As darkness closed in on the City of London in the late afternoon of 16 February 1982, a number of influential men converged on the ancient Guildhall, seat of the City's medieval-style government. They came in taxis, in chauffeur-driven limousines, and on foot. They came from all parts of the City - and beyond. Between them they represented a wide spectrum of wealth and power. Their decisions, in the worlds of high finance, the law, industry, international trade and commerce and politics, affected the lives of thousands.
Each of the men, beneath his outer garments, wore a dark lounge suit, and most of them carried small oblong cases, some inscribed in gold leaf with the owner's initials. These cases contained the regalia the men would put on when they reached their destination. The men came from different directions and entered the Guildhall by various entrances. Some came across Guildhall Yard, some along Aldermanbury, some by way of Masons Avenue. Once inside the Hall, each turned his steps towards the Crypt, which was cordoned off so that no intruder could make his way down the stair and report the goings-on to any 'Gentile'. A Tyler, or Outer Guard, was posted at the door to block the path of any stranger who might slip past the Guildhall commissionaire.
At precisely 5.15 P.M. the participants in the drama which was to be acted out had gathered in the Crypt, which had been transformed into a Masonic Temple. The brethren of Guildhall Lodge No 3116 took their places. Outgoing Worshipful Master Brother Frank Nathaniel Steiner, MA, knocked once with his gavel. The sound echoed around the East Crypt with its low vaulted ceiling and clustered pillars of Purbeck marble. The coat of arms of Sir Bernard Waley-Cohen, a member and former Worshipful Master of the Lodge, had pride of place at one of the six intersections of the vaulting, because he had been Lord Mayor when the Crypt was restored in 1961. Other coats of arms included those of Edward the Confessor, Henry IV, in whose reign the Crypt was built, and Queen Elizabeth II. A masonic prince among royal princes.
Two knocks, like echoes of the first, followed in quick succession from the Senior Warden and the Junior Warden.
'Brethren,' said Worshipful Brother Steiner solemnly, 'assist me to open the Lodge .. .' Addressing the Junior Warden, Steiner continued, '. . . what is the first care of every Mason?'
'To see that the Lodge is properly tyled.'
'Direct that duty to be done.'
The installation ceremony of Worshipful Brother Charles Richard Coward, JP, as Worshipful Master of the Lodge for 1982-3 had begun.
The Guildhall Lodge was consecrated at the Mansion House, the official residence of the Lord Mayor of London, on Tuesday, 14 November 1905. Since then, no fewer than sixty-two Lord Mayors have been Masters of the Lodge, whose membership comprises both elected members of the Corporation of London and its salaried officers.
The Worshipful Master of the Lodge both in 1981-2 and 1982-3 was not the Lord Mayor, because neither was a Freemason. So Steiner, Common Councilman for Bread Street Ward and Deputy Grand Registrar of the United Grand Lodge, was elected in place of Col Sir Ronald Gardner-Thorpe, and Coward in what would have been the natural place of the Lord Mayor, the Rt Hon Sir Christopher Leaver, had he been of the Brotherhood.
The Lodge was opened in the First Degree. The ritual dismissal of the Entered Apprentices was intoned. The Lodge was opened in the Second Degree. Worshipful Brother Coward, Senior Grand Deacon of the United Grand Lodge, stood waiting to be presented to the Installing Master. He wore a lambskin apron lined with garter-blue, ornamented with gold and blue strings and bearing the emblem of his rank. A four-inch-wide band of garter-blue ribbon embroidered with a design combining an ear of corn and a sprig of acacia lay on his shoulders and formed a V on his breast.
Among the brethren in the temple were Anthony Stuart Joliffe, Alderman and Sheriff of the City of London, director of numerous companies including SAS Catering Ltd, Nikko Hillier International Trading Co Ltd, Capital for Industry Ltd, Marlborough Property Holdings (Developments) Ltd, and Albany Commercial and Industrial Developments Ltd. Joliffe, Senior Warden of the Lodge for the current year, has been vice president of the European League for Economic Co-operation, Hon Treasurer of Britain in Europe Residual Fund, and a trustee of the Police Foundation, and he has held many other influential positions.
