Inside a Masonic Lodge

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The Marmion 1060 Lodge room

Masonic lodges meet in thousands of buildings up and down the country and whilst all lodges share a similar layout, the rooms themselves come in all shapes and sizes. Some exist in purpose built buildings, others like the premises at 29 Lichfield Street have been converted from their original use. Some lodges meet in rented rooms and have to set up their lodges every time they meet. The above photo was taken from the Senior Warden's chair looking at the Worshipful Master's chair. In the right foreground is the Junior Warden's chair. The Lodge banner can be seen to the right of the Worshipful Master's chair.

In the absence of written records, we have no real idea of how Lodge meetings were originally held. However, if we accept the popular view that modern Freemasonry is derived from medieval stonemasons’ guilds, then we have a basis upon which we can build a coherent and feasible theory. (See also our page “The Origins of Freemasonry?”).

In medieval times, the building of a church, cathedral, castle or manor house was a substantial undertaking that would have taken many years, even decades to finish; for example, York Minster took 252 years to complete. Consequently, the stonemasons would have needed some where to live, work and meet. The word “lodge” is thought to derive from the word “lodgement”, which was a form of lean to, built against the side of an existing structure. The lodge would have been a cross between a site office, a workshop, a meeting place, a dining room and a recreation room.

If modern Freemasonry did indeed develop from these stonemasons’ lodges, at some point, they began to admit members who were not actual stonemasons. It is from this that we derive the concept of the “speculative” Freemason, as opposed to an actual or “operative” stonemason. Thus the “speculative” Freemason met to “speculate”. The question then arises: what did they meet to “speculate” about?

Again, we need to look at the history of that period. This was the time of the Renaissance (14th to 17th centuries), when great learning and discoveries were being made in the fields of nature and science. The thinkers of the day met to discuss the liberal arts and sciences (grammar, rhetoric, logic, arithmetic, geometry, music and astronomy) and theories on the natural world they saw around them.

Whilst today such topics are taken for granted and taught in primary and secondary schools, this was a time of great social and political upheaval and some of their topics, for example, whether or not the world was a sphere or flat or whether the Earth orbited around the Sun or the other way round, could not be discussed in public for fear of ridicule or worse, charges of heresy or witchcraft.

Consequently, these speculative Freemasons adopted the customs of the operative stonemasons and met in private, often in a room in a public house or inn. In order to maintain their privacy, they had a guard outside the door called a Tyler and a second guard inside the door called an Inner Guard. These two offices continue to this day.

Unlike today, the Lodge members would sit around a table with the Worshipful Master at the head. Meetings tended to last a lot longer than they do now. As well as the Masonic business and speculative discussion, there would be frequent breaks for refreshments. To facilitate their discussions, members would draw or trace out their theories on the floor in chalk. This concept of using drawings to explain ideas eventually took a permanent form with the introduction of “tracing boards”, which Freemasons use today to explain some of the symbolism used in their ceremonies.

In time, Lodges acquired more permanent accommodation, where the Lodge could be permanently laid out in the fashion more common today. The black and white squared carpet, found in all Lodges, and other symbolic items could be left in place. The Lodge members, rather than sitting around a table, now sit round the edge of the room and refreshments are now taken after the meeting at the "festive board" in a separate dining area.