MORE ABOUT THE OPERATIVES
The notes which follow assume the reader to be familiar with the history of this Society and
especially with the claims of Clement Edwin Stretton (1850-1915) and John Yarker
(1833-1913). They are provided in the hope that they will be of use to anyone thinking
about carrying out some form of research into the part played by those two aspiring
luminaries who, between 1908 and 1915, joined forces to champion the case for the Guild
operative free-masons to be acknowledged, once and for all, as the primary source from
which speculative freemasonry had been derived in the early 18th century. I have spent
many years chasing fruitless leads and going up blind alleys in the hope of finding
independent evidence to support the claims of Stretton and Yarker and even the smallest
amount of guidance at the start might have saved a lot of time and obviated frustration. It
is hoped that these notes will achieve that end for anyone on the brink of joining that
STRETTON’S TRAINING IN GUILD OPERATIVE FREE MASONRY
I have always been suspicious of Stretton’s explanation of his induction to Guild
operative stonemasonry which, he claimed, formed part of his training to become a
Consulting Engineer and began in 1866 when he was Articled to someone by the name of
H.Montford in Derbyshire. That scepticism has arisen because: (a) He never provided
details of where that training took place other than that it was somewhere near Cromford;
(b) he never mentioned the names of anyone who accompanied him on that training,
apart from George Watkin Anson who, one critic believes, never existed and was only a
nom-de-plume adopted by Stretton to protect himself from Grand Lodge censure; and (c)
he never provided details of where he acquired the six other degrees of Guild operative
free-masonry. Dates, yes; but locations never.
Given that information, readers may be interested to know I have recently acquired
an 1865 photograph of boys at a School for Engineers at Farnah Hall in Duffield (near
Cromford) being taken out of school in a steam-carriage driven by the photographer’s
father, who is named H.Montford. Now, that photograph doesn’t prove anything as far as
Stretton is concerned, because his training only began in 1866, but it does add a measure
of plausibility to his explanation and suggests that we should not be too quick to reject it
because he didn’t provide as much corroborative evidence as we might like. He possibly
thought he had done enough by explaining how he attained the positions of 3rd Master
Mason and then Secretary of the York Division, so didn’t need to explain everything else
in microscopic detail.
The contact-address for anyone wishing to obtain a copy of that photograph is:
Picture the Past, Derbyshire County Council, County Hall, Smedley Street, Matlock, DE4
3AH quoting Image Ref. DRBY001774 or, by email, firstname.lastname@example.org
I paid £5, plus postage, for a 6” x 4” print.
WHO WAS ‘ON THE SCENE’ FIRST: STRETTON OR YARKER?
This is a chicken-and-egg question which is only introduced because it has a
bearing on the credibility of the Society. At its heart lies curiosity as to which of the two
was ‘leader’ or, who needed who the most. Did Stretton need Yarker, because he was
able to provide academic support for claims which flew in the face of popular opinion? Or
did Yarker need Stretton because he was able to provide practical evidence in support of
theoretical ideas Yarker had been writing about for years?
In that connection, therefore, readers may remember that, on page 23 of my book
The Operatives published in 2008, I quoted Yarker as having claimed : “I knew of these
rites in 1856 or ten years before either Bros.Stretton or G.W.Anson knew anything of the
matter and I allude to an interesting account of an operative initiation at about 14 years of
age. At the date just mentioned 1856-7 I knew a Bro. Eaton of the St. Ninian’s Lodge who
informed me that he and his fathers had been operative and speculative masons for
If they do, they may be interested to know that the Society has in its possession a
letter dated 11th February 1964 from George Fitchet, Secretary of St. Ninian’s Lodge No.
66 (S.C.) which confirms that “This Lodge did not become a holding of Grand Lodge until
1756 and I have studied the minutes from that time since getting your letter. The name
Eaton is in the first minute of that year but I cannot tell prior to that. I find that Eatons were
in the Lodge up till 1857 which is as far as I have studied the books. They must have been
Operative Masons as quite a number were Office-bearers and some R.W.Ms, and
according to Bye-Laws none but ‘time served Masons’ were eligible to hold office as
Master. There is a record of John Eaton, Jnr. coming from Ashton Under Lyme to join the
Lodge in 1857”. ( Ashton Under Lyme, it will be remembered, is close to West Didsbury,
where Yarker lived.)
Now, although that letter, like the photograph already mentioned, doesn’t prove
anything, it does add credibility to Yarker’s claim of being aware of the Operatives earlier
than Stretton and shows that, at the time of his death, he had been taking an academic
interest in operative free-masonry for over fifty years. Prior to the point when they joined
forces, Stretton had only been giving talks to small groups, writing letters to provincial
newspapers, and submitting articles to masonic publications. The support of Yarker who,
by then, had acquired an international reputation as a historian, promptly gave Stretton’s
campaign credibility in the eyes of a wider community and an importance it would not
otherwise have obtained.