Also in the Crypt that night was the Lodge Chaplain, Christopher Selwyn Priestley Rawson, chairman and managing director of Christopher Rawson Ltd, an underwriting Member of Lloyd's, and an honorary member of the Metal Exchange. As a Freemason of London Grand
Rank, he wore a collar of garter-blue ribbon with narrow edging.
Installing Master Steiner proceeded with the ceremonial listing of qualities which Worshipful Brother Coward would need as Master: to be of good report, well skilled in Masonry, exemplary in conduct, steady and firm in principle. The secretary of the Lodge then addressed the Master Elect and recited a fifteen-point summary of the Ancient Charges and Regulations.
Steiner then asked Coward, 'Do you submit to and promise to support these Charges and Regulations as Masters have done in all ages?' Coward replied by placing his right hand on his left breast with the thumb squared upwards. This, the 'sign of fidelity', meant 'I do', and the ceremony continued as he swore on the Bible faithfully to discharge the duties of Master and to abide by Masonry's 'Landmarks'.
The ritual went on and on. When all but Installed Masters had been dismissed from the Crypt, the 'secrets of the Chair' were communicated to Worshipful Brother Coward. Bent on both knees, he took a second oath, with his hands resting on the Bible. There had been no penalty attached to the first obligation. But now Coward faced having his 'right hand struck off and slung over my left shoulder, there to wither and decay', if he betrayed his oath. After more ceremony he was told the secret sign of the Installed Master (a beckoning movement made three times with the right hand); the secret grip (whereby two Installed Masters place their left hands on each other's left shoulder while keeping their arms straight); the secret word (Giblum, meaning Excellent Mason); and finally the sign of Salutation ('Bowing and saluting with the right hand from the forehead three times, stepping backwards with the right foot').
At the end of this long ceremony, with all those of lower degree recalled from the Crypt, Worshipful Brother Coward, now Master of the Lodge, invested the officers of the Lodge for 1982-3 as follows:
IMMEDIATE PAST MASTER: W. Bro. Frank N. Steiner, MA, Deputy Grand Registrar of the United Grand Lodge 1981-2; Common Councilman, Bread Street Ward.
SENIOR WARDEN: Bro. Alderman and Sheriff Anthony S. Joliffe, Fellow of the Institute of Chartered Accountants; Justice of the Peace; Alderman for Candlewick Ward.
JUNIOR WARDEN: Bro. Rev Basil A. Watson, OBE, MA, RN.
CHAPLAIN: W. Bro. Alderman Christopher Rawson, Former City Sheriff; Common Councilman (Bread Street) 1963-72; Alderman (Lime Street); Associate of Textile Industries; Associate of the Institute of Marine Engineers.
TREASURER: W. Bro. Frank N. Steiner, MA.
SECRETARY: W. Bro. Deputy H. Derek Balls, Justice of the Peace; Deputy (Cripplegate Without).
DIRECTOR OF CEREMONIES: W. Bro. Sir John Newson-Smith, Bt, MA, former Lord Mayor of London; Deputy Lieutenant, City of London, 1947; Member of HM Commission of Lieutenancy for the City of London; Deputy Chairman, London United Investments Ltd.
SENIOR DEACON: W. Bro. Michael H. Hinton.
JUNIOR DEACON: Bro. David M. Shalit, Common Councilman (Farringdon Within).
CHARITY STEWARD: W. Bro. Richard Theodore Beck, Fellow of the Royal Institute of British Architects; Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries; Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts; Member of the Royal Town Planning Institute; Deputy (Farringdon Within); Sheriff of the City of London 1969-70; Prestonian Lecturer (The annual masonic lecture delivered at Freemasons Hall, London), 1975.
ALMONER: W. Bro. Matthew Henry Oram, TD, MA,
Common Councilman (Cordwainer).
ASSISTANT DIRECTOR OF CEREMONIES: W. Bro. Colin Frederick Walter Dyer, ERD, Past Assistant Grand Director of Ceremonies and Past Junior Grand Deacon of the United Grand Lodge; Common Councilman (Aldgate); Prestonian Lecturer 1973.
