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Impressment of Masons

A record of the 1590's shows that at that period there were Lodges in existence in Great Britain which had both Operatives and non-Operatives in their membership; and the records of that period indicate that such Lodges had been in existence long before 1590. The first written version of the Old Charges was made it is believed, in the middle of the Fourteenth Century, or during the latter half of it. These Lodges were small in membership, therefore only a few of the men in the building trades were in them. These two facts together suggest that there must have been some special occasions, some particular event, or unusual set of circumstances, at some time and place, to account for these special Masonic organizations. There are two known historical occasions, either one of which would satisfy this theory. One of these has been carefully studied by Bros. Knoop and Jones in a paper published in Economic History, February, 1937, entitled "The Impressment of Masons for Windsor Castle" and to a more limited extent by Knoop, Jones, and Hamer w in The Two Earliest Masonic MSS., pp. 12, 13, 23. On page 12 of the latter they write: For the supply of these wage workers the Crown relied to a considerable extent upon impressment. The practice of pressing masons, as well as other craftsmen and laborers, was very common at this period. (1300 to 1400.) fin some eases orders were issued to sheriffs to take masons and to send them to certain royal works by specified dates; in other cases the master mason or clerk of the works at some particular building operation was authorized to press ' such labor as was required. Occasionally the Crown would authorize the Church or other employers to 'impress masons." After referring to the cases of impressment in Wales, they write on page 23: "The influence exerted, however, was probably slight compared with that exercised by the greatly increased use of impressment from 1344 onwards and in particular by its wholesale adoption in 136S3, when Masons from almost every county in England were assembled in such large numbers at Windsor Castle, that the continuator of the Polychronicon could write that William Wykeham had gathered at Windsor almost all the masons and carpenters in England. Though the chronicler's statement was doubtless an exaggeration, the vast gathering of Masons at Windsor in 136S3 must have marked an epoch in Masonic history and probably contributed more than any other single event to the unification and consolidation of the Masons' customs, and very possibly led to their first being set down in writing." (Note. It does not follow that violence was used in the impressment of masons and carpenters; it Mras the only available means by which large numbers of craftsmen could be brought together at one time and place.) In his The Masonic Poem of 1390, Circa, (page 28) Bro. Roderick H. Baxter notes a similar concentration of craftsmen, a ad, as will transpire from the paragraph, it has one advantage over the above suggestion. He is referring to the Regius MS.: "So far as the location of the writing is concerned, Dr. Begemann, after a careful and minute philological enquiry into the dialects of the country, succeeded in placing it at the South of Worcestershire or Herefordshire or even the North of Gloucestershire. [Dialects in the period hardly stopped short of being separate languages.] Assuming this conclusion to be correct-- and no one, so far as I am aware, has ever tried to controvert it--we have only to examine the architectural remains in this district, to find that great activity of building was proceeding at the time of writing. The cathedrals of Worcester, Hereford and Gloucester--to say nothing of the various abbeys and minor buildings in the neighborhood--all exhibit remarkable traces of the architecture of the period, and although a similarity of activity could of course be traced to other parts of the country, I think this evidence may fairly be accepted as confirmatory of our learned Brother's view [Begemann]. so far as I am personally concerned, I would like to assume that the poem [Regtus MS.] was written for the benefit of the craftsmen engaged in the erection of the beautiful (and unusually placed) cloisters of Gloucester Cathedral, for Mr. Wyatt Papworth tells us, that the work was completed under Abbot Froucester between 1381 and 1412, dates which very nearly coincide with the range of time during which experts have placed the writing. " There is yet a third possibility, although it has no connection with the subject of impressment, and it has the advantage of conforming to an old tradition. This is the possibility that the required set of special circumstances may have occurred at York. According to old records the first church was built there in 627 A.D. (This is according to Bede.) This was destroyed by fire in 741 A.D. In 767 A.D. a second, and much larger church was built, but this also was destroyed by fire in 1069 when Northumbrians attacked the city. In 1070 a Norman, Archbishop Thomas, rebuilt the church; in 1171 a new Choir was built; a new Nave was begun in 1291 and completed in 1340. This latter date brings us into the period presupposed for the original version of the Old Charges, and when, according to this writer's own hypothesis, the first independent, permanent Lodges began to appear. The Presbytery was begun in 1361, completed in 1373. The Choir (presupposing the old one had been lost by fire) was begun in 1380, completed in 1400. In 1405 the central tower was begun, and other equally important operations continued until 1472. (A set of Fabric Rolls is authority for much of this data.) Thus, as Albert G. Mackey says, "For the long period of eight hundred and forty- five years, with some halting, the great work of building a cathedral in the city of York was pursued by Freemasons . . . " (And other buildings also; see Clegg's Mackey's Revised History of Freemasonry, page 1135 ff.) Dr. Begemann placed the writing of the Refries MS. in Herefordshire--Worcestershire--Gloucestershire but the Regius was a copy of an original; the latter may well have been written in York.)`

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