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Wednesday, 20 August 2008

Elias Ashmole and the Warrington Lodge

Robert Freke Gould in his "History of Freemasonry Its Antiquities, Symbols, Constitutions, Customs, Part 2", deals with the question of Elias Ashmole's initiation into Freemasonry:

"Although the admission of Elias Ashmole into the ranks of the Freemasons may have been, and probably was, unproductive of the momentous consequences which have been so lavishly ascribed to it, the circumstances connected with his membership of what in South Britain was then a very obscure fraternity - so little known, indeed, that not before the date of Ashmole's reception or adoption does it come within the light of history - are, nevertheless, of the greatest importance in our general enquiry, since, on a close view, they will be found to supply a quantity information derivable from no other source, and which, together with the additional evidence I shall adduce from contemporary writings, will give us a tolerably faithful picture of English Freemasonry in the seventeenth century.

The entries in Ashmole's "Diary" which relate to his membership of the craft are three in number, the first in priority being the following:-
"1646, Oct. 16, 4.30. P.M. - I was made a Free
Mason at Warrington in Lancashire, with Coll: Henry Mainwaring of Karincham in
Cheshire. The names of those that were then of the Lodge [were] Mr Rich. Penket
Warden, Mr James Collier, Mr Rich. Sankey, Henry Littler, John Ellam Rich: Ellam
& Hugh Brewer."
The "Diary" then continues :--
"Oct. 25. - I left Cheshire, and came to London about the end of this month, viz, the 30th day, 4 Hor. post merid. About a fortnight or three weeks before [after!] I came to London, Mr Jonas Moore brought and acquainted me with Mr William Lilly: it was on the Friday night, and I think on the 20th of Nov."
"Dec. 3. - This day, at noon, I first became acquainted with Mr John Booker."
It will be seen that Ashmole's initiation or admission into Freemasonry, preceded by upwards of a month, his acquaintances with his astrological friends, Lilly and Booker.

In ascending the stream of English Masonic history, we are deserted by all known contemporary testimony, save that of the "Old Charges" or "Constitution," directly we have passed the year 1646. This of itself would render the proceedings at Warrington in that year of surpassing interest to the student of Masonic antiquities. That Ashmole and Mainwaring, adherents respectively of the Court, and the Parliament, should be admitted into Freemasonry at the same time and place, is also a very noteworthy circumstance. But it is with the internal character, or, in other words, the composition, of the lodge into which they were received that we are chiefly concerned. Down to the year 1881 the prevalent belief was, that, although a lodge was in existence at Warrington in 1646, all were of the "craft of Masonry" except Ashmole and Colonel Mainwaring. A flood of light, however, was suddenly shed on the subject by the research of Mr W. H. Rylands, who, in perhaps the very best of the many valuable articles contributed to the now defunct Masonic Magazine, has so far proved the essentially speculative character of the lodge, as to render it difficult to believe that there could have been a single operative Mason present on the afternoon of October 16, 1646. Thus Mr Richard Penket[h], the Warden is shown to have been a scion of the Penkeths of Penketh, and the last of his race who held the family property.

The two names which next follow were probably identical with those of James Collyer or Colliar, of Newton-le-Willows, Lancashire, and Richard Sankie, of the family of Sonkey or Sankey, as they were called, landowners in Warrington from a very early period; they were buried respectively at Winwick and Warrington - the former on January 17, 1673-4, and the latter on September 28, 1667. Of the four remaining Freemasons named in the "Diary", though without the prefix of "Mr," it is shown by Rylands that a gentle family of Littler or Lytlor existed in Cheshire in 1646; while he prints the wills of Richard Ellom, Freemason of Lyme [Lymme], and of John Ellams, husbandman, of Burton, both in the County of Cheshire - that of the former bearing date September 7, 1667, and of the latter June 7, 1689. That there were the Ellams named by Ashmole cannot be positively affirmed, but they were doubtless members of the same yeoman family, a branch of which had apparently settled at Lymm, a village in Cheshire, about five miles from Warrington. Of the family of Hugh Brewer, nothing has come to light beyond the fact that a person bearing this patronymic served in some military capacity under the Earl of Derby in 1643.