INNER GUARD: W. Bro. Gerald Maurice Stitcher, CBE; Past Grand Standard Bearer of the United Grand Lodge; Common Councilman (Farringdon Without).
STEWARD: Bro. Deputy Arthur Brian Wilson; Deputy (Aldersgate).
Between them, these men play vital roles in all aspects of the running of the City - including police, housing, education, social services, town planning and the courts of law.
As Senior Warden of the Guildhall Lodge, Anthony Joliffe was the front runner for Master of the Lodge in 1983-4. This was no accident as he was to be and became Lord Mayor during the same period.
Ancient institutions survive and hold sway in the City of London more than anywhere else in Britain. Although the City is one of the most important financial and business centres in the world, medieval custom and tradition are apparent everywhere. Even the Bank of England, the nationalized central bank which holds our gold reserves, conducts the government's monetary policy, regulates lending and finances the national debt, retains its 'Old Lady of Threadneedle Street' image, its messengers or waiters wearing pink waistcoats and top hats as they go about their time-honoured business. Once a year the Worshipful Company of Butchers presents the Lord Mayor with a boar's head on a silver platter, exactly as it did in the fourteenth century. The Port of London Authority's garden in Seething Lane is leased to the Corporation as a public amenity for an annual rent of a nosegay. Every October at the Royal Courts of Justice the Corporation's legal officer - the Comptroller and City Solicitor - pays the Queen's Remembrancer a hatchet, a bill hook, six horses and sixty-one nails - the so-called Quit Rents for two of the City's holdings, the Forge in St Clement Danes and the Moors in Shropshire. 'The City's institutions are as varied as they are ancient,' wrote the late Blake Ehrlich.
Five 'wise men' set the world price of bullion in the opulent Gold Room of N. M. Rothschild and Sons,* St Swithin's Lane, at 10.30 each morning, but, before these gentlemen are out of bed, the gentlemen from the Fishmongers Guild, their boots silvered with fish scales, are exercising their immemorial functions down by the river at Billingsgate, London's fish market. On the other side of the City, predawn buyers eye hook-hung carcasses at Smithfield, the world's largest dressed-meat market. Nearby nurses begin to prepare patients for surgery at St Bartholomew's ('Bart's), London's first hospital (founded 1123) and the place where, in the 17th century, William Harvey first demonstrated the circulation of the blood. Closer to St Paul's Cathedral, the vans begin to deliver prisoners whose cases will be heard that day at Old Bailey, as the Central Criminal Court is known, where most of Britain's sensational murder trials have been held.
These daily occurrences, the mundane modern mingled inextricably with the flavour of the Middle Ages, are what lend the City its unique life.
Only the sovereign takes precedence over the Lord Mayor within the City's square mile.
*The Rothschilds have been Freemasons for generations.
Even the Prime Minister - even Margaret Thatcher - will walk behind the Mayor in official processions through the City.
The City is not entirely an island in the river of time. It is rather a place where two historical clocks are running: one which for the past thousand years has been going so slowly that its hands have picked up the ceremonial dust of the centuries, of which very little has been lost; the other which operates with the impeccable efficiency of quartz crystal. It is the continuing belief in the importance of ancient tradition which is largely responsible for the undying strength of Freemasonry: for Freemasonry underpins all the great and influential institutions of the Square Mile. According to confidential statistics from Great Queen Street, there are 1,677 Lodges in London. Hundreds of these are in the City. Between the hours of eight in the morning and six at night when the City's residential population of about 4,000 swells to 345,000 with the influx of commuters, the Square Mile has the highest density of Freemasons anywhere in Britain.
The Royal Exchange, the Corn Exchange, the Baltic Exchange, the Metal Exchange, the Bank of England, the merchant banks, the insurance companies, the mercantile houses, the Old Bailey, the Inns of Court, the Guildhall, the schools and colleges, the ancient markets, all of them have Freemasons in significant positions. Among the institutions with their own Lodges are the Baltic Exchange (Baltic Lodge No 3006 which has its own temple actually in the Exchange in St Mary Axe); the Bank of England (Bank of England Lodge No 263); and Lloyd's (Black Horse of Lombard Street Lodge No 4155).
