History of Mark Master Masons

Mark and Royal Ark Degrees
Provincial Grand Lodge of Mark Master Masons of Middlesex

In his book Middlesex Matters Professor Allan Beaver notes; “It is highly likely that some of the first masonic meetings in Middlesex were held at the beginning of the eighteenth century at the Palace of Cannons in Edgware which was built by the first Duke of Chandos James Brydges” (After whom one of our Mark Lodges was named, this lodge now meets in Sofia Bulgaria) Three of the four lodges that formed the first Premier Grand Lodge at the beginning of the eighteenth century met within the boundaries of the old county of Middlesex. All four lodges were simply named after the public houses where they were accustomed to meet, the Goose and Gridiron Ale -house in St. Paul's

Church-yard (now called Lodge of Antiquity No. 2); the Crown Ale-house in Parker's Lane off Drury Lane; the Apple- Tree Tavern in Charles Street, Covent Garden ( now called Lodge of Fortitude and Old Cumberland No. 12); and the Rummer and Grapes Tavern in Channel Row, Westminster (now called Royal Somerset House and Inverness Lodge No. IV). While the three London lodges were mainly operative lodges, the Rummer and Grapes, by the Palace of Westminster, appears to have been primarily a lodge of accepted and speculative gentlemen masons. In those far off days Freemasonry was in many ways different from what it is today and Middlesex as a County, certainly was different, including what is now part of London.

One of the earliest references to the practice of Mark Masonry in England is found in the minutes of the Chapter of Friendship dated 1st September 1769.

At the Royal Ark Chapter held at the George Tavern in Portsmouth on First Sept Seventeen hundred and sixty nine = Present Thomas Dunkerley Esq, William Cook “Z” Samuel Palmer “H” Thomas Scanville “J” The Pro G.M. Thomas Dunkerley bro’t the Warrant of the Chapter and having lately rec’d the Mark he made the bre’n “Mark Masons” and “Mark Masters and each chause their Mark.

Thomas Dunkerley, a natural son of the Prince of Wales (later King George IV), Dunckerley's claim of royal paternity was not universally accepted in his lifetime. On his death at least one contemporary cast doubt on his illegitimacy. Recent studies also claim to refute his own version of his parentage. He is however one of the most influential founding fathers of Freemasonry in England. What is of interest to us in Middlesex is that in 1785, Dunkerley founded the Lodge of Harmony number 255, at the Toy Inn at Hampton Court, presumably as his own home lodge, it is [the second oldest lodge in the Craft Province of Middlesex.

So the Mark Degree has a long history and was in existence by the mid Eighteenth century, indeed there are some references to “the Mark” at even earlier dates and claims one of the great men of the Craft as a member.

Generally throughout the world the Mark degree is an integral part of the Craft or the Holy Royal Ark and in this respect the practice under the English Constitution is the exception. Following the formation of the Untitled Grand Lodge of England in 1813 and their rejection of a resolution to include the Mark degree as part of their jurisdiction on 18th June 1856 the Grand Lodge of Mark Master Masons of England and Wales and the Dominions and Dependencies of the British Crown was formed on 23rd June 1856.

In December 1857 eight Provincial Grand lodges were formed, Hampshire, Berkshire, Kent, Devon, Wiltshire, Surrey South Wales, South Australia and China. There were significant issues around the formation of the new Grand Lodge and it was a number of years before it was recognised by Ireland Scotland and other jurisdictions. The controversy affected the order and as a result the number of lodges dwindled, by 1869 Surrey had only one lodge so on 2nd June 1870 the Province of Middlesex and Surrey was constituted at Guildford. The Grand Master the Rev George Raymond Portal MA “The founder of the Mark Benevolent Fund” presided and installed Colonel Francis Burdett, later Sir Francis Burdett as the Provincial Grand Master.

During the next 22 years under the guidance of Sir Francis Burdett the new province thrived and by 1891 the number of lodges had gone from 4 founding lodges to 37 Lodges and 822 members.

Following the death of Sir Francis Burdett, Mark Grand Lodge resolved on 6th September 1892

  1. That the province of Middlesex and Surrey be and is hereby abolished
  2. That all Lodges meeting within a radius of 2 miles from Mark Masons Hall belong to the London District and under direct control of Grand Lodge
  3. That all Lodges outside this radius in the County of Middlesex be constituted a Province by the title of The Provincial Grand Lodge of Middlesex.

There were 11 founding lodges of the new Province, Keystone No 3, Carnarvon No 7 which later moved to London, Hiram No 13 which later moved to Surrey, Temple No 173, Sir Francis Burdett No 181, Duke of Connaught No 199, Clapton No 236 which subsequently changed its name to Ashlar, High Cross No 284, Temperance No 350 which subsequently changed its name to Emblematic, Royal Savoy No 355, Chiswick No 357 and Hampton Court No 488. Grosvenor No 144 became a London lodge under the 2 mile rule but later returned to Middlesex.

On Saturday 24th November 1892 at the Mitre Hotel, Hampton Court the Pro Grand Master the Earl of Euston assisted by the PGM’s of Buckinghamshire, Surrey and Lincolnshire consecrated Hampton Court Lodge No 448. The Pro Grand Master then constituted the Provincial Grand Lodge of Middlesex “in the presence of probably the largest and most influential gathering of Mark Master Masons ever assembled outside of Grand Lodge” and installed Lt Col Arthur Bott Cook as the Provincial Grand Master. A Silver gilt Provincial Grand Masters jewel, originally presented to R.W.Bro Lt Col Cook in 1892 is still worn by the incumbent Provincial Grand Master.

As a County, Middlesex derives its name from the fact that it lay midway between the Anglo Saxon kingdoms of Essex and Wessex. It is thought that the County probably came into being in 866; mention is made in the Doomsday Book, of the Forest of Middlesex. It stretched north of the River Thames from 3 miles east to 17 miles west of the City of London with the rivers Colne in the west and Lea in the east.

In 1888, under the Local Government Act, nearly 50 square miles were transferred to the County of London. When the Mark Province of Middlesex was established in 1892 the Provincial boundary was set as the county boundary at that time and that has remained in place until this day. This explains why we currently have lodges meeting in Uxbridge in the west and the Aldgate area just outside the City of London in the east as well as in Harrow and Southgate. We also have a number of lodges meeting in Mark Masons Hall as well as other masonic locations in what is the newer Province of London but are still within the Middlesex Mark Provencal boundary.