The answer, therefore, is that it was Yarker who was first on the scene, but it took
their combined efforts to draw attention to the cause they had in common. Thereafter it
was Stretton who revived two short-lived Guild lodges at Bardon and who, after Yarker’s
death in 1913, authorised the founding of an Assemblage in London which has since
progressed to become the world-wide Society we now refer to as The Operatives.
In short, it was Yarker who started the job but Stretton who finished it!
WHERE DID THE SOCIETY’S RITUALS COME FROM: STRETTON’S EXPERIENCE
AS A BOY OR SOMEONE ELSE’S IMAGINATION?
I am completely satisfied that the author of the ritual on which the Society’s current
rituals are based was Yarker who, in addition to his knowledge of the subject, and being
eminently qualified to produce such a document, was able to draw on additional material
from Stretton. The reasons I am certain are:
Stretton repeatedly denied being the author himself. For example, on page 3 of his book
Tectonic Art (1909), he wrote: “We are unable to trace the Ancient Operative guild or craft
of Free Mason to its source, or to obtain the name of the expert master who first devised
the complete system of placing the officials and workmen in grades or degrees”. And, in a
letter written to Dr. William Hammond at UGLE on 30th August 1909, Stretton explained:
“I have no written ritual of the Guild system, but if you get into communication with Brother
John Yarker, West Didsbury, Manchester, he has one and might help you.”
In 1950, Stretton was discounted as author by Rene Guenon, an internationally-respected
author and intellectual, who protested that : “I would like to state categorically there is not
a word in Clement Stretton’s letters or articles nor in Thomas (sic) Merz’s book on
Operative Masonry, nor in Dr. Thomas Carr’s pamphlet, nor in articles by other Operative
masons that appeared in pre-1914 numbers of this periodical to suggest that Clement
Stretton was ‘a restorer of the Operative rituals’. His enthusiasm helped to keep Operative
Lodges going and to arouse interest in them, which is another matter”. (In Women’s
Agency and Rituals in Mixed and Female Masonic Orders by A. Heidle and J.Snoeke,
It is also known that, in 1919, J.S.M.Ward, a well-known author and freemason, acquired
a number of Yarker’s notebooks in which he had recorded what he believed to be the
degrees and ceremonies of operative free masonry. These he showed to G.E.W.Bridge
who meticulously copied them out and used when he was later asked by the Society to
update its rituals. (See J.D.Bing’s The Worshipful Society of Freemasons, Rough Masons,
Wallers, Slaters, Paviors, Plaisterers and Bricklayers in the Twentieth Century, in the
Transactions of the Manchester Association for Masonic Research for 1975)
The Society has in its possession a copy of the Guild Rites of the Worshipful Society of
Free Masons written by Yarker in 1911 (i.e. Two years before the Society came into
existence) presumably for the use of Stretton’s two resuscitated Guild lodges at Bardon,
which are mentioned on pages 1,9,84,112,114, 119 and 123. Yarker was a member of
one of those lodges so would have known of the need for such a ritual.
Yarker’s 1911 ritual is typed on 123 pages of 8 x 10 inch paper and, apart from minor
changes which have arisen over time, the language used bears close similarity to that of
today’s Society. The seven degrees, all prayers, the use of the words El Shaddai instead
of God, the Society’s unique Sevenfold Salute and its use of the Swastika, all gauges,
regalia, signs, grips and passwords, forms A,B and C etc., and the layout of lodges, are
similar to those in current use.
Stretton is known to have urged Yarker to produce that ritual and is mentioned on pages
112, 113 and 123. They corresponded on a regular basis and Stretton’s assistance in
such matters is acknowledged by Yarker in chapter 10 of The Arcane Schools.
Much of his 1911 ritual can be traced to Chapters 5, 9, 10 and 11 of that book and to an
apparently-unpublished essay by Yarker, The Pole Star and Masonry, held in the Society’s
On pages 14, 32, 37, 99 and 110 of the 1911 Ritual reference is made to the Old York
Ritual which, according to its title page, Yarker transcribed “some time before 1908”.
Stretton is known to have approved of that ritual and on 3rd August 1908 wrote to Yarker to
say “The notes you sent me are indeed most wonderful, they show that under the Old York
rituals you have got hold of the true ancient system of the Operatives as it came down
from King Solomon and as it was communicated to me in the stone yard and in the
Yarker’s transcription of the Old York Ritual contains a reference to the ‘American Past
Master’ degree, which forms part of the York Rite in the USA. Like the Operatives, the
York Rite works a ritual of seven degrees and, in more than one of those degrees, some
of the signs and words used are common to both systems. Anyone interested in pursuing
that line of research is advised to start with Duncan’s Ritual of Freemasonry (1866)
because it is easily available on-line.
My belief in the authorship of Yarker is a view shared by Bernard Dat who, in his 1999
paper (The Operative Masonry of Stretton: Restoration or Contrivance?) expressed his
belief that “We know with certainty that Stretton never wrote the Operative rituals himself.