Like any local authority - and like central government itself - the City Corporation is formed of a council of elected representatives (the Aldermen, Deputies and Common Council) and of salaried permanent officers whose job it is to advise the council and execute its decisions. For administrative purposes the City is divided into twenty-five wards. Ten of these wards have their own Lodges.* Five of the six Common Councilmen representing Aldersgate Ward - Arthur Brian Wilson (Deputy), Hyman Liss, Edwin Stephen Wilson, and Peter George Robert Sayles -are Freemasons. Only Michael John Cassidy is, at the time of writing, not a member of the Brotherhood. Every ward, without exception, has at least one Freemason among its representatives.
*Aldgate Ward Lodge No 3939; Billingsgate Lodge No 3443 (mainly for those associated with Billingsgate Fish Market); Bishopsgate Lodge No 2396; Cordwainer Ward Lodge No 2241; Cornhill Lodge No 1803; Cripplegate Lodge No 1613; Farringdon Without Lodge No 1745; Langbourn Lodge No 6795; Portsoken Lodge No 5088; and Tower Lodge No 5159.
One Common Councilman who openly admits he is a Freemason spoke to me about the commonly held belief that there is an immense Freemasonic influence on affairs in the City. He asked me not to identify him as it would put him in 'bad odour' with his brethren.
'I have never noticed any direct masonic influence. It's always there, one accepts that, always just beneath the surface as it were, but I would say the City is run more on an Old Boys network than on a Freemasonry network, just as somewhere you meet people and get to know them and presumably get chummy with them. I wouldn't have thought there's much influence. You see, we read about that scandal in Italy - P2 wasn't it? -1 can't believe it's true. I don't think Freemasonry had anything to do with it.' (See Chapter 26, below.)
I asked if he knew how many of his fellow Common Councilmen were Freemasons.
'No, but I'd have thought the majority. Certainly if you count out the Roman Catholics and the women I should think the great majority. Probably some of the younger ones aren't. It's rather an old man's game, let's face it. Youngsters don't really want to get involved in these sort of things. They've got more interesting things to do. I should have thought two-thirds of the older ones are Masons. By older, I mean those past fifty. I certainly know personally a lot who are. A lot in the Lodge I'm in are on the Common Council.'
'Do all Freemasons vote together?'
'If the strength of the vote I've often got when I've put up is any indication, I'd have thought that none of them voted for me. I don't think there's anything in that suggestion. I've had some very bad votes when I've put up for things and I'm quite a prominent member, and if Freemasonry had done me any good I'd certainly have got a great many more votes than I got.'
Frederick Clearey, CBE, Deputy of Coleman Street Ward, told me, 'I have been a member of only one Lodge, Old Owens No 4440, my school Lodge, but I think Freemasonry engenders a very fine spirit, cementing members of the Lodge with the school. I believe too many people feel that Freemasonry is some secret society where members rush about making signs and getting business from each other which, of course, is utterly untrue. In my experience it has generated an enormous amount of friendship, goodwill and charity, which is what Freemasonry is about.'
All the main salaried officers of the Corporation are Masons. Indeed, it is virtually impossible to reach a high position in Guildhall without being an active Brother, as three senior officers currently serving and two past officers have informed me. The subject of Masonry is spoken about openly in interviews for high posts. At the time of writing, the Town Clerk, the Chamberlain, the City Marshal, the Hall Keeper, the City Solicitor, the City Architect and the City Engineer are all members of the Brotherhood.
One of the first steps I took in looking into the extent of Freemasonry within the Corporation of London was to write to every male member of the Common Council including all Deputies, Aldermen and Sheriffs, setting out the purpose of my book and asking each recipient if he would be prepared to tell me if he was, or ever had been, a Freemason. I telephoned the general enquiry office at the Guildhall and explained I was writing to each member in connection with a book which included a section on the City - studiously avoiding any reference to Masonry. I asked if I might deliver the letters by hand, rather than separately post 153 letters to the same address. The lady I spoke to assured me I could, that it would cause no problems whatever, and, after checking with her superior, she said that when I arrived at the Guildhall I should ask for a particular official. I followed these instructions and later that day a commissionaire showed me into the appropriate office.
