreak of plague which, according to Aberdeen City records, killed about over one quarter of the city’ population.
Perhaps the social upheaval at that time explains why some pages from the Mark Book appear to be either missing or out of order : somewhat understandable, although some reports suggests that a Secretary of the day decided to amend the Mark Book out of his own volition. Regrettably, the Lodge Minute Books don’t offer a clue as to why and when.
Anyway, the 49 listed as the first members include three Earls, one Lord, three Lairds, two ministers, a lawyer, nine merchants, four barbers, four carpenters and a professor……………..but no chartered accountants! Quite a varied collection of individuals and backgrounds at that time which again points to Professor Stevenson’s view that there was a Lodge of Masons in Aberdeen to which these gentlemen already belonged because, at that time, it would be almost unthinkable and socially unacceptable for an Earl or a Lord to sit equally with a hammerman or a slater.
One of the initial Lodge members recorded in the Mark Book is John Skene and other records show that he was quite a character. For example, he was in trouble for sitting through a church service in Foveran with his hat on and then having the temerity to address the congregation without being invited to do so. After a short spell in prison for denouncing religious persecution and promoting the Quaker faith, he decided to emigrate to Pennsylvania around 1681. He is hailed as the first freemason to become a citizen of America and Professor Stevenson’s research has not uncovered any earlier examples of an initiated Mason emigrating to the US. John Skene was followed closely by another Mark Book member, John Forbes, who was a merchant and bought land in New Jersey. The records show that he did not like America and decided to return to the North East.
Another entry in the Mark Book amongst the list of initial members is James Anderson. It is not clear if his son ever joined No. 1 ter, but we do know as a fact that his son, also James Anderson, was keen on the Craft because after joining a Lodge he was responsible for creating the first Constitution of the Grand Lodge of England.
To this day, the Mark Book records the name of every person who has become a Master Mason in the Lodge of Aberdeen No. 1 ter. In recent years, the Lodge has been indebted to Bro Brian Livingstone ( No. 1 ter Past Master ) for his calligraphy skills and means that those who follow us will be able to read the most recent writing. Indeed, our Mark Book is updated annually and proves that, although it is a remarkable piece of masonic history in Scotland, it is also a living document. Gentlemen, what a tremendous wealth of masonic tradition our Mark Book provides and what a marvellous masonic treasure.
When I was contemplating the age of the Mark Book, it made me wonder what important issues of the day were discussed by our forefathers as the Mark Book sat upon the mantelpiece each year. What has it heard in conversation over 350 years?
There was doubtless great debate about the Mercat Cross which was constructed in the city centre 1686, the commencement of granite excavation in Rubislaw Quarry must have provoked discussion in 1740, as did the opening of the Royal Infirmary at Woolmanhill in 1741 and the construction of the Music Hall in 1822. The modern townhouse at the Castlegate was not built until 1868. The Mark Book is likely to have listened to members talking about the opening of Aberdeen’s theatre in 1906 or its first cinema in 1908.
Indeed, one wonders if the first ever dinner featured a discussion about the burning of a witch at the stake for being convicted of witchcraft : because that is what happened at the Castlegate in late 1670.
Back in 1670, Aberdeen boasted a population of about 6,000 and was a key trading port as well as a centre for agriculture, a seat of learning (Aberdeen University was founded in 1495 and Marischal College in 1593), as well as being a significant market town. In those days, and for several hundred years thereafter, it was safer to travel to both Edinburgh and London by boat rather than over land for fear of being robbed by highwaymen…….…or, as they were known at the time, “ Dundonians !
Gentleman, there was plenty to talk about at the St John’s Day Supper in the late 1800s because Duthie Park opened in 1883, Craiginches Prison opened in 1890 and the bridge to Torry was built in 1887 following a ferry disaster in 1876 in bad weather which claimed the lives of 32 Aberdonians.
The establishment of the Lodge of Aberdeen No.1 ter in 1670 happened so long ago that it could not have been reported in the local Press & Journal : because such newspaper did not come into existence until 1747 : well before the Glasgow Herald in 1783 and the Scotsman in 1817.
Indeed, Lodge subscription monies could not be deposited in the bank because Scotland’s first bank, Bank of Scotland, was not opened until 1697 as a result of an Act of the Scottish Parliament [keeping a sense of perspective, the Bank of England only opened its doors three years earlier in 1694]. Our early brethren couldn’t insure their property properly because Lloyds Insurance market did not start until 1686 and they couldn’t talk about Lodge matters on the golf course because Aberdeen’s first golf club (now Royal Aberdeen and noted as the sixth oldest club in the world) didn’t open until 1780 : 110 years after the Mark Book incepted!