They are the fruit of the work of Yarker who collected and put Stretton’s notes into shape
according to the contemporary masonic usage.”
DID JAMES ANDERSON STEAL THE RITUAL OF SPECULATIVE FREEMASONRY
FROM THE GUILD OPERATIVE MASONS, AS ALLEGED BY STRETTON?
Readers may be relieved to know that I have no intention of recapitulating the whole
catalogue of Stretton’s many complaints vis-a-vis Anderson but only to describe those
things I have discovered (or, more accurately, not discovered) during the course of my own
research into his allegations.
I can find no independent evidence whatsoever to support Stretton’s claim that, in 1710,
Anderson was appointed Chaplain of the St. Paul’s Lodge of operative masons at the
Goose & Gridiron in London which, according to Preston, “consisted of few members”. Or
that his predecessor was the Rev. Henry Compton. The nobly-born and highly-respected
Rt. Rev. Dr. Henry Compton, was Bishop of London from 1675-1713 and, in addition to the
demands of that office was, I suspect, far too heavily committed on political matters of
national importance to undertake such an office as that of Chaplain of a small operative
lodge, even if it was conveniently located near to the Cathedral. He was, for example, a
Privy Counsellor and one of the Commissioners who negotiated the Union of England and
Scotland in 1707. He was one of the Immortal Seven who invited William of Orange and
his wife Mary to come to England to seize the Crown from James II (Mary’s father), and he
officiated at the wedding of William and Mary in 1677, and at their Coronation in 1689.
And, even if he had been Chaplain, I consider it unlikely that he would have handed over
to Anderson who, at one time or another, has been described as a Diminutive in Divinity, a
Pimp of a Presbyter, an outsider, a second-class citizen, a Dissenter (who had not at that
time been ‘ordained’ in England), and is known to have been poor. He was also Scottish,
at a time when Scots were unpopular. (See David Stevenson’s James Anderson: Man &
Mason in Freemasonry on Both Sides of the Atlantic, Ed. by R.W.Weisberger, W.McLeod
and S.B.Morris, 2002. Also A.C.F.Jackson’s comments concerning Anderson in AQC 88,
Dr. Compton, in fact, did not hand anything over to anyone and ‘died in office’ in 1713. He
was then succeeded by the Rt. Rev. John Robinson who, until 1714, also continued to
serve as Bishop of Bristol. He, like Dr. Compton, was politically active and, in 1711, was
appointed Lord Privy Seal. He is said to have been the last Bishop to be appointed to
political office. He was also an author and a diplomat with a special interest in Scandinavia
and he is as unlikely as Dr. Compton to have become Chaplain of the St. Paul’s Lodge of
I have found nothing whatsoever to support Stretton’s claim that, in 1714, Anderson
“made a very remarkable innovation in the rules” (see Tectonic Art, 1909, p.14) having
improperly admitted a number of ‘gentlemen’ into St. Paul’s Lodge, especially since the
names of those allegedly admitted included Sayer, Payne, Desaguliers and Montague
who, it will be remembered, were four of the first five Grand Masters of the Premier Grand
Lodge of England.
In which connection it is pointed out that, on page 43 of The Genesis of Freemasonry
(1947), D.Knoop and G.P.Jones similarly reject any suggestion that operative masonry
was “suddenly transformed by Desaguliers, Anderson and other prominent masons ….” by
pointing out that “The whole weight of the evidence, however, is against such revolutionary
Nor have I found anything to support Stretton’s claim that, because he allegedly improperly
admitted a number of ‘gentlemen’ into St. Paul’s Lodge, Anderson was called before a
committee of operative masons, made up of Sir Christopher Wren, Thomas Strong,
William Bray and Robert Padgett, and was expelled from Operative free-masonry (see
Guild Masonry in the Making 1918, by C.H.Merz, pp. 316-317). Thomas Strong certainly
couldn’t have been involved because he died in 1681. It is also unlikely because there
were no Constitutions at that time, and the rule that “It is not in the power of any man to
make innovation….”etc. was not adopted until 24th June 1723.
It is also unlikely because, at that time, it would not have been much of an innovation to
admit gentlemen into freemasonry because, by then, such practises were common, and it
is only necessary to remember the names of Ashmole and Randle Holme III to know that
that was so.
Nor is it possible that, in 1715, after allegedly being expelled, Anderson and his ‘gentleman
friends’ went off to form four new lodges (viz. Antiquity, the Crown, the Apple Tree, and
the Rummer and Grapes in Westminster) because Antiquity Lodge was founded in 1691
and, in any case, did not assume the name Antiquity until 1760; that which met at the
Crown was founded in 1712; that which met at the Apple Tree was the lodge which
provided the first Grand Master in 1717 and was already well-established in 1715; and that
which met at the Rummer and Grapes was the least operative of all, its members being a
mixture of nobles, baronets, knights, army officers, clergymen and gentlemen, most of
whom lived and worked in and around Westminster.