The proceedings at Warrington in 1646 establish some very important facts in relation to the antiquity of Freemasonry, and to its character as a speculative science. The words Ashmole use, "the names of those who were then of the lodge"," imlpying as they do either that some of the existing members were absent, or that at a previous period the lodge-roll comprised other and additional names beyond those recorded in the "Diary," amply justify the conclusion that the lodge, when Ashmole joined it, was not a new creation. The term "Warden," moreover, which follows the name of Mr Rich. Penket, will of itself remove any lingering doubt whether the Warrington Lodge could boast a higher antiquity than the year 1646, since it points with the utmost clearness to the fact, that an actual official of a subsisting branch of the Society of Freemasons was present at the meeting.

"Finis p me
Eduarda : Sankey
decimo seato die Octobria
Anno Domini 1646"

Commenting upon the proceedings at the Warrington meeting, Fort remarks, "It is a subject of curious speculation as to the identity of Richard Sankey, a member of the above lodge. Sloane's MS, No. 3848, was transcribed and finished by one Edward Sankey, on the 16th day of October 1646, the day Elias Ashmole was initiated into the secrets of the craft." The research of Rylands has afforded a probable, if not altogether and absolute, solution of the problem referred to, and from the same fount I shall again draw, in order to show that an Edward Sankey, "son to Richard Sankey, gent.," was baptized at Warrington, February 3, 1621-1.

It therefore appears that on October 16, 1646, a Richard Sankey was present in lodge, and that an Edward Sankey copied and attested one of the old manuscript Constitutions; and that a Richard Sankey of Sankey flourished at this time, whose son Edward, if alive, we must suppose would have been a young man of four or five and twenty. Now, as it seems to me, the identification of the Sankeys of Sankey, father and son, with the Freemason and the copyist of the "Old Charges" respectively, is rendered as clear as anything lying within the doctrine of probabilities can be made to appear.

I assume then, that a version of the old manuscript Constitutions, which has fortunately come down to us, was in circulation at Warrington in 1646. Thus we should have, in the year named, speculative, and, it may be, also operative masonry, co-existing with the actual use, by lodges and brethren, of the Scrolls or Constitutions of which the Sloane MS, 3843 (13), affords an illustration in point. Upon this basis I shall presently contend, that having traced a system of Freemasonry, combining the speculative with the operative element, together with a use or employment of the MS, legend of the craft, as prevailing in the first half of the seventeenth century - when contemporary testimony fails us, as we continue to direct our course up the stream of Masonic history, the evidence of manuscript Constitutions, successively dating further and further back, until the transcripts are exhausted, without apparently bringing us any nearer to their common original, may well leave us in doubt at what point of our research between the era of the Lodge at Warrington, 1646, and that of the Lodge at York, 1355, a monopoly of these ancient documents by the working masons can be viewed as even remotely possible.

The remaining entrie in the "Diary" of a Masonic character are the following:-
"March 1682
"10. - About 5 P.M. I recd: a Summons to appr at a Lodge to be held the next day, at Masons Hall London.
"11 - Accordingly I went, & about Noone were admitted into the Fellowship of Free Masons.
"Sr William Wilson Knight, Capt. Rich: Borthwick, Mr Will: Woodman, Mr Wm Grey, Mr Samuel Taylor & Mr William Wise.
"I was the Senior Fellow among them (it being 35 years since I was admitted) There were prsent beside my selfe the Fellowes after named,
"Mr Tho: Wise Mr of the Masons Company this prsent years. Mr Thomas Shorthose, Mr Thomas Shadbolt, xxxxx Waindsford Esq., Mr Nich: Young, Mr John Shorthose, Mr William Hamon, Mr John Thompson, & Mr Will: Stanton.
"Wee all dynerd at the halfe Moone Tavern in Cheapside, at a Nobledinner prepaired at the charge of the New = accepted Masons."
From the circumstances, that Ashmole records his attendance at a meeting of the Freemasons held in a hall of the Company of Masons, a good deal of confusion has been engendered, which some casual remarks of Dr Anderson, in the Constitutions of 1723, have done much to confirm. By way of filling up a page, as he expresses it, he quotes from an old Record of Masons, to the effect that, "the said Record describing a Coat of Arms, much the same with that of the LONDON COMPANY of Freemen Masons, it is generally believ'd that the said Company is descended of the ancient Fraternity; and that in former Times no Man was Free of that Company until he was install'd in some Lodge of Free and Accepted Masons, as a necessary Qualification." "But" he adds, "that laudable Practice seems to have been long in Dissuetude."

