Today we commemorate the world’s oldest masonic lodge meeting.

The image below is of the surviving minute book from Lodge Aitchison’s Haven, dated January 9th, 1598.*

This is the earliest known Lodge Minute in the world.

Two other Lodges have over the years professed to be the world’s first.

However, there is no written evidence in the form of Minute books to back up the claims of The Lodge of Edinburgh (Mary’s Chapel) No.1, and Lodge Mother Kilwinning, No. 0.

Aitchison’s Haven cannot be found on today’s maps. It lay to the east of Musselburgh between Levenhall and the little harbour of Morrison’s Haven, which is on the outskirts of Prestonpans.
There is much to be learned from the 80 or so words of this earliest minute.

The candidate, Robert Widderspone, was already an Entered Pentis [Apprentice] on the day of the meeting, before being made a Fellow of Craft.

Therefore, this cannot have been the first meeting of the Lodge but, rather, the first record of a Lodge meeting.

There must have been a previous meeting, at which Robert Widderspone had been Initiated.

In fact, there must have been more than just one meeting, because it is highly unlikely that all eight Fellows of Craft, who are named, would have been Initiated and Passed to the Fellow of Craft in a single, even earlier, meeting of the Lodge.

In short, it is clear the Lodge had meetings prior to January the 9th 1598, but we cannot know when, nor how many, due to a lack of records.

Here is the Minutes in full:

The IX day of Januerie the Zeir [year] of God upon ye quhilk [which] day Robert Widderspone was maid [a] fellow of Craft in ye presens [presence] of Wilzam Aytone Elder, Johne Fender being Warden, Johne Pedden Thomas Pettencrief John Crafurd George Aytone Wilzame Aytone younger Hendrie Petticrief all fellowis of Craft upon ye quhilk day he chois [chose] George Aytone Johne Pedden to be his intenders [attenders] and instructouris [instructors] and also ye said Robert hes [he has] payit [paid] his xx sh. [twenty shillings] and his gluffis [gloves] to everie Maister as efferis [afterwards].

The XI day of Januarie 1598 Upon quhilk day Alexander Cubie was enterit [entered] prenteis [apprentice] to Georg Aytone the quhilk day George Aytone ablishit [obliged] himself to haif [have] no mo [more] prentissis withput [without] the license of the brither [brethren] of ye Ludg in presens of Johne Fender Warden for ye present Wilzame Aytone elder deacone Johne Pedden Johne Crafurd Thomas Petticrief Wilzam Aytone zounger Hendrie Petticrief Georg Aytone clark for ye present Robert Widderspone enterit prentises Richard Petticrief Archibald Glene Ninian gumerie James Petticrief of ye quhilk enterit prentiseis Alexander Cubie chois Archibald Glene and James Petticrief to be his instructoris also ye said Alexander Cubie hes payit xx sh and his gluifis.

Upon the XXVIII day of May Johne Petticrief hes payit his x sh to ye buiking [booking] of himself his prentischip being expyrit [expired] upone ye viii day of Mairch ye zeir of God 1599 and hes payit bot [but] x sh becaus he was ane [a] free manys sone [free man son – son of a free man] and hes payit his gluifis to ye cumpanie [company] yat was conwinit [convened] Johne Fender Wairden for the present Wilzame Aytone elder deacone Johne Crafurd Thomas Petticrief George Aytone Hendrie Petticrief enterit prentiss Ordainit [illegible] James Petticrief Wilzame Petticrief [illegible] the said James Petticrief.

*Notice that there are two years given – 1598 and 1599. This is because James VI (1566 – 1625) proclaimed that Scotland should start the year on 1 January from 1600.

Following the Union of the Crowns in 1603 he became James I of England, but no such legal change took place south of the border where the new year began on 25 March until 1752.

As a result, the same day in January, February or March (up to 24th) can be in different years. In the case of the Aitchison’s Haven Minutes the date 9 January 1598 is, in today’s dating system, 1599.

These Minutes were written in what is known as Middle Scots. We have inserted clarification in parentheses i.e. ‘[ ]’ but where ‘[illegible]’ is given this indicates that there is a word that cannot be read.

The Oldest Lodge in the World – Pt II

By Robert L D Cooper, Curator Emeritus, The Grand Lodge of Scotland

Following last week’s post on the above subject we received so many queries and questions that a second post (at least) on the same subject was thought worthwhile.

Firstly, I must make it clear that lodge Aitchison’s Haven was a lodge of operative masons.

That fact raises a very important question. Why is a lodge of operative masons considered to be different from a Lodge of, so called, Speculative Masons?

This artificial division fosters the idea that Scottish Lodges before
the existence of any Grand Lodges (that is, before 1717) were not
‘modern’ or Speculative Lodges.

To explain further:

Stonemason members of so-called, operative lodges worked during the day on various projects like building churches, castles and houses.

However, when in their lodges they were not building anything physical, they used no stone except for symbolic purposes.

To suggest, therefore, that stonemasons, because they were stonemason, could not be Speculative Freemasons seems to be a weak argument.

As the 17th century progressed this argument becomes even less
convincing because these lodges of stonemasons gradually admitted non-stonemasons into their ranks.

The very first of these were aristocrats who became members of The Lodge of Edinburgh in 1634. They participated in the same ceremonies as the stonemason members and to argue that they were Speculative Freemasons (because they were not working stonemasons) seems to be a very strange way of looking at the membership on these lodges.

In other words although these two ‘types’ were members of the same lodge participating in the same ceremonies some were Speculative Freemasons and the others were not!

Towards the end of the 17th century non-stonemasons began to dominate these lodges the best example of this type of Speculative Lodge with a few stonemasons as members is The Lodge of Aberdeen.

The roll of members dating from 1670 shows that 80% of the members were not stonemasons but were drawn from all levels of Scottish society.

Very early in the 18th century we find the first entirely Speculative
Lodge. Founded in 1702 by local landowners The Haughfoot Lodge, (near Stow in the Scottish Boarders), did not have a single stonemason as a member.

From this we can see that before the existence of any Grand Lodges, Scotland had all possible permutations of Lodge members: lodges with only stonemasons as members, lodges with a mixed membership (with stonemasons dominating), lodges with a mixed membership (with non-stonemasons dominating) and Lodges with entirely non-stonemasons present and which were therefore entirely Speculative Lodges.

This transition from lodges with an operative membership to Lodges with a membership of entirely Speculative Masons can only be traced in Scottish Lodge records, written by the masons of the time showing the development of their lodges from operative to Speculative Lodges.

These records are of the utmost importance for our understanding of the origins of Freemasonry, before the existence of any Grand Lodges.

The impact of this markedly different history is still visible (and
audible!) in Scottish Freemasonry today but that is another story for
another time.

• Aitcheson’s (also spelt Acheson’s, Aitchison’s) Haven was a port lying west of the village of Prestonpans. It was also known as Newhaven and Morrison’s Haven as different times. The map shown here is dated 1630 and is therefore contemporary with the earliest Minutes of the Lodge. Sadly, little now remains of the port. After falling into disuse the harbour was filled in and the area landscaped in the 1920’s by which time the Lodge had also ceased to exist becoming dormant in 1853.

By retired Grand Lodge Curator,
Brother Robert LD Cooper.


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