ISSUE 11, October 2004
Elias Ashmole: Masonic Icon
Travel: The magical beauty of Scotland
Honoured: By the Glovers' livery company
The Theatre: Strong links between Craft and stage
Quarterly Communication: Address of the Pro Grand Master and, Report of the Board of General Purposes
Mauritius: Fascinating Masonic history
Rochester Cathedral: Kent Masons' magnificent fresco
Clerkenwell: 25 years of Masonry
  Bravery award: One Mason's heroism is honoured
Christmas shopping: What to buy in London's West End
High flight: Helping terminally ill children
Jewels of the Craft: An essential part of Masonry
Library & Museum: John Pine exhibition and Library & Museum Trust report
Masonic education: Events for Masons; Quatuor Coronati Lodge; Mentors for new Masons
Charities: Masons provide emergency aid for flood victims; Charity news; Demelza gives voice
Letters, Book reviews, Gardening

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Freemasonry and the Theatre

This article is based on a talk given by Katrina Jowett, Senior Assistant Librarian as part of the Library and Museum’s Spring talks series in 2004.

All the world's a stage...

W S Penley – the first Charley’s Aunt

Busy Body: playbill from 1825

All images are copyright and reproduced by permission of the United Grand Lodge of England
    Advertisements and playbills for performances illustrate that from the early 18th century a number of fraternal societies developed links with the theatre. There are examples of prologues and epilogues especially written for a particular society, performances being attended by members in their regalia or performances held especially for the benefit of one of their members.
    The Noble Order of Bucks, a society established in the 1720s to promote the “innocent mirth of good fellowship”, had many benefit performances at the Drury Lane and Covent Garden Theatres for members of that fraternity.
    The links between Freemasonry and the theatre go back to the earliest days of organised Freemasonry. The words of the Entered Apprentice’s Song, one of the oldest Masonic songs which appeared in the first book of Constitutions in 1723, were attributed to Matthew Birkhead, an actor-comedian employed at the Drury Lane Playhouse.
    An account of his funeral was printed in the 5 January 1723 edition of Read’s Weekly Journal, which stated that:

…At the Funeral the Pall was supported by six Freemasons belonging to the Drury Lane playhouse; the other members of that particular Lodge of which he was a Warden, with a vast number of other Accepted Masons, followed two and two; both the Pall-bearers and others were in their White Aprons.

Unfortunately the Lodge referred to has never been identified.
    There is a long tradition of Masonic Lodges supporting a particular performance for the benefit of a widow or brother such as the one advertised in a 1799 playbill, which was for the benefit of a Mrs Kennedy.
    A playbill for the production of Busy Body at the theatre in Barnwell by the ‘desire of the School of Plato Lodge’ dates from 1825, whilst an unusual silk playbill advertises a special performance by members of Liverpool Dramatic Lodge No. 1609 in aid of the local Masonic Hall Fund. This tradition continues with the modern Masonic variety performances.