Huts and Sheds

 

The word lodge appears in the first Masonic document known, the "Regius Poem" or "Halliwell Manuscript," believed to have been written around 1390 A.D. The word, as used, is obviously referring to a place or a group of men. Does that make it a Masonic lodge? No, not really. The word has had several different meanings through the years.

Originally, the word lodge referred to huts and sheds built of timber near sites where cathedrals or other stone buildings were being erected. These served as dwelling places and as workshops where the operative Masons cut and dressed the stones, stored their tools, took their meals, and rested. At first, these lodges of men were unstructured and required no warrant or charter. Their internal affairs were governed by established customs -- customs which eventually gave rise to the regulations that appear in the Old Charges.

At smaller construction sites, when the labor was completed, the lodges were dissolved and the men moved on to look for other work. The larger cathedrals, such as Westminster Abbey and Canterbury Cathedral, required several hundred years to complete, and there the lodge took on a more permanent nature, was better organized, and kept better records. From these records come the first hints of formal organization. One example of this is an order for workmen at York Minster which is dated 1335 A.D. and reads as follows: "In summer they are to begin work immediately after sunrise until the ringing of the bell of the Virgin Mary, then to breakfast in the fabric lodge, then one of the Masters shall knock upon the door of the lodge and forthwith all are to return to work until noon."

There are many similar entries in preserved record books, but none prove the existence of a symbolic Masonic lodge. The first glimpses of these came from the Old Charges or Constitutions in the form of oaths, obligations and rudiments of ritual. All of these old manuscripts, about 130 in all, are similar and contain words, descriptions, and rules of conduct that smack of the present government of Masonic lodges. It may be that these were written for and used by the earliest lodges. The great English historian, Harry Carr, felt that they were primarily intended for the regulation of operative Masons brought together in the course of their work who were out of reach of the established trade guilds of the cities. At first, these old manuscripts made provisions for an oath of obedience and suggested some sort of admission ceremony. In later versions, a posture to assume while taking the obligation is suggested as well as secret words and signs.

After the Protestant Reformation of 1517 A.D., cathedral building waned, and Masons no longer met in huts and sheds. The lodges that persisted met in taverns, inns and coffeehouses. They still had no charter since there was no central authority. They existed by custom and were referred to as "immemorial rights" lodges. Central authority came with the establishment of the first Grand Lodge of England in 1717 A.D. The first American lodges were established as "immemorial rights" lodges, but were soon chartered by Provincial Grand Masters appointed by the Grand Lodge of England.

We may never know exactly what the operative Masons did and said in their huts and sheds nor exactly when the first symbolic lodge was formed. But, most agree that the cathedral-builders of the Middle Ages were indeed our forebears, and as the Masons of Texas are taught in the Fellowcraft Degree, they were both operative and speculative.