The earliest recorded 'making' of a Freemason
in England is that of Elias Ashmole in 1646.
Organised Freemasonry began with the founding
of the Grand Lodge of England on 24 June 1717, the first Grand Lodge in the
world. Ireland followed in 1725 and Scotland in 1736. All the regular Grand
Lodges in the world trace themselves back to one or more of the Grand Lodges in
the British Isles.
There are two main theories of origin.
According to one, the operative stonemasons who built the great cathedrals and
castles had lodges in which they discussed trade affairs. They had simple
initiation ceremonies and, as there were no City and Guilds certificates, dues
cards or trade union membership cards, they adopted secret signs and words to
demonstrate that they were trained masons when they moved from site to
In the 1600s, these operative lodges
began to accept non-operatives as "gentlemen masons". Gradually these
non-operative took over the lodges and turned them from operative to 'free and
accepted' or 'speculative' lodges. The other theory is that in the late 1500s
and early 1600s, there was a group which was interested in the promotion of
religious and political tolerance in an age of great intolerance when
differences of opinion on matters of religion and politics were to lead to
bloody civil war. In forming Freemasonry, they were trying to make better men
and build a better world.
As the means of teaching in those days
was by allegory and symbolism, they took the idea of building as the central
allegory on which to form their system. The main source of allegory was the
Bible, the contents of which were known to everyone even if they could not read,
and the only building described in detail in the Bible was King Solomon's
Temple, which became the basis of the ritual. The old trade guilds provided them
with their basis administration of a Master, Wardens, Treasurer and Secretary,
and the operative mason's tools provided them with a wealth of symbols with
which to illustrate the moral teachings of Freemasonry.
From the UGLE web site