Preston, in this instance not unnaturally, copied from Anderson, and others of course have followed suit; but as I believe myself to be the only person who has been allowed access to the books and records of the Masons' Company for purposes of historical research, the design of this work will be better fulfilled by a concise summary of the results of my examination, together with such collateral information as I have been able to acquire, than by attempting to fully describe the superstructure of error which has been erected on so treacherous a foundation.

This I shall proceed to do, after which it will be the more easy to rationally scrutinise the later entries in the "Diary". "

Editor:

In summary, Robert Freke Gould proves from his research and sources that:

1) Elias Ashmole was not the first recorded incident of the initiation of a speculative Freemason in England as has been claimed.

2) Ashmole was initiated into an English Speculative Masonic Lodge in Kermincham, Warrington, in 1646 .

3) The Lodge at Kermincham, Warrington was a speculative Freemason's Lodge of long standing.

4) When Ashmole travelled to London to be made a Fellow of the Craft, the ceremony took place in a speculative Freemasons' Lodge meeting in the hall of the Masons' Company.

5) The Lodge at Warrington could not have been a stand-alone independent Lodge as has also been claimed because:
a) Ashmole's initiation was attended by "an actual official of a subsisting branch of the Society of Freemasons";

b) Ashmole's initiation must have been accepted as being entirely regular, by the Freemasons of the London Lodge;

c) The acceptance of the regularity of Ashmole's initiation could only have been the case if Sankey's Lodge, the London Lodge, and the Lodge at Warrington all worked in accordance with, and provided hand-written copies of, "The Constitutions of Masonrie" recognising the Ancient Landmarks of a Freemason.





Robert Freke Gould was a lieutenant in the 31st Regiment, English Army. He later qualified as a barrister. From 1868, he is best remembered as an early proponent of the authentic school of masonic research and for his three-volume History of Freemasonry (1883-1887).





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Biography - Elias Ashmole:

Elias Ashmole (23 May 1617 – 18 May 1692) Politician, Antiquary, Soldier, Astrologer, was a member of The Royal Society. His interests were antiquarian as well as scientific.

Elias Ashmole was born in Breadmarket Street, Lichfield in Staffordshire. His father was a saddler and his mother was the daughter of a wealthy Coventry Draper. He attended Lichfield Grammar School and was a chorister at Lichfield Cathedral. He went to live in London in 1638 and became a Solicitor. He married Eleanor Mainwaring (1603–1641) a member of the poor but aristocratic family. Eleanor died whilst pregnant.

Ashmole supported Charles I in the Royalist cause and at the outbreak of the English Civil War in 1642 he left London for the house of his father-in-law at Smallwood in Cheshire. He was appointed King's Commissioner of Excise at Lichfield in 1644. Soon afterwards he was given a military post at Oxford where he served as an ordnance officer for the King's forces. During this time he studied mathematics and physics at his lodgings, Brasenose College. 1645, he left Oxford to accept the position of Commissioner of Excise at Worcester. Elias Ashmole was given the additional military post of Captain in Lord Astley's Regiment of Foot, part of the Royalist Infantry. In July 1646, he retired once more to Cheshire after the surrender of Worcester to Parliamentary forces. Three weeks previously he learned of the death of his mother from the plague. On October 16th, 1646 he was initiated a Freemason at Warrington.

In 1647, Ashmole approached several rich widows in the hope of securing a good marriage. In 1649 he married Mary, Lady Mainwaring, the daughter of Sir William Forster of Aldermaston, a wealthy thrice-widowed woman twenty years his senior. She was related to his first wife and was the mother of grown children. The marriage was not a success. She laid suit for a separation and alimony but it was dismissed by the courts in 1657. His marriage to Lady Mainwaring did however, provide Ashmole with her first husband's estates which left him wealthy enough to pursue his interests, including botany and alchemy.