Given the foregoing, therefore, it should come as no surprise to learn that, having spent
years vilifying Anderson as a thief, traitor, rascal and scamp for allegedly stealing the ritual
of speculative freemasonry from the Operatives, Stretton should eventually relent and
admit to having been mistaken. In fact, on 1st April, 1910, he wrote to Miss A. Bothwell-
Gosse to say “You will see that after all Anderson has not in fact given away any part of the
Operative system” and, shortly before his death, admitted “that Anderson’s narrative of the
formation of the English Grand Lodge in 1717 was most true and correct…” (see
W.B.Hextall’s Freemasonry after 1700 AD in AQC 28, 1915).
Yarker was never convinced by Stretton’s vilification of Anderson and on page 15 of his
1911 Ritual stated “Anderson was no doubt an Aberdeen Mason and he seems to have
done nothing of the nature of which the Guild accuses him. The System he ‘digested’ was
that of the Scottish lodges” and he specifically mentioned the Houghfood (sic) Lodge under
Robert Pringle, the St. John Lodge at Kelso under Sir John Pringle which dates from 1701,
and the Melrose Time Immemorial Lodge. It also needs to be remembered that the James
Anderson who wrote the Constitutions of 1723 was the son of James Anderson, the longserving
clerk of the masonic lodge at Aberdeen and, in David Stevenson’s opinion, “The
two James Andersons, father and son, bridge the gap between the Scottish lodges of the
seventeenth century and the English Grand Lodge of the eighteenth….” (see The first
Freemasons, 2001, p.149). Moreover, that opinion was shared by A.L.Miller, a Past
Master of the lodge in Aberdeen, who wrote that “It has been shown that Dr. Anderson
would have had opportunities in his youth of acquiring some knowledge of Scottish
Masonry, and that he may himself have become a member of the Lodge of
Aberdeen” (The Connection of Dr. James Anderson of the ‘Constitutions’ with Aberdeen
and Aberdeen University in AQC 36 (1923).
R.F.Gould similarly believed that Anderson drafted the Constitutions of 1723 by drawing on
his knowledge of Scottish freemasonry and, as long ago as 1890, wrote that Anderson was
not only a graduate of Marischal College, Aberdeen, but “also a graduate of the Masonic
Lodge in that city” (see On the Antiquity of Masonic Symbolism in AQC Vol 3), which is an
opinion that has since been supported by David Stevenson (see his James Anderson:
Man & Mason, 2002).
It should also be noted that, in recent years, there has been a complete volte face
concerning Anderson, and the current mood would seem to be to excuse him from any
criticism whatsoever concerning the Constitutions of 1723 (a) because he wasn’t important
enough (see p. 64 of Ric Berman’s The Foundations of Modern Freemasonry, 2012); (b)
because “The 1723 edition of the Book of Constitutions was far from being the sole work of
Anderson” (as explained in The production of the English Book of Constitutions in the
Eighteenth Century, 2007, by Andrew Prescott); and (c) If there were any villains, they
would have been those who were appointed to scrutinise Anderson’s draft, i.e. The
fourteen ‘learned brothers’ appointed by Montague on 27th 1721 who, presumably, were
the “senior members of the Grand Lodge” referred to by Andrew Prescott in The First
Mention of Grand Lodge? published in The Square for June 2010.
And finally, as far as ritual is concerned, it is possibly also worth mentioning a comment
made by W.J. Songhurst, a former Secretary of Quatuor Coronati Lodge No. 2076 and
Editor of Ars Quatuor Coronatorum who, in 1919, said that “I have found nothing to justify
a statement that Anderson at any time interfered with Ritual” (amongst the comments
made in reply to J.E.S.Tuckett’s paper The origins of Additional degrees in AQC Vol 32).
The bottom line is that Stretton was wrong to accuse Anderson of having stolen the
ritual of accepted freemasonry from the English Guild of operative masons. He didn’t. He
drew on his knowledge of Scottish freemasonry as is also suggested by his use of certain
words when drafting the Constitutions.
THE GRAND MASTER MASONS’ RODS
All members of this Society know that the Grand Master Masons’ rods are
distinguishing characteristics of this Society, and are neither wands nor sceptres. They are
measuring rods by which, with the aid of Pythagoras’s Theorem, and working together,
they can create right-angled triangles for the purpose of setting-out the ground for any
new building. That of the 1st GMM is five units long and is coloured blue; that of the 2nd
GMM is four units long and is coloured red; and that of the 3rd GMM is three units long
and is coloured black. And they use those rods, in a manner somewhat similar to the
harpodonaptae (i.e. rope-stretchers) of ancient Egypt, who used ropes knotted into lengths
of 3,4 and 5 units for surveying purposes (see F.Seal-Coon’s An Old-Time ‘Operative’
Midsummer Ceremony in AQC Vol 105, 1992, p.164).