During the 1700s the slave trade may have occupied attention at our annual dinner because there is considerable evidence of children being kidnapped and imprisoned in three separate locations in Aberdeen before being shipped to America.
Perhaps our brethren conferred in dismay after Robert Burns had visited Aberdeen in 1787 and described Aberdeen as “a dirty, dangerous and fairly non-descript place “.
Thinking of conflicts over the years, the Mark Book will have heard discussion about the American war of independence from 1775 to 1783 (more than 100 years after the Mark Book was created), the French Revolution from 1789 to 1799, the battles of Trafalgar and Waterloo in 1805 and 1815 respectively, the Crimean War from 1853 to 1856……………..and of course the two World Wars in the earlier part of the last century. Presumably the Mark book listened intently to brethren talking about Culloden in 1746 and the Highland Clearances.
Indeed, the Mark Book pre-dates Peter the Great who founded St Petersburg and ruled Russia from 1682 to 1725, and it was not until 1770 that Australia became a talking point over dinner after it had been discovered by James Cook. I wonder if our forefathers were pleased (probably displeased) about the introduction of income tax for the first time in the UK in 1799.
Sitting around the dinner table our predecessors must have marvelled at the engineering skills of Isambard Kingdom Brunel in the mid-1800s. Just think of the plethora of major inventions that have occurred whilst the Mark Book listened to our conversations. As you will know, many inventions such as the steam engine, harnessing electricity, the telegraph, the telephone, photography and bullets ( to name a few ) occurred during the Industrial Revolution which was principally from 1770 to 1890 by which time the Mark Book was already 100 years old. Consider how our forefathers must have talked at annual dinners of inventions thereafter such as antibiotics, internal combustion engine, nuclear power, space travel, TV, radio and computers/internet.
As you will all be aware, in 1670 the United Kingdom was separate in terms of England and Scotland and this leads me conveniently to what was perhaps one of the biggest topics of discussion at the annual dinner as the 18th century got underway i.e. the Act of Union passed by the Scottish Parliament in 1707. Indeed, not much changes because there are reports in 1703 of elections that were held in Scotland in 1702 which created a most fractious and unpredictable body of individuals. The Duke of Queensbury, Lord High Commissioner to Queen Anne struggled with the Scottish Parliament because it was reported that the Scots were angry about English arrogance and obstructive during the union negotiations, especially over the vital issues of trade and the ill-fated Darien enterprise. One wonders if the Mark Book will be sighing with resignation that the Scotland/England relationship continues to create angst to this very day.
Back in 1703, the Scottish Parliament specified that Queen Anne’s successor in Scotland would not be the same person as that in England unless Scotland was guaranteed the independence of its Crown, the freedom and power of its parliament, the liberty of its religion, and the opportunity to trade without English intrusion. The Scottish Parliament expressed deep anger about the high handed action of the English Parliament and the 1701 Act of Settlement (for Crown succession) without consulting the Scots. And we could not complain to the Police about it all because the first official Police Force, London Metropolitan Police, didn’t start until 1829
What of the future and what might the Mark Book witness? Well, the process of change in our World has been so rapid, particularly over the last 50 years that one can only wonder at what our brethren might see. Since time began, man has gathered in groups, initially for protection and to feed/shelter the group, but that quickly moved to social gatherings. That will not change although perhaps we will meet by hologram and other electronic means which could allow us to expand individual Lodge membership globally, rather like some clubs and societies and include a burgeoning international audience who are keen to foster links with Grand Lodge of Scotland. Think of the subscription income if, for example, US Lodge members all decided to join a UK Lodge for tradition/antiquity reasons.
Also, the advantage of electronic meetings, assuming held securely, would mean that we don’t have to come out in inclement weather or if feeling poorly? Will we become ever-more integrated into society such that we are simply seen as a charitable and non-threatening/secret organisation that is talked about openly : rather like Rotary or Round Table? Will we persuade every country in the world to openly join the Craft e.g. those in the Middle East.
Whatever happens, one can only trust that No. 1 ter will always play its part in a noble and honourable manner. As a Lodge, we will always preserve and protect the Craft whilst remaining open and flexible to change, and recognising our unquestioning fealty to Grand Lodge of Scotland.
Brethren, it is an honour to be Master of this Lodge and be a guardian of the Mark Book.
Please join me to drink a toast to 350 years of the Mark Book, the rededication of the Lodge, and the next chapter of the Lodge of Aberdeen No. 1 ter.
The toast is simply : Aberdeen 1ter and its Mark Book.