The official remained seated, looked up as if irritated that I should have disturbed the sanctity of his glass-sided booth overlooking Guildhall Yard, and said nothing.
'Hello,' I said, in my friendly way.
'Yes?' he said curtly. 'What is it?' Even then I thought he might ask me to take a seat, but I was disappointed.
‘I wonder if you'll help,' I began. 'I'm writing a book which will have a section devoted to the City of London and a lady in your enquiry office said I could deliver these letters to the members of the Common Council by hand to you.'
'Oh, no,' he said, looking dismissively back at the papers on his desk. 'We can't accept them.' It was apparent that he regarded that as the final word in the matter and that he expected me to withdraw.
I sat down and, hail-fellow-well-met, asked him how one went about writing to the members. 'I can't help you,' he said.
'Presumably, if I posted all these to the Guildhall, they would arrive in a bundle like this and be distributed to the people concerned?'
'Presumably.' Still he didn't look up.
'I can't see the difference between the GPO delivering them in a bundle and me delivering them in a bundle. Do you have a Post Room to which I could deliver them . . . ?'
'That's impossible. If I accept your letters, I'll have to accept everyone's.'
'But the Post Room . . . ?' No, I knew I was flogging a dead horse. On impulse, as I rose to leave, I thrust my hand into his and gave him the handshake of the Master Mason, applying distinct pressure with my thumb between his second and third joints.
His attitude changed completely.
Now he was giving me all his attention. 'I'm sorry,' he said, with a sheepish sort of grin, and got up from his chair. He came round to my side of the desk and said, 'I think the best thing you can do is go upstairs to the enquiry office, tell them I sent you and say you'd like a list of the addresses of all members of the Council. That will be much the quickest way of contacting them all.'
Now very solicitous and quite the genial host, he accompanied me to the door, repeated the directions, shook my hand again and wished me well. I followed his advice and it proved sound.
Brother official had helped another member of the Brotherhood - or thought he had.
The influential Livery Companies are almost entirely peopled by Freemasons. Like the Brotherhood, the Livery Companies - the name derives from the ceremonial dress of members - have developed from the medieval craftsmen's guilds and from religious or social fraternities. Some companies are involved in education and some are influential in the operation of their trade. There are close links between the guilds and livery companies and the Corporation: the City and Guilds of London Institute, set up in 1878 to promote education in technical subjects and set examinations, is a joint venture. And the Lord Mayor of London is selected each year from two of the city's twenty-six aldermen who are nominated by the 15,000 liverymen. To qualify for membership of one of the livery companies, a man must be a Freeman of the City, an honour generally awarded by Freemasons to Freemasons, although there are many notable exceptions. A number of Livery Companies have their own Lodges* and the City Livery Club has its own temple. A masonic alderman told me: 'There are so many competing bodies, especially in the City. What with Livery Companies, Rotary, Chamber of Commerce, Ward clubs, there are so many competing clubs. I would have thought that most people in the City attach much more importance to their Livery than they do to their Freemasonry - although of course the majority of Livery Club members are Freemasons as well.'
The Corporation of the City of London is so strongly masonic that many connected with it, some Masons included, think of it as virtually an arm of Grand Lodge. But it must not be forgotten that the City is first and foremost a financial centre. And money to a successful financier - Freemason or not - speaks louder than anything. When it comes to a choice between serving
*Basketmakers Lodge No 5639; Blacksmiths Lodge No 7175; Cutlers Lodge No 2730; Farriers Lodge No 6305; Feltmakers Lodge No 3839; Paviors Lodge No 5646; Plaisterers Lodge No 7390; Needlemakers Lodge No 4343, etc, etc.
Mammon and serving the Brotherhood, all but a few Freemasons in the City act upon the masonic principle enshrined in the fifth paragraph of The Universal Book of Craft Masonry, which declares, 'Freemasonry distinctly teaches that a man's first duty is tohimself. . .'