I have no wish to flog this horse to death so can only suggest that if anyone wants
to find out more about the use of those rods, they should search through Charles Merz’s
book Guild Masonry in the Making; or, if they’re pressed for time, simply ‘google’ The
Secret Meaning of the 47th Proposition of Euclid by Abraham Benjamin. Alternatively, if
they’re only interested in finding out about the colours of the rods, or who each rod relates
to (e.g. Osiris, Isis or Horus) they should read J.S.M.Ward’s book Freemasonry and the
Ancient Gods, 1921.
The only reason I am mentioning them now is that I am anxious that members of
this Society should know about something I encountered when reading Gould’s History of
Freemasonry Vol. II in which (on page 401) he described an 18-inch mahogany ruler on
which were engraved the names of William Baron, John Drake and John Baron, and the
words “of Yorke” and the date 1663. In that book, unfortunately, Gould made little of that
ruler, but the late Revd. Neville Barker Cryer didn’t and, in his York Mysteries Revealed
(2006) provided not only an illustration of it (on page 218) but also (on page 189) an
explanation of its purpose, originally provided by Yarker which reads: “The length of the
rule is a proof of the reality of Free Masonry at York in 1663. Every Mason knows that
though the Society had three Grand Masters it has now only one, but the old system of
three has been restored for the 2nd Temple in the Arch degree. This 18-inch rule would
belong to either John Baron or John Drake, and his two colleagues would have one of 24
inches and 30 inches respectively: 18 + 24 + 30 = 72”. 6 feet or 2 yards. By placing the
three together the square angle could be formed, and this has always been an emblem of
the Master in the Chair, and as a Past Master by presenting the 47th problem of Euclid’.
And what is even more helpful is that, on page 190, Cryer provided further evidence
of three identical rods being used for a similar purpose in Ireland in 1934.
I consider it important for members of this Society to know why we have three
Grand Master Masons and what their rods are used for, because it justifies the existence
of one of the Society’s most important characteristics. Once they have absorbed that,
they might then choose to ask themselves whether there is anything significant in the fact
In modern Craft masonry, the first three steps taken by an Entered Apprentice towards the
WMs pedestal get longer with each step (3,4,5?);
An Entered Apprentice perambulates his lodge three times, a Fellowcraft four, and a
Master Mason five times;
Pythagoras’s Theorem was illustrated on the front of Anderson’s Constitutions of 1723;
The Craft still has three Grand Masters in that they have a Grand Master, a Deputy, and an
Assistant Grand Master, one of whom “was invested and installed into the chair of Hiram
Abiff” by the Duke of Montague in 1721 (i.e. Before the legend of Hiram Abiff had been
adopted by the Moderns).
They might also care to note that, at some point, the Royal Arch, Cryptic, and the Allied
Degrees, all require a triad of Master Masons to work their ceremonies, and that Cryptic
and Allied freely acknowledge their Operative origins.
THE ‘CLEAN HAND’ SIGN
The modern Operatives use the Clean Hand Sign for three reasons; (a) as a sign
of openness and respect in the same way as a serviceman in the Armed Forces salutes
an officer; (b) to show that the person giving the sign has nothing in their hand which
might be used as a weapon; and (c) to signify assent to suggestions or propositions made
on the floor of the Lodge.
The thing which puzzles me, however, is why and when it was decided to give that
sign ‘under-hand’, as distinct from more openly. By which I mean to give the sign with the
open right hand pointing downwards (i.e. Below waist level and in front of the right thigh)
as distinct from the manner described by Stretton, which was to raise the open right hand
to the level of the right shoulder (fingers and thumb extended, palm facing forward) with
the tip of the thumb touching the right shoulder, in a manner somewhat similar to the way
in which the Scouts give their salute. He described it (with accompanying diagrams) in
letters to Dr. William Hammond on 20th September 1909 and Miss A. Bothwell Gosse on
29th September, 1909, copies of which are retained in the Society’s archives. But what
particularly interests me is that I am told there are other freemasons who still use that sign
today, which they describe as their ‘God preserve the Craft’ sign.
I can think of only two reasons why the Society might have changed their sign from
pointing up to pointing down. One is simply to be different. And the other is to enable
them to introduce a new element into the sign, by which I mean Hindu and/or Hebrew
symbolism. In which connection I have discovered that – in giving the sign with the open
right hand angled downwards – the person giving it is wishing the recipient happiness,
peace and prosperity and protection from the ‘evil eye’. It is a sign used by both Hindus
and Jews and is usually referred to as the ‘Hamsa Hand’. And, if that was the reason for
introducing it, two of the Society’s members who might have pressed for such a change
could have been J.S.M. Ward (who wrote Freemasonry and the Ancient Gods ) or Bernard
Springett (who wrote The Secret Sects of Syria and the Lebanon ), both of whom had
an interest in Eastern Symbolism.
If anyone feels disposed to research why and when the Society changed the
manner in which the Clean Hand Sign is given, or whether there are any other Orders
which still use the hand-pointing-up version today, it would be interesting to know. In the
meantime, those with an interest in symbolism might find the word ‘Hamsa’ well worth
looking-up on Wikipedia.