During the 1650s, Ashmole devoted a great deal of energy to the study of alchemy. In 1650, he published Fasciculus Chemicus under the pseudonym James Hasholle. In 1652, he published his most important alchemical work, Theatrum Chemicum Britannicum, an extensively annotated compilation of metaphysical poems in English. In 1658, his final alchemical publication was The Way to Bliss. After the publication of this work his interest waned in favour of other pursuits. However, his works were avidly studied by other natural philosophers, such as Issac Newton.

In 1656. John Tradescant, who with his father had built a vast collection of exotic plants, mineral specimens and curiosities legally deeded his collection to Ashmole. The terms of the deed left the collection to Ashmole on Tradescant's demise. Tradescant died in 1662. His widow contested the deed but it was vigorously defended and the matter was settled in Chancery in Ashmole's favour.

Ashmole embarked on further catalogues, including one of the Roman coin collection of the Bodleian Library. This task was completed in 1666 after eight years of work.

At the Restoration of Charles II, his loyalty to the Crown was rewarded with political offices. He was appointed Secretary and Clerk of the Courts of Surinam and Comptroller of the White Office. He was also appointed to the office of Commissioner and then Comptroller for the Excise in London. Later he was made the Accountant General of the Excise. This post made him responsible for a large portion of the King's revenue which gave him a considerable income as well as the power of patronage.

The King commissioned Ashmole to prepare a catalogue of the coins and medals held in the Royal Collection and appointed him to the commission responsible for tracing items from the collection which had been dispersed or sold by the parliamentary regime. Ashmole involved himself in the organisation of the coronation.

His most significant appointment was to the College of Arms as Windsor Herald of Arms in Ordinary in June 1660. In this position he devoted himself to the study of the history of the Order of the Garter, which had been a special interest of his since the 1650s.

Ashmole became one of the founding members of the Royal Society in 1661, but he was not a very active member although he proposed a design for the Royal Society's coat of arms.

By 1665 he was collecting information for his Antiquities of Berkshire and, in 1672, published The Institution, Laws and Ceremonies of the Most Noble Order of the Garter and was considered a leading authority on court protocol and ceremony.

On 1 April 1668, Lady Mainwaring died, and on 3 November of the same year Ashmole married Elizabeth Dugdale (1632–1701), the much younger daughter of his friend and fellow herald , the antiquarian Sir William Dugdale. The marriage was childless.

In 1675, he resigned as Windsor Herald, perhaps because of factional strife within the College of Arms. He was offered the post of Garter Principal King of Arms, which traditionally came with a knighthood, but he turned it down in favour of his father-in-law, Sir William Dugdale.

The Restoration led to the re-establishment of the Church of England. Ashmole remained a Royalist and presented new service books to Lichfield Cathedral. In 1684, Sir William Dugdale wrote to his son-in-law that "the vulgar sort of people" were not "yet weaned from the presbyterian practises, which was long prayers of their own devising, and senseless sermons".

In 1678 Ashmole stood for Parliament in a by-election for the Constituency of Lichfield. He lost. He then put himself forward as a candidate in the General Election of 1685. Although he was the most popular candidate, he was pursuaded to stand down by King James II in favour of Court favourite, Richard Leveson.

During the 1680's, Ashmole's health began to deteriorate. He continued as an excise officer throughout the reign of James II and retained this post until his death, although he became much less active in public affairs.

During the period before his death, Elias Ashmole collected notes on his life in "Diary" form to serve as source material for a biography. The biography was never written, but as we see from above, these notes are a rich source of information on Ashmole and his times.

Ashmole died at his house in Lambeth on the 18th of May 1692. He was buried at St.Mary's Church, Lambeth on 26 May.

Ashmole bequeathed the remainder of his collection and library to Oxford for the Ashmolean Museum. Two-thirds of his library now resides in the Bodleian at Oxford.

Ashmole’s widow, Elizabeth, married a stonemason, John Reynolds, on 15 March 1694. They had no children and on her death seven years later the house and lands in Lambeth passed into Reynolds’s hands.

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