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Clothing and Wages

As a modern student reads the Fabric Rolls, Borough Records, and Statutes of the Middle Ages he sees that nothing burned itself more deeply into the minds of Operative Masons (and other workers) than the bitter and brutal question of wages, and it is little wonder that the "wages of a Master Mason" was a theme carried over into the symbolism of Speculative Freemasonry centuries afterwards. There were three reasons for this : the amount of pay was unjustly small, unbelievably so; wages were not adjusted to a worker's ability or production but were by the state socialism so long in vogue fixed by civil Statutes, and were arbitrarily fixed ; and workers resented the loss of so many days of work each year because of the senseless multiplication of holidays, an evil owed directly to the monks and priests who never tired of their endeavor to have a new workless day set aside for each new saint. A table covering 1351 A.D. (about the time when the first permanent Lodges were formed) to 1495 (the period of the discovery of America) shows that in 1351 a "Master freemason" received 4sh a day; in 1361 the same; in 1495 his summer wages were 6 or 4d, and his winter wages, 5 or 3cl. An "ordinary mason" in 1351 received 3d per day; a "Mason's servant" (or helper) 1,5d; a tiler (or roofer) 3d; a tiler's helper, 1,5d.

The clothing worn by Masons and their wives, sons, and daughters also was prescribed by law, partly to prevent those of the "lower orders" from dressing as well as "their betters," partly because in the Middle Ages liveries or costumes were worn in order to show what craft, profession, art, or class a man belonged to.

Gilbert Stone writes: "Thus by 37 Edw. III, C. 9, it was provided that 'people of handicraft and yeomen' were not to wear cloth of a higher price than forty shillings and their wives and daughters were only permitted to wear, so far as furs were concerned, some of the cheapest kinds . . ." This wearing of a prescribed costume also bit deeply into the minds of Masons, and it helps to explain why in the earliest Lodges so much stress was laid on "being properly clothed," and why gloves were so important-a sign of equality then ; it also helps to explain the proud boast that a Mason's apron, once a badge which proclaimed him a member of the "lower orders" and a workman, was now an honor, more ancient than the Golden Fleece, more honorable than the Star and Garter---as in literal truth it was.

(A History of Labor, by Gilbert Stone; London; George C. Harrap & Co., London; 1921, is not a Masonic book yet few books throw a clearer light on early Masonic history. Where other historians of Medieval Masons and kindred craftsmen fit their narrative into a framework of general or political history, or write of the subject in the terms of an art, Stone primarily sees in the Medieval craftsman a man, and brings his abundance of data to bear on the question, "What was it like to be a workman?" "A List of Selected Books" beginning on Stone's page 403 is one of the best bibliographies ever published in this field.)

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