WERE STONEMASONS EVER DIVIDED INTO ‘SQUARE’ AND ‘ARCH’ MASONS?
Although some of Stretton’s contemporaries may have been convinced by this
claim, and despite the fact that working and retired masons, architects, historians,
lecturers and building consultants have been approached on the subject, not once – so far
– have I come across a shred of evidence to support Stretton’s claim that the operative
masons were ever divided into Square and Arch masons. To me, it doesn’t make sense.
What is more, although words such as freemason, banker mason, rough mason, quarrier,
squarer, hewer, layer, setter, waller, sculptor, moulder, fixer, carver, image-maker and
statuary mason all appear in the Fabric Rolls and Accounts of ancient building projects, not
once – so far – have I encountered a distinction between square and arch masons. In
2009, for example, J.W.Campbell provided a breakdown of masons engaged on the
rebuilding of St. Paul’s Cathedral by name and by trade (Building a Fortune: The Finances
of the Stonemasons Working on the Rebuilding of St. Paul’s Cathedral 1675-1720) but not
once did he find it necessary to distinguish between square and arch masons. Nor did
Knoop and Jones in their book The Genesis of Freemasonry, 1947. Furthermore, although
there are several paintings of masons’ lodges in existence (e.g. Canaletto’s ‘The Masons’
Yard’ and Van Eyck’s ‘St. Barbara’), I have never seen one in which a circular masons’
lodge (such as described by Stretton) is depicted.
Stretton, of course, was adamant on the matter and frequently cited the church of
St. Mary-le-Bow in Cheapside, London, as proof, not only of the existence of a Guild of
Arch Masons, but also of the excellence of their work. Which is the reason I consider it
necessary to point out that no record of any such Guild has yet been found in England,
either by myself or – so far as I know – by anyone else (See, for instance, Tom Hoffman’s
Guilds and related organisations in Great Britain and Ireland, 2011). More importantly, it is
known that the church of St. Mary-le-Bow acquired its alternative name of St. Mary de
Arcubus in the 13th century not because of any alleged Arch Guild but because it was
chosen as the seat of the Archbishop of Canterbury’s Court of Arches, which was an
ecclesiastical court which took its name from the place where it met in the church.
As far as I am concerned, history shows that stonemasons (no matter what they are
called or how they are classified) have always been able to construct arches and other
curved surfaces and, if proof is required, one has only to look at the arches built by the
Romans e.g. For the Colosseum or Pantheon in Rome, or the aqueducts in France, or the
Taq-i Kisra (or Ctesiphon Arch) built by the Persians in the 6th century, which is possibly
still the largest arch in the world. Or, if you would prefer something more ‘local’ look up on
Google (or, better still, go to see) the Chesterton Windmill near Warwick, which dates from
1632 and has been linked to the names of Inigo Jones and John Stone (who was one of a
family of masons).
All of which raises the question of why Stretton made such a claim, which is
something for which there would seem to be only two answers. Either he made a mistake
and overlooked (or didn’t know about) the role of the Bricklayers, who were sometimes
referred to as ‘red masons’ and became prominent in the building of arches circa 1700.
(See An Investigation of Hand Tools used for English Cut-and-Rubbed and Gauged
Brickwork by Gerard Lynch, David Watt and Belinda Colton); or W.B.Hextall’s ‘Free-Mason’
about 1700 AD in AQC 28, in which it is explained that “Bricklayer’s Work in the City is of
various kinds, viz. Tyling, Walling, Chimney-work, and Paving with Bricks and Tiles. But in
the Country ’tis common for the Bricklayers’ Trade to comprehend the Masons and
Plasterers also….””) Or, he didn’t know that, in former times, gifted Masons who had
completed the necessary training, would sometimes travel as elite artisans to wherever a
building had reached a stage where their expertise was required for arches, vaulted roofs
or whatever, and be taken on for the duration of that job. Afterwards they could return to
their former place of employment and status or, if they had caught the eye of their
employer, they might be offered permanent employment or work elsewhere. This
explanation was suggested to me some years ago by Bill Summers who added that “Such
men were the cream of their trade – but not the creme-de-la-creme. The real ‘top dogs’
were the Sculptors and Carvers. But they were all under the same Guild umbrella”.
Which, if either, of these explanations is nearer the truth, or whether or not there is
some other explanation, I leave for others to discover. In the meantime, I stand by my
current position which is that Stretton was wrong, and masons were never divided into
Square and Arch masons. In that connection, however, readers may be interested to know
that on 30th November 2006 I consulted the Rev. Neville Barker Cryer ( a former member
of this Society) as to whether or not he was aware of any evidence to decide the matter,
and his reply (dated 1st December 2006) was as follows: “What I discovered in a close
scrutiny of the working stonemasons of York was that there were at least 6 different
categories of that trade: quarriers, squarers, layers, carvers, moulders and fixers. If you
understand that the layers were those who placed the square or rectangular pieces in their
position in a wall, whilst the fixers were those who had to set in place a more complicated
item, window tracery, arches and monumental decoration you can, albeit not using the
terms ‘square’ and ‘round’, see where just this idea of two groups comes from”.
THE SWASTIKA IN OPERATIVE FREE-MASONRY
Stretton and Yarker made a big thing of the importance of the swastika to Guild
operative masons because it allegedly symbolised the axial rotation of the universe around
the Pole Star, the only stable star in the Heavens and the seat of power of God. Stretton
explained it in his letters to Yarker and Miss Bothwell Gosse, and habitually appended a
swastika to his signature, so that anyone ‘in the know’ would understand that he
associated himself with the early operative masons. Yarker wrote about it in The Arcane
Schools, in his paper The Pole Star and Masonry, and in the Guild Rites of the Worshipful
Society of Free Masons (1911). And it is comprehensively explained by Charles H. Merz
in his book Guild Masonry in the Making (especially on pages 12 – 14). Thomas Carr went
even further by ensuring that the swastika was not only explained but also displayed on
the cover of his book The Ritual of the Operative Free Masons (1911). And so widely
accepted was the relationship between the Operatives and the swastika that it was related
as fact by P.T. Runton in his book The Key to Masonic Initiation, published in 1942.
Importantly, Runton, was not only a freemason but also an architect.
That having been explained, I now consider it necessary to point out that I do not
share their conviction, solely because I can find no independent evidence to support it.
What is more, so far as I know, the swastika is not mentioned in the rituals of any other
Order of freemasonry. That it was occasionally used as a mason’s mark (as explained by
J.W.Bloe in Masons’ Marks in Herefordshire and Ken Brindal in The Mason Mark ) I do not
doubt. I can also accept that, in days gone by, it was carved into the outside walls of
churches (such as the old Templar church in Garway, Herefordshire) and, in more recent
years, has been carved into the walls of public buildings all over the country (see Walls,
floors and rocks; England and its swastikas by Laurence Cawley, which is accessible online).
None of those carvings, unfortunately, prove that the swastika was of ritual
significance to the operatives, but only that it was interesting, easy to make, and a
universally-recognised symbol of good fortune.
Nor am I the only one to doubt the views of Stretton and Yarker on this subject.
Witness, for example, the comments of Dr. Albert Churchyard in The Arcana of
Freemasonry (1915) who (on page 71) wrote: “Some of the exponents of Operative
Masonry say that the Swastika is a Symbol of Axial Rotation and refers to the Pole Star
and the rotation of the Great Bear around it; that it symbolises the Great Ruler of the
Universe, who alone was stationary and stable as the North Star, while all the rest of the
universe revolves around Him! This Symbol or Sign does not mean anything of the kind.
It is a pure theory without any foundation in fact, except imagination, and I challenge any
Operative Mason to bring forward any facts to prove and support their theory”.
There is, of course, evidence of the Swastika being used by other Societies and
Orders, such as the SRIA, the Golden Dawn and the Fratres Lucis (otherwise known as
the Order of the Swastika) described by Ellic Howe in Fringe Masonry in England 1870-85,
in AQC Vol 85, 1972. But none of those are masonic Orders per se or have any
connection with the building trade.
We therefore find ourselves at something of am impasse. Either we can accept the
claims of Stretton and Yarker which have stood the test of time and, despite the absence
of proof, assume they were telling the truth concerning the swastika. Or we can accept the
opposing view of Dr. Albert Churchyard and discard (or suspend) our use of the swastika
unless or until some convincing proof comes to light to disprove that rejection.
In that respect, however, I consider it important to point out two things. Firstly, the
opinion of John Hamill who wrote that Yarker “put blind faith in ancient writers who today
would be dismissed as fantasists” and accepted uncritically ‘evidence’ invented by others
(see John Yarker: Masonic Charlatan in AQC Vol. 109, 1996). Secondly, the opinion of
Stephen Duffell who, in a biographical assessment of Stretton which has nothing to do
with freemasonry, concluded that his “belief in himself must have coloured his historical
writings. He was a prolific author and wrote the first histories of many railways. His style
was convincing, and he would weave fact and what is now known to be fiction so well, that
much of Stretton’s fiction has been repeated as fact by later authors” (see Clement
E.Stretton, Railway engineer, historian and collector in the Journal of the Railway & Canal
Historical Society, Vol. 35 Part 3 No. 193 November 2005).
DID THE ANTIENT OPERATIVES WORK A SYSTEM OF SEVEN DEGREES?
I believe that they did, and my reasons for saying so are:
I am satisfied that “before 1717 Freemasonry possessed a Store of Legend, Tradition and
Symbolism of wide extent”, as spelled out by J.E.S.Tuckett in The origin of Additional
Degrees in AQC Vol 32 (1919.
As well as ceremonies, that ‘Store’ included lectures, customs, traditional practices and
dramas (such as the Foundation ceremony of the Operatives described by F.W.Seal-Coon
in AQC Vol 105 pp.161-171) all of which had been accumulated since, at least, the
building of King Solomon’s Temple in the mid-10th century BCE.
Even though some of those ceremonies explained things said or done in Craft lodges (see
N.B.Cryer’s 2007 paper on The importance of the Mark for Masonic degrees), the Premier
Grand Lodge of England chose to ignore that ‘Store’ in favour of three basic Degrees,
although their example was not followed everywhere. (See: (a) C.J. Scott’s explanation of
how the Mark degree – despite being discarded in England – has always been “recognised
as an integral part of ancient Masonry by the Grand Lodge of Scotland, the Grand Royal
Arch Chapters of Scotland, Ireland, Canada and the United States of America” in An
inquiry into early Freemasonry at Bradford and neighbourhood, 1713-1873; (b) Rule 71 of
the Book of Constitutions of the Grand Lodge of Antient, Free and Accepted Masons of
New Zealand which states: “Grand Lodge recognises the degrees of Entered Apprentice,
Fellowcraft, Master Mason, Mark Master, Excellent Master and the Royal Arch as being
pure Antient Freemasonry”; and (c) John Mandleberg’s explanation of how various forms
of the Mark degree survived, sometimes unofficially, in Cornwall, especially John Knight’s
system, the first seven degrees of which corresponded with the seven degrees of the
Operatives (see Marking Well, 2006, Ed. by Andrew Prescott, p.85).
Gradually, because of the reluctance of a few masons to see their ancient ceremonies
abandoned, some of the degrees of Antient freemasonry were resurrected (e.g. Royal
Arch, Mark, Ark Mariner, and the Order of Athelstan), whilst others – such as the extended
version of the Installation ceremony – have become ‘permissible’. And, although some
degrees might have disappeared (e.g. Virtual Master, Passing the Bridge, and the Link and
Wrestle) others – such as the Cryptic Degrees, and those of the Allied Degrees – have
been imported and have flourished.
Like the Mark, the degrees worked by this Society were similarly rescued from oblivion by
the reluctance of a few masons to see ancient ceremonies abandoned, and the best
known of those few were Clement Edwin Stretton and John Yarker. Stretton provided the
‘drive’ and Yarker provided the academic support and, although neither of them lived long
enough to see the Society come into existence, they made a start by reviving two
moribund Guild lodges in Leicestershire for which Yarker (who was a member of one of
them) provided a ritual, as already explained.
Yarker’s ritual drew together and explained in modern terms the two main Biblical accounts
(i.e. in 1 Kings and 2 Chronicles) of the building of King Solomon’s Temple. Readers may
be relieved to know that it is not proposed to analyse that explanation in detail but only to
describe the one thing which will make this answer intelligible, which is the make-up of the
workforce employed on that edifice which comprised: 3 Grand Masters, 15 Passed
Masters, 3,300 Menatzchim or Foremen, 80,000 fellers and labourers in the Forest of
Lebanon, and 70,000 Ish Chotzeb and Ish Sabbal, which he sub-divided into Erectors,
Fitters and Markers, Labourers and Apprentices. Thus, the masons employed on the
Temple comprised Grand Master Masons (VIIº), Passed Masters (VIº), Menatzchim or
Foremen (Vº),Erectors (IVº), Fitters and Markers (IIIº), Labourers (IIº) and Apprentices(Iº).
All of which, hopefully, explains why – in this case – I can live with the claims of Stretton
and Yarker that the ancient masons – in one form or another – worked a system of seven
degrees. It might even have been more.
A FINAL WORD
The claims of Stretton and Yarker provide fertile ground for researchers and I
genuinely hope that members of this Society will continue to study their writings with a
view to distinguishing fact from fiction. But one thing is certain. Without their input in the
early years of the 20th century, there would be no such organisation as the Operatives
today, which would be a tragedy, because no other masonic organisation encourages its
members to study and reflect upon the achievements of the ancient stonemasons more
than this Society.
That having been said, however, no one should lose sight of two things. Firstly,
John Hamill’s assessment of Yarker in AQC 109 in which he wrote that: “What did Yarker
achieve? Sadly, very little. His writings have been ignored and dismissed and research
since his death have shown up the inaccuracy of his central thesis. Of the Orders he
attempted to establish only Eri, Light and the Operatives survive, much altered from the
originals he knew.” And, secondly, history’s assessment of Stretton, which can easily be
found by typing ‘Clement Edwin Stretton, railway historian’ into Google where they will find
countless references to him as a “pedlar of fabricated information” who was “unreliable”
and “unscrupulous in his handling of primary sources”. I prefer Stephen Duffell’s
assessment, however, in the Journal of the Railway & Canal Historical Society, which was
that “Life and nature is a balance between good and bad. Stretton’s abilities to interpret
the historical record is best forgotten, but his promotion of safety matters and his bequest
of primary source material should be acknowledged”.
In fact, I believe this Society has a lot to thank them for. Neither Stretton nor Yarker
were degree-mongers and I am convinced that – whether right or wrong – they both
genuinely believed in the importance and the accuracy